Monday, April 2, 2012

The David Helfgott Story

by Janielle Beh on Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9:05am ·

I'm reading the autobiography of Gillian Helfgott, wife to the pianist David Helfgott. This man had been through the most terrible of emotional and psychological upheavals. Because of the conflicted relationship with his father, his dreams of becoming a concert pianist were shattered. Later on, beset with psychological issues and emotional trauma, he was transferred from one psychiatric ward to another. Along the way, there were people who cared for him and showed him love and kindness. But there were also just as great a handful of insensitive and self-centered individuals who abused David's childlike and sincere trust in them.

By the time he was past his forties, David Helfgott was a hopeless heap of confusion, emotional pain and mentally imbalanced. His perception of the world was 'fogged up' and he behaved eccentrically. Although he used to be a music prodigy, and still had a great affinity with the piano, his broken relationship with his father and his family, the hurtful experience of rejection and spite, had affected him so deeply that his mental perception of the world became 'foggy' and unclear. People who didn't know him would write him off as mentally unstable and physically imbalanced, with appalling manners.

Then Gillian came along, and found herself captivated by David's naivety and sincerity. He had no sense of personal space at all. David would touch people and give them hugs and kisses and talk about whatever happened to be in his stream of consciousness. He couldn't pick up on a lot of things that most 'ordinary' people would detect easily. But Gillian began to like David, and she soon committed herself to caring for him.

This is a very meaningful and insightful excerpt from Gillian's story of her life with David Helfgott in her book, Love You to Bits and Pieces:

His passion for music is inexplicable, because it is absolute. It is not merely an inclination, but an obsession. He doesn't just play because it is his vocation; he plays because when he is at the piano he is ecstatic, and playing for others is especially gratifying. This passion for music is a divine gift. 'I was put on earth to play, darling, to play,' he would say. And what right do I, or anyone, have to tamper with David's passion?

Yes, one could teach him the value of money and how to spend it with care. One could force him to perform a mass of routine daily tasks. One could give him enough medication that shops and crowded streets would not bother him. In short, one COULD make him into a regular member of society, but then his time would be taken up with doing all the little tasks that regular members of society do,, and he'd be robbed of his passion to play, each and every day of his life. It wouldn't be difficult to try and 'adapt' him to some arbitrary standard of normality, but then David would no longer be David and, by destroying the individual, one would risk destroying his magic.

One day at Riccardo's, after David finished an extremely passionate rendition of a Beethoven Sonata, a woman came to my table and, in a condescending tone, said, 'I do hope you treat David as if he is normal.'

'I trust I never bring him down to that level,' I replied. I will always fight for David's right to STAY EXTRAORDINARY and do whatever's necessary to protect him from any pressures to conform.'

Even Supermodels Grow Old

by Janielle Beh on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 5:57pm ·

I once saw a beautiful lady walking pass me. She was tall and fair, and she had the air of a model about her. Her eyes were bright and immediately engaging, and she strutted past me with her head held high. All that aside, the thing that struck me most were the unmistakable wrinkles on her face. She was no longer the youthful beauty she had once been. I could see that she still went to great lengths to preserve the beauty of her youth, and she still had the outward confidence of a model. But the passing of age was clearly an inevitable influence.

It struck me then that people ACTUALLY grow old. I mean, when you're at my age, still young, the idea of growing old actually doesn't come across very often. You often forget this simple, unavoidable fact of life. Gotta admit, it's a rather unpleasant thought.

People nowadays worship the hollywood stars and the perfection of the girls on glossy magazines. But we often forget that those are MERELY externals. What are these people like in reality? Without the make up, without the brushstrokes of photoshop editing, without the heels and accessories, without their grammy awards and accolades? Who is the person within?

I am always interested in the person, the true individual beneath the surface layer. That's why it never fails to irk me when I see people 'hang out' or get drunk together, but never talk about the things that matter to them. You never get to know people truly if you just focus on the externals and on the trivialities of life. I mean, that's unavoidable, but you also need to delve into the other more vital half of the person and talk about the things that the person cares about.

