PIANO: Letting Go (the teacher's perspective)

My studio is approaching another recital, and I wanted to wax a little philosophical about letting go....I hope these musings are helpful to everyone.

The following quote confounded me for about 6 years:

The highest form of control is letting go
— The Secret Language of Birthdays

As someone who has always attempted to control many things (and fly off the handle in frustration as a result), I just couldn't stomach the concept. The feeling of letting go is so foreign, so diametrically opposed to control that it didn't make any sense!

However, hosting and supporting students through piano recitals has truly taught me the wisdom of that statement. My very first one (which occurred in undergrad...I had one sweet little student perform), I know I was far more nervous than the student. And what did that help? I know she certainly didn't play any better because of me. My nerves may have even increased hers (she played very very very fast). I was nervous because my self-image was tied to her performance: I was trying to prove my efficacy as a teacher because my pedagogy teacher was watching.

It was at that point that I decided never to entangle my ego, my sense of self-esteem or accomplishment with the success of my students. All I can do is guide their preparation, offer suggestions, and let go by offering unconditional support and love. If I do not let go, I hinder their artistic progress. There is no worse pressure on a student than the belief that they are responsible for the teacher's self-image.

And more importantly, if my ego is entangled with my students' success, that skews my perception of how they do. If I'm feeling nervous or negative or critical, I'm not processing information correctly. (Studies have shown that the brain creates false information if we're in a negative emotional state; that we do not analyze situations correctly if in fear, doubt, criticism). I can't help them become better, I can't help them learn from their performance if my self-esteem is tied to their success. The best way to help is to let go, so I can see clearly.

And I believe that every musician needs to make this choice at some point. You have seen your piece so often, you have worked on it so much that you believe you know everything about the piece. And you do.......but yet you don't. You have no idea of the potential, because the potential of the piece is not expressed until you perform. You've breathed exquisite life in your piece through your energy, attention, hard work. It's waiting to unfold for you, but if you hold it too tightly because you're afraid of making mistakes, you will never release it.

Letting go will help you see where your piece is, where your technique is, where your musical development truly is, how good your preparation is. All of this information is readily available to you if you let go in performance. The truth can be scary sometimes, and we're often reluctant to shine the light on our flaws. But..... unless you let go, you'll never really know where you stand. And you'll not know your true direction, your true next steps.

No teacher, no student, no performance, is EVER perfect. Because we're not perfect. The mistake is that we choose to measure worth in perfection. I feel the most successful performance is the one where the performer has let go.....has surrendered the ego, has stepped aside and allowed the music to come through them. That moment of unity, of perfect harmony, of total peace is one of the most rewarding, wondrous experiences you can ever have. And it is the only kind of performance which brings the audience in contact with the true power of music.

And now....some questions. Do you find it easy to let go and trust yourself? Do your expectations connect you or repel you from your music? Are your expectations hindering or helping your performance? Do you feel gratitude for your progress? Do you think that letting go will help you learn how to improve?

Love to hear your thoughts! Let's get some comments going.