From Beyond Willow Bend, January 31, 2013)
My example reappeared—a video I’ve been longing to share. Once, I blinked and it was gone, and now it’s back, which is fortunate because it perfectly illustrates the kind of moment those of us who love to teach cherish.
Of course, I could rely on a story about the the time I was teaching an Intro to Lit class, and a student upended my interpretation of a piece of fiction by positing a brilliant one of his own. I could leave you with the fact that it took a few minutes to gather my wits—for they weren’t ready for the sheer brilliance of his reasoning—before I let that student guide the class through his analysis of the piece, even though every bit of imagery had already recrystallized for me and fallen into place accordingly. And I could conclude by saying that the discussion which ensued energized everyone in the room.
But I’m not sure relating the experience will have the same impact without the video.
I can’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I believe it was within the past year or so. I was looking for a performance of Chopin’s Ballade #4 in F minor, and was drawn to one by Arthur Rubinstein.
Because I liked his interpretation better than most of the others available, I searched for more of his performances. Among the many lovely recordings—some of which I’d heard before, and, in fact, owned, were several videos made of master classes he’d given in Israel. The first two were of him coaching a talented young man through Chopin’s Ballade #1 in G minor, which is still available, and well worth seeing, especially for anyone who plays. The third video was of him listening to another young man, named Ephraim Laor, play the end of Beethoven’s piano sonata in E minor, Op. 90, first movement, and the beginning of the second.
As you watch, look closely at Rubinstein’s face, the changes in his expression as he listens.
I can easily imagine how Mr. Laor felt. Students want their teachers’ approval. When the teacher is a legend like Rubinstein, that approval is like a blessing from God.
But for the teacher, a moment like this is rejuvenating. It is so easy for us to fall into ruts, standing in front of classes term after term. It is far too easy to become complacent and self-satisfied, to become numb.
That’s why I’m delighted that this masterclass video is back. It’s one thing to hear a retired teacher describe the effect an exceptional student has on them, but quite another to see one of the greatest pianists in history experience it. Occasions like these are revelations. They break us out of our routines, and inspire us. They remind us how great a thrill it is to learn.
(For more about Ephraim Laor visit his web site)
2 thoughts on “Discovery”
i greatly enjoyed reading your article posted on february 1st 2016. i discovered it on internet a few weeks ago and i thought it might interest you to know how the young pianist actually felt after the experience, for i am he.
despite appearances, at the time i had a very poor self-image, a great inferiority complex as a pianist. i was physically very stiff and tense, did not know how to practise to improve, considered myself very weak technically compared to the others, and could only play by sheer force of will. therefore i was very ill-at-ease after i played and actually felt awful, thinking that since i was the only one who was not given any critiques by rubinstein, i probably did not even deserve a real lesson! i was actually amazed, seeing the video years later, to realize that i had played well and that he liked it, and could not believe what an ass i was…
anyway, a few months after this class i left for the states to study with leon fleisher, then came to paris where i still live. it has taken me over 35 years to find my own way at the piano and only now do i feel more and more able to do justice to the pieces i play, practising, teaching and giving concerts, improving constantly.
of course you are right about the simplicity and humility of the great master nearing the end of his life, and it is indeed a pleasure to watch his facial expressions as he listens.
but as for the student, sometimes appearances are deceptive…
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Dear Mr. Laor,
First, I am more delighted that you wrote! And how surprising and reassuring it was to me, a musician who was plagued with performance anxiety and a sense of inadequacy throughout her years of study (truly, does a musician ever stop studying? I think not—but then, nor do artists of other disciplines, as I’ve discovered) and occasional performances, to hear what you were feeling before you played, and while you were playing—for you made it look positively effortless, as though you were acting a conduit for the music. I understood exactly what Mr. Rubinstein was feeling as he listened to you, for his expressions mirrored my feelings about your beautiful playing. All I could think was, “Yes, that’s how that sonata is supposed to sound.” That said, your comment is a tremendous gift to all musicians. I imagine you are as wonderful a teacher as you are a pianist, and your students are lucky to have you guiding them. I have located your web site and am looking forward to exploring your recordings on there. I’ve shared this information on post above as well.
Many thanks again for writing, and for your honesty, your wisdom, and your music.
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