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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
All that said, is any profession easy? Probably not.
Indeed! If you look at acting, even certain genres in 'pop' music and all Anna's complaints would apply. And I seem to remember that it used to be about a third of university graduates didn't end up doing what they studied. Today, with so many Mickey Mouse courses that figure could well be much higher. Life can be hard.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
Perhaps I was extremely arrogant in saying this but I said "well, would you ask the roof repair man to work for free, using his expertise that he has honed on his equipment?" and she said "no, it doesn't work like that".
Good on you.

I agree! No one, in any profession, should be asked to work for free. I do see a bias regarding professional musicians: even on the Teacher’s Forum here, teachers will post that a parent will ask for a discount for an extra child. Since they don’t ask their physician for a second child discount, why are they asking a piano teacher and why, oh why, is the teacher considering it?

Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. You didn’t answer the question if better marketing training in school would help? Maybe let’s discuss later
On the second child discount, it makes sense though. If you visit a place frequently or spend a lot, it's common to give discounts because it guarantees a reliable source of income. If you wanted to hire a plumber to work for you every day, you might ask for a 20% discount, and they may well accept.

Piano teachers are expensive. This is an unfortunate reality for a middle class parent. Suppose your parent is a musician themselves, struggling in academia and making 40k a year. And suppose there are two siblings. Would they be able to pay 120$ a week for a good teacher for both of them? Sounds like it would be very hard to cough up that kind of money. My dad was in a similar kind of job, and when I wondered out loud how it would have been if I had learned the piano as a kid, they flat out told me it wouldn't have been possible.

On the other hand, if you're well off, then that's not much of an excuse.

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I think at least part of the issue here is an audience's perception of what consists of "fun".

Nobody looks at the guy putting shingles on the roof in the hot sun and says, "Gosh, isn't it wonderful to be able to do that. Maybe someday my kid will be able to do something like that too."

Further, part of performing (playing, singing, stand-up comedy acts) is that you have to project "fun". Even if you just received a repossession notice for your car ten minutes before you go onstage, you still have to show up and smile and be generally upbeat.

I'm watching your performance and enjoying it immensely. You're on stage with a big smile and a "Howdy folks! It's really great to be here tonight!" We're all having fun together, so why should anyone expect to be paid for that?


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The other thing to think about is that the environment of a music school can be extremely high pressure to the point of being toxic. The training in music schools can lead you into the false belief that your value as a person depends on your ability to play the piano well and to win competitions. This is a dangerous belief that leads to unhappiness and has a serious detrimental effect on mental health. Artur Pizarro, who I respect, said in a video on practicing that practicing properly is as important as life, because this is what you will do with your life to earn money. I disagree with that statement, I do not think that piano playing, piano practice, or anything centred around music is as important as life itself. Sure, it enhances life, but it is not life.

If any prospective or current music student reads this thread, take this away from it: Your value as a person has nothing to do with your abilities at the piano. Your value as a person is much more than this. Having loving friends and family around you is far more important than being able to play the Chopin etudes well, or winning a major competition. It sometimes takes experience and hindsight to see this. Someone recently said to me that they can't be friends with a pianist who doesn't play well. I found that to be extremely immature, so likewise, do not let other's abilities have anything to do with how you value them. We come into this world with nothing, and we leave it the same way. We all have the same value in that regard! Morbid? Well, perhaps, but true.

And other professions, I meant not just in the arts. It's difficult to set up as anything - from blue collar to white collar to artist, it's extremely difficult to do any job well and to make ends meet in any job. There are mechanics who work 50 hours a week and can't earn 30k a year, and of course there are mechanics who are extremely wealthy. The same discrepancies appear in many professions.


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Originally Posted by ranjit
Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
Perhaps I was extremely arrogant in saying this but I said "well, would you ask the roof repair man to work for free, using his expertise that he has honed on his equipment?" and she said "no, it doesn't work like that".
Good on you.

I agree! No one, in any profession, should be asked to work for free. I do see a bias regarding professional musicians: even on the Teacher’s Forum here, teachers will post that a parent will ask for a discount for an extra child. Since they don’t ask their physician for a second child discount, why are they asking a piano teacher and why, oh why, is the teacher considering it?

Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. You didn’t answer the question if better marketing training in school would help? Maybe let’s discuss later
On the second child discount, it makes sense though. If you visit a place frequently or spend a lot, it's common to give discounts because it guarantees a reliable source of income. If you wanted to hire a plumber to work for you every day, you might ask for a 20% discount, and they may well accept.

Piano teachers are expensive. This is an unfortunate reality for a middle class parent. Suppose your parent is a musician themselves, struggling in academia and making 40k a year. And suppose there are two siblings. Would they be able to pay 120$ a week for a good teacher for both of them? Sounds like it would be very hard to cough up that kind of money. My dad was in a similar kind of job, and when I wondered out loud how it would have been if I had learned the piano as a kid, they flat out told me it wouldn't have been possible.

On the other hand, if you're well off, then that's not much of an excuse.



discount? It has been my experience as a long-time homeowner that there are no discounts in cost, even with major remodeling. I don’t get a discount from my vet for bringing in multiple pets; I don’t know anyone that does. Pediatricians don’t discount for multiple children.

Piano teachers are already underpaid. They deserve to be treated like a professional who sets a fee based on their worth and community rates. They have the doctor bills, vet bills and plumbers to pay.

Last edited by dogperson; 02/05/22 03:47 PM.

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A parent of a former pupil sat in my home at my grand piano and said “you can charge less, it’s not like you have overheads” …..


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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
A parent of a former pupil sat in my home at my grand piano and said “you can charge less, it’s not like you have overheads” …..


That parent’s attitude is exactly the reason that a piano teacher should never give a discount— teachers are professionals with overhead and normal bills just like every other professional. The rate should be a fixed fee schedule, just like other professionals.

FWIW: My sister and I both took piano lessons as a child. I took two lessons per week and she took one. Discount? Nope and my family did not expect it

Last edited by dogperson; 02/05/22 04:13 PM.

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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
And other professions, I meant not just in the arts. It's difficult to set up as anything - from blue collar to white collar to artist, it's extremely difficult to do any job well and to make ends meet in any job. There are mechanics who work 50 hours a week and can't earn 30k a year, and of course there are mechanics who are extremely wealthy. The same discrepancies appear in many professions.

Please advise if I am mistaken, but my impression is that this is especially common in the arts compared to other professions?

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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
And other professions, I meant not just in the arts. It's difficult to set up as anything - from blue collar to white collar to artist, it's extremely difficult to do any job well and to make ends meet in any job. There are mechanics who work 50 hours a week and can't earn 30k a year, and of course there are mechanics who are extremely wealthy. The same discrepancies appear in many professions.
I don't really think this is true in general. It sounds nice to say, but it is obviously considerably easier to get a middle class job as a doctor or engineer or programmer, or any other standard profession than it is to become a concert artist (for most people). There are concert artists who decided to call it quits, and in a few years they were earning well in another profession.

The issue for a lot of those who do end up pursuing the arts, is that they could not be happy doing something else, not that they could not conceivably do so. Anyone reasonably smart who puts in the effort and gets a degree can get into those professions. Of course, there is the possibility that someone simply has a rare exceptional talent for piano playing while being pretty incompetent at everything else, but that is usually not the case imo. The pianists I've met seem very articulate and reasonably intelligent, and I think many of them have the capability to get a job in a more ordinary trade or profession, it's just that they can not imagine doing it.

The same does not work the other way around. Playing piano at a concert level is like competing at the Olympics -- you simply need quite a bit of talent in addition to a ton of hard work to get there.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
A parent of a former pupil sat in my home at my grand piano and said “you can charge less, it’s not like you have overheads” …..


That parent’s attitude is exactly the reason that a piano teacher should never give a discount— teachers are professionals with overhead and normal bills just like every other professional. The rate should be a fixed fee schedule, just like other professionals.
This is an extreme view imo. What if there's a talented kid among the 90% of parents who simply can't afford piano lessons? According to you that kid should simply be denied, which I'd say isn't wrong but is entirely your opinion.

