Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Dr. Paul Pollei
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.
PEP: What made you go into music?
I was a piano student from age five, a typical young boy loving music. I also loved young boy activities, the tug-of-war of growing up with mother and father and three distracting brothers. They urged me to practice or not to practice, and I sometimes wanted to do too much, not follow orders. Thank goodness for supportive parents who never gave up.
The deciding factor was in college. I vacillated between all choices of majors in college. I finally made the decision when I went to Europe on a church assignment lasting almost three years. It was while living in France and Belgium that the decision for music was fully made. I returned to the university with full force with the determination to follow the dreams of a musician. I thought I would be the worlds greatest composer, and used all of my skills of ear and fingers to study that, all the while attempting to perfect piano studies.
PEP: Who was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano and why?
It was during the university period that a teacher who taught wonderful classes in Theory and also PIANO exclaimed, you dont know what you are doing. She gave me failing grades on my homework. However, she was the great teacher who wanted to do something about somebody who supposedly had talent. She said, lets use those good ears, and figure it out. She patiently helped me and from that time, it become a labor of love and ease. There were other university teachers who were great inspirations, however, the pianistic talent was always there, but not fully developed. A piano teacher from my high school years discovered that I knew everything, but really knew nothing. These SHOCK LESSONS became a model of pedagogy that I realized much later. The best SHOCK was from a new teacher at the conclusion of my undergraduate studies who said, upon playing a first lesson for her, obviously, you dont know the score, so come back when you do. She wasnt angry, just willing to be patient. That simple statement has served as my model of teaching for more than thirty years.
PEP: What do you enjoy the most about making and teaching music?
This is the most comprehensive and loving question in the interview. I have realized that musicians are part of a special fraternity if they subscribe to the idea that to hear, enjoy and make music is a specially endowed gift from heaven given to everybody. But those endowed with special gifts are few. When one acknowledges the acceptance of gifts of the spirit to each individual, then the use of those gifts for the benefit of others is the most remarkable opportunity to help decide how one should work and live. I choose to think about music as one thinks about the complete spiritual motives that bind us all together. The universality of music and the heaven-sent language that allows music as a heart-to-heart communicator are a few of the great wonders and mysteries of the universe. I dont know how music holds power over people, but IT DOES! Because it is so compelling, fascinating and wondrous, I choose to be very grateful for the admission to the splendid fraternity of those who hear, enjoy and make music. Each time I present a concert, I am frequently thrilled by the reaction of those who share their enjoyment with others. I also realize that to give a person the gift of music is to give them joy, gentility, a questing position, a constant desire and search for beauty. For this, it erases aggression, selfishness, tendencies toward crime and loneliness. To light up the world with music is the brightest and surest means to warm hearts. Those who participate in the musical world, either as performers, listeners, or creators are generally interested in the elegant and beautiful aspects of our world. For this, I consider the joy of music the best passport to universal love.
PEP: Do you use any of the piano "methods" in your teaching? If so, why do you prefer that one over others.
It took many years of teaching to find my own method. I use ALL methods and NO methods. I now use MY OWN method, with all modifications changing from day to day and student to student. When I began to teach Piano Pedagogy at the undergraduate and graduate level at the university, I realized that it would be necessary to present information in a very organized way, and not omit any aspect of musical thinking. Therefore, I pondered, thought, and read countless ways about teaching piano. I attended hundreds of workshops, purchased all the music of the world (according to my family who saw the bookcases and shelves bulge beyond recognition), and formulated my own course. I remember hearing (many years ago) one of the great teachers of the United States declare in a workshop that she could teach the fine students at the Juilliard School of Music because she had taught hundreds of little children before that appointment. I fully subscribe to the idea that you teach everybody in the same way from the heart and mind. One should never use baby talk or water down educational thoughts. To present music requires many skills of presentation, but the beauty and joy of music remains the same.
I require my university pedagogy students to know the methods, but their final assignment after two semesters of study is to write their own method. And they are free to beg, borrow, or steal from any source, giving credit, where credit is due. We all learned many years ago that great teachers are like great cooks, they are simply thieves who like to take from others. I have finally organized some of my approaches in a new book entitled ESSENTIAL TECHNIQUE FOR THE PIANIST: AN ORGANIZED AND SYSTEMATIC METHOD OF TEACHING PIANO TECHNIQUE.
PEP: What "deficiency" in training or technique do you most often find in students of the piano?
