Preface


The idea for this book originally came to me as a result of difficulties getting some of my essays published.  The essays deal with what I perceive to be a major fault in current pianistic training.  It is not a subject that musicians like to talk about out in the open, for it goes to the core of how we are traditionally trained in our particular discipline.  For a long time I have felt, both from my own experience and from watching others, that the word “talent," which denotes an innate ability, has turned into a spiritually deadly weapon in the hands of many ill equipped, sometimes frustrated,  musicians.

A-Pianist

These essays are based on my own experience.  I was not trained properly for someone who wanted to become a professional pianist.  Throughout the early stages of piano training in my conservatory years I had good coaches, but not good teachers.  Much that could have been rectified was not done.  Worse, when my main teacher at the conservatory waged an emotional battle against me, my self confidence was undermined.  Much time was spent telling me what I did not have, what I lacked and what I could not do; and what I did was hardly ever good enough.  I am sure much of my teacher’s frustration with me grew out of a realization that she did not know what to do with me.  I needed to be taught.  Great was the trust I had placed in this particular teacher, and great was the betrayal of that trust.  The price I paid for my lack of awareness throughout those years was to be high: loss of dreams, loss of confidence, loss of faith in life.  

I had to write about this. I had to let others know that a lot of the crap I went through in the early stages of my piano career, my conservatory years, was not necessary.  It could have been avoided if I had listened to an inner voice that was always saying “something is wrong, piano playing should not be painful both at the physical and spiritual level. I should not be this unhappy every time I have a piano lesson."  The more I wrote, the more urgent it became to me to have my essays published, to have them see the light of day.

I had also, through the years, written a few essays and letters on spiritual matters that dealt with another aspect of my inner world, but not having had any formal training in  philosophy or theology, I worried that no one would want to read them.  Some of these essays deal with my conversion to Judaism and one in particular,  called “Spiritual Betrayal: A Path to Truth," helped me to clarify my more esoteric thinking in matters of spiritual life and purpose.  In spite of my reservations, I decided to include those essays in this book since they do reflect a side of who I am.

As I gathered the essays together I realized there was an undercurrent that made all of them spring from the same source: a need for clarification, a need for articulation.  This need for honesty with myself, with my teaching, with my piano playing, with my own life experience, with my spiritual world has kept me together as a person.  This I want to share with my friends, my students and anyone interested in reading about my life experience, ergo, this book.

When putting the essays together I realized I needed to introduce myself to the reader.   I hope that my introduction, a biographical account, will give the reader an idea of where I come from, spiritually speaking.  Here  I also found an opportunity to talk openly about being a gay person.   

Originally the introduction was a limited biographical account which I expanded at the suggestion of one of my piano students.  Knowing she had been a book editor prior to retirement, I asked her to read the manuscript and give her opinion.  Her suggestion proved to be a blessing as I enjoyed tremendously going through my childhood recollections more thoroughly in writing about my family life.  My siblings are impressive people and writing about them was a pleasure.  Much of what is good about me comes from the way I was raised by my parents along with my siblings.  I have great admiration for them all.    

I have found the need to speak out about the things that matter to me.  I want to make a difference.  I do not like the status quo in the world of music teaching, nor in the world altogether.  I do not like the “that is the way things are” or “that is the way the cookie crumbles” view, though I have come to understand it very well.  Way too many people who should not be teaching, teach; and I suspect that applies to just about any field of education.  Way too many people who should not lead, lead; both spiritually and politically.

This collection of essays is an account of my concerns in the realm of music teaching and spiritual journeys.  I do not claim to be a philosopher nor an intellectual.  I am an ordinary person, a musician, trying to make a difference; that is all.  I am aware of Jean-Paul Sartre’s godless existentialism, of Michel Foucault’s understanding of the concept that controlling the mind of an individual is more powerful than controlling his body.  Have they influenced me in my thinking?  Perhaps, I don’t know. I read them too long ago, on my own, to remember; I probably misunderstood them then, and probably misunderstand them now. 

In the last few years I have began taking courses in philosophy.  One meaningful realization I have gathered from the experience is the importance of reading and discussing philosophy within a group.  Isolation is not the key word here.  Sharing what is in your mind is much healthier.  Much can become clear, or at least less confusing, when talking about Plato, Socrates or Shakespeare with others.  Studying philosophy has helped me become more confident about pursuing my own spiritual direction.