As I see it, teaching is clearly different from a lot of other professions. The future value of hiring a teacher is a gamble for a student. The presence or absence of a teacher will make or break a child's future prospects (and the child has little to no say in it). This is simply a matter of fact. It is not similar to repairing a leaky roof, it's more like a speculative investment. So you can't compare the two that easily.

I don't want to advocate for anything teachers should or shouldn't do, but these straight-jacketed analogies get on my nerves.

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Talking about professions in general, even though classical music and piano was my greatest love when I was a student, it never occurred to me to make music my profession (not even as a teacher), simply because I knew I had no talent. And if I ever had such a silly idea, I'd have been disabused of it when I attended my first school lunchtime piano recital by a kid who had genuine talent (who, some years later, went on to win big international competitions and became an established concert pianist).

But even though I'd put music as a potential future career completely out of my mind, I still switched my university course application from my original choice (approved by my high school's career advisor) to a more, shall we say, 'secure' one (as well as more lucrative in terms of earnings whistle) almost at the last minute, because of something my parents said to me - about the 'standing' of the respective professions with the general public. My original choice was more appealing to me because of my interest in (specific branches of) science, but it is not something easily understandable to most people, whereas the one I switched to is universally respected........and I never regretted that decision since, because it opened so many other doors for me - including the opportunity to give lecture-recitals and perform a monthly piano recital (unpaid, in a proselytising role) for people in allied professions, where I can play anything I like, knowing that my music-making would be appreciated because they made the effort to come early to the events to hear me play.

As for educating music students about 'marketing' themselves, I believe that all the conservatories in the UK are now doing that, to a greater or lesser degree. It stands to reason that in this day and age, where social media (and the ability to 'sell oneself') plays such a big role in the success of so many jobs, every student in schools of performing arts need to learn this essential skill.

Incidentally, for many years before the pandemic struck, I was attending a free students' recital in a London piano showroom whenever I got the chance. The students were from music conservatories in the UK, and weren't paid (- likely not even compensated for travel expenses) but they got the opportunity to perform on a fully-prepped concert grand, and likely used the recitals as preparation for upcoming competitions, even though the recital room was small and could only accommodate some 20 people. The standard was very high - Liszt's and Chopin's B minor sonatas and Gaspard featured not infrequently, as well as wonderful rarities like Stevenson's Peter Grimes Fantasy. The days when up-and-coming unknown young musicians could perform at Wigmore Hall or Purcell Room and get noticed (and reviewed in the national newspapers) are long gone......


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The problem is one that afflicts many walks of life, including less 'prestigious' ones than concert pianist. Globalization plus digitization means massive competition for skills that can be digitized (communicated and sold via digital media) or globalized (can be sold across a global market). Under these conditions rewards cluster at the top end of 'talent' while the bottom and middle ends are hugely under-rewarded relative to their talent. Tiny (almost imperceptible) differences in accomplishment get magnified by the invisible hand of massive markets, to the detriment of those just 99% as talented.

In 1920 for example, you could be a regional / local artist, poet, pianist or indeed journalist, academic or financier and still get social and financial rewards commensurate with your effort. Today you are competing across a vast and harsh market in many professions. Those excepted from this brutal logic are those with locally fixed professions that cannot be digitized or globalized or those protected by regulations and borders, e.g FBI agents, bakers, hair stylists and bureaucrats.

I think a little commented upon and negative side effect of this competition is that the top talent becomes more and more focused on distinguishing itself from rivals, leading to an extreme focus on technical ability (as this is the easiest way to distinguish oneself from globalized, digitized rivals). Perhaps the analog of this in the world of journalism / academia is so-called 'virtue signaling' among the ultra woke. In both cases, real achievement gets sidelined by skills which pertain to distinguishing oneself in a brutal marketplace of performance.

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Excellent video - these are very real issues and I think she articulates them very well. I think that many middle/high school musicians view the world with rose colored glasses and are naive to the ways of the world, because they often live in their musical "bubble", not needing to worry about financial matters and not needing to worry about the ways of the world, because they have the financial support of parents. But when you get out on your own and strip that away and realize that classical music is a business like any other, and a cutthroat one at that, it can come as a shock. Being able to support yourself with reasonable stability in that world can be extremely challenging.

