Today a tip of the hat to a much-beleaguered and frequently unacknowledged species: the piano teacher. All the great pianists had one-as did the not so great… Do you, for example, remember the name of YOUR first piano teacher?
In the case of Duke Ellington, it was not a name one could easily forget. She was a certain Mrs. Clinkscales, and Ellington always gave her credit for her persistence.
“Because of my enthusiasm for playing ball and running and racing through the street, I missed more lessons than I took,” wrote Ellington. “When she had her piano recital with all her pupils, I was the only one who could not play his part. So Mrs. Clinkscales had to play the treble, and I just played the umpy-dump bottom! The umpy-dump bottom, was, of course, the foundation and understanding of that part of piano-playing I later learned to like.”
The avant-garde American composer Morton Feldman immortalized the name of HIS piano teacher in an elegiac chamber piece titled “Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety.”
This music was premiered in France on today’s date in 1970. Steeped in the great Russian tradition, Madame Maurina Press said she had taught the children of the Czar and knew the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. She started teaching Morton Feldman when he was twelve, and his tribute to her is scored for 12 instruments-with the piano conspicuous by its absence!
Martha (Marti) Frantz
The Music Academy
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Rockford, Illinois 61104
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