Sometimes it’s the experience of a single thing that captures your heart and has you breathless in the face of a miracle. Sometimes it’s the congruence of a number of things. As a young man, I will never forget the day I met a flock of sandpipers up close. I had gone down to the edge of the shore on a sandy beach with a portable tape player. The day was still with barely a breeze, the sun shining, and an ocean as smooth as glass. I sat on the sand at the edge of the sea as gentle waves lapped against me. The music was the pristine magical slow movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. A perfect match for the setting. Then, as I sat basking in the magical moment it expanded to a whole new level. A flock of 20 or more tiny sandpipers, dashing and dancing back and forth with the waves at the edge of the shore, approached me. I sat as still as the sea and they came within 6 feet of me before flying away.
These moments of miraculous beauty are what I look for and hold onto when I create music. I seek to create that when collaborating with other artists too. They are moments where the universe conspires to provide the unexpected and connect you profoundly with something beyond explanation. I strive to re-create experiences like that over and over when I sit at the piano. It’s a tall order. I’ve done it. I’ll do it again. The goal is to do it every time.
This experience was so profound for me that, some years later, I created this collagraph print as an abstract visual representation of the piece and the moment.
Ravel’s Adagio Assai (a visual representation of the music by Craig Addy)
If you want to give yourself 8 minutes to meditate on this glorious music, here is a link to a video with the great Martha Argerich performing. Imagine the scene I shared as you listen. Martha Argerich: Ravel – Piano Concerto in G Major | Nobel Prize Concert 2009
With my focus on mastering the art of improvising, I don’t spend as much time as I once did learning notated music. However, I must say that the process of learning notes has always been a sluggish one for me and I have been jealous of other pianists who seem to master learning the notes with precision and accuracy so much faster. I know that slow, methodical and highly focussed practice is the discipline that will make the difference and I’ve made good improvements with that.
Curiously, as I have returned to teaching I’ve been learning more notated music again and have been surprised to discover it is now significantly faster for me. All that improvising also seems to have had a surprising benefit. I’m not sure why. However, I still would love to accelerate that “learning the notes” process so I can get right to what matters faster – making the music and an unhindered expression of passion and emotion.
This fascintating technology just might be it. Halo Neuroscience has developed a technology for athletes that accelerates their performance, strength and endurance. As it enhances the neuroplasticity of the brain’s motor cortex it stands to reason that it could be beneficial for learning any activity that relies on the motor cortex. Well the mechanics of playing a musical instrument would be one of those activities. This musician, Mario Marzo, put Halo Sport to the test. He learned two Bach preludes of comparable difficulty – one with the Halo technology and one without. The results are remarkable.
Check out his fascinating video journal of the process.
In April I hosted two Hidden Treasures Piano Salons. These are unique intimate gatherings of up to 10 people in my home studio. These impromptu Piano Salons were so fun that I plan to do them regularly.
What a fabulous night of improvised music by Craig Addy of Under the Piano. Craig has an unmatched ability to take our ideas (setting sun, midnight sail, lovers’ journey, spring day) and improvise music to match. What a great way to spend Easter Saturday. Looking forward to next time! – Baila Lazarus
Guests have the opportunity to create ideas in conversation that then inspire a spontaneous piano improvisation. Opportunities to lie under the piano and to purchase a recording of the evening’s music are also available.
I may or may not schedule these salons. It’s been fun being spontaneous and choosing to have one with as little as half a day’s notice. Perhaps I’ll do a combination of planned and inspired events. My primary method for notifying interested people is by text. If you want to get first dibs on an upcoming Piano Salon, contact me at Craig@UnderThePiano.ca and provide me with a mobile number to which I can text message an invitation. Do not provide me with a landline number. You’ll be inundated with numerous automated attempts to send a text to that number. It’s not fun and I am speaking from recent experience when I mistakenly sent an invitation to a landline number.
Do this to get invitations to the Hidden Treasures Piano Salons.
Email your mobile phone number to Craig@UnderThePiano.ca
Here’s a track called Tektite Pendant from the second Piano Salon.
