In yesterday’s yoga class, the teacher spoke about “finding your edge”, the point in a pose which is challenging but not uncomfortable. It’s something that I’ve often heard about and experienced in yoga, but this time my thoughts turned to music. What is your edge, musically? I immediately thought of playing alongside someone who is consistently, dare I say deliberately, playing slightly sharp. This often strikes me as an attempt to outshine one’s colleagues, but it got me thinking; what happens if we consciously try to play slightly sharp or slightly flat? Or begin each note slightly early or slightly late? In classical music training (and it is generally ‘training’ rather than ‘exploration’), we focus so much on being ‘bang in time/tune’ that those experiments often don’t occur; should something ‘go wrong’, we may not therefore have the language or technique to correct it.
Then another thought occurred about working at the edge. Countless times, yoga teachers have made it clear to me that it is desirable not to always be pushing oneself, to take time to breathe, to relax into a situation, to work out what is right through feel, rather than by sight or by verbal discourse. How different this is to our current rhetoric in school education, with ‘flight paths’, ‘Even Better Ifs’ and incessant summative assessment. What would our schools feel like if we took more time to be still, to re-visit ‘simple’ ideas and skills? What would our music lessons look like and sound like? How would life change for us, for our colleagues, for the children we work with?
Today I ate a lot of sushi with my friends Meghan and Meagan. As well as sharing a name, they are also both singers and wonderful dining companions. The conversation turned to classical singing, and their own experiences of being at various points classified as a soprano, a mezzo, and so on. They remembered teachers who’d been to quick to label them and then work from the label (making me think of symbol before sound/feel), compared to more encouraging teachers who helped them find a safe starting point from which to explore (sound/feel before symbol). We talked about working ‘on the edge’ of one’s voice, and how this can lead to both discovery and disaster. Meghan observed that one must be prepared to do something that may initially be ugly in order to potentially reach beauty – and that familiarity with being on the edge might mean that one is more willing to take that risk again and continue exploring.
Now that made me wonder about whether we should in fact be at the edge more, and encouraging the children we work with to be there, particularly since looking at it from a view of exploration, rather than progress, is perhaps more appealing. But then as we left the restaurant, I revised my thinking: Meghan was telling us about two pieces she is learning, one by Ravel and one by Mahler. She was commenting how physically challenging the Mahler is, and how natural the Ravel feels. I asked why she was therefore bothering to perform the Mahler in her upcoming recital. “Because I love it”, she replied unequivocally. Maybe it’s easier to be at your edge if the motivation to be there is intrinsic, and if you have other opportunities (in Meghan’s case, the Ravel) to be much more comfortable.
I hope that we all, in our educational setting this week, experience both comfort and the urge to explore.