Satisfying work with Institute graduates

Sorry I’ve been away from my blog for so long – I’ve been busy, mostly with playing recitals (search Alan Fraser Stuttgart on YouTube to see one of them) and finishing my next book, All Thumbs: Well-Coordinated Piano Technique. But today I want to write about something else.

Last year I conceived the Alan Fraser Piano Institute as a means of sharing my approach with more pianists. I’d found the standard 2 or 3-day master class lacking – there wasn’t enough time for students to assimilate my ideas to the point where their playing was really transformed. The Institutes run for 5, 6 or even 7 days, with everyone getting a lesson every day. The intensity of the “piano technique think tank,” I hoped, would lead to a breakthrough in my students’ technique.

As I recently found out, I was not disappointed. Terry Rogers is a retired computer programmer who took to piano very late but makes up for his lack of experience with a real love and dedication. I gave him a Skype lesson last week for the first time since last year’s Institute, and I literally would not have recognized the same pianist. His hands were so much more self-assured, the music-making, which had always been sensitive, was now much more deeply and confidently so. It was really gratifying to see, and hear.

Of course there was no resting on his laurels, I addressed some of his questions and gave him some new exercises to take this newfound ability even further, but for me it was one of those nice, quiet little victories. He hadn’t been so aware of it – his day by day progress had been so gradual that he wasn’t even sure if there had been that big an improvement!

Then there’s Sue Hammond, creator of Beethoven Lives Upstairs (the world’s best selling Beethoven record!), another Institute graduate. She is a very fine pianist who gave us beautiful, spine-chilling performances of the Liszt Vallee d’Obermann and the last movement of Beethoven’s Opus 111 last year, was the life of the Institute, and worked incredibly hard on her technique. As she said, “This is my 3rd complete technique makeover; I can’t stand another one so let’s do this one right!” We’ve been in email touch, no Skype lessons, just some pointers and suggestions on questions she’s had. But from her account, those Institute lessons have been ‘cooking’ all year and yielding ever more rich fruit.

I’ve also been giving Skype lessons to Janet Buhler, my Western Branch coordinator out in Salt Lake City. She recently played the preliminary part of her graduation exam for her Bachelor’s in Piano Performance, and wowed her teacher who was blown away with the changes in her playing. Though we worked on physical aspects of technique, Janet’s big breakthrough came in finally giving herself permission to play fully with that big, beautiful heart of hers. When she started practicing with mind of an artist instead of a student, her playing acquired heart, emotion, expression and drama galore, all fueled by a real pianistic command of articulations and colors.

I was nervous about giving Skype lessons (“What will I do when I can’t teach hands-on?”), but they have worked out really well. When I have to formulate my thoughts verbally, and not just communicate them by touch, I have to be clearer about them myself – thus the idea gets transmitted more effectively.

Some nice developments, indeed!


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