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November 16, 2003

Invaluable Master Class

I, as well as other attendees of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music's "Piano Extravaganza" last night, was treated to almost two hours of the aforementioned Seymour Bernstein's brilliant, elegant, sensitive critique and instruction on classical piano performances by Jason Thomas and Qi Melody Hee, students with other teachers but who had agreed to participate in the master class.

Here is Jason on the left, looking nervous before playing his first piece, the Kreisleriana No. 1 by Schumann.

And here is Melody, taking a bow after her exquisite performance of Chopin's Scherzo in B-flat Minor.

Since we are so rarely rewarded in life in accordance with our actions, said Mr. Bernstein after the two students had finished their first run-through of their material, "I'm going to reward you..."

"Here, have a candy!"

It was with just such grace and humor Bernstein went on to inform the two students, as well as myself and the rest of the audience, on some very beautiful points of playing piano music well. Including;

-How to begin a piece: for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore you should begin playing with an "upswing" of the arms and in fact the whole body (without letting fingers leave the keys), an upswing which matches the mood of the piece. A slow piece should begin with a graceful rise and fall, a more intense piece or section with a concerted pounce. This, according to Bernstein, will help to set the beauty of the music in motion properly.

-How to play softly: aim not for the bed of the piano keys, but instead for the exact point at which the hammer touches the piano strings.

-How to play legato: roll the wrist, but do not sacrifice finger movement either.

Most controversially, Bernstein also suggested the "hairpins," or creschendo and diminuendo marks, in classical music were never actually intended to indicate "louder or softer," but instead were meant to emphasize passages of importance with "rubato"; the musician should slow down at these points which are the peaks of emotion within a passage. According to Bernstein, his new book entirely on this subject will really shake up music world when it is published. This remains to be seen, however it was certainly interesting to hear him speak about it.

Using a laser pointer to highlight those controversial hairpins, on an overhead projector off-camera...

I especially liked how Mr. Bernstein issued a caveat after each of his points; "Now, that is just my opinion... And you may have your own opinion which is different!"