It is sad to say that the students who transfer to my studio or any teachers studio for continuing or making improvements in their present status, are usually suffering from what I call the results of the five evils of teaching. They are: the one-on-one lesson, the half-hour lesson, the one-hour a day syndrome of practicing (which does not work), the spring recital, and competitions. Each of these phenomena presents difficulties and produce dropouts. I will explain this in my own best terms.
The system of teaching a skill one-on-one rarely happens in any childs life, and should not be part of fundamental music study. It is not natural, and it simply does not work. Frances Clark and Louise Goss did many studies on this subject and I will offer their findings. They declared that after studying the problem, they came to the realization that the best way to teach foundation piano and music lessons was a combination of group and solo lessons. How that combination was managed by a teacher could be in variety of ways, figured out by each individual geographical and managerial style.
The dilemma of the half-hour lesson is obvious to each person who has tried teaching in this manner. The teacher must take too many aspirins and the stress level and frustration is so high it kills enthusiasm. Obviously, there is so much to teach, that the time factor must be increased. This can be partially solved by group lessons and increased time slots.
Beginning students of any age are not capable of knowing how or what to practice for an hour, and this so-called magic period of one hour is a fabrication of some mysterious ghost. WHY? There is no reason to put a time period on practice, only a task orientation. It is not how much time one practices, but what and how one practices. If one asks HOW, before WHAT and WHY, then it becomes confusing. A beginner of any age must ask WHAT to practice and then HOW. Because a foundation student does not know the correct questions to ask, the teacher must provide the incentives and the direction. With those things in mind, he will outline careful practicing in a structured way, not attaching a time limit to each task, but an orientation to completion. Then patience and expectation of excellence will become the formula for success.
The SPRING RECITAL or even the CHRISTMAS RECITAL is usually a potpourri of students who have learned one or two offerings. Although admirable, this usually presents a task that has a last-minute-rush-to-finalize effect on the practicing and intended date. Rather than limit students to the one or two-item recital bunched with others, I like to feature students in their own accomplishments, i.e., a solo recital of their own design. With this grand accomplishment any time during the year, the focus and spotlight from family, friends, and admirers is multiplied and enhanced by the singular joy associated with superior accomplishment. To arrive at this status, a weekly or periodic performance class with all students working out the kinks while perfecting the repertory product of superiority. I prefer and recognize the value of a JOINT (two or three students combined) or preferably a SOLO recital for all students. Add to this the many festivals, competitions, and teacher-sponsored events allowing students ample opportunities to participate, perform, and try out their repertory. Competitions are problems because of their limiting factors. To introduce young children to the idea of competitions might have damaging influence on all parties, including the family of the student. Many teachers are linked to the idea that the success of the student is equal to the trophies earned. This does little to infuse one with the joy of music. This is simply a trophy-earning project that has limited success for the future. As a director of an international competition, I am keenly aware and observant of those students who have put their efforts into only winning and not developing as a musician. My observation is that those who are curious about music and NOT curious about the date and place of the next competition make for the successful long ranged and long-lived musician. The late twentieth-century has emphasized the phenomena of competitions and it takes a wise and careful teacher to monitor the use of competitions in the development of a talented and willing student. I urge much discretion and caution.
The most difficult proposition that we face in the United States is the fact that ear-training and what is known as solfeggio is not a practiced pedagogical procedure. The students of America are usually deficient in ear training. I would suggest that this should be remedied at all costs. The other problem is the loss of early music education training in schools. The responsibility for music training presently rests in the private sector and the family, which doesnt always have successful results.
I could continue with the problems of lack of early body rhythm training, avoidance of fingering, the problems of the physical approach to the piano, etc., etc., but many know the difficulties associated with all these pedagogical skills and needs. I would encourage any who teach to be comprehensive in their presentation and try hard to cover all bases of musicianship.
PEP: What kinds of things would you tell students of the piano and their teachers to try to avoid?
Support passion, and avoid bigots or those who are narrow-minded. CURIOSITY is the best ammunition for any student, and those who arent curious will suffer and are limited. George Solti said, those who arent curious have nailed their own coffins.
PEP: What advice would you give to college music majors and those planning to major in music?
If they havent fallen in love with music prior to college, try to induce that as soon as possible. If that doesnt happen, then the work of being a MUSIC MAJOR, or an intended professional will fall flat. If they do, the world of joy is open to them.
