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The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?" (Read 2627 times)

Offline zhiliang

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The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?"
« on: June 17, 2004, 09:45:00 AM »
Here is a very interesting article regarding an interview with the Polish pianist Arthur Rubinstein. I cant help agreeing with some of the things he mentioned inside.

How Can I Become a Pianist?

A Conference with Artur Rubinstein

“In making a tour of the country, a musician generally accumulates a great mass of letters from people (mostly young, often not so young) who also wish to be musicians and make tours of the country.  I am no exception, and my mail averages around fifty letters a week, all couched in different terms; some saying,  ‘I am interested in music,’ some saying, ‘I would like to take up music,’ but all of them reaching their climax with the same question:  ‘How can I become a great pianist?’  It is always difficult for me to reply.  I say nothing of the hardships of framing face-to-face answers for the eager youngsters whose proud parents bring them to play La Campanella for me.  I am not a hard-hearted man, and it cuts me to the core to say what I really ought to say when La Campanella begins to take shape (or does it?).  Therefore I am extremely grateful to the excellent ETUDE for giving me the opportunity to speak out, as it were, in cold blood.

“The well-intentioned people who ask how to become a pianist show at the very outset that they start from a false premise.  You don’t become a pianist – either you are a pianist or you are not.  If you are, you can develop your innate gifts – but only with the kind of long-reaching, painstaking advice, teaching, care, work, and influences that cannot possibly be dealt out to you in five minutes with a visiting artist.  You may be ‘interested’ in typewriting, you can ‘take up’ golf; but music is something that cannot be snatched at by predetermination.  It has to be there, within you, long before you know anything about it.

“There is an unfortunate trend to confuse music with showmanship and money-making.  Youngsters widen their eyes in reading that this trumpeter or that maestro earns a million dollars a year, and they say, ‘What a business!’  The ‘big shots’ in music are held to be those who earn the most money, and everybody gets confused.  Now, music is not an easy (or glamorous, or dramatic) way of making money.  IT is a need, a vast, tremendous urge, born out of some metaphysical emotion, to express something for which there are no words.  The people who ask me now to become a pianist lose sight of this.  If I were to reply that the way to be a pianist is to feel this urge and to express it, they would be disappointed.  Yet that is the only answer.

“The absolutely indispensable condition of musicianship is inborn talent, which, actually, is something like a disease – a not-quite normal capacity to hear more than average people hear, with a pair of secrete ears that average people do not have.  This shows itself in a native feeling for rhythm, for intonation, for musical insight and conception.  It has nothing to do with playing faster and more loudly than has ever been played before.  That, precisely, is why it is so disheartening when young people seek to make an audition ‘impressive’ by dragging in La Campanella.  If ever a young aspirant came with the words, ‘I cannot play La Campanella – it is too difficult for me,’ and then performed an Andante of Mozart with sensitive feeling and well-considered construction, the listening artist would be so impressed that he might even tumble off his chair!

“Having made it quite clear that inborn talent is the only excuse for pursuing music, let us see how such a talent can be developed into genuine musicianship.  The first step is to get away from the completely external goal of ‘success.’  Don’t think it terms of making an impression on a ‘big’ manager and attracting a ‘big’ house.  Concentrate on the music.  What do you do when you go to hear your favorite pianist?  Do you listen to his musical expression – or do you watch his fingers?  This watching of fingers is a bad business.  It proves clearly that interest lies in watching and not in listening; in mechanics rather than in music.  Simply to watch a pianist’s fingers does you no good at all – you cannot approximate detailed fingerings across a concert-hall; and even if you could, those fingerings would be of little use to you unless your hands were constructed exactly like the player’s, which is hardly possible in Nature’s vast scheme of human variations.  Then why do people watch fingers so closely?  Only for the excitement of mechanical intricacy which has nothing to do with music.   If you really want to feel the development of a sonata, the jumping about of hands is a disturbance.  Some day I shall innovate a recital procedure whereby I shall sit behind a screen as I play; then my fingers will be the secondary tools they rightfully are, and only the music will come through.  Try to listen to your next recital with your eyes closed; really listen to it - get the inside story of what the music has to say, feel its architecture, become one with its development.

