HELLO STAGE BLOG

Masterclasses Without Tears

What are your thoughts on the subject of Masterclasses? Share your experience and opinion in the comments - our cover photo is from a masterclass held by the outstanding flutist Jasmine Choi - no tears here :)!

The word "masterclass" can, for some, conjure up a terrifying scenario: the “private lesson in public”, with a formidable "master" teacher and a student quaking at the keyboard, their every error and slip heard and duly noted by teacher and audience. I remember watching music masterclasses on the BBC in the 1970s (in the good old days when the BBC broadcast such edifying and instructive arts programmes), with eminent musicians and teachers such as Daniel Barenboim and Paul Tortelier. It seemed to my junior piano student self a most nerve-wracking experience and certainly one to which I would not wish to submit.

Fast-forward thirty-odd years and I'm now a mature pianist and teacher of piano. For me, the masterclass seems one of the most normal and beneficial ways of learning, providing as it does not just a lesson with a fine teacher but also a forum for critique by others, and the exchange of ideas and discussion about aspects such as technique, interpretation, presentation and performance practice. It is this element of interaction with other pianists and active listeners/participants that makes the masterclass scenario quite different from the private lesson.

For students in conservatoire and specialist music schools, the masterclass is an everyday form of learning, and for the teacher it is a way of sharing and passing on information to a group. A skilled teacher will ensure that all the participants in the class feel included, not just when they play, but also when others play, encouraging comments and discussion on what they have heard. A good teacher will also make sure criticism is delivered in the kindest and most constructive way, so that participants feel supported and encouraged.

Masterclasses are not just for advanced pianists either. The format is applicable to students of all levels and early students, and children, can benefit from observing a teacher working with another student on advanced repertoire, and vice versa. Seemingly complex aspects of technique can usually be reframed to suit early/intermediate students, and sometimes working on quite simple repertoire within a group can shed a new light on more difficult music. It is also useful training for concert/competition performance and can be a huge help in learning how to manage anxiety.

Watching a masterclass is a window onto how hard the pianist works and offers an insight into the practice of practising. Sometimes only fragments of a piece are worked over with the teacher, repeated and recast until a new, different or more exciting interpretation begins to emerge. Observing this process can be exciting and enlightening, and for the masterclass participant, the instant feedback one receives from the teacher and other participants can be highly rewarding, often producing interesting and unexpected breakthroughs.





Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. She is a reviewer for international concert and opera listings and review site Bachtrack.com, and contributes art and exhibition reviews to US-based culture and art site CultureVulture. She writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for ‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content, and contributes guest articles to a number of classical music and music education websites around the world, including Clavier Companion and The Sampler, the blog of SoundandMusic.org, the UK charity for new music. Frances is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series, an innovative concert concept which gives talented amateur musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and emerging professional and semi-professional artists in the same formal concert setting.

Read more on her blog: www.crosseyedpianist.com.

Author: Frances Wilson
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