Then, I borrow from a teacher who interviewed me for Graduate School. He asked, how many etudes of Chopin do you know? I responded none, very well. He exclaimed why not? I said, I didnt feel capable of playing them. His response was, that was a very good answer, to know what you dont know and want to do something is a very good sign.
In this decade, concerts, books, CDs, music scores and computers are the best tools for teachers and students. Without the availability and interest in these five things, one doesnt stand a chance in music. One must be totally immersed in these worlds.
PEP: What advice would you give to teachers of piano or music generally?
The same advice I would give to those students. Be part of the world of the five: concerts, books, CDs, music scores and computers. Students and teachers are the same......if not, it doesnt work. A great teacher told me to stay five minutes ahead of my students, which is enough.....just be a step ahead to show them the way. I have learned that the best kind of teaching is to be side by side with them as a fellow student. The best teacher is a NEW SCORE, FRESHLY PRINTED, CLEAN WITHOUT YOUR MARKS, and a PENCIL and DESIRE to DECIPHER and PERFORM what the printed score HAS or DOES NOT HAVE to offer. By so doing, the teacher stays very fresh, and can relate to the learning process of a student. Without this inquiry process, the teacher becomes dull and jaded.
Curiously enough, I have monitored and discovered statistically that music teachers do not attend many concerts. I am always interested in that odd statistic. I have not decided the reason for this curiosity, other than they DONT REALLY LOVE MUSIC, or THEY HAVE TAUGHT TOO MUCH and are TOO TIRED. It always shocks and surprises me.
PEP: Can you reflect upon choosing music as a career?
I can only speak personally and say that for me it has produced the greatest joy imaginable. I have had the greatest pleasure in performing, teaching, and administering musical activities. For this, I have shared the world with musicians of all ages and all caliber. It has given me the opportunity to observe all the cultures of each continent, and to know the pedagogy and training of many musicians. It has given me the opportunity to meet young and seasoned alike and I admire those who share and love music.
PEP: What does it take to be a "successful" musician or music educator?
During my lifetime as a musician, many things have changed. I refer to that notion about those who CAN - DO, and those who CANT - TEACH. This old-fashioned thought has greatly evolved in the last decades. I would point the finger to the changing world. When I started teaching, there were no known methods or pianists from the Orient. When I started teaching, there were no computers. When I started teaching, there were few international competitions, and even national competitions were limited. Although, this may sound like a dinosaur speaking, I assure you that these facts are all part of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The rapidity of change is the key to being a successful musician or educator. Add to that rapidity, the term CLEVER, as a necessity and part and parcel of the formula for success in the music world or the world of music education. One doesnt JUST TEACH or JUST PERFORM, one creates a career with CLEVER IDEAS and many CREATIONS.
A new university graduate program in music requires that the students take a year following study to develop their own career, their own audience, their own programs, and formulate their own tracks. Following a report of what they have accomplished, the decision to award the degree is decided by the evaluating committee. This practical approach to music making appears to have value.
PEP: What were your best and worst teaching and performing experiences?
I suppose these would be questions to ask the victims of my efforts, i.e. my students who suffered from my poor teaching, and the audience who suffered from my less than admirable performances.
I tell my pedagogy students about my first class of students (when I was 17-18) years old and I gave a beginning student the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor (Volume I) by Bach. I suppose I should return all the money and time I took from her.
Obviously experience is the best answer. Yet, I consider myself a novice in teaching because I may know the pedagogical and musical formulae, but one never knows how the brain works. For this fact, I am forever curious and continually studying about how one learns and what produces all the wonders of music.
For performing, I can tell hundreds of stories, but an unsettling, funny experience occurred with the AMERICAN PIANO QUARTET (TWO PIANOS/EIGHT HANDS) in Bergen, Norway. Our contract requires two grand pianos, and four benches. When we arrived at the concert hall, we were told the pianos were in place. As we approached the stage for rehearsal, we could see only one piano. The manager assured us that there were two pianos on stage. We looked, and looked, but never found them. In desperation, we asked him to accompany us to the stage, and he pointed to a 9 ft. Steinway piano and a little white upright piano. Naturally, we were very disappointed but those performing on that piano that evening played with an energy never before manifested.
PEP: What kinds of things can a teacher do to maintain the interest of students, in the face of all the distractions modern society provides?
