"It's not our spirit that moves our fingers but our fingers that move our spirit."
– Marguerite Long
Marguerite Long was a French pianist and teacher born in 1874. She knew and worked with many greats in classical music and wrote a classic piano method. Strangely, she is not well known today in the U.S., even among pianists.
When I first read that sentence from her book, I thought I must have read it wrong. Surely she's got it backward, I thought. Surely the wind of inspiration must blow on us before we can play like a great artist. But like much wisdom, its meaning only became clear to me with time and reflection. She took common sense knowledge and turned it on its head, showing us the true order of progress in the arts.
By "fingers" she refers to the practical and technical aspects of learning to play an instrument whether it's the piano, the flute, or the viola. We have to learn to play our instruments very well, in short, to master them before we can hope to express ourselves artistically. The winds of inspiration don't blow on us out of the blue as we sail toward artistic achievement. We ourselves must become the wind, and we do so by working diligently and intelligently on our craft for many years. The slow and patient mastery of the mechanical aspects of our instrument may lead us to create art.
That's a message that risks being overlooked in our culture of distraction and immediate gratification with its enablers in the social media, movie, television, and video game industries.