Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fear Elise

"I just don't teach 'Für Elise'," my long-time good friend and fellow piano teacher confessed over lunch. I picked around in my salad and made a similar confession. "Yes, I used to avoid it as well." My memory went back to the "salad days" of teaching, when I would make such pronouncements. I thought about the reasons for avoiding one of the most unavoidable pieces in the whole piano repertoire. Here they are, along with my updated understanding:

1. So overdone!  As a young teacher fresh out of grad school, I had had recent exposure to much contemporary music. Like many young musicians, I thought it was ingenious, rebellious, and a harbinger of the future of music. I wanted to be in the avant-garde of the avant-garde, not continuing musty traditions.

Update: Much of the music I was heralding as the wave of the future never gets played any more. Für Elise still has wide-spread appeal. Don't get me wrong - I still teach modern music. I also teach pieces that are considered staples in the repertoire.

2. It rarely gets played as well as it should be played.  I had such high standards for how I thought this piece should be performed that I have to laugh about them now. As musty as I thought it was, it was also somehow sacred.

Update: One of my current sayings about my profession is that I hear wrong notes for a living. I do. I hear incorrect rhythms. I do. And awkward pedaling and limited dynamics and, well, the list goes on. However, I am a teacher. It is my job to help students avoid and weed out errors. I do that. I do. Why not do that with a piece the student loves?

3. It is SO repetitive. Dee-dah-dee-dah-dee-dah - you get the idea. That one half step, over and over and over and over. Come on, students, find something with more variety!