Winter, 20001 Editorial

Master Classes:


Donald McLeod.  Donald Shaw Ramsey.  John A. Maclellan.  Willie Ross.   Franz Schubert.  Ludwig von Beethoven.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Felix Mendelssohn.


What do all of these names have in common?  Some hints:  they are not all Scottish, they are not all pipers; they are not all Gold Medal Winners.  They are not all alive!


They are well-known and respected composers and players.  They are also teachers.  Great teachers.   And in common with all great music professionals they found it difficult to meet the demand for instruction from the young, the not so young, the dedicated but struggling; even the “rising stars”.


The group listed above is drawn from two worlds:  piping and classical music.  Raise your hand if you like or know anything about classical music.  Okay, that’s two of us.  I’m a huge fan of classical music, having come to it late by way of my son’s violin and piano lessons from highly qualified, highly skilled, professional musicians who make their living by performing and, more importantly, by teaching.


Teaching: – the ability to pass on to others what has been learned both from instructors and from experience.  It is primarily the ability to communicate.  Great players do not necessarily make great teachers, but we can all learn from the great players by just listening to them and trying to integrate their skills into our own efforts.


The problem, in both piping and classical music (and in other musical disciplines as well), is the accessibility of the good teachers.  One person can have only so many students. One response to this has been the continuation and initiation of many Summer Schools, some of which have been offered for years and provide instructors from the highest levels.  Competition, with its performance adjudication sheet for each competitor, provides many students with a brief but more-or-less regular assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.  Perhaps, however, we can borrow a sheet from the pages of classical music and consider another instructional possibility:  the Master Class.


Master classes are common in classical music.  Basically, it is an “informal” but very intense adjudication, one-on-one, of a performance.   It is not a competition.  A participant selects a piece or pieces for adjudication, performs it or them, and then receives from the instructor a detailed verbal lesson on what to do to improve.  The student may be asked to play portions of the piece again.  The instructor may demonstrate.  Whatever.  In my experience, these classes usually run for about half an hour per student at a cost of $25.00 or so for the student, plus $10.00 each for observers – including parents.  The $10.00 observer fee is paid only once (for the day) and this money goes to the “sponsor”, the $25.00 goes to the Master Class instructor.  Ten to twelve students can be adjudicated over a day.


Occasional Master Classes by the masters in our midst would be, well, masterful.

Rorri McBlane
Editor, B.C. Pipers Association Communications