The Fish, the Frog, the Bird and the Bear

The workshop on Creativities in Practice at the Musiclearninglive conference was one of my favorite events. In this workshop, Pamela Burnard, Anna Houmann and Eva Saether challenged us with questions about our own creativity. It was an experience, an event. Pamela ended the workshop by introducing a children story called Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni. In the story, a fish hears the stories of his friend the frog and imagines what all things outside the pond look like.
Maybe it was because Pamela opened the workshop with a Tai Chi exercise or maybe it was just my own association, but it reminded me of a classic Taoist story by Chuang Tzu, about a huge fish named Kim that suddenly became a huge bird now called Peng.
Exploring the old methods of teaching in the Far East is part of our Teaching is an Art seminar. In our last lesson, we read parts from Eugene Herrigel‘s Zen in the Art of Archery. We tried to replace “Archery” with “Music” and surprisingly enough it worked well most of the time. There are three principles that can be found in the eastern philosophies and are worth considering when we approach the art of teaching as well as our own art, be it music or anything else we have a passion for.
The first principle is the Unity of Extremes. In his book, Herrigel emphasizes that one cannot separate the archer from the target. Nor can we separate the student from the teacher, as they both engage in the same process. In the Taoist writings we find the two interconnected opposite elements: Yin and Yang. Yin is considered to be of receptive, inward, still, dark and water like qualities, whereas Yang has been attributed qualities such as brightness, heat, active and outward qualities. How much are we as teachers and students dominated by Yin qualities and how much by Yang? Are we well balanced or do we speak more than we listen?yin yangThe second principle is Effortless Mastery. The master spends much time trying to teach Mr. Herrigel how to relax and just let the arrow release itself from his bow. Effortless Mastery involves using just enough energy. It also means sometimes letting things happen at their own pace, not rushing anywhere. Sometimes it means be and let be as opposed to do and let do. Sometimes it just means letting go.
The third principle which I find useful is the symbol of water. Water is soft yet strong, water will choose to avoid resistance but at the same time through persistence can overcome rocks. Water gives life, but it can also do the opposite.
As a bonus for that lesson we listened to Peter Dennis artfully (and with effortless mastery), read A. A. Milne‘s story In which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in. I would like to quote just the very beginning:
“By the time it came to the edge of the forest the stream had grown-up, so it was almost a river, and, being grown-up it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, ‘There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.’”
If you would like to read more about those subjects I welcome you to visit my website at

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Also, if you have any ideas for things that you would like me to discuss in future posts, please write to me.

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4 Responses to The Fish, the Frog, the Bird and the Bear

  1. I love the framing of music learning with Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, in particular. And Mildred Portney Chase’s Journal Just Being at the PIano fleshes out the Eastern philosophy in its chapters.

    As for the double bass, I’m an ardent fan of Gary Karr who came to our city over 20 years ago and brought home the singing instrument that it is.

  2. Leon van Noorden says:

    Michael, If every-one in your country was like you, the world would be a different place.
    I really appreciate your way of looking to the world. Your driving a base lesson are wonderful.

    • Thank you Leon for your kind words!
      I strongly believe that what unites us people is stronger and greater than that which separates us. Unfortunately, everywhere, there are people who chose to focus on the differences… What motivates me though, is the feeling that IF something can help people see our similarities as human beings and therefore make us respect the differences, it is the ARTS.

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