My name is Matthew Harre. I’m a fossil myself. I think any of us over sixty are put into that category. There is an assumption that over sixty means the body and mind become stiff, inflexible and not malleable enough to learn anything new, especially anything as intricate as playing the piano. My irritation with this sentiment increases year by year.
Sometimes we choose to fossilize ourselves. Several years ago I developed lower back pain like so many people. Fortunately the feelings of pain and disability vastly exceeded the seriousness. I could have chosen the fossil category. Instead, I saw it as a wake-up call and made a major effort to get to know my body better. I’m rather relentless in this, exploring various modalities of physical self-knowledge. What I have found has given me a far greater understanding of mind-body integration. This understanding has been very useful in my playing and teaching.
I was a musically talented kid growing up in a small town. I took lessons for a few years in grade school and quit when I was in fifth grade. There was certainly no pressure to excel. In high school I started playing again in a half-hearted sort of way.
When I went to college I majored in international affairs, then philosophy and finally music. I received a BA and MA in music theory and composition from American University and studied piano there with Esther Ballou. About ten years later I studied privately with Alexander Lipsky and did so until his death, about 12 years later.
Fortunately, both these teachers were also composers. As a result their views of the musical world were bigger than just the piano. From both I gained enormous insights on music, playing, teaching and living.
Most of my piano education occurred after I was 18, fairly ancient in piano learning terms. It’s no wonder I’m sympathetic to my many adult students. My own experience and models actually fit them better than they do my younger students.
Feeling that the world of music education was exclusively devoted to children, I started the Adult Music Student Forum (AMSF) in Washington, D.C. in 1988. AMSF addresses the needs of adults through recitals that are both limited to only the performers and others more available to larger audiences. AMSF also sponsors lectures and master classes where students can get ideas of teachers other than their own. A newsletter keeps the membership up to date.
In addition to 50 years of teaching, mostly in my home studio, I have given numerous presentations to both teachers and adult students. I have led and been part of workshops in Canada, The Czech Republic and Bulgaria. I have been a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music by the National Music Teachers Association for many years.
Around 2001, I was moaning and groaning about the need to write a book and the certainty I had no interest. My friend, Vincent Fruchart, knowing more about the current tech world, suggested I just write one article at a time and put it up on a web page. I did. My son, Joseph, was the web master for the initial years and made that initial presentation possible. Later Patricia Barden became the web master and is responsible for the last two iterations of Musical Fossils. Without these folks, MF wouldn’t have happened and I am grateful to them.
The growth and development of the ideas in this web site are the sum total of the many years of my life. I have spent much of it learning and teaching, the teaching also being learning. Many ideas that once were the ideas of others have become so incorporated into my own thought that I scarcely know what, if anything, is original.
Many ideas have come from others through reading and discussions with friends and acquaintances. I want to acknowledge and thank some of the more important ones:
- Rodger Ellsworth and I spent hours and hours talking about the issues of teaching music and adults in particular
- Paul Spencer and I walked, hiked, camped and talked hours and hours about the various workings of the mind and ways the body is the mind
- Carol Iverson was an integral contributor to this same reasoning and the source of the quotes by Jacques Lussyran
- Judy Rose Seibert and Gilbert Gallego have all been part of a growing knowledge of the body-mind integration
- My two major piano teachers, Esther Ballou and Alexander Lipsky laid the very foundations of the issues discussed here, each in strikingly different ways
- Watching my two children, Joseph and Rachel, become adults has given me insight into the problems, emotional costs, and lingering residue of being children in our society
- Finally, too numerous to mention, are all my students who paid me to teach while I began to learn how to actually do it
- Lisbeth Francisco, Gail Loveland, Katherine Williams and Harriet Kaplan edited and proofread various chapters.