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Time-Tripping Music Lessons: A Visionary Method of Teaching To Possibility

by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
     Piano lessons were mandatory in my house growing up. I loved piano and wanted to play, but did everything my immature and impatient mind could dream up to avoid practicing the scales, precise fingerings and exercises that are designed to develop the muscle memory and skills that make expressive piano-playing possible. My teacher observed my sloppy performance, the mechanical attacks upon those poor keys undeserving-of-such punishment, my mechanical and rigid phrasing, all the ways I overcompensated for a lack of solid technique. He reminded, cajoled, admonished, that there was no substitute for going through the boring, tedious skill development to become a musician. And I believed him. But putting that belief into action took something else.

     That “something else” was a visionary method my teacher rolled out. He could have called me undisciplined and impulsive. He could have called me out on my atittude, which wavered between resentful and open rebellion at times. But he sailed right past all that. He appealed to my imagination.
     “When I was walking from my car to your house I could hear you playing,” he said one day at the start of a lesson. “Sometimes your neighbors hear you playing, because sound travels. It travels and never ever stops. Where does sound go, do you think?”
     I said I had not ever thought about where sound goes. It happens, then its gone. Its over. And new sounds come right after all the other ones, and we have to listen to all the new ones coming along so that’s as far as I ever got with the whole sound thing. Then he spoke about sonic booms, those thunderous noises caused by a shock wave produced when aircraft move faster than the speed of sound. Which means that sound has a speed. And if it has speed that means it moves. It travels. So think about it, he said.
     I tried. “If sound travels,” I thought, “it goes somewhere, but where?” I had a standard-issue Catholic school answer.
     “Heaven.” I said.
     “Okay,” he answered. “But think about this too. Think about the idea that all the sounds that have ever been made are also traveling through space to who knows where, just like the electronic signals flying through the air right now create as sounds and images on the radio or television.” He went on a kind of rant about the possibility that people on some far-flung planet, or people on Earth in the future, will have the technology to pick up the sounds we make today. It was a time-tripping story he spun that day, that had me imagining a universe more grand, more expansive, and more interesting than anything I had thought about before. Maybe it was ego, or vanity, or simply being swept up in a visionary view of things, but it got to me. If people in the future or on other planets or dimensions unknown to us now might somehow, someday, be listening, I wanted to play well.
     This teacher inspired me to stick with the tough, boring aspects of learning an art form, which led to an attitude shift that continues to affect my entire life. He did not give up on me even though I was not following through, and often ridiculously moody. The attitude shift led to an uptick in my skill development, which led to success, which led to a degree in music, a career as a music therapist and singer.
     And this is how personal paradigms shift. Something the conditioned mind had accepted no longer rings true because some bit of information lands on our consciousness when our defenses are down, when we are unguarded and open. Countless times over the course of my life, at times when my impatience and desperation threatened to overwhelm my commitment to work that offered no guarantee of success, when it seemed I could not catch a break and wanted to give up on something my soul called me to do, the image my piano teacher imprinted on me has been an anchor to unseen possibility that kept me on task.

Jude Treder-Wolff is performing her solo show Crazytown: my first psychopath in New York City and at around the country in 2012. Click here for more information.


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