Developing control through music?

Control is a human characteristic. We are always trying to control our lives and the things around us to suit our circumstances. Maybe it is an image we try to project. If we look at the design of our homes, perhaps they reflect the aspirational ideas that we try to give off. In other words, if we want to be noticed or perceived as glamorous, then we surround our homes with things that give off that sort of impression, like expensive vases or designer stuff. The way we dress is a way of control over the environment too. We are trying to impose an impression onto passers-by and influence what they think of us. Ever been on public transport and encountered people who just want to talk loudly. It is a form of control, albeit in a slightly lower form, in the guise of influence. Those that do so frequently want others to listen in on their conversation, to give the idea that their lives were so exciting and full of detail, influencing our impressions of them. Unfortunately, the impression we form of them is of anti-social idiots, even as they revel in the attention.

If you encounter some one like that, what do you do? If you see it from a control over of view, it is trying to dominate that social landscape. And your best form of defence is to demonstrate that they have not been successful. If someone is seeking attention, don’t just passively sit and listen to them drone on and on in their attempt at attention, for passiveness is meekness. Actively yawn at them is what is often suggested – it is a more verbal show that you are not interested!

Control sounds like a bad word, but it is not necessarily so. If we establish control over our lives, we will be satisfied and have a sense of self-assurance. It has been said that perhaps we should teach young children to control various aspects of their lives so they grow up to be self-assured, positive individuals. One way to do so is to involve them in activities that teach these skills, such as piano lessons. Learning the piano involves six or seven different skills, reading music, translating the dots into physical actions, and using the ear to refine what is heard as an additional layer control over the hands. According to the Piano Teachers N4 website, learning to handle these skills simultaneously, instead of focussing on one skill seven times, translates into a multi-tasking ability that helps in life.

Summary: Control isn’t bad – and you can develop control through various activities. Give it a shot!

New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year!

A new year is something to celebrate. It suggests doing away with the old hubris, sweeping aside the old year and starting on a clean slate. Starting afresh is good for the mind and the spirit. If you were to live life on a chronological basis from the time you were born, and catalogued and totalled up all your past mistakes, you might think that it is impossible to ever do good because your mistakes would be too many! Starting afresh is the only chance we have for a positive direction in life.

One of the ways people like to start the new year and mark it is by making resolutions. A resolution is a promise or a way of indicating how you would like to live at least the way ahead, and give yourself some direction. It is not surprising that within social circles people often get asked, “What are your New Year’s Resolutions?” Note that the term always comes in the plural, because hardly anyone who makes resolutions ever only makes one to adhere to. To do so would be slightly pompous, as if to suggest that one’s life is so perfect that no other positive change is needed.

Sometimes looking to do “new” things can lead to new changes, ones that positively impact our lives. For example, Johannes Gutenberg, the famous inventor of the printing press, had looked at presses which were used for grapes in the productions of wine, and with fresh perspectives, realised he could use them for printing music. Without this spark of inspiration, he might have never come up with his invention, one that allowed books to be cheaply mass-produced and music to be circulated widely throughout the Western world. (You can read more about this from the Piano Teachers N10 blog.)

Perhaps this could be your New Year’s Resolution. In 2019, let your mind be open to new creative perspectives. Let your eyes be open to new ways of doing things. And who knows, perhaps you will come up with the next new invention, and harken a new way of life for yourself!

Communication – verbal and musical

“Are you a hot or cold person?” Now, if you were posed this question by someone you had just met, you might be slighlty flummoxed by the kind of question. If it was by someone you knew quite well then you might have to gauge exactly what they meant – after all, to describe yourself as a hot person would be to imply that you are quite bad-tempered, prone to bouts of anger or irritated at the very least of provocation, whether verbal or physical. And f you were to describe youself as a cold person, it would be to imply that you were actually lacking in feeling, devoid of empathy. It would be a choice with not much positivity, a lose-lose situation. You would rather describe yourself as a warm person.

And what if – upon closer probing – you realised that there person who had posed you this had not actually meant to question your personality, but actually meant to ask you about your preferred weather? Are you a person that prefers the hot weather, or one that prefers the cold weather. You might breathe a sigh of relief. You were not being questioned about the kind of person you were – not that kind of intrusive question – but more a general question where you could express a preference without fear of being judged. You might breathe a sigh of relief. Awkward moment ove. Cue nervous laughter. Cue embarrassed laughter from the person who had posed that question.

