Spring has finally arrived in the UK and we’re looking forward to welcoming a special guest to our studios in London. William Westney, author of best-selling book The Perfect Wrong Note and contributor to the Online Academy will be filming with us and presenting a demonstration of his unique Un-Master Class ® performance workshop. In our blog post this week, William answers some of our questions on the development of the concept and his experiences in running it.
How did the idea come about?
There were two major influences: My participation in Dalcroze Eurhythmics as child, which revealed to me that musical understanding takes place in the body, and the pioneering group work of Eloise Ristad, author of A Soprano On Her Head.
Were you trying to meet a certain need with the Un-Master Class?
Masterclasses often start out with high anticipation, but too often become a bit tiresome after the first ten minutes or so. The teacher may stay on the same two measures for far too long, obsessing about getting it just a certain way. The student is often rather silent and passive throughout.
We need a performance class that is livelier, more varied, and less “top-down” – yet still rigorous in its artistic standards. I set out to involve the audience in the discovery process so that they are not just observing a “public lesson.”
Lastly, I wanted a format that enables students to tap into the communicative artist within – and find out what is truly being communicated to others when they perform, as well as a class that focuses on the body, what it knows and how we can trust it.
How does it work and what makes it different to a traditional masterclass?
In addition to focusing on, and involving the body in our pursuit of artistry, we also start the class with a group “warm-up” which includes performers and observers alike in expressive (and enjoyable) embodiment exercises to music. This breaks down barriers between people and opens up awareness and trust of everyone’s musical intuition.
Later, when performances take place, the performers help focus the desired feedback that will be most useful to them, so they have more “agency” in the class than usual. The ensuing problem-solving techniques often involve the attendees in physical ways. There is a lot of “musical brainstorming.” These are just a few of the distinctive features.
What sorts of results have you seen from these performance workshops?
The most exciting moments are those when the performer makes an artistic/communicative breakthrough entirely through their own process, not by following anyone else’s instructions. It’s very empowering and authentic!
Where have you run these?
I’ve given the Un-Master Class hundreds of times around the world since the late 1980’s – mostly at universities, conservatories, music conferences (for all genres of musicians, not exclusively pianists), music-teacher groups, etc. I’ve also had a great time applying some of the techniques in venues about creative pursuits other than music, i.e. photography and interior design.
Has there been something that you didn’t expect that particularly surprised you?
I remember a young pianist in a class in Denmark who politely but firmly made it clear that she didn’t care in the slightest how her music came across to anyone else. Her honesty was refreshing (I guess) but I had no idea what to do next!
You’re doing an introduction to the format with us on 27th April. What will the approach to this session be?
I will demonstrate, and explain, all the signature features of the Un-Master Class. This will be done by conducting a real-time class with four pianists, none of whom have ever played in a class like this before. I’m really looking forward to it!
Introducing the Un-Master Class
Join us online on Thursday 27th April @ 16:00 BST (GMT + 1) to see the Un-Master Class in action! In this demonstration session, William will work in-person with a group of performers and observers to explain the underlying principles of the format.
If you can’t join us live, the workshop is being recorded, thus giving you the opportunity to watch the session afterwards at your convenience. Online tickets include access to live streaming of the session and links to resources and recordings after the event. Tickets cost £30 (£18 for Online Academy subscribers) and can be purchased here.