Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Week in the Life of a Counselor - Monday to Wednesday

This past week, I served as counselor at Webster University's annual Classical Piano Camp, a sort of workshop for young pianists between grades 7 and 12, who need to have studied for at least three years before entering. It was loads of fun! Here's the breakdown of the whole week -- I'll divide it in two parts, as I know it will be long!

MONDAY I arrived at the Music Building bright and early, about half-past eight, and the first thing I saw was a quiet-looking, dark-haired boy and a small blond girl in two of the red armchairs in the lobby. The girl, Katie, greeted me with the most exuberant "Good morning!" it has ever been my lot to hear.

Some people find it hard to break the ice. Katie shattered it with a sledge-hammer. She greeted everyone with the same lively "Good morning" as they entered, introduced herself, and chattered non-stop until none of us could help but join in the chatter, laughing; and from there, the group knit together without a bit of trouble, and we were soon good friends.

When all thirteen students had arrived, we joined them and the three teachers, Donna Vince, Pat Eastman (who has taught me these past two years), and Ruth Price, in the recital hall. The teachers introduced themselves, as well as myself and my "partner in crime," Matt Pankratz, fellow piano-major; and then they called out names and the kids raised their hands to be identified. There were seven boys and six girls, all between thirteen and seventeen. The boys were Matt (the first I'd met), Ethan and his brother Elliot, Zev, Connor, Morgan and Sam; the girls were Morgan's cousin Miriam, Alexandra, Katie, Natalie, and Sarah (an old friend of Rocio's, whom I was quite surprised but delighted to see!)

No sooner were we all introduced than we sat back and listened to a delightful recital given by a girl named Jennie, a "piano-camp alumna" who just finished her freshman year at Oberlin Conservatory, who played a Haydn sonata and... I forget what else, perhaps Debussy... ack, my mind's a blank! But she did it very well and we enjoyed it greatly! After the recital we sent all the kids downstairs to the practice rooms, having handed out copies of a piece they had to look at for that afternoon, and Matt and I pulled them out by twos to play their pieces for the teachers and be sorted, on that evaluation, into pairs for duets (and one trio, as of course thirteen can't be divided into pairs without leaving one out!) I listened outside the recital hall in admiration; the most impressive performances at that point were probably Alexandra's amazing rendition of Chopin's beautiful Fantaisie-Impromptu, and Sam's wonderful Introduction and Rondo-Cappriccioso, by Mendelssohn. Then they had an hour's Musicianship class with Colleen, another fellow-piano major, and then it was time for lunch and Matt and I divided them into two groups - those who elected for Raccanelli's Pizza went with Matt, and the Subway-eaters with me.

After lunch, back at the music building, they started having lessons - four with Pat, four with Donna, three with Ruth and a lucky two with Mr. Schene. Matt and I made sure they were where they had to be and practiced when we found time, or chatted in the lobby while listening to Sam's fiery playing - I couldn't get tired of the Introduction and Rondo, which he played over and over. At three we all gathered in the recital hall for discussion of the charming little waltz they'd been given to sight-read, and we talked interpretation. It was a lot of fun and we got some really interesting imagery from the children. All too soon it was four and time to go home, but before I did that I took Donna's handwritten schedule for the practice rooms in the Community Music School building (CMS for short) -- which all have grands, as opposed to the uprights downstairs, and she wanted to make sure everyone got their fair share -- and typed it neatly into a table, much easier to read, and posted it on the recital hall door.

TUESDAY the morning recital was given by a sophomore at University of Missouri, also a graduate of the piano camp, who gave a wonderful performance of a piece by Villa-Lobos, Beethoven's amazing thirty-first Sonata, and finally a lovely arrangement he had made of "The Farewell" from Disney's Pocahontas score. The morning once again was taken up by rehearsal, lessons and Musicianship, and they were given their duets - Morgan with Zev, Elliot with Tara, Matt with Ethan, Alexandra with Miriam, Sam with Connor, and Sarah, Katie and Natalie had the trio. After lunch they had a session on technique in the keyboard lab with all three ladies. At three we convened once again to discuss the day's sight-reading exercise, another waltz, but one that was very different from the first in style. We talked about how they were alike, and how they were different; and the final consensus was that the simple, traditional harmony of the first was more pleasant to the group, compared to the dissonance and ambiguity of the second. When Ruth said the first seemed more "honest", an as yet unsuggested comparison sprang to my mind and I exclaimed, "Why, it's as if the first were... the true lover's waltz, and the second, the seducer's -- the Don Juan waltz, if you like." They all laughed and agreed it was a good way to put it!

WEDNESDAY the recital was given by a dear friend, Michael McElvain, recent graduate of Webster; and as I had the good fortune of being asked to turn pages for him, I could see as well as hear, and marvel at the perfection in his music. He began with the introductory ricercare from Bach's Musical Offering, a beautiful fugue; followed it (laughing with us at his own boldness in so doing) with three Nocturnes of his own composition, of unusual harmony but no little beauty; and finished off the concert with Mozart's tenth Sonata. After it, as the others had done, he answered questions - in this case, he was asked about the compositional process, and how he ties together his three arts: composition, performance, and conducting. After the recital, as the children had their lessons, he and Colleen, his wonderful girlfriend, talked with me for a while in the lobby. It was weird thinking I won't be seeing him for a long time, as he was leaving for Chicago on Friday to continue his studies at DePaul University.

When Colleen went to teach musicianship, I went to take advantage of Mr. Schene's room being empty and practice on the magnificent grand (or rather, one of them - he has two taking up most of the space in his office! Wouldn't I love to be the head of a piano department, if you can do that...) Michael came in to listen to my Beethoven and make himself a cup of coffee, and from then on he was in and out of the room, at one point helping me in a desperate hunt for the poem I'd written for Colleen's birthday last Friday, which he had forgotten in the office. As we discovered that it had utterly vanished in the chaos of his music and Mr. Schene's, I dashed downstairs, typed it out clean and printed it just in time to give her as she came out of musicianship class at noon.

We were back from lunch at one o'clock, and at one-thirty was Mr. Schene's master class. He was surprisingly free with praise and no less generous with corrections as needed; the fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate, haha!) four who played, Tara, Connor, Morgan and Sam, acquitted themselves well, and seemed to blossom under his hand, their improvement evident even in the short half-hour each one of them had to work with him. At one point, Mr. Schene had Sam playing a difficult passage which included a rapid scale of octaves alternating right and left hands, and finally had Sam do the right hand while he did the left. They were so perfectly together that it sounded like one player, and they did it so fast and accurately that when they stopped we broke into a spontaneous burst of mingled applause and laughter! They received the first with delight and heartily joined in the second.

Later, as I waited for Mom, I went out to the picnic table in the wide front yard of the music building, where Michael and Mr. Schene were having one more good talk before Michael's departure, and joined them to listen for a bit to Mr. Schene talk enthusiastically about hearing Claudio Arrau play, and other wonderful musical experiences. All too soon I had to go meet Mom at the library, so I gave Michael a warm embrace of farewell, as he wasn't sure he'd be back the next day, bade goodbye to Mr. Schene, and flew away.

That day was also the day that Matt and I were handed Randall Compton's hilarious C.S. Theme and Variations to play at the final recital. I had the advantage of having played it before, but Matt said he would look at it and we'd try it the next day...

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