Every Good Boy Does Fine

I feel incredibly honored to have been asked to write this piece on piano lessons for The New Yorker, and hopefully I used the honor honorably. It caused me some stress. Assembling a narrative out of your past is dangerous, especially when your life is still frantically ongoing. It was complicated (to say the least) to write about the vulnerability of performing while I was preparing for my Carnegie Hall recital.

In the essay, many sins of omission. I elide stupidly over the Oberlin years, Joseph Schwartz, and all the other great teachers I had there, in order to make space for the appearance of Sebok. There is no mention of my wonderful Juilliard teacher, either, Herbert Stessin, who was so different from Sebok and wise in a completely different, often more practical, way.

Anyway, I hope all those other teachers and coaches out there forgive me for organizing the piece around this moment when Old Europe landed on top of me, and neglecting all their crucial interventions. I am so delighted that the magazine put together a little web video, which includes a peek inside the piano lesson journal, and some beautiful footage of Sebok. I must admit, my absolute favorite recorded bit of Sebok is his performance of the Mendelssohn Variations Concertantes with Janos Starker. There is something about the way he plays the formidable technical passages of this piece, with a bit of amusement, as if it were complicated child’s play, always turning the corners eloquently and cleverly…and then after Mendelssohn’s stormy mini-climax, the way Sebok plays the return of the theme, with just the tiniest loving pauses on the meaningful notes—it calls back to me all the amazing time I spent with him. (The whole album, of course, is worth many many listens.)

There’s also a YouTube of his studio recording of the Brahms Handel Variations, which I think captures some of the purity and simplicity of his musical thinking (he was very dismissive of his own recordings), and a video of him playing the “Aeolian Harp” Etude, showing his hands, a miracle of ease, efficiency, fluidity.

Somewhere in the Oberlin archives, also, I believe there is a recording of Sebok’s recital in early 1990, with the life-changing Bach encore I mention in the essay. I am too afraid to go listen to it.

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10 Comments

  1. Liz Bachelder
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Read it this morning–it’s a great article. I found it thought-provoking and inspiring, both as a pianist and as a teacher. I hate that I missed your concert in Blacksburg due to a snowstorm – we couldn’t get down our mountain. But I will get to hear you one of these days.

  2. Posted April 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    IMNSHO, you indeed “used the honor honorably”. A wonderfully insightful piece sensitively written.

    ACD

  3. Justus Schlichting
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    If any of those teachers and coaches gives you what for, please direct them to me. I will be happy to explain the notion of poetic license, of the alchemy that transforms scales and etudes into soul enriching performance, and a tale of piano lessons into profound life lessons. That said, I was bummed that you didn’t mention the time I suggested you lighten up on the pedal in the second movement of … oh … just forget about it.

  4. Childe Harold
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Mr Denk: Just in case you hadn’t seen this book: “Words from a Master.” http://www.sebokbook.com/

  5. Posted April 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    i’m glad they asked you to write it too, because i loved that piece. it made me think back on all the good (and bad) music teachers i had as a child and young adult.

  6. jean
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    The black notebook is so precious. Glad your mom has treasured it thru out the years. Maybe you should put it in print, so cute!

  7. anna martina sodari
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    serious classical musicians must live in an altered state of consciousness that operates and has results in the 4th dimension, methinks. intensity of concentration and release of emotions on a higher plane of human and psyche experience equivalent to a school of mysticism, like the chakras or the merkabah mysticism of the vision of ezekiel’s wheel. ezekiel’s wheel may be a chaos tool that balances disorder and returns a system to equilibrium when it goes through a shift state to achieve a higher vibration and dimension. we see because light has a certain wavelength, if that changed, we might not be able to see anything. in a higher realm, maybe more things become visible and our sensory experience becomes enhanced so that we can experience joy in spite of what can be a very drab existence in the 3rd dimension. if we have new eyes to see beauty at that level, we then also have the mechanics to create beauty in the drab existence for others. my ask is that those that have achieved that altered state of consciousness have patience with us, aaron copland’s common man of his fanfare, in our struggle to catch up! you are very gracious in that aspect, jeremy.

  8. jean
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Sebok, Wow! I will listen to his recordings.

  9. anna martina sodari
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    set the little tomato cages up in the window boxes that i planted the kentucky wonder beans in. they’re about 3 in. high and put up the slender bamboo poles for them to climb up, too. a couple of days ago i set up the large tomato cages in the giant mediterranean styled styrofoam pots so there is a view of all of this standing metal, it looks like a radio of some sort. the little 4-pack tomatoes i planted are about 9 inches or so high now. today had the funny thought that the plants are generating music, melody only, and that fermi institute was coming in to check it out because the fermions are the ones doing the singing:-) ah, well, you can see what happens in my little brain when it’s only me, the garden, the cats and the 4-yr old boy and his 2-yr. old sister across the street who like to say hi repeatedly and strike up conversations. hope you are having a good may so far! i am loving the giant volunteer hollyhocks in deep pink, they are about 3 feet or so in diameter:-)

  10. ebet dudley
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    CONGRATULATIONS on your book project! How will we wait two years…?

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