Creating the Well Tempered Clavierist
by Nancy L. Ostromencki and
John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
any schools these days are cutting back on their music appreciation and music classes such as band, orchestra, chorus and/or on their Humanities departments in general. These reductions in the teaching of music in the schools have created a demand from parents eager for teachers of music to fill in the gaps left by the schools. At the same time, the responsibilities of teachers for their students now extend beyond simply teaching proficiency with an instrument; the private teacher is rapidly becoming the primary vehicle by which children are exposed to and come to appreciate serious music. These days, teachers need to do more than just giving a piano lesson to students each week.
A student studying music by Mozart, for example, should know about the life and times of Mozart. His knowledge should include political events at that time, what was happening in the other arts arenas such as literature and the visual arts, and something about the evolution of music and the musician during the time of Mozart. In other words, to really know and understand the music of Mozart, one should know "of Mozart." A colleague of ours explained it in a great way: these composers did not just appear out of nowhere or live in a vacuum; there was a lot going on in the world during the lives of the composers and knowing about their world is critical to an appreciation and understanding of the music. More generally, the student should be knowledgeable about the development of the instruments of the orchestra and the evolution of music from an occupation for nobles and the church to one more accessible to the masses. Finally, students should learn enough of what we might call fundamental form and analysis so that they understand something about the structures of the major musical forms and can hear those structures when they listen to or play music.
At first it might seem overwhelming to try and teach students not only about the skill of playing the piano, but also the art of music appreciation, especially given the fact that most parents are unwilling or unable to pay for extra teaching time to accomplish this. In the past, this fact of life has placed the teacher in a difficult position: sacrifice music appreciation instruction thereby denying the student the background necessary to appreciate and understand his lessons or teach these necessary aspects of cultural enrichment in the face of objections from some parents that such things do not contribute directly to the furtherance of lessons. Perhaps the biggest change in this desertified cultural landscape has been wrought by the advent of computerized teaching tools, including high quality interactive software and sufficiently powerful hardware to bring that software to life for students. Since the student can use a computer lab with little direct teacher involvement, the teacher can now develop the student as a more complete musician in a well-structured environment at virtually no cost in time and relatively small one-time costs for computer hardware and software.
There are many worthwhile software programs to aid the teacher in teaching various aspects of musical form and appreciation. You'll find reviews of a large number of piano teaching and music appreciation programs elsewhere on The Piano Education Page site. Interactive multimedia CD-ROM's such as Microsoft Multimedia Mozart, Multimedia Beethoven, or Multimedia Schubert (among others) allow the teacher to give the student a tour of great works of these composers and the environment in which they were written. Since the experience is entirely interactive, the student can explore these works in his own way and at his leisure. Another excellent program for general music appreciation is Introduction to Classical Music. Introduction to Classical Music is a great starter for those interested in learning more about classical music, composers, and their times. The Composer section offers not only correct and accurate information about the individual composers, but also a lot of anecdotes and "folksy" stories about the composers. Students who have used this CD-ROM liked being able to see pictures of the composers; it made the composers all the more real to the students. There are many other excellent CD-ROM's that teachers can use to provide breadth to their student's background.
There are also many great videos available to rent and/or purchase, ranging from Amadeus, to Beethoven Lives Upstairs, to such an essential classic as Fantasia. These videos can give the user insight into the life and times of the different composers, or just a fun first time exposure to classical music as found in Fantasia. We have listed a number of good videos and other resources for music appreciation education on our Musical Reference Shelf. Videos and/or live performances of music and culturally/historically important people not only help one understand the times of the composers, but can also give some insight into the performance practices of the day. It is also a good idea to offer for loan from your studio books on the composers, performers, theory, music appreciation, journals about music, and also journals such as the Smithsonian for people to read and share. Some teachers build these into their curriculum by asking their students for reports on what they see and hear, much like regular schools.
Another way that you or your local music teachers organization can aid the process of music appreciation in your local community is to offer free music appreciation classes in the evenings. A series of a half dozen or so 3 hour music appreciation classes is a good way to bring potential students into your studio and can be a lot of fun if the classes are kept light and emphasize listening. Our experience has been that such classes almost invariably produce new students for the studio, are advertised for for free in most of the local media, and produce a great deal of community good will for you and your studio. If you teach in a small town, such classes are often especially well-appreciated and are viewed as a real service to the community. Almost all teachers have the knowledge to effectively teach such classes in beginning music appreciation, so there is no reason to fear doing this as a teacher.
There are areas of the country where concert pianists do not appear regularly in recital. Nonetheless, a piano teacher in these areas can still expose their students to the performances of such great masters of the piano, such as Rubinstein, Serkin, and Horowitz through videos that are now readily available. Not only will the students get a chance to hear the concert artists perform the great repertoire of piano literature, they also can see and learn about the art of performance. Many competitions are now also making available videos of the actual competitions. In an area of the country that does not offer regular competitions, it is very insightful to hear and see what students from other places are performing.
One cannot stress enough the importance of exposing students to live performances of orchestras, chamber music and classical soloists of all instruments. The more the students listen to music, the more they will understand the wealth of color, sounds, and emotion which serious music can create. If you are not fortunate enough to live in an area where such performances are available locally, it can be a fun and valuable experience for your students to mount "studio field trips" to hear performances in larger cities. In such a field trip, the parents pay in advance for tickets and other costs (if any) and you and one or two parents take care of transportation and chaperoning the trip. Since relatively few teachers do these kinds of trips currently, their availability in your studio can be a recruiting inducement for new students.
At times it seems that our job as piano teachers has expanded far beyond our wildest dreams, so much so that, at times, it seems that we can't teach it all. Well, we believe that teachers have an affirmative responsibility, to their students and themselves, to show and share with them the wonders of music and the arts. The danger of not doing this may be that teachers and musicians will go the way of other institutions that were unable to adapt to changing times; they will disappear!