What do people have to show for apart from their looks? I know, its inevitable that the world looks for good looks. And I am not against that. I am not against make up or looking good. I'm merely saying, if you take all that away, can people still see something more worthwhile and beautiful in you? In your personality, your character, your attitude, your words and actions?

Of course, I'm also not saying that people with good looks have no equally admirable character and values. But without a doubt, one's looks will affect how they behave towards others and how they interact. It is unfortunate how society works. Why is it that the media churns out countless magazines on beauty and fashion and gossip, but seldom do you find anything on the lives of inspirational people who may not even care to use make up or buy the latest clothing? Why is our society so depraved of the things that actually truly matter to people as people? Not supermodels or movie stars?

Why is it that the people who are notoriously famous are those who've most probably done a sex scene or succumbed to drugs? I'm making generalizations here, unavoidably. But you get my point. That's the general direction our generation is heading in. And its so bloody pathetic.

I can't believe young people nowadays are so uninformed and ignorant about issues in our generation that truly matter. All they know is the latest pop song, the trendiest fads, the hunkiest actor. I honestly don't give a damn about any of this. I mean, in what way does any of this enrich my life?

What young people deem as entertainment these days is just so shallow and utterly predictable. Surface-level stuff. Ultimately inconsequential. I'm not vehemently against any of this. I'm just saying, where's the balance? Where's the priority? Where's the heart in all this?

A Memory Before Time

by Janielle Beh on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 5:49pm ·

There, the colours of reality were fading into a sort of murky grey. The shapes of her surroundings became indistinguishable. The once meaningful sounds began to fade into a soft, rippling murmur. Was this the end?

Still, she could feel warmth in her bones. Someone was holding her hand. A warm and strong and gentle grip. There, it was her lifeline. But were these the last moments ushering in the end?

Her heart continued to beat. She could feel the stillness of the air. Her body held no weight. The world outside no longer mattered. With a settling peace in her heart, she closed her eyes. Still beating, still alive.

The hand that held hers gave her a soft squeeze, as if to communicate that it would never let go as long as she held on. Now that the pain had subsided, she willed herself to think of one good memory from the past. She wanted to let go with thankfulness in her heart.

A beautiful, rippling sound seeped into her consciousness. It sounded like a waterfall cascading in a myriad of different melodies, converging all at once, and yet affecting an other-worldly harmonious chorus of pure tones. The music began to swirl gently in the soundscape of her mind. Ah, a symphony of the heavens. It must be ushering in the end.

No, wait. No, this is a memory. A real memory. The music continued to play. It was a glorious, soaring melody. Not the despairing, lugubrious requiem of death, but a song heralding the effervescent exuberance of Life.

It took the dying girl a moment to gather that this was actually her very first of all memories. A memory that existed before the beginning of Time. A memory that surpassed the temporal and rendered the notion of minutes, hours and days inconsequential.

The Heart of Music

by Janielle Beh on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 7:45am ·

You've heard people play without emotion before. All they do is churn out notes, even so quite perfectly, but then you know in your heart that that is all it is: notes.

How do we play in a way that transcends the notation on the page? There must be a reason that only human beings play and compose and improvise music. No other creature on the planet quite does it like we do. It is because you and I have a greater capacity to 'connect' with music. It is an indescribable force that has the power to creep into our souls, and even more exhilarating, flow OUT from ourselves and enable us to connect with others in a whole different level. We have the heart and soul and emotional breadth to make music come alive. That is what it is. Music isn't just notes on a page or recordings or pop stars prancing about on the stage. Take that all away, and what is the essence and heart of it all?

I have been thinking a lot lately on my approach to music, and I deeply regret that for the most part of my musical journey, I have suppressed my natural musical expression. It is waiting to burst out in flow and nuance and musical zest. Why oh why have I not allowed it to come through except for the few rare occasions? I believe with regret that it is half because I sometimes cannot be bothered to go through the deeper musical process, which can at first seem like it will require too much of me. And I know, it is a pity. I don't know, sometimes I'm just tired and out of it. So I convince myself that just churning out notes will suffice to please my teacher, or the audience. But myself? No, often I feel terrible. Like I've let down myself, and I've let down the music. Like I've let down Chopin, I've let down all the great composers. And I don't feel inspired or happy at all. It is a terrible, terrible disgrace.

