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Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Roger Shields




e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noted artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. You may not always agree with the opinions expressed, but we think you will find them interesting and informative. The opinions offered here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent those of the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, its officers, or members. (We have attorneys, too!). At the end of the interview, you'll find hypertext links to the interviewee's e-mail and Web sites (where available), so you can learn more if you're interested. Except where otherwise noted, the interviewer is Dr. John Zeigler.



The November, 1995 artist/educator:

Roger Shields, Executive Director, Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition, Champaign - Urbana, IL USA

Roger Shields is the founder and executive director of The Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition for children and young adults. A child prodigy who was giving recitals of Chopin Sonatas and the complete Etudes while still in grade school, Shields began composing and playing the piano at the age of 4. By the age of 12, Shields had produced and opera, two piano concerti, and other works for the piano, violin, voice, and flute. A private student of Soulima Stravinsky, Shields also later worked with Rosina Lhevine, Webster Aitken, Yvonne Loriod, and Wilhelm Kempf. After only briefly exploring the standard piano competition circuit (winning prizes in the Busoni and Kinly Competitions), Shields gave a series of acclaimed East Coast and New York City performances which resulted in a vast recording contract with Vox-Turnabout Records. These recordings, which included recitals of 20th Century Americal piano music, were heralded by the international press with feature articles in major newspapers and magazines throughout Europe and the United States. These same recordings have recently been released in a 3 CD set by Vox. With a huge and vastly varied repertoire ranging from the complete Well Tempered Clavier of Bach through Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy Etudes, Sonatas of Ives and Boulez, and chance works of Cage, Shields also premiered many new works for piano. Several composers wrote works especially for him, including George Perle ("Six Etudes"), Lejaren Hiller, and Soulima Stravinsky. The recipient of numerous awards and grants, Shields now works privately with beginning through professional level pianists, many of whom are consistent winners in major competitions. Roger Shields and his wife Andrea (an artist and psychologist), are at home in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

PEP: What made you go into music?

I would imagine for the same reasons as anyone else: a lasting love and intellectual interest in music from my earliest years.

PEP: What do you enjoy the most about making and teaching music?

It is an ever recurring miracle: No one really knows how it is done - hearing, reacting, and actually learning to create. Yet, with patience and hope, the miracle happens over and over.

PEP: What do you think is the "best" way to learn to play?

The best way to learn anything is at a natural pace, without the artificial imposition of methodologies regarding technique and interpretation. Everyone should create their own technique, style, and interpretation. Nothing should be forced.

PEP: What advice would you give to students of the piano?

Practice every day: Do not wait for the inspiration - it will come regularly with daily work. Remember that rarely is there instant gratification. It might be helpful to record one's progress at various stages - after the first few months, and then every year or so - so that one could see/hear the progress. Consider yourself as an athlete who must exercise daily to stay in shape.

PEP: What advice would you give to teachers of the piano or music generally?

Avoid new and commercial pedagogical gimmickry. Avoid workshops in music stores. Avoid any guru-type methodology. Do not use your students for your own self-aggrandizement. Believe practically nothing that you read in modern publications. Stick to what is tried and true. Let the student lead you - never try to make the student play a certain way. Be confident in your teaching abilities - you do not have to know a whole lot to be a good teacher; all you really have to do is listen and remember that your student is preparing for a happy life.

PEP: What kinds of things would you advise students of the piano and their teachers to try to avoid?

Listen only to great artists. Do not focus on yourself. Give your energies to realizing what the composer intended. Do not over-perform, over emote. Build and maintain a repertoire.

PEP: What were your best and worst performances in teaching and performing?

I cannot recall a "bad" teaching or performing experience. All were, in retrospect, part of an interesting journey. My best teaching experiences occur when someone plays something with genuine involvement. My best performing experiences were in intimate smaller halls.

PEP: Who was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano?

My first two piano teachers: Florence Smith and Soulima Stravinsky

PEP: Do you have a favorite pianist? If so, what attracts you to that person?

Most of my favorite pianists are dead - Horowitz, Paderewski, Soulima Stravinsky, and Michaelangeli. Among living pianists, I have often admired and loved Van Cliburn, Hyung-ki Joo, and Sviatoslav Richter.

PEP: What does it take to be a 'successful' musician or music educator?

There are many career possibilities today. The buildup of excellent private teachers is particularly impressive, and offers an honest career. People who know themselves will make the right career choice. I would be more concerned with building a "successful" life. Generosity, humility, honesty, hard work, and sincerity are keys to personal success. Careers come and go, and there is no way to explain the "success" of some versus others. Perhaps if you remember that music is only one facet of life, then the good might follow and one might avoid selling out to a corrupt system. Teachers and students should always be concerned with the whole picture of life. One should never pursue a career seeking glory - most who do are perpetually frustrated and disappointed since there is seemingly never enough public praise.

PEP: Can you give us your reflections on music as a career?

I find it difficult to reflect upon a "career", because of the business, political, artistic, and ethical facets involved. Also, a "career" for most means a "business" - the skill of making money. If one, either due to native gifts, education, or environmental factors, possesses good sense, integrity, and a sense of soul, a "business" should be no problem, in any area. Whatever one does, one should obviously not corrupt oneself. The problem today, or perhaps any day, is that jobs which carry a great deal of money and prestige too often demand a Faustian bargain, with, inevitably, artistic honesty and personal integrity not on the side of the devil.

PEP: What deficiency in training or technique do you most often find in students?

Nothing is more important than good sight reading and a knowledge of great repertoire.

PEP: What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children especially, in classical music?

Very little! An interest in classical music is part and parcel of a love of culture, and depends upon one's parental and societal heritage. Our time is unfortunately not one of profound cultural depth and interest. A love of great music implies a deep interest in all things beautiful. Perhaps it would be helpful if teachers would emphasize the exploration of great music, literature, and art, and do everything possible to disparage the use of trashy music. At the same time, the teacher could relate music to art to literature to nature to cuisine to beautiful fields of wheat, etc. However, since the primary responsibility for the investiture and cultivation of culture is up to the parents, the teacher cannot bear too much responsibility.

PEP: What are your views on competitions?

As the founder and executive director (for 10 years now) of The Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition for children and young adults, I have heard literally thousands of young pianists from all over the world. Competitions can be good or bad depending upon the child, teacher, and parents. Never enter if you have to win. Never enter until you are ready. Never take competitions too seriously. Never consider competitions as a measure of success; rather, view competitions as possibly wonderful opportunities to test yourself and to hear other pianists who might be very good. Do not become a "competition pianist"; if you do, your playing will probably become very limited in dimension. You will probably learn very little repertoire and you, and your listener, will probably become very bored and unfulfilled. If you can view competitions as "festivals", then you can profit. BUT, competitions are not for everyone. Some very special and precious talents might do very poorly in competitions. If you do enter, do not play as if you are being judged and do not change your playing to suit a "competition" style.

PEP: Pretend this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say?

Parents: You are amateurs. Listen to experienced, successful teachers who have dedicated their lives/careers to music. Give love and structure in equally potent amounts. As strenuous as the job of parenting is, you can never give up.

Students: Work hard. Be Patient. Your teachers and parents want only the best for you, and you must trust in them.

Teachers: Trust yourself. Do not hurry progress. Allow the student to play individually, and to learn at a level suitable to the student. Remember that different students "flower" at different ages - some early, some late. Do not imitate the playing of others. Always remember that you are teaching much more than just music.

Page created: 2/5/96
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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