I joined the Northwest Arkansas Music Teachers Association, even though I do not yet have any piano students. I was invited by a colleague from the American Guild of Organists to join, based upon my desire to get back into piano teaching. It’s something I always wanted to do again, especially as I contemplate ten years down the line, when I’d like to do more music work as part of an early retirement plan.
My first activity as part of this group was to see how their Sonata/Sonatina Celebration was organized, and that included listening to a group of the students in action. The last time I was involved with a juried event of any type was many years ago, when I served as a judge for a piano competition in Danbury, Connecticut, and when I was a member of the faculty of a community music school in Rockland County, New York. It’s really amazing how such an event focuses the students, since they have to play memorized pieces for the judges, and with a sizable audience to boot.
It was really interesting to hear the students, and to know that nothing much has changed in the art of piano playing. The students I heard performed well, though it was interesting to hear some of the same playing issues I faced as a student, and later encountered from the other side as a teacher. In particular, I always found it difficult to play without music, especially when composers wrote episodic passages that cadenced one way in the exposition, and differently in the recapitulation. If you went the wrong way at the wrong time, you got yourself into a lot of trouble!
One thing that I found really interesting was how almost all of the pieces were from the early classical period, or were written by contemporary composers in that style. I won’t lie: It was really refreshing on the occasion that I got to hear a student play a composition from a different period! Another general observation was how some students made the transition to playing for the large room, whereas others seemed to be still playing for themselves at home. I faced the same issue when I was at conservatory, and I finally figured it out one day while at a summer music festival. One of the faculty was playing Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto in a large studio with piano accompaniment, in preparation for playing it with the orchestra at the festival. The pianist’s sound was so huge for that room! However, at the concert on the big stage, it was just right!
I wish I could have stayed longer, since as the judge in my room said, “my favorite thing is to listen to people play the piano.”