Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 19
Elvina, in the magazine interview you mentioned your
concern about the influence of technology on twentyfirst century students and teaching. Have you any other
concerns, and if so, what are they?
I'm concerned about the high dropout rate of piano
students. Some years ago, I was stunned by the results
of a survey which reported that nearly two-thirds of all
students who began piano lessons dropped out by the
end of just two years of study. Recently, I learned that
a similar survey indicates that this same high dropout
rate is also true for today's students. Here's my "take" on
some possible reasons for this:
* At their lessons, many students don't hear enough
"live," artistic performances of their pieces.
* Students don't have enough opportunities
to share live music-making with others.
* Students become bored and frustrated when
unable to learn their pieces in a reasonable
and technical skills coupled with non-productive
practice habits. If lessons and
producing accurate, stumble-free, and easy-to-play
performances of pieces which really sound good
to students when they play them, then why
should they want to continue?
I believe that when such issues are dealt with
successfully, the student dropout rate should be
considerably lower than the reported national average.
A different concern is about the role that contests have
come to play in the education of today's piano students.
I find it troubling that nowadays:
* A top priority of many parents seeking a teacher for
their child is finding one whose students frequently
enter (and win!) contests.
* Some teachers only accept students who show
potential as contest winners, and there is usually a
long list of parents waiting in line to enroll their
children with such teachers. Certainly student
participation in contests can be beneficial, but
should this be the main criterion for selecting a
A second concern related to competitions is that:
* Children whose study is contest-oriented are
frequently assigned just a few pieces (their "contest"
pieces) at the start of each new school year and
must practice and work on them repeatedly at
lessons throughout the entire year to be sure they
are always ready to enter the next contest event.
What does such a plan have to do with providing students
with a comprehensive musical education?
Still another contest-related concern is that:
* The criteria used for the selection of competition
repertoire often seem to be based on the level of
difficulty and "flashiness" of the music to be
performed-on demonstrating pyrotechnics rather
No doubt, judges are influenced by this when selecting
winners. Hearing a ten-year-old play the first movement
of Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata 100% accurately and
at an amazing tempo is hard to ignore! But what about
a ten-year-old performing an age-appropriate and much
less complex piece expressively and artistically, and with
an obvious understanding of the music that goes beyond
the notes? Is there a chance of a "win" for such a student
in most twenty-first century competitions?
I worry that today's competitions have now assumed
an Olympian character which seems to demand an ability
to play super-difficult music, but without equal demands
for the performer's ability to demonstrate a thorough
understanding of it (its form and structural elements, its
the definition of its
musical word cues,
etc.). I wish that along
would also be quizzed
learned about the
music beyond just
playing its notes.
shared by all teachers
and parents, what's
important to me is
that before I enroll a
Elvina Pearce working with two
first-year students in the Preparatory child for lessons, the
Department of North Central College parents
in Naperville, IL. Pearce founded this
and agree with my
school in the mid-1980s.
contest participation: that this will never be the main reason
for study nor the primary focus in my teaching. I see contest
participation as just one of the many positive outcomes of
successful music study.
Now let's talk a bit about practice. It seems to me that
the negative that students most often express about
taking piano lessons is their dislike of practicing. In your
early student days, what was your attitude about this?
I always loved to practice! Okay, so I was a "geek," but
honestly, I don't remember ever being reminded to practice.
I could hardly wait to get home from school, have a snack,
and then go to the piano. Why? Because I discovered
that the more I practiced, the more pieces I could learn
to play and this was all the motivation I ever needed.
But rest assured that after I practiced, there was always
some recreation before supper-bike riding, roller skating,
horseback riding-this was my favorite activity! It took place
at a nearby stable where well-to-do folks boarded their
horses. Because they needed exercise (the horses, not their
owners!), we neighborhood kids got to ride them. "Little
Man" was my favorite horse, and I assume he also liked me
because I was the only kid he would ever tolerate as a rider.