I had only 2 piano teachers until my college years. The first lived near us and was a typical piano teacher, if I may put it that way – she was diligent, and made me practice, and taught me a lot. By the time I was in the 9th grade, she felt she could not take me any further, and recommended another teacher for us. I will always be grateful that she didn’t keep collecting our lesson money, but sent me on to Mr. Mlynarski, an intriguing gentleman from Seattle.
Once a week, my parents would make the trip with me to Seattle for my piano lesson with the master. He was the grand-student of Paderewski, and back a few more generations was Beethoven! I was learning the piano in a completely different way. One of the pieces he taught me in the 10th grade, if I recall correctly, was the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven. It was the toughest piano number I had ever attempted.
But he knew how to make it manageable, if not a bit tedious. I was to ALWAYS use exactly the same fingerings, which meant writing a lot of them in the music if there was any doubt which finger would be used on a particular note, and I was to play the entire fast section at a very slow tempo with a metronome pounding out the beat in my ear, AND, I was to always to count aloud as I practiced. I was not to increase the speed until I could play it perfectly at the metrenome marking, and then only slightly for the next week.
By the time I was playing it at something close to actual speed, it was memorized, because I had played it hundreds of times slowly, with the exact same fingerings. My fingers really understood where to go at every point in the composition, and even if my mind wandered, or I got a little nervous playing it, my fingers absolutely knew precisely where to go.
Mr M. sat cross-legged in his chair while I took my lesson, occasionally chewing on wheat germ, with his directing baton in his hand, watching me intently. I never got rapped across the knuckles, you understand, but he stopped me early and often, espcially in my first year with him, to make me use the correct fingering, or to correct my hand position, or for some other reason. He was from both Polish and Jewish heritage, and oddly I don’t remember how much of a speaking accent he had, but I do know when he counted aloud, it was “one, two, sree, four.”
Perhaps I’ll blog on him later – as I write, I remember more details about his teaching methods, and some of his opinions about what constitued good music. And that reminds me of a hilarious story about my father-in-law which shall lie dormant until a later date.