A Motivating Masterclass with Brian Ganz

It was a beautiful spring afternoon on Sunday, April 27, 2003, when six AMSF pianists and many observers gathered at Susan Green's home for the now annual Brian Ganz masterclass. Performers had thoughtfully prepared their pieces, and, in spite of the nervousness, musically presented them. Bravo! to all for their wonderful performances.

Participants and their pieces were:

  • Bob Zener - Brahms Capriccio c# minor op. 76 no. 5
  • Nancie Marzulla - Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte op.30 no.4
  • Richard Sawyer - Brahms Intermezzo A major op. 118 no.2
  • Ellen Tenenbaum - Bach Prelude & Allemande from Partita Bb major
  • Diane Cormicle - Brahms Capriccio f# minor op. 76 no. 1
  • David Fram - Debussy Pagodes from Estampes

Brian Ganz delivered comments in a very positive, caring way. He is a gifted teacher who quickly evaluated what aspect of the piece he just heard needed some attention. After some specific guidance, the listeners heard a more musical and polished performance when portions of pieces were played again.

Mr. Ganz spoke about an altered state of conscientiousness many experience when performing. He told Nancie that, "Practicing is to performing as strapping on ski gear and pretending in your living room is to actually skiing." He emphatically recommended performing as much as possible. As he prepares for performance, Mr. Ganz stated that he puts forth 500% of the effort he thinks is actually needed. "If I do it 20 times flawlessly, I'll still spend time preparing it."

Mr. Ganz recommended these techniques and strategies for preparing for successful performance.

  • Break your music into small portions.
  • Write in your score what you have learned. This serves as a security net. A detailed analysis brings more into consciousness. When you are nervous, your unconscious state is the first to go.
  • Use the "byte" system, where "byte" refers to a small portion of music. Each person may decide how large a portion of music makes up a byte. Practice each byte in this sequence:
    1. Play Hands Alone Then Together (HATT)
    2. Imagine hands alone
    3. Read your score without playing
    4. Play the RH part with LH
    5. Play LH part with RH
    6. Imagine playing backwards
    7. Play both hands together as written
  • Repeat this sequence for all other bytes of your score.

When memorizing, Mr. Ganz advised Diane to "Only work with what you can memorize comfortably in 5 minutes. Use the 'byte' system."

  • byte 1
  • byte 2
  • bytes 1&2
  • byte 3
  • bytes 2&3
  • bytes 1,2&3
  • byte 4
  • bytes 3&4
  • bytes 2,3&4
  • 3 bytes is maximum in the learning stage
  • Review 1-4
  • Write in score what you have learned
  • Repeat this sequence for the rest of the piece

Here are some other tips Mr. Ganz offered:

  • When voicing a melodic line, practice "ghost playing" other lines within the score.
  • Decide what is the most interesting part of a melody and enhance it.
  • When practicing, sing the melody to make it important. When you play it, keep it important.
  • Use every mistake as an opportunity to learn.
  • Use ghost playing when you practice to achieve a more beautiful tone.
  • Spend time analyzing your piece. Look for interval similarities, for how many times an interval is used, for melody turned upside down, and for shorter phrases where the melody is suggested.

Before the masterclass ended, Mr. Ganz played a commanding rendition of the first movement of Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique."

Later David Fram offered, "This was the best AMSF event that I have attended. I thought that the quality of playing was excellent and that Brian Ganz's participation provided an exciting focus for the event. I found his comments on the other participants' playing instructive and his comments on mine helpful and encouraging." Richard Sawyer felt that the event inspired him to do more, learn more theory and practice more.

After the piano playing, everyone enjoyed a buffet dinner and visits with one other. Thank you to Susan Green for hosting this masterclass. She provided a warm and welcoming atmosphere for this lovely afternoon.