Saturday, February 4, 2023

Vibration to Vibration

Today I stumbled into a Youtube video of Yuja Wang playing a piano version of The Flight of the Bumblebee. If I was an aspiring classical concert pianist, I think I might have quit on the spot and gone into office work where I might get the satisfaction of putting the files in the correct order. She was simply phenomenal and I suspect even Art Tatum might be scratching his head a bit and wondering, “Hmm. Can I do that?”


Now some amongst you might think I would have said, “… give up performing aspirations and become a music teacher.” But if you think it’s breathtaking to run up and down the keyboard at lightning speed without missing a note, try keeping up with the energy level and attention of 3-year-olds without missing a kid. If my musician self-esteem would suffer in her presence, I’d simply challenge her to a teach-off with 3-year olds and see how she fared. 


But hey, it’s not about competition, except in the old sense of the word— “com” the prefix that means “with” and “petition”, the ancient practice of figuring out which Greek god, Yoruban orisha or Catholic saint to petition for you particular need or hope or wish. So when you find someone petitioning the same God— like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving— what appears to be two players against each other is actually two players with each other spurring each other on to greater heights. That’s why they hug at the end of the game. 


So after watching Ms. Wang’s fireworks, I went to the piano and lit my little sparkler and damn if I didn’t play better than ever. Even over that tiny Youtube screen, the vibrations came through and entered my fingers, posture, musical thinking and shades of emotional expression. And when all is said and done, all the fancy pedagogies and mentor advice, that’s basically what it comes down to. Being in the presence of one a bit further down the path and absorbing the teaching vibration-to -vibration. Same idea of sitting in the company of an Indian guru or Zen master. The words are just ornamental. 


Which means that to be a good teacher means not only to continually move to the edge of mastery in your craft and not only open your heart wider to each student who comes before you, but to come more fully into your own presence, your own character, your own way of thinking, your own way of loving. Not a single bit of which can be taught in a teacher-training college or assessed by any conventional means. 


I’m continually astounded by how high the bar is in the field of music. The sheer number of musicians who no one ever heard of playing at such a high level, whether it be jazz, Western classical, Indian tabla, Balinese gamelan, what have you. All proof that evolution is real and that all the years of standing on the shoulders of giants has enlarged the view. 

As in music, so in basketball. What the Warriors are doing on the court is consistently breathtaking in terms of the 3-point shots and incredible teamwork. And yet the teams they’re playing are matching it and leaving them with a 50-50 record. It’s safe to say that the worst NBA team today playing the best NBA team 50 years ago—or even 20 years ago— would wipe them off the court. 


What’s baffling is that at the same time that the bar of human accomplishment and, though hard to believe, increase tolerance and empathy and understanding of difference, is rising, that there seems to be a corresponding descent in the simplest demands of being a decent human being. And these folks seem to be getting the lion’s share of media attention.


Nothing to do but keep increasing the positive vibrational glow and invite others in. That’s my plan, at any rate. After I practice just a little bit more piano.


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