Touch, play. Touch, kick.

I was so lucky to be provided piano lessons growing up. My first teacher started my first lesson by commanding me not to marry the wrong person! And then taught me how to listen and learn and express myself through music. I showed some talent, so I got the fancy kind of lessons, in Boston, every weekend from Junior High through High School. My mom, my dad, and my grandmother formed the almighty trio who shepherded me, guarded me and took me to Phó during break hours. They gifted me the piano, which is now my forever companion in the same way that a loved one joins you in the room without saying anything, but is always ready to talk deep if you’re feeling it.

My second teacher, the first at NEC, tore me down and built me up. Sarah Takagi is a martial arts wielding technician who zoomed WAY in on finger and wrist and arm mechanics, for years, before building back to the complexity of what I had previously been playing sloppily and joyously without even knowing how wrong I was doing it. Sarah would say, ‘Touch, play, — touch – and then play’, and have me tap out sections with my fingers never pressing the notes. Touching the note before you play allows precise countermovements with the arm and wrist as a sort of fulcrum. She could go on.

My third teacher played the piano so differently. Where Sarah had complex and detailed, hand-oriented technique, I remember Roberto would favor a direct, weighted movement, with the finger and hand and arm forming almost a single block dropping down to the very bottom of the note out of the heavens above. None of this touch, play, madness. Yes, I would keep my hands relaxed and close to the keys, but using the weight of your arm, not your fingers, we are not punching at the notes.

Of course I am almost entirely misrepresenting what Sarah and Roberto actually taught me, but whatever that was, these two lines of thinking have morphed and been useful to me for years beyond actually playing piano. Alex, how are you tackling the situation in front of you? Are you all in, all clear to go, right down to the bottom of this thing, or are we tapping, touching first, sensing and using our tools and techniques to gain leverage and precision?

I applied this most recently in my second (ever) Muay Thai class, during which I am learning the basics of how to punch, kick, and move. An advanced member of the class I was working with instructed me to lift my leg and kick him in the upper chest, but touch his chest with my foot, and then push off, using that momentum to arrive back where I started. Touch, kick. Touch — and then kick.

I further apply this regularly as I work in an office and internally and externally, there can be a funny interplay between directness and a coy, feeling-you-out kind of vibe. These subtle cues, which may even have important upsides like promotions or bonuses, are always difficult for everyone to sort out, and I am grateful for every tool I have in my bag!

This is just the very tip of what Mary, Sarah, Roberto, and Andrew, in addition to the shepherding trio mentioned above, brought to my life by nurturing my young love for music. My eternal gratitude goes to those people. Now this business of passing it on!

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