I have been studying piano with John Bloomfield for about a year. It has been a fantastic experience.
John is associated with the Dorothy Taubman approach. After working with Taubman closely for many years, John is now on staff at the Golandsky Institute, the New York-based group of Taubman disciples led by Edna Golandsky.
After the first time I played duo with Ron Carter last October, I concluded I needed more firepower to really hang in this kind of exposed environment and started looking for a new coach.
While I will always be indebted to the great Sophia Rosoff, Sophia has basically stopped teaching.
Over this past year, John has offered me a complete set of solutions for acquiring more brilliance and facility. I’ve taken the Taubman approach (at least as taught by Bloomfield) completely to heart. It has my 100% endorsement.
The Taubman school is controversial. I myself felt a little hesitant beforehand. Any time there’s a bunch of people doing something different and apart from the mainstream, it is easy to worry that they are a cult or weird or something.
Apparently Dorothy Taubman herself was quite eccentric and brash. I’ve heard her described as “Like Edith Bunker, complete with a broad Queens accent.”
It’s possible that since her passing, the Taubman approach is actually gaining more traction. I’ve heard nothing but praise for Edna Golandsky and her teaching. It also helps that Yoheved Kaplinsky, who worked with Taubman, has chaired the Piano Division at the Juilliard School since 1997.
Kevin Hays was the first person who told me about Taubman. Bill Charlap is also a fan. After the Wayne Shorter gig at North Sea this past summer, I pulled Danilo Perez aside to rave about Taubman (actually Danilo really raved about Golandsky).
These are pretty big names in jazz. I can already tell this is going to mirror my experience with the Abby Whiteside school, where the jazz players (Fred Hersch, Barry Harris) who endorse the “outsider” system of Whiteside-Rosoff are more famous than the classical players.
The heaviest classical players obviously don’t need any special help; Schnabel once said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter who your teacher is, you will do it or you won’t.”
But at this point I can see videos of many famous names – Gould, Kissin, name your favorite – and think, “They need more emotional rhythm here, and should see Sophia,” or, “They are too digital, they could do it easier with Taubman.”
At any rate, the reason I gave Taubman a shot was hearing Yegor Shetsov play exceptionally ungrateful and difficult Hummel and Weber chamber music for Mark Morris. We shared a practice room, and I could tell he wasn’t drilling the pieces. (Anytime I played harder rep for Mark, I had to play the most challenging parts a dozen times before the gig just to make sure I could do them.) I asked Yegor about technique, and he said that everything had gotten so much easier since his relatively recent involvement with Taubman (specifically Golandsky).
There’s a lot about Taubman, Golandsky, and so forth on the internet. However, I must admit that style of the teaching videos and the official missives is not always that inviting. Indeed, the Dorothy Taubman wiki page still causes my eyes to glaze over (even though I now sort of understand most of it).
The work probably must be experienced in person to be understood. It’s not as complicated as it may appear. When you do it right, it feels right. At the first lesson with John I was hooked.
In my opinion the Taubman school rhetoric puts too much emphasis on healing hurt pianists. I’ve never been hurt playing the piano in my life. Many professionals, especially jazz professionals, find ways to play safely.
That emphasis on healing might keep away those who never feel pain from Taubman. If you are playing well, why go someplace to be fixed?
When studying the Taubman approach one learns how to put the arm behind the finger at all times. If your arm is there, the finger goes down with ease and you can make a solid sound no matter what. Reaching or crowding situations cause you to emphasize digital strength: Taubman gives you ways of managing those awkward moments so that your fingers are always backed up by the bigger piston of the arm.
Of course, you need finger strength to play the piano. But! You don’t need disconnected finger strength. And what you really need is a small burst of controlled speed to make the key go down quickly.
They called Bud Powell “hammerfingers” but that’s wrong. Look at a video: Bud’s fingers are always right there on the keys, with the arm behind every articulation. He never reaches: those fiery notes are right there for his hand at all times. Brute strength is not the concern.
Professionals know that the C major scale is surprisingly difficult. (B major is usually held to be the easiest.) For either hand, playing a medium fast C major scale in both directions for with a full sound and complete evenness is a virtuoso task.
A year ago I couldn’t play a C major scale. Oh, sure, I could fake a lumpy one, as fast as you want — but a real deal scale like you’d need in Mozart concerto? No way. I figured anyone who had perfectly even scales at forte drilled them incessantly as a kid, that it was too late for me to acquire a good scale technique.
Now I can play a C major scale. Not only that: It is easy for me to play the C Major scale.
I found John Bloomfield through the Golandsky Institute general email inquiry. John is very advanced and frankly pretty expensive (worth every penny though). However, there are teachers available at all levels.
Again, there’s a NYC workshop on October 23.