by Jeannette Fang
In the spirit of active generosity, the directors of the Amalfi Coast Music Festival came up with the creative idea of having Pedagogy Sessions, a sort of workshopping of ideas to introduce to the Hotchkiss kids into the mind of a teacher. As Thomas Mastroianni introduced it, students would get a chance to know how teachers thought, why they did and said certain things, and what they believed was the most effective way to reach and benefit a student.
Structured as a sample lesson, Thomas Mastroianni took the time to clearly explain his thought processes behind every comment he gave. Matt Bach-Lombardo played Schumann’s Novellette in F Major with strength and confidence, and when Mastroianni expressed the desire for a more “effervescent” opening, he took the opportunity to tell the student that there was no right or wrong way of playing the piece. However, one should always try different approaches for the sake of “keeping the door open.” He stressed that music is a process, telling the story of how when he was the student’s age, he played the opening in the same pompous way. He explained that the teacher tries to get the student to examine possibilities, and to answer the questions of “Are you playing for yourself, or for the audience?” In order to find the answer, one must “give the music a fair trial,” and that oftentimes, “the music can say something diametrically opposed to what we first thought.” One particularly interesting example was when he brought up how standardized test scores of the music majors at his school were higher throughout, which he attributed to the fact that they spent their childhood examining the different perspectives on how to phrase a piece, instead of just reading and memorizing accepted answers. From here he made the point that if one examines all their musical possibilities, then they are doing something for their mind as well.
Mastroianni was very thorough and clear in his explanations, using creative wording and analogies to make sure his thoughts were successfully received. He described each phrase as having a nucleus, because each one can have energy in different places. He was very interactive, asking the students in the audience what they thought were effective approaches. His answers to the many questions from the audience were pithy, such as how we all have the responsibility to be “imaginative, creative, and to make beauty”, and that “beauty is a matter of judgment”.
With such earnest beliefs, one could see clearly the Mastroianni was someone who clearly loved to teach, as evidenced by the fact that he still wanted to hear another student even though we were running out of time. Tony Zhang played Beethoven Sonata no.3, op.2 no.3, with agility and fleetness, ending an enlightening morning in which many students left with a more comprehensive view of their mentors.