For a number of years, I’ve kept a page-a-day calendar from one of my favorite artists on top of my digital piano. Most of the quotes and art are witty and lighthearted – a nice start to the teaching day as I prep the studio for students to arrive. Every now and then, though, there’s something a bit more thought-provoking. This quote from last Thursday has stuck with me through the week, so thought I’d share:
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~Chinese Proverb
While I’m certain that the proverb was intended for a broad audience, it really spoke to me as a musician. So many of us (and our students) fight tension in our playing, especially during a busy springtime as we all prepare for recitals and concerts. This quote brings up an intriguing question: As we practice with deadlines in mind, straining make our pieces measure up to what we “think they should be”, how much tension creeps into us and our music?
As I’ve reflected on this quote over the last week, I’ve made a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy my practice and teaching time a bit more. Certainly, we need musical standards and ideals, but if our focus is always in front of us, we miss moments of beauty and accomplishment that come in the midst of imperfections. When we allow our students to focus only on the “ideal” we can impress upon them a nearly impossible standard. How many times have we heard a student perform a piece with beautiful expression, energy or nuance, only to walk off stage devastated that they missed a note or had a small memory slip?
I have students performing in auditions and festivals nearly every weekend this month. Far too often in these last few weeks, I have caught myself in full-out musical micro-management mode: Can you bring out the accents at the beginning?…. Don’t forget that crescendo in measure 20… release your hands WITH the pedal….. This week, I’ve committed to taking time in each lesson to celebrate my students and their music just the way they are. Perhaps we’ll all be able to take a deep breath and relax a little.
Have you and your students relaxed lately?