We have all had the experience of connecting with music on the level of what one might call energy, feeling, or even mood or state of mind. I’m sure you have had the experience of turning to a favorite piece of music because of how you feel. You listen, and your mood is affected. How is this possible?
Is it due purely to the masterful technique of the performer? Technical elements do bring a performance a long way, to be sure. But they are not the whole story. What is really engaging about the performance of a piece of music, whether it be composed or improvised, is that indescribable element that transcends the details: i.e., that certain “something” that fuses everything together with spirit and life. What is that? And how does one gain access to it?
A tuned in piano teacher pays attention to these factors in a piano lesson. The teacher notices how a student is, or isn’t, engaging with the lesson; is or isn't engaging, with the music, and also with the teacher. Again, you might call this the student’s energy, or state of mind. More often than not, the student is entirely unaware of this internal dynamic because he or she is concentrating on the printed music. But the teacher can step back and notice there is something “at play”—in a student’s posture, in their facial expression, in their voice, and in their piano playing. A wise teacher will pay attention to, and make use of, this in the lesson in order to bring the student to a new awareness. This is one of the profound ways that learning to play an instrument can also move us to discover more about ourselves.
A student can learn to pay attention to these dynamics, both inside her- or himself as well as in the piece of music she or he is working on. At first, it might seem a bit elusive. Yet when we start following this thread—how, for example, we connect with the “mood” of a piece of music—we open the door to many more possibilities for connection within and outside of ourselves. There is in fact much to notice, which includes how we share music with others, not to mention how a particular piece of music feels to us, and so on.
Many years ago, one of Liz’s teachers explained to her that audiences don’t just hear the notes we performers are playing. They hear our energy.
"Music is about communication... it isn't just something that maybe physically sounds good or orally sounds interesting; it's something far, far deeper than that." —Evelyn Glennie
It’s true, we all want to “get it right” when we are playing the piano, and play correctly. Yet the experience of tuning inwardly—of being “in the music” or allowing the music to be “in you”—is not entirely dependent on technical mastery. It is also about being open to what else is there besides the notes on a page. Even at the very beginning, when we are first learning a piece and playing it slowly, we can still connect with it, enjoy it, and play it with care.