Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 12
An interview with Elvina Pearce
that it was better to focus on just one thing and
really do it well than try to do several things with less
impressive results. However, they left the decision
entirely up to me, and so, after much pleading and
shedding buckets of tears, I finally chose piano
instead of dancing.
I assume that your parents then bought a piano
and signed you up for lessons with the in-home
teacher. Tell me about your first lessons with her.
Her name was Lenore Hunter. She was young and
pretty, and to my delight, she taught me how to
read music! I'm especially grateful that the positive environment she created for my beginning lessons was perfect for nurturing my newfound love
for music and the piano. However, after about two
years, she dropped a bombshell when she recommended that my parents seek another teacher who
could work with me at a more advanced level. This
was a real bummer because I loved Miss H. and had
assumed that she would be my teacher forever. But
my parents followed her suggestion, and so I was
enrolled with teacher number two, Helen Ringo, a
professor of piano at the University of Tulsa.
piano was a Mason & Hamlin grand which had a
gorgeous, mellow tone, and I'll always remember
her continual emphasis on the quality of sound
being produced-never harsh, never percussive-
and this is still a high priority with me, both as a
pianist and teacher.
When Mrs. R. unexpectedly passed away, it once
again became necessary to find a new teacher, and
soon I was off to New York to begin three years
of lessons with teacher number three, Isabelle
Vengerova, the renowned Russian teacher whose
students included Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein,
and Gary Graffman, to
name just a few.
In your Success
Factor book, you
include a candid
discussion of your
time with Vengerova.
What was she really
Ugh! Appearing in
issue of The Piano
Quarterly is an article
Tell me a bit about her.
by Joseph Rezits which contains descriptions of
Mme. Vengerova submitted by thirty-two of her
She was a dear woman with whom I studied for
former students. Leonard Bernstein said, "I was
nine years and from whom I learned a great deal
in mortal terror of her." And in his delightful book,
about music and technique. But what I remember
I Really Should be Practicing (Doubleday), Gary
most was her exuberant love for music and musicGraffman writes: "She inspired fear and trembling
making which permeated every lesson. Her studio
among even the most stouthearted...
At lessons, shouts, screams, threats,
curses, and stamping were the
norm..." Other students described her
as "a terrible taskmaster, tyrannical,
an authoritarian, uncompromising,
intimidating, overpowering, egotistical,
sadistic, cold and cruel," etc.
My first experience with Vengerova
was during a two-hour audition which
preceded the start of my lessons with
her. As I played, she said little, but when
she finally evaluated my performance,
she said, "I am not at all impressed with
how loud or fast you can play." Then
pointing to a picture on her piano,
she said, "My dear friend, Vladimir
Horowitz, already holds the record for
this. What else can you do?"
Three years later when I terminated
my study with her, her parting words
were, "I'm sorry you are leaving
because I think I might have been able
Elvina Pearce with Ed Darling, who studied with her from 1958-1962 at
Westminster Choir College and The New School for Music Study in Princeton, NJ. to make a pianist out of you yet." And