Recently, I had a number of my friends reporting that when they mentioned my name to their peers the reaction was usually something along the lines of: “Is she really strict?; How scary is she?; Is she nice!?”
When this happened the first time, I thought that particular person had probably just had a bad experience with a Russian piano teacher, and I didnt give it a second thought. However, when one of my student’s friends was shocked on meeting me (I think he was expecting to see a big 60-year-old babushka), that got me thinking… Another time, a student of mine invited me to come and celebrate his birthday (in a club, of all places), and when we were on the dance floor one of his friends asked, “And where is that piano teacher of yours? I knew she wouldnt show up!” So I just had to introduce myself once again…
Why do English people find us, Russian classical musicians and teachers, so intimidating? I just had to write about this, to get to the bottom of this myth. When I ask, some say that it’s because Russian musicians are famous for having the best technique in the world, and Russian teachers are therefore feared for the big demands they make on their students, expecting them to practise 8 hours a day (my grandmother used to say “Four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening”), and for placing them under considerable pressure to achieve the best possible results.
As teachers, that doesnt make us unfriendly, cruel or unreasonable; we simply try to teach to the highest level of our ability. Russians sometimes have a reputation for been too straightforward and not very diplomatic. Perhaps… But if you can accept this and get past it, you may be surprised to find a genuine interest and enthusiasm for conveying knowledge to a student to help them realise their full potential. In my memory, my Russian piano teachers (Sergei Yushkevitch, Victor Makarov and Regina Horowitz – although the latter was my great grand mother), never counted the hours when they were teaching; they gave me and many of their other students as much time as was required to teach them, whether it was one hour, three hours or five… The goal was to educate the student however long it took.
Amongst the most famous teachers in the world who were either Russians or taught in Russia using Russian methods were: Anton Rubinstein, John Field, Alexander Villoing, Anton Door, Theodor Leschetizky, Vassili Safonov, Alexandre Siloti (the teacher of Sergei Rachmaninov), Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Richter, Gilels and Lupu), Alexandre Goldenweiser (teacher of Bashkirov, Berman and Nikolaieva), Konstantin Igoumnov (teacher of Ashkenazy, Davidovich and Feltsman) and Felix Blumenfeld (teacher of Horowitz) to name a few. They were all famous for their principles and total dedication to music and education. Some of them were stricter then others, but they are all warmly remembered by their students all over the world. I know many current Russian pianists who are both performers and teachers, and I wouldnt associate any of them with the word Scary. Here is an interview with the incredible Russian virtuoso pianist Boris Berezovky, who is the one of the most modest people I have ever met:
So what do you you think – are we, Russian Piano Teachers, really that scary? The only way to find out is to be open-minded and try a few Russian piano teachers.
As for me, you can judge for yourself! : ) Take a look at the clips on the Piano-Yoga® Education Youtube Channel:
Its now time for my piano practice
Come to our newly launched Piano-Yoga® Club every first Wednesday of the month 2015/16 to learn more about the Piano-Yoga® method. Click HERE for more details.