Monday, August 9, 2010

Email from a Student

I have written at least once before about a Very Good Student, and my faithful readers will perhaps remember to imagine the tongue in my cheek when I talk about "good" students (they're all "good," of course, and I like working a lot with all of them!). On the other hand, sometimes students do something that's so nice it's worth blogging (and, I suppose, bragging) about. Here's another of those Great Students I feel really honored to work with.

This young man studies harpsichord with me. Now, from the first moment I heard (and saw) him play the harpsichord, I knew he had a very special gift for the instrument and its repertoire. That is quite remarkable, because from his background, you would not at all expect a special interest in Baroque music (he loves Bach!) and even less a special "feel" for the specific way the harpsichord works. When you see this man play the harpsichord, you realize it's actually a very subtile and sensitive instrument—which of course it is, but only if you're willing to think that way!

So I've been working with this student for a little over a year, and on the whole, he's been great to work with. That's not to say there are no problems, but he's taken on a lot of what I've told him. What's perhaps even more important, he's matured a lot as a music student, taking his work so much more seriously now—which I think is really fantastic.

A while ago, my student was working on a very tricky variation from Bach's "Goldberg" Variations. We disagreed about the interpretation of some of the ornaments, and I suggested he'd look at the facsimile of the first edition. Lo and behold, the next time I saw him he said he'd actually looked for the facsimile in the library, but they didn't have a copy of it. Well, I said, you should have emailed me last night and I would have brought my copy in for you today. Ah, he said, you're right, that would have been good. Even better, we both agreed that, of course, it was his responsibility to ask me.

So the other day, he emails me out of the blue. He's now working on a different Bach piece. He has this great way of emailing me: "Professor?" —as if he's calling me in the corridor in school. Then, in just a few words, he tells me he has trouble with one particular measure in the piece. Can I help him out by suggesting a fingering for this tricky passage?

I so loved getting this question from him that I put off making my fruit salad (we had a birthday in the family) and looked up the piece in question. Within a few minutes, I wrote him back with a fingering for those two measures (you always want to look at a particular measure in its context), but the question inspired me so much that I spent an hour or two looking at that passage in more detail, trying to understand why I actually used that particular fingering by looking a little bit "under the surface" of the notes.

OK, so keyboard fingerings are a huge area of interest to me—as a player, and even more as a teacher, and I'll write a lot more about it some day. But the great thing is that this student asked me for help. So simple, so clear, so straightforward. Wonderful. I love it.

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