In all the years I knew John, he always seemed the same age, and always young, so I never thought I would be writing this post. He was also one of the most present people I have ever met. I’m lost for words to hear that he died yesterday, so here is a post I wrote about John a few years ago; another about the time the actress and singer Gertrude Thoma and I surprised him in Barnes at the crack of dawn on his birthday , inviting him to a house where we’d just spent the night at a party (they had a piano), with a rendition of the Marlene Dietrich number Johnny, Wenn du Geburtstag hast. And the last word, the thing that made John’s classes different from any other teacher I’ve known, his gentle philosophy of “This thing is bigger than all of us.”
…goes to John O’Brien. I could never pinpoint why John’s classes, and the experience of working with him was quite so different to every other teacher. Then one day, he happened to say in passing, ‘my attitude to class is, this thing [meaning music, dance, teaching, art & so on] is bigger than all of us.’
And there was my answer. If your philosophy is that everyone in the room, including the teacher, is involved in something greater than the individual talents, personalities, opinions, abilities, rank, age, experience and so on, then it’s all so much easier, and liberating.
Update, May 2019
After John’s death a few days ago, I updated the photograph on this page with one of the many beautiful pictures of John, taken by friend and photographer Andrew Florides. It was taken at my wedding in Mayfair Library, in 2016.