Of course, if it had been someone you know, and you realise that their intent was not to question your personality, you would have double-checked. But if it were a first time impression, you might have decided not to continue your acquaintance with the other person, who may not have intended that slight. It goes to show how we need to be more precise so that our communication is not misunderstood.

But sometimes communication can be expressed on a non-verbal manner. Using music to express emotions can be equally effective. If you are feeling sad, play music that sounds slow, is in a minor key, and mournful. If you are happy, music that is fast, lively and in a major key may best express your mood. It is no wonder that music is prescribed as a means of help to those who suffer from autism, and who may have difficulty expressing their innermost feelings. Songs such as Johann Pachelbel‘s Canon can allow to emote feelings that are hard to express.

Learning the piano may be a useful aid because the piano allows you a different range of emotions. Feel angry? Play music that has power chords (usually heard in rock songs.) Those who also take it up may eventually also do piano exams, and get a useful qualification out of it.

On holiday, keep your phone at arm’s length!

Why do people go on holiday? There are many reasons. One is perhaps the fact that people have the time to do so. In certain jobs, there is a compulsory requirement to use up one’s annual leave, or it will be swallowed up and forfeited. So those who have, for example, two weeks worth of holiday, paid for by the company, use it. After all, it makes no difference to your paycheck whether you try to impress your boss by sacrificing your leave days and turning to work, or not going in. Either way, you get paid. And it would actually be counter productive in terms of impressing your employer, because rather than giving the impression that you are a hard worker, you would be radiating the impression that you are one to be taken advantage of. Might as well use the time to do some travelling, or something out of the ordinary, because there may be a time when you want a break from work, and circumstances will not allow you to. For example, you may have run out of annual leave, or your work place may not grant it to you because of a projected busy period.

When you are away from holiday it would be a good thing to try and get a break from routine as far as possible. After all, that is the purpose of the holiday. But many of us who go on holiday still maintain our usual routines. These include the checking of emails and social media, which are not that great pursuits to have – the obsessive checking for updates breeds dependency and frustration, as we are always in a heightened state of tension and urgency.

Your phone may be your arm candy, and may be like a counterpart in your life (like a piano that plays the words in a song, such as in Adele’s Someone Like You), but while it is an accompanying item, make sure it has an accompanying and secondary role! Don’t elevate your phone, emails, or work routine to the point of omnipotence in your life! Keep it under control!

Inventions and design

You may debate the notion that human beings are a creative bunch but if you examine closely our mannerisms and the things we do, you may find yourself proven wrong – human beings are creative. It is perhaps an ancestral trait we have genetically adopted from our early ancestors, who had to learn to make weapons, use fire, make inventions to catch animals for food, or to improve farming, and to make these inventions better so as to improve yield. Or if you know someone at work who is physically lazy – to use the non-politically correct term – you might even say their creativity extends to words and thinking up reasons not to do things! There are two sides to creativity!

One of the most creative inventions ever to be invented was barbed wire. Quite simply it consisted of two lines of wire coiled together so the barbs were held in place and could not be easily separated. The inventor of barbed wire in 1876 was John Gates, and he used his invention to propel himself to great riches. But it wasn’t just the physical sale of barbed wire, which ballooned from 36 miles of production to 268,000 miles in just six years. Gates also displayed a keen business sense and gambler’s nose, and would wager against others that his product could keep wild Texan longhorns enclosed. So not only did he come up with an invention, he also came up with betting to earn more from his invention, and in the process get some free advertising from that as well!

If you look at the things that are around us – be they the light switch, electric bulb, computer mouse or piano – these things have become commonplace, but the design and the breakthrough to have come up with them would have required ingenuity and skill. (Incidentally, here is a list of interesting facts about the piano you may want to consider.) So the next time you are out and about, look at the things around you – it may be people cycling, or motorbikes – and try to appreciate the thought and design that have gone into it. Who knows, it may give you inspiration for your own!

