Jurassic Toccata

a piano lesson in Taipei

My Photo
Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Thursday, October 03, 2002

A Piano Lesson in Taipei

by Rolf-Peter Wille


Place: Taipei
Persons: 1. Prof. Wei Le-Fu (alias W); 2. my student
Piece: Prokofiev Toccata

Sure enough, my student is playing the toccata like a machine - a somewhat malfunctioning one though.


"Come on! Don't be a machine! This is our perception of a machine - a humanized machine. It's a little monster, that's becoming a huge monster." I am showing an intimidating gesture, frozen in evil intentions, ready to jump at my poor victim.

"Try this! Try to intimidate me!" The student, somewhat intimidated by my gesture, tries very hard. (O, o, - I'm not intimidated at all by this.)

"Come on, look into my eyes, make me scared." I am demonstrating it.

Student (laughs): "Teacher, I cannot do that..."

Gesture transmission: Failure. The computer you dialed is not answering.
Lesson learned: You don't intimidate your superiors in Taiwan.
Person improved: Wei Le-Fu (alias me)


"Have you ever tried to intimidate anybody?"

"I don't know..."

"Have you ever done anything evil?"

Student (laughs): "No." (O, o, this was a real stupid question. Taiwanese students never do anything evil. He's looking through me: I'll probably report him to his parents if he tells me.)


"Have you seen a cat play with a mouse?"

Student (trying to remember): "No..." (Wow, this is a very diligent student; probaby never seen a cat or mouse in his life. If he answered "yes" I might probably think that he is fooling around instead of studying hard.)

"Have you seen Jurassic Park?" I finally ask, somewhat reluctantly, of course.

"Yes." (At least - I've got something. How come, this "garbage" is not taboo? How come, he saw dinosaurs but no cats?)

"Do you remember the scene, where the two velociraptors hunt down the kids?"

"Yes." (The student is becoming gradually more secure.)

"Be a velociraptor. The audience is your prey." I demonstrate. The student becomes intrigued with this image.

I explain further: "They are always hunting in two, from two sides. Your right hand is one raptor, your left hand the other raptor." (We are working on the second page, starting m.25).

"Pretend that you have two raptor claws approaching the victim from two sides." Finally: Results! My image has worked. All of a sudden the projection is in focus. I am almost intimidated listening and watching. Even the "malfunctioning" effect has miracuously disappeared.


Image Gesture transmission: accomplished!
Lesson learned: Prokofiev Toccata is a velociraptor
Person enriched: Steven Spielberg

Hold the champagne...

Wait until you hear that student with his next piece. You have to start all over again. Wait until five years, wait until two hundred years...


Because the guy with the fantasic images, gestures, and creative ideas is always one person: Me. I am just dumping these onto my victim (the student) instead of drawing them out from him (this is called "the garbage can" teaching method). Anyway, where did I pick up all these fantastic things. My teachers didn't tell me (let's hope they are not reading this...)

Why do I not reveal my secret path to observing the character of the music. Sure enough I have to employ plenty of gestures and images, but my approach has to start from a completely different angle. The first question would have to be: "What do you feel is the character of this piece (passage)? (Only this way I can know what's in the mind of my student.) What makes you think so? Which elements in the music convey that particular character? Which other pieces (passages) have a related character?"

Only AFTER the observation has resulted in a subconscious as well as conscious music/character image should I ask which personal gestures and experiences relate to this image and only at that point should I employ my own gestures. At this point the student would be able to imitate them together with their musical essence and also understand how I myself obtained those gestures.

Only trough this approach I could may be, JUST MAY BE, get longer lasting results (instead of short term dramatic effects) and hope, JUST HOPE, that the student one day might find a path to artistic independence.

back to home