Thursday, March 03, 2011

Piano Masterclass - Helpful or Absurd?

Here we have something called a piano 'masterclass.' As you may have guessed, it's given by someone highly respected in the field. In this case, the 'master' is trying to help the student.

Watch the video and you'll see this teacher stop the student and explain how to play something. But what's absurd here is that if the student takes the advice, he ends up playing ... wait for it ... someone elses music someone else's way. If that's not absurd, I don't know what is.

Now, if you're into all that is classical piano, you'll probably have a different viewpoint. Let's hear it. :)


  1. Jeff Henkel8:45 AM

    I think the answer is 'it depends.' There is a classical tradition that is about interpretation and sometimes age and experience (and seeing multiple versions of a score) can help an artist better realize the composers intentions...that is what classical music is (or at least has become) about.

    Of course, there is also a tradition from Busoni, Paderewski and other romantic pianists that favored 'adding' to composers works and 'cutting' as they saw fit...all in the name of show. I'm not sure I advocate either approach, but I do advocate truth in advertising. If you tell me you're playing Bach, then it should be Bach...not Bach with your embellishments. If you're playing Bach with embellishments...say so. I love the Jazz pianist Loussier's Bach. It is original, brilliant and awesome. It's also not what Bach wrote.

    I know you're largely opposed to the classical tradition, but it' the core of the western musical world..for better or worse. Some of the traditions are good, some are bad. A masterclass could be either...I'd love to attend a new age masterclass with George Winston, even as a fly on the wall.

  2. I think it depends on the teacher. This teacher objects to the student's style, which is very personal, more than to the student's skils or type of playing. But other master class are helpful in letting students see what else is available besides what they know.

  3. I would love to see a masterclass from G. Winston - but only if he talked about his creative process.

    For example, I purchased a video a long time ago by David Lanz titled 'Through the Hands of David Lanz.' I thought he was going to talk about his creative process. Turns out to be a tutorial on how to play his music. Very dissapointing to me at least. :)

  4. "It depends" is right. First of all, it is just this person's interpretation of the music. I am a great fan of Pictures at an Exhibition and love to play it. But you can hear many different interpretations of it by master players. One of my favorites is by Nicolas Economou. I love some of his phrasing I've not heard by others. The absolute worst? Not a surprise to anyone here, probably, Vladimir Horowitz. I can't listen to it.

    I attended a master class like this with a recorded semi-famous guitar player once. Not a one of us played a note on our guitars, which we all were holding. What a joke. Not to say most are like this. I have to think that was an exception.

  5. This is a good example why so many people become disillusioned with classical piano study. I think a sensitive person would be devastated by her comments. It borders on cruelty. The music is already beautiful without dissecting it and nuancing it to the point of dissolution.

  6. Jenny Walker3:58 AM

    I think it ALL depends. I took part in a master class when I was 16 and it was carried out in front of people. I was told that my playing would be criticised as well as praised and it was an eye-opener for the audience who could see how I responded to the comments. I was lucky ... my tutor was kind as well as 'pushy'. As long as the student realises what's to come, I think it can be useful. After all, we all have to digest comments made on examination papers and at music festivals. At the end of the day, I know it was her interpretation of the piece and that I could have a different one, but it was an interesting experience and did me no harm. The organisers got it right ... I was then treated to a posh tea at a hotel and given a gift.

  7. Probably some of the most important lessons I ever learned about teaching were from master classes by Karl Ulrich Schnabel, son of Artur. The auditorium would be packed, at least half of the audience made up of shrinks. He was a master at dealing with people in that most artificial circumstance: not lesson, not performance, and yet with an audience.

    Interestingly I recall two contradictory things: 1) his massive physical presence, powerfully invested in listening sympathetically, to both the playing and the music.
    2) one instance of what felt like cruel exposure of a student's inability to sense musical line in terms of up and down - which can, in all fairness, be difficult at times to ascertain.

    I would never have consented to play in a master class, nor will I ever give one. I much prefer situations that foster mutually respectful listening: each listener respectful of the others and all committed to respecting the composition / the instrument / the process.

  8. Maria Grant6:53 AM

    All comments are highly advanced and fitting for such an accomplished student. I disagree that they were offensive. Great ideas, widely known and rarely used. Masterclasses are great, not only for the experience in itself but especially for the preparation involved in playing for a master teacher.

  9. Anonymous3:47 PM

    I have attended many master classes--and I do have many mixed emotions about them..Some have been very helpful others have been disappointing. I do find it is best to have only very confident,above average,and secure players perform in a master class---It can be very dicouraging for the average performer--In general many teachers are teaching mainly average students. I would love to see more attention given to "HOW" to help the average student improve his/her playing being very careful to encourage the student. Our local teachers organizations have tried to do a few Elementary/Intermediate level master classes and the most successful ones have been classes with master teachers that still work with the early level student. Too much emphasis in the past has been working with advanced players, and attendance has been low because teachers find they don't have students at that level. Interesting to watch and hear, but not a practical application to their own teaching.

  10. Anonymous9:49 PM

    Upon viewing this, I'm rather dumbfounded by what this woman is trying to convey to the student. She's vague and some of the things she's saying don't make any sense to me. I get the feeling she thinks she has to say something to earn her keep. I have seen excellent master classes, and they had these things in common: first, the teacher always starts by praising the student. There is always something positive that a teacher can say -- always. Then, if the student could use some help with expression, style or technique, the teacher is clear and easily understood, both by demonstration and by their words. Furthermore, they often encourage the student to explain their own vision for the piece and never, ever shut them down. They find a way to say, "Yes, and....." unlike what happened here. Then, if the student is improves even a little, they are praised. The greatest teachers convey to the student what there is to love about the piece. They seek to inspire, not degrade. Any good teacher does not expect instantaneous "perfection." In fact, any decent teacher knows that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Ultimately, excellence is the goal. And, finally, the best teachers do not ask for an exact copy of their playing. They merely use their examples as a jumping off point for the student. Again, what I find particularly objectionable about this woman is that, not only are some of her comments cruel -- "this is not good;" "this means nothing " -- but, with the exception of the first example, it's nearly impossible to understand what she wants from this student. She might be a great performer, but great performers do not necessarily make the best teachers.