Just a few pages into The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney I found myself thinking, “This is terrific; I wish I’d read this years ago!” and “I’ve got to let (an adult student) read this when I’m done,” and “I should tell (my colleague) to order a copy.” This isn’t my typical response to nonfiction literature, but Westney’s exploration the joy of music is one of those “Wow!” books.
A concert pianist, teacher, professor, speaker and clinician, the author draws from his life experience and research to examine mind/body/spirit integration in music. He writes with eloquence, and his sincerity and sensitivity to the inner self of the musician shine through.
In the very first chapter, “Music, Magic, and Childhood,” Westney reminds us of the joy, freedom, and total involvement of toddlers as they respond to music, and inspires us to regain that same joy. Next, he shows how traditional music lessons can quench that freedom with an unhealthy focus on “perfect” playing, competition, and performance.
Westney encourages us to trust our brain-body connection in practice, both to teach us where we are missing information and to prevent injury. He explains how “mistakes” can offer a gold mine of information as we practice if we have an open, non-judgmental attitude and outlines a step-by-step guide to healthy practicing. He likens playing an instrument to athletics:
“Once we accept that what we’re doing is fundamentally a sport, and once we stop supervising and guiding our fingers to every note, everything feels a lot riskier. It becomes clear that a new sort of learning – entirely physical - is starting to happen.”
With chapters for master teachers (“The Un-Master Class: Rethinking a Tradition”), teaching professionals (“Lessons and Un-lessons”), and adult students (“Adventurous Amateurs”), The Perfect Wrong Note is dense with insights, anecdotes, imagery, and gentle guidance. I’ll close with two examples:
“When the good student chooses the honest path, free of perfectionism and faking, music study becomes something refreshingly new: a calm oasis of self-acceptance for those who are so used to driving themselves and trying to please others.”
“Sublime music is greater than any individual….It has implications that bring mysterious tears to our eyes, it stirs and delights us, it gives us fresh understanding of our own inner life of thought and feeling and our connection with others.”
William Westney will come to Cincinnati on Saturday, October 8 for the OhioMTA Southwest District Fall Conference! To register for this FREE event go to http://www.ohiomtasouthwest.org/sw-district-fall-conference
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