For my personally, I came to realize a lot of these issues in my first semester of college, and ultimately it led to me changing my major. Everyone's journey is different, but for me I opted to get a degree that offered more stability - and as far as music was concerned, I decided I'd rather be happier doing music on the side as an amateur, than miserable and broke trying to do music as a professional. And in hindsight - I think it worked out for me. No, I am not the greatest pianist out there and will never pretend to be - but I do enough side gigs as an accompanist that I can still enjoy making music on my own terms and make a few extra bucks at it.


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Totally true. My last concerto performance was Tchaikovsky Concerto #1 with a community orchestra in 2014. I was paid $300. When you calculate how much that comes to over the hours I spent learning that piece....well..let's not go there. I like to half sarcastically make the point to people that piano teachers are typically the lowest paid people on the planet if you take into consideration that we start our serious study (3-5 hours of daily practice, exams, recitals, lessons, etc), usually from age 14 or earlier, and many continue up to a DMA even. Businessmen, Doctors, Lawyers, Hedge Fund Managers, accountants, Air traffic control people, etc... almost all being their training in college or usually later. The hours one spends developing their skill as pianists in proportion to the pay the receive (performing or teaching), is about as low as I can envision in any career - ever. This is a painful fact.

But for a more optimistic perspective...

NOTHING is really easy. Everything, every career - every path - is equally hard, but we only have the perspective to see the ways in which our own is uniquely hard. Do you know anyone in any field of prestige who is truly satisfied with their work?


-My fiancé is an attorney, I'm a pianist. She makes more than me (not by much though, and I could surpass her income if I chose to teach more and practice less). It's a rough life. She works 15 hour days sometimes (more than any pianist would). She has no health or retirement benefits. She works for a megalomanic boss who blows up at people randomly. Hours are spent summarizing and writing dry legal documents that - really - are just making things hard for each other. This is not just her firm, it's the norm for most lawyers.

-My brother has a more comfortable life -- he works for my dad in a high paying and high prestige position. Pay and hours are good. But it's nepotism, and it's doing a number on his self-esteem, so he's looking for a way out.

- A friend's friend recently got a data analytics job at Netflix, and he's making 475k per year. But he always wanted to do music (Rock, in his case). He has started having a crisis of identity, and feels like he has "Sold out" to the money, and given up on what he really wanted to do, and it's eating him in ways he could not have foreseen.


These are really just a few, off the top of my head -- and they are already people who have had the upper hand at birth of being born into wealthy western countries with a college education and are citizens of the free world (Which I would assume all of us posting on here are as well, or all those who were able to pursue music seriously).

I do imagine even the likes of Schiff and artists who have truly "made it", must feel - in some distant sense - that the lifestyle they are forced to live (Constant traveling, sitting in traffic and waiting in airports instead of practicing, the risk of having one bad review or one bad memory slip in concert derail your career, having to compromise on interpretations with conductors and chamber partners, having to attend post-concert dinners with musically ignorant donors, having constantly to do things for the sake of being marketable, etc), is ironically more of a disconnect from the music and what they can do with than the life of a simple Private teacher. Ivo Pogorelich said years ago if he had one wish it would be to be a student again. Pitor Anderewski and Stephen Hough have echoed similar sentiments.

I think our sorrows may be of different sorts, but in the end all lead to a similar degree of remorse.

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While not directly related to the issues of being a concert pianist or a professional musician, the following observations are related.

Our economy is driven by teams of two. Teams of two set the prices. Two highly paid individuals marrying each other make life harder for the rest because they have more money to spend on housing, goods, etc, and can drive up the prices.

Many marriages these days look like corporate mergers.

If you want to help someone in real terms, marry someone who does not make as much money as you do. Now, there are many reasons why this does not happen, socially, and that has probably always been so, but it is a worthy thing to help someone in this way.

So, those in high paying jobs should marry those in low paying jobs. Bankers should marry musicians, artists, waitresses, retail workers, etc.

