Introduction by Kathleen Murray
y friend and former classmate at Northwestern University, Bruce Berr, suggested the question for this column because he wanted to share with all of us the very special story of his sixth grade teacher, Frank Murphy. When I posed the question to Marcia Bosits, one of the faculty with whom Bruce and I had worked at Northwestern, she immediately thought of her first college music theory professor, Edward Klass. Suddenly it felt odd to me that the person I would point to as being most influential in my career was actually a piano teacher. As I thought about it, however, I realized that the fact that he taught piano was secondary; what was most influential was the sort of person he was and how that affected his every interaction with students and colleagues. As you can see from my bio, I did my undergraduate work at Illinois Wesleyan University, a small school in central Illinois which I happened upon in my not-very-thorough college search. It turned out to be one of the best "accidents" of my life. There were lots of good things about my time at IWU (I have to be careful not to say too much lest I appear disloyal to my current employer!), but by far, the best thing was my relationship with my piano teacher, Dwight Drexler.
I cannot explain this relationship without giving you some idea of my first impression of Dr. Drexler. (By the way, I am firmly in the grips of middle age and he is still Dr. Drexler.) I had never had a male piano teacher; in fact, having spent the first twelve years of my education in Catholic schools, I rarely had a male teacher for any subject. And Dr. Drexler is a huge man. I was scared to death-for about the first three minutes of our work together. He set very high standards, but I knew from the beginning that he believed in my ability to achieve those standards. It was his goal to make the most complicated things as simple as possible, reminding me often that all one had to do to play the piano well was "play the right notes, at the right time, in the right way." There was tremendous energy in his teaching. He could be boisterous and loud, dancing or marching, sometimes even stomping around his studio to drive home a musical point, but there always remained an incredible gentleness and calm about him. By the end of my four undergraduate years, I knew I had had a very special experience, and I have become increasingly aware of the significance of that experience in the twenty-three years since. I hope I carry with me some little piece of the wisdom Dr. Drexler shared with his students every day.
Read on to learn about the influence of Edward Klass and Frank Murphy on the teaching careers of two of their former students.
Article by Marcia Bosits
or anyone who has enjoyed even modest success as a teacher, it is impossible to identify just one individual as the primary influence on one's career. Our choice of profession, attitudes toward teaching, and appreciation of the student as learner are all shaped by our own aptitudes and the impressions we derived from teachers whose paths we were fortunate enough to cross. Yet, when this question was posed to me, one name immediately came to mind. My first college professor in music theory, Edward Klass, undoubtedly provided the inspiration I needed to pursue a career as a music teacher. To understand his impact, you need to know a little of my background.
I entered a small liberal arts college with the hopes of continuing my studies as a pianist-but also to complete a degree in political science so I could attend law school. When the opportunity to supplement my piano lessons with a music theory class presented itself, I couldn't resist. I wasn't certain that I belonged with the other music majors, but I was determined to give it my best effort. It was Professor Klass who walked into our classroom that first morning and changed my future. He was young, but a bit intimidating with his deep voice, significant demands, and the high expectation that we would all meet each of those demands. Yet, there was something else he brought that made the entire musical process truly "mesmerizing."
It isn't that I was completely ignorant about the field of music theory. I had completed many years of rather intense piano study, which included theory instruction with exams and evaluation. I thought my fingers and ears were reasonably well developed. But Professor Klass made the study of music a multi-dimensional experience. We didn't just listen-we devoured the scores we studied. Identification of what was for us a new chord became the basis for a journey that involved the commitment of students' eyes, brain, ears, voice and fingers. Unless we could translate what we heard and saw by identifying the elements used, explaining them to another student, singing the musical lines, transposing them on our own instruments, and relating to their artistic and historic significance, Professor Klass wasn't happy. Not only was he not happy, but he was able to elicit in us the sense of being dissatisfied until all aspects of the music were understood and appreciated. This was a remarkable feat under any circumstances, but especially within the context of a required course that met daily at 8 a.m. for two years!
Professor Klass began the day with sight-singing. No musical genre or style was exempt from our often-agonizing attempts to vocalize each nuance intended by the composer. Listening to LPs came next and, at a volume level that sometimes brought complaints from neighboring classes, we were encouraged not only to hear with our ears, but almost to "inhale" the glories of each piece which he presented. Time at the keyboard followed, and our goal was to recreate, transpose, reduce or improvise upon the harmonies we had heard. This activity was mandatory for all students regardless of their respective major instruments. Singers and other instrumentalists struggled with the keyboard competency-just as we pianists did with the required vocal skills. Yet Professor Klass provided a generous mix of encouragement, assistance, and tough grading policies that kept us all on track. Dictation and written exercises, briefly explained and assigned for the next day, ended our session.
What was it about Professor Klass' teaching that most influenced
me? Although his personality was not particularly like mine
and I ended up teaching piano rather than theory, I find myself
imitating him in the best possible sense of that word. Music to
him was an all-consuming passion and we, his students, could feel
that in every activity he taught. Professor Klass was an outstanding
pianist, but music was more to him than mastery of a particular
instrument. He made me want to know music as an art form that
stimulates all of the senses. There was something so intimate
and personal and yet universal about the experiences he gave to
us. His assumptions that music was illuminating and integral to
life became my assumptions, and I chose a path that allowed me
to continue the process of musical discovery. Who could resist
the temptation to try to lead others on the magical journey begun
by Professor Klass?
MARCIA BOSITS is a member of the piano faculty at Northwestern University where she directs the Piano Pedagogy Program. A recognized expert in the fields of pedagogy and performance, she gives seminars and master classes throughout the United States, Canada and the Far East. She remains active as an author, an adjudicator for state and national piano competitions, and a chamber musician.