Monday, 29 February 2016

Hot Off the Press: The Observer Programme

Last summer’s DIPF not only welcomed a crew of young and talented piano students, but also was thrilled to host an American piano teacher who came along for the ride – Mr. Frank Pittman from Durham, North Carolina. Mr. Pittman was the pioneer of our newly minted Observer Programme, attending seminars, masterclasses, and concerts, and engaging with our students as they progressed throughout the week. We got a chance to chat with him about his time here and we left his eloquent answers in their full form for your enjoyment!


Nora: Tell us a bit about your experience as an observer at the festival. How did you get involved in the first place? Had you ever been to Dublin before?

Mr. Pittman: I first heard of the festival while in a limousine ride with Archie Chen as we were heading to judge a piano competition in Hong Kong.  Archie asked if I had any students who might qualify to participate in the festival.  Serendipitously, I had received an email that very morning from one of my advanced high school students revealing his interest in pursuing a music degree in piano.  I disclosed this information with Archie who in turn enthusiastically invited him to apply.  After I returned home my student and I began to work on the application and audition video.  Weeks later we were happy to learn that my student had been accepted.  Because my student was under the age of 18 a guardian had to accompany him at the festival.  My student’s family already had plans to be in Asia during the festival and therefore could not be with him in Dublin.  Knowing this I happily agreed to journey with my student as his guardian.

I had been to Dublin before.  Nonetheless, this sojourn for the piano festival was something magical.  I watched the young artists from around the world perform in several master classes and in various recitals around the city.  It was obvious that the students established an indelible personal bond from the first day of the festival.  I observed the enthusiastic support each had for their fellow musician at every public student performance.  The students formed a closeness and a friendship that promoted a worthwhile musical experience for everyone involved.  Rhona and Archie were extraordinary in their organization and implementation of all events and activities.  Lastly, the faculty concerts were of the highest calibre.

N: As teachers, we are always on the prowl for new ways of communicating ideas to students and innovative techniques to add to our teaching. What did you take away from attending masterclasses with such a variety of pedagogues?

Mr. P: The benefits for a teacher observer at the festival is witnessing how the members of the core faculty address in distinctive ways the identical pianistic concerns with the very same student.  It has been my personal teaching philosophy that if one teaching concept doesn’t work with a student then I will try another.  Seeing all of the students work with different artist teachers provided a clear understanding that to become a true musician involves the task of considering multiple viewpoints.  At some festivals a student may work with just a single teacher.  At the DIPF the students take private lessons and perform in public master classes with ALL members of the core faculty.  

These multifarious perspectives form an ultimate learning model for career teachers.  Whether it regards musical interpretation, technical development, or learning tactics, the teacher observer encounters an ideal setting to see varying advance approaches with some of the world’s highest calibre students.  The observer gleans from these multiple notions an array of pedagogical strategies that they can then implement with their own students.

N: Did you have a chance to chat with the students at the festival, and what was that like?

Mr. P: I was fortunate to associate with all of the students at every gathering.  Just as the students bonded with themselves as musical compatriots, I also developed a professional friendship with all of the young artists.  I especially enjoyed sharing meals with the group.  Listening to the students unveil their backgrounds and experiences in a relaxed, warm environment was incredibly rewarding for me as a teacher.  They revealed to me their personal musical achievements as well as their own musical letdowns.  Incredibly, they were also inquisitive about my own professional musical journey.  These young artists have their eye on their future and they are eager to learn the various pathways they may take as they construct their own status in the musical world.  Although I can not speak for them, I feel that having teachers involved with the social activities of the festival provided a richer and more expansive communal experience for the young artists.


Teachers interested in the program are encouraged to come to Dublin to enjoy the festival at their own pace. With a variety of events to choose from every day, attendees can pick and choose their own schedule, perhaps sampling a masterclass from each faculty member or getting the full dose of one expert, including two public masterclasses, a public concert, and a seminar. Over the course of the festival we present over 20 hours of public masterclasses, in which teachers can get a taste of teaching styles from all over the world and see for themselves what works for different kinds of students. With 8 concerts scheduled during the week, observers can then hear these renowned pedagogues back up their teaching with their playing, presenting varied programmes in beautiful locations such as the sculpture hall of the Hugh Lane Gallery. This unique opportunity also provides observers with the chance to engage with students of the highest caliber, and opens the discussion about what sort of teaching resonates with them. We offer both a meal deal and a ticket to the Festival Excursion for observers, with which they can join students and faculty over lunches, dinners, and a day-long trip around the Irish countryside to enjoy great food, engaging conversation, and a peek into the everyday lives of our esteemed faculty.

If the packed schedule is overwhelming and some time away from the keyboard is in order don’t fret, there are loads of non-piano things to do in Dublin and its surrounding areas! From hiking and mountain biking in the Wicklow Mountains or exploring Phoenix Park to just relaxing at a classic Irish pub or one of the city’s many art galleries, Dublin has something for everyone. Head on over to the festival website for tips on planning your visit. This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising, one of the most important events in Irish History, and the city is hosting commemorative events all year long.

Package deals for observers including special offers on concerts, masterclasses, and a build-your-own schedule pack will be available soon, so gather your piano-teacher friends and start planning a music-filled vacation!

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