Being a piano teacher of classical music and a cocktail pianist allows me to have one foot in each camp. I’ve been teaching piano for over 25 years now, but one of my philosophies has always been this:
If you want a student to do something, you have to be able to do it yourself.
Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of practicing the piano. It’s easy to dish out orders to your students when you’re “in command”—things like “Play with more feeling please,””Could you bring out the right-hand melody?””You ought to practice more carefully” etc., etc.
I teach mainly the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, UK) Piano syllabus, so students do the usual scales, exam pieces, aural, and sight-reading. Modesty aside, I have prided myself on being able to do what I ask my students to do. So when it comes to choosing exam pieces, we pick them and then agree on both of us learning them. Then I do some practice on the pieces myself, so that I can show the student what I want. I’ve always tried to be hands-on, Lord knows how many times I’ve asked students to get up from the piano bench and plunked myself down on it.
OK, that’s the usual stuff, but lately I’ve been digging up some past repertoire and asking myself “Hey, when was the last time I tried out this piece?” Over the years I’ve been playing so much jazz and standards that regrettably, I’ve left the classical stuff behind. I haven’t abandoned it totally—nope. And I still have a humongous collection of classical CDs that gets played in my car. It was only after this year’s Piano Idol that I decided it was high time I revisited this old friend.
So I dug out some old repertoire. I’ve started with my regimen of scales and Hanon exercises, followed with repertoire like:
- J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue No. 5 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, volume 1
- W.A. Mozart: Sonata in G major, K283
- Chopin: Fantaisie Impromptu
- Ravel: Prelude from Le Tombeau de Couperin
- George Gershwin: 1st Prelude
And guess what? I’m having a whale of a time! I haven’t touched these five pieces for years and years but when I started on them, it was like, “Wow! Good to see you again!” Unlike Jazz and popular music, everything on the page has to be strictly followed, which is why I sometimes think playing classical music is like living in a military camp. Be that as it may, I’ve got to try to play out the composer through the music, doing the proper technique and all the stuff that I’ve been telling and imploring my students to do over the past decades.
My Yamaha Clavinova digital piano has been my faithful ally, since it has the touch of a grand piano, never goes out of tune, and most importantly allows me to record my performances on the spot. This is great because I can play it back immediately and spot my mistakes (I have to be able to criticize myself too). So there you have it. Now excuse me while I go back to play the piano. Ciao for now!