What is sad, is that the value of work is determined by income, and that does not usually jive with the true value of the work, in my opinion.

Teachers and caretakers are paid abysmally and they’re the workers who can make a real difference. Lawyers are paid exorbitantly and they often just foster discord.

Musicians provide some relief from the stresses of everyday life. To me, the work they do is valuable.

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This has been a very interesting thread with lots of insightful thoughts. Certainly there isnt any perfect job; they all have pros and cons, inconveniences and advantages. What I think is maybe specific to classical piano is that in comparison with other disciplines where the amount of hours spent and the level is similar, is that there isnt any standard or minimal income. I guess an engineer when graduated can most often manage to get a job, and usually the revenue will follow an agreed standard on the market. Nothing is ever garanteed, but a reasonably good carreer will provide a good income. Of course some people, either very lucky or gifted, or both, will reach higher paid positions (at the expense of lots of hours, stress and loss of personal life), but one can also have a reasonable pay and fair personal life.

For the piano and maybe music in general, it is much more variable, and maybe that to get an equivalent revenue, one has to spend much more time, constantly looking for customers, concerts, ..... in order to maintain a certain level of activity. Except for the few that have been lucky to get a fixed position, that is not a comfortable situation. In other words the ratio of skills required and time invested is not necessarily rewarded. Unhapilly given that there are much more pianists coming out every year than jobs, the law of offer and demand applies. A few gets very high income, when most nearly equivalent get very little.


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Originally Posted by ranjit
On the second child discount, it makes sense though. If you visit a place frequently or spend a lot, it's common to give discounts because it guarantees a reliable source of income.
I run into this in my profession - and no! I work as a translator at a professional level, with the training and experience, which had to be preceded with absolute mastery of two working languages, and linguistics, before you even get to the field itself. Like music teaching, where a person who had piano lessons for a few years thinks they can "teach" piano, we get bilingual people who think they can do my job - well. I constantly get contacted, usually by middlemen, offering me large jobs expecting discounts. Ok - say you sell ketchup. The big work consists of setting up your ketchup plant: the part the cooks up the ingredients, the conveyor belt with the bottles, and up to where the filled, labeled bottles are packed and shipped. The SETUP takes a lot of time, effort, and money. After that there is relatively less time and effort. You have to make the expenditure for the setup to pay for itself. You want to buy a lot of ketchup for a long time, so that the setup expenditure pays for itself and you make money.

Professional work is not like a ketchup factory. There is nothing akin to bottles popping out automatically after the setup. In my work, every word is handcrafted, considered with care, on p. 100 as on p. 1. Every moment a private teacher spends with a student, if s/he is actualy teaching well and professionally, is a "handcrafted" moment - a moment considered with care. If there are siblings, the work done with Mary doesn't transmit to Johnny; each child must be taught with the same care and attention. Maybe if Mary and Johnny attend joint lessons at the same time, though the split attention and lessened individualization would lower the quality.

Class / group teaching - that gets closer to ketchup bottles. The lesson you have prepared and give, whether you have 2 people in front of you, or 20, or 200, will be the same lesson, the same words, the same illustrations on the chalkboard. Though if the teacher is also available for help afterward (universities have TA's), that is individual time; tests must be graded - 200 tests take more time to grade than 2.

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If you wanted to hire a plumber to work for you every day, you might ask for a 20% discount, and they may well accept.
If that plumber is a good plumber, he'll have lots of customers. I get that too btw. Our conversations go this way:

(me) My charge is based on $0.18/word. (made up)
(middleman agency) But this is 10,000 words, and we can keep sending you more work all the time. We want to pay you $0.06/word.
(me) I have a steady flow of customers willing to pay me my fee because they value my quality. If I am busy with your material, I won't have time for them. If I do 1,000 words for 10 customers, or 10,000 words for 1 customer, it's the same amount of work for me. Plus the risk of non-payment or poor customers is spread out, and I get paid sooner. You want me to earn 1/3 of what I can earn with a spread of customers - does that make sense to you? (middleman mumbles and goes away).

