WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR FUTURE PIANISTS?
Recent events at the college level of piano education and performance has brought to my attention an area of great importance, especially in how it affects our future piano teachers and performers.
Let me begin with a little background before I state my case. I graduated with a music education degree in 1973. Yes, that is a long time ago, long before digital pianos were a gleam in Mr. Kurzweil’s eye. I had two major instruments as part of my degree, trumpet and piano. Since then I have taught music, become a piano technician and worked for two piano companies that would be considered “world class.” The first was Bosendorfer, which was owned by Kimball International at the time and the second was Yamaha. Both of these companies maintained a concert pool of pianos that served top artists throughout the world. In my time with both companies, I was taught by experts what it takes to not only build a fine concert instrument, but also how to maintain and prepare one for performance. I also had the luxury of working with the artists themselves, becoming aware of what they want in a fine performance piano.
Based on this background of both preparing and playing fine instruments, I find myself today in quite a different position. I have retired from the music industry and thought that it would be challenging to once again take up the study of piano, which I have done at the local college in our community. This brings me to the point of this article.
My lessons are on an older instrument, a 7′ grand that still has good potential if it was only maintained. Although it is tuned twice a year, this is far too little for an instrument that is played and performed on as a solo instrument and as one that accompanies the colleges vocal groups. Regulation and voicing is not something that this instrument has seen, as least in many years.
When asked to perform at the end-of-semester recital I was greeted with a beautiful concert instrument. The instrument was out of tune and badly out of regulation. Dampers danced on the end of keys (the damper up-stop rail was out of adjustment), the touch was uneven and the voicing had never been touched from the day the piano arrived, which was at least a few years ago. Impressive to look at but a disaster to perform on. The head of department (not a pianist) gave a speech at intermission on how blessed we were to have such a fine instrument, donated by one of the local philanthropists.
What I see missing here at our local college and I fear throughout many music departments is an understanding to what effects a poorly maintained instrument is having on our students. We are teaching our future pianist that this is an acceptable standard, one that they will probably accept until hopefully someone, someday will properly educate them in what it takes to maintain a quality instrument. It may be a traveling concert artist that demands a properly prepared instrument for performance or it may be the school’s piano technician who dares to educate the educators without fear of losing his or her contract. Like any other fine piece of machinery, fine pianos need complete maintenance to perform at their best.
If you are the one who can take on this responsibility, please do. Let us not allow future pianists and teachers to be complacent with high-end pianos performing at the low-end of the scale.