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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the July 14, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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
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
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,"
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
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
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."
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
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