Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 20
An interview with Elvina Pearce
In your pre-college years, how much did you practice
In grade school, probably around 30-45 minutes
a day. In junior high, from 60-90 minutes, and in high
school, my goal was two to three hours a day. (I usually
did an hour every morning before school, and was
granted early dismissal from school for home practice.)
Of course I don't expect my students-even the most
gifted ones-to have this same attitude about practicing.
But I have learned that the more success they experience
at the piano, the less distasteful they find practicing. I
believe that really liking the music they are assigned and
then knowing how to learn it quickly and make it sound
good when they play it is the best way to make regular
practice more tolerable.
Today there seems to once again be an upsurge of
interest in debating the issue of memorization and
the need to perform from memory. I recall that this is
a subject you discuss in some detail in your Success
Factor book. Would you elaborate just a bit on it now?
Ah, yes-the controversy over the necessity for
performing from memory rages on and on, ad infinitum,
doesn't it? For years I've thought that debates about
the pros and cons of memorized performances are a
lot of much ado about nothing. Believing that the real
issue should be the quality of a performance rather than
the format in which it's presented, who cares about
memorization-especially when a public performance is
by a child who absolutely must be successful? If having a
piece of music on the rack at a recital helps students feel
more comfortable and able to enjoy playing and sharing
their music with others, then what's the big deal?
Of course I think that all students should learn to
memorize because of its mind-stretching value. And
they should also have opportunities to try their wings
performing from memory, but not just at the once or
twice-a-year recital on an unfamiliar piano and in front of
an audience of mostly strangers. Certainly it can happen
instead in a non-threatening environment such as group
lessons with peers, or with an occasional overlap of two
students' lessons which can also provide a ready-made
What do you do for fun?
I teach and play the piano!
Yes, of course. But what do you enjoy doing besides
teaching and playing-what are your hobbies?
All of my life I've enjoyed sports activities-roller
skating, ping-pong, playing pool, swimming, and tennis.
I actually earned a Junior Lifesaving badge, and believe
it or not, I even won a tennis tournament once!
Nowadays, I have to resort to watching sports rather
than physically participating in them. I'm an avid fan of
all of the Chicago teams-the Blackhawks, Cubs, Bears
(Go, Bears!), and the Bulls. Apropos of the Bulls, I once heard an
interview with Michael Jordan in which he was asked to comment
on his low-scoring performance in the previous evening's
basketball game. His answer was, "I'm only as good as my
last game." I often pass this along to students who, after
"messing up" a piece at the lesson, say, "But I played it
perfectly at home!" "Could be, but unfortunately I wasn't
there to hear it; and anyway, we're only as good as our last
performance!" This philosophy seems to resonate positively with
most students and rarely do they try the "perfectly-at-home" bit again at
a lesson! Thanks, Mike! (Incidentally, I find that even young
kids today still seem to know who Michael Jordan is.)
What would you suggest as essential components of a
In my opinion, a well-taught lesson will ensure that:
* Its atmosphere conveys a genuine love for music
and making it at the piano.
* The lesson's content and sequence of happenings
are well-organized and well-paced. (Making a lesson
plan before the lesson actually takes place promotes
the above and eliminates "off-the-cuff" teaching.)
* The lesson is primarily student-centered rather
than teacher-centered-always having more musicmaking than just talking about it, and always
involving more discovering and playing by the
student instead of talking and telling by the teacher.
(I remember Frances Clark once saying that "Tellers
belong in banks - behind bars.")
* The student leaves the lesson with clear goals for
the coming week of practice and with ways to fulfill
them in productive, self-directed practice, and
* The student leaves feeling successful and looking
forward to the next lesson!
You have received national recognition for your more
than 30 published collections of piano solos and duets.
How did you become involved with composing?
Well, Lynn Freeman Olson, a former piano student
of mine at the New School and a longtime friend and
much admired composer, actually got the ball rolling.
Every time we'd meet, he'd ask when I was going to try
my hand at composing, and I'd always say that I knew
nothing about it and was happy to leave this activity in
his very capable hands. But Lynn was very persistent
and so I finally succumbed and promised I would try. The
result was the creation of a number of intermediate-level
pieces which, at Lynn's suggestion, I sent to Alfred, and
lo and behold, I was amazed to learn that this music had
actually been accepted for publication. That was in 1981,
and thanks to Lynn and Alfred, my career as a composer
was off and running, and I've been doing it ever since.
Many of us had great admiration for Richard
Chronister, and I know that you had a long association
with him, both as a friend and colleague. How did the
two of you meet, and what were some of the events you
My friendship with Richard Chronister began in the
fifties and continued until his passing in 1999. We met at
the University of Tulsa where, as a student of Boyd Ringo