Berkeley Master Class

I taught a Master Class today for the Berkeley branch of the Music Teachers Association of California. I arrived early and got to sit in on their riveting business meeting. Just about what you'd expect from a group of piano teachers. I heard phrases like "the two errata in the new syllabus, required repertoire, scholarship auditions, facility rental, tuning fees." There was much concern about filling out the online forms correctly for the Certificate of Merit auditions: California's state-wide yearly auditions in which thousands of students participate each year. It is apparently crucial to not confuse the author with the composer: sometimes the author IS the composer, but sometimes the author IS NOT the composer. Even I was nearly confused and I'm an author, composer AND artist/performer so I should understand these things. A delightful sense of humor prevailed throughout the meeting. No one took themselves too seriously.

After the meeting, six different young people took their life in their hands and played for me in front of a large crowd of teachers, parents and other students. They played, of course, for everyone, but I was granted the honor of getting to talk to them about their playing. Everyone had their opinion but I got to say mine out loud.

I find Master Classes to be a challenge.

Here's how a Master Class works:

Teachers select a student to play for me. I listen to them play. While they're playing, I try to think of things to say which will help both the student and their teacher. I might talk about a particular problem and how to solve it from a teaching perspective. I have to be tactful, but real. It also helps to be entertaining enough to keep the entire audience engaged. Today the students played everything from a two piano arrangement of Mars: The Bringer of War by Gustav Holst, (Who knew there was a two piano arrangement of The Planets done by Holst himself? Not me!) to the Rachmaninoff Prelude in C Sharp Minor.

Today I felt pretty happy with the way things went. I didn't make anyone cry.

I made a girl cry once in Reno.

I made a rather gentle suggestion about her pedaling and she melted into a puddle right there on the piano bench. I don't know who felt worse: her or me.

Today my only possible faux-pas was going over my allotted 25 minutes with one particular boy who was the perfect master class student. He happened to be exactly the same age as my son (12 1/2, which made him kind interesting to me because he was so different from my son). He was playing the first movement of the Beethoven Sonata Opus 10 #1 in C Minor. This is the kind of piece that makes a great class piece because it's familiar, teachers teach it frequently, and it's full of interesting technical and musical problems. If the student is like this boy, talented and quick to adjust, it makes for an ideal teaching situation; the kind of situation that makes it easy to spend all your time with one student. Oops. I can't do that. I have to be sure that everyone gets their fair share of time and attention.

I got a few stern looks from the woman who was keeping her eye on the clock for me. I had asked her to let me know when I'd spent 20 minutes with each student. I've learned that time is far too relative to rely on my own sense of time when I'm teaching in public. An unattractive piece played badly can seem to take forever while with this boy time literally flew.

Lots of old friends and current students came. Always nice to see familiar faces.

My long-time student Deborah took me to lunch at the yummiest French restaurant after the class. It was nice to just sit and enjoy the meal and not have to say insightful things about it. I'm glad I'm not a restaurant critic.