A Delicate Balance: A Study of the Professional Lives of Piano Faculty in Higher Education

Article excerpt

My mind often returns to an exchange I had with a student colleague some twenty years ago. It was a glorious June day in New York, a splendid day for celebrating graduation from the Juilliard School. Amid the festivities following the ceremony, my pianist friend said somberly to me, "You know, now that we're not going to be in school anymore, we may have to learn to get by on just five hours of practice a day." As my professional life and personal responsibilities have changed in these intervening years, I began to wonder whether I was the only one who was in fact seldom getting those "five hours a day" and was having trouble fitting teaching, practicing, writing, studying and personal responsibilities into a twenty-four-hour day. This curiosity led me to develop a survey that I circulated among 800 piano faculty I attempted to send it to every full-time piano in the country. Only piano faculty were surveyed because pianists are under much greater expectation to perform without score, although this issue currently is under heavy debate. Ultimately, 158 pianists returned surveys, and their responses form the source data for this article. Respondents included faculty at all ranks and all types of institutions, small to large, public and private, university, college and conservatory.

What Do Pianists Do in an Academic Position?

What tasks do piano professors perform in the course of their jobs? Respondents were given the following selection of tasks to describe their positions:

a. Teach applied lessons

b. Hold a regularly scheduled performance class

c. Hold an irregularly scheduled performance class

d. Teach courses in the piano area (group piano, pedagogy, literature, accompanying)

e. Teach courses in other areas to majors (history, theory)

f. Teach courses to non-majors (appreciation, history)

g. Perform memorized solo recitals at my school

h. Perform solo recitals with score at my school

i. Perform memorized solo recitals at other universities

j. Perform memorized solo recitals other than in universities or colleges

k. Present informal recitals in primary or secondary schools

l. Perform in ensembles with colleagues

m. Accompany or perform with students

n. Write articles for publication

o. Sit on more than two committees per year

p. Administer the music department

q. Administer my instrumental area

r. Run special seminars or music camps

(Add any other tasks you perform.)

Loads were then classified as applied only; applied piano plus piano-related courses only (pedagogy, literature, accompanying); applied piano plus music core courses (music history, music theory); applied piano plus non-music major courses (music appreciation).

Several faculty members mentioned they also composed or edited as part of their creative or research programs or served as directors of preparatory departments, and two directed musical theater productions in addition to the items on the list.

How Do They See Themselves?

The issue of integrating the academic life and the pianistic life is not new. Heinrich Neuhaus, teacher of Gilels and Richter among many distinguished others, commented in his book, The Art of Piano Playing:

   It frequently occurred to me
   that, though the teacher-performer
   offers a number of undoubted
   advantages compared to one who is
   a teacher only--and the first of all
   the advantage of being a living
   example.... I know from personal
   experience that as soon as my
   teaching workload becomes such
   that I have not sufficient time to
   practice myself, the quality of my
   teaching immediately suffers. (1)

Musical history contains many examples of legendary teachers in both groups. Clara Wieck Schumann continued concertizing throughout her life, arranging her teaching schedule at the Conservatory in Frankfurt around it. …