Life at times

Life at times leads to unexpected places.

When I moved to Israel from Russia in 1989 I was a young and spirited musician; I was a pianist, a piano teacher and a composer, and had many years of experience in those fields. I had a very clear concept of what a student and a teacher were, about the amount of effort required to learn, and the amount of time one should practice each day. It was all very simple really: what the teacher demanded, the student did with the outmost discipline and attention. The responsibility to learn and improve rested completely on the student’s shoulders. The teacher chose the approach and the student could only accept it, adapt to it and do what was required and expected of him. This way a student who wanted music as his profession acquired knowledge, a serious approach to work, and a motivation to succeed. No one mentioned enjoyment. The main goal was to succeed in concerts, and any enjoyment in the process, if at all, was just temporary as an outcome of success.

When I came to Israel that was the only way I knew and believed in. A few years of living in Israel finally started to crack that dogma. I first wondered why most people who learned music in Russia for a whole 7 years and more, didn’t play casually for pleasure; could it be that they didn’t draw any enjoyment in playing? That was when I began realizing perhaps we needed to put an emphasis on the love for music as well, and not just success, especially for students who didn’t intent to take on music as a profession.

Up until the 20th century piano was an important instrument playing a major role in people’s lives. Today’s reality has labeled the piano as a complex instrument that requires time and effort in a world where things are mostly instant and served on a platter of simplicity. People can spend countless hours on “fun” activities such as mobile games with little value. Instant effortless “fun” is being put on a pedestal for most kids. Teachers of course are in agreement that too much of such activity is not for the benefit of the child, and that it’s important for the child to do other enriching activities as well such as sport and hobbies and anything else that takes place in the “real world” and not the mobile one.

Of course not all kids are like that, and there are kids that practice their piano earnestly while also having fun in the process. These kids have motivation and strive to succeed and they usually also enjoy their family’s support, which is one of the key elements of success. There are kids who have talented piano teachers, with a lot of experience and knowledge and a love for music that reach exceptional results. But in many cases we have kids who are not motivated to learn, have little to no support from their parents and sometimes there isn’t even a piano at home. Learning a musical instrument without actually having the actual instrument at home is unheard of in Russia. Getting a kid such as this to be interested in music in just one weekly lesson is quite the challenge. Part of my student are like that, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. After the realization dawned on me that there must be a different approach for teaching piano, I decided to solve the issue my way – by composing.

First of all I needed to accept reality for what it is, but positively and with flexibility, and lots of patience. Teaching is giving after all. The only question was, how to teach so that the person is willing to receive what I had to offer. I felt the need to change the student’s attitude towards the repertoire and instrument, and his perception about the process of learning itself. I wanted to turn the piano from a foe to friend. And so my new approach started; the word fun suddenly became relevant. Teaching and learning while loving the way is the soul and essence of my approach.

When I composed the pieces, I placed an emphasis on several points:

  1. The music should give room for expressing emotions, have poetic atmosphere, vivid melodies, and a verity of moods and situations to experience through playing. Music gives an expression to our inner most feelings, it touches us and that’s what draws us to play.
  2. The text should be easy to read regardless of the difficulty level. That way music becomes accessible and inviting.
  3. Pieces should be easy to memorize and play by heart, and logically constructed to be clear and understandable. It makes time dedicated to study more efficient and provides freedom for the player and develops interpretation skills.
  4. Playing the pieces needs to be physically comfortable; pieces that may look and sound complex at first, turn out during study to be easier than imagined. It gives the confidence to approach tougher more challenging texts in the future.

With these in mind learning the piano becomes a source of pleasure rather than a chore. When my students like a piece – the study process becomes pleasant and gets good results. The parents also find it easier to support their child when they see his enjoinment and passion towards the piano.

Teachers who already utilize my method and use my music know what it’s all about, and their students love it. Overall I have more than 100 pieces for the piano. 89 of those pieces were published in 2011 as a series of 8 volumes titled “For the Piano with Love”. The distribution is by difficulty levels and different styles. The inner order of the pieces within each booklet is not arranged as a chronological process of study, but rather each piece stands on its own and designed to teach a certain technique or musical principle. A teacher can choose what he finds necessary or go according to what the student likes and wants to play. The first 6 volumes contain pieces specifically written with the intention to provide reading skills and can be studied by heart with more ease. Even children who have trouble reading musical notes and struggle with remembering can find suitable pieces. The titles of the songs were chosen by my students, and I included only the songs which got the best feedbacks.

An important part of the series I believe are the illustrations. Adding just the right illustration to go with each song adds flavor and stimulates the imagination. I could make these ideas happen thanks to the two amazing and talented artists I worked with – Ludmila Golobchik and Shraga Heller. Sometimes students even ask to play a song just because they like the drawing.

Looking back I realize that the difficulty I faced as a piano teacher ended up being a source for creating my music and was in reality a blessing in disguise. I see how much it taught me to work with students who had difficulties learning, had no piano at home, had no time or the commitment needed and for them I had to find ways to get results with as little practice as possible. I am truly grateful for all that experience.