There are a few formula ideas that work:
--Never teach one-on-one - it doesnt work! (Bach and Liszt taught us how to teach in groups)
--Serve red or black licorice, then graduate to M and Ms, and then to ice cream, following that, anything will suffice.
--Take students to concerts
--Never take a long vacation---it doesnt work, just days or a week off.
--Telephone them from time to time.
--Give presents - the best kinds are music, CDs, concert tickets.
--Know the name of one of their girlfriends, boyfriends, or family members.
--Go to an event where they are participants (sports, school, church, etc.)
--LOVE THEM!!!! LOTS!!!!
PEP: Do you have a favorite pianist and if so, what attracts you to that persons performances?
I remember an interview with Andre Previn of many years ago. He was asked a similar question. The interviewer asked about his favorite composer. His answer was, the composer I am presently performing.
As I know many pianists, and many from recordings, I can be very selective.
The question is not WHO I have heard in person, but WHO I was NOT privileged to hear in person, such as Schnabel, Richter, Gilels, Rachmaninoff, Hofmann, and Paderewski. There are many others. What we all wouldnt give if we could have five minutes of a live performance by Liszt or Chopin.
I am attracted to pianists with rich tones, excellent rhythmic strengths, and personalities that transcend the spotlight. The factors that influence my own music making are orchestral flavors, singing strengths, and dancing qualities, coupled with color (such as red, blue, purple, black, etc.) which is obvious in their efforts to produce sound. If these four factors are present, I find the pianist usually very attractive as an artist.
PEP: What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children in particular, in good music?
This is the most difficult question in all the brains of music educators. The study of families in the world is the most startling factor. I have made a lifelong study of continents and their societies. One cannot even imagine what happens to a Shanghai-trained pianist who lives in a one-child family, compared to a Mexican who has 11 children in one small house. How can we answer this question when the public educators and administrators have such difficulty with the presentation of ARTS in public and private education. Germany spends more public monies on ARTS than any other country. The former countries of the Communist empires WERE government subsidized. The countries of South America have little public interest in private music making efforts. How can we answer when so many of these citizens from other countries come to the USA for lifes hopes.
I suppose our best efforts should be centered in family, neighborhoods, schools, churches, communal and civic efforts to better the world of those closest to us. If we do this with vigor and energy, giving our best efforts and our most professional approaches, we will make that small dent in the cause of world beauty. If we stop and do nothing, we will find that the world of beauty and joy will diminish very fast.
It is vitally important that THOSE WHO CAN AND WILL contribute the most they can in any imaginative, creative and professional way.
If all people would SING as a starting place, this would be a dramatic introduction to the world of beautiful music. After all, the voice is the God-given instrument that every person may use with joy and pleasure. With the help of trained teachers, this instrument can form an esprit-de-corps that is transferred to the development and further instruction in music.
PEP: What are your views on competitions and what should teachers and students expect from that experience?
As I mentioned, competitions are one of the five killers of piano study. They limit repertory, interest, curiosity, and willingness to venture further.
As the Founder/Artistic Director of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, which sponsors quadrennial international competitions for those ages 19-32, and annual competitions for those ages 14-18, I am well aware of all interests in the world of competition. My role as administrator and judge in the world of competitions and my pedagogical thoughts on their danger is not in conflict......just in need of tempered explanation.
Having been introduced to and having the privilege of monitoring the development of more than 1,000 international pianists, and having auditioned and judged more than 5,000 pianists during many years, I am keenly aware and sympathetic of the problems and challenges facing these young artists.
I am especially aware that the abundant international talents are not limited to geography. I am also aware that there are fantastic young people striving to perfect their art, and that excellent teachers and supportive families are giving and helping to strengthen these gifts. For this, the world is a much better place. For parents and teachers to emphasize the success associated with winning is admirable. I cant think of any better factor than parents giving everything to help children succeed. For this, I applaud their tremendous efforts.
I am also aware that competitions have almost replaced recitals. The excitement produces an electricity that is appealing and wondrous. The music making in competitions is of the highest level and allows audiences the great pleasure of hearing the finest efforts and the best performances. For all of this, I consider competitions to be most valuable. I suggest that if teachers and their students would regularly attend competitions, the level of their students excellence would improve.
If competition results are discouraging or counterproductive to curiosity and full development on the part of students and teachers, this is a damaging and negative effort. I have seen all sides of the competition coin, and abhor those who allow the negative influences to seep into their musical lives. Admire those who use the competition phenomena to stretch and produce superior results.
