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Master Classes

with Barbara Nissman

Master Class: Steinway Society,

West Valley College, California


Barbara Nissman's Master Class


The Master Piano class on Friday night, led by internationally acclaimed pianist Barbara Nissman, was an engaging lesson for all who attended. It was a lesson in the traditional class sense, but for those who never could hope to play, it was an exercise in listening, examining and responding to the miracles of creative masterpieces. 


There are children as young as six, and also college age, who have sacrificed much time effort and patience to become both technically and emotionally prepared for the art of performing. Future audiences will hail their accomplishments - and those who came Friday night, can say they were there to hear the young masters when they were still finding their own way. 


The educational opportunity of a master class with Barbara Nissman, is a privilege because it ties one's own current musical training into the tapestry of music history. The event poster for Barbara's performances quotes a New York critic describing her as, "One of the last pianists in the grand Romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubinstein." A review of her background from the web reveals an extensive star studded history - almost intimidating. But her presence as an artist as well as a teacher dispels any doubts about her approachability. 


Barbara is not the kind of master teacher who points the direction outward, with a form to follow from musical composition alone. She teaches students with an intuitive understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses. The talents she is herself endowed with, are not the only talents she sees or encourages in her students. She models a lesson according to students' current needs, rather than from her own ego. This approach is also shared generously with the audience, and it's refreshing. Barbara attracts us to understand what can be learned by listening- by looking at the bigger picture, and to make clear decisions about each note based on that perspective. 


Smiling radiantly while asking tough questions, Barbara wants to know from both the player and the listener; where our attention is. Is it on the keys, the historically based composition, the future, or the form? Is it on perfecting the technical or searching within to meld our own experience of playing and listening with some external reality. She engages us to examine all the details, but play and listen to the whole that is ever so much more than the sum of their parts.


More insight into her methods can be found in her book entitled, "Bartok and the Piano" which looks as if it should be required reading for serious pianists. Its mind blowing detail can also be a model for anyone interested in finding the center of their own artistic appreciation.


From our small town of Saratoga to Barbara Nissman, we salute your accomplishments, and thank you for visiting West Valley College!


West Valley Norseman  2/2005

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