Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who is Responsible?

When the teacher seeks to impose notions of correct interpretation on the student it is the student's responsibility to object in whatever way works rather than meekly to accept that as appropriate behavior on the part of the teacher.  It matters little who the teacher is.

I recall a major disagreement with a world-class organist with whom I was studying on a Fulbright.  At the first lesson he outlined the year's course of study, namely a different major prelude and fugue of Bach (some 20- 25 minutes long) every week.  I protested that that would be not only impossible but also meaningless: How could I possibly learn such a quantity of material and play it in a way that would elicit meaning on the part of either one of us?  I argued that I would get much more from our time together if I were to play for him music that I already had some feeling about.

His displeasure at what seemed to him my inappropriate behavior was obvious.

But 3/4 of the way through that painful year he put me to the test of analyzing a major work by Buxtehude.  In response to my analysis, of which he clearly approved, he gave me one of the most meaningful lessons I have ever had from anyone.  He told me the basis of his own performance style.  He told me, too, that he cannot teach his students to play that way because they do not come to learn his art, but to learn the "correct" way to do things.  In other words, he teaches by the book, though he performs according to his own well-informed instincts.