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There are times when a parent thinks that the teacher is holding their child back. It seems as if the piece is done and the child is ready to move on, and certainly ready to perform, but the teacher continues to rework "old" points. First there are really two questions here: When can one stop working on a piece and what determines a piece’s performance readiness? This letter will help to explain:
If your child is not moving on as fast as you think they should, most likely your teacher is finding things that can still nurture the student’s growth, whether technical, musical or personal. We are acculturated to the ideas of doing just enough to get by, or to get the grade and that the “old” is less valuable and exciting than the new. But “been there, done that” is a sentiment that is not a conducive to fine musicianship. Fine teachers do not allow students to progress until they are deemed ready, and that readiness may not be readily apparent. The Suzuki books don’t help as the repertoire is prominently numbered like so many notches on a bone. No matter the numbers, moving to the next piece does not necessarily signal advancement; neither does it prove that the student is progressing towards Dr. Suzuki’s goal of a fine person with a beautiful heart. In many ways a piece is never done, for even Twinkle can be played in more advanced and musically interesting ways as a person matures. But I consider a child has “learned” a piece when the skills and basic musical challenges of that particular piece have been fluently met.
So when can a piece be performed? A piece is not ready to perform until it is playable from the heart, that is: until the performer consistently and expressively feels the piece in his heart as he/she plays. First the notes and rhythms, and any skills particular to the instrument are learned to the fully automatic state. Then the piece is rehearsed until the heart is familiar with it and the performer can meet the expressive needs of each note, rhythm, and phrase. It is not enough to play through a piece with no mistakes. That is merely the skeleton of the piece. Just as a skeleton communicates little, so too, does a skeletal performance. Looking at a real person is a much more pleasurable, communicative and fulfilling experience than viewing a skeleton. Giving a piece of music muscle (strength), heart (emotion), tendons (holding sections together), etc results in more meaningful music for all. To do so is to play “with the heart” rather than merely “by heart.” Skeletons are fine for Halloween, not for performances.
To sum up…one never relegates a piece to a has-been status. It is never finished. A piece is ready to perform however, when it can be played from the heart.
© 2009 Susan A. Sommerville
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