William Leland completed his 30th year as resident artist in piano at NMSU
five years ago and is now Professor Emeritus. A native of Philadelphia,
he has made numerous solo and ensemble appearances throughout the
Southwest, has performed in Germany, Italy, Mexico, and in 26 states,
and holds advanced performance degrees from The University of Cincinnati
and the Niedersächische Musikhochschule of Hanover, Germany.
Pianist in Residence at New Mexico State University, receiving an appointment there in
1969 upon completion of Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance under Mme. Olga Conus at the
College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. A native of Philadelphia,
Leland received his Bachelor's degree from the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts and
a Soloist Certificate from the Hochschule fur Musik in Hanover, Germany; he has also
worked privately with the noted pianists Mieczyslaw Horsowski, Karl Engel, and Manahem
Pressler. Since coming to New Mexico, Leland has performed over four hundred times as
soloist in recitals and concertos, as chamber music artist and accompanist, and in
duo-piano recitals with his late wife, Melba Halamicek, also a member of the NMSU
music faculty. He has been heard in such major centers as Dallas, San
Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Denver. In addition
to his duties as artist and teacher, Leland was principal conductor of NMSU's Dona Ana
Lyric Opera, recently leading productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni, Rossini's Barber
of Seville, and Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd.
Professor Leland is familiar to recital
audiences in many communities. He was PEP's Editor-at-Large for a number
Editor's Note: We first interviewed Dr. Leland in
September, 1995 - the very first Artist/Educator Interview that appeared on
the site. Since then, Dr. Leland has written many times for PEP. In honor of
PEP's tenth anniversary online, we are interviewing him again, with a
different set of questions from those asked in the
September 1995 Interview. We commend that earlier interview to you as
Can you update us on what you've been doing musically since 1995, when
you were first interviewed for PEP?
I had five more years to go as Pianist in Residence and Professor at NMSU,
during which time I performed a lot--here in Las Cruces many times, around
the state, and in Texas, Colorado, California, Mexico, Indiana, Arizona, and
two recitals in Germany. During this time I continued to serve as
Junior/Senior Auditions Chairman for the New Mexico Music Teachers
Association. I also conducted several opera productions at the University,
and, of course, continued a full teaching load. Since retiring in 2000 I
have, above all, relished the freedom to practice without hurry, and to
spend more time on PEP.
Do you continue to perform since retiring from the faculty of NMSU?
Yes, both as a soloist and in chamber ensemble with strings. Right now I'm
preparing a difficult concert for October, and am presently making a CD here
What works are you preparing for your concert and what makes them
The most difficult work on the program for me is "Variations for Violin and
Piano" by Olivier Messiaen. It is a beautiful contemporary work with lots of
unusual chord structures--bichords, clusters, etc.--all of which have to be
prepared very carefully and call for unconventional fingerings. Then there
are some rapid passages of successive three-note chords, difficult
stretches, and much intricate interplay with the violin. I'm also doing
solos--some Chopin Etudes and his E Major Scherzo--and the Brahms Trio in B
Major. More conventional difficulties there, but plenty to worry about!
For the last eight years you have been a member of the staff of PEP. Can
you tell us what you do on PEP?
Much of what we do is done without bylines, since we share some of the same
duties such as writing Meet the Composer and other things. I write some of
the reviews of software, have a number of independent articles, and spend a
good deal of time answering questions from students, teachers and parents.
Then, of course, I served as one of the Forum moderators on the
Forums. Occasionally it's hard work, but I've never done anything for PEP
that wasn't both rewarding and fun!
What motivates you to spend so much time doing work for PEP completely
I never feel that it takes too much time. On the contrary, I'm grateful that
the Internet permits us to reach so many people all over the world so
easily, and that PEP provides me with the opportunity to continue making use
of a lifetime of experience in music.
Do you have any particularly amusing anecdotes you would like to relate,
arising from your work with PEP?
Some of the questions I get from very young children are funny. Just the
other day a little girl asked, "Why do we always start learning from C? Why
not A, which is the first letter?" Logical, no? What's really fascinating to
me, though, is that we hear from literally every region of the world; I get
queries from Indonesia, South Africa, Europe, Russia, India, New Zealand,
Central and South America--everywhere.
Any pet peeves you're willing to share?
Every so often I get a letter from a student asking me to answer a whole
series of questions, or provide a lengthy treatise, that is obviously a
school assignment they've been given and that they want me to do for them in
its entirety. I don't mind suggesting sources of information, but it's
annoying to be expected to do a student's work that they should be doing for
themselves. One girl even inserted her assignment as an attachment, in the
original form she got from her teacher!
Has there been any particular aspect of your work with PEP that has been
particularly surprising or gratifying?