Single parenting; a musical perspective

How are single parent families looked upon in your country? I suppose it depends on how liberal your society is. In western societies, single parent families are an increasing phenomenon and no one bats so much as an eyelid when someone claims to be a single parent. In more traditional societies such as those in Asian societies, families with parents who have separated are still looked upon as a social stigma, as if the parents are deficient in some way, and failed in their own relationship. And it can’t be easy growing up in these kind of families. There is of course the logistical problem of making sure children spend alternate amounts of time with both parents. But it is difficult not just for the parents. Children end up often spending different weekends with different parents. It may be awkward if both parents have partners, and the child ends up having to refer to mum’s boyfriend and dad’s girlfriend to other friend’s parents.

In Japan, a single mother spoke of how her daughter suffered anxiety as the result of being a child with no father around. The child was ostracised by her classmates and as a result, did not want to go to school and suffered from social anxiety. Gradually as the girl showed signs of going on a downward spiral as an emotional response to her parents breakup, her mother took drastic action. She had never heard from her husband, the child’s father, and had no intention of reconciling with him. Instead she made contact with an escort agency and enquired if there would be actors willing to play the role of a father who had left the family but sought some form of reconciliation. Now, this is a strange sort of request – most escort agencies only hire actors to play boyfriends or partners for an event or a day, but this was a long term job, so to speak. And it was a long-term attempt at a white lie in order to boost the child’s confidence.

The pianist and composer Camille Saint-Saens never knew his father; Victor died two months after his son was baptised, on the anniversary of his first marriage. Camille did not display much anxiety with the lack of a father figure, and went to achieve great heights in his music career. The lesson here to learn is perhaps not to let circumstances in life defeat you!

Health dilemma

Katherine H. is now a twenty-seven year old woman but in her late teens and during her University life, she suffered from mysterious, unexplained symptoms that affected her daily life. These included stomach pains, which were discomforting, but then progressed on to ailments such as fainting spells and tiredness, or her hair falling out, and severe joint pains which made it not only difficult to get out of bed but to go about daily life.

Can you imagine waking up first thing in the morning and that before you have even got ready for work the first part of your life is a struggle? Now we don’t mean the “I don’t feel like going to work” thoughts. Most of us will commonly have those, because there simply are days when our energy levels are low, we don’t feel like going to work, we feel unfulfilled because there may have been things we have been thinking of doing but can’t fit them all in. Or maybe even things such as lousy weather outside may lead us to reconsider our commute to work. We don’t mean all those kinds of thoughts in Katherine’s case. We are talking about having to run through debilitating pain just to be able to walk out the front door. The type where getting to arrive to the hard part of the day (i.e. work) is difficult enough – these are thoughts that people with daily long commutes, or disabled wheelchair users hammvemm to deal with.

Katherine’s pains worsened and finally she decided to visit her GP to seek a solution.

Obviously we are faced with dilemmas from time to time. To go in to work or not to go in to work? To see a doctor or not see a doctor? Perhaps the thing to remember is to go with your head. If you have been unwell for long periods, something probably needs checking out. Don’t put it off by saying “I feel okay today”. Likewise if you don’t feel like going to work, just because you feel that way doesn’t mean you should act on your impulses. Go with what you know – if you are healthy, you can do it. The Romantic movement in music may have taught you to go with how you feel, and to be led by your impulses and feelings as if it were the human thing to do, but act on such advice with caution!

Teaching as a career?

Have you ever considered a career in teaching? You might think perhaps that you might want to influence the lives of the future generation, be an inspiration to the impressionable youths in their teens. You might have specialist skill and knowledge in an area. You may also have industry experience and can demonstrate the relevance of knowledge to a student who may be wondering how all this knowledge they are picking up in schools are of any use. Most students have a very narrow view of knowledge, they think that they only need job-specific skills and hence do not devote time to learning general skills. For example, those who are intending to pursue engineering do not see the importance of learning other skills such as music, even though music has been proven to teach skills such as creativity, problem solving, focus and perseverance, which would actually be useful for an engineering career! Being a teacher would be a useful career for steering youths in the correct direction.
But according to research done by the BBC, the popularity of teaching as a profession very much depends on where one chooses to be a teacher in. Countries such as those in the Far East are reputed to be the best. China, for example, leads the world in terms of the standing of the profession. Now you may question this: How does being a teacher in one of the countries in the world where personal liberties are controlled, rank as being one of the best teaching jobs in the world? If there is any doubt in your mind about this, then you must understand that this general statement was made not about the country, but the way teachers and other educators are perceived in the country. Teachers in China are respected and students realise that education is a way out to jobs in the cities, away from a future of agricultural farming and a life of making cheap sweatshirts in poor working conditions. Teachers are respected because they provide the possibility of a future away from labour professions.

