Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Arlette Felberg
John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noteworthy artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. You may not always agree with the opinions expressed, but we think you will find them interesting and informative. 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 March 1996 artist/educator:
Arlette Felberg, Asst. Professor of Piano, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM USA
Arlette Felberg, born in Antwerp, Belgium, is currently on the piano faculty of the University of New Mexico, where she serves as Coordinator of the Keyboard Studies. She attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York, received the Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Michigan, and a Masters degree from the University of Miami. She completed four years of Doctoral study in Piano Performance and Pedagogy at the University of Indiana.
She is Founder and Artistic Director of the Albuquerque Chamber Soloists, a series of chamber music concerts now in its fifth season. She is also a member of the Galisteo Trio, and performs frequently with violinist Leonard Felberg as the Felberg Duo. She is past vice-president of the the June Music Festival and currently on its Board of Directors, past Chairman for College Auditions for the New Mexico Music Teachers Association, and has performed as soloist and chamber musician with the Fine Arts Quartet, Miami Symphony, University of New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Symphony, San Juan Symphony, Durango Civic Symphony, New Southwest Orchestra, on channel 2 in Miami, and Opus 22 Educational TV, Taos Festival, Placitas Artists Series, Corrales Artists Series, Santa Fe Concert Assn., among others.
Arlette Felberg also teaches a course for the University of New Mexico Division of Continuing Education and Community College entitled, Piano Master Class and Workshop.
PEP: What made you go into music?
I cannot recall one particular event or "Divine Intervention" from the Creator as being responsible for my choosing music as a profession. I had literary and artistic interests as well, so I knew whatever I chose, it would be creative.
I think it has been a succession of events and influences that drove me down this path....education, memorable experiences hearing live performances in the great halls of New York City where I grew up, experiencing the spontaneity and communication that playing chamber music brings, being touched by a chord progression or a fragment of Schubertian melody; it was the sum total of a lifetime of collected reactions and circumstances forming an immense collage, until it evolved into a life in music, and there I was in the middle of it. So much for predestination!
One of my earliest recollections of a musical composition was as an infant, while fleeing the port of Marseilles on a ship bound for Martinique during World War II. Belgium, the country of my birth, had been occupied by the Nazis the previous year, and my family was to begin a long and arduous voyage which would culminate in the U.S. It is not unusual, therefore, to recall in my mind's ear and eye the repetitive strains of the Brahms Waltz, Op. 39, No. 1 in B Major, played by a French officer at a small piano. Although I've heard that sunny piece all my life, for me it has always held an undercurrent of sorrow in its cheerfulness, and it has run like a leitmotif through my consciousness.
PEP: What do you enjoy the most about performing and teaching music?
I believe the greatest satisfaction that one can have in making music is the ability to be immersed in a process so completely that it takes you over. You lose the consciousness of self and methodology and become the transcendent medium through which something truly great is transmitted. It is a union through which you, the composer, and the piece are in complete understanding. Nothing can match it.
As for teaching, which is the great love of my life, I derive tremendous satisfaction from helping a student reach and exceed his limits and expectations to bring out his inner potential. I sometimes feel like a sculptor, chiseling away at a block of stone bit by bit to expose the perfection existing within. I have to be both diagnostician and problem solver, and it becomes an exciting threshold for both of us.
PEP: Who was the most influential person in your years of study and why?
Again, it has been a series of enlightened influences.... a mesmerizing lecture by a great teacher, Nadia Boulanger, while a student at the University of Michigan, the razor-sharp evaluating skills of my chamber music professor, Janos Starker, being exposed for four years to the indescribably beautiful color and phrasing of my piano teacher, Menahem Pressler, etc. Ultimately, I'm a believer in being one's own most influential person, by taking what you hear, see, and perceive, and integrating it.
PEP: What do you think is the "best" way to learn to play?
With the greatest accuracy, and the deepest respect and fidelity to the score.
