If I could choose any work to be available in translation, it would be to bring Monique Deschaussées into English.  Her books aren’t available in the English-speaking world (and they’re mostly out of print in the original).  Even on the French web it’s nearly impossible to find anything about her.

She is (was?) a French-speaking pianist who, having started an international career as a soloist, chose to become a professor after leading a masterclass and realizing her true vocation was teaching.

Now, making this kind of distinct choice after studying with Cortot and Fischer is the sort of thing that was unexpected and which maybe needed a kind of defense.

A side effect of this, I gather, was that it pushed her to elucidate what she meant by words like “pedagogy” and “technique.”

In her books, Monique Deschaussées sees musical artistry in an expansive way.  For her, the relationships between the musician, instrument, and composer speak to something essential in the human condition.  She sees transcendence as possible in every moment, in every sound, in every vibration.

She talks about being alive to everything happening in her students – the way someone approaches the keys or holds a dotted note speaks volumes to her.  A teacher is there to awaken students to this within themselves so that they might then awaken it in their audiences.

I read Musique et Spirtualité, Erik Pigani’s book of interviews with her, on New Year’s Day while the snow kept us happily cocooned inside.

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If you read French, pick this one up first.  You can also read another blog post about her views of piano technique here.

If you don’t, my translations are rough, imprecise, and lack poetry.  But I’m offering a few snippets here:

“Being a teacher requires uncommon psychological qualities – a capacity to receive the other, a deep knowledge of people, an ability to adapt.  It’s not enough to sit at the piano and say, “Look at how I do it.”  That’s about projection or imitation, not pedagogy.  Students take piano lessons to learn what they don’t know; they need us to guide them and explain why they are encountering difficulties.  That’s why the teacher is there – to eliminate those difficulties so that the student is freed.  Being a teacher also requires the ability to give of oneself with love, to make human contact, as it’s not enough to just teach a student how to play an instrument.  You have to help them to realize who they are, what their purpose is, how to become adults… And in addition to everything I’ve outlined here, which is important in undergirding true teachers, there are areas of knowledge that need years of study in the humanities, philosophy, and spirituality.  A great teacher never stops searching, first for the self, and then on behalf of others…”  (pp. 77-78)
 
“Pedagogy is an important part of my life, but it isn’t my entire life.  I dislike those who invest their identities in their students; as soon as those students move on, these teachers die on the inside.  Parents know their children will leave one day to make their own lives.  Nothing is more natural.  So students should be helped, but not possessed by the teacher.  Students shouldn’t feel bound, either; young people need freedom above all else.  All artists – all people – have the desire to feel free…”  (p. 98)
 
“Competition never made anyone grow, and even less so in music.  I won’t go as far as to say with Charles Ives that “prizes are the symbols of mediocrity,” but we ought to recognize there’s some truth in that.  Personally, I believe it is possible to achieve a high level, both technically and artistically, without taking on prejudice against others and wanting to crush them.  Coming together toward a common goal seems much more advantageous to me.  My students understand that the word “competition” has no place in my studio.”  (pp. 99-100)
 
“An expansive technique can certainly facilitate interpretation in that it liberates the artist from physical limitations…but if instrumentalists are fascinated by power and motivated by limitless abilities, they can find themselves led by it, and thus lose sight of the ultimate expressiveness of art.  They are heading toward a stadium, not a concert hall…”  (p. 56)
 

I’m reading La musique et la vie right now, and someday I’ll find a copy of Par la musique, deviens qui tu es.  More to follow…

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