Another Motivating Masterclass with Brian Ganz

by Carol Barth

It was a crisp, sunny autumn afternoon on Sunday, November 14, 2004, when six AMSF pianists and many observers gathered at Anne and Paul Williams'home for now annual Brian Ganz master class. The performers had thoughtfully prepared their individual pieces, and, in spite of the nervousness, musically presented them. Bravo! to all for their wonderful performances.

Participants and their pieces were:

  • Richard Smith Ferguson Five Bagatelles, op.9
  • Diana Stayman Mozart Sonata A major K. 331, I. Andante Grazioso
  • Mal Cameron Janacek Good Night and In Tears from On an Overgrown Path
  • Raye Haug Griffes The Fountain of the Acqua Paola op.7, no. 3 from Roman Sketches
  • Martin Arnaudet Scarlatti Sonata C major, Longo 104
  • Diane Cormicle Granados Quejas o La Maja y El Ruisenor (The Maiden and the Nightingale)

Again, in his usual manner, 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.

He told Richard that a tool for finding more flavors in his music was to explore the intervals - major to minor and enjoy the juxtaposition of the different tonalities. Brian advised him to practice using the metronome march - start at a comfortable tempo and gradually increase. Brian worked with Diana to produce a more beautiful tone. He advised her that it is counter productive to get power through extension of one's fingers. Go back to scales and Czerny and concentrate on shape of your fingers, relax your hands and bring shape of your hand up to the keyboard. Mal was told to experiment with more simplicity in rhythm. When you are in touch with the simplicity of the music then the listener can trust. Brian recommended that Mal take repeats. Play straight forward the first and in for the second time play more freely.

Brian told Raye, " For performance, take a headstrong approach. The need for perfection is only an illusion. Rhythm, continuity, and focus matter, not the notes." He advised her to always think forward, never back, if you loose your place, improvise to get back on track As part of having a piece memorized, come up with a half dozen landmarks and move forward to one of these spots to continue. Marty was asked if his dynamic range fit texture. "Are you capturing the essence?" Terraced dynamics, not gradual dynamics are possible mf - f - mf as if you are changing keyboards on a harpsichord. Diane was advised to simplify to find what is pretty and energizing, and to play top and bottom voices only. Practice each line by itself-divide and conquer then reassemble.

Mal Cameron thought that Brian reinforced a message she has heard before - that is that Mal takes too many liberties and doesn't always convey the beat. In this way, she doesn't get across the spirit of the music itself. "He gave me some tips on how to present the music simply and then use a little leeway on repeats. I will definitely work on this - the metronome is in order, I think. I hear him say "Where's the music" several times during the class. I think Brain is a very insightful teacher and I learn so much from his comments to other players."

Marty Arnaudet said, "What I liked most about Brian--other than his obvious musicianship, the quality of which I couldn't even begin to describe--was the manner in which he dealt with the students. He seems to be a very kind, nonjudgmental person, and that came through loud and clear. After I had played, he immediately put me at ease, and I ended up feeling that, rather than lecturing to me, he was talking to me almost as a partner. I found it to be a very collaborative process in which we seemed to be working together toward a common goal, a goal in which he seemed genuinely interested."

"Moreover (and not unimportantly), I found all his suggestions interesting and was eager to try them out."

A special thank you to Anne and Paul for graciously hosting this master class. So many of our members now know Brian Ganz well now and are comfortable informally visiting with him. A very special friendship with many has developed.