Two grand pianos at the office entrance made the walk to our seats tight, shimmying sideways between the bench and long wall lined with shelves of music books. A wider space in front of her desk framed by a picture window offered some room for seating. I took my seat.
"Sorry I'm late. I was navigating the parking lot." I apologized.
It's my first Master class to observe, though I had participated in several in college. Student number 1, who looked to be around 13 played Brahms' Opus 76, Intermezzo and Capriccio with the sensitivity of a 33 year old.
The pedagogue made her comments ever so gently.
"Remember, the movements of your body influence the sound. So... should you be leaning back when the phrase needs more depth of tone?" She asked.
All she did was ask. Crafting her questions to allow the student to process the technique by himself.
Seldom dictating or mandating.
"Now there are two fortes in that section. Which is supreme?" Another great question. "Who gets the diminuendo, right hand or left?" The student is developing his ear and interpretive skills under the exquisite tutelage of a master.
She was a little more direct with the second student, her own, who just finished his master's degree.
"We want less of a steely attack. With Brahms, you must massage the keys with legato touch. Just wallow in the gorgeous sounds."
And wallow, we did.
When I wasn't reading the manuscript, my eyes scanned the walls and shelves. There were tidy boxes to hold music books to prevent them from leaning on each other; Henley, Peters, Urtext and Schirmer editions.
The opposite wall held posters from Festivals and a sketch of Ms. Burganger in 1965, whose resemblance had the class of Hepburn and the homey-ness of Mary Tyler Moore. Here in 2013, her face no less affable.
My eye stopped on a familiar hung portrait of Brahms. I'd seen it a million times, but never thought much about a certain detail that just now stood out. It was the same poster I used as an Artist in Residence at Wellington High School. Displayed with a bevy of great composers around the piano room, I had hoped the teenagers who weren't hung over or sleeping or playing nasty pranks on me, might observe and learn.
Back then I never had noticed Brahms' tobacco habit.
Arms outstretched in mid-play, peaking out from his massive wooly beard, perched a stout cigar!!
I nearly laughed out loud!
My next thought was that he was in danger of sending a snow flurry of ash onto the precious ivories, dooming them to piles of silvery drifts between the keys.
Musical forecast: Smoky with a chance of sooty storms.
When I teach piano, it's a daily struggle to keep paper clips, eraser shavings and other debris from settling into the inner mechanics of the piano.
I couldn't imagine such a dignified composer putting his instrument in this precarious situation. Brahms loved a good cigar, I learned. But shouldn't he save it for the smoking room, parlor or sun room?
He is not the only famous musician proned to mild vice. Beethoven drank pots of coffee while he composed, (hence the Tempest piano sonata). Horowitz practiced with a dish of chocolates on the music stand.
I share the not-so-healthy habits of coffee and chocolate (plus excessive sunning), but would never allow either too near my Kawai.
Perhaps his full set of whiskers filtered the feathery slivers from sprinkling the keys!
Attention shifted back to the moment as Ms. Burganger sat down to demonstrate a teaching point. "Now, you've practiced, I haven't," she offered as a disclaimer to her students. (Hmm, I'll have to use that line).
But practiced or not, she played magnificently, squeezing every harmonic nuance and melodic shading out of her instrument, saturating us with splendor of soulful sound.
Driving home up the 95, late afternoon still clear and bright, I basked in the beauty we were submerged in that afternoon in a plainly painted office.
Then my contemplation took a distorted turn.
Tickled again by the thought of Brahms' stogie, an odd picture flashed in my warped mind, an off-the-wall idea, which humored me the rest of the way home.
The cigar scene was just begging for a re-enactment!
Don't worry about the piano or that I've adopted yet another vice.
I didn't inhale!