Is It Okay to Hit A Cat?
My youngest son was playing with this app. It’s a little animated cat that responds differently to you depending on what you say or do to it. For instance, if you speak for 1 minute to the cat, at the end, it will repeat everything you said using a high squeaky voice.
One of the more unfortunate things you can do to this cat is beat him up. If you punch the screen, the cat will wobble, see stars, and even fall down. Of course, he gets back up so you can abuse him some more.
My son really thought this was funny. I didn’t, and I refused to let him use this particular feature of the app. I expect he still beats the cat up when I’m not looking, but I’ve made my point.
What point was that, exactly, you may wonder? This is a cartoon character. What’s the possible harm in beating up an imaginary creature that feels absolutely no pain whatsoever?
I’m certain he knows the difference between beating up this cat and beating up a friend. If he beats up his friend, there will be consequences, wheras with the cat, there are none. Even so, all this means is that he is learning to be brutal whenever there are no obvious consequences to stop him.
I believe that practicing brutality, even when the situation is artificial, has an effect on my son. What does this have to do with piano lessons? Did you notice the word “practicing” in that first sentence?
I have always been a “process oriented” musician, for better or worse. In my mind, the final performance should be the demonstration, not of mastery, but of ones’ self-mastery. What you can show is a result, not of what you can do, but of what you have learned.
When we approach a score, we may consider what we will bring to the music. How will we play Beethoven or Ellington or Jagger like no one else? How will we change the score?
Realistically, though, the music doesn’t have to change when we play. We have to change.
So how we practice is more important than how much we practice. Do we approach the music with an intent to discover, to grow and then to share? Or are we protecting our image as a person with special powers?
How much we practice must be a function of how much we know to do. If we are going to spend 30 minutes polishing a measure, it must be because that’s how much time it takes to examine and address the problem. If we can honestly get the results we want in 5 minutes, we should either find a deeper challenge, or we should go outside and play, for God’s sake!
Are the problems in a piece of music (or a painting or a poem or a novel) little cats we must beat into submission? I think they’re actually reflections of something missing in our self-image. How we address our difficulties is how we ultimately treat ourselves.
I used to hate to practice and perform for the very reason that it made me feel insufficient and inferior. My mindset is slowly coming around to a different way of thinking about music-making, as one of a hundred ways to heal and mature. My students have the benefit of getting it right much earlier.
Is practicing a process for you? Is it like brushing your teeth? Or do you hit the cat?