BYU School of Music students experimented with new remote learning technology that connected pianos in Provo and New York City
On Oct. 30, four pianists from the BYU School of Music had the chance to perform a piece and receive feedback and training from renowned classical concert pianist Frederic Chiu, but the masterclass had a twist: the students were on campus, but Chiu was over 2,000 miles away in New York City.
These remote lessons were made possible through Yamaha Disklavier technology, which connects two pianos so that a musician in one location can accurately hear the way a piece is played in another location in real time. The Disklavier transmits performance data, including the exact pressure and duration applied to a key or pedal.
“This was a unique experience for me in the sense that I had never participated in a distance masterclass,” said Alice Hyoung, the first pianist to work with Chiu. “To be honest, I was skeptical at first in regards to how successful the technology would be, but it all turned out really well.”
After listening to each performance as it played on the piano in his New York location, Chiu gave the student pianists short lessons via video conference. “He didn’t just focus on one part of the piece and work on specifics there,” said piano performance major Nathan Schaumann. “He talked about aspects of pianism that could apply to all our pieces, which is the best way you can teach when you only have a half hour with a student.”
For both Hyoung and Schaumann, Chiu’s chosen points of focus have typically been difficult to cover in remote lessons. “The main thing he talked about with me was the different ways you can use the pedals to different effect,” said Schaumann. “We worked a lot on different pedaling techniques and ways to fill the room with sound in different ways—to fill the room with a big, bell-like sound, or an isolated sound. He wouldn’t have been able to give me feedback on that had we not had those connected pianos.”
“I was amazed by the way Mr. Chiu described the nature of the piano,” said Hyoung, who worked primarily on dynamics in the masterclass. “He helped me to understand that the performer’s job is to create an impression. We discussed the ways in which that is possible. I left with a greater desire to connect my whole mind and body to my music in order to present a more effective impression.”
Schaumann is well aware that this level of engagement provided by Disklavier technology signifies the beginning of a revolution in remote teaching techniques. “I have five Skype students, so I know a lot about the difficulties of teaching piano with video,” said Schaumann. “I already knew that you don’t need to be in the same place to teach someone else piano, but it’s encouraging that the technological world is making strides in what we can do.”
“The piano hasn’t really undergone any major changes in the last 150 years,” Schaumann continued. “But now different piano makers, especially Yamaha, are paving the way forward to add to what a piano can already do. It was very cool to experience first hand some of these new advancements.”
Schaumann was able to stay after the masterclass to talk with the Yamaha representatives and experiment with some of the other features available with Disklavier technology. “I would record something on the piano and then go to the back of the room and listen to myself,” said Schaumann. “Then I went to the front row, and it was totally different. It gave me a whole new appreciation for how the sound fills the room; for the first time in my life, I heard myself as if I were in the audience at my own concert.”
While the technology provided by Yamaha was an exciting look into the future of teaching, the highlight of the masterclass experience for the student pianists was Frederic Chiu himself. “He was personable and such a delight to work with,” said Hyoung. “His thoughts were carefully articulated and it was clear to me that he has dedicated a great amount of his life to exploring the depths of the piano.”
“Just getting to meet Mr. Chiu and take even a short lesson from him was great, not only as a resume builder, but also for my own exposure and experience—it was inspiring,” added Schaumann. “I’m getting a greater appreciation for the great pianists of today.”