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questions for those who studied at a conservatory
#1836450 02/01/12 11:41 AM
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Hi there,

I've been lurking for a while. I am writing a piece of fiction that takes place at a conservatory, and features a prodigiously talented piano-playing student protagonist. I'm wondering if any of you would share some of your experiences, to give me a sense of the sights, sounds and textures of student life.

For example, I've read that the pianos available to students in practice rooms at major institutions are often in terrible condition, and can't be relied upon. I'm told that 6 to 8 hours of practice every day is "normal," and that some students take prescription medication to settle nerves (e.g. beta blockers) before recitals or auditions. Often lessons have to be paid for in addition to tuition.

Really, I'm just looking to understand some of the realities and day-to-day challenges (teacher politics, gossip, competitive students--are they "backstabbing"? Are there "study groups" as at law school? How do people react when there's a prodigy in their midst?).

Any vignette or factoid would be helpful.

To give you an idea about me: I don't play the piano, but am a huge fan of Beethoven, in particular. Martha Argerich's recording of concerto #1 is my all-time favourite, and I prefer Kempff's complete sonatas to Gilels'.

Thanks in advance.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1836794 02/01/12 09:16 PM
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Okay, I went to Oberlin but only for a year. Let's see.

The first thing I can say is that even if you were a small-town prodigy, you get to a place where there are a hundred of the best young pianists on the planet and you're not among the best of them, you will feel extraordinarily inadequate. I was unpleasantly shocked by the level of support I got. The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur." I got my opportunities to perform in the weekly recitals, but I was castigated very angrily for a performance of the Chopin Fantaisie that my teacher felt hadn't been prepared well. He said the other professors asked him how he could have let me play that piece so poorly. I did redeem myself with a Bach 6th partita and a solid jury with the 4th partita and Beethoven's Op. 28 later in the year.

The other students were, I thought, quite kind and supportive. The singers mostly stood out in front of the koi pond smoking and didn't bother us. We pianists were all looking for our own little niche, especially after Marc-Andre Hamelin came. One of them played nothing but experimental music such as Boulez and Stockhausen, and he was usually found in the room with the piano that had been partially disassembled to facilitate prepared-piano music.

At some conservatories, students would "study" with a big name and then take lessons with a teacher they preferred on the side. I didn't encounter that at Oberlin. Perhaps at Juilliard in New York City, there are more options for fabulous teachers so that would be more common.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
jeffreyjones #1836852 02/01/12 11:14 PM
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Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1836948 02/02/12 03:04 AM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.

Like there is anything wrong with being a fabulous amateur

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
antony #1836953 02/02/12 03:30 AM
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Originally Posted by antony
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.

Like there is anything wrong with being a fabulous amateur


Of course there is something wrong. It is the same like saying to a person who went to a medical school that he/she can only be a nurse after finishing a medical school.

But I think the teacher was being honest. I asked my teacher whether most of his Juilliard class mates are concert pianist material. He said "Absolutely NOT, most of them are not". Therefore, we can deduct that if most of Juilliard piano students are not concert pianist material, Oberlin's must be even less likely to be concert pianist material.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1836955 02/02/12 03:36 AM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by antony
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.

Like there is anything wrong with being a fabulous amateur


Of course there is something wrong. It is the same like saying to a person who went to a medical school that he/she can only be a nurse after finishing a medical school.


That is not an apt analogy. If one goes to medical school, works hard enough, and finds an internship, there is a strong likelihood that they will have a career as some type of MD.

How many piano students who go to major conservatories end up becoming internationally known concert pianists-which is what it seems like that quip intended to say

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
antony #1836958 02/02/12 03:41 AM
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Originally Posted by antony
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by antony
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.

Like there is anything wrong with being a fabulous amateur


Of course there is something wrong. It is the same like saying to a person who went to a medical school that he/she can only be a nurse after finishing a medical school.


That is not an apt analogy. If one goes to medical school, works hard enough, and finds an internship, there is a strong likelihood that they will have a career as some type of MD.

