Introducing the “Un-Master Class”

A performance session with a difference!

Thursday 27th April (16:00 – 18:00 BST)

The Un-Master Class® is a popular and unique performance workshop, developed by William Westney, and designed as a lively, engaging alternative to the traditional masterclass. It has been given hundreds of times around the world with musicians of many different genres and categories, and was profiled in a featured New York Times article in 1997.

William Westney's Un-Master Class

Starting with interactive group warm-ups, an environment is created that builds trust and breaks down barriers to artistic expression. The class then focuses on prepared performances by participants, by:

  • helping performers communicate authentically with the audience,
  • reconnecting participants with their exuberant, natural physical intuition about music,
  • assisting performers to reach new levels of artistry.

How it works

In this demonstration session, William worked in-person with a select group of performers and observers, and explained the underlying principles and techniques of the class.

Who it’s for?

The concepts presented are refreshingly simple and can be applied both to performing and to almost any teaching situation. Therefore teachers and pianists will gain inspiration and ideas for attaining greater freedom and expression in performance and encouraging students to express themselves.

Ticket options & prices

If you missed this event, you can still purchase access to the recording here.

Workshop feedback

Katherine (performer)

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to participate in the Un-Master Class firsthand. Although I was initially concerned as to how we would look online, sharing in the warm-up activities together made performing a little less nerve racking for me as an inexperienced performer.

Despite nerves still disrupting some sections of my piece, what is remarkable is that I have come away desiring to perform again, rather than cower ashamed in the corner (which a more traditional masterclass might have resulted in!).

This is because William successfully awoke in me the vibrancy and desire to ‘speak’ the music as I felt it. Furthermore, by knowing the technical tools to do that will follow, I’m now able to relax and employ William’s practice methods of full connection with the keys which then somehow translate into deep connection and communication with one’s audience. 

I have two main takeaways from the experience:

Firstly, I’m going to regularly shut myself in a room and move spontaneously to my pieces to discover more about what they are saying and what I am feeling.

Secondly, I shall not shy away from asking of myself and to others that wonderful question: “What did you get?”!

And thank you again for the warm welcome and great set up you have to enable us to access so much good teaching and performing!

Marie (performer):

It was with some initial trepidation I agreed to participate, particularly as we were asked to perform from memory. I wanted to challenge myself to perform a short complete piece of music rather than a section of a longer work, and decided to learn a new work (Debussy’s ‘Feux D’Artifice’). We were advised we needed to be able to visualise our performance from beginning to end as the best evidence of robust and reliable learning. William assured us we would find liberation in this type of learning.

His approach to running a masterclass was different to any other masterclasses that I have attended or played in. He reminded us of how small children respond to music in a natural and uninhibited manner, moving to the beat with a freedom which can make some adults feel uncomfortable. Our warm up session encouraged and rekindled this inner child, with a series of musical and kinaesthetic exercises designed to allay our fears and encourage more flexibility  in performance. Participants were asked to follow and then take turns to lead different movements inspired by a broad range of recorded musical styles. There were no cold hands or fingers after 20 minutes of physical activity!

Prior to performing we were requested to consider an aspect of our music we wished to share with the audience. It wasn’t about playing all the right notes in the correct order,  or about conforming to a particular style of music. I wanted to paint a picture of a firework display on Bastille day.

Did I achieve this ? Not really, and having played back the recording I realise my dynamic range was narrow and boring and not always what Debussy indicated.

However, I was completely relaxed during performance and had no memory slips. I gained enormous insight into my playing and have been enabled by this ‘Un-Masterclass’. If I’d played in a more traditional style of masterclass it could have been crippling experience, but I didn’t ever feel the exercise was about me or my inadequacies.

I was also reminded how much physical warm ups matter, and learnt that sharing some frisson with an audience matters more than playing everything in a correct and controlled manner. Having a score on the piano desk is an additional cognitive load I can do without in performance. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity and would certainly be happy to participate in another ‘Un-Masterclass’.

Sue (in-person participant)

I haven’t been to a ‘Masterclass’ like this before and it’s not something I’d usually sign-up for! It was fun, engaging, thought provoking and at times quite a workout! William gently coaxed us into thinking about music and performance differently by using movement and group work – breaking down barriers and inhibitions – to give us the freedom to express not just what is written in the score but more importantly how the music intuitively makes us feel to enable a more heartfelt performance. I certainly will be ‘dancing’ my Gymnopédie before playing at next week’s Piano Meetup Group!

Anuvrat (In-person participant)

William Westney’s “Un-masterclass” was an extremely useful class but not the slightest in an orthodox manner. I wanted to run when I found out that there was going to be movement and some kind of dance-type movements involved, but it was easy to do that in class.

The first main idea was to listen to music and express it through our bodies. He started with all movements himself to put everyone else at ease with everything. This helped me to gradually become less conscious about the fact that this was being streamed live and tune in more to the music and the movements. I remembered that the last piece, by Elgar, was where we stopped, but I had completely forgotten that I was in a class because of the flow of things that was created by William.

Even in the performance section of the class, the “What did you get” question instead of “This is how it can/should be” was an eye-opener. He insisted that the performers describe what they want the audience to get from the performance. Following the performance, the audience was asked “What did you get” which made it a very relaxed and non-intimidating space while keeping the ethos of a masterclass.

To all the skeptics and those shy of movement like me, if you keep an open mind about this, I’m sure you’ll see great value in what William has to say!

Pat (online observer):

A few things that stood out for me in the class:

1) Have the melody complete a thought. Music is one thought followed by another

2) Look up at people – what a difference this made in the performer’s playing! I’ve been reading “A Soprano on Her Head” and Eloise talks about this considerably.

3) The first stage of practise should be , “How can it feel great.” What a wonderful idea!

4) The vibration of this thing (pointing to string in piano) is the voice.

5) Let your body do musical brainstorming.

6) How does it feel after using your body and then playing? I’m experimenting with my current project – Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No 2. 

My gratitude to you and everyone in the Academy for bringing these wonderful clinics to us!