- Pierre Tran
What is your first memory of the piano?
My first memory of the piano is from my childhood. Twice a week, my auntie used to teach Chinese songs to small pupils. I liked to join the group after school whenever I could. I still remember when she was at the piano, I was very much impressed with her small hands caressing the keyboard without any effort and without any harshness. Unfortunately the piano was very bad, always out of tune. However these magical moments remained deeply laid in my mind and somehow they have shaped my future both as a musician and as a teacher.
Who or what inspired you to start teaching?
As I said, my love for teaching was subconsciously dictated by my auntie. She was an outstanding teacher, a very patient and dedicated one, as she was also to me as a child. I have never seen her scolding children. Her voice always remained calm. Her manners were soft and gentle under any circumstances. That’s simply amazing! Later, in the course of my own life, I became a very young father. This first fatherhood, not only awoke a great deal of responsibilities towards my son, but at the same time raised many questions about education at large. So, teaching became second nature for me. At the age of 23, when my strong desire to transmit any valuable knowledge was finally fulfilled with music, I knew for certain how my life would be, whatever obstacles I might find ahead.
Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?
Thibaut Sanrame (1932 – 2001), concert pianist and one of the closest Scaramuzza’s disciples (see below), was the most remarkable piano teacher I experienced as a student. As a young adult, I spent ten years studying under his guidance (1979 -1988). Thibaut Sanrame was the leading proponent in France of a new teaching method, radically different from the mainstream curriculum. His students came from many European countries as he spoke German, Italian, French and Spanish (Germany being his third country of adoption – after France, and Argentina, his place of birth). Most of them, as young professionals, were looking to acquire a special tonal quality unseen elsewhere. My last teacher’s musical vision has changed my life from within. I became much more aware of myself in every aspect of playing piano. I discovered the unity of a human being where, for example, it is faulty to separate the so-called technical work from the musical one. From 1979 onwards, I stopped playing scales or any kind of technical exercises devoid of music. Today, I prefer to teach how to tackle any specific technical issue related to an ongoing situation which takes into account, not only the spirit of the composer or the score studied but, more importantly, the real features of the student sitting beside me.
Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?
Your question is appealing for me because I met all of my musical requirements basically from only one teacher and one School of Piano, the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ applied to piano. So, as you can guess, I am not a mixture of different influences which sometimes garner several antagonist ways of playing piano coming, historically-speaking, from French, German or Russian Schools…, despite having scrutinised many of them. Definitely Maestro Vincenzo Scaramuzza (1885-1968) was the most significant genius teacher I came to know when, more than thirty years ago, I decided to become a teacher myself. Scaramuzza trained numerous internationally renowned pianists in Argentina, such as Martha Argerich, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Enrique Barenboïm, and Fausto Zadra (who set up a school based on Scaramuzza’s research in Lausanne, Switzerland, the ‘Fondation CIEM-Mozart’, now closed, and the ‘Vincenzo Scaramuzza International Piano Competition’ in Crotone).
Scaramuzza’s extraordinary teaching method remains the main influence in my own way of thinking and of teaching piano. I wrote a book in 2009 titled (in French): ‘le Moi intime du Piano’ (Publisher: Van de Velde) partly focused on his life and on his stunning achievements. My friend, Rossana Cosentino, who lives in Scaramazza’s hometown in Italy, also wrote a small article dedicated to her grand uncle (see http://www.art-piano.com).
Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?
You know, I have had so many memorable situations in my life as a piano teacher, it would be unfair to only pinpoint one! A teacher should live memorable teaching experiences at every lesson, shouldn’t he? For me, the most musical significant experience happens when both teacher and student are mentally and emotionally ONE, both feeling the joy of learning and the joy of discovering the hidden meaning of music….whenever it occurs. On the other hand, I have kept in my mind most of the students I have taught, exactly from the starting point of my career, and perhaps I am also somewhere in their memory. Recently, I received an unexpected email from a student I had not seen in a long time. We immediately started to chat again as if we had never stopped meeting each other: the friendly and musical link was not broken. A very moving situation indeed!
What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?
To make them relaxed and confident. Usually they arrive at their lesson full of stress and tensions. Most of the time they finish their lesson in quite a different mood. This gives me a great satisfaction! I like to teach adults because there is always a kind of freedom in the air during a lesson tailored to an amateur who is ‘just’ fond of music. There is no binding academic syllabus. Thus, we can carry on a very good research on how to be a better musician, whatever the level involved.