How many piano students who go to major conservatories end up becoming internationally known concert pianists-which is what it seems like that quip intended to say


A concert pianist does not need to be internationally known. What that professor meant was that JJ won't be able to perform at concert pianist quality, he can only play well at amateur level.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1836960 02/02/12 03:46 AM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Therefore, we can deduct that if most of Juilliard piano students are not concert pianist material, Oberlin's must be even less likely to be concert pianist material.


Hahaha! Really? Oberlin, is a better school, if you ask me.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1836991 02/02/12 05:34 AM
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jeffreyjones -


So what did they achieve in furthering your piano studies - these prophetic pronouncements and scoldings? Why did he encourage the Fm Fantasy and let you play it so poorly?


John


Vasa inania multum strepunt.
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1837068 02/02/12 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
The teacher I was assigned to told me I would never be anything more than a "fabulous amateur."


Do you agree with your teacher assessment? Do appreciate his/her honesty? or you think your teacher was just being cruel to you.
Isn't it all in way the teacher said it...their tone and words?

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
stores #1837079 02/02/12 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by stores
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Therefore, we can deduct that if most of Juilliard piano students are not concert pianist material, Oberlin's must be even less likely to be concert pianist material.


Hahaha! Really? Oberlin, is a better school, if you ask me.


I think it is not really the school that defines the result. Regardless how great the faculties in a certain school, if they receive students with my ability in playing piano, they will collapse. Generally, I believe, if a person get accepted at both Juilliard and Oberlin, they will choose Juilliard first. It is very unlikely people choose Oberlin over Juilliard. Remember, the prestige of the name is very important in any industry. MBA from Harvard is much more marketable than MBA from NYU.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1837099 02/02/12 09:52 AM
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Originally Posted by piaffe
For example, I've read that the pianos available to students in practice rooms at major institutions are often in terrible condition, and can't be relied upon. I'm told that 6 to 8 hours of practice every day is "normal," and that some students take prescription medication to settle nerves (e.g. beta blockers) before recitals or auditions. Often lessons have to be paid for in addition to tuition.

Really, I'm just looking to understand some of the realities and day-to-day challenges (teacher politics, gossip, competitive students--are they "backstabbing"? Are there "study groups" as at law school? How do people react when there's a prodigy in their midst?).



Well, the bad piano conditions aren't true for every single institution, but yes mostly they're true.. I mean the conservatory I am at, the facilities are just incredible!

I don't think anyone has to pay for lessons on top of their tuition, unless they're having a lesson with a teacher outside of school.

6-8 hours of practice a day is indeed normal - but mostly for pianists. String players also practice a lot, winds and brass and voice physically cannot practice a lot every day.

PM me if you have any specific questions - I've been at conservatories for a very long time.



"The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth."
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1837100 02/02/12 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Of course there is something wrong. It is the same like saying to a person who went to a medical school that he/she can only be a nurse after finishing a medical school.


I think it be more like saying to someone in med school that they can only be a GP and not a .. i dunno, an anesthesiologist or something.

Actually, maybe it's more like, you can only be a regular practicing doctor, and not a TV doctor like Dr. Oz. ha

Last edited by LadyChen; 02/02/12 09:54 AM.
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1837186 02/02/12 12:17 PM
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One of the most infuriating/hilarious things about trying to practice is that there are never enough practice rooms! Then you have to do the Peeping Tom Dance and see who's practicing. Sometimes those pesky voice majors sneak into piano rooms and you very sternly have to tell them to leave. But only voice majors. I don't think I've ever found a non-voice major in a piano practice room. A lot of the pianists were friends with the vocalists, and the vocalists would ask them to unlock the grand rooms.

Socially, there was a very large gay community at my school, and there was always gossip about who was dating whom and which student was favored by which teacher. They'd gossip about late night practices, extra lessons, lessons at professors' houses, etc.

I had a strict teacher who was not originally from the US. Brutally honest was the name of her game. I remember vividly one time all of us in the studio got together and had a group cry because she said some really mean things.

Edit: Oh and piano parties? The only other kinds of parties that came close were the voice parties.

