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Haskell Small

A Conversation with Washington Conservatory Piano Teacher Haskell Small

Washington Conservatory's director, Kathy Judd, talks to Haskell Small about his career as a musician and teacher:

KJ: How did you become a pianist?
HS: My mother was a pianist. She studied at Peabody and also played jazz. Basically I played since I was a kid, picking up things by ear at first and frustrating several neighborhood piano teachers along the way. I didn't start really studying seriously until I was 18 and in college, supposedly to become an engineer.
Haskell Small

You can find much more about Haskell Small at: His latest CD is Mompou's Musical Callada. See his Lullaby of War videos on YouTube.

For more information about the music of Haskell Small, please contact Jeffrey James Arts Consulting at 516-586-3433 or jamesarts@worldnet.att.net.

KJ: What made the difference then?

HS: I met another freshman at Carnegie Mellon who was a music major with stars in his eyes. He was going to be a great concert genius. He gave me some lessons and I got excited. He ended up changing majors and I ended up studying with his piano teacher.

KJ: Were there any other diversions along your path to becoming a professional pianist?

HS: Many diversions. For instance, at one point I lived in San Francisco playing in rock and roll bands.

KJ: Then what happened?

HS: One day I knocked on the door of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and said I wanted piano lessons. They gave me a teacher who was a pianist and composer. His name was Robert Sheldon and he changed my life. I ditched rock and roll and practiced like crazy. The following fall I was officially accepted into the Conservatory. Later I transferred back to Carnegie Mellon as a music major.

KJ: How did you become seriously interested in composition?

HS: I've been writing in one form or another since I was a kid – mostly jazz and rock. However, it was Robert Sheldon who steered me. Through him I discovered composers like Prokofiev, Bartàk, and other composers I didn't know existed. I went wild!

KJ: Sounds like your life has been both hard work and serendipity.

HS: Well sometimes it is serendipitous. For instance, one day in college a girl said, "I remember you from music harmony class; I'm looking for piano lessons." Now she's my wife, Betsy.

KJ: Is the rest of your family musical?

HS: Betsy is a lutenist, one daughter studied oboe, the other studied cello and now sings in a Bulgarian choral quartet and is a professional photographer.

KJ: How does being a composer influence your piano playing?

HS: Probably I could answer that best by quoting one of my early reviews that referred to a "small distinction" [pun intended!]. He said that as a composer I added a "thinking" to my piano playing -- thinking of music from the compositional standpoint, not just being a middle-ground interpreter. I like to approach everything I do from the point of re-creation (not recreation).

KJ: What music do you most enjoy performing?

HS: I'm always searching for something that is going to be unusual and attractive to me. I have picky tastes and like certain things for reasons that are just my own. For example, Musica Callada by Mompou is shunned by most virtuosi. I adore that music!

KJ: Tell me a little about your newest composition.

HS: It's called Altercations -- a little bit of a play on the word "variations." It is essentially a Chaconne -- rapid-fire variations.

KJ: Why do you love to teach?

HS: I love seeing the developing musicality of a student and trying to steer it in directions I value. Seeing the results of that is very gratifying. I grew up from a standpoint of loving music first; then working on it. If I had a credo for my teaching it might be to instill a sense of love for the music.

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