This piano improvisation was inspired by a pendant worn by a guest at a Hidden Treasures Piano Salon. These music salons include a series of piano improvisations inspired by the conversations of the participating guests. In this case, the guest chose to be silent and simply place in my hands a pendant. She said my musical journey captured the essence of the pendant well. I learned after the improvisation that the pendant was a piece of tektite, which is formed from terrestrial debris ejected during meteorite impacts.
And a little movie featuring an excerpt from the same track.
The photos are macro photos I took of my grand piano, the piano you are hearing in this recording.
In May of 2016 I had the privilege and delight to provide one of four Energizers at TEDx Stanley Park 2016. The Energizer’s job was to lighten things up a little and provide 4 to 5 minutes of fun lighter entertainment that engaged the audience and encouraged their participation. Hop-a-Long was my contribution to a great event.
Learning to embrace your mistakes could be the fastest pathway to perfection.
I’m learning powerful lessons through teaching the piano.
Nobody wants to make a mistake.
During our childhood, we quickly learn that mistakes are bad and wrong. At first we learn it from adults. Their attempts to guide us may well be coming from love and a desire for what’s best for us but as little beings we don’t really have the capacity to understand that. We just know something is wrong. There is something wrong with us. Pretty soon, we become our own worst critic and don’t even need the aid of outside sources to see the dangers of making mistakes. It’s normal to avoid mistakes. It’s just survival. You’re life depends on it. Your brain is there to predict the future based on past experiences so you don’t make a life-threatening mistake again. You may have squeaked through the last time a dicey situation happened and your brain is going to make sure that doesn’t happen again. The problem is that the fight or flight response doesn’t happen in the cognitive rational area of your brain. It’s a basic and instinctual response and your brain doesn’t make distinctions between non-life-threatening situations and real life-threatening situations. Fight or flight gets triggered when an envelope from the government’s revenue agency arrives and you’re behind on paying your taxes, when your mobile phone’s display lights up with your boss’s phone number and your running late for work, and when an aggressive and angry bear is bearing down on you in the woods. At a basic animal level, your brain makes no distinction between real threats and imagined threats.
But, did you know you are already a living breathing example of success. No matter how awful your life looks to you or others or how full of anxiety and fear your life is, if you are on this planet, you are one of the survivors. You are someone who has made it this far and you’ll probably continue to do so. Your strategies for survival have worked. However, there is a cost to you. Your survival strategies likely stand in the way of you getting or achieving things you want for yourself and others. One top strategy is to make NO MISTAKES so you can be safe.
That naughty perfection.
We want things to be perfect. Why? What does it matter? Is perfection just a way to know we have made no mistakes or to fool others that we have not made any? Is perfection just a fancy way of looking good? Looking strong? Being right? Looking like a survivor? Perfection IS more than that. There is that sublime perfection we experience in the breathtaking presence of nature or art that send shivers and tingles up and down our spine, arms and legs. I’m not talking about that kind of perfection. I’m talking about survival perfection. When you need something to be perfect, that’s a warning signal. The moment something’s not perfect, we pull back. We default to our survival strategies and the opportunity to create something new, unpredictable and life-altering is lost. Instead we get the same old result. We want to look good and in doing so we destroy the opportunity for creation AND paradoxically the possibility of that sublime perfection I mentioned is lost. Teaching the piano revealed this issue to a degree I never imagined.
Teaching mistakes at the piano.
I spend more time than I ever expected inviting students to allow themselves to get it wrong. It’s a process that is requiring cajoling, backing off and giving space, and persistence. Piano students don’t want to make mistakes. I didn’t realise how deeply the need to avoid mistakes runs for human beings. I actually invite my pupils to practice making mistakes. I invite them to accept the mistake. Let it in. I invite them to notice that it’s usually just a tiny step away from resolution and that they ‘know’ exactly what to do with the ‘mistake’ if they would just let it happen.
Okay, you played a note and you don’t think it sounded good (insert “You did something in your life you didn’t like”). What now? The best thing is to move on without stopping the flow or action. Most people won’t even notice the note you didn’t like. What they will notice is that you stopped, became tentative and careful, or reacted in some observable way. You could just keep going and ignore the note you didn’t like as if it never happened. Practice making mistakes so you can practice recovering without losing the flow and the bigger picture you are creating.
