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The Big Question for Leon Fleisher
August 28, 2009  |  by Dale Keiger

Q: How did your injured hand change your teaching?

A: “I had to think very much more in language. I had to become far more precise and specific, and take feelings, which are by their very nature ephemeral and transitory, and try to nail them down with vocabulary. I find that using words, and asking the students to use words, is to become far more specific. The more specific you can become, the clearer and more accessible become your goals.

“I also became rather adept at demonstrating with my left hand, which seems to be a source of a certain wonder in some of my students because stuff that’s written for the right hand is arranged differently anatomically from stuff written for the left hand. But it just goes to prove that everything’s in the head.

“I adore teaching. There is something about opening up this ‘Aha!’ moment for a student that is so satisfying and gratifying. I think the responsibility of teaching is far greater than the responsibility of a performer to the public because if the chemistry between performer and public fizzles or degenerates somehow, the public just doesn’t come, you know? A teacher passes on information to the next generation. If it’s bad information, that’s what I consider a sin. You don’t do that.”

Leon Fleisher, one of the world’s most renowned pianists, has taught at Peabody Conservatory for 50 years. In 1965, he had to abandon the standard repertoire after a movement disorder, focal dystonia, disabled his right hand. Treatment has enabled him to perform and record with both hands again–and demonstrate to his students what a master knows.

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