It may be useful to combine teaching as part of a career. For example, the composer Arnold Schoenberg not only wrote his own music, but taught along side it. According the Finsbury Park Piano Teacher website, Claude Debussy was also of a similar vein. But teaching does not necessarily have to be your main activity. If you have a career in acting or writing film music, then you can fit in ad hoc teaching in between. Teaching is not a 9-5 activity, there are ways around it to fit flexibly.

Considering teaching now? Check out the various grades and routes into it. It might be a career you enjoy!

On Diet and Music

What would flicker through your mind if you encountered someone holding a grasshopper between their fingers and offering it to you? Your mind might be running through all the various possibilities, such as “Is he trying to show it to me?” Or maybe you might be thinking “That must be a special breed of grasshopper that is interesting to him”. And one thought that you might encounter, but quickly discount, is “Surely he’s not expecting me to eat that! Or is he?” And your fears might come to fruition if the person holding the grasshopper then uses his other hand to reach for a small bowl of soy sauce. It would take a remarkably naive mind to think at that stage “These grasshoppers drink strange things”. The grasshoppers are for eating!

We are accustomed to our burgers, chips and all other things that make our cuisine typically British. Think British food and what else do you think? Perhaps immigration may have altered the typical flavour of the country. For example, if you go to a city like Birmingham, where the population is largely Asian, you may think Chicken Tikka Masala is typically representative of the British cuisine. Over the last few decades cuisine has been a bit more diversified and even exotic, as snails egg porridge may attest. But grasshopper kebab? Surely you would think no way!
There are those that advocate an insect diet because insects are plentiful, reproduce faster than crops grow and livestock reproduce, and have less of a carbon footprint. The population growth we highlighted in the previous post means we have to be a bit more creative with food, because the existing levels of meat consumption is unsustainable.

We may not be always to produce enough food to feed an increasing world population but we will always be able to produce enough ways of entertaining it, especially now that storage for entertainment such as videos, music and all other media have increased exponentially. Those of us old enough to remember 1.44mb floppy disks will wonder how we got by on those storage. And if you are looking for more traditional forms of entertainment, think of how people used to amuse themselves, with skills such as learning an instrument. According to the Piano Teacher Crouch End website, it is a skill that will enriches you for life. Maybe form your own band like the Drifters! Just don’t call it The Grasshoppers!

The dilemma of social responsibility

Is it the responsibility of the citizen to fill in socially for government? No doubt it appears that local government hopes that they will; it will reduce the social burden of the area by transferring it on to other citizens. And so you may find homeless people sat outside places, and wonder why the council does not intervene; and think that perhaps they are hoping the bulk of citizens will chip in and help, because it reduces the costs to the council for re-housing those who need social housing. The council does not have funds for these things anyway, and even if they did, the vote-per-dollar return is severely low on this. Spend £30-40 a day housing an individual buys you a vote after four years, from that individual – if he or she bothers to vote. That’s £36000 or more for a vote. Spend £500 on elderly services, make some noise about it, and you are likely to see a better return.

So local governments expect you to step in to fill the gap because there is no funding for that. The problem that the average individual faces is that we know giving money to the homeless is not a long-term solution to getting them off the streets to better their lives. Secondly, we also know that some people – a small minority, it must be stressed – of those who beg for charity actually are not in need, but find they can make quite a bit of a living doing that. (You can read many newspaper reports of people doing that and getting caught out.) Thirdly, we feel we pay taxes, and filling in even more for local government is a form of stealth tax.
But what does that do to us though? It means that every time we walk pass someone in need, we feel we have to steel ourselves against the compassion we naturally feel, becoming more guarded, less compassionate, more tough – despite all our senses to the contrary. It is building another form of disconnect between the practical reality of our lives and the way we think we should act.

Disconnect breeds mental health problems. Composers such as Hector Berlioz were prone to erratic behaviour. You can trace that to periods of isolation spend huddling in front of a piano. (You can learn more about Berlioz from the N8 piano lessons blog.) Fast forward that to computers in the modern century. But it is not just work that fuels disconnect. The things we see around us and how we have to dull our senses and deaden our reactions – all this does not bear well from the human race; it is just so opposite to how we were made!