It's all gratifying, especially when someone writes back to say that you've
provided some significant help. The only real surprise was discovering how
far reaching we are, as I mentioned before.
In addition to contributing articles and reviews, you were also active on
PEP's Forums. What did you find most valuable about the interactions
you have with teachers and students there?
That's easy. The most valuable thing is that I learn as much from them as
they do from me.
Since you've had a great deal of experience with PEP helping people with
piano questions, do you foresee a time when multimedia experiences (the
Internet, software, videos, etc.) can replace the private teacher in
No, never. It would be almost the same as expecting technology to replace
the parent--and sometimes we seem to get dangerously close to that as well.
Anyone who believes we could do that must believe that teaching piano is the
only thing that goes on between student and teacher. But a good teacher has to do much more than that: sense the subtle physical, mental and
attitudinal responses that can either enhance or inhibit learning; know when
to be demanding and when to back off; find ways to encourage the timid
student and enlighten the one who has an inflated opinion of himself; create
diverse experiences in the lesson and perhaps outside it; advise both
students and parents--I could go on and on. Only a one-to-one interchange
between human beings can provide these things.
After a long and distinguished career as an piano educator, what advice
would you give to people considering a career in piano or music teaching?
Become fully aware of the immense amount of discipline and sacrifice it
takes to play and teach really well, and resist the temptation to be just a
dabbler. I don't believe anyone should consider music, at least as a career,
unless it is absolutely impossible for him or her to imagine doing anything
Are there any less known works that you would like to see become a more
established part of the teaching repertoire?
A number of good but relatively obscure compositions have been finding their
way into published collections for a long time, but many teachers just don't
use them. Those teachers should spend more time exploring repertoire--it's
too easy to just keep using the same familiar stuff over and over. But I can
tell you what works I'd like to see thrown out: the insipid little C Major
ditties that some of the method writers compose for their own publications.
The piano repertoire is huge. What strategies would you suggest for the
teacher who wants to explore it more fully to aid her teaching?
Well, just for the fun of it I typed "piano teaching repertoire" into Google
and you know what came up? The Piano Education Page! We were the
first two items, then there were many more pages of others suggesting
literature and methods, both old and new. We're in the Information Age, and
the materials available are staggeringly vast and varied. One has to peruse
a lot of web sites to find those that zero in on good teaching literature
that is graded by difficulty; similarly, we have to go to music stores and
look over collections, individual compositions, and technical exercises and
etudes. It's all very time consuming, and often boring, work. But it's an
important part of the job, and I suggest resolutely setting aside a certain
amount of time once a week, or even once a month, to devote to it.
What overriding principles would guide you if you were writing a piano
I don't think I would be any good at writing a method, because the
overriding principle would be, "Fit what you're doing to the individual
student." There would be so many options and alternative approaches that no
one would publish it. Another maxim would be, "Throw away all methods if
necessary, including this one."
If you could change anything about the way piano is taught - either
routinely or all too often - what would it be?
A private piano teacher does not have to pass an exam, get a license, or
answer to any agency in order to get permission to set up a studio.
Consequently there are an unfortunate number of people who teach without
adequate training or even any particular talent for music. We can't change
this, but I feel that one of our most important functions on PEP is to steer
parents and potential students to qualified teachers, and help them know
how to look for them.
If a teacher can't attend an accredited piano pedagogy program, what
areas of training should they pay particular attention to in order to bring
their teaching up to a higher standard of quality?
I don't believe there can be ANY better training for a teacher than learning
to play the instrument--having to grapple with all the problems and
frustrations first-hand, analyzing one's own practice, developing the
choreography and strategies to solve technical problems and then being able
to tell a student what it ought to feel like. And it also gives one a great
appreciation of how important a good piano with a well-regulated action can
In broad brush terms, what do you think are the most important principles
and skills that teachers should impart to students, beyond a basic ability
to play the piano?
At the risk of sounding like an ancient mariner: I grew up without cell
phones, computers, television, professionally organized children's sports,
and quick easy transportation. These things are all wonderful, but they have
provided today's kids with a numbing array of distractions that tend to make
them get spread too thin and drastically shorten their attention spans. But
if a child is receptive, a good piano teacher can encourage and train them
in something that takes a lot of concentration and hard work over a long
period of time. Anything of this nature is going to help develop one's
autonomy and inner resources.
Do you think being a musician (performing or teaching) is easier or
harder today than it was when you started your career?
Well, from a practical, economic standpoint it's much harder, because the
field is so crowded. To cite my own example, it's far more difficult to land
a piano faculty position in a university. But there's always a need and a
market for a good, dedicated private teacher if you can find the right