An influential pianist and also a coordinator of keyboard studies at West Virginia University, Dr. Peter Amstutz is also a “Guru” to our very own Prof. Dr. P’ng Tean Hwa, Director of UCSI University’s Institute of Music.
The session began with Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor Op. 3l No. 2, Allegretto. While we were all deeply drawn into the piece played, Dr. Peter commenced by pointing out one of the most common concerns faced by most musicians when it comes to performing: nervousness.
He highlighted that the most effective way to overcome nervousness is to simply love what you do, explaining that the reasons we tend to feel nervous is because of the vibes and energy released by the audience. Therefore, the best way to overcome our nervousness is to reverse the direction of the energy.
Dr. Peter shared that the most effective way to play a piano is to play it in an easy way! He mentioned that we will always play better during our practice compared to the actual performance on stage, often because we have a different mindset. Dr. Peter expressed that we will perform well if we were to treat the actual performance as a normal practice.
Dr. Peter uses his creativity in delivering his knowledge to his students. In the session, he used an extraordinary, different teaching method, where he guided his students to use their imagination when playing the piano. Students were taught to close the piano lid, and just imagine playing the keys. This, I personally think, is a very good way of practicing. He also emphasized that when we play the piano the more careful we are, the more often we make mistakes. All in all, we were advised to keep calm and to learn to enjoy the music. After all, when we pay attention to the music we tend to produce good performances compared to focusing on avoiding making mistakes, as more mistakes tend to occur that way.
The next piece of music delivered was Rachmaninov’s Prelude in E-flat major, Op 23 No 6.
A crucial bit of advice from Dr. Peter is that one must not stay on a certain piece for too long, because we all tend to get tired mentally and physically. Music works at its best when we put the piece away and come back later to play it. Besides, he also mentioned that “silence is not a stop in the music, and it is still ongoing!”
Dr. Peter taught us the way of playing on a rest by breathing accordingly, which actually helps to keep the music going. Dr. Peter emphasized that we must play a piece like how we want to play it, instead of how someone else wants us to play. It is by adapting to our own style and how we want play a certain piece that creates the uniqueness and exclusivity that Dr. Peter desires from his students, as opposed to mere imitation.
The last student presented Schubert’s Sonata in A minor D. 537. Once again, Dr. Peter shared that the secret to play correctly on a piano is to believe that we can do it. Besides these measures, releasing the notes exactly on time and holding the attention of the audience at the same time while staying in a character is a useful tip given by Dr. Peter. In addition to that, he mentioned that a great danger is getting too used to the music. The best way is to discover something new every time we play, to ensure the piece is still fresh.
Through this master class, we can conclude that Dr. Peter is a very positive person that teaches us to believe in our own ability by allowing us to demonstrate our own style in playing. The session ended with a powerful quote by Dr. Peter:
“Trust what you play and what you hear and you will play just fine”. – Peter Amstutz
This article was written by Inez Tajol Asanan, IMus Scholar and 1st-year student of the Bachelor of Classical Music (Hons.)