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I started this blog post by endlessly surfing the web, reading about Chopin’s short and somewhat unhappy life and exploring the metaphorical possibilities of tempo rubato, a term which I had never heard of until last Sunday.  I wrote, surfed, wrote, digressed, surfed some more.  Somewhere in there I stopped to eat some watermelon.

Narrowing my thoughts about lifelong learning, brain science, music, entropy, and the scandalous secrets of classical composers down to a few hundred words each post is proving difficult.

So I did what I do best: I ordered books.  If I play my cards right, maybe I can count this as practice AND an excuse for why I didn’t get my blog written.  Okay, no dice.  But I will share my purchases with you.

We’re currently using Elissa’s old piano books, which were written for young children.  These books are fine as far as they go.  After all, I’m coming to this with a beginner’s mind.  Elissa has stories to tell about her own learning when she teaches from them, something I enjoy.  But I’d also like some books that assume I can reach the pedals.

One book that’s been floating in my head for years is John Holt’s Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story, a memoir about learning to play cello in middle-age.  John Holt was an educator who slowly came to advocate for a particular brand of homeschooling called Unschooling.  He stated: “My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”  He believed that humans are good at learning and like to learn, but do less well when other people try to control or regulate our processes too much.  He wanted everyone — young and old — to have the freedom and the support to follow their passions.

I read John Holt and John Gatto, another renegade teacher, back in the day when we homeschooled my elder daughter, and my ideas about learning were forever changed.   I was always intrigued by John Holt’s own story of lifelong learning, but I never read it.   I was too busy thinking about how his theories applied to my children.  Tonight, I ordered the book on Amazon for $1.00.

Linda Gabriel, over at Thought Medicine (check it out!), recommended Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner.  His assertion that “Mastery is available to anyone,” sounds like it will be a confidence booster.  Many of the reviewers said that the book helped them let go of frustration and have fun with their music.

Lastly, I also ordered “The Piano Handbook: A Complete Guide for Mastering Piano.”  Most of the theory books got mixed reviews, but I felt I needed something practical.

I almost ordered a couple more, even though I know I won’t have time to read them right now.  My usual thought when I’m trying to learn something is What can I READ?  Even if it’s something visceral, reading about it is natural for me.  It’s also, I admit, a little bit safer — you can read endlessly and never actually DO anything.  This time I’ve made myself accountable to too many people!

But I missed something, this time.  I have one Chopin CD, a couple of Mozart, a few pieces of Haydn, Liszt, and Wagner.  Not much else.  Where should I begin with this?  Classical?  Jazz?  Ragtime?  Which artists?  Do you have a favorite pianist and/or composer?

Please send your suggestions!

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