Thursday, February 24, 2011
There has to be music at every lesson
“The students are coming for a musical experience. There has to be music at every lesson.” I don’t remember who made the statement during the two hours of lively discussion at the Leschetizky Association’s Teachers’ Forum last Saturday, but it went home with me.
It’s so obvious that it seems hardly worth mentioning. In real life, things can easily go the other way. A situation comes to mind from a lesson last week: The student came in, beaming with joy, reporting with pride that she managed to learn the entire piece hands together.
My inner response was a mixture of thrill and worry, which I found confirmed in the child’s playing. The part of the piece she was particularly proud of was also particularly fast and breathless, possibly reflecting her inner excitement at having accomplished this task. In addition to the pace, the phrasing had gotten lost, so had the articulation and the dynamics. We had worked on these aspects at the previous lesson, and I thought I had taken care to have her hear and feel the difference in the way the piece sounded.
And then, I imagine, she started to practice, got all excited over hands together, and her enthusiasm swept away the phrasing and the articulation and the dynamics like a storm.
I’ve been there myself, even as an adult student. Just recently, I learnt Liszt’s Consolation No 3. It didn’t seem too difficult, and in practicing I was pleased with myself. I had a good time, indulged in the beautiful sounds and only realized at my lesson that I had never taken the trouble to exactly figure out the mixed rhythms...
My teacher took it calmly, we laughed it off, and with a smile he promised he wouldn’t tell anyone. I was just a little embarrassed and vowed to myself I would observe the score more diligently the next time. As an adult, you can to see to it yourself that the child in you doesn’t get hurt.
With young students, it’s different. No matter how hard you try as a teacher, occasional casualties seem almost inevitable. Most of the time, the students don’t hear the music the way you do. You hear nuances they can’t even imagine. They rely on you to improve their playing and gradually perceive those subtle differences themselves.
Sometimes, it’s the most gifted and the most hard working students that pose the greatest challenge. A student plays beautifully, and I’m still commenting on a tiny little thing that could be improved. Even though I take great care to praise her for her playing, my suggestion for improvement comes across as criticism. She is too young to understand that my criticism is a compliment, that I’m asking a lot, because I know she can do it.
Explaining is fruitless, for her, I’m just a nagging old woman at that moment. If I don’t sense the moment when it’s time to stop nagging, and if I don’t find an appropriate way to bring my suggestions across, there’s a chance that the music, as the student feels it, will get smothered, chopped up into items on an endless list: fingerings and timing and motions and hand position and pedal and dynamics...
If that’s happening, sometimes, it’s time to let go, and wait for a better moment, or a different piece to add on what is still missing. It’s the feeling for the music that fuels the learning process. There has to be music at every lesson.