Seeking Authenticity: An Interview with Valentina Lisitsa

This is the extended online version of the interview that was printed in the March/April 2017 issue of Clavier Companion

by Vanessa Cornett

Valentina Lisitsa is a formidable pianist with dazzling technique and an ever-growing fan base. A self-made luminary, she was arguably the first classical musician to catapult herself from relative obscurity to superstardom using social media alone. At forty-three, the Ukrainian-American virtuoso now boasts 300,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and enjoys hundreds of millions of online views. At times controversial, she can be provocative and uncompromising, both on stage and off. Her style of playing and her personality are equally charismatic and engaging, and she was eager to share her perspectives with our readers.

How did your parents support your musical talents as a child?
My case was not by any measure unique. The relatively new definition “tiger mom” could be as easily applied to many parents in ex-USSR, particularly because of cultural similarities between our family traditions. At three years of age I was taken to figure skating, ballet, competitive swimming and piano classes. Only piano survived!

I grew up in a household with just my mom and grandma; my parents were divorced. My mom worked and my grandma took care of me. She was lucky enough to get an excellent education in her youth: a few years of gymnasium, an equivalent of private school, and later on, Odessa Conservatory singing class. My mom had it much harder. Her childhood passed in World War II under German occupation, and she missed precious years of school. She dreamt of becoming an actress but she ended up working in the clothing factory as a seamstress all her life. Nevertheless, the opportunities for culture and music were aplenty. She loved music, the opera in particular. I remember being taken to opera at a very young age.

Read more: Seeking Authenticity: An Interview with Valentina Lisitsa

The Benefits of Attending an Academic Summer Camp

The Benefits of Attending an Academic Summer Camp

Written by, Constance M. Brannon, M.Ed., Academic Camps Director, Malone University, Canton Ohio


CMC Piano

Academic camps hosted by universities are not a new phenomenon, but their popularity has been climbing for more than a decade as demand for career preparedness for incoming college students has grown. In a challenging economic climate, students and their families are looking for reassurance that they will be prepared for job or graduate school placement after commencement.

At Malone University, we understand the weight of that pressure and want to serve as a resource for high school students who are beginning to weigh career options. Our academic summer camps program aims to provide an opportunity for college-bound students to test drive their academic interests and get a taste of life on a university campus in a safe and fun environment.

In collaboration with the Canton Symphony Orchestra, our Chamber Music Camp will coach pianists, string, and woodwind players in the art of listening and communicating like professional musicians in a chamber ensemble setting. Students will rehearse individually and in small groups with the goal of improving technical skills and musical creativity. Lessons learned through that kind of study extend far beyond musical growth, into the kind of discipline and reasoning ability which make for a strong employee in any work environment later in life.  

“My daughters had two very different, yet beneficial, experiences by attending Chamber Music Camp,” said Jen (Martin) Carroll ’96. “My younger daughter texted me while she was at camp and asked if she could return next year, and my older daughter discovered more about her musical interests as a result of attending. She learned that Chamber Music isn’t the direction she wants to pursue as a musician. However, camp instructors used her arrangement of Fall Out Boy’s Centuries during the final performance, which was a highlight of the summer for her. That moment inspired her to delve deeper into music theory and attempt other arrangements of pop music for strings. It opened her eyes to a career she never considered before.”

My role today as Academic Camps Director is fulfilling because I, too, am the product of a music academic camp. The summer before my senior year of high school I spent two weeks on a college campus, immersing myself in curriculum I enjoyed with faculty members and camp counselors who were passionate about what they do best. I knew fairly quickly that I wanted to be a student on that campus, and even met my first college friend at that camp, someone I still count among friends today, more than 15 years later. The irony in my story is that I am not a career musician but I could talk endlessly about the skills I gained and lessons I learned during that season of life. I wouldn’t change a thing and firmly believe that none of that time was wasted.

When first-time campers contact me with questions about our programs, I sometimes share my story with them and reassure them of the value in their decision to join us for a week. At the very least, it provides them with an opportunity to learn something new about themselves just by trying it out. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

CMC Strings

Participate in a Star-Studded Teachers' Conference From Home!

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            It was a dark and stormy morning on February 2, 2016, when I donned my favorite yoga pants, brewed a cup of hot tea, and settled in with my laptop to attend the opening session of the Music Ed Connect Online Conference.  I felt a little uncertain as to whether my spotty tech skills would allow me to actually chat with the nationally known presenters in real time, but the possibility had lured me to try in out. Once registered, I received an email link to join the conference when it began, and when I clicked the link and followed the directions, I was immediately connected to the moderator and originator of this online conference, Michelle Sisler. She is a nationally known technology presenter herself, and her calm demeanor was reassuring that if something went awry, help was quickly at hand. As it turned out, I never needed her help, as the presenters, videos, whiteboards, even the real-time comments from other viewers were easily viewed and heard. I was hooked!
            And oh what presenters there were! It was a veritable garden of teaching delights. Over the course of the five-day conference I filled half a notebook with notes and ideas. Between each session was a 10-minute break, which instead of standing in line in the ladies room (as would happen at a standard conference), I checked my email, fixed a sandwich, and in a couple of instances, chatted via email with the presenter to get additional information.  Sometimes I walked in place while watching, and racked up the steps on my Fitbit!  An ongoing benefit to the convenience and economy of this conference has been the fact that for this whole year, I could go online again to review each presentation along with their handouts, and even visit the exhibit hall because the conference is archived online for full access attendees
            The 2017 MusicEdConnect online conference is coming February 1-4 on your computer or mobile device.  The presenter line-up is tantalizing with the likes of Scott McBride Smith, Kevin Olson, Fred Karpoff, Shana Kirk, Mario Ajero, George Litterst, Sarah Lyngra, Sarah Ernst, Charlene Shelzi, Pamela Pike. . .to name a few.  
Click here for 2017 Sessions Details                     Click here for Registration 

