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Small studied Electrical Engineering, and later Physics, at Carnegie Tech. 'This was the late Sixties -- and you can imagine the atmosphere. I dropped out in around '69 and took off to San Francisco with the dream of becoming a famous rock and roll star, playing keyboard, organ, piano, and also guitar and drums. Fortunately that didn't pan out! I was there about half a year trying to make it in earnest. Then I got tired of 'jamming' in basements, and at the age of around eighteen introduced myself to the San Francisco Conservatory. I wanted to learn how to read music properly, and acquire a technique -- I was pretty raw then, basically I didn't know anything at that stage.

'I was very fortunate to be placed with a teacher at the conservatory who saw my abilities and helped. That was Robert Sheldon, a prolific pianist and composer -- he wrote only songs, very fine ones -- about 800 in all. Sheldon basically helped me to bridge a gap, and showed me that playing classical piano was something I could actually succeed at -- not just a far out addition to my rock repertory!'

Small studied with Sheldon in San Francisco for a year, then returned to the East Coast and enrolled in the Music Faculty at Carnegie Mellon University. He studied there briefly with Theodore Lettvin, then at Carnegie with Harry Franklin, with whom he continued his studies for several years thereafter. 'And finally, in the late 70s, I went to see Leon Fleisher. 'Basically I just knocked on his door and said 'Can I study with you?'

Fleisher took him on, and thereafter, doors began to open.

Interestingly, Small benefited from his teachers' contrasted -- and, in effect, complementary approaches. 'Lettvin was a student of Rudolf Serkin; he believed in this really rigid approach. Franklin by contrast, basically used our lessons to help me develop, he instilled in me a good taste in music.' Another teacher Small studied with was his cousin Jean Behrend (Small's middle name is Behrend) : 'She had quite a big career in Contemporary Music back in the 1950s and 1960s : and she believed in an approach where you don't so much use the fingers in the traditional way, essentially you kind of flop on the hand, roll around, ultra-loose, swaying. It actually serves quite well -- not so much, obviously, in Beethoven and Classical repertory, but in Chopin, Schumann, Debussy. It was a total antidote to the rather stiffly traditional way I had been playing; Fleisher (who was actually a Schnabel pupil for ten years) had some similar ideas, though not as eccentric.'

'William Masselos was the teacher who gave me balance; he brought these contrasting elements together and gave me a kind of musical common sense, suggesting one should use not one but a variety of approaches -- this idea and that idea, whatever seemed appropriate for the music, and put it all together. I should also mention another teacher I had at Carnegie, Roland Leich. He was a wonderful man, and a very good and helpful teacher : he used no specific system; rather, he reacted and responded to things I was doing, using them as a basis for helping me develop.'

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Copyright © 26 May 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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