Concerts not Exams
 

Whatever we do, it's usually hard to get direct accurate feedback. If you ask someonelse, whatever they say is filtered throu their own perceptions. If you apply for an opinion to a professional (EG an examiner) they will give you a judgment that is based on the aesthetics of their discipline, which states not what is authentic to yourself but how you measure up to an abstract.

Music however provides its practitioners the purest form of feedback. In performing to other people you know how you have done. In performance, especially in a sympathetic environment, you experience a fusing of the constituent parts you've studied into a coherent experiential whole. And an important component in creating a sense of wholeness is the response of those who love you - primarily & principally your parents, but in professional terms, your admirers. Given the right conditions, I believe this is as true of someone giving their first concert as it is of Daniel Barenboim giving his 4000th.

Exams cannot supply this missing ingredient. While I taught at the Junior RCM, I knew there was something profoundly unbalanced about how we were educating young musicians & I could see that exam-mania played a part in it but I couldn’t put my finger on the 'logic error'. [For a more detailed analysis see What Role for Exams in a Post-Gutenberg age?]

I actually think that if you wished to create the sense of disconnection which exists between most professional musicians and what they do (& may once have loved) you could find no better way instil it in them than by training them to think that music consists of a series of judgmental encounters. And I submit that those experiences 'writ large' fully account for the emotionally dysfunctional nature of the contemporary art music scene in the UK.

What’s the answer?
Well, in Of Geist & Grooves there is an analysis I wrote a few years ago about the psycho-musical processes which I think pupils' concert performances cement in place. The presence of a loving consciousness in the audience creates for the young performer the ideal crucible to fuse all the elements involved in musical performance, both artistic & technical - and from that experience s/he emerges with greater self-awareness, just as a soldier does from experiencing battle conditions after training. It becomes a solid 'platform' on which to build future development. Put another way it is the ideal heuristic (optimised solution) on which to base the next stage of the experiment which is learning - & life.

What is the discovery?
In the system I have evolved, each performer's progress is defined by hirself. What s/he discovers in/by performance is authentically hir own inner 'meaning/s', or sense of self-worth - which I consider the greatest form of empowerment any education can offer. In contrast, the conventional way of learning a musical instrument brings you into contact primarily with the defined aesthetic parameters of a range of 'approved meanings'.

In the middle ages medicine often involved comparing patients' symptoms with one of the latin treatises, often without actually examining them. I believe that medieval methodology still largely underpins the teaching of conservatoire music (as exemplified in the Grade system) - the difference is that the pupils do indeed get *examined* -& how- yet the examination is not about uncovering what is authentic in each of them, it's about measuring their conformity to abstract standards which, IMO, have no real place in music - other than to petrify it in some antique past. (How can you examine the fitness of a pop musician to have a 'hit'? It's laughable. When Buddy Holly first broke throu his band only knew 3 songs, & for the first year they never had time to learn any new ones. An obvious fail! Could Ray Charles have passed an exam, & if so, in what?)

I sometimes make the point in a good-natured way when pupils miss concerts that they’d never consider missing an exam. The attitude that an exam as somehow 'important' & thus unmissable, while a concert is merely optional shows how much everyone has been brainwashed by the current misdirection of education, IMO. It's understandable of course because we are trained to believe that the whole hard-edged world exams defines people's access to 'a career' & thus to privilege & money. A premise I dispute, despite the overwhelming evidence(!)

But actually music (or art) isn't about that, & altho it can be twisted to serve such ends -as what cannot?- to do so is to eviscerate its greatest gift to the individual - namely to put hir in touch with hir true self, to marry hir emotions & skill-set (something 'scientific' education doesn’t even attempt). It makes real a soft-edged world of internal recognition, & this gives the young pianist permission to explore further what s/he senses to be of value within hir.

That is what all education should be about IMO, and nowhere more than in music - yet Western culture has not evolved learning procedures designed to bring that about. Partly because we still think of education as being about teaching - when it isn't. Things will only change when the learners' view of learning becomes paramount. I’ve used the decade I’ve spent helping beginners learn the piano to experiment with what sparks the most rapid response in young pianists - some ideas worked, some didn’t. But the main thing has been that I’ve been listening to them - and to the music *they* want to play - not trying to fit them onto some Procrustean piano stool.

I have no power to change anything in music. All I have is the power each human being has to be a witness to what seems truthful; and it grieves me to see so many colleags participating in a mighty system geared to salami-slicing children's love of music when I believe there are options which produce infinitely more wholesome results in the longterm. If I could manage to establish a 'respectable' educational alternative to the prevailing mindset I should think my life had not been entirely worthless.

So that’s what the concerts are about - creating a permissive environment where there are no hard edges for kids to knock against if they fall, & plenty of elastic to help them jump higher.

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