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Summer 2021: Editor's Letter: In Search of Excellent Performance & Teaching Practice


What does it mean to be a good teacher? What separates good teachers from truly great teachers? Educators and researchers have spent untold hours studying outstanding teachers and written hundreds of papers on teaching expertise. In music and piano education, we have a rich body of work that highlights traits of effective teachers. But, as with many human endeavors, outstanding teaching is complicated. Noted educator Parker Palmer sums it up succinctly stating: "Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life…They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves."1 

The act of great teaching is an artform. As teachers we must have a command of our subject matter (including piano technique, theory, history, and repertory) and discern the best ways to engage our students in interacting with and developing these musical skills. Yet, being an outstanding performer and educational practitioner is rarely enough. Most expert musicians reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, as teachers and performers, and seek out opportunities for personal and professional growth whenever possible. I would argue that how we choose to develop professionally is rooted in our personal teaching philosophy. Marienne Uszler suggests that we reflect on what we are teaching. She asks, "Is the sole aim of the piano lesson to read music accurately, perfect a specific technique, and produce a finished performance? Or is it to provide a musical education, to help shape a student in such a way that he understands the elements, syntax, and meaning of musical language—as well as to communicate these by means of a keyboard performance?" 2 How we answer these questions will lead to very different teaching and learning approaches in the piano lesson. Armed with answers to these questions, teachers can seek out meaningful experiences during the summer months when we create time to explore, ponder, and grow in our craft. 

In the summer issue of the Piano Magazine, we explore the many facets of good teaching. First, we celebrate the achievements of the four recipients of the Frances Clark Center 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award: Nancy Bachus, Gail Berenson, Tony Caramia, and Phyllis Lehrer. In the tributes written about these winners are clues to what propelled each to the top of our field: Many years of dedication to mastering the skill and craft of piano performance; unflagging dedication to improving teaching technique; playing at the edges of the creative boundaries of performing and teaching—and pushing past these when necessary; treating each student with dignity and respect; sharing and collaborating with members of the broader piano community; learning from others; inspiring colleagues and students alike; and, mentoring the next generation of pianists. Many of these themes surface in an article reminiscing about lessons with influential teacher Ruth Slenczynska. In a follow-up to our spring issue feature, authors highlight professional development opportunities available during the upcoming NCKP 2021 virtual conference, and educators explore other areas for reading and professional development including: advanced piano repertoire, ways to teach technique and practice, and facilitating adult learning in group settings. These articles are in addition to the reviews of new recordings, materials, and books that may become valuable resources during the coming months of teaching and learning.

1Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998): 11.
2Marienne Uszler, That's a Good Questions: How to Teach by Asking Questions (Ft. Lauderdale: The FJH Music Company, 2003): 24.

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About Piano Magazine

Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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