My project involves a lot of practising, and a lot of noticing. It began 54 days ago and culminates on October 18 (in another 85 days) when I give a public lecture at my university. When first invited to do this I thought, ‘what would I really like to do?’ There was only one answer –
Play the Kodaly Solo Sonata.
What a wonderful opportunity to really work on this amazing piece, to perform it, and to talk about it – not about the piece so much (of course I will have programme notes) but to talk about the process of learning it.
As a musician there is so much time spent alone.
Practising is quite a solitary activity and it takes a lot of concentration and energy. It takes a lot of cognitive steam too. When people are still at school, studying any topic, not just music, generally a teacher guides them, perhaps literally telling them what to do, or how to improve. At least that teacher will check up on them and observe, listen, advise, and importantly be a companion on the journey with them.
When you’re all grown up, you may still have a teacher, but chances are that you don’t.
How do you learn to be the teacher? How and when do you turn to others for help, advice, encouragement, or just for another pair of ears? Who are your companions along the journey?
I document and share my daily work on this piece with a community of practitioners. They are not all musicians; they are all sorts of creative people: artists, writers, educators, and musicians. We meet via a site called Yapnet which was designed as a sort of sandbox that I call a ‘community of practice’ where it is ok, and encouraged, to learn out loud.
The daily reflection process of being accountable to myself and to potential others has been very enlightening.
Sometimes people leave most helpful and insightful comments, ranging from specific technical comments to noticing that I am tense in a certain passage. I have learned to take time for my own learning, to focus, and to be honest about both progress and the technical challenges I face. Taking time is an important one. There is a saying that we can often replace the phrase ‘I don’t have time’ with ‘It isn’t a priority for me’. I’ve heard it, and I’ve lived it, and making this learning a priority has been deliciously refreshing.
Every day I write, and often I take photos and record a bit and explain the focus, and the successes and challenges of that day’s learning. This example comes from day 51, when I worked to memorise this section. It’s not the most famous bit, but this was in progress on that day. It was the first time I had played this bit from memory. By recording, listening, reflecting, and actively observing and discussing with others I have been able to learn more efficiently, and also when I look back I can see the progress. I still have days where motivation is difficult, and I say that, but the wonderful thing is that I am not alone, and that has kept me grounded. I think for me it is possible to get lost in a practice room.
Today I’ve been working on p16-17 of Mvt3.
(that will mean something if you’re a cellist)
I started this as a 100Days type project, but I didn’t want to ‘share’ via social media as part of a firehose activity. I didn’t want to spout interesting tit bits that look glam, I wanted to learn this piece. Because of the performance date it will be more than 100 days, but that’s ok. Here’s to the next 85 days. I hope you’ll join me at my lecture and performance:
and in the meantime, if you create (art, literature, music, magic – creativity of any sort) you might want to have a look in on Yapnet. You don’t have to follow my lead and do some every day project – it is a place to share as and when you want to, as you progress on your own creative journey.
I would love to welcome you there.