In music, as in other activities, there are times for learning new things, new skills, new expressions; there are also times that we simply seem to repeat over and over our last achievements in the hope that they stabilise in us, become natural like walking, or chewing. The times of progress do not necessarily depend on an external push, but rather on an inner state of receptivity, an awakened awareness for new elements, an expanding quality in hearing. From the moment we sense ourselves searching, we are making ourselves ready to include new dimensions and to attain higher forms of personal perfection.

One can train oneself to be sensitive to such an awakened state, even to create favourable conditions. It is worthwhile to aspire for this receptivity every time one makes music. Without it, one is quite normally subject to various fluctuations, due to the complex interactive play within one's own being - thoughts, feelings, physical state - and between oneself and external conditions with their projections both ways.

But even after great mastery, progress will never be under our complete command and periods without obvious advance can be long and involuntary, in spite of our efforts. The external signs, however, often do not express the inner incubation, and the paths to be hewn for new developments are not necessarily related to music matters directly. The more we know ourselves and the more key points we have vigilantly set out for ourselves, the less chance is there for progress being wasted by a lack of consciousness, or distraction or through fear.

Yet, everyone knows those moments of grace, in which we suddenly experience our own skills in another light, discovering ourselves almost as if there was another person within, witnessing our outer self being carried up into new realms. I remember a vocal student reporting: “Suddenly I heard my voice as from outside, and for a moment this voice did not seem to belong to me; I sounded like a real singer.” These moments mark a step in personal mastery, which tend to stay in one's memory. They carry their own subjective truth and do not necessarily correspond to external criteria. Our past efforts seem to be wrapped up at once into one integrating experience, a concept, a sonority, a rhythmical gesture, a motoric combination, always accompanied by a conscious sense of truth, and in that deep sense, a déjà-vu, a recognition of a higher Essence manifesting through our own endeavours (hence the temporary double-selfness and the hesitation to appropriate the experience as one's own). A freely evolving child goes frequently and with enthusiasm through these 'prises-de-conscience' without experiencing any

discrepancy between its own mastery (“this is the first submarine I have ever drawn!”) and the criteria it may apply fervently to the artistic products of its parent (“that is not how a real elephant looks like!”). It will play its first 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on the piano with many stops-and-starts, but it will criticise you if you speed up a well-known tune.

Those events of grace can also take place with us in the receptive, i.e. listening role. In fact great artistry can be attained in listening, as it is only at the level of reception that music realises itself completely, for the listening is music's final fulfilment For many professional musicians a few of such listening revelations - not even necessarily through live performances - have instigated and marked out the initial quest towards their own musical accomplishments.

It would be ideal if we could progress simply by lining up these instances of perfection, preferably in the same playful fashion in which we know that children can learn, unhampered by judgment and the accompanying sense of incompetence. Is it not called ‘playing music’ in most languages? It appears as yet to be the human condition to be motivated by a mixture of the positive and the negative, of what we want and what we do not want. Additionally music education tends to ignore this aspect of self motivation altogether by submitting the aspirant musician to a mental system built up on past realities.

Most dissatisfaction experienced by musicians dates from the time they were students. Corrections have been attempted on the assumption that young professionals were not prepared to integrate into the society with its ever changing cultural landscape. No matter what orientation is opted for, however, education has to have as its prime goal, the guiding of young musicians towards autonomy, through mobilising and solidifying the personal resources of the aspirant musician and widening his scope and increasing his flexibility. This goal can be achieved effectively and joyfully by playing into the young musicians own musical and personal quest; only then do artist-citizens emerge who are not submitted to the society as it is, but can and will play a role in serving the positive evolution of that society. Too frequently, do we speak loudly about the ills of society on one hand while people continue to be crunched into puppets, on the other hand, in order to serve that society as it happens to be at present, without their being armed to interact with possible future changes, nor having developed appropriate skills to enact the necessary changes within themselves

©Hendrik Bouman



        learning music in freedom [1998]