I am professor of piano at LUCA – School of Arts, campus Lemmensinstituut, the college of music and performing arts of Leuven offering undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate programmes.
Each academic year I am available for my students from the 1st of September until the 30th of June. I generally give lesson to each student twice a week.
Each student is different and has different problems to solve. Therefore, I cannot go into the detail of what I do with a particular student. However, there are characteristics of my working method which stay valid for everybody and can be explained. If you are interested to know more, please go on reading this page.
My goal is to coach pianists who, after graduating, want and are able to autonomously develop as original artists.
To this end:
- I give the tools for acquiring instrumental mastery;
- I help to develop creativity based on a deep understanding of the compositions ;
- I point out the problems inherent to the art of interpretation and coach to solve them through artistic research;
- I transmit enthusiasm and passion for the piano playing which inspire, guide and support for the rest of one’s life.
Furthermore, I am convinced that one really knows or is able to do something only when s/he can explain it to the others. For this reason, I pay attention that my students be able to verbalise what they have learned. They must be capable to communicate their ideas to the different actors of the musical world and transmit this amazing cultural heritage to the future generations.
To master the piano means to be able to produce exactly the sound one wants. This mastery can be acquired by simultaneously training the hearing and the body. The ears must recognise the minutest differences between the sounds which different actions on the instruments produce. The body must learn how to act on the instrument in order to obtain the sounds the ears imagine.
My first task consists in teaching how to use the body in order to develop a rich sound palette. As students enlarge the variety of colours there are able to produce, I make them focus on the sound itself. Many students have unfortunately the habit to listen only to the beginning of each sound. I teach them how to listen to the entirety of each sound, from the attack to its very end. Furthermore, I explain how to listen to each sound in relation with the following ones and with those played simultaneously.
In this way students learn how to play a succession of sounds as a ‘line’ and how to explore the richness of the combinations of simultaneous sounds. During this work on listening, I continue to refine the bodily aspects of the students’ piano playing. The movements I teach gradually become so subtle that their correct performance cannot be dissociated from a more than attentive way of listening. This learning process happens during the study of the piano repertoire. I pay attention to broach all representative composers. The order depends on the specific needs of each student.
At the end, the students should possess a piano technique based on the use of the natural weight of the arm, on the economy of the movements and on the relaxation. In this way they are able to produce a rich variety of sound colours. At the same time, they stay so deeply focused on the sound they produce that the body automatically produces the wished colours.
Understanding of musical works and creativity
I share the view following which a musical work is constituted by the composer’s instructions and the performance conventions the composer takes as granted. As musicians know, musical signs cannot exhaustively instruct the performer about the realisation of all sound aspects. Some of these are underdetermined by the notation. If pitch is a sound parameter which is generally fully determined by musical signs, sound intensity is underdetermined. For example, the only prescription the dynamic indication f provides beyond controversy is not to play as softly or as loudly as possible (since f is not ff). Beyond this, every performer knows that the ways of playing forte are infinite. The dynamic f is contingent upon the musical context in which it is found, the style of the composition, the kind of instrument for which it was written, and so on. Even though the range of possible realisations can sometimes seem quite narrow, infinite variation is still possible within this range. All aspects of a musical work underdetermined by the score belong therefore to the field in which performers are free to express their creativity, a field I like to call the „performer‟s creative space‟.
My main task when broaching with students a musical work is to teach them how to define the boundaries of the performer’s creative space of that work. To this end, I help them to deeply understand a composition and I stir them to apply knowledge acquired in other courses (music analysis, history of music, etc.). Once their ‘creative space’ has been defined, I guide them in the making of a coherent, original and engaging performance which, at same time, respects the musical text.
Research is a word which still sounds strange to many artists. However to hold to the old view following which an artist should not bother with such kind of matters means to escape reality. Conservatoires all over Europe are academicizing, doctoral degrees are more and more required from artists in order to teach, artistic researcher already became a profession in its own right. In a world with already so few opportunities for classical musicians, to avoid research could mean to lose precious job opportunities.
Furthermore a deep understanding of a musical work as well as the conception of an original interpretation are often not without problems. Generally I offer solutions to the students. However, sometimes it is better for the students to undertake a personal artistic research project in order to answer their questions. Strong of my experience in the field, I guide their projects which often result not only in an enhanced performance practice but also in their bachelor or master thesis.
Enthusiasm and passion
Nowadays life is very hard for young musicians. Graduated pianists directly face a lack of job opportunities. Two essential conditions to do not give up are enthusiasm and passion for the piano playing. I find very important to reinforce these two feelings in the students. I do not have a method for this. I just give lesson with a lot of enthusiasm and passion and I have noticed that they are contagious. Furthermore I play a lot during the lessons in order to give to the students a precise goal. I also help the students in understanding which career suits helm the most (soloist, chamber musician, accompanist, coach for singers, artistic researcher, teacher, etc.) or I try to discover with them unexplored paths.
Nowadays to be an excellent pianist is not sufficient any more. In the professional life, pianists must continuously verbalise their ideas: as chamber musicians or accompanists in order to rehearse efficiently, as soloists in order to present their projects to concert organisers or to guide listeners, as teachers in order to transmit their know-how to the new generations.
During my lessons, I continuously stir students to verbalise their thoughts. I help them to define precisely the pianistic and musical problems they encounter as well as the possible solutions. Furthermore I ask them to verbalise their musical ideas by means of adjectives and similitudes.