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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the July 14, 2004

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How Craft Becomes Art – Piano Festival and Institute

‘Life-altering" is what pianist Edna Golandsky calls the approach to

the piano that she advocates. Once understood, it can turn technical

wimps into masters of the keyboard. Grounded in physiologically

natural movements, the method prevents injury and leads to a powerful,

stress-free technique with an exceptional richness of sound.

It is based on principles of piano playing developed by Dorothy

Taubman during the 1940s when her husband was in the Army and she had

plenty of time to think about how to succeed at the keyboard. Taubman,

now in her late-80s, still teaches at her Brooklyn studio. Long

associated with Taubman, Golandsky decided that it was time to move

on, and formed the Golandsky Institute in 2003.

Meeting on the Princeton University campus, the Golandsky Institute

offers its first summer symposium from Sunday, July 18, through

Saturday, July 24. Dedicated to advancing Taubman’s keyboard approach,

the symposium includes a week’s worth of intensive piano study for

registered participants, and nightly concerts open to the public.

Among the 110 registrants are pianists from Canada, Austria,

Australia, Sweden, France, Germany, Singapore, Yugoslavia, and Cuba.

Most concerts take place at 8 p.m. in Taplin Auditorium with

pre-concert talks scheduled for 7 p.m. Breaking the pattern, Wednesday

evening’s fare consists of a 7 p.m. concert and an 8:30 p.m. showing

of the movie "Great Pianists on Film."

Pieces on the program during the week range from the birth of the

piano in the 18th century to contemporary works. Artists include Ilya

Itin, who explores musical mysticism and spirituality in music by

Messsiaen and Mussorgsky (July 18); Misha Dacic who performs a program

of music ranging from Scarlatti to Villa-Lobos to Liszt (July 19);

Eric Ferrand-N’Kaoua, who plays music by J.S. Bach, Ravel, and

Gershwin (July 20); and Nina Tichman, a winner of the Busoni and

Mendelssohn piano competitions (July 22).

"I wanted to make sure music of the last 50 or 60 years was present,"

says Golandsky in a telephone interview from her New York City home.

Thursday, July 22, is the only program lacking recent music; it

consists of Father Sean Brett Duggan’s performance of J. S. Bach’s

"The Art of the Fugue."

Of the eight pianists who perform, six studied with Taubman or

Golandsky. One, jazz pianist Bill Charlap, who gives the final

concert, studied with New York pianist Eleanor Hancock shortly after

Golandsky started.

Taubman’s approach is to the point both for injured pianists and those

who are healthy. "Many pianists are injured," Golandsky says. "Those

not injured are often limited. This method gives pianists the freedom

to reach their full potential."

Golandsky believes that common sense principles for effective playing

apply to all pianists. "Some say that there are as many methods as

there are pianists. But that’s not possible," says Golandsky. "It’s

the same instrument, and people use the same limbs and muscles for a

particular purpose. They’re subject to the physical rules of the

universe and the mechanical behavior of the piano. What differs is

what they do with it."

Golandsky played an essential role in the Taubman summer institutes

that began in 1977 and took place successively in Rensselaerville, New

York; Amherst, Massachusetts; and, finally, in Williamstown,

Massachusetts. I first ran into her when I attended the Amherst

sessions during the 1980s.

Her task at that time was to deliver the daily morning lectures that

spelled out the ramifications of a tension-free approach to the piano.

In the afternoons, Taubman took over to give master classes.

"At the very beginning, for one or two years, Dorothy did both the

lectures and master classes," Golandsky says. "Then she asked me to do

the lectures. It was on one month’s notice, and I said, ‘Absolutely

not,’ because I couldn’t see taking on all this material. I would have

to lecture for two weeks, an hour and a half each day."

Reluctant at first, Golandsky nevertheless took over the lectures and

delivered them for more than 20 years. "I kept modifying and improving

the lectures," she says, "clarifying the material and finding better

ways to convey it." Her explanations were singularly lucid and

meticulously organized.

In Princeton the basic lectures will be given by others, and Golandsky

will devote herself to lecturing on the transition from good technique

to telling performance, "on the how-to, on how a craft becomes an art,

on the elements to add to technique to make it an expressive

technique," as she puts it. "The connection between technique and

musical expression will be the mainstay of my (Princeton) lectures,"

she says.

Golandsky lists some of the questions she has grappled with in recent

years: Why is music so often boring or static? Why is rhythmic motion

so often lacking? Why do feelings not come out in the music? How is it

that the same pianist can sound boring one moment, and talented the

next? Where’s the swing that we hear in jazz? Why is it often missing

in classical music players?

Israeli born, Golandsky earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at

New York’s Juilliard School. She began her studies with Dorothy

Taubman while she was at Juilliard and continued to work with her

afterwards. She has given master classes and lectures in the United

States and abroad. Her trajectory has included the Eastman School of

Music, Yale University, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Oberlin

Conservatory. Her appearances overseas have included Korea, Israel,

England, and Italy.

