(You can read my teaching biography elsewhere on this website. Here I just wish to reflect on some of my private teachers, as a way of thanking them.)
The list of all my piano mentors would be long, and few of the names are famous. But it is a list that embraces hundreds of hours of my working one-on-one with committed teachers, in intimate, apprenticeship-style learning that harks back to bygone eras. I hold enormous debts to all these men and women. They taught me to play the piano and more broadly to understand music, and they helped me to express both feelings and ideas in musical performance.
Flamboyant, captivating piano educator Guy Duckworth at Northwestern University in Illinois got me to dance to music, improvise at the keyboard, play in ensembles, and experience small-group learning as part of my earliest childhood training.
Scholarly musicologist Ray McIntyre at the Vienna Conservatory helped me grasp the continuum of music history at the piano, and he extolled the special virtues of both J. S. Bach and Mozart. In his quiet, objective way he coaxed warmth and robust playing from me.
Jeanne Kierman Fischer in Vermont embraced me with her kindness, supportiveness, and physically expansive, Dalcroze-flavored piano teaching. I grew expressively simply in her presence.
My year studying harpsichord with Hendrik Broekman on a Vermont mountain ridge accorded me some of the most insightful musical guidance I might ever have hoped to receive. Better known as a builder of historical instruments, he proved a superb teacher. Well-read, broad-ranging in outlook, encouraging, uncompromising.
Sweet Mildred Waldman in New York City offered me the warmth of Robert Schumann’s and Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard music, and the welcome of her soothing Manhattan studio, in a grim and often intimidating metropolis. Her teaching style was indirect, grandmotherly, and effective.
Dapper, prominent Canadian pedagogue Earle Moss helped me to synthesize my piano technical skills upon my arrival in Toronto, and in a new land. He guided me through teaching and performance diplomas at the Royal Conservatory and later through a debut recital, and his wit and kindness went far beyond the keyboard. He was a real mentor and friend.
My own music teaching no doubt draws from all these individuals and others unmentioned, yet comes from elsewhere as well, starting with my becoming a piano accompanist to my mom in Danish folk songs and classical art songs when I was a kid. I spent two invigorating summers at Interlochen music camp during high school, singing in choirs and soaking up the world of academic music classes. My several years roaming intellectually around the liberal arts in university (e.g., philosophy, religion, comparative literature, music history), when I could have been exploring more sonatas at a conservatory, surely contributed something as well.
But I must say that piano teaching simply felt right to me from the start. At the age of 22 I was suddenly handed a few private students in a small town in New Hampshire – some were kids, some adults – and I did my best to connect with each of them, both musically and personally. As a bonus, I even got paid to do so.
Decades later I am still at it, and still nourished by it.