I am not concerned at not being known;
I seek to be worthy to be known.
~ K'ung Fu-Tzu
I first penned Zen and the Art of Piano as a book, but I love trees... and publications of this nature now seem old-fashioned when it's possible to make content live and interactive, on whatever device you might have at the moment. I'm eager to lighten your step and inspire you to new heights, not weigh you down with yet another tome. Most of the posts can be read in a few minutes and serve as fuel to your own explorations.
I'm happy to share these pages freely with whomever in the world might have an inclination to read and reflect, and hopefully react, respond, be reinvigorated.
Please be a part of the discussion. Vehemently fight against ideas you disagree with in the comments section of each post (to get to individual posts, simply click on links from the Table of Contents to the right); cheer for an idea that might give you just what you need today to take a step forward.
It's my goal and dream that this space might be a place for like-minded pianists – from passive fans to amateurs, pianophiles, piano majors, concert pianists, teachers and plain curiosity-seekers – to meet and share a pianistic journey. And maybe discover something about zen along the way.
This is your space.
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth;
not going all the way, and not starting.
The following pages describes my search to attain a complete pianism encompassing all the possible colors and color combinations of which the piano is capable. I write about phrasing and transmitting musical energy – physical, emotional and psychological – with zen-like ease and purity. Along the way, I discuss my personal approach to various works in the repertoire to demonstrate practical applications of the techniques. You will quickly gain practical tools to transform the piano into an orchestra of infinite sonic and expressive possibilities. And finally, I speak of my personal relationship to the great pianists of the past and present, of what each has taught me and represents to me.
I must say upfront that I’m generally not a fan of books of this nature, although there have been a few along the way that have been meaningful and important to my own development. I write partly for myself; as I chronicle a lifetime struggle to understand the nature and potential of the piano, I teach myself what I’ve learned and forgotten over the years, and somehow try to string it all together in my mind on a more conscious level, to form my own Theory of Everything Pianistic, if you will. If I find a few readers in students, colleagues or pianophiles who discover something thought-provoking or are able to use a handful of ideas as points of departure for debate or further study and growth, I will be happy.
Zen, like music, is stillness and silence ignited, passions inspired, minds moved and moving, hearts and fingers in action, abandon unfeared.
The invitation is always now.
By the water, deep within the forest, you find traces.
Leaving fragrant grasses behind, you study the signs.
Following the tracks, you enter endless mountains.
Distant sky – how can the tip of its nose be hidden elsewhere?
~ The Ox-Herding Pictures, circa 800AD
Many years ago, I started keeping a log on my laptop of my daily piano practice sessions that I lovingly called “Confessions and Contradictions of a Practicing Pianist.” The following opus has been developed through this process of self-analysis and continual search for the ever-elusive Piano Grail. I often find that as I push each pianistic and interpretational approach to its logical conclusion, I contradict what I’ve just discovered a day earlier, and the following day often brings new contradictions – this is one of the great frustrations and beauties of the complex art of piano playing. And I have to confess that I often fall victim to short-sightedness as I lunge after new realizations and revelations. How many times have I discovered the Great Secret, only to tear it apart the next day as a mirage or half-truth! But gradually, you wind round and round the mountain and slowly find yourself a little closer to the summit.
And that’s the joy of this never-ending pursuit of a Parnassus that may not even exist but never ceases to beckon. As zen philosophers would say, the mountain is yourself.
The book is divided into four large sections, echoing (yes, pretentiously!) the form of a Symphony – I: A Zen Prelude and Allegro moderato, II: Andante con mosso, III: Scherzo, and IV: Fuga con Variazioni.
The body of Part I, Filters, is an introduction to the concepts and techniques of orchestration and energy. Each essay teaches a new filter or set of filters for processing musical information, the essence of practice. I limit myself to a single musical example, the “A-section” of Rachmaninoff’s well-known Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2. This is a page of music easily learned by an intermediate pianist and was carefully chosen to help make this work accessible not only to University Piano Performance majors and concert pianists, but also to young aspiring pianists and amateurs.
Part II expands on the ideas in Part I in a less dense, more readable way. It includes essays about all matters pertaining to the preparing and performing of a work.
Part III consists of a collection of essays about great pianists and what I’ve learned from them.
Part IV, like a second-year foreign language text book, reviews all of the concepts presented in Part I, expanding and developing them. It opens with Fuga, an exploration of the Music Theory behind Energy Pillars. This is followed by Variazioni, in which five examples from stylistically diverse works are explored one at a time, following the path laid in Part I. Examples from the entire gamut of the piano repertoire are included along the way.
Before I had studied Zen
I saw mountains as mountains, waters as waters.
When I learned something of Zen,
the mountains were no longer mountains, waters no longer waters.
But now that I understand Zen,
I am at peace with myself,
seeing mountains once again as mountains,
waters as waters.
~ Ch’ing-yuan (660-740)