National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy – Friday 10:15 a.m.

William Westney is up now, giving a teaching demonstration with several students that he has never met before. He’ll be working with a group of three students.

Dr. Westney shares of when he went to Germany to study piano and was eager to be a good student, give his opinions and answers. He soon discovered that his 74-year old teacher didn’t much care what he had to say. After playing through a piece 37 times with his teacher saying, “A little more. A little less. Not this. Do that.” Until finally, on the 39th time, his teacher jumped up and exclaimed, “Yes! That’s it!” However, Dr. Westney had no idea what was different that time. Although he had worked with a master teacher for years, he didn’t know enough to duplicate the experiences himself and ultimately came to doubt himself.

Dr. Westney is now working with the group of students. He is encouraging the students to relax. He has started a musical recording and is passing an object around the circle and has instructed each student to pass the object in the mood of the music. Now he is having the students just copy his movements as he responds to the music. Each student takes a turn leading the movements and the others imitate.

Judith has announced that she’ll be playing the first movement of the Schubert G Major Sonata. Dr. Westney has asked her what she would most like to happen for her listeners when they hear her play it. She responds that she would really like to enjoy it as she plays so that the audience will enjoy it as well. Dr. Westney asks if there is anything in particular that is difficult that might keep it from being played well. Judith responds that she has small hands and has a tendency to try to push the sound from the big chords instead of just letting it ring. He asks her about the interpretation. Does she like it? She loves it! She loves the themes and likes to let it really ring out. Dr. Westney asks her to focus on that as she plays.

Dr. Westney has stopped Judith early and said he hates to do that, because he felt particularly engaged in what she was doing. The piece can have a tendency to become boring, but he is convinced that this is a piece that she “gets” and enjoys working on. That doesn’t mean that there’s not some little edge that she can work on. But he has to search for it. 🙂 He proceeds to share some of his perceptions and suggestions. He asks her what she has in mind for the difference of the two themes. She responds: The first theme – more thoughtful, pensive, tragic. The second theme – happy memories. Dr. Westney asks another student, Maria, to help him with a little experiment. Can Judith play this piece without looking at her hands? Yes. Dr. Westney and Maria are going to move to her playing, similar to what they did with the recorded music earlier. They are going to follow her.

After another performance of part of the piece, Dr. Westney asks her to imagine that she is playing in a G Major Schubert competition where 100 contestants are all playing the same piece. She has just played as contestant. Now she is asked to play as two other contestants who are also good, but have a different way of playing the piece. For the final time through, Judith is given instruction to choose whatever elements she liked from any of the versions and combine them as she plays through. This is what Dr. Westney calls “musical brainstorming” – throw any idea out, try them all, eventually they’ll be sifted through and you’ll come up with what you like.

The next student, Kelly, is playing the Brahms Op. 118, No. 2. Upon being asked by Dr. Westney, he indicates that he would most like the piece to sound natural. Dr. Westney leaves it at that and sits back to listen.

Dr. Westney shares how at first the piece sounded very small and as a listener he had to work hard to meet him more than halfway. However, it was transformed in the B section when the sound broke forth and just sang. By way of critique, he suggests that the soft sounds lost a bit of luster and became more of an inner sound. Dr. Westney calls for Judith to help and the two of them position themselves at different places at the piano. He asks Kelly to look at them and shift his eyes from one to the other, using the piano to speak to one of them and then the other. They will respond to his playing with verbal expressions of their own. (wow! The sound was incredible this time!)

As a closing exercise with the students, Dr. Westney is having them form themselves into a diamond shape. Recorded music is going to play and the students are to copy his movements. When he calls, “turn,” they will turn clockwise and the next person will be the leader. Ending in the same manner that they began.

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