American Concert Pianist, Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger

My new mantra to my students: Look, Listen, Love....

This past week of teaching brought to the fore my latest advice in alliterative form- therefore, easy to remember. While teaching one 13 year old prodigy student, who seemed to be having some difficulty digesting the music, I realized that what was lacking in his approach was some relatively basic, fundamental processes that are necessary to bring a 2-dimensional page with black dots and lines all over it to life as a real piece of music.
The first directive is- "Look"- that is to actually study the score, time and again, even after "memorizing" it, even after mastery- the score contains so much more than what is actually printed on the page. Just like a piece of art such as a painting or sculpture, a music score reveals so much when you study it and fully understand the relationships of all those dots, lines and squiggles. Only with understanding, which deepens over time, can a musician craft a personal and well-thought out interpretation. No matter how many times one looks at a piece of art there are always new things and details that might attract the eye, inspire, or reveal themselves to you, the looker. And so it goes with a music score.
The second directive: "Listen". When it comes to music, of course, listening is the most important skill of all. One must listen to oneself, one must listen to recordings of oneself and of others, and one must listen to their teacher. It's a matter of trust, and it's a matter of really focusing one's aural skills to hear things with greater attention to detail- and to retain that sound, that message in one's mind and in one's ear, so you can reproduce it and draw the desired sound from your instrument no matter what the circumstance. In our overly-driven, highly programmed and highly specialized society,  sometimes we hear and see details, but not the gestalt view, the architecture. So, listening needs to happen on many different levels. As musicians, we need to listen not just to accuracy of notes and rhythms, but to attacks or releases of notes, phrasings, intonation or tone and voicing, and the bigger scope of the structural elements- are we showing the harmonic changes, and bringing out the melodies appropriately? Are we creating music which honors the composer's score, but also allows for our own personal tastes and personalities?
The third directive: "Love". If you don't love the piece of music you are playing, then why are you playing it? If you haven't learned to love it, then perhaps you are missing something or you are not at the level of understanding to fully appreciate it. So- don't play it. Life is too short to play music without deep conviction and love for what it sounds like and what the message the music is trying to convey. With young music students, it is often necessary for them to learn discipline and to play things that they might not inherently like. But, they are often too young to know what they like and what the don't like. It is up to the teacher to help them learn to love a piece of music by instilling in them the knowledge and skills to fully comprehend it. Only with knowledge comes understanding, and only with understanding comes LOVE.
With these three approaches to studying music, I feel that more people will begin to love classical music and will stick with their studies. Yes, playing a musical instrument can be challenging, frustrating, difficult at times, but in the end, it is gratifying to feel the sense of accomplishment, eye and ear-opening to learn something new and challenging, and rewarding in how it can benefit not just yourself but everyone else who can enjoy your music-making.
SO fill your home with music, and you will fill it with love!

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