Genesis of the DVD

In late November the Art Academy of Novi Sad officially launched The Craft of Piano Playing with a gala promotional event at Town Hall. It was a chance to celebrate the completion of the project, to thank the team, and to reflect on the long process that brought the film to fruition. Here are Alan Fraser’s words on this memorable occasion.


A perceived lack; a possibility

I’m Canadian. In my home country I studied piano, but at the beginning with teachers who had no really solid grounding in technique. What the Russian school had to offer, for instance, was very little known in Canada. So I always had this sense that more and better was possible.

In January 1988 I attended a weekend seminar that investigated the assumptions by which we live our life. Do we relate to what is, or do we relate instead to the story about what is, all our interpretations and judgments of reality. It turns out that ‘what is’ is full of possibility, whereas the stories about what is tend to be filled with complaint and justification – all the reasons why not.

I left that seminar cherishing a new commitment: to develop a new approach to piano technique growing out of Feldenkrais Method. It was a rather audacious commitment, seeing as I hadn’t a clue how I could do it, or how it would look – it just existed, like a possibility.

What is Feldenkrais? To access what is in terms of how we can move, instead of being locked into habits that limit us. Here’s one example that you can do right here – would you all please stand up for a moment:

Feldenkrais: a small demonstration

Step1: Stand with your weight on your left leg, and look to the left. How far can you look? Measure it by finding a point on the wall, and remember that point.
Step 2: Now stand with your weight on your right leg, look to the left. You can now look further behind you, right? Remember the new point on the wall.
Step 3: Now here’s the kicker: do step 2 again, but while still looking behind you, shift your weight from your right leg back to your left. You expected now to be looking at the first point on the wall, right? But instead of reducing your ability to twist, this action allowed you to look even further! How strange! What happened?

The first time you looked left, your neuromotor system perceived a limit to how far you could go. Your brain thought your body’s structure prevented you from twisting further, but actually it was your function. Some of your muscles were holding parts of your skeleton in place, blocking the full range of the twist with their habitual contraction.

When you stood on your right leg, the re-alignment of your skeleton stimulated your nervous system to send ‘release’ signals to some of those holding muscles. The so-called ‘structural blocks’ now disappeared; different joints could now fold more easily; the twist became easier.

Then when you shifted your weight back to your left leg, your brain used that new perception of what is, that new possibility for your bones to cooperate and move smoothly, allowing you to twist even further!

It’s a process fundamentally different from massage or stretching. The change takes place in the brain – how it perceives the self and controls the muscles.

Synchronicity

I wanted to bring this kind of transformation of function to piano technique. I had a vision, but no idea how it might be realized. But it’s strange, when you really commit to something, circumstances conspire to make it come to pass. And thus it was that, six months after I made that commitment and just a couple of weeks before I embarked on my four-year professional training in Feldenkrais, I met the Croatian pianist Kemal Gekich. His physical organization was quiet but not tense, and what a welter of colours, characters, passions and emotions spilling forth from the instrument! This was exactly what I had been searching for all these years.

I moved to Yugoslavia in 1990 and we began to work. Those of you who know me from then will remember that by Russian standards, I did not play piano very well. I had musical talent, but my technique was a mess, and we had to rebuild it from the ground up – not an easy task!

Here was not Russia, but it was the Slavonic soul, something very deep and very precious. For me today there is still something fantastic, wonderful and deeply human about life here that attracts me and which I do not find elsewhere. Here I had the freedom to work for fifteen years, to develop the ideas and the commitment that I had made. And I had the support of a warm, human community – for that I will always be grateful.

And this is the thought I would like to leave you with tonight: it’s easy to complain about life here now, because of the war and the subsequent economic collapse. I see many young people despondent and hopeless, living as if they’re in prison. And so they are, but the prison is of their own construction: it’s their inner story about what is – all the reasons why not. Life is full of possibility, no matter where or in what economic bracket you live. A life lived being true to a commitment instead of a story, that sidesteps all the reasons why not, but is present to what is, is a life transformed beyond belief – as mine was!