Friday, April 23, 2010

Music From Uranus?? I Remember the Pain...

George E. MacNabb - yes, George MacNabb - oh, you say that the name is not familiar?
Quite simply, he was one of the countless heroes whom the world in general never gets to know.
He was one of the priceless gifts; namely, a teacher bearing the greatness of unconditional dedication, a deep knowledge of his art, and a possessor of illimitable empathy and love for those who were the fortunate; that is, his students.
Once each week, at the Eastman School, a group of us would troop into his den to undergo the Hell of acquiring some expertise in sight reading, a course about as popular as Dengue Fever.
Picture the room - there were two grand pianos, side by side, with two of us assigned to each piano. The room was rather large, with some pictures of great composers of the past, as I recall, on the walls.
Picture George E. MacNabb - a man of average height, always immaculately attired in a suit of dark or medium color. A head of smooth graying hair, and a voice that never rose above mezzo-forte. His whole being was that of sophistication and a polite, but deeply assuring direction of purpose.
One of his tenets in sight reading which was impenetrable was, and he actually said more than once, "it is not of importance as to whether the music you are playing sounds as if it came from the planet Uranus - DO NOT STOP! NEVER STOP! KEEP YOUR EYES MOVING TO THE RIGHT! KEEP ON PLAYING UNTIL YOU HAVE RECOVERED YOUR SITUATION!
All this said quietly.
I found out quickly what happened if I, or any of the other three, stopped...
A rather sharp jolt in the small of the back, whether it was a fist, a knee, or an elbow - I cannot tell you, as I never looked back, even for a millisecond - that was the price of stopping.
I can assure you that my sight reading ability was geometrically improved because of this tactic from a gentle, truly quiet, wonderfully urbane gentleman whom I was with for that year.
I once heard him play, with another teacher named Harry Watts, the Mozart Concerto in "E" flat for two pianos and orchestra, with the Rochester Philharmonic. He played really well, and I have always contained a solid respect (and just a shard of fear!) for this unassuming Hero, who I am sure remained and remains in the memories of those fortunate enough to have crossed his path.

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