I was inspired to write this because just yesterday, I've had a sort of wake up call in my piano lesson. I suddenly felt a genuine regret for taking the true essence of music for granted!

I realized that the reason my playing often reverts to just the bland production of notes and meaningless sounds is because I am sometimes 'unsure' of expressing my musical self. What if my teacher or the audience doesn't like the way I play it? What if it's too overly expressive, what if I interpret it wrongly? Beset with these doubts, I often decide to ignore my musical impulses and take the 'safe' route of playing the music as it is on the score. Ahh but how utterly, devastatingly bland and boring does it sound when I take the easy route!

What makes music come alive in us, through us? It is the instant when we allow the original moment of creative impulse & intent to AFFECT our present state of being. I get quite annoyed when people turn the beautiful abstract quality of music into intellectual jargon. That's when music is reduced to the suffocating state of mere notes and rules and theoretical formula. As much as all that is 'necessary', you've got to remember that the purpose of music is not to confuddle and befuddle intellectual minds or to impress anyone in particular. I see music as the voice and expression of the unspoken thoughts and feelings of the heart and mind, and soul. If you degrade music to notes on a page, if you just play them without putting your heart into it, your thoughts into the musical story, then it is meaningless sound. It might sound pleasant or you might say that one has technical finesse, but what is the point of all that if the music itself is devoid of the person's heart and emotion?

I think I'm beginning to sound like a hopeless Romantic enthusiast here. But really, without the heart and soul and human feeling and touch, how can music powerfully affect others and especially those who play it?

When I play for my teacher, nothing ever escapes his astute listening and observation. He tells me that he points things out to me (pretty much every single thing that lacks my heart, conscious thought and musical expression) not because he wants to be pedantic, but because he does it for the sake of music, for the great composer who wrote it. And I understand now. I realize all this while I've been missing out because I've skimmed over things, I've mishandled the music, I've been so careless and mindless about practicing. To my loss, I have missed many great opportunities to touch the music with my heart and feel it's song and story.

Music is a matter of the heart. You cannot play truly good music that can powerfully affect others and yourself if your heart is not in it. I've seen many people with technical prowess producing music with technical flair and accuracy, but I can hear it in the sound and see it on their faces that on the inside, nothing really meaningful is happening. I will admit that I do that as well, minus the 'technical flair'. Haha, it is a pity. I wish I would be more sensitive and HEARTFELT and genuine. Yes I think I've thought and mused and written enough, now I've got to actually make the change.

~ j a n i e ll e

Hangin' Your Soul On the Line

by Janielle Beh on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 8:04am ·

Graham Nash's 'Wild Tales' album asked a vital question:

But is the money you make worth the price that you pay?
Can you make it to the end of the line?
Don't the wind blow cold
When you're hanging your soul on the line?

What incredibly insightful lyrics! It reminds me of what Jesus said, one of my favorite quotes, 'What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?'

THAT is the question we must all have a little muse on. Life goes on unless we decide to pause for a bit and evaluate things. You don't want to get to the end and realize that you've missed out the most important bits in life, you've lost vital relationships and friendships with people, or you've never considered that in all your pursuit of 'happiness' and success, you have neglected the well-being of your very own soul.

Is it worth it, the money you make, or the accolades you receive, or the success you achieve, for the price that you pay? What is that price? That is, in all your temporary pursuit, you have given away your true identity and calling and purpose.

G.K. Chesterton wisely said something like this, 'We must stop trying to live the life we have planned, so that we might live the life that is waiting for us.'

A lot of us are running after one thing to another in hopes of finding our niche, our passion, our purpose. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong places or at the wrong times. Maybe the best thing to do is pause, and ask God for wisdom, instead of relying on our own strength or the opinions of mere men.

