Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why Play Minuets?

Why not teach American children to play swing or blues?

Why do so many (thank goodness not all!) piano teachers insist on starting children with music of a bygone era, music that relates to nothing in their world?

The answer is simple:  Because it is dead, therefore, like the proverbial wild beast, it can be tamed.
But first it has to be dead.

Reducing music to print was always a bad idea.  Socrates had his misgivings about what alphabets and written words would do to thought.  Hate to say it, but he was probably right, if you extend his misgivings to music.

Rhythm has to be alive, no matter what era or country it's origin.  If you can't find the life in it by all means do not teach it to anyone!  And if someone wants you to swallow a lifeless assignment take a lesson from an infant with it's first mouthful of carrots and spit it out.

At the very least recognize in your boredom a question of the utmost urgency and do not stop asking it until you find someone who can and will address it.  (I recall once bringing up a troubling passage with a renowned pianist who turned up his nose at the very idea that there might be a problem with an obviously playable piece.  This is not a matter of technique, but of liveliness.)

I repeat again and again: I am a passionate performing pianist because I never practiced the lifeless stuff - lifeless because never presented to me in a manner worthy of full attention.  Yet I played constantly: imitating every popular idiom, desperately searching out the warm, the jazzy, the convincingly lyrical in whatever form I could find it.

Sometimes I found it by virtue of an attractive picture on the music's cover: That's how I discovered Bartok's Sonatina when I was 13.

Many fine living composers have addressed this problem and given teachers and children great stuff to chew on.  Go!!!