Sunday, October 29, 2006

What is Practice? Part 4 - Going Deeper

(Part 1)
(Part 2)
(Part 3)

The history of the word practice is quite interesting. The earliest recorded use in English was in 1392, when it meant "to do, act, or perform habitually." This came, via Old French, from Middle Latin practicare, meaning "to do, perform.” Here there is nothing about the purpose of acquiring a skill or proficiency. These earlier forms of the word are all about doing.

I started to think about the practice of a musical instrument in these terms.

What if practice was about doing? If the doing was the important part of the practice? What if the impending performance was not the supreme goal of the practice, it was merely a by-product? How does practice affect us as people, not just performance machines? Could I be a music practitioner, rather than a performer?

The word practice is used today not only in the context of music. It is often used when talking about spirituality, meditation and religion. If I practice meditation, how is that different to practicing my instrument? Could practicing my instrument become less like a chore and more like the practice of a belief-system? Something that flows through the whole of my life?

How well can I get to know a single note? How deeply can I inhabit the silence of a rest? How far can I stretch the space between two semiquavers?

Can I approach my practice with compassion, without judgement or guilt? Can I enjoy the journey without an obsessive need to arrive?

Could I view practice not as something that separates and isolates me from the world, but as something that connects me to a deep current of humanity?

Now I really have no answers to these questions, and I don’t really know if it is possible. Maybe this is all a bit way-out. But I am starting to formulate a picture in my mind’s eye of a possible practice…

This is a deep practice, working with vertical time, rather than horizontal time. There is no clock-watching.

This practice is about really knowing the music, getting completely settled with the material, and with myself.

This practice approaches the instrument with interest, and really listens to the sounds. There is awareness, rather than judgement.

This practice is a whole attitude to life. It is a lifestyle, encompassing much more than technique or even musicality.

It is a doing that involves aesthetics and philosophy, emotion, reason and soul. It affects not only the music but life itself.

* * *

If this practice could talk, maybe it would say…

...to be continued...

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