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Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Lawrence Campbell


by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA


e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noteworthy artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. The opinions offered here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent those of the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, its officers, or members. (We have attorneys, too!). At the end of the interview, you'll find hypertext links to the interviewee's e-mail and Web sites (where available), so you can learn more if you're interested. Except where otherwise noted, the interviewer is Dr. John Zeigler.



The May 1997 artist/educator:

Lawrence Campbell, Professor of Piano, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL USA

A native of Tennessee, Lawrence Campbell holds degrees from Northwestern University, where he graduated magna cum laude, and from Indiana University, where he was awarded the Doctor of Music degree in performance with highest distinction. Pianists with whom he has studied include Pauline Manchester Lindsey, Gyorgy Sebok, and Alfonso Montecino. Other major influences have been Maestro Carlo Zecchi in summer classes at the "Mozarteum" (Salzberg, Austria), and Sir Clifford Curzon for whom he played during several months of study in London, England.

Lawrence Campbell won the 1968 Chicago Young Artists' Competition sponsored by the Society of American Musicians (the organization which also sponsored his Chicago debut the following year). Northwestern University honored him with the Corrine Frada Pick Prize for excellence in performance, the Pi Kappa Lambda scholarship, and the Wade Fetzer Prize as most outstanding performer in his graduating class. He was selected to play in master classes with Victor Babin (1967) and Easley Blackwood (1971) and with the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra.

Dr. Campbell has concertized extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. As a performer, he professes marked affinity for the works of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Liszt. In 1986, the centenary of Liszt's death, he presented over thirty recitals devoted exclusively to the music of that composer. In that year, he was featured artist at recitals of the Beethoven Society (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale), and at conventions of the Missouri Music Teachers' Association, and the Wisconsin Music Teachers' Association. During the current season, he is playing recitals featuring the music of Franz Schubert to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the composer's birth.

Before joining the Illinois Wesleyan University faculty in 1978, Lawrence Campbell taught at Bemidji (Minnesota) State University, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and Albion College. In recent years he has become increasingly involved with teaching related activities, serving frequently as an adjudicator, guest clinician, and lecture-recitalist. He has judged concerto competitions for young artists sponsored by the Chicago Symphony (Sudler Awards) and by the Des Moines Symphony, divisional and state competitions of the Music Teachers' National Association, auditions of the Artist Presentation Society (St. Louis), and other competitions sponsored by universities and civic orchestras. He has conducted master classes at various state conventions of the Music Teachers' National Association and on numerous university campuses in conjunction with recital appearances.

PEP: What made you go into music?

Music is central to my earliest memories. As a young child I loved to sing. My mother's piano playing fascinated me. How did her fingers become so smart? When I began piano lessons at the age of eight I entered a world of beauty that continues to unfold new experiences to the present day. The most important chronicles of my emotional development are the musical compositions which I have most loved at different points in my life. Once I started listening to great piano literature--around age eleven, I was hooked for life both as a listener and as a player. A passionate compulsion drove my piano study. I would never abandon piano study short of developing the ability to perform those magical concertos, sonatas, character pieces, etc.

PEP: Who was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano and why?

Like most serious students, I idolized my teachers. They were my heroes, opening up new vistas of beauty at every lesson. All my teachers have been important to me, but in different ways. My first teacher (in Johnson City, Tennessee), Betty Riddle, encouraged improvisation as well as score reading. Playing by ear, freely embellishing and reharmonizing tunes, improvisation--all these drove my early study of the piano and continue to be sources of deep satisfaction. My next teacher, Mary Luter Wright, cultivated the technical and interpretive skills that opened the doors of major music schools to me. My piano study at Northwestern University was directed by Pauline Manchester Lindsey, who had studied with Howard Wells, Robert Casadesus, and Artur Schnabel. If any of my teachers towers above the others, it is Pauline Lindsey. Above all she taught students to listen so very critically to their performances, and also to listen to their hearts. The dream of becoming a brilliant pianist evolved into a blessed reality in the five years I studied with her. A final teacher, Gyorgy Sebok, inspired even greater technical development in my doctoral studies at Indiana University. Truly a keyboard wizard of the highest order, Mr. Sebok offered such uncanny insight into the physiology of technique that no student came away from his lessons without a powerfully enhanced grasp of keyboard technique.

