Lunch on the terrace with my in laws of pumpkin soup, after driving through the pumpkin river of vines seemed a perfect way to spend All Saint’s day. I didn’t feel like teaching and besides I’d done my back in craning to see my old mates in the cello section at Glyndebourne.
The Bourrées were good. My student’s hand was moving freely, bouncing in a healthy fashion over the fingerboard, but I was missing something; something I could only describe as space.
We had had a discussion earlier in the lesson in which C had furiously disagreed with my suggestion that she forgive herself if she go ‘wrong’ in a concert. How dare she play a concert if she was going to go wrong? She asked. How dare she play a concert if she was not prepared to go wrong? I asked. She grimaced. ‘How dare you be a mother if you ever mess up?’ I asked….
She had marked her difficult passages (difficult because they had gone wrong once in a concert) in pink highlighter. No wonder she was in a state by the time she got to them.
We talked about that which I have called the ‘observer’. I had just come back from a day of meditation and teachings at the London Buddhist Centre, and was interested in exploring further the idea (on which I touched in my experience that day) that behind the breath, the one who is breathing is not me (‘I’ am just a construct of course; a story), but rather pure consciousness. It is the same with the cello and the one who is playing. That is where the space opens up for charm, humour, enjoyment.
“But how can I practice playing to someone?” she asked. “I only play to you and suddenly it’s not the same. I fall apart.” It was a good question.
I remembered being told at the last minute that I could not do my final exam in Dusseldorf because I wasn’t good enough. I studied for four years there, from the age of seventeen, and got no qualification. It took me the next twenty years to crawl out from underneath that judgement. I can crawl back without much prompting. I suspected C had a similar story.
I asked C to play the Bourrée again, but this time to see if she could listen not as C with C’s story and C’s judgements and C’s desire for perfection, but as the observer of C. While she was playing I asked:
“Can the observer find any pleasure in the music?”
Immediately, space opened up around the phrases, as if the music had suddenly been gifted not only a pair of lungs but a pair of wings. It appeared to me that C was a quarter of an inch further away from her instrument than before, and there was a smile on her lips; the smile of someone listening to music they love. Perhaps C had indeed ‘fallen apart’ and made way for someone to whom she could practice playing. Perhaps, without duality, there was even the possibility of not even playing to but simply being with. Perhaps, after all, she could share Bach, even alone in a room. Certainly, the observer part of her and I were listening together. We were one.
“What did the observer think when you fucked up?”
“Didn’t care” said C. “It was almost funny”.
Pumpkin Schmumpkin, I thought. The saints were definitely hanging with us today.