There are a few people I have to thank for their support and help in putting this book together.  My wonderful sister Suzette and her husband George Monteiro read many of my articles during my visits to them in Florida.  George, a deeply religious man, had some extremely helpful criticism on my long essay “Spiritual Betrayal: a Path to Truth."  His comments helped me a great deal in making sure the essay did not sound like an angry anti-religious diatribe.  Suzette’s son David and her daughter Nicole Suzette also read some of the articles.  David actually helped me with computer skills and to organize some of the materials (my computer skills are primitive).  George’s beautiful teenage daughter, Lydia Monteiro, took the picture of my hands used for the cover of the book during one of my visits to their home.  In New York, my cousin Awilda Cortés and her terrific teenage daughter Nicole Castano were very helpful.  Awilda allowed Nicole to help me transcribe from the manuscript to the computer the entire text of the Spiritual Betrayal piece.  Her  computer skills saved me days of work.  Those weekends when Nicole typed for me at the computer as I dictated (my hand writing is not the most legible), Awilda would cook the most delicious dinners with her distinct Puerto Rican flavor after our work was done.  Nicole herself is a writer in the making.  During some of our breaks I had the chance to read some of her work, which I found impressive.

Harris Healy III, the son of one of my dearest piano students, Harold Healy Jr., is the owner of Logos, a religious book store in Manhattan.  I was able to do a reading of the essay “Spiritual Betrayal” in his store on what proved to be one of the coldest nights in January 2007.  Harris also had some very helpful criticism that helped me find a more reasonable tone in the work.  

My brothers Roberto, Luis, William and Milton and my other sisters, Blanca and Arlene, also read some of the essays, especially the introduction.  Their support and encouragement were especially important to me.  Originally I had shown each of them only the section that concerned them, but eventually they all wanted to read the whole thing.  I had to make sure I wrote about them in a manner that was not intrusive of their own private lives but which reflected my perception of our family life.

My good friend Justo Vera, a computer professor in Puerto Rico, helped me organize all the essays for printing.  Pianist Robert Miller, a good friend and colleague, read some of the music essays and was helpful with his comments and support.   Another pianist friend and colleague from my Peabody years, Julian Martin, took the trouble of reading the entire manuscript at my request.  He was generous with his time and gave me valuable suggestions and comments that helped me better organize ideas in various of the essays.  His sincere probing of my own motives made me look again at my own work with the result being a renewed confidence at my purpose in putting forth this book.  Victor Dizon, pianist, teacher, photographer and friend, took the photo included in the back this book.

I  have to thank Susan Young, my voice teacher (I am a tenor), not just for being a wonderful teacher, but for reading the manuscript and giving me her confidence as a professional musician that the book mattered.  My first voice teacher at Peabody, Reginald Pindell, a baritone who to this day has remained a good friend, I thank for always prompting me to write this book.  Over the years we've had many conversations about the similarities of teaching piano and voice in an organic fashion.  Also from my Peabody years, James Pasztor, a trumpet player who is now an associate professor of financial planning and investment in Colorado, offered me great support and encouraged me to publish this book, having himself recently written a book on financial planning. He remains a close friend with a wicked sense of humor.

My piano student Ann La Farge took it upon herself to help me with editing suggestions and correcting my sometimes contorted grammar (any remaining contortions are fully of my own making; I call it creative grammar).  Much is the learning I did from this lady on the art of writing, though as I already said, I remain “creative” in my grammar structure as this particular sentence demonstrates. Her daughter Annik La Farge, also a student of mine and an editor herself, a wonderfully intelligent lady, helped me a great deal in the final stages of the book.   She guided me through what to me is the byzantine process of getting published.  I could not have done it without her help.  Helen Breen, another student of mine who is also a wonderful singer and works within the publishing industry gave me valuable advice as to how better organize the book.  I added the section on my year in Germany at her suggestion as she rightly felt something missing in the discourse of the book.

Judy Nelson from Clavier magazine published my music essay “Worrisome Traditions” in her magazine in 2006  followed by a second essay in teaching the piano with imagery in 2007.  I learned much working with Judy.  She gave me some credibility by publishing these two essays.

I also want to thank Anne and Dennis Cross, Andrea Christensen, Mercedes Alvarez,  Alexandra Nichols, Ivan Mrosovsky and his wife Milagros Ramos, a colleague of mine, for their love, trust, support and friendship.

A very pleasant task indeed is the one of thanking every and each single one of my students for they have all, in one way or another, enriched my life.

Finally I have to thank my mother, Blanca C. Cortés.  Her love and support knows no bounds.  She took intense interest in my writing and helped me a great deal.  Some of the essays, including the Spiritual Betrayal, were begun while I was in Puerto Rico during my visits to my mother.  She always makes sure, when I visit, that I have all the peace I need to work on my music and writing.  If she is not concocting some wonderfully exotic beverage with milk and coconut or ginger or cinnamon for me to drink when I take breaks from my writing or practicing, she is making sure I will eat some of the best cooking anyone can have on that wonderful Island.  She read many of the essays.  She sat many hours late at night listening to my reading of the essays, as I needed to read much of the material aloud.  Her intelligent questioning helped me clarify many a concept.  Without her encouragement, I am not sure I would have gone all the way with this book.  

This book is dedicated to her.

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