Fri 2013 July 26 @ 3:15 – Teaching Demonstration: Masterclass with Peter Mack.
The three students who played in this masterclass were winners of MTNA competitions. The first student, Katrina Jia, performed the Schumann Arabeske, Op. 18.
Dr. Mack first discussed how gesture is important for establishing the intended mood, even before playing a note. He demonstrated two different gestures for pieces he had in mind and asked the student to guess at the time period, composer, type of piece, and exact title of the piece. It was entertaining to hear the student guess each aspect nearly accurately, based on only the movement observed! The first was a Chopin Nocturne (the Eb major one) and the second was a movement from a Prokofiev sonata.
Then, he suggested that the student consider how to plan to play the theme each time it appears throughout the piece: it could perhaps have different voicing each time. In a piece where a theme is repeated, a teacher should be able to ask, “Play the theme the first time” or “Play the theme the third time” and hear each version. Variety is a wonderful thing. Your favorite food (ice cream) isn’t quite as good anymore after having it five days in a row!
His next suggestion concerned balance. In conversation, one person talks while the other must listen or wait. When bringing out one hand, the other hand must also get out of the way. It does not work to only bring out one hand. The other hand must also back off.
The second student was Megan Lee playing the Beethoven Sonata Op. 78. Dr. Mack complemented her on her excellent virtuosity – a great gift.
He also complemented her for keeping the 1st movement fresh since the MTNA competition. (The second movement was newer.) Dr. Mack commented that teachers must be careful about having students keep pieces fresh for long amounts of time. When you are young, a few months is a very long time – a large fraction of your life.
Next, he asked the student to play a snippet from a slow section. He pointed out that keeping a horizontal line is difficult when things are slow and sound vertical. It is like handing someone a handful of beautiful pearls one by one. It is nice, but putting them on a string into a necklace old be much nicer! He suggested that the student connect the line using a large body gesture. Start by sitting back, lean in as you reach the most important note, and then lean back again as the phrase tapers.
In his sonatas, Beethoven was the ultimate recycler. He took a motive and used it over and over again, both within and across movements. Beethoven coordinated the entire outfit instead of throwing on a variety of clothing.
In this sonata, there is a thematic motive of three chords. Dr. Mack pointed out a place where the three chords happened, happened again, and then almost happened. He instructed her to smile at the audience each time there is the chord-chord-chord motive. Recognizing the themes and patterns is important so that you can see where Beethoven also breaks the patterns — so you can also play those places as broken patterns.
Then he played the apple-banana game. After I say apple, you say banana. They did this back and forth a few times, and then Dr. Mack said “watermelon.” The student sat in confusion for a moment and then said, “peach.” 🙂 Beethoven loves using these types of patterns that he breaks in order to set up a surprise.
The final student, Conlan Miller, played “Scarbo” from Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit.” That piece is arguably one of the most difficult piano pieces ever written. The other is Balakiev’s “Islamey,” the one that Ravel was intending to out-do. It is hard to say which is the more difficult.
This piece is about gremlins keeping a man awake who is trying to sleep.
Ravel was a short man and everything he did was perfect. He was meticulous about notating his music. He said that he did not want his music interpreted, he wanted it performed. Dr. Mack stated that he wished that the rhythm were more perfect in the student’s performance.
Dr. Mack suggested the student practice using what he calls the “leg metronome.” The student taps the beat with one hand on their leg and plays the music with the other hand. This helps the student gain a more accurate sense of the beat and rhythm.
This piece is one that Ravel unified across movements, just as Beethoven did with his sonatas. The theme is repeated notes.
Dr. Mack complemented the student on being able to bring out the big, important ideas and give a wonderful performance.
Being closing the Masterclass, Dr. Mack talked a little bit about Frances Clark. He quoted her, “We as teachers are not running a house of corrections.” Instead, it is about preparing the student properly. She had her students put pluses over notes in the phrases that were the most important. Dr. Mack stated that she must have been quite a wonderful person and teacher.