practising beethoven with a dog in the house

waiting for Beethoven

You know the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”

We musicians have a strange relationship with practising: we know it has to be done, but we develop a wide range of strategies not to do it. Procrastination is one of the most effective, but anxiety over the fast-approaching performance is usually sufficient to overcome the inertia. Strangely, the gift of an empty day with ‘nothing to do but practise’ is sometimes less productive than a concentrated hour or so snatched from a busy schedule.

Gary Graffman, the concert pianist, wrote a memoir called I Really Should be Practicing. I recently saw a flow chart posted near a music studio— a sort of list of activity choices. No matter what you chose, the result was the same: “Go practise.” Artur Rubenstein was well known for choosing partying over practising; and Fritz Kreisler had to be ‘encouraged’ by his wife and friends to open his violin case. He sometimes said he’d check, shortly before a concert, to make sure it still had four strings on it. Jascha Heifetz was more disciplined: “If I don’t practise for a day, I notice; two days, the critics notice; three days, everybody notices.”

I have a partner in my practising: our resident Border collie/Australian shepherd. At first he seemed only to notice violin music, but now he’s expanding his repertoire. Just about any music, but particularly Beethoven, provokes not only howling, but warbling, keening and vocalizing of impressive range. I can hear him warming up ahead of his favourite passages.

It doesn’t stop me from practising, and I sometimes feel a responsibility to keep both of us in shape. For more about dogs and Beethoven, see Billy Collins’ hilarious poem Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House.

welcome!

I’m glad you’re here.

This site is a place for me to share some things I know about playing and teaching classical piano. And a place for me to work through things I’m still learning, too — because this business of piano playing is never ‘finished.’

My intention is that the videos, blog posts, and whatever else shows up here is useful not only for piano students, but also for piano teachers. In fact the idea of helping teachers through the thickets of classical piano is something I’ve been involved in for quite awhile: ever since I was in charge of the “Teacher Training” program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. That program was begun by two peerless teachers: Winifred and Robin Wood. I had the great privilege of working as a colleague with Winifred Wood during my eight years in Victoria.

I’ve been influenced by many other fine teachers, as well. And although we all pass on to our students the best of what our teachers have given us, we also pass on ourselves; each of us is unique as a teacher.

Even if we consider ourselves students, rather than teachers, the idea of being “our own best teacher” is one of the ways towards real progress as a piano player, as a musician. I think that the best is to be some mixture of “student” and “teacher” and the audience I have in mind are piano players who are interested in both — even if our primary, or only, student is ourself.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. You’ll see we’re just getting started, with lots of content still to come. I’m open to your comments and suggestions, too; after all, it’s always nice to know that someone out there is listening.