My college piano teacher was a loud, brusque, 7 foot-tall wild-man whose grandfather had been the last democratically elected president of Lithuania until the coup d’état of 1926.

Since I wasn’t a piano major he took no real interest in my lessons. I chose all my own material. Each week I came in and played everything, and he would smile and shrug, but never gave me any feedback or guidance worth remembering.

Except once.

My major was music history and I did mostly stuff I was studying for other classes. One week I brought a lute piece from the 16th century called “Der Juden Tanz” (“The Jew’s Dance”). Scholars were divided over the quesion of whether the bizarre, dissonant melody of the piece was a well-intentioned attempt to copy sounds that the composer had heard in the Jewish Quarter, or a sick anti-Semitic rant.

So I started pounding this thing out on piano, and he leapt out of his chair, bounded across the room, and put one hand on the score while he played it with the other. Then he said (picture a curt, European accent), “By God you’re right!” He returned to his seat and it turned out to be all the instruction I received from him the entire semester.


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