PEP: From your standpoint as director of a major international piano competition, what characteristics distinguish the winners of competitions from other talented pianists?
Michael Gurt, the Gold Medalist of the 1982 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition stated in an interview, he thought there were many superb pianists in the competition, perhaps those better than he was. The nerves of steel it takes to accomplish the rigors of an international competition formulate a different approach and produces the results that are part of the requirement of endurance, longevity, stamina, extra repertory and eventual triumph.
Nicholas Angelich, the Gold Medalist of the 1994 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, was discovered after winning, to have a total recall of ALL the piano literature. To have this command and exceptional gift from such recall and knowledge manifests itself in the heat of battle that are the hallmarks of an international meeting.
Joanne Baker, Chairman of the Jury, was interviewed on this similar subject, and mentioned that all competitors, by virtue of their appearance and selection into the competition were qualified with notes, technique and pianistic gifts. But it was the MAGIC OF INDIVIDUAL AND INTERESTING SOUND that transcended the spotlight that allowed the jury members to make the distinction between those who were named laureates and those who succeeded as medalists.
It is very interesting to observe and trace the career of the winners of international competitions and monitor their development. Having done this for more than twenty years, it is a privilege and sometimes a disappointment to see that those with extreme promise do not fulfill their potential and those with a determination to work very hard exceed the initial impression presented. My opinion is that there are more disappointments than successes. For this, I am sad, but also recognize that the gift of genius and magic are complicated and do not have a strict formula that is predictable.
PEP: What special advice would you give to students and pianists who are preparing for competition?
Only enter if you plan to be THE WINNER. There is no reason to enter a competition for experience ONLY. This is false thinking and does not produce the best efforts. One must go with a determination to do the very best. Also, one must be very realistic that there is usually only ONE first-prize winner, and that the efforts one makes is not always recognized in the way one expects. This does not diminish the efforts of work, learning, and personal accomplishment and success. The positive and beneficial results of a competition are fabulous.
My favorite quotation is from one competitor who was eliminated in the first round. He said that he cried for one day, and then realized that all that practice for the last eight months (eight hours a day in all earnestness) was the big payoff. Indeed, it was........he is now the Associate Director of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, a faculty member at Brigham Young University, and a member of the AMERICAN PIANO QUARTET. YES, there is life after competitions.....a big life, and the determination, and strengths learned by participation in a competition are of highest value.
PEP: Generally speaking, do you find membership in music teacher organizations valuable? What could such organizations do to help teachers more? What should teachers themselves do to get the maximum benefit from such organizations?
YES,YES, YES,....we should all join, and we should all help in whatever possible way we are best suited to do so. I can personally say that I have attended hundreds of workshops, meetings, festivals, and teacher-sponsored events. I have done it because of my desires and willingness to do so. I have had the pleasure of presenting many workshops throughout the world, and know the joy of being involved on all sides of the membership equation.
One of my favorite experiences was auditioning a young candidate for the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland and having her tell me that I taught her in a masterclass when she was young girl in Tokyo, Japan. To not recognize her following many years, but knowing of her success and her joy of introducing herself to me in the role of former teacher, was a great joy.
This is just one simple payoff of the membership factor. One never can stand alone.....one needs the association and help of others. I tell all students that they MUST attend workshops, and meetings to learn AT LEAST ONE NEW THING. One always does!
By joining, organizing, and vitalizing our profession, we become more potent and effective as a force for beauty in the world. If we hide in our studios, homes and closets, we are of no use to anybody. Our students cannot progress unless we progress. It is a way to help them. For this reason alone, we must JOIN.
The leaders of all organizations usually and almost always try to provide the best for their members. I have no criticism of these organizations, for I realize that their labor and efforts are done with joy and love.
Teachers who join should be willing to GIVE and not just TAKE. This is part of being a resident of the planet.
PEP: Pretend this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say to students, parents, and teachers of the piano?
I love a motto of Martin Luther who said: If everybody studied music, there would never be a war. This seems lofty, idealistic, and near impossible. But what great joy to try to effect that status.
It all starts from infancy. Children are the greatest and should be treated with utmost respect. With pure adoration and help, there is no goal and no effort beyond them. They will try anything. Because of this, which has both good and danger associated with it, we who know what can be done have a lofty responsibility. I would ask and urge parents to activate any spark in their children. I would urge administrators to find any means to introduce the arts, and especially music to children. I would ask teachers to introduce the love factors of music into the worlds of their students.
