When I was about ten years old, I found an old record of the great violinist Jascha Heifetz playing showpieces, works meant to display technical skill. One of the pieces included was for violin and orchestra, the Poème of Ernest Chausson. I put on the record and listened to the piece all the way through. Somewhere towards the end, I realized that I had tears streaming down my face.
Before putting that record on the player, I had no idea that music was capable of that kind of intensity of emotion, that a particular combination of harmony, melody, and interpretation could come together to press the buttons of an unsuspecting listener.
At the age of 10 I was somewhat of a music nerd, but I didn’t ever think that I’d go into music as a profession. After hearing Heifetz play the Poème, I knew that I wanted to be able to move people with music.
From then until now, my primary motivation in performing has been to provoke emotions in listeners, and to make those listening comprehend my musical intentions. This is something I try to pass on to my students.
A good performance grabs the listener and forces them to have a reaction; even a reaction of “I hate how he plays that!” is better than “It’s pleasant.” Indifference should never be an option! To borrow from my favorite writer, E.M. Forster, all creative artists must strive to connect, 'only connect...'
In my professional life, my undergraduate piano teacher Robert Spillman was my greatest influence. He is a polymath: solo pianist, vocal coach, opera conductor, chamber musician, composer, and writer. He does it all, and he does it well. I learned so many things from Bob. The majority of my technical approach to the piano comes from him, as does my pedagogical outlook.
Bob always demanded the best I had to offer, and was never afraid to say “No, that’s not good enough.” He teaches via the Socratic method--if something isn’t working, he will try to lead you to the right solution using questions, forcing you to think for yourself.
Almost as important, he makes students think of music’s intersection with society and culture, using imagery and historical references that many teachers would never think to employ. If you study with him, you learn a lot more than just how to play the piano!
I had excellent teachers before and after working with Bob, but he is unique in the awe-inspiring totality of his gifts. I use what he taught me every day in my own teaching, and I can safely say that I am a teacher today because of him.