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SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION

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The piano teacher everyone should have,
by KAREN HAID

 

In a scene early in the documentary Seymour: An Introduction, the pianist and film's protagonist discusses his concept of timing with a student. The pulse is perhaps the most important aspect of music. It's the heartbeat.

Throughout this beautifully crafted film, Seymour Bernstein exhibited his own impeccable timing in the most natural way. Whether executing a poignant passage at the keyboard, telling a delightful story from his past, identifying just what a student needs at a lesson or sharing his insights on life, Bernstein does it all with a simple grace. He's comfortable with himself and what he does, and through the personal satisfaction and sense of security he has gained by way of his relationship to music, he is able to impart these sensations to those around him, even outside a strictly musical setting.

Actor-Director Ethan Hawke was captivated by Bernstein as a person and an artist when they met at a dinner party several years ago. In particular, Hawke empathized with the pianist's idea of integrating what is learned in one's art form into life. The two men became friends, a famous movie star at the height of his career and an octogenarian pianist, composer and teacher. Perhaps on the surface, this would seem an unlikely duo, but the younger man saw something special in the older, perhaps wiser, mentor figure and he approached Bernstein with the idea of a documentary. Bernstein laughed. At the age of eighty-eight, he can now add movie star to his resume.

 'Seymour: An Introduction' - a film by Ethan Hawke
'Seymour: An Introduction' - a film by Ethan Hawke. Click on the image for higher resolution

Much of the documentary was filmed in the pianist's one-room Manhattan apartment, which he has lived in for fifty-seven years. He interacts with current and former students, at times in hands-on music lessons, at others in more philosophical discussions. He tells stories from his rich musical life, as a highly praised concert pianist, a greatly sought-after teacher and clinician, and a composer of delightful piano pieces. Anecdotes include his studies with Clifford Curzon and a certain letter to the Queen of England, his experiences as a soldier in Korea, and his reminiscences of a very generous and eccentric patroness. As with his piano playing, his pacing and delivery are spot on.

 A scene from 'Seymour: An Introduction' by Ethan Hawke
A scene from 'Seymour: An Introduction' by Ethan Hawke. Click on the image for higher resolution

Bernstein and his students supply the film's music, all excerpts, but discriminatingly integrated into the fabric of the narrative. From his apartment, to the basement and rotunda of Steinway Hall, the audial and visual transitions from one setting to another within the same musical composition are seamless.

A number of articles about the film describe Bernstein as a concert pianist who left or abandoned his career at the age of fifty. However, Bernstein never went away. He's a multi-faceted individual who chose to focus on the aspects of his career that he found the most rewarding. He shares his great knowledge and talent, his charming personality and most importantly his love of life with his many students and all those with whom he comes in contact.

 A scene from 'Seymour: An Introduction' by Ethan Hawke
A scene from 'Seymour: An Introduction' by Ethan Hawke. Click on the image for higher resolution

Hawke met Bernstein at a time in his life when he was looking for answers, both as an actor and person. He was drawn to the pianist's calm sense of self, his artistry, his view on one's role in life, and even to his soothing voice. As the central figure in the documentary, Bernstein engages the viewer in the same way. He is the quintessential teacher, both at the piano and away from it. He's a remarkable person, the real deal.

Seymour: An Introduction is a must see.

Copyright © 28 April 2015 Karen Haid,
Las Vegas, USA

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SEYMOUR BERNSTEIN

PIANO MUSIC

FILM

NEW YORK

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