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6 minutes reading time (1106 words)

Winds of Change

We're in the communication business. We may think our job is teaching little fingers to play, or furthering the mission statements of our music schools, or projecting our understanding of a long dead composer's score to a passive but attentive (we hope) audience. But what we really do everyday, in each of these arenas, is give or exchange information, be it verbal or musical, intellectual or inspirational. Our primary concern is to share our personal understanding of music or the way one plays the piano. We must be connected, in some way, to another person or persons for any communication to occur. Without this connection we're sunk. We can't do our jobs.

This magazine is an avenue of communication. It serves as the connection between writers and readers. It's essentially a one-way street - the information flows from writer to reader, and unless the reader then comments via a letter to the editor, there hasn't been an interchange of information. We hope that the information disseminated has been worthwhile. You subscribe to this magazine because you are interested in a general way in what the editor chooses to publish. Someone with no interest in music or piano pedagogy would probably be ignorant of the magazine's existence.

A piano recital is also an avenue for communication. It connects a pianist capable of playing a program with an audience interested

in hearing the pianist and/or the program. Ideally, the information flows from composer through performer to listener (let's save the tertiary plight of the sole creator in the process for another column). The recipients of the information can respond with applause, but that's the extent of the interchange. Alas, they'll applaud whether they like what they hear or not - it's the custom. Again, someone with no interest in, or knowledge of, the pianist or the music won't be in attendance. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one knew there was a forest, does the falling tree make a sound?

Return for a moment to Economics 101. We're talking about the traditional delivery chain of goods: production, distribution, and exhibition. Someone produces the content (the article, the piano lesson, the recital), which is then distributed (through a magazine, a private or university studio, concert management, or a recording company). The end result is a publication one can hold in one's hand, or a set of skills learned (perhaps an academic degree), or the fleeting memory of a concert experience (the shiny CD you can play anytime starts to look like a better buy if you value tangible goods). The successful producers of content are the ones who find access to and acceptance by the distributors. Lang Lang would be just another Chinese pianist if he hadn't gained the support of CAMI and DGG. Needless to say, said companies profit from Lang Lang's efforts - middlemen have always held the real power in the economic system we take for granted.

But wait! All that is so five minutes ago. A little thing called the Internet has changed the world. No longer does a producer need a distributor. Just upload your product onto the Net.

Let me introduce you to Hannah.

Go online to YouTube.com and search "Hannah Chopin." There you will find "Hannah plays Chopin Nocturne #20 in C# minor," posted in October of 2006. At the time, Hannah was eight-and-a- half years old. To date that video has been viewed 1,239,014 times.

Now do a rough estimate of the number of people who have heard you perform in your lifetime of giving concerts. Compare this number to Hannah's. Take two aspirin and immediately start taking the Internet seriously.

Not only has Hannah had over a million listeners - 4,328 have given her ratings that average five stars (the best you can get). And the applause does not stop there - 3,387 have added text comments to the site (on the Net everyone can be a published critic). These range from "dang she is great" (succinctly stated by "ehonuitie") to this more measured assessment by "your piano teacher:"

She is indeed both brilliant and sensitive! But I question the idea of worldwide exposure. Talented children require protection! Older, more experienced pianists can perceive certain weaknesses in her playing, and sincerely hope that she rises above them. But nobody knows what the future holds! Although her playing is lovely, she's not ready to complete [sic] with experienced professionals. With encouragement rather than discipline, I am sure she will become world-famous!"

With all due respect to "your piano teacher," an audience numbering 1,239,014 qualifies one as world-famous. As for "completing" with more experienced professionals, a very quick YouTube search suggests that Hannah's video has had more hits than many postings of Horowitz, Kissin, and Richter. The Internet is redefining our concept of what constitutes competition and fame. It's a brave new world out there.

The fundamental change in the business model is the Internet's neutrality. Unlike the middlemen of yore, Google, Wikipedia, and

YouTube does not own content. Thus you are not directed to their choices - you use them to find yours. T hey make their money by connecting peopJe to information "on a network that allows anyone to reach anyone on more or Jess equal terms."1 YouTube makes no claim that Horowitz is a better pianist than Hannah. On the one hand, let the buyer beware. On the other, isn't it fascinating that a young lady named Hannah can have this kind of impact?

T he point here is that the days of a few people havi ng "exclusive custody of the master switch"2 are over. As an independent teacher, you can use the Internet to your heart's content and quite possibly to your checkbook's advantage. Tired of the method books sold to you through the old delivery chain? Write your own and post it on the Web like the developers of the Linux computer operating system (this could be a web-written as well as a web-based method!). Have something to say that you can't get Clavier Companion to publish? Start your own blog. Can't get a concert series to hire you to play the complete works of Sorabji? 

Let me introduce you to Hannah.


TimWu,"TheNewNewMedia,"TheNewRepublic,December 31,2008, in a review ofJonathan Zittrain's book The Future of the Internet (And How to Stop It).

Credited to Fred Friendly, former President of CBS News, by Wu, ibid. 

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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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