If you are improvising music, you have additional choices.You can literally rewrite the past by making the unitended incident a gift. How about considering that it’s not a mistake. It’s an unintended outcome or a surprising result. What if it’s a gift rather than a mistake? Use it as an act of creation – what is it telling you? What if it’s an invitation to go somewhere new? You could embrace the note. Play it again and again and again. Have it become the idea for the music you are playing. Have it be the genesis of something you never dreamt of creating. In the end, you may discover perfection arising out of the unintended note.
The surest way to have something be imperfect is to try to make it perfect.
The pathway to real sublime perfection, the kind that drops your jaw and gives you shivers and tingles, is not trying to be perfect or make something perfect. It’s fine to set the intention of having something be perfect, but it’s critical to set that aside as soon as the action starts. Allow perfection to arise out of what you are doing and who you are being. You need to make perfection possible by mastering a skill – playing the piano, communicating effectively, passing or hitting the ball etc. You do need to do the work to make it possible to arise. But the skill is not enough. Who you are being is important too. Are you being critical of yourself or the situation? Do you have opinions about how things have gone and how they will go? Are you just surviving with an automatic thoughtless fight or flight reaction? Get that they have nothing to do with what’s actually happening now. Set them aside, and keep playing. Save the criticism for later. NOW is not the time for it.
Did you have a demanding piano teacher who spent most of the time pointing out your mistakes. Did you leave your lessons defeated and despairing that you could never get it right? Come and make some mistakes for me. We’ll celebrate them together and see where they will take us.
Contact me today to discuss the possibility of piano lessons.
Education & Training:
Piano Performer’s A.R.C.T. (Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto)
B.Mus. (University of British Columbia) – Composition & Performing
Landmark Worldwide Training Programs – Curriculum for Living, Power to Create, and more
Craig regularly performs with:
The Amicus Music Duo – www.amicusmusicduo.com
The Quiet Hearts Ensemble – www.amicusmusicduo.com
Under the Piano – www.UnderThePiano.ca
For the story behind my passion for teaching visit my blog at CraigAddy.com
Do you have memories of learning as a child and now wish you had continued?
Are you someone who says I can only play if I have the written music?
Are you someone who says I can only play by ear?
Perhaps you can remember a time when you were excited about learning to play the piano. Then that excitement disappeared. Playing the piano became little more than boring technical exercises and practicing the same pieces over and over.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Would you like to learn to make music in a joyful way?
You can begin or continue to learn at any age.
You can let go of regret and take lessons again.
Everyone has the capacity to create and express themselves at the piano. I can show you how.
Anyone can learn to read written music. If you can read these words, you can read music notation.
Contact me today to discuss the possibility of piano lessons.
Education & Training:
Piano Performer’s A.R.C.T. (Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto)
B.Mus. (University of British Columbia) – Composition & Piano Performance
Landmark Worldwide Training Programs – Curriculum for Living, Power to Create, & more
I recently discovered why I haven’t been teaching the piano for the past 25 years. I did in my mid twenties and early thirties. Becoming an accomplished piano player does take practice. I’ve practiced a lot over the years. Yet, during my music education I often had a disheartening experience. After practicing all those hours during a week, I would go to a lesson only to spend much of the time discovering what’s wrong. I’d leave the lesson despondent and sad. But I loved music so much. I’d get over it after a day or two and get back in the saddle. Also, because I loved my teachers and knew they loved me, I didn’t have the overall unpleasant experience that some former piano students have described. I enjoyed my teachers and looked forward to lessons. Consequently, my experience of piano lessons was very much a love-hate relationship and, in hindsight, a little confusing. Somewhere along my journey, I made a decision. I decided teaching wasn’t for me. When asked why I didn’t, I had flippant answers like “Everybody in my family is a teacher. I’m not interested in that.” Given that I do come from an extended family of teachers who are all very gifted and successful teachers, it doesn’t really make sense to diminish the idea of being a teacher, but I did. I never thought about it carefully until that day in the Wisdom Course back in November of 2015.