Spoon feeding in our public and private schools is limiting and restrictive. Original thinking and clever ways to allow children to use their imagination and their thoughts are valuable tools.
SINGING, DANCING and READING release the energies and create the joy of life. Emphasis on sports and the accumulation of money produces empty hopes and unfulfilled dreams.
Teachers should help their students who have any desire to become teachers themselves. They should practice the art of allowing student-assisted teaching in their own studios. It is the highest profession and the most rewarding to pass on the traditions of beauty to the world.
I will conclude with an article called THE JOY OF MUSIC MAKING....OR MOSTLY TEACHING!! Thank you very much for the privilege of speaking with you.
THE JOY OF MUSIC MAKING....OR MOSTLY TEACHING!!
I still eat penny candy! I inquire of my students if they like black or red licorice and nobody has ever declined my invitation to indulge. Nobody except fuddy-duddies, or persons who are sugar free, health conscious or feel squeamish. And there arent many of those.
It is easy to love people and to open their hearts to learning something new or continue on their chosen path. Just start with licorice and love mixed with joy. These are the appetizers. Now sing a song and assume your students know little and just begin. You must always stay five minutes ahead of them!
Music is the magic that allows people to enter a world of dreaming, meditation, excitement, feeling emotions of love, reflection, sadness, longing, anticipation, tenderness, anger, and even evil thoughts according to Tolstoy.
The joy of teaching and being part of the learning process for others is because it is contagious and lifelong. That which begins early for most persons remains forever, and may be developed, nurtured and encouraged with love and devotion, eventually flowering into a fully productive human being.
My personal joys are that I have experienced the thrill of music making with students of all ages and at all levels of understanding and knowledge. What a joy to be part of that process and involvement.
Idols and mentors, friends and loved ones are my best teachers, and remain in my memory and permanent thoughts. They range from Franz Liszt, superior and complete musician (one of the most celebrated of all time!) who always gave and rarely took, to Gordon B. Hinckley, revered leader of millions and unstoppable worker, to Joanne Baker, a near-perfect teacher, known for inner and outer beauty and grace, hard pressed to be mean or critical of others without reason, to Richard Cracroft, scholar, author, humorist and reputed teacher in the best sense, to my wife and parents, who must have taught and encouraged something correct and encouraged much, and of course, Johann Sebastian Bach, the perfect musician, always-a-teacher, and No. l family man. The remembrance and memory of what comes from their influences is the happiest and best of all worlds. That list of names may be multiplied by the dozens, others who represent the same sterling qualities of pedagogy and inner strengths. I do not forget those teachers who did the day to-day nitty gritty work, because they are the important ones.
The joy of all this has been the interaction with so many individuals of all ages and training. I think of little children rolling on the floor at the Waterford School, Primary children singing in Sunday training, young grade-school children singing and playing their first tunes, teenagers who like haircurlers and television more than daily practicing, college students who are awakened to the rigors and demands of difficult music examinations, competitors of all ages in local, regional, national and international competitions, team mates in ensemble performances, grandfathers and grandmothers trying out their second careers, colleagues in the teaching world ranging from daily associates to those met in exotic places, great artists who fill your ears and hearts with beauty, and the successful and very successful students who always leave and on occasion report their happiness, joys, disappointments, and lifes progress.
LITTLE CHILDREN are the quintessential learners, soaking up everything. It is the eyes, the innocence, the hearts that melt you, and the tears that sometimes ensue for a stumble of any kind. There is nothing better than teaching little children. It is their quickness, their unpredictability, their smiles, their little jokes, their surprises, and the beauty of their innocent hearts. You can teach a little child anything.......it is true, sometimes sad, because they often get taught the wrong things or NO-THINGS. That is the saddest of all. Music is the best THING to teach and give them, they will always be happier and better for that gift.
SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN are quick to learn. One bright person said that the best ages in life are four and ten. Four-year olds havent been introduced to the rigors of school and scheduling...they are free. Ten-year olds havent felt the pangs and disturbances of puberty, and they have learned much, according to knowing scientists, the largest percentage of all they are ever going to learn has been assimilated.....what a challenging and compelling thought. With this excellent package and combination of alertness and physical willingness, there is much to teach and they always seem to be quick to soak it up. That is why I love teaching young school age children. They are bright, fast, and willing.
