As a kid I enrolled in piano classes. Unfortunately after the initial one or two lessons, I took to “mitching”. Playing conkers, going on adventures and climbing trees seemed far more appealing than piano study (brat). As an adult I questioned the logic of my childish behaviour. Why didn’t I stick with the classes? What a shame. Delving further into my memories, or half memories, something became apparent. If I enrolled in that piano class today I would do exactly the same thing. I’d climb a tree any day before I would return to the torture of that music room. Rote learning scales, rote learning everything, sitting up straight, rigidity and uniformity. A passionless half hour void of the ebb and flow of musical cohesion. A challenge of memory and nothing more.

Over 20 years later it was time to give the piano another try. My good friend Muireann Lynchy Lynch was kind enough to share her musical knowledge with me. Teach me to fish I said. Otherwise we are both wasting our time. 40 mins later I had learned how to cast my line. Eureka.

The difference. She taught me to understand music. How it is formed and how it fits together. Now I can mould it and fit it together myself. I could play pieces of music before that lesson. I can play those same pieces now. To anyone other than me there is no difference in my playing then and now. Both are equally bad! But I know that there is a big difference. Deep down we all know the difference. There is something completely different going on in my mind. Now it is much easier for me to add my own expression, style and flare. To change key. I am no longer dancing to someone else’s tune. I am much more content and fluid as a result.

The same is true of kayaking. How is it that a paddler who appears very comfortable and confident on a local river of a certain grade can fall apart on an unknown river of a similar grade? Of course there are psychological factors at play. But I believe that there is something else going on as well. A lack of understanding. Through sheer repetition any of us can give the illusion of mastery. But it takes a much deeper understanding to take any instrument in any surroundings and play with it as though it was an extension of you. That is hard to fake.

You do not need me to tell you if you are a pretender or not. You know that yourself. It does not matter how we gain understanding but we must gain it in order to dance with our sport, our music, our environment. Do it, think it, act it, see it. Whatever works for you. Develop your understanding in your own way. Otherwise your net will come up empty just when you need it most. You might get lucky every now and again. You may even start to believe the illusion yourself but eventually the illusionist is exposed and the magic is gone. Plus you will never be able to mend your own net or to cast it in other directions. You will never be able to think outside the net.
As the saying goes “give a woman a fish and she will end up in a tree picking conkers but teach a woman to fish and the possibilities are infinite”