“A mentor important in mastery. Literally, physically observe and absorb their energy and spirit. You are not just watching them, you are experiencing them inside yourself. It is a very powerful way of learning. It’s an emotional relationship with someone you respect and admire.” (Robert Greene, author of Mastery)
When I heard this, it struck me. I was thinking about my organ teacher, Jaap Zwart (jr). At the organ lessons (Westerkerk in Amersfoort) I remember him playing while I watched his hands and his fingers – exactly how it was supposed to be done. In the Beiaardschool working on piano technique and singing (those lessons were not my favourite as a teenager) and… lots of music theory, enjoying his vast knowledge of this, with many applications in the classical music.
When it came to making music beyond playing the notes, I had a hard time: how do you – let’s say – crawl inside a piece of music or a composer…? Improvising was another hard one – he improvised and I tried to imitate, but – the same as with reading: listening to your own voice takes time getting used to. Then there were the social challenges that teenagers go through, and some of my lessons were spent on talking – also well worth the money.
A teacher and a mentor. Once his father needed an organist, and he asked me. I felt that I could hardly play a note, but I was the only person who was available. Nervously I accompanied the choir, skipping a note here and there, but I passed! I was like a bird thrown out of the nest and then caught and brought back again.
Jaap often asked me to assist during his many solo concerts, and it exposed me to much music I would have never heard otherwise. Many beautiful organs, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Many churches, leaving the buildings late at night, while the music was still ringing in my ears.
Those days, when we carefully selected the different stops in many hours before the concerts, sometimes me having to play parts while he listened downstairs. During the many hours of travelling in the car to and from concerts we discussed organ builders, organ types, organ music, composers, music history, and church issues, church history and: faith…
During concerts I followed all notes on every page of the music, pulled the stops as we had decided in the afternoon, and I turned pages. I saw his fingers, feet and his eyes – how his body and mind were one with the music. That was magic, and he was transferring this magic to his audience. A master of the instrument.
I soaked it in, every lesson, every concert, every conversation. I loved it. Now, in my own playing, I often recognize my teacher and mentor’s teaching.
It was a powerful way of learning. It was an emotional relationship. I still experience my teacher’s influence every Sunday when I play in church. I respect Jaap Zwart, and I admire his skills, abilities, knowledge, patience, and most of all, for giving me a chance to learn from him. I believe that in those years I absorbed part of his energy and spirit.
In the attached fragments of a unique video from July 24, 1985(!), recorded in the Vitus Kerk in Bussum (NL). Youtube video by Eduard van Maanen(complete https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnYcP15r8ZU) where the I am the assistant on the right side of the organist (assistant on this side is Johan Haaksma).
These fragments are from “A Mighty Fortress” by Max Reger, number 4 on this program, which I kept for some reason all those years… perhaps to share it with you now :-).
Soli Deo Gloria