TEENAGERS are the joys and frustrations of life. Most parents tolerate them and wonder if they will survive their time with them. Teachers complain and make jokes about their association and endurance tests with them. Newspapers praise them and write articles about their infringements on society from prankster antics to serious and illegal deeds. I love them because they are unpredictable and full of surprises. The ups and downs of their own lives produces the highest and sometimes the lowest. You receive the best and sometimes the worst, but it is that expectation and anticipation of the first that keeps you on alert and expecting the most from these unpredictable students. Music making from a teenager who is not afraid to express is the greatest joy of all. To be part of that process and see and hear it come at you in unexpected ways is the best of all teaching worlds.
COLLEGE STUDENTS can give one the most satisfying music thrills. If they are serious, hardworking and inquisitive, I want to pay them for the privilege of serving as their mentor instead of the traditional pattern. My joys have been coupled with instructing those of the highest level, those with well disciplined patterns in their past, those with many incomplete study patterns, and those still finding their way. The composite class provides for many bright and happy experiences, excellent music making, and promises of bright futures in all sort of living patterns. How one disciplines their own free time which is a partial gift to college-age students, how one marshals their own forces and their own desires is a triumph to observe and sometimes is replete with frustration, lack of discipline, courage on the part of many, and superior results for a few. To be part of those challenging years is a joy and thrill, one I am happy to not have missed either on the side of being a student or a mentor. The real thrill is that, one is always a student, and that truism may be shared with college-age students.
COMPETITORS IN COMPETITIONS make the best music! Why wouldnt it be that way, one is trying to do better than the others. This is an unusual natural instinct. From where does it spring, one will never know. It applies to all parts of life, from businessmen to sports figures, from spelling bee champions to race-car drivers, and the list continues. When a musician takes on the challenge of playing back-to-back with other musicians in a competitive situation, the adrenaline and the preparation increase. One must arrest and awake the judges, one must turn up the current, and one must communicate the thrill and beauty. It happens time and time again, from the local school competition to the great halls of music in the international arena. By nature of the increase of all musical components, it is at these venues and during these occasions that the best music making is rendered. To be part of that preparation, to be a witness to that buildup, to listen to those results, and then share in the joys, near joys and disappointments is the greatest pleasure . There are no better teaching moments. I know!
FELLOW MUSICIANS IN ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCES create the most rewarding and loving relationships and the most joyful music making. The energy of the group produces a camaraderie, joie-de-vivre, and relaxation that is never duplicated in the solo arena. The give-and take of learning, preparation, putting-together, and delivery is magic. There is nothing like the interchange created by a blink of an eye, the wiggle of a finger, a suspension of a tone, and the magic of sound created by more than one performer. To be part of teaching, learning, and delivery is an all-encompassing educational experience. The personalities, likes, dislikes, energies, inner drives, and friendship are thrown together in a musical pot producing the most wonderful delights of gourmet music. There is nothing better. One cant say enough about the learning process when a small ensemble is teaching themselves what to do next without mishap. From this personal responsibility imposed on each member, the necessity of discipline, as well as give-and-take beauty is paramount. If one has never experienced this as a performer or coach, one should, it is the ultimate in teaching, learning and music making.
GRANDMOTHERS AND GRANDFATHER OR LETS JUST SAY ADULTS are fascinating as students and music makers. Those returning to their piano playing careers started as youngsters or those who yearn to learn that which they have always dreamed about make wonderful students . Those who engage in active learning of what they really want to study are the most exciting students . No longer is there a nagging mother or teacher ordering them to practice, but an inside drive and hankering urging them on to play tunes they have always loved. For those who had a little or much training as youngsters, the physical motor is and has always been running, and all that is needed is to use a little rust remover for the fingers. For those whose initiation into the world of performing is naive and in its first stages, the amazements are vivid and bright, always delighted at that which was once considered impossible gradually becoming a reality. For these joys of fulfillment and true dedication, it is a joy to be their teacher and participate in lifes fulfilling dreams.
