Doctor Doctor


I'm a Doctor of Musical Arts, but I seldom say so. In music schools like the New England Conservatory where I teach, the degree-ed-ness of the faculty is in inverse proportion to age. The older the faculty member, the less likely they are to have advanced degrees. Some older pianists earned advanced degrees in other fields. Charles Rosen had a Ph.D. in French literature... The Latin word "doctor" comes from "docēre" -- "to teach." I don't wish … [Read more...]

Conservatory Theory


Wayne Koestenbaum writes in his Hotel Theory how a hotel represents an ever-changing collection of people. A not-random assortment, complicated in its variability and contextual specificity. How about the various people on an airplane headed from New York to Amsterdam? Or Boston to Cancun? Or the musicians gathered in and by a conservatory? At Juilliard, we had at one time (students and teachers): Dorothy Delay, Felix Galimir, Milton … [Read more...]



During some days in late summer, I practiced Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. I'm sure the windows were open. My Juilliard piano teacher, Jacob Lateiner lived on 84th Street, just around the block. I mentioned I was learning Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. "I know," he said. Pianists are prone to be overheard. The piano can be a loud instrument. Living in close proximity to others, in a New York City apartment, or a suburban house -- practicing is … [Read more...]

Jacob Lateiner (1928-2010)


Jacob Lateiner died this morning in New York. He was 82. The following passages are from my 1998 essay about his teaching: "In a sense, Jacob Lateiner does not give piano lessons. The piano is a tool for him. It's a means or an obstacle to singing, speaking, and (fuga!) flying. In lessons, Jacob aims to be neutral. Part Socratic (or Talmudic?) questioner, part Freudian analyst (to the exactly punctual end of each session), Jacob allows his … [Read more...]

Piano Darwinism


Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time has gotten easier to play. Fifteen years ago, I learned the piece and performed it, finding the music quite difficult. There were rhythmic complexities, and ensemble challenges. Especially in the first movement ("Liturgie de cristal"), and in the sixth movement ("Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes"), it was difficult just to stay together with the other players. Around the world last … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

Dress like a banker — Dress like a rockstar


At Juilliard, the Old Guard piano teachers came to school dressed like bankers -- ties, jackets, well-polished shoes. (Musicians -- those Bohemians! -- needed to show they were respectable.) For the last fifteen years or so, classical musicians, at least some, try to dress like rockstars. Jeans, shoes you can't polish. (To show that musicians are not necessarily part of a stuffy "Establishment"?)     … [Read more...]