A co-founder of the Taubman Institute, Golandsky was one of a

triumvirate that included master teacher Dorothy Taubman and Enid

Stettner, an imaginative administrator. In a sense, the

institutionalization of Taubman’s teaching can be traced to a chance

encounter in a New York City elevator between Stettner and an

unidentified stranger. Stettner was looking for a piano teacher for

her daughter when she spotted in the elevator of her apartment

building a girl carrying piano books, whose appearance aroused her

curiosity. The girl wore no makeup; she looked fresh and natural.

Stettner inquired with whom she studied, and learned that it was

Golandsky, a resident of the building.

Golandsky, who didn’t teach beginners, found one of her students to

teach Stettner’s daughter. Stettner, who had not played piano much

after age 18, began to study with Golandsky, and Golandsky introduced

her to Taubman, who was studying with her at the time. Stettner says,

"I knew there was something awesome and different about Dorothy

Taubman’s approach, and I wanted the world to know about it."

By 1977 Stettner had moved to Medusa, New York. "I took $5,000 my

father had left me, created a brochure, found attorneys, and

incorporated the (Taubman) Institute," she says. She arranged for

Dorothy Taubman to lead a summer workshop at the Rensselaerville

Institute, a conference center near Medusa. The following year the

institute moved to Amherst College where it stayed until the mid

1990s.

Stettner worked to expand the concert performances beyond Taubman’s

students. "I thought the whole world should be tearing down the walls

to come, but I saw over the years that the Taubman Institute was not

growing the way I thought it should. I decided that building a

phenomenal festival would put Taubman’s work into the mainstream.

People would associate the Taubman Institute with excellent

performance. I thought that the way to build the Institute was to

build the festival." The institute/festival took up residence at

Williams College, where concerts could be held in an acoustically

appealing auditorium that seats more than 1,000. It was gathering

steam until it ceased functioning in 2002.

Stettner has pulled back from her involvement with Taubman’s work. Her

primary interest at present is her business,"Wildthymes," which

manufactures high end chutneys, sauces, marinades, and vinaigrettes.

"I neglected it while I was building the Taubman Institute," she says.

The original Taubman Institute continues to exist. In 2003 and 2004 it

sponsored seminars in New York City that extended over long weekends.

The seminars included lectures on pedagogy, piano recitals, and master

classes taught by Dorothy Taubman herself.

The Taubman Institute website (www.taubman-institute.com) also

continues to exist. Video tapes made in Amherst and CDs recorded at

the Williamstown may be ordered through the site. The Amherst tapes

include Golandsky’s lectures. The Williamstown CDs include festival

performances.

Those Williamstown festival performances attracted the attention of

Richard Dyer, veteran critic for the "Boston Globe," who reviewed more

than a dozen of them. As an interested outsider, Dyer could look over

the proceedings with an analytical eye. A lapsed pianist, he was

impressed with what he heard.

"Not much at Amherst was reaching the outside world," he says in a

telephone conversation. "Williamstown brought a new visibility to the

school and the work, a different level of visibility. It featured

pianists about whom there was already a lot of buzz. Princeton may be

a quantum leap beyond Williamstown."

Dyer puts into perspective both the Taubman approach to the piano, and

the qualities of pianists trained by her scheme. "Dorothy Taubman

codified or verbalized what the best pianists do unconsciously," he

says. "Williamstown was a public manifestation of the (Taubman)

School. About half the performers were trained in the Taubman

technique either by Dorothy Taubman or Edna Golandsky. Taubman people

are among the best young pianists in the world."

Dorothy Taubman invited Dyer to attend the 2004 Taubman Institute

seminar in New York to hear a performance of Charles Ives’ thorny

"Concord Sonata" by Yale freshman Timothy Andres, a student of

Taubman-trained Eleanor Hancock. Andres was the subject of a certain

amount of buzz. Only weeks before he played at the seminar, he was

singled out by Alex Ross of the New Yorker as a young American

composer to watch.

Although music critic Dyer never published a review of Andres’

playing, he was happy to comment about it on the telephone, and to let

his remarks extend to the roles of nature and nurture in Andres’

music-making. The "Concord Sonata" has been an intermittent presence

in Dyer’s life ever since he worked on it when he was 19.

Dyer’s telephone review confirms Golandsky’s assessment of the worth

of Dorothy Taubman’s insights, when transmitted by a knowledgeable

person. "Timothy Andres’ playing of (the sonata) was mature, accurate,

and imaginative," Dyer says. "It seized you immediately, and didn’t

let go until it was over. He’s an extraordinary musical talent. It was

the best performance of the ‘Concord’ I ever heard.

Timothy did some things that can’t be taught. He was totally able to

realize his musical vision in keyboard terms. You can hear people with

gifts when there is something in their way. That (Andres’ playing) was

correct technically was the least of it. Eleanor Hancock can’t be

credited for his genes or his supportive parents. But he couldn’t do

what he did with natural talent alone. It’s the result of long hard

work. He’s been very well taught."

Golandsky Institute Symposium and Festival Sunday, July

18 through Saturday, July 24; Taplin Auditorium on the Princeton

University campus; most lectures at 7 p.m. each night, and most

concerts at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets: $10 or $50 for the entire

week; available online at www.golandskyinstitute.org or by phone at

877-343-3434.


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