PEP: What do you enjoy most about making music?

As stated above, music was my earliest joy. It is the connective glue that unites my childhood with my youth with my maturity. It is utterly organic to the entire sweep of my experiences as a human being. I feel an almost magical connection with every stage of my life every time I perform. This is especially true when I perform compositions that have been in my repertoire as far back as teenage years. Though I hope I play these pieces better with passing years, a meaningful part my early youth is resurrected each time I perform them. (One such piece is the Eleventh Rhapsody of Franz Liszt.) I count it the greatest privilege to cultivate this great joy and reflective experience in others. It is why I love teaching music.

PEP: Do you use any of the piano "methods" in your teaching? If so, why do you prefer one over others.

My students at Illinois Wesleyan University are primarily performance majors well beyond the "method book" stage. They are already swimming in the deep waters of sonata and concerto literature. With them I advocate no central technical method or fixed progression of compositions. The particular needs of each student, technically and musically, gives rise to many different approaches. Ideally one has a different method for each student.

PEP: What "deficiency" in training or technique do you most often find in students of the piano?

Learning to listen is central to the development of great pianism. Every weakness in a player can be traced back to poor listening of some type. The range of things critically controlled and followed determines the ultimate caliber of the playing--e.g. note-to-note nuance to generate phrase shape, precise dynamic balance among textural parts, pedaling, evenness in passage work, pacing and structural shape, etc. All these and many other factors are the substance of great piano playing. recognition of correct In other words, music does not play itself. The pianist actively shapes its every element.

PEP: What advice would you give students and teachers of the piano?

l. Avoid mechanical practice and mechanical performance. One must not separate the learning of notes and rhythms from expression, from interpretation. These factors must be interactive from the very first stages of studying a work of art. Memory should already play a part in these early learning stages when one is practicing rather slowly. This builds a powerful aural memory. The physical memory developed once a piece can be played quickly is neither musical nor reliable.

2. Imitation of other performances. The score itself is the sole authority---not a performance, even if the performance features a very great master of the piano. One must find ones own voice based on critical reaction to the score itself.

PEP: What does it take to be a "successful" musician or music educator?

So many things. First of all a deeply committed love of music, and a drive to share that love with others. In the process one must be a very good listener and observer to unlock the esthetic vision particular to each student. A good teacher must avoid teaching his vision of a work. A good teacher presents the range of possibilities suggested by the score. The student then finds his own musical heart and vision somewhere in this spectrum.

PEP: We get many questions at The Piano Education Page from new teachers starting private teaching studios. What general tips do you have for new teachers?

First of all know the literature you intend to teach very, very, well so that you can match the special needs of each student with the very best repertoire from the literature available. For teachers who will work with pre-college students in literature ranging from method books to early advanced literature, this entails keeping up with the best of new pedagogical literature through music teacher's journals, workshops, etc. Besides deep knowledge of the relevant literature, a teacher must continue to perform the literature himself and so remain actively intrigued with the physical challenges and aesthetic rewards of piano playing. Finally, a young teacher should very quickly become a member of local, regional and national organizations that bring piano teachers together. Association with the larger world of piano teaching keeps one vital and up-to-date across the whole range of musical and social issues that face a piano teacher.

PEP: Can you give us your reflections upon music as a career?

Music is the right career only for those individuals who would find Life meaningless and sad doing anything else. If an individual even questions whether music should be his/her career path, the answer invariably must be "NO." Once music is chosen as a career path, one must pursue it with burning passion. Only sincerity of expression insures success in this field.

