Thursday, March 5, 2009

MSU Piano Pedagogy Masterclasses at the Cornerstone School

On February 26th I accompanied four students from the Piano Pedagogy program at Michigan State University to the Cornerstone School Nevada campus in Detroit Michigan. The Cornerstone Schools are private schools in urban Detroit with flourishing academic and arts instruction under the guidance of passionate and skilled teachers, and through the support of business leaders and private and corporate donors in the Detroit metropolitan area. Cornerstone is certainly an inspirational model and a beacon of hope in a part of our country that desperately needs this. Please see their website:

A flourishing class piano program exists at Cornerstone, taught by Sarah Boyd and by Marina Ionescu while Sarah is on maternity leave. Marina is a graduate of the piano pedagogy program at Michigan State University. Sarah and Marina have done an exceptional job of teaching technical fundamentals, musicianship, and artistic sensitivity to each of their students. My piano pedagogy students tried to add an additional level of finish and polish to some of their performances through a series of masterclasses for students in 6th, 7th and 8th grade piano. Please see the following video for a few highlights:

This is my second time taking my students to Cornerstone, and I cherish this opportunity for them to practice the art of giving a masterclass that is in many ways an entirely different skill than teaching a private lesson. In meetings that preceded our visit, we discussed the ways that skillful masterclass teaching is unique, including limiting the discussion to large musical principles, engaging students, teachers and observers in the audience while at the same time addressing the needs of the performer, and providing the performer with an opportunity to immediately find inspiration in on-the-spot improvement in what can be a stressful and high-stakes experience.

What are your experiences with masterclass teaching? What are some of the characteristics of a truly great masterclass?