Point and counterpoints from a master
My artistic ideal has always been the great English actors who can play the king as well as the servant or the prostitute as well as the saint! This is a school that teaches the artist to lose themselves in the roles they play. The same should be for the musicians who should totally immerse themselves in the music they play or sing. It’s not about the personality of the musician but about the music itself! We have to acquire the tools and the craft to do this. I am always concerned about the craft as well as the artistry and musicianship.
KNOW YOUR INSTRUMENT
The modern piano is one of the most complete and far ranging musical instruments ever created, the control of which is one of the most complex, subtle and challenging!
To acquire the skills to make music with this instrument is daunting!
Unfortunately, today many young pianists seem only acquire the more flashy of these skills (craft): speed and force! But there is so much else in between!
In the great Romantic Generation of piano players, Tone (Sound Quality) was the first consideration of all pianists. It was the very DNA of every pianist. Any description of a great pianist at the time was preceded by a discussion of his sound quality.
Sound production is the most elusive matter for a pianist to teach another pianist. They use to say that the famous English pedagogue, Tobias Matthey, use to nudge, cajole, and badger the student until he was able to obtain the sound he wanted yet he had already written volumes on Piano Technique! Very often it is a question relaxation and arm weight.
Most of the students that come to me usually have well developed basic piano technique but not always a beautiful sound quality. Sometimes I have to work with these students quite a long time before obtaining the quality of sound of a distinctive concert pianist!
Next comes a scientific study of hand, finger and arm choreography in order to obtain the diverse articulations required in the music.
Reading a score for the first time with the intent of learning the work is one of the most exalting experiences for a musician. It is thrilling!
I often compare this experience like seeing the legendary mystical Springs of Clitumnus near Spoleto in Italy. They are situated in backyard of a farmer and look like a little pond out of nowhere. The surface quivers every 15 seconds with a tiny explosion of water. In the middle of nowhere a clear fluid is coming from the earth in a parched land! However, if we keeping on looking into the pond we see marvels of delicate water plants, ferns tender bright moss, long elegant leaves. The bottom sinks away where seconds we saw nothing, a subterranean miracle! Tiny fish flit in and out of the foliage, like birds of the water.
The same in reading a score. At first, we see only notes but if we keep looking we find a plethora of detail we missed at first view. We have to train to see, if only gradually, the complete picture of the score: phrasing, articulation, dynamic markings, pedaling accentuations, not to to mention tempo indications and suggestions of interpretation!
To this we have to bring our own imagination and creativity!
The young concert artist has a challenging route to follow to obtain a quality education today. The sheer costs involved can be staggering unless scholarships can be won.
But this is just the beginning…
A serious musical education in many parts of the world is just not available at a young age and when available is oftentimes spotty and inadequate. As the young musician has to acquire serious tools to express his/her musical gifts, this process has to be initiated as soon as possible with highly qualified teachers.
Find the teacher? If one is very lucky, the right teacher for the right student can found early but surely not always! And here the problems often begin!
It is obvious that not one sole teacher is good for every student. Question of temperament and affinity. But more and more frequently, that excellent teacher is just not available (enough) because he IS excellent! This is today’s dilemma in the classical music world. Many times those excellent teachers spread themselves thin accepting too many students sometimes even in many parts of the world. This cannot give probing results.Teaching is a difficult art that has to be done with dedication and empathy. Teaching a classical musician is a long process requiring great patience on both sides. This can be joyful but sometimes painful as well.
The first consideration I give to a new student is how to read music and how to read a score. There are many parameters to this question which must figure into the actual act of teaching, for we don’t teach on only one level but, in fact, on many levels.
In my own teaching, I will here discuss the basic level of sight reading or the first approach to the score which , unfortunately, in many teaching methods is fragmented.
The score has a visual impact which is always the most important introductory element to a new work. It’s like love at first sight! You are already tingling with a notion what is contained within the score but you still know this is only the beginning of an adventure!
Being able to discern as rapidly as possible all that is written there on that page is a gift, that, if not natural, can be acquired.
Most teachers allow the student just to play what they can see at first sight no matter how approximative, however, I try to train the student to observe immediately the greater complexity of what he actually sees and render it there as precisely possible on the spot.
This is not an easy training and usually takes some for the student to be able to really SEE ALL THAT IS WRITTEN!
However, it is a fascinating exercise that will have longstanding consequences!
On this first approach, I am quite inflexible, because, over the years, I have come to realize how important this is. It will help the student very much in learning a new work