“The important business of how to study is something that cannot be discussed at long range.  That is a matter to be decided by the teacher who is familiar not only with the student’s abilities but with the varying qualities that make up those abilities.  In my own case, I have an excellent memory – here let me touch wood, for I am superstitious - but it is a visual memory, inherited from my father, and not really a musical thing at all.  At the moment of hearing a new work, I can write it down by ear; but an hour later, this strictly aural memory has faded somewhat.  If I look at a score, however, I can learn it and play it and remember it, without any further aid.  This, I repeat, is a matter of photographic vision and not a matter of music – still, it has the profoundest influence on the way I study.  Much of my repertoire has been mastered entirely through reading, without simultaneous work at the keyboard.  For me it is a good and useful thing.  For someone else, it might be absolutely harmful.  I mention it only to prove how wrong it would be to pontificate a ‘method’ for learning music away from the piano.

“And this, precisely, plunges us into the soul of good teaching – never to freeze one’s mind into a set and rigid ‘method’!  Many famous teachers have built up principles which later they proudly call a ‘method’ or a ‘school.’  I shudder to think of it!  No one can tell in advance whether such a ‘school’ will provide helpful or harmful to the successive students who come into the studio, each bring with him a new and individual set of arms, hands, muscles, mind, glands, temperament!  Each student must be studied from the viewpoint of his own qualities, physical, spiritual, musical; and those qualities must be shaped to release music.  That is the only ‘system’ of teaching.  It is always interesting to observe and compare the widely diversified working-methods of my colleagues.  Mr. Brailowsky, for instance, sits on a high seat and holds his fingers almost flat; Mr. Iturbi holds his wrists high and his fingers very curved.  Am I to believe that the ‘method’ of one would be good for the other – or that some other ‘method’ would be good for either?

“On two points of study, though, I am very willing to express an opinion.  The first concerns the formal mechanics of scales and drills.  These I believe to be useful only in the very young, formative years when education – all kinds of education – must be predicated upon guidance.  For the more mature student, technique must be studied in terms of individual capacity rather than of fixed drills or fixed hours at the keyboard.  I am no advocate of so many-hours-a-day of Czerny or Hanon.  Rather, I counsel the student to look into every piece he has every played and to isolate the little obstacles that arose in its study.  Those little obstacles form your most helpful exercises.  Work at them as exercises.  Accumulate a whole drill-book of passages that are difficult for you, regardless of what may be difficult for someone else.  Warm up your fingers on these drills; practice them.  Your technique should improve enormously.

“In second place, I should like to outline a helpful way of teaching.  Although I am not a teacher, I do occasionally accept a gifted student, and I try to approach the task of teaching recreatively.  A painter takes a pupil into the country, shows him a scene of nature, and asks him to paint it.  “Here are the materials,’ he says; ‘how will you reproduce them?  How will you group?  What is to be your form?”  Where your climax?’  In music, the composer takes the place of the scene in nature (incidentally, it is one of the wonderful characteristics of music that it is not descriptive of something else, but an independent creation in its own right), and the interpreter-pianist takes the place of the painter who would reproduce the scene.  I teach from such an approach, drawing out of my student his best conceptions about what his musical materials mean, what the work has to say, how the phrases develop, where the climaxes occur - what the work as a whole leads up to.  And the best I can hope to achieve is to set the student upon the path of thinking musically for himself.  I have little patience with the kind of study that sets itself so many bars or pages of music a day.  That is mechanical!  The symbols on the printed page do not necessarily follow the pattern of a phrase; by learning Page 3, you may be cutting off some vital cause of effect of musical expression!  Try to think of yourself as a painter, recreating a scene in nature.  Think of your materials, reconstruct them, recreate them.  Only by such a system of of genuinely musical thought can you hope to make music.  And by sincere and consistent making of music, you can prove yourself to be a pianist – if Nature has given you the talent.  Otherwise…But let me stop there – I am naturally a kind-hearted man.”

