Sunday, June 1, 2014

Great Music Teachers I Have Known

I was fortunate to have had four great music teachers, their greatness being their complete generosity in trusting that I had a musical soul of my own.  None of them required that I take on the terms of their musical identities.

For one of them that was easy: It was teacher who didn't know I existed except as an anonymous member of his audience ten times within forty days in the fall of 1962  (Row B, Seat 1, Carnegie Hall balcony).  The complete, transparent generosity of Artur Rubinstein playing the piano as he did was enough to focus my attention on his left hand thumb, thereby utterly transforming my technique once and for all.

For another it was not quite as easy: This was a teacher whom I consulted once for the purpose of finding out whether I was wasting my time trying to master the piano.  I knew from his playing that he was incapable of pretense.  Within a matter of minutes he put his finger on precisely the central aspect of my playing that caused most ordinary teachers to give up before trying to work with me.  Mieczyslaw Horszowski identified rhythm as my strongest asset -- the one everyone would try to "fix."   "Don't let anybody fix it."  By saying this he gave me the courage to continue my quest to grasp the essential connection between myself and this complex instrument, the piano.

Two of the teachers were men with whom I worked on a steady basis over periods of years.  The first, organist Fenner Douglass, was unwavering in his thorough demands regarding technique, scholarship, and performance.  I owe him more than I can ever repay.

The second, pianist Hans Neumann, gave unstintingly of his time and brilliance, sure that I would one day master the instrument to meet his standard.  I wish he had lived long enough to see that happen.   If it has happened it is, in part, because he never assumed I would accomplish this according to plan, his or anyone else's.

And that is my main point:  If we succeed in playing our instrument it has to be according to our own nature.  If we are lucky, teachers do not get in our way.