In Masterclasses, School of Music

The first distance learning masterclass at BYU connected Spencer Myer virtually to Provo to teach piano performance majors

BYU School of Music students studying piano performance had the unique opportunity to take part in an unconventional masterclass with renowned professional pianist, Spencer Myer. What made the workshop different was that while it took place in BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center, Myer was in Boston the whole time.

Connecting instructors to students via video conference is becoming more commonplace in classrooms, but trying to communicate musical technique from a distance can be a challenge. The masterclass attempted to lessen this obstacle by connecting the piano Meyer played on, to the piano in the HFAC.

Nicolette Sam plays for Spencer Myer
Photo by Jeffrey Dodenbier

This was accomplished with a Yamaha Disklavier piano which was connected to the piano Myer sat at in Boston. While participants played their selections in Provo, Myer heard and saw the notes played in real time at his piano and viewed the performer’s technique on screen.

Myer commented on ways to improve the position of the students’ wrists and what fingering positions to use, how to improve phrasing using dynamics and timing and more. While this could have been done in some measure using only a screen, Myer’s ability to demonstrate his techniques on his piano in Boston and having the piano in Provo play at the same time, enhanced the experience.

Danai Udall, a graduate student studying piano performance, performed “The Serpent’s Kiss” from William Bolcom’s “The Garden of Eden.” She described how the experience initially felt odd, but ultimately provided an individualized lesson.

“It was very strange not to have the clinician present during the masterclass,” Udall said. “Since he couldn’t see the audience, I felt like the masterclass was very focused on me, whereas sometimes in standard masterclasses the clinician will address the audience more. However, I thought it was very effective and he was incredibly good at noticing my fingerings, hand movements and gestures even though he was watching through a camera.

“Having a Disklavier piano helped me hear the little nuances he wanted. Over the screen, the audio is never as good as in real life but having it come from our piano made it almost as if he were there doing it in person.”

Danai Udall listens to Spencer Myer
Photo by Jeffrey Dodenbier

Myer’s prodigious career has included performing around the world, winning several awards, releasing a solo album, serving as guest faculty at the Oberlin and Baldwin-Wallace Conservatories of Music and, most recently, as Artist-Teacher of Piano and Collaborative Piano at Boston’s Longy School of Music of Bard College.

The masterclass was the second use of distance learning for the School of Music that will continue to allow distinguished guest artists the opportunity to provide music majors with exceptional experiences that will add to their education.


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