On a more practical level and as a teacher of advanced pianists, I nevertheless may sometimes have to work on a remedial level, ridding an individual of excess tension before we can even begin to work effectively. I have worked out a system of physical awareness, mental preparation, programming the reflexes for accuracy, and advocating the importance of good and economical practice habits. I also believe in positive reinforcement as a confidence builder.
Without a doubt the best way to learn to play is to practice!
PEP: What advice would you give to students of the piano?
Do not dissipate your formative years. Deal with problems and solutions NOW. Do not take shortcuts. Be scrupulous in your learning of details, especially fingering and phrasing. Listen to yourself and others. Practice creatively, with joy and expectation and the fullest brain activity. Be open and flexible. Learn to focus and concentrate. Build a reliable technique. Do not merely recreate the music, experience it! Form stylistic understanding by listening to the operas of Mozart, the string quartets of Beethoven, the symphonies of Brahms, the Schubert lieder, the Brandenburg Concerti of Bach, etc. It will give you greater insight into their piano works.
PEP: What general advice would you give teachers of the piano?
Teach your students how to practice by practicing with them. Be inflexible about their rhythm. You are their musical parent, and as such, you have a responsibility of providing them with knowledge, workable alternatives, and confidence in themselves. You are both traveling companions in a wonderful journey. Light their way!
PEP: Can you give us your reflections on music as a career?
A career is how you make a living. Ask yourself if you would like to do this if you didn't have to work. If the answer is yes, you're in the right field. Being a musician is much more than what you do. It's a way of life, a discipline to an exacting standard which never deviates. Most of all, it can be the greatest FUN. Life and music become inextricably intertwined if one is lucky! The ability to live a life in music is a gift.
PEP: Do you have a favorite pianist? If so, what attracts you to that person?
I have many.... Rubenstein, Ashkenazy, Richter, Serkin, Watts, Lipatti, Fleisher, Argerich, Kissin, Pollini, .... the list goes on. A pianist who plays with a passion for music has my admiration and attention.
PEP: What are your views on competitions?
I'm ambivalent. Some students thrive on the necessity to prepare by a certain date and believe that it forces them to focus on a goal. They thrive on the excitement and the challenge and don't mind comparison and competition. If they have the stamina to risk disappointment and the determination not to let it bother them, more power to them. For a less secure soul, competitions can be destructive and so, ultimately, the choice is the student's and not mine!
PEP: What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children especially, in classical music?
My founding of the Albuquerque Chamber Soloists five years ago was a response to that question. Our purpose was Community Outreach. We combine, through the medium of chamber music, music of every sort ...standard beloved repertoire, unknown, jazz, Native American, local composers, everything that qualifies as good music. We have a variety of instrumentation, styles, individual musicians, professional musicians, university students, members of our Symphony, UNM faculty, local musicians, etc. By appealing to anyone, we appeal to everyone, and the success of the series has proved its worth.
I feel that as responsible citizens of our community, we should do several things. First of all, do not allow legislators to abolish music in the public schools. Vote them out! Secondly, if we all agreed to turn off our television sets at prescribed times of the day, we would have more time for reading, conversation, and music.
PEP: What attracts you most about teaching college-level piano?
Having gone to four universities and having taught at three (Indiana University as a graduate assistant and on the faculty of the University of Toledo and the University of New Mexico), I feel as though I've been to college all my life. I love academia; the exchange of ideas and viewpoints has always been both an inspiration and a challenge. And I must say that taking an important role in the maturation of a young person and his talent is exhilarating.
The University of New Mexico Music Department is a very good place to be situated. The faculty has a distinguished history of world-class artist-faculty and academic programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. It numbers many successful professionals among its graduates and, in the current climate of skyrocketing University tuition, remains a remarkably affordable alternative for the advancing musician. We have diverse cultures and breathtaking scenery. What better thing is there than to look at the mountains and the perpetually blue sky while you practice!