Yen Hui, said to be the favorite follower of Confucius, asked for advice from the old sage regarding a proposed journey to the state of Wei, where a certain Prince Hui was treating his country and the death of his people “with scant regard”. The young Yen Hui wanted to see if there was anything he could do to help out, and in fact he thought that in going to the state of Wei, he was following previous counsels from Confucius about visiting “the state that is in real trouble.” But Confucius saw that Yen Hui was not yet ready to go on such a mission, and so he told his follower to “Go away and fast, then I will tell you what to do.” Yen Hui complained that because his family was poor, he had already been fasting, for months… and then Confucius countered with the observation that Yen Hui’s fasting was not the kind of fasting that was required for generating insight, and gave this marvelous description to Yen Hui, of something deeper, “Your mind must become one, do not try to understand with your ears but with your heart. Indeed, not with your heart but with your soul. Listening blocks the ears, set your heart on what is right, but let your soul be open to receive in true sincerity. The Way is found in emptiness. Emptiness is the fasting of the heart.” (this post is a summary of a much longer passage in the Martin Palmer/Elizabeth Breuilly translation of The Book of Chuang Tzu, published in 1996 by ARKANA – Penguin Books)
There are so many ways to listen to music… but a quiet, inquisitive way of listening, allowing one’s consciousness to be brought forward into contact with the movement of the sound as body experience, higher or lower, or in two or more places at once, when one is just listening with a continuous letting go into the flow of it… This kind of listening allows something to happen to the whole of oneself, refreshing and renewing .
Musical improvisation has been an essential part of me since early childhood, although it has become vastly more sophisticated (I daresay), since I “went professional” in my 20’s, through decades now of intentional nurturing. Is my predilection for improv and spontaneity opposed to all the classical training I had in childhood, as well as in college, or complementary to it? I lean towards the notion of complementarity. One thing is for sure – any time I work on standard classical repertoire, I am well reminded of how challenging and worthy of respect the re-creative way of doing music really is!
The absolutely wonderful concert pianist, teacher and author Mildred Portney Chase (1921-1991) had this to say about listening: “I still remember my teacher Josef Lhevinne saying that I needed to listen more…. I tried harder, but what was I doing? Tensing my ear? … Some things have surfaced since that time. I remember when I discovered silence. Silence! The mother of sound.” (an abridged quotation out of Chase’s 1974 book, Just Being at the Piano, published by Peace Press)
David Salminen’s spontaneously created piano improvisations aim at helping to foster a broader & deeper awareness of the cosmoses in which we live and breathe, all together.
It is interesting, being present to yourself, while you also let go of all content, and let the onrush of fresh music, the experience of the soundstream, flow over and through you.
This evening – or was it yesterday – I commenced a 21-day series of experiments in musical mind refreshment, with the wonderful Violin Concerto created by the late Welsh composer, Grace Williams. Listening as letting go and flowing into the future, riding the sound waves… It does one good!