Learning and Playing by Heart : Page 3 of 3
Learning and Playing by Heart
The saying "learning by heart" came back to me. That was what I was doing. Without any conscious realization, at first, I was seeking to play this music that I loved so much by heart, by memory, so that looking up at the notes on the score should not interfere with my direct experience of playing, my hands on the keys, just me and the music. I wanted to get closer to the music, closer than reading the notes would allow. I wanted to get to know the music so directly that there was nothing intervening; that I could play it anywhere, anytime, on any piano, even without the sheet music ~ because the music was in me. I wanted to "know" it in an almost Biblical sense. For it had always struck me that this was what was meant by the use of "know" to connote sexual intimacy ("And they knew each other"): that when you are that close to something, or someone, you know it/them ~ not as idea, not as other, but as Beloved: every note, every pore on their face known and loved by you. I wanted this music so close to me that no idea of it was even needed. I could have the thing itself.
I am certain that we all have this inner teacher within us. It may not be piano that we most want to learn, and therefore call on to help us play piano. It may be writing, or loving, or parenting, or something else to which we have come to from our own true, unconditioned desire. When I stood at the threshold of the music room in the main library, feeling ready to prostrate myself on the floor (thankfully, I did not, literally), it was because a realm I had always wanted and felt locked out of now stood before me, open to me, to the degree that I was able. I feel it significant that this journey of greater musical mastery was essentially driven from within (even though it certainly was helped by what I learned in the choruses and from my first husband along the way).
First, there was longing and crippling self-doubt (put in place, as I hope you can see, not by anything intrinsic in me but by how my untutored passions were received ~ i.e., the piano teacher who shoved me over so he could play the piece correctly). Then, there was hiding the music from others and myself. Then, there was singing in the choir, i.e., surrounding myself with others who were doing what I wished to do, and learning from and being buoyed up by them. Then there was the recognition that I did not know how to read music, and the gradual learning how ~ a quickening that took time, preceded by laboriousness and a seeming ceiling on how much I could learn. Then, there was the upwelling as a fountain of longing from the forgotten underground river that surfaced as the desire to play something I truly loved, even if it was beyond me. Then came the decision to go slow, to take my time, to do it entirely for myself. And that is what I did.
And out of that came the inner teaching, perhaps as good or better than if I had had an external teacher. And how did the inner teacher appear? Listening for what I loved.
Listening to my own desires, following my own pace, being honest about my current level or lack of mastery, without shame or judgment, I was able to move closer and closer into the experience of learning what I loved to learn. Success was not only in the right notes, the musicality of my playing, but also in the willingness to learn. To take pleasure in the process of learning, no great performance having to function as the reward. Just making this music part of me.
Learning by heart may be an old-fashioned notion. But dear friends, it is our own hearts that receive this nourishment. And so I invite you to reflect on what you have read here and see how it may apply to you in any way ~ and to listen for your own inner teacher to help you move on the path of what you love.
A Simple Guide to Learning and