Michael Shinn, Head of Keyboard Studies at the Juilliard School in New York, accompanied by his wife, music keyboard skills faculty member and pianist, Jessica Chow Shinn, made an impressive duo as they taught and played together during the visit.
The itinerary included a masterclass with some of NAIS Pudong’s up-and-coming young pianists, from Year 1 to Year3, who impressed their special guest teachers with not only their ability, but their enthusiasm as well. The students had the opportunity to gain tips from these seasoned performers and teachers, individually working at the grand piano and working in a small group as well. Describing the students Michael says, “They were adorable! They played well, they responded brilliantly!” During the course of the masterclass, the students were introduced to techniques such as ghosting, to assist them to play pieces which require the pianist to play with both hands, but producing different levels of sound from each end of the keyboard.
Our Year 7-9 students provided a rapt audience for a pre-lunch mini concert in which Michael and Jessica performed together on the grand piano a selection of Brahms waltzes. The audience warm-up, and lead-in to the waltzes, saw the students on their feet, stamping and clapping the 3/4 music signature of a waltz, before the pianists sat side-by-side at the piano and, to the students’ obvious delight, presented four very different short waltzes. Michael and Jessica have been playing together for eight years, and their precision, grace and perfectly-timed teamwork at the keyboard were impressive to witness.
The second part of the performance began with a heated debate about, of all things, ice cream! Introducing the concept of a conversation in music, Michael and Jessica’s illustration was a discussion – no, debate - about the best ice cream flavour. Once again, the students were asked to have their own ice cream conversations, a prelude to a beautiful musical conversation, an original work by one of the pair’s Juilliard colleagues called Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love. Over seven movements, the students were taken on a musical journey uncovering the many emotions of a relationship, from the beginning of the love story to fluttering hearts, the romantic chase to conflict over personal space. Student interaction was integral to the performance. Before the fourth movement, students asked to sing in a round “I will catch you, no matter what” to understand better the bourrée they were about to hear.
There were whoops and cheers, laughter and clapping, all part of the goal of the Juilliard visits, to tap into not only the excitement of music students, but also those students who might not previously have shown a particular interest in music. Jessica says, “There are different entry points. The older students here at NAIS Pudong were very attentive and interactive.” Michael adds, “Our goal is to show the world why music is a great art. Tapping into these students’ curiosity is what’s really powerful.”
The final student session of the day was a special keyboard class for some extremely excited Year 2 students, who originally thought JS Bach himself, the musician of the week, might be visiting. The ambitious session saw the students begin by listening to a small selection from Bach’s Suite for Cello, before putting words to the tune and learning about a bourrée, which involved them being divided into two parts and singing the words to each other. After a quick lesson in keyboard posture and a fun finger number game to help with the position of hands at the keyboard, the students were asked to take their seats at the keyboard where, in the space of just one lesson, they were able to compose their own pieces.
Jessica was particularly impressed by these young students’ enthusiasm and ability, commenting, “They were very flexible and able to go with the flow…I was impressed with how good and comfortable they were with the keyboard.” Keyboard skills are central to the Juilliard curriculum the students are learning. Michael explains, “The keyboard is a really great for understanding notation and multiple voices (in the music) at the same time. The keyboard is THE conduit for learning music theory.”
As the first year of the Juilliard programme at NAIS Pudong comes to a melodic close, Michael’s advice to students: Love your art and go with what you’re curious about.