Developing each musician’s personal voice

The core value of music education is to develop the personal voice of each young musician entrusted to our care. This personal growth requires students to broaden their mastery and expertise through experience. This experience or journey to the final destination is key in students unlocking their inner musician. The richness of this results in a musician who can act with independence, understanding their repertoire on a deeper level, experimenting with a variety of techniques and interpretations to make critical decisions about how the final performance will be executed and in turn, received.

In instrumental music, the mastery to expertise model is ever apparent. A teacher of a beginner musician creates the context for students to learn the basics, they go on to study a work which at this stage of the journey is strongly guided by the teacher. As the journey continues, repertoire and skills develop, students take on feedback and their expertise starts to materialise. A pinnacle of this journey for the young musician is when students are able make their own choices about their repertoire, realising the intricacies of the harmony, developing the emotion of a melodic line to reflect the mood or emotion hoping to be created by the composer and ensuring the integrity of the work is realised.

Critical to this is the masterclass. Originally thought to be developed by Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt 1869, as the name suggests, it is led by one who possesses a mastery of a specific discipline, in this case, music. It gives students the opportunity to show their understanding of a work through a performance. The ‘master’ then shares their knowledge and expertise, and both student and master work in concert to explore the work in further depth with different ideas and musical insights. New learnings are developed. From this, our young musicians take on this feedback and start to make their own decisions about their interpretation and how to develop the work further. This creates a rich learning opportunity for both the performer and observer. Whilst the soloist receives advice towards refining their artistry, the audience is able to learn vicariously through the experience and take on these new ideas in their own playing. Beyond providing technical learning though, it is something much deeper. This close engagement with an expert serves as great inspiration for each student’s future musical endeavours and an increased confidence and level of skill ensues.

It was therefore with great pleasure that St Catherine’s VCE Music students Catherine Chen, Sophie Williams and Isabelle Musson were able to take a masterclass with Amir Farid.

Born and raised in Melbourne and a graduate of the Australian National Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London, Amir is currently based in New York where he is a staff pianist at The Juilliard School and rehearsal pianist with the New York Philharmonic. His accolades are renowned amongst the music community. Winner of the 2006 Australian National Piano Award, performances with the Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australian Symphony Orchestras and his award winning chamber group The Benaud Trio are just some of the feathers in his cap. So it was with great excitement that our St Catherine’s community was able to welcome a man whose performance venues stretch from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne to Carnegie Hall in New York.

It can be daunting to perform for someone of such talent and reputation, and to take on critique can be confronting in that, the musician needs to acknowledge that it could be done differently. It was so pleasing to watch the students approach this experience in their musical journey with open-mindedness, curiosity and honesty. The eloquence and expertise of Amir in partnership with the students to develop their inner musician was a joy to watch.

Amir’s expertise not only as a pianist, but musician were on show from the outset. Exploring the work Valley of the Rocks with Catherine, he discussed the portrait of the landscape and development of layers within the work to represent the jagged rocks within the dramatic English landscape. The work was transformed with greater dramatic contrast as the two toyed with tempo and musical line and a tremendous depth of emotion was realised. In working with Sophie on two vocal works Isi Bas and For a Child, Amir’s extensive work with vocalists at Juilliard shone through. Breaking the work into poetry and finding the stresses of the spoken words enabled a smoother navigation of the phrasing terrain. It was pleasing to see Sophie’s own surprise of how different the music felt after going through the process. Amir himself noted how deceptively difficult Isabelle’s chosen Beethoven Sonate, Op. 28 really is. His insight into the Romantic work was evident. Likening each finger on the hand to instruments of the orchestra, they explored the difference that can be made in the repetitive bass lines and approaching each as a single unique note. Choosing different instruments of the orchestra, Isabelle began to discover balance in each individual line to create an orchestra of sound within her finger tips.

Amir asked the students if they would bear it if he performed his ISO project for them, Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. As Amir noted, their codas are known to be amongst the most difficult repertoire written for the piano. His presence transformed the Ballroom into the most intimate of concert halls, and the students appeared to more than bear the performance, they were in fact captivated by the dramatic emotion, rich melodies and technical dexterity of the performance.

The class aimed to inspire and perhaps it was the dialogue that the students had with Amir where he revealed his sincerity, integrity and humility as a musician that they developed a connection. In describing his journey to Juilliard he spoke of the pressure of that environment, and he pushed for the balance of excellence, passion and enjoyment that he feels exists within the music scene in Australia. In discussing the amateur opportunities that abound and his experience in these circles, it was clear that it is the joy which exists in music on any level that has sustained his career, suggesting that it is this that is pertinent to nourishing each student’s inner musician.

Ms Liv Cher

Deputy Head of Music

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