Introduction to the AMSF MasterClass on Nov 6, 2011

by Matthew Harre

It was a dark and stormy night when the Adult Music Student Forum held its first Special Event. The subject was performance anxiety and the presenter was Rodger Ellsworth. After talking for about a half hour, some AMSF members volunteered to perform as experimental subjects for his ideas. An intermediate student named Anne Williams performed first. Little did anyone know of all the performances and contributions that Anne would make in future years.

It was easier to be an intermediate student in AMSF then. Now, after 24 years, the level of playing has increased dramatically. It is frequently very high. Beginning and intermediate members can find listening to their AMSF peers very intimidating and feel they have no place here.

It's important to honor the status of all our members and encourage them on their journey. We have all been beginners and intermediates and we are still going through various advancing stages. To not be involved with those in the earlier stages of learning is to betray our history.

Turning our attention to the two quotations I passed out today, in our late teens and early 20's these would have felt very profound. Now, as we get older and a little jaded, we can still find the subtler message; and it is still profound, but in the smaller scale of our own worlds.

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression can only be yours and can only be unique.

"If you block it, it will never exist through any other person--no one can find it for you, it will be lost. The tragedy will not just be yours, but the world will not have it--and the world needs it for that's what each of us has to offer life, that unique form which is in us."
--Martha Graham as quoted by Agnes DeMille

In this quote, I would like to draw your attention to second paragraph. "If you block it, it will never exist through any other person--no one can find it for you, it will be lost."

This tells me that we are not to aspire to play like Murray Perhia or Martha Agerich, not to aspire to play like our teacher. It says we must aspire to play like ourselves. That we should learn to know ourselves and live into what each of us has to offer the world in which we live.

To me as a teacher, it means that it is not my job to get my students to play like I do or anyone else, no matter how wonderfully they play. It means my job is to help my students find and be themselves. This is a very hard job for both students and teachers.

It was a great moment in her life when one of my students said, "I no longer want to play like anybody else; I want to play like me only better than I do now."

The second quote follows:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
--Marianne Williamson

Focusing on Williamson's words,
"Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinkig...."

We all shrink ourselves to avoid difficult tasks that would enhance our playing. Our failure to take our possibilities seriously leads to the "laziness of self-denegation," (Gen Lamrimpa in Snow Lion, Vol. 25, No.4). This laziness manifests itself in thinking
"I can't count and play at the same time; it's too much."
"I can't be aware of harmonic progressions at the same time."
"I can't think about all this fingering AND the notes."
"I can't memorize, I'm too old."

I hear these excuses of self-denigration all the time, alas, sometimes in my own head. We thus limit the possibilities of our potential. These examples of playing small serve no one, especially not us.

Actually, going the extra mile to attempt these "impossibilities" frequently doesn't take a lot of time. Rather, it involves greater focus, greater concentration and just working harder in the time we already practice. Odd that most of us resist this extra effort so much!