Jeremy Denk, pianist, talks about how practice makes perfect

"That's a very tasty cheese, you know?" said Jeremy Denk. "You could choose a French cheese. You could also use a more French cheese.

Jeremy Denk, pianist, talks about how practice makes perfect

Why is the man talking about cheese at the piano? The classical pianist wants to make classical music his focus, and that's more than just putting his fingers on keys.

Denk is an award-winning pianist and the author of Every Good Boy Does Fine" (Random House). This book is a performer’s love song to the art of what piano students hate: practice.

Young Denk learned his first music lesson at the piano, but it was on the couch of his boyhood home in New Jersey. "One of my fathers favourite pieces was the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3. The 'Organ' Symphony. My dad called me up on the couch about three quarters through the piece. He said, "Listen."

"And we're still listening, you know?" Then suddenly, the organ emits THE C-MAJOR CHORD WITH THE MOST LOUD EVER. My dad looked at me and said, "Holy crap!"

CBS News correspondent John Dickerson asked: "You say it was your first musical lesson; how did you learn it?"

Denk responded, "The sheer joy and surprise of music." "I believe that was part of the conversation we had on the couch."

Denk, aged 10, felt the connection between music, emotion, head, and heart and had to learn how to control his emotions. He said, "We moved to New Mexico and I had William Leland, my new teacher at the New Mexico State University."

They kept a journal together to track his progress.

Dickerson asked: "He seemed to be able to communicate with a ten year-old through the drawings in your handbook."

"But, I was also a strange ten-year old, you know?" It was a little, but it was a mix of 50 and ten years. He was determined to give me the technical foundation I needed to be able to realize some of my musical goals.

He made me play, thinking that my thumbs were weak. You had to consider, "Keep your hand still and place your thumb under your hand like a crab." Then go even further. You can go a little further and then go further. This was something he made me do for, oh, God, hours. It's so traumatizing to me to even think about it to play it," Denk laughed.

It seemed like the most miserable enterprise you could do, you know. You know, I believe the entire point of piano lessons was draining all the joy from music.

Dickerson asked: "Why didn’t it drain all of the pleasure out it for you?"

Denk said, "It did at times." "But then, it would happen that I would listen to a piece and then you'd know, like, "Oh yes, this music is for."

"Do you share any feelings with Olympic athletes?" You write about all the practice they did, then it happens. "Is this similar?

"It's so much like the Olympics that I can barely see it!" He replied.


 

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