Top critical review
A Perfectly Wrong Book?
April 9, 2010
Well I must say I don't agree with the other reviewers at all. I'm a product of reasonably intense musical training and now a piano teacher (up to college age students). I read this book on the recommendation of a colleague of mine but ultimately I found it deeply dissatisfying. First of all, Mr. Westney's descriptions of harsh, belittling "traditional" teachers recall nothing I experienced, nor anyone else I know. Mr. Westney takes several chapters setting up these straw men which he will then knock down with his approach. Sometimes his examples just don't make sense -- he quotes extensively a student of Kullak and Taussig (from 19th century, not exactly timely) who feels intimidated by her teacher's demonstration because her own playing paled in comparison. (Incidentally you can find similar feelings of inferiority from Chopin's pupils -- all with the deepest respect and devotion to the master.) In Mr. Westney's example, the student preferred harsh criticism without examples played at the piano so she, ummm, didn't have to hear just how far she had to go??
His description of teaching is so over-simplified, I started to wonder if Mr. Westney assumes all students (as well as teachers) are alike. A successful teaching approach adapts to the multi-faceted needs and personalities of the students: some are perfectionists, some try hard but don't quite make it, and we shouldn't ignore that, yes, some are lazy. But in Mr. Westney's eyes, everyone is a winner and if they don't go on to brilliant musical careers it must be their teacher's fault.
The book improves tremendously at the discussion of the master class, which I agree in its typical format has deep flaws and really exists more for the audience than the student in the hot seat. And, yes, the "master" is "on" more than the student, but that's pretty obvious to anybody who's participated in one. I don't entirely agree on his solution, but I think it's a good start and something music conservatories should consider.
Ultimately I think the audience for Mr. Westney's book is adults returning to the piano, looking to free themselves and make music. But please -- skim over the first half of the book, lest you be tempted to play the victim and groan about how your musical creativity was stifled by teachers with high standards.