Congratulations Marty!

After preliminary rounds of Juilliard piano concerto competitions — judged by the faculty, final rounds were judged by outside musicians — one ritual always surprised me. After the voting, and after the announcement of the names of three or four pianists who would advance to the final round, hands were shaken, backs slapped. “Congratulations Herbert!” “Congratulations Marty!” The teachers of the winning students were congratulated, almost as if they had played in the competition themselves.


Last Saturday night, I was the itinerant piano teacher, not traveling to teach, but traveling to listen to two of my students slated to perform at almost exactly the same time. After hearing the first half of a graduation recital played by a student at New England Conservatory (Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin), I bolted from the hall, got into the car (8:31 p.m.), and expeditiously drove to Harvard. I parked in an approximately legal space, and rushed into Paine Hall where intermission was ending (8:51 p.m.). Then my student appeared to perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with one of the Harvard orchestras.

We can’t really take credit for our students’ playing, anymore than we can disavow it when it’s not good. Perhaps it was the frenzy of driving, or the high quality of the playing last Saturday, I was riveted by the doing of these performances, my palms moist (perhaps “entraining” cognitive psychologists might say) — almost is if I was giving the concerts myself.

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  1. Erin says

    I find myself far more nervous for my students’ performances than my own (and I can get pretty nervous). Our students are not just younger versions of us up there performing (hence we can’t take all the credit), and relinquishing control and allowing them to find their own voice and “speak” to an audience is a terrifying (and exhilarating) prospect.
    (Maybe all that congratulating between teachers is for having survived their students’ performances without grinding their teeth and pulling their hair!)

  2. says

    We cannot hide from the unspoken reality that, when a student plays, they bear the fingerprints of the teacher somehow. It always seems to be a reflection of every lesson they ever took with us. But in the end, it is their own of course.