Piano master class to address Facebook, historical context

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

Thomas Schumacher is an award-winning piano soloist who has performed in concert halls around the world. But the most marvelous instrument, he said, doesn’t even make music.

Schumacher will teach a piano master class at 10:30 a.m. today in the Sherwood-Marsh Studios and will stress the importance of engaging and educating the audience through that most marvelous instrument, Facebook.

“(Facebook is) a wonderful way to spread the word to bring people knowledge about what’s going on musically and what they can take advantage of,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher, who is now a professor emeritus at the Eastman School of Music, is using the social network and YouTube to engage potential audience members about concert experiences he doesn’t think they should miss, but he said there’s a downside  to alerting such a wide community about musical opportunities.

“In some ways, it makes it more difficult because it gets a little more competitive and complicated,” Schumacher said.

Competitions, for example, which he said can be a great way for students to get a professional foot in the door, become much more difficult when more people are involved.

The thing that sets one pianist apart from another is the ability to communicate, Schumacher said. Speaking from his experience as an adjudicator, he said that a performance must be much more than a soloist going through the motions.

“Part of giving a recital,” Schumacher said, “is not just going out on stage, sitting down, playing, then leaving the stage. It’s educating the audience as to what you’re doing and what to listen for.”

This is one of the reasons Schumacher incorporates an educational aspect to his recitals. He said the audience is more interested in what a soloist has to say musically when they know what to listen for. Presenting the piece and giving a historical context about the composer and why the piece was written provides guidance and interest as the audience follows along with the music.

It became a habit for Schumacher, during his studio classes at the Eastman School of Music, to require his students to explain the piece they were about to perform. Knowing the context of a piece, in many ways, fuels the passion to play it. And that passion, Schumacher said, is what gives him confidence in the future of classical music.

“I see a student whose eyes light up when you tell them about something they’re doing or you demonstrate something,” Schumacher said. “You talk about a certain piece by a certain composer and you see their eyes light up. It’s this passion, this wonderful love for [music]. That’s what gives me hope.”

Admission to Schumacher’s master class is $5.