THE END
-- arthur rubinstein --

Offline Saturn

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Re: How Can I Become A PIanist?
«Reply #1 on: June 17, 2004, 01:30:15 PM »
Man, what I would give to have gotten to meet Arthur Rubinstein, and especially to hear him play.

- Saturn

Offline liszmaninopin

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Re: How Can I Become A PIanist?
«Reply #2 on: June 17, 2004, 04:06:16 PM »
That's an interesting article-thanks Zhiliang!

Quote
Man, what I would give to have gotten to meet Arthur Rubinstein, and especially to hear him play.


true, and the same would apply to Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Horowitz, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Hoffman, Godowsky, Prokofiev, Scriabin; actually just about every one of the famous musical figures.  Imagine what it would be like to meet any of them!

Offline zhiliang

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Re: The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?"
«Reply #3 on: June 18, 2004, 05:16:54 AM »
Yes, i found it really interesting too and i like the portion about the Mozart andante and another fast and mindless rendition of a showpiece. Sometimes, i just happen to see too many things on like "how can i get this piece's octaves even faster and even faster?" Dont you find that a slow and sensitive piece have so many difficult things in it too? And there are so much to learn from them too.

Zhiliang
-- arthur rubinstein --

Offline liszmaninopin

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Re: The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?"
«Reply #4 on: June 18, 2004, 07:20:30 AM »
slow pieces certainly do have their own difficulty.  However, fast pieces do as well.  It is just as possible to do a bad La Campanella as a bad Traumerei.  They have totally different requirements; and a truly good performance of any piece can be a challenging undertaking.

Offline bernhard

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Re: The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?"
«Reply #5 on: June 30, 2004, 12:42:33 AM »
I agree with 90% of what Rubinstein said.

I disagree on what he has to say about inborn “talent”, if by that he means an inborn ability. Ability and skill are never inborn, they are learned and acquired.

The only requisite – in my opinion - is a strong interest/love of music bordering on the obsession (which again , I doubt if it is inborn – more likely to be the result of childhood experiences), however clumsy the person maybe at the piano, or however unrhythmical the person is. If this desire for musical experience is there, all the rest can be acquired.

The other point I disagree with is when he says that only the music should matter, not the physical movements. The physical movements can be quite important. One need only to think about Chico Marx or Jerry Lee Lewis playing the piano to realise that the very peculiar physicality of these pianists add enormously to the pleasure of seeing them play. And Scarlatti sonatas with their stupendous hand crossings also come to mind. There is a world of difference between listening to one of the crossing hands sonatas on a CD, and actually seeing it being performed. Surely the visual trill of it all is part of the overall musical experience. Of course this may not be the case with every single piece of music, but certainly many pieces of music have a strong visual counterpart.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Saturn

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Re: The article "How Can I Become A Pianist?"
«Reply #6 on: June 30, 2004, 01:11:42 AM »
Quote
I disagree on what he has to say about inborn “talent”, if by that he means an inborn ability. Ability and skill are never inborn, they are learned and acquired.


I don't think he means an inborn ability to play the piano, but an inborn "taste" for music.  There are some people who simply are born with a sense for hearing music.  They know how they would like it to sound, they have a natural feel for rhythm and harmony.  I think this is what he means by talent.

Some people have this, but haven't cultivated it.  So in that sense, it can be "learned".  But it was actually in them from the beginning.  But some people simply can't hear music, it's just noise to them ("tone deaf" people).

But I agree that the only requirement is an intense love of music.  But someone who doesn't have a taste for music can't be passionate about it.  So talent and passion go hand in hand.

- Saturn