The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s apprentices

A critical analysis of teaching and learning of musical interpretation in a piano master class


Master classes, arguably the pinnacle of the master–apprentice tradition, have been common within higher education of Western classical music. Although claimed to be effective, teaching and learning of musical interpretation in this setting are not well-researched. One seven day long piano master class in the form of a self-contained university course was critically analysed from a hermeneutic perspective and philosophically discussed using three components from the ancient dialogue Philopseudes concerning the learning of magic as well as my experiences of apprenticeship. The empirical material consisted of observations of and field notes from 18 master class lessons; six video-stimulated interviews with two students, master class teacher, and the students’ regular teacher; qualitative semi-structured follow-up interviews with two students and the students’ regular teacher; and scanned versions of the students’ scores. The analysis indicated that the students’ learning of musical interpretation is hindered owing to the master’s beliefs and actions; the lessons centre on the master’s privileged access to secret knowledge mediated in writing; and, the metaphors of gods, ghosts, and Weiheküsse, can be used to understand the master’s storytelling and teaching. I suggest re-negotiating the master class and the required competencies of teachers for such classes within higher music education.

Keywords: Higher music education; Western classical music; musical interpretation; master class; master–apprentice tradition; Philopseudes; magic; hermeneutics.


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