COLLEAGUES IN THE MUSIC WORLD AND FELLOW TEACHERS ranging from those who share daily interchange and contact to those in exotic places form a network and fabric of intellectual, spiritual and artistic frame which supplies one with strength and courage. The joy of rubbing shoulders with stimulating colleagues of all ages and varied experiences who represent the highest caliber of music making, scholarship, research and pedagogy, is a superior payoff to the years one spends in reaching for attainable and far-off heights. Like great cooks, fine teachers are always borrowing and helping themselves to ideas and tips from others. The sharing process enjoyed by colleagues in an educational milieu is most rewarding when the process is unselfish and motivated by desires to help students. According to Agnes Savill, in Sparta, attachments between a younger and older colleagues were encouraged because it was considered that the young gained instruction from their experienced companions. Lasting friendships were esteemed because they prompted both to nobility of life. It was recognized that friendship incited them to reach the highest excellence (arete); with the years this affection led them beyond the limits of their personal lives, uniting them in unselfish toil for the common good. For the joy of having been part of this process, I am happy to be a fellow colleague in a wide world of active music making. For the joys of traveling to exotic climes and meeting fellow musicians, I am never daunted by the inconveniences or the challenges of national and international travel, knowing that the results of the planning and organizing will be a new acquaintance, a superior musician, an introduction to new or different pedagogy, coupled with the joys of tasting new cultures, new languages, and meeting delightful personalities. One fine man taught me to support passion. All of this completes my dream of formulating the stuff to make a near- perfect musician by near- perfect teaching. Although this rarely occurs in the world, there are hints of it from a few , and when combined, it could be.
GREAT ARTISTS represent the model to which we all aspire. From the child prodigy to the aged musician whose life and career have spanned decades, there is something miraculous about what one sees and hears. There are no explanations in words that can explain what one feels and senses during or following their performances. One is literally left speechless, and try as one may, no words are adequate to define what has just transpired. It is to the joy of this experience, and the multitude of experiences that one records in lifes diary as the earthly encounters with a so called heaven. As one listens to great musician (one can almost always instinctively recognize greatness), one never questions or tries to explain that which has just been heard. One just exclaims and revels in the joys of beauty. Their performances exalt, thrill, and transport one to places not necessarily of this earth. For the joy of participating in these experiences, and shaking hands, interchanging thoughts, breaking bread, probing personal, spiritual, and musical depths, one is renewed, stimulated and inspired to do more. I revel in the joy of participating in this world, and taking part in the whole spectrum of basking in the aura of great artists.
THE SUCCESSFUL AND THE VERY SUCCESSFUL STUDENTS and their achievements are all part of the assessment of music making and learning. This category receives a double nomenclature because teachers demand and receive. What teachers demand may be little or much. What they receive is successful or extra successful. My definitions of each are: the successful student is assigned and does. The very successful students are assigned and do more, adding the world of inquiry, curiosity, creativity and productivity beyond that which was required. An additional consideration is the student who exceeds the mentor in all of those attributes. The world uses the accumulation of wealth as the definition of success. A celebrity actor gave his difficult definition as this.....Success? he gave a withering look. Well, I dont know quite what you mean by success. Material success? Worldly success? Personal, emotional success? The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people successful not because they have money or their business is doing well but because, as human beings, they have a full developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings--their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born. Success? he repeated emphatically. Dont you know it is all about being able to extend love to people? Really. Not in a big; capital-letter sense but in the everyday. Little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word. For the joy of knowing many successful and very successful students, who do not attach the accumulation of wealth to their lives, or the anticipation of such, I am overjoyed with the learning company I keep.
What is the composite joy and challenge of teaching and rubbing shoulders with all of these people? Teaching is perpetual, on-going and never ending. Teachers define success for students as fulfilling ones potential. Students and their education and the right to it never leaves you as a teacher. This is joy--coupled with ecstasy and frustration. The most disappointing result is witnessing the failure to achieve or accomplish ones potential. When one catches an idea-an enlightened observer said that the lights go on inside a person---the brilliance is then manifest in the eyes. I have been privileged to see those lights go on many times. What a bright world it is because of those lights.
MY JOY is that I have experienced teaching and music making in each category and witnessed many of the attendant results. The mystery of the life cycle, and the mystery of music in that cycle is on-going and full of wonder. For this pleasure and joy, I am indebted to all; children, students, colleagues, great artists and superior achievers who enrich me.
The joy of teaching and music making is to experience all of this in deed and sound. My continued quest and desire is to continue to expand the joys of each category with love and superior determination spreading the joy far and wide.
You can ask your own questions of Dr. Pollei by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 08/29/11