ART TALK with Jacques Moreau, French Concert Pianist & Professor of Music
The ears can hear, the heart can listen. Deeply. Jacques Moreau knows how to listen deeply and to let the music flow through him without resistance or judgment but with a deep understanding of the musical phenomenon. Because he knows how to pay attention to what his ears perceive and how to respond spontaneously to each sound.
Jacques is a concert pianist and a professor of music but more importantly, I’d say, he’s a music philosopher. On Tuesday, 12 April 2022, I had an amazing conversation with him, in which he talked about the essence of music and the secret to being a musician.
Jacques graduated from the Paris Conservatoire. Aside from piano concerts, he taught and held management positions within the network of French music schools since 1982. In 2002, he became Deputy-Director of the Music Department at the Lyon Conservatoire and Head of Cefedem Rhône-Alpes in Lyon, an institution that trains music teachers in innovative, student-driven, and project-based ways.
During the academic year 2014-2015, Jacques was appointed by the Belgium Quality Agency for Higher Education to chair a committee in charge of assessing the four musical higher education institutions of Belgium (French part). Among other things, he’s also Academic Advisor to the Princess Galyani Vadana Institute of Music in Bangkok, Thailand.
This is his life story in a nutshell.
Jacques spent nine years at the Paris Conservatoire trying to prove to his professors and family that he could be a pianist in a highly competitive environment where technique was valued more than artistic expression. For a while, music stopped being a pleasure – it became a constant challenge for him. But then he found his calling in teaching piano and leading French musical institutions in new, forward-looking ways.
He gained a much broader understanding of what a concert is, challenged the French traditional music teaching models and methods, and became a tireless advocate for holistic and mindful musical education and practice.
Here's a summary of our conversation. You’ll certainly find it enlightening and inspiring for you. Promise.
The Role of Practice
Although practice is crucial, it shouldn’t be pursued for purposes of technical perfection, but as a means to find your voice and express your artistic vision. Technique without a personal voice is like a performance without a soul. I see a striking parallel to the visual arts here. Don’t you?
The Importance of Your Artistic Voice
According to Jacques, you should always focus on your unique artistic expression – away from the technical perfection and the pressure of competition and high stage performance.
Like Martha Argerich, you should practise your artistic expression with every fibre of your being, for this is what truly matters.
A Broad Understanding of What a Concert Is
Jacques introduced a broad conception of what a concert actually is and explained his approach to the concept of concert, which naturally encompasses other forms of art such as painting, video, and dance.
He discussed the importance of actively involving the performers in the design and set-up of the stage, and new ways of thinking about the relationship between performers and their audiences.
A Space-Time Continuum
The key to any successful musical practice is paying attention to the sound coming out of the instrument when playing the score. We discussed how important it is to shift your mindset from result-oriented to process-oriented.
“The score is still life, ink on a paper coming from the imagination of the composer, but to bring that to the ears of the public you need time and space, for sound is time and space. The performer creates the time and space for those scores.“ (Jacques Moreau)
Instead of focusing on the outcome you want, listen to each sound coming from your instrument. Always listen to what you're about to produce and be part of the process. Here's another parallel to visual arts: Journey, not destination, is the key to any successful art-making process.
“As you set out for Ithaka. hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.” (Konstantinos Kavafis, Ithaka)
A New Understanding of the Role of Musician on Stage
In Jacques' view, the musician is first and foremost a perceiver and a witness to the sounds that create a unique musical experience within a very specific time and space frame. The performer must be fully aware of what he'll produce and the music that will flow through him on stage.
Being in the moment and fully present is the essence of performing on stage.
“The technique and the practise are there to prepare the unique moment you perform on stage when you’re 300% aware of what’s going on, and that’s what makes the life performance exceptional.” (Jacques Moreau)
In a way, it's like improvising, since every moment is different and one's response to every sound is also unique. But the experience of “a total let go of what is happening” doesn’t occur by default. These are exceptional, unique moments in a performer’s life.
Being in the flow, following the process, letting go of the will to make music and the urge to control the performance and its outcome, as well as cutting one’s thoughts is a challenge for many musicians and visual artists.
A Holistic & Self-Driven Musical Education
Jacques spoke convincingly about what it means to set one’s goals in musical education and to experience oneself as an arts practitioner in an ongoing learning process. He stressed the importance of sharing art projects in a context where the musician is not an isolated figure on stage anymore but a part of a broader picture including other artists.
He advocated a holistic approach to music education which includes not only the teaching of an instrument but also chamber music, theory, and choir singing, among other things.
For the development of individual artistic expression, Jacques adopted the American educational reformer John Dewey's philosophy of student-led, self-assessed projects: the performer creates and produces the show; he develops it along the way; he evaluates it at the end, and he reflects upon the challenges encountered.
The Role of Creativity and Inspiration in the Musical Practice
According to Jacques Moreau, the core of being a musician is the ability to react instantly to a sound without thinking, to improvise freely as you play the scores. But connecting the outer and the inner space, mediating and constantly negotiating between these two spaces is a challenge that requires mindfulness above anything else.
Being present to the process, witnessing one’s inner reaction to what happens outside is a balance act.
Music is the experience of sound in hic et nunc, in this exact moment, which is unique – the only moment that we have. The ability to recognise that we can never control a moment except to flow with it, as Jacques pointed out in our talk, is a transferrable skill from music to life education. It’s the true essence of life itself.
I wholeheartedly invite you to listen to my art talk with Jacques Moreau on The Pointless Artist Blog > ART TALK with Jacques Moreau, or on THE POINTLESS ARTIST PODCAST on Anchor.fm, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, and to experience music in hic et nunc.
If you want to learn more about the striking parallels between music and visual arts, listen to my ART TALK with Luciana Whittle, process-driven painter from the United Kingdom.
Via The Pointless Artist Blog and Podcast, I support the creative energy of life and the artists who contribute to transforming this world into a freer, kinder, more inclusive, caring, transparent, and compassionate place to live. I firmly believe in the passion for art, the importance of sharing knowledge and experiences, and the power of personal stories to bring us together.
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From Germany with love,