Boris Berman Master Class

Park University in Parkville, Missouri, is different.  Perhaps not so much in that Parkville is not your typical college town, or even in that Park University offers undergraduate and graduate programs on 43 campuses in 21 states and Online.  Park University in Parkville, MO, is different because it is home to the International Center For Music and Park’s Youth Conservatory For Music.  According to their mission statement,

The International Center For Music at Park University was established to foster the exchange of master teacher/performers, renowned young musicians, and programs from countries across the globe.  […]  By involving the highest caliber artists of our generation, as educators, we will enable our students and audiences to experience the wealth of musical literature that has impacted generations of our global society.

And highest caliber artists they are.

At the moment, from March 6 through 9, the ICM is hosting The Grand Piano Festival: concerts which feature international competition winners from the Ioudenitch studio, and, of even more interest to me, masterclasses, all of which are open to the community and free.  Guest artist and Master Teacher Boris Berman is giving masterclasses from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.  

At the end of my piano studies with Barbara Fry, I was lucky enough to be invited to a piano course given by her teacher, Bruno Seidlhofer (Vienna) in Switzerland.  Professor Seidlhofer explained that he disliked the traditional term “Meisterklasse” – master class – because it implied that either he was a master and/or that the students were.  Of course, he was a master, but out of humility and perhaps to draw attention to his emphasis on artistry , Professor Seidlhofer called this particular course an “Interpretationskurs” – interpretation class. 

William Westney, in a similar yet different attempt to get away from the traditional “master class” is promoting his Un-Master Class (R).  I remember his presentation from a few years ago. While I whole-heartedly agree that there are teachers who are so imposing and so intent on perfection that they stifle natural physical intuition and artistic expression in the student, I found Mr. Westney’s approach not quite as liberating as he probably thought it would be:  his shouting at the student, “Make a mistake!  Go ahead, make a big, fat mistake!!” was, to me, no less intimidating and stifling than a “master teacher” staring down a student for having played a wrong note.

Boris Berman, not that I expected any different but as I have witnessed yesterday and hope to see again today and tomorrow (weather permitting – it snowed, again!), is a true Master as well as Teacher.  Even if you didn’t know anything about him or hadn’t read his book Notes from the Pianist’s Bench, it was evident from the very beginning that he not only knows his stuff but knows how to present it to the student as well.  He took his time explaining what and why he wanted the student to try something different; he shared with the (pitifully small) audience of piano teachers his observations on how teaching certain aspects – in this case, functional harmony – has changed over the years, etc.  Given the format – a teaching situation – there were opportunities to put a student down, or ridicule a student’s lack of theoretical knowledge.  While Professor Berman never sugarcoated any criticism, he always remained warm, friendly and polite, occasionally using gentle humor, never sarcasm.  How liberating it was to hear him say, with a warm and comforting tone in his voice, “You look so worried when you play this.  Please don’t be so concerned!  You know this piece, you don’t need to worry about wrong notes.”

I am looking forward to more of this.

Another observation of Mr. Berman’s Master Class can be found here.