Teaching Philosophy

_EVS2386I’ve had the privilege of teaching piano nearly all my life. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than hearing my students express themselves through a beautiful sound, a graceful turn of phrase, or an exhilarating passage at the keyboard.

I was fortunate to grow up in Northeastern Ohio, a down-to-earth part of the country that supported classical music. I am still grateful to the teachers I had there. At nine, I began studies with Margaret Baxtresser, who opened up the world of classical music to me and built my technique. A few years later I attended Summer Music Experience, a chamber music program in Hudson, Ohio, founded by William T. Appling, a great African-American choral director and pianist who embodied the joy of music. During my med school years, my piano teacher Tung Kwong-Kwong assured me that music was just as essential as medicine, law, or economics. As someone who saw most of her family decimated by Mao’s Cultural Revolution, she knew first-hand how the suppression of art can destroy an individual’s soul.

After med school, it was sheer good luck that brought me to Columbus, Ohio at the same time as Earl Wild, who had begun his tenure as Artist-in-Residence at the Ohio State University. I did not really plan to earn another degree, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with this most exacting, witty, and sublime of virtuosos, whose own teachers brought me in direct line with Ravel and Liszt. Many lessons and performances later, I wrote my doctoral thesis on his teaching.

Today, I feel blessed to pass on what I’ve learned to my own students. Through experience, I’ve come to believe in two things.

First, I believe in showing my students an intelligent way to practice technique, because with good technique comes freedom. As Martha Graham said, “Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ” However, I don’t mean the repetition of mind-dulling technical exercises. Yes, you have to know your scales and arpeggios, but technique is not a separate entity from music-making; technique encompasses sound balance, articulation, touch, passagework, octave playing, pedaling. Technique means having the ease and the skill to interpret a piece of music the way you want, to make it say what you want it to say.

Next, I try to help my students find their own musical voice. Granted, certain principles of musical style (akin to proper pronunciation in a foreign language) lead to expressivity, and it’s important to have this knowledge in one’s musical arsenal. But in the end, each voice is unique. When my students delight me with their own way of phrasing, some unusual dynamic shading, or some idea or emotion I’ve never heard expressed quite that way before, I feel I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.

“All artists know either consciously or instinctively that the secret intention of their life’s work is to rescue from the plunge of time something of beauty, permanence, significance in another’s eyes.“– Joyce Carol Oates