Interview with Emanuel Ax

Since his 1974 victory in the first Artur Rubinstein International Piano Competition, Emanuel Ax has sustained one of the most active, beloved, and respected careers of any concert artist before the public today. In a career now spanning five decades and thousands of performances worldwide, he has also garnered the coveted Avery Fisher Prize and holds honorary doctorates from both Yale University and Columbia University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. An exclusive Sony Classical artist with a vast catalog, he has won Grammy awards for his cycle of Haydn sonatas and his incomparable collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma.

Early last summer, Mr. Ax was in Dallas for a sold-out recital with Itzhak Perlman at the ATT Performing Arts Center Winspear Opera House. He graciously interrupted his practicing for an hour to sit down backstage with Ryan Greene and myself and conduct this interview. What follows is insightful, funny, and surprisingly candid—a testament to the hypothesis that the greatest artists of all are also the most humane, literate, humble, and generous in spirit.

Tell us about your early experiences in music and your first teachers.
I enjoyed music. I always enjoyed doing it. I didn’t practice overly much as a child—so my feelings were very comfortable. I think I was also very lucky with my teachers. I had amazing people who were able to teach children—making things both fun and serious at the same time. There was a lady in Poland who was a wonderful teacher that all my Polish friends remember very well. After moving to Winnipeg at the age of ten, I also had wonderful people, wonderful ladies. They were just so nice.

Many of our readers are piano teachers who fit that profile. Hearing how important your first teachers were to you will be meaningful to them.
My feeling is that early-level teaching is the most difficult profession—not only in music, but probably in any field. Teaching beginners and young people requires extraordinary talent and dedication. I can tell you very straightforwardly that, for every one fantastic teacher, I could probably name you ten excellent performers. It’s hard to find people who are truly dedicated to teaching. For example, my wife plays tennis. She’s not very good, but she takes lessons from a tennis coach during the summers. This man is a born teacher. What I mean by that is that he has incredible patience. He is able to show what needs to be done to fix a particular issue. He makes it fun and yet is very serious at the same time. When you do get better, he is the happiest guy in the world. And that is what you need with a ten-year-old studying the piano.

That’s a beautiful statement.
And it’s very, very hard to find those people. I’m convinced they’re the ones who should be getting prizes. I would like to see us recognize teachers—just like the Avery Fisher prize for performing artists. We should have a prize for teachers. I think it’s important.

Anything about your other teachers? What about Mieczysław Munz at Juilliard?
I studied with Mr. Munz from the time I was thirteen all the way through my years at Juilliard. And he was a wonderful teacher—but of course that was a different kind of teaching. By then I was playing
repertoire that was extremely difficult. He taught me how to practice well. And he was determined to ensure that everything was correct. to continue reading in the November/December 2016 issue (subscribers only)

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Below you'll find two videos from our actual interview with Mr. Ax. The first features a series of short questions asked by Ryan Greene, the second features longer, thought-provoking questions asked by Sam Holland. To read the complete transcript, see the interview printed in your copy of the November/December issue of Clavier Companion, or at the "Click to Continue Reading" link above.

An Interview with Fernando Laires

From the Autumn 2003 issue of Keyboard Companion magazine

by Helen Smith Tarchalski

We are privileged and pleased to share a conversation with Fernando Laires in which he offers a rare glimpse into the exceptional life of an extraordinary man and musician. In this interview, we learn how many of Fernando Laires' perspectives developed and evolved. Although some of his experiences were clearly opportunities that helped to shape his career, others were challenges that he turned into opportunities and life lessons.

Fernando Laires lives by his precept that "piano teachers are more than piano teachers, they are music teachers and tutors about many things, including life itself." He closes his comments by answering a decades-old musing by members of the piano pedagogy field: How do artists of the stature of Fernando Laires and Nelita True co-exist in the career of music while maintaining a deeply devoted marriage?" His advice is simple, and proves that his philosophies and approach to musical and teaching perspectives are indeed inexorably intertwined with his approach to life.

His fascinating story is rich in examples of how we can use our own experiences as "life lessons" that mold us into stronger human beings with a deep sense of mission and artistry.

Read more: An Interview with Fernando Laires