But we can go back to our ketchup bottles. The middleman procures customers, and passes work on to the translators. Their work involves SETUP: administration = negotiate with client, nail the contract, do the paperwork, find the translator, do the paperwork, be the go-between (paperwork), get paid and pay the contractor (paperwork). If the middleman has 10,000 words for one customer, versus 500 words for 20 customers, he will have 20 times as much work to do for the 500 X 20. But the professional doing the work has the same amount of work in either case.

Sorry, that doesn't fly. smile

In fact, with siblings the teacher might have the head-ache of making sure they don't get jealous of each other, making sure to give the different material. If a family with 4 kids moves away or goes on vacation, you've got 4 slots to fill at once. (I could see disadvantages to siblings.)

This:
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If you visit a place frequently or spend a lot, it's common to give discounts because it guarantees a reliable source of income.

That works for stores. The sales staff has to be in the store regardless of whether there are 50 customers in the store that day, or none. Their presence is required regardless. A store clerk or salesperson will have more work to do when serving customers than when not serving customers. The pay they get is the same regardless of number of customers. They teacher's time is directly related to time spent with a student. When there is no student, the teacher is not spending teaching time.

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Originally Posted by keystring
In my work, every word is handcrafted, considered with care, on p. 100 as on p. 1. Every moment a private teacher spends with a student, if s/he is actually teaching well and professionally, is a "handcrafted" moment - a moment considered with care. If there are siblings, the work done with Mary doesn't transmit to Johnny; each child must be taught with the same care and attention.

Keystring, bravo. This is indeed how piano teaching works at its best, including at the beginner level. Thank you.

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Originally Posted by Pianist685
Anna Khomichko has spoken out on some very sad truth. In most people's eyes, making music is not worth anything in terms of money and, consequently, those who play music are not worth anything, either, and their social prestige is nil as long as they have not made themselves a name.
Think of non-classical 'normal' people, who have no idea what classical music is (apart from Mahler's Adagietto and Barber's Adagio for Strings in several movies, which make them weep but they couldn't give a toss who the composers are), much less ever been to a classical concert or seen a classical musician perform in the flesh. They think that because they can't even prance around on stage while stripping and singing like pop stars, they can't possibly have any skills worth having, especially as they're all playing music no-one cares about - so last millennium.

Well, at least that's one step above what an ex-colleague of mine said about classical music, many years ago, when we were working together and doing something unpleasant (but necessary) to an elderly woman. As usual, I switched the radio on to help distract from the pain being inflicted (as well as to steady my hands...). I had it on BBC Radio 3 as always, and a Chopin nocturne came on. My younger colleague immediately said: "That's concentration camp music - we can't have that!" and reached over to re-tune it to a pop channel. The woman said calmly but firmly: "Please leave that music on - it's Chopin, and I love his music: I'm Polish like him, and the Nazis hated his music." (In fact, she was a Holocaust survivor.) My colleague went red and kept quiet after that.....and I made sure she never worked with me again.

Quote
One lady asked me after one of those concerts by whom the last piece was. I told her, a printed programme was displayed at the entrance, and that piece was the "Clair de lune" by Debussy, an impressionistic piece. She looked at me in a sceptical manner, then she said (quote): "But that sounded just like the other Chopin." The "other Chopin" was Beethoven...
That's not nearly as bad as when the last time I played on a ship's baby grand in the piano bar one morning. As usual, there was a small audience who came in to listen (though the bar was closed in the daytime), and afterwards, one of them asked me: "What's the name of that Bach song you played at the end?" (She'd previously told me she was a singing teacher.) I told her I'd played Schubert Impromptus (D899 Nos.3 & 4) at the end, not Bach. Maybe she meant the Bach Goldberg aria that I started my 'recital' with? No, she insisted, the music I finished with was definitely by Bach......and nothing I could say would convince her otherwise (as I was playing from memory and didn't bring any music scores on the ship).


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 32,694
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Joined: May 2001
Posts: 32,694
I see little point in belittling people who know little about classical music or misidentify the composer of a piece. Just like I see little point in criticizing those who call any piece of music a "song".

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