PEP: What are your views on competitions and what should teachers and students expect from that experience?

Competitions have great potential for good and for harm. As an educational tool, competitive activity usually takes a young pianist to deeper, more intense levels of concentration in response to pressures even greater than those of a solo recital. More frequently than not, competitive activity has figured significantly in the education of most major performing artists. It has often been the venue through which major careers have been launched. But competitions can be very harmful unless their positive educational benefits are stressed above the glamour of winning first place. I tell my students that the only losers in life are those who learn nothing from a particular experience. Having said the above, I would add that I am careful about which students I encourage to pursue competitions. For some students competitions open all the dark corners of the ego if a jury does not declare them winners.

PEP: What were your best and worst teaching experiences, performing experiences?

Teaching experiences.

I have never had a bad teaching experience. Music lessons in the group or private format offer such endless opportunity for exchange of musical ideas and the excitement of inspiration in the heat of music making. This is not to say that all my lessons are successful or that all give me equal joy. The worst teaching experience is one in which I learn nothing---about myself, about my student , about piano playing, about my student's playing, or about my own playing.

Performing experiences.

My worst!! The year was 1986. I was presenting a series of Liszt recitals that year to commemorate the centenary of that composer's death. Early in the season I was to play the Paganini Etudes and the B Minor Sonata at a small college near Chicago. One never gets a perfect piano, but what I faced for this concert was a black nightmare nine feet long! The piano had recently been rebuilt. However, when the university fell behind in its payment agreement with the technician, that kind fellow returned and disassembled the playing mechanism under cover of night! The college engaged a carpenter with no musical background to put the instrument back together. The playing surface was not flat. It was convoluted, a surface as uneven as the tile floor of St. Mark's cathedral in Venice--sluggish action, notes sticking, etc. Not an ideal vehicle for a program demanding pyrotechnic display from this poor, poor pianist.

PEP: What kinds of things can the teacher do to maintain the interest of children in piano in the face of all the distractions modern society provides?

Music's place in the larger fabric of life should be constantly emphasized. It has a force, an attraction that far exceeds any individual's particular talent or performance. If a person gets hooked on this larger perspective (e.g. music's role in society and history), he'll be hooked for life. It's important to always go beyond the lesson, or just what the student is playing. The teacher must encourage students to become avid listeners of music past and present, popular and classical. If an individual has this larger love of music, the art is will open and endless odyssey of discovery and esthetic satisfaction.

PEP: Do you have a favorite pianist(s) and, if so, what attracts you to that person's performances?

I have many favorites. Of pianists from the past one I highly revere for unsurpassed technical precision and beauty of tone is Josef Lhevinne. Other pianists from that era who inspire me tremendously are Artur Schnabel and Myra Hess. In matters of interpretation Schnabel and Hess represented an integrity toward the score that is almost lost among current pianists. Of living pianists, the one who consistently inspires and challenges me both with his performances and his writings on music is Alfred Brendel. His ideas about musicianship reflect the legacy of pianists like Schnabel and Hess.

PEP: What kinds of things can the teacher do to maintain the interest of a child in the face of all the distractions society provides? What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children in particular, in good music?

Music's place in the larger fabric of life should be constantly emphasized. It has a force, an attraction that far exceeds any individual's particular talent or performance. If a person gets hooked on this larger perspective (e.g. music's role in society and history), he'll be hooked for life. It's important to always go beyond the lesson, or just what the student is playing. The teacher must encourage students to become avid listeners of music past and present, popular and classical. If an individual has this larger love of music, the art is will open and endless odyssey of discovery and esthetic satisfaction.

PEP: Pretend this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say to students, parents, and teachers of the piano?

We should never forget our great fortune to play an instrument for which such great music has been written. No other instrument has been so favored by great composers. Piano literature for over two hundred years has chronicled the emotional and spiritual odyssey of mankind.

You can pose your own questions to Dr. Campbell by e-mail at

Page created: 9/3/97
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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