Last edited by Minaku; 02/02/12 12:18 PM.

Pianist and teacher with a 5'8" Baldwin R and Clavi CLP-230 at home.

New website up: http://www.studioplumpiano.com. Also on Twitter @QQitsMina
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1837248 02/02/12 01:33 PM
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Although I've not attended a conservatory as a full-time student, I do know that where practice rooms are not always scheduled, some (piano) students like to take possession of a room and hold it with their many possessions even when they are not using it. This discourages the more meek among the students from taking over an unoccupied practice room.

I presume that the answer to that is to schedule times for individual students in individual rooms. That doesn't solve the problem, though, because, with some rooms having better pianos (space, air quality, etc.) some will still try to get their preferred room in spite of scheduling, as if possession trumps administrative scheduling.

Regards,


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Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1837257 02/02/12 01:57 PM
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I'm probably one of the few conservatory students that has a full-time job, so my situation is probably a bit unique. I still manage to get approximately 25-30 hours a week of practice though it takes a lot of very meticulous time management.

As for the practice rooms, some are are fantastic, some, are downright horrific. Sometimes I do find myself having to ask other students to vacate a room if they're not using the piano. Just the other day, there was a guitarist sitting on the floor (not playing the guitar) of a practice room chatting with a girl who was doing some stretches. I poked my head in the room, and asked them to leave.

Oh, yeah, I've never taken any sort of medication for anxiety.


Conservatory of Music @ Brooklyn College
Piano Performance, Class of 2014
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
Minaku #1837273 02/02/12 02:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Minaku

I had a strict teacher who was not originally from the US. Brutally honest was the name of her game. I remember vividly one time all of us in the studio got together and had a group cry because she said some really mean things.



HAHAHAHAHAHA....A group of sensitive people, I guess.
The teacher must really enjoy the scene.

Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
piaffe #1837300 02/02/12 03:16 PM
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It seems a little strange that the majority of students from Juilliard (or any other major conservatory) would be deemed "not concert pianist material." If you are accepted into a conservatory, isn't it for the purpose of preparing you for a concert career? If you aren't concert-level material, then that raises the question of why you were accepted into a conservatory in the first place.

While it's true that the vast majority of Juilliard students will not have major careers, it seems a little strange to say that the majority of them cannot have careers at all. After all, the phrase "concert pianist" can be used quite loosely, and you don't have to play at major venues in order to qualify as such. There are many pianists who have played in a professional capacity (even if not on a full-time basis) with minor orchestras and at minor venues. I don't think that it would be too difficult for conservatory graduates to obtain those kinds of professional engagements, especially since- if you have sufficient money- you can always rent a hall and give a recital.


Recent Repertoire:
Liszt: Concerto #1 in Eb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dY9Qw8Z7ao
Bach: Partita #2 in c minor
Beethoven: Sonata #23 in f minor, Opus 57 ("Appassionata")
Chopin: Etudes Opus 25 #6,9,10,11,12
Prokofiev: Sonata #3 in a minor
Suggestion diabolique
Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
RonaldSteinway #1837302 02/02/12 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by Minaku

I had a strict teacher who was not originally from the US. Brutally honest was the name of her game. I remember vividly one time all of us in the studio got together and had a group cry because she said some really mean things.



HAHAHAHAHAHA....A group of sensitive people, I guess.
The teacher must really enjoy the scene.


I fail to see why this amuses you, nor why you would think that the teacher would "enjoy" ridiculing sensitive people.


BruceD
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Re: questions for those who studied at a conservatory
BruceD #1837315 02/02/12 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by RonaldSteinway
Originally Posted by Minaku

I had a strict teacher who was not originally from the US. Brutally honest was the name of her game. I remember vividly one time all of us in the studio got together and had a group cry because she said some really mean things.



HAHAHAHAHAHA....A group of sensitive people, I guess.
The teacher must really enjoy the scene.


I fail to see why this amuses you, nor why you would think that the teacher would "enjoy" ridiculing sensitive people.


+1

Teachers being mean, squelching their students' love of music and actually making them cry... really, what could be funnier?

-J

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