Graham Johnson Masterclass: What I Learned


Ashley Danyew | Graham Johnson Masterclass Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a masterclass presented by Graham Johnson at Eastman. What a privilege to learn from someone so wise and with so much experience! Eastman students performed eight songs of Schumann and Brahms (one by Schubert). Graham Johnson's perspective on music and performance was inspiring and enlightening.

Here are a few things I took away:

- The original key of a song has a certain color and quality - be wary of alternate keys and transpositions that change the mood and character of a song. - All ritardandi in Schumann's music are "local" or temporary, though often, a return to tempo is not indicated in the score. - The joy of performing is in the challenge, risk, and danger of the musical performance. "Go for the challenge and let it be an enriching experience." - Choose a tempo that leaves room for communicating the text and character of the song. Make it sound as if the thoughts or actions of the character are occurring in the moment, for the first time. - Do not play (or sing) "off the voice." A crooning, whispery sound does not travel expressively - it must be supported. - To the singer: listen to the piano and harmonize with it. - "Cultivate [your] tone." - "All lieder requires time for the notes to be sung, not barked or spoken." - Never allow yourself to go on automatic pilot. "Don't ever find yourself going through the motions. How can that engage your heart?" - Music of the nineteenth century reflects a period that had more time. Consider this when choosing tempi for performance (versus the fast-paced "broadband" culture of the world today). - "We've got to get this sense of communing [between singer and pianist]. . .it's an important part of what we do." - Accompany what is there in the moment, rather than the ideal in your head. - Pianists often sit in the composer's [Schubert] hot seat, playing music he wrote for himself to play. - "What's the message?" What are you trying to convey? - Brahms "treated his songs like a private diary of emotions." - The secret is: more time. - "Intimacy is part of what lieder is about. . . .Less sound, more feeling."

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a masterclass with a world-class musician, I hope you take advantage! It will change the way you think about, hear, and create music.