My yellow notebook #3 – Childhood spirit and conservatory (autobiography 1971–1974)

A natural-born familiarity and intuitive sense of connection (often referred to as talent), support, affirmation and positive feedback from the immediate environment, coupled with unbounded joy of the experience itself (and without any fear of making a mistake or to be measured on expectations) create the magic triangle from which CREATIVITY, SELF-CONFIDENCE and IDENTITY can grow.

If these conditions are in place, then playing, experiencing and learning become one. And will culminate in personal growth.

I had a piano teacher who knew how to get me out of my shell and expand my musical horizons by first trying to find out my wishes, my favourites and my potential. In other words, tuition was not by the script, but rather it was time shared at the grand piano which allowed me to discover classical music as a fantastic adventure and living history. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were not threatening and imposing gods whose works had to be learned with blood sweat and tears but rather rays of light, living spirits who gave me infinite inspiration and fascination along my own musical path.

I was soon labelled as “gifted” and accepted into the conservatory. Here I experienced what I call tuition in the dark art of classical music (think ballet, sport, elite schools, etc). Suddenly I had to accept what an authority thought was “correct” or “wrong” in music (which I had until then only experienced as the perfect synonym of free expression) and how and what ONE had to do and not to do. Music was no longer a game, an expression of joy and personality, but a system of rules, a hierarchical and orderly system and the task was to learn it, cost what it will.

For me the conservatory was a kind of military school for bourgeois wonder-kids with a talent for music. The exercise ground was the music room in which the teachers saw their prime task as being to break the spirit of their students to make them malleable and willing tools of their own ambition. I met highly efficient virtuosos, keyboard robots, whose joy, suffering and very reason for existing appeared to depend on whether they could master the most challenging pieces for some evening showcase performance or music competition.

For a long time I tried to bring my free will and superimposed will into harmony, somehow. But the pressure and the associated fear only grew. And then my small music-world finally collapsed. The piano increasingly evolved away from being my favourite instrument into a threat, warning me I had not done my homework as expected and met the expectations placed upon me.

Although it is widely acknowledged that external pressure and the associated bad conscience sooner or later destroy all enthusiasm and inner conviction, people still teach that way. Rules, punishment, pressure, rejection of all kind has a traumatic impact on the fine sensibilities of a sensitive child who is not able to protect himself. And later they come to dominate the split sub-conscious, where our behaviour is rooted, a whole life long!

How was it for me? I could defend myself by withdrawing – a phenomenon that has run through my life like a red thread, as you will see. At this point my biography as a practising musician could well have come to an end. As I remember, the crux came, as it had to, on account of two reasons.

  1. My parents respected AND supported me in my desire to leave the conservatory.
    2. I discovered a new kind of music on the radio that was completely different to anything else I had ever heard in all of my eleven years. The piece was called “Autobahn” from a German group called Kraftwerk…