What do you expect from your students?
I have no other expectations from my students but to be happy when playing music. Music at its highest goal is linked to ‘self discovery’. Only ‘self discovery’ can bring true happiness to your life. Put another way, I would say the more you are on the path of being a true pianist, the more you need to know about yourself. Then, by reversing the process, the closer you are to the music. Your musical thoughts and feelings are more profound. You can understand Beethoven more accurately when he ‘speaks’ of philosophy during his last sonatas, like in the Arietta from the Opus 111.
What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?
Please, do not mix up exams or competitions with festivals. I love festivals! There are no better ways for sharing music at large scale. Hence, festivals help classical music to be widespread, not to be confined to enclosed social spaces. I can still remember stories related to the very well known ‘La Roque d’Antheron Festival’ at its debut, at that time when you could move freely from one recital to another, and when most of the artists were easy to reach, mainly because they all shared a simple life inside the same compound. Nobody can forget Maria Joao Pires, when she surprisingly showed up with all of her children and stayed in a caravan! Unfortunately things are not so entertaining nowadays!
On the other hand, I wonder whether exams and competitions are so helpful in terms of inner musical growth. I strongly believe that once playing music has become a social target, it loses its true value. Music, as a noble activity, must remain an unspoiled free educational goal for all of us, even if you are studying at a Conservatoire where examinations are simply unavoidable. Of course, I do not discourage any of my own students to take any exam, when it is needed or simply desired. Hence, part of my work is to make several of them ready for competing at an international standard.
What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?
I do not make much difference between beginners and advanced students. Both of them are treated absolutely equally. As I said, the motto of my school is: ‘the love of music’. I agree with Heinrich Neuhaus, the famous Russian teacher, when he stated that it is a hard job to teach beginners because you must be very clear at your first steps’ guidance. Your student’s future somehow is in your hands! Once he (or she) has been misguided, it can be difficult to correct him (or her). On the other hand, according to my daily experience as a piano teacher, I often need to remind advanced students of the basic laws applied to playing piano because it is so easy to get lost in the midst of overwhelming emotions or even worse, of meaningless virtuosity. So, can you see much difference between of the two?
What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?
I have never encountered the so called ‘worst aspects of the job’. When you are, like my auntie, fully dedicated to your job, you can spend endless time in searching and in improving yourself without any bad feelings, can’t you?
What is your favourite music to teach? To play?
I like to teach ‘singing music’ like Maestro Scaramuzza did. You know, he taught the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ to all of his students over sixty years! What I like the most is to underline the hidden singing lines in all music. We can still find so many everywhere unnoticed, especially in Mozart’s Sonatas.
I play most of the well-known composers from Couperin to Debussy, and less well-known ones like Komitas, Gurdjieff for example. I also like to discover new pieces. So I do a lot of sight reading and at the same time I am still trying to explore news ideas on music scores I have been playing for decades. It is endless and very inspiring work…
Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?
One may feel uneasy with this question. However, I think that your students have the right to learn more about you and to understand where you want them to go. From my point of view, Grigory Sokolov is probably the most incredible pianist in the world. He is able to underline hidden singing lines in such a colourful way that your musical experience becomes a unique one.
Obviously, there are many great piano teachers in the world. For me, one thing matters: have you made your own path from a thorough practice which allows you to be an efficient teacher?
Personally, I have been pushed to go beyond one’s own limitations where new ideas may rise up. No question must remain unchallenged for the sake of music. For this purpose, I have introduced a new postural sitting position at the piano, using a unique ergonomic cushion, if desired, along with the ‘revolutionary’ application of ‘the indirect weight’ which completely eliminates the habit of striking the keyboard. The use of the pedals was reconsidered. All these new techniques may enlighten your musical thoughts and ultimately may lead you to the quest of how to produce ‘organic sounds’ as applied to music (see document at http://www.art-piano.com).
The Art of the Piano, directed by Pierre Tran, offers one-to-one tuition, workshops for the piano and masterclasses. Teaching beginners and training professionals. A new way of learning the piano, friendly and focused on a thorough understanding of music. Bilingual teacher (French/English).
The Art of the Piano has an expanding customer base, throughout many European countries, including the UK.
The company is run by Pierre Tran who has been involved in the piano tuition business for many years. Pierre Tran is well trained to run the school, having previously worked for L’Art du Piano.
An article about Pierre Tran in Petersfield Life magazine