I discovered the real reason why I decided not to teach music. I discovered something that had remained hidden in my subconsciousness all these years.
What was the discovery? It was the belief that to teach music was to depress people. To teach music was to have someone come to a lesson and leave sad and despondent. Suddenly, I was fully aware and conscious of this belief. In the presence of this awareness, there were questions to ask.
Is this belief true? Yes and no. For myself, I can remember many exhilarating, happy and rewarding lessons. It’s so easy to focus on the bad and forget about the good. However, I can’t ignore the number of times I have spoken with former piano students who had truly unhappy memories of there piano lessons. They tell stories of teachers who were rigorous task masters. Playing the piano became little more than boring technical exercises and practicing the same pieces over and over. Of course they quit. How sad. Learning music doesn’t have to be like that.
Am I stuck with this belief? Absolutely not. As soon as I saw it, I got how crazy it was. I was free of it as soon as I discovered it.
Could I say something other than “teaching is to depress”? Yes
This is what I say. It’s really simple. “I don’t have to teach that way! I can teach in a way that insures that learning is full of discovery, confidence of success, and most importantly, fun!”
I am not the same musician or person I was 25 years ago. Now, I still bring to the table all the critical and valuable traditional and rigorous training and skills needed for piano playing and teaching. This is important. But it’s useless if it saps all the joy and delight of playing music from the student. What I also bring is something very rare. It’s the art of improvisation and new skills in listening and facilitating discovery that I have learned from the many programs I have participated in at Landmark. I bring a kind a creativity, discovery, and spontaneity to which many piano teachers likely have no access. I have mastered the art of true self expression at the piano through improvisation and composition. Everyone has this capacity to improvise and create and I have the experience and knowledge to teach this. Improvisation and playing by ear is a remarkable tool for getting to the “heart” of music and for discovering the musical meaning of the written or composed music you are learning whether it be a classical, pop or blues piece.
For me, music is the art of emotion. When you can express both “your intention” and the “composer’s” intention in the music you play, you have mastered that art.
That’s why I teach.
Would you like to learn to make music in a joyful way?
Under the Piano is such a unique experience that on many occasions clients give it to a loved one as a surprise. They bring their bewildered partner, friend, or family member to my home studio here in the Westend. Where on earth am I coming, they are wondering. I love these sessions. I’m good at making people quickly feel at ease and my studio has a comforting and cozy atmosphere. Then we have a conversation during which I reveal the magical musical experience they are about to have.
For this reason, I have devised what I call a Secret Certificate. I remove all references to my business name and what the experience is. All they will know is that it has something to do with sound and that it is relaxing like a spa experience.
So, if you want to surprise a music lover with one of the most unique gifts on this planet, here’s an opportunity.
This image is not music. This image is a pale representation of what music is. It’s a series of black symbols printed on paper to represent something far beyond it. Music is played, performed, and created by musicians. It is not marks on paper.
Don’t get me wrong. That black ink on paper is important. It preserves and even immortalises composers’ creations for future musicians to re-create for future listeners.
I think it’s strange that so much music training starts with learning to read those black symbols and marks on paper. It takes a long time to learn and then your brain has to translate what you are seeing into the real thing – the music.
I also think it’s sad that the ability to improvise and compose in the moment, a skill classical musicians and performers used to possess, has been lost. I think a large measure of this loss is due to a focus on the written note.
Wouldn’t you rather go straight to learning music, creating music, and expressing yourself musically? Then, when you have some facility and freedom with making music, you can learn to read the notes. You’ll discover it’s so much simpler because you will also discover that you already know what those symbols mean.
I’ve had the great fortune of discovering the joy and passion that improvising and spontaneously composing music provides and now I want to pass that on to others. If you are a pianist or have been a pianist that finds yourself trapped by the need for music symbols on a page, there is a new opportunity available to you. If you have always dreamed of learning to play the piano, there is an opportunity to learn in a new way. I would be delighted to guide you on a journey of discovering your own true self expression, creativity and musicality at the piano.
Contact me today to discuss the possibility of your first piano lesson.