The Lesson

For the past four years I’ve been taking piano lessons with Alexandre Mion, an old student and friend of mine. Alexandre is a first-class pianist as well as a wonderful human being: kind, patient, attentive, full of smiles, the perfect teacher. Alexandre works at a conservatoire in Clichy, a commune adjacent to Paris but administratively separate from it. The conservatoire is housed in a new building right next to the metro station “Mairie de Clichy.”

What do I learn in our lessons?

Not piano technique in and of itself; no. I learn to respond to music, and to embody my responses at the piano. Technique, in other words, is an embodied response to a musical stimulus.

If I respond freely, my embodiment is free. Getting there entails a deep psychological process. I have to become open-minded, open-hearted, open-brained, open-opened. And for me to be open-opened, I need to open to the moment, to life itself—to Life.

Riding the metro, I ready myself for my piano lessons by becoming attentive and appreciative. Corridors, tunnels, crossings, and line exchanges all take on symbolic power, as I pass through different layers of a multidimensional, otherworldly labyrinth.

Arriving at my destination, I exit the underground and go toward light. The first thing I see is a public-housing project. It’s a study in perspectives, proportions, lines and planes, the occupation of space. It’s a beehive for humans, strange and marvelous.

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Then I cross the street and enter the conservatoire. Perspectives, proportions . . . the meditation on space and light continues. I climb the stairs to the fourth floor. The steps, landings, and windows hypnotize me, and I’m now inside a ziggurat, timeless and mysterious.

I enter Alexandre’s room. Oftentimes, the first thing I do is to take a photo of the room’s window. The sun, the clouds, the raindrops are gorgeous; plus, weather hints at astronomy, and astronomy hints at cosmology, and cosmology is unfathomable. I like it that Alexander’s room hints at the unfathomable.

And there he is, my teacher, my witness, my guide, my friend, my brother. A single human being, representing the whole of humanity.

The sun shines and creates the strangest figures on the wall, on the piano itself, on the keyboard.

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I’m ready to sit down at the piano, to respond to music, and to embody my responses in gestures and movements, in fingerings, in phrasings.

Will I be free and open? I don't know. This is the lesson I've come to learn.

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©Pedro de Alcantara, 2017