Here's the thing, I realize that I shouldn't be looking for the blueprints of my life or everything set in stone. God doesn't give us everything at once. That's the beauty of how God works with us, and that's the liberation as well as the frustration we face. It is liberating to know that God has given us free will, we still choose as we go, we experience new things. God doesn't take the role of fortune teller. But the frustration comes when we EXPECT God to tell us the whole plan, thinking that's the best way. I realize now that the best way is actually to go one step at a time, why? Because in that process, I learn, I discover the joy of being surprised by God's hand moving in ways that I could never have anticipated! Also, it teaches me to continually rely on God and not myself. It reminds me not to foolishly think that 'I've got it all planned and this is how it'll go'.

Going back to what Jesus said, and what Graham Nash sang, 'Don't the wind blow cold when you're hanging your life on the line?' Do you even know if you'll make it to the end of the line? Some people live as if they'll live forever. They squander resources, talents and time. But some people live with perspective, knowing that time on earth is short, and that they should make full use of every opportunity.

Jesus used the word 'profit' in that quote of his. What PROFITS a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his own soul? I think he's talking about what we are INVESTING our lives in. If all people think of is money when they think of 'investing', then they've missed the point. How are we using our abilities and God-given talents and opportunities? What are we investing our TIME in? Are we giving away ourselves or are we hoarding more for ourselves?

I think the most important thing to invest our lives in, is PEOPLE. That's what Jesus did. And it makes sense. Don't spend all your life just making a living or chasing one success after another. All for yourself? I believe God placed each of us on earth to bless the next person we know. I find I am most happy and fulfilled when I forget myself for abit, and remember others. When you put the interests of others with greater needs than your own before yourself, it brings a sweet liberation from your own selfish, petty worries!

Think about it. What's your higher passion and calling in life apart from what you're pursuing now? Why are you studying the course you're studying, or why are you doing the job you're doing now? Just to earn money? Just to get a degree? And then what? If you seek your purpose and God's unique plan for you above all these temporary, earthly things we have to do at the moment, then you'll find that life takes on a new turn, and everyday bursts with greater meaning & zest for life!

~ j a n i e ll e

The Good Teacher

by Janielle Beh on Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 7:54am ·

I am fascinated by the way different teachers teach. I make these observations and I learn SO much. Especially from good teachers. But what makes a good teacher? It doesn't quite surprise me to realize that all the good teachers that I've had have been my music teachers. And above all, both my dad and mum. What makes them all so influential in my life and learning and progress?

So, observations.

~ A good teacher compliments me on my strong points. A careless teacher never does - he does not see any strong points, or bothers to see past the student's weaknesses.

~ A good teacher recognizes a pupil's strengths and encourages it. I believe this is the key to some teachers being more 'inspirational' than others. By seeing and pointing out the strong points, the teacher helps the student see that they indeed have untapped POTENTIAL within them that CAN be released. That is IF, they do what must be done: practice, hard work, being meticulousness, etc etc.

This then leads to INTRINSIC MOTIVATION. My dad was the first person to tell me about this. And he's probably the first person to inspire it within me. When a teacher cultivates intrinsic motivation, the pupil realizes that this is WORTH PURSUING because they actually have that fire within them to fuel their pursuit.

~ A good teacher has something to share. Nothing can be more dull and disengaging than the teacher who is merely there to state facts and rules and enforce a fixed 'method'. On the contrary, nothing can be more exciting and inspiring and engaging than the teacher who teaches from his own experience, with CONVICTION, based on truth, on confident knowledge and expertise. The 'textbook' teacher is a dysfunctional teacher, pretty much.

~ A good teacher sets a HIGH STANDARD. There will be no room at all for carelessness or glossing over things. This doesn't mean at all that no grace is given for mistakes and weakness. It simply means that the teacher will not tolerate any half-heartedness. The goal is not to be pedantic, but to KNOW the music INTIMATELY. The pupil is expected to give his best because he CAN. And that links back to the teacher recognizing the student's strengths and drawing it out.

~ A good teacher has a balance between compliment and criticism. He does not put down a student nor does he praise excessively. Never EVER give an obligatory compliment. It is false, it is half-hearted, and the student knows that it is worthless and even possibly degrading. Instead, point out the good that's already present, in the context that there is room for improvement!

~ A good teacher knows when to be honest, but he does not criticise for the sake of it. He merely points weaknesses out with the noble intention that I will OVERCOME them soon enough. That is IF, I pay close attention, practice and work hard, listen and not gloss over anything.

