Updated: Apr 27
"The teacher and the taught together create the teaching" ~ Eastern proverb
So much of my life at present is focused around teaching. I consider it a privilege and a vocation of the highest order that offers endless opportunities, for both self growth and sharing.
Music is an incredible forum of learning and self exploration for the student...and the teacher. Outside of the conceptual and analytic challenges which the upper level maths and sciences present (and these levels are reached only when the student has proceeded into the later years of high school or more often university) I cannot think of anything else particularly at the pre-college level which stimulates the mind, body, emotional make up and spirit of a child to simultaneously master spatial, coordinative, abstract, multi dimensional, feeling realization and even transcendent thought movements. Surely this is why Plato in his Republic espoused music as a gateway to the soul, and among the first things in which the young should be schooled - and thoroughly so!
I have been the beneficiary of some extraordinary teaching over the course of my own musical career. From each I have learned that to be a good teacher one must never give up the insatiable desire to learn and push oneself, and thus further ones gift. As well, they also taught me that to become an outstanding student, one must in turn learn to become one's own teacher. Indeed this is what the Latin root of disciple (discipulus) means; to be a student of yourself. Sage wisdom not only for music, but also for life!
I would like to tell you a little bit about each of my teachers who have helped to shape my experience, and who have since become treasured friends.
Rosemary was my first teacher of 11 years. The importance of working with an outstanding teacher from the earliest development cannot be overstated. Rosemary is one such teacher, and we were privileged to find her when we did. A professor at the University of Guelph for decades, and one of the first female orchestra musicians in the country, Rosemary served as the pianist at the Stratford Festival for years (in the orchestra loft accompanying Shakespeare plays), and was also a collaborative pianist for the famous Edward Johnson master classes in the Guelph Spring Festival - at the time the foremost professional music festival in the country. She is probably the most brilliant sight reader I have ever met (and I am talking orchestral score with all the transpositions!). Beyond all the essential basics of a strong technical foundation and a broad repertoire, Rosemary introduced me to the miracle that is the music of J.S. Bach. The Goldberg Variations was the last work I studied with her. She is the one who lit the fire in me to always find something new and fresh at the conceptual level when preparing for performance.
Dorothy was a remarkable teacher at McGill University for many decades before her passing several years ago now. She was an outstanding duo pianist, but it was as a teacher that she will be most remembered. Among her former students include Robert Silverman, David Breitmann, Paul Berkovich, and Rena Sharon. From Dorothy, I learned to see the piano as an orchestra. Herself a student of the great French pianist Isidor Philipp, my eyes were opened to the French tradition of colour and sonority, intermixed with unswerving clarity. Dorothy also introduced the older generation of piano masters to me, and taught me how to heighten my powers of self critical listening.
After my undergraduate studies I completed both my M.Music and DMA performance degrees at Rice University, and had the chance to study full-time for both degrees with Robert Roux. I also was given the opportunity to coach extensively with Jon Kimura Parker.
Jon Kimura Parker
Jackie is one of the world's foremost touring concert pianists. His repertoire ranges from Bach to Rock, and pretty much everything in between. Only Jackie could pull off an epic performance with the Toronto Symphony of the Barber Piano Concerto (a concerto most pianists run away from because it’s just too hard!), and then follow it with an encore by Elton John (Benny and the Jets) that literally brought the house down!
At Rice, I was Jackie’s first chamber music student when he took the posting to fill John Perry’s spot. During those years I coached many chamber works with him, in addition to a number of solo works and concerti, Jackie heard all of my graduate level recitals, and was an incredible help in the early going in the fledgling stages of my own career. He is one of those rare pianists who excels equally in solo, chamber and concerti realms, and his dedication to each work performed is infectious. Very much the real deal, he is as great a human being as he is a pianist! One of Canada‘s truly great artistic ambassadors!
I first met Bobby in Prague of all places, where I was studying for a summer in between my Bachelor and Masters degrees. To say that the meeting was providential would be an understatement – he was simply the person that I needed to be with, and the Universe knew it! It is tough to know where to begin to describe Bobby as a teacher, pianist and artist. In the preface to my Doctoral thesis I alluded to Alan Walker’s Liszt Trilogy and the various retrospectives of the great master’s masterclasses at the Altenburg Estate in Weimar. In my thesis, I finished this retrospective with a comparison to Bobby’s master classes at Rice, reminiscing that this is how it must’ve been in those grand old days, with the Olympian Master at the piano.
Nothing is difficult for Bobby! A prodigious talent of the highest order, Bobby has that freakishly Mozartean ability to demonstrate pretty much any piece in the repertoire by ear… and at recording quality. I will never forget working Beethoven’s opus 101 Sonata with him and having him demonstrate, in the style of Schnabel, Brendel, and Richard Goode's recordings. I remember rushing to the library to listen to those recordings and being gob-smacked at his demonstration being nothing short of precise replicas! That story happened weekly for five years of studying with him. I have to this very day never seen anyone come close to giving a more engaging master class then Bobby. And you will never hear a better Liszt Sonata than Dr. Roux live from Lincoln Center!!
It was from Bobby that I learned the science of the instrument on a very different depth level. As a teacher, he struck a perfect balance: being a deep well of support, while being unflinching in the pursuit of artistic and conceptual perfection. He was intensely demanding but fair, gave 110%, and has been a tremendous bedrock of support in the years since my graduation.
I’ve had the privilege to take master coachings with many individuals. Three of them, I would like to mention.
First is Rebecca Penneys. For two summers at the onset of my undergraduate studies I had the opportunity to work with Prof. Penneys at the famous Chautauqua Institute for Higher Learning in upstate NY. Professor Penneys served on the faculty at the Eastman School of Music in the United States, and is a revered and beloved American pianist. Her performing was held in high regard by the likes of Arthur Rubinstein, and she has made immeasurable contributions in the realm of pedagogy concerning the development of a virtuoso technique, hand/eye coordination, breathing and how breath directly interrelates and affects emotion and the body as a whole during performance. Furthermore, she challenged me to see the conceptual possibilities of a given work through many different lenses.
During my final year at McGill I had the chance to work with Lazar Berman (one of the giants of Russian pianism) for an entire summer in North Germany. Berman was an imposing figure and had a stratospheric technique. I will never forget playing the Dante Sonata of Liszt for him after he had been teaching for six hours already. His demonstration of the famous octave screams is something that I will never forget. For Liszt and Rachmaninoff, very few will ever match him.
Towards the end of my doctorate, I had the privilege of studying some Beethoven sonatas and larger Brahms works with Anton Kuerti. One of the greatest Beethoven pianists in the world, Kuerti is as great a humanitarian and social activist as he is a pianist. He took the role of the Artist’s place within society with intensity and integrity. From him, I learned absolute fidelity to the score as a launching pad for conceptual innovation, as well as some treasured insights into the later sonatas.