Successful athletes have great trainers behind them, guiding and supporting every stage of their development. It is no different in the music world. Think of Mr. Schultz as a great Olympian trainer for pianists. The range of his teaching philosophy is as deep as the piano repertoire.
To play the piano well requires great agility, balance, strength and endurance. There is one thing that all of Mr. Schultz’s students have in common: they move about the keyboard with great ease, grace and power. By delving into the vast and varied piano repertoire his students command, they learn to first recognize the difference in “sound” from Chopin to Debussy to Bach, then approach the keyboard accordingly to produce the specific sonority according to each style. Music theory, understanding of harmonic structure, knowing the concept of “sound” and a “balanced diet” are integral parts of his teaching.
“The art of getting around the keyboard starts from the first lesson.” Mr. Schultz states. The first few notes any young pianist produce can sound beautiful when they learn to use the Drop-Roll motion of the wrist, a method derived from Keyboard Choreography. One of his mantras is “What you hear should be what you see.”
Breathe! Mr. Schultz also makes his students breathe with music, to inhale at the end of a phrase before starting. “Pianists need to learn from singers, learn how to breathe and how to phrase. Breathing is more than a musical phrasing exercise, breathing also relaxes muscles.” Another way he helps his students be conscious of relaxation while playing, is to “have a feeling of smiling when you play,” a phrase he adapted from cellist Janos Starker.
Freedom in movement, understanding the anatomy and overall flexibility of the body are other important elements to Mr. Schultz’s teaching. The first lesson with Mr. Schultz may not involve sitting down at the keyboard at all. There are a few sets of standing exercises that he teaches which look and feel like yoga. Some of these “Complementary Gymnastic Exercises” came directly from the way Liszt taught his pupils. They involve breathing, stretching, rotating the wrists, moving arms in vertical and circular motions, all done in the most relaxed manner.
One great challenge most piano teachers face is choosing the right repertoire at the right time. Mr. Schultz coordinates specific techniques the student is working on with music that requires those similar techniques. He is very mindful about the progressions of pieces assigned, making sure each piece is suitable to the student’s technical and musical maturity level. There is also an element of discovery during this process for the students: learning how to achieve the best musical results through the techniques they are acquiring.
How about the pros and cons about music competitions? “It’s important for students to work towards immediate and long term goals. However, it is also important that they compete with themselves and not with the world. They need to recognize the good things, as well as how well and how good they feel about themselves.”
His advice for teachers: “It’s important to know HOW to teach as well as WHAT to teach. Don’t shy away from teaching something you don’t know, you learn from teaching.”
About Professor Willard Schultz
Piano Chair of Academy of Music Northwest, Professor Willard Schultz was the Associate Professor at University of Calgary for 20 years. He also performed and taught at Banff Centre For The Performance Arts for 24 summers and headed the piano department in Wuhan Conservatory in China for three semesters. In 1986, he took a six-month sabbatical to visit music conservatories around the world during which time he gave lessons, masterclasses and lectures in London, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, as well as visiting conservatories in Germany, Finland, Siberia, St. Petersburg, Moscow. He has been an active presenter in conventions here and abroad, including the South Bohemia Festivals in the Czech Republic and in Alberta. His students consistently win major prizes and competitions. A number of former students have gone on to be performers and teachers in Universities and other schools of music. In April of this year his student, Andrew Liu will play first movement of Beethoven IV with the Philharmonia Northwest as a result of Seattle Young Artists Festival Playoffs. This summer he will be teaching and performing in the Adamant School for Pianists in Vermont in July and August.