Everything is connected

As some of my friends, readers and followers know, my son is a professional chef who has been working in fine dining in London for 6 years. He’s been living with us during the UK lockdowns and in addition to enjoying his beautiful, inventive and delicious cooking, I have learnt some useful ‘kitchen tricks’ and shortcuts from him.

Homemade pasta was something that had eluded me for years. It’s not that I couldn’t make it, it’s that I could never make it ‘right’. But with my son’s guidance, I have now learnt to make my own egg pasta – and I don’t even use a machine to roll it, just a long rolling pin and a dash of elbow grease. The other day, inspired by one of the ‘skills tests’ on Masterchef The Professionals, a TV series to which we as a family are all glued at this time of the year, I made tortellini (filled pasta) using my own pasta dough. As I was cutting out the discs of dough to be filled with a mushroom stuffing, it occurred to me that if I can make pasta dough and filled pasta, I can also make Japanese gyoza, Chinese wontons and dim sum, Indian samosas, Polish pierogi, and any number of other small stuffed dumpling.

Musical skills, just like culinary skills, once learnt and practiced, can and should be applied to different situations. No learning should ever be done in a vacuum: a single piece of music is not just that one piece, it is a path to other pieces via accrued technical proficiency and artistry. Early students and less advanced pianists often see the pieces they are learning in terms of stand alone works which have no relevance to other music they are working on, or are going to learn. This is also particularly true of scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises which may be studied in isolation instead of appreciating their relevance not just in understanding keys and key relationships, but also in actual pieces of music. This was something I was not taught when having piano lessons as a child, and it’s the fault of the teacher, not the student, if the usefulness and relevance of technical work is not highlighted.

Everything is connected. Chopin knew this: it is said that he studied Bach’s WTC every day, appreciating this music’s relevance to his own musical development, his composing and his teaching. If you can successfully manage Bach’s ornamentation, for example, you should have little difficulty with Chopin’s trills and fioriture.

If we understand how to adapt specific skills, to make them relevant to the repertoire we are currently working on, we can make the learning process less arduous and more rewarding, while also continuing to build on existing skills and develop new ones.

2 Comments

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  1. Dear Frances Wilson,

    Hello! I have enjoyed perusing your excellent articles. Thank you very much for bringing your expertise and understanding of music as well as your musical life and observations to our attention with such clarity and fervour.

    Moreover, I am pleasantly surprised that you have studied with Professor Stephen Savage, whom I have known since 1993 at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (formerly the Queensland Conservatorium of Music). One of his ex-students, David Pitman, as well as his colleagues Professor Stephen Emmerson, had performed my Second Piano Sonata as a whole and in part respectively, as featured in my post entitled “🎼🎹—THE—🎹—LAST—🎹—RAG—🎹🎵🎶” at http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/the-last-rag/

    I understand and concur with you that you were “not taught [musical connections] when having piano lessons as a child, and it’s the fault of the teacher, not the student”. Another good example regarding musical connections and the idea that “Everything is connected” is that one of Edward Elgar’s students taught the late Alan Lane, who is not only the father of the acclaimed pianist Piers Lane (an ex-student of Nancy Weir) but also one of my esteemed music theory teachers at the Queensland Conservatorium. In other words, I am both delighted and grateful to know and realize that in my case, the pedagogical line of teacher-student educational influence and musical connection can reach back all the way to Elgar and beyond, just as I have now found the musical connections between us through our respective websites and our both knowing Professor Stephen Savage.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles. It is wonderful that your son, a professional chef, is back living with you and inspiring you towards being an even better cook “in addition to enjoying his beautiful, inventive and delicious cooking”. As we maintain spatial distancing and stay home to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus, and as we “adapt specific skills, to make them relevant to the repertoire we are currently working on”, please kindly allow me the pleasure to entertain you and your family with a bespoke poem and music recently published in the aforementioned multimedia post entitled 🎼🎹—THE—🎹—LAST—🎹—RAG—🎹🎵🎶, where the featured composition can be enjoyed and studied in multiple formats available to you as the audio playbacks, music visualization, the video captures of score with music, and the gallery of score sheets. Please enjoy to your heart’s content!

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