~ A good teacher teaches by example. Learning is about sharing. In the case of music, it is about sharing music just as much as it's about following directives.

Losing Everything Except Yourself

by Janielle Beh on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 8:01am

I recently had a very meaningful conversation with a musician friend who had lost her violin and all her belongings - wallet, phone and the lot, while travelling. I asked her what it felt like suddenly having nothing and no one to help her in a foreign place.

She told me with great insight that it was a wake up call. Without lamenting her loss or blaming the cosmos for the trouble this incident cost her, she told me with utter sincerity that she actually thanked God that this seemingly terrible thing happened to her. Between the time she lost everything she had on her, and not to mention her lifeline - her violin - and the time she managed to find her way back to reality and get things sorted, she learned a significant life lesson.

It was that her identity, her person, her being, did not consist in the abundance of her possessions or her achievements. What a great lesson we all should learn! When all that is stripped from each of us, what do we have left? Can we still say that we are who we are, authentic, genuine, real, and fully alive? Or do we become empty shells, devoid of purpose, suddenly disorientated and losing the sense of ourselves?

It is a scary thing. I greatly salute my dear friend for looking at the situation in light of eternity and not the temporary. Losing everything and feeling that sense of lostness in a foreign place can break anyone. But instead of letting something like that break you, allow it to make you stronger.

For me, the core of my existence is my faith, my hope. Sometimes I wonder, if God were to give me a wake up call like that, if he were to graciously take away my achievements, my music, and break my pride, for my own good, how would I react? Would I curse God for such undeserved 'misfortune'? Would I give up and lose faith? Would I suddenly lose my identity and the thing that makes me, me?

Or would I feel a sweet liberation, that my life actually does not consist in what I HAVE or what I have done? In such a time, will I be able to say that there is still thankfulness in my heart? Would I be able to say, 'Wow, I actually don't really ultimately need all these things, I only need the Source of my life - my faith, my God'? And that that is truly, fully, wholly enough for me?

Who are you without your things, your successes, your trophies, your achievements, your money, your abilities? It is a terrifying question. But it is one we must ask ourselves. Because one day, when all this is taken away for a moment, will it break us or make stronger?

The Boy Who Found Himself

by Janielle Beh on Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 9:35pm

No one notices the boy sitting alone on the bench in the corner of the playground. The other kids run about laughing and playing, consumed by the simplistic euphoria of childhood.

The boy is quiet and peaceful by nature. He is as amiable and gentle as any good boy can be. But nobody talks to him. And he doesn't know why.

Sometimes he wishes he could be like the other boys and girls, all silly and ridiculous, without a care in the world. However, before long, the boy realizes that all that just isn't who he is. For some reason, he didn't fit.

On several occasions, the boy had tried to strike up conversations with some of the kids whom he thought might have something interesting to say. But to his dismay, the conversations never went beyond the usual things children talk about. They were all very uninteresting, and much too childish for him.

Sometimes the boy felt overwhelming exasperation at his situation. There was no one else like him. No one else understood him. The adults treated him like the other kids, and the other kids treated him like an outcast. It was all a big, terrible misunderstanding. The boy wished it wasn't so.

Often, the teacher ignores him when he asks a question or makes a contribution in class discussion. The boy doesn't understand what is wrong with himself. Why do people ignore him?

Eventually, the boy decides to keep quiet. He occupies his time by observing the sights and sounds around him. He thinks a lot. Sometimes, while the teacher is talking, he starts scribbling notes in his text book. They are all his thoughts. Sometimes he wonders where all of it is coming from. In those moments, he realizes that he likes writing very much.

The moment he writes, the world around fades out of his senses. An indescribable thrill courses through him. He knows that he is alive. He feels real, and present. He feels more real than the reality he lives in. In writing, the boy knows that his voice matters. He realizes that the thing that matters most is in his heart. He no longer wishes to be like the other children. He feels free. Finally, the boy had uncovered what he had missed all along in his futile pursuit of acceptance - he had found himself.

~ J a n i e ll e B e h

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