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Doing Classical Piano Performance—
How I Got Started

Biography for Pianist, Steven Heitman (Continued)

Biography: 1   2   3   4    5   6   7   8   9   10

Before I tell you about me, I am very grateful and thankful to every person that has assisted me in doing research, training, and writing my biography. Without their help and assistance, I could not have done it. Thank you.

About how I got started doing classical piano performance, this is my story and biography. My mom was attending a Juilliard graduate-level program and decided to take some time away from her musical studies. Previously, she was a classical piano performance major, during her undergraduate program. Since I was almost born at Juilliard—The Juilliard School—in Manhattan, New York, at the end of May, I started studying classical piano performance music before I was born. Music and classical piano performance has always been a part of my life, including Juilliard.

There is some natural force of nature in me—maybe it is Godlike or Mind-like (or perhaps a reflection of Soul divine)—not human, but what turns me on about being a pianist is the sound that comes out of the piano, when I play and give concerts and communicating with all my audiences.

I do agree (being a pianist is a miracle), and I was very inspired by this quote from Juilliard:

The Possibility of a Miracle

 The minute a student walks in here, there’s the possibility of a blossom, the possibility of a miracle. Behind every door of this building is a potential miracle. Here there is a deep commitment to exploring that possibility with a student, expanding musicians’ sense of themselves and the possibilities within the music.

Anyone considering Juilliard needs to be open to that potential for growth, because you never know when that miracle is going to happen and how it’s going to strike. 

Ara Guzelimian
Provost and Dean

Eternal Now, I AM that I AM

I really love music and playing piano. I love how music makes me feel. I also love how complicated all the components to doing music are the required details to remembering everything. I learned at any early age to memorize details. Then you never have to look it up. You just know it, to understand it, and to give all that performance energy to great audiences around the world.

She felt it was important to be a well-rounded person. She encouraged me to play other instruments, which I did. In the end, she finally told me I should just follow my heart. I used to go to her for advice on fingerings. She seemed to be able to give that information to me quickly.

I realized that I was best suited for the piano, getting up on stage and performing. At age 4, when a childminder stated: Your hands are so huge little fellow—what are you going to do when you grow up? I replied back: I will be a pianist without any doubt.

While I studied other instruments, like clarinet (many years of private lessons) and bass clarinet, (it was actually too big for me to carry around, though I did carry it to school), guitar and singing, played in orchestra in grade school and junior high school, and singing. In junior high school, we did a very successful performance of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.

Previously, when I played bass clarinet, in second grade, I had a solo piece where I had to count 40 measures and come in on time (I came in on time; of course, the conductor helped—I was diligent and kept looking at the conductor to make sure I was really coming in on time). I also took music theory in high school. The other instrument that I was attracted to was playing the oboe.

In addition, I used to do a lot of acting when I was 4 years old (I used to dig up the appropriate wardrobe that fit the role I would play from taking parts off of the television; then I worked seriously on reproducing and articulating the character), however. I think acting is really good to do. It made me reach deep down into my soul to bring the character to life.

Lincoln Center

The truth is that I am a pianist. If I was not a pianist, I would definitely be an actor. The truth is that I realized the piano is the only instrument that I would be happy and enjoy playing. It is all I think about; the tonal qualities one may achieve on the piano are infinite. I love everything about the piano and playing it.

I told my mom it did not work for me to play other instruments. She finally agreed it was to be. I did have more than a few lessons with my mom. It just naturally happened.

In high school for a few years, I studied with Ruth Brant in San Jose (her husband LeRoy Brant was a well-known personality in California’s cultural scene, a correspondent with Albert Schwietzer and Jean Sibelius, founder of the Institute of Music in San Jose in 1917).

She also had a lovely Steinway A-III piano that I really loved to perform on at lessons and recitals; her Steinway was professionally prepared and maintained for performers, however.

I did not feel I was getting enough advanced training to better pursue a career as a pianist; though she suggested and candidly recommended, she thought I was naturally talented enough to prepare and audition and successfully attend Juilliard. She really stressed the importance of being very familiar with scales and arpeggios.

In a word, I take practising and learning new pieces very seriously. It is fair to say that I did major and do have a very strong emphasis in classical piano performance, through private piano lessons. I am very dedicated on moving forward for a great career in the performing arts.

I personally sought out and aspired to study with way more advanced Juilliard-trained professors of classical piano performance; I appreciate, though, all the basic skills I learned from her. I worked on preparing auditions specific to my objectives and goals as a pianist.

When I was in high school, I bought an excellent recording of Chopin Polonaises, performed by Garrick Ohlsson, pianist. Yes, I was impressed by his awesome playing and expert command of the piano and rich with tonal qualities.

I was very deeply inspired and moved by his playing. In a good way, he motivated me immensely and professionally (as much as Arthur Rubinstein did for so many years!). My mom heard the recording playing and knew (as she told me) he studied with Lhévinne at Juilliard.

During this period of time, I also attended more than a few master classes with Karl Ulrich Schnabel (his father was Artur Schnabel). I got a lot out of attending and was deeply inspired.

My first real mentor in music was a violin teacher, friend, and of great assistance to me for expanding my awareness about a career in music. She told me never worry about doing music—just jump in and do it—never be discouraged.

I met my Professor, Wanda Krasoff, because the Juilliard fellow (he studied with Alton Jones at Juilliard)—I was studying with—insisted and recommended me. She asked me to come listen to her play Mozart at her public performance, to see if I liked her playing. Of course, I did enjoy her concert.

Rappoldi—Pupil of Liszt and Taught Ryss—
Professor Krasoff’s First Professor in San Francisco

Her playing was, in a good and fair word, compared to Liszt (I think that is because, as she told me, when she was young, studied with a Professor that had studied with Liszt; she studied with him in San Francisco for five years—Rappoldi, a Liszt pupil and her teacher in San Francisco was Ryss.

I was recommended and told to study with her, since she had studied with Alexander Raab for 25 years. Truthfully, her technical ability instantly and precisely commanded the keyboard without much effort!

She related to me that she considered the Steinway piano the best piano for a serious pianist. She had a very well maintained Steinway grand piano that was always in perfect tune. She preferred her action regulated on the lighter side. How she played in performance is what she sincerely taught her students.

She encouraged us all to be original in our thought process and demonstration of classical piano performance. I do believe she maintained the same professional standard as Professor Raab. When I first started with her, she insisted I play the same piece over and over again, until it was perfect.

She stressed great importance on scales, arpeggios, chords, cadences, keyboard harmony, weight transference method, correct hand positions, legato tone, proper stage demeanor, and Czerny; she also insisted that things be done right and no excuses.

Highly Selective Audition Process

When I met her, I took the audition. In our phone interview, she warned me that it was a highly selective audition process. She expected me to know already every major/minor scales and arpeggios (required). I basically played current pieces I was working on at the time. We talked about what I had done with other teachers, like Czerny, Hanon, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, 20th century genre pieces, and different types of scales and arpeggios.

She just wanted to know if I was dedicated enough to practice the many hours required every day. She informed me she had limited space left in her schedule and others auditioning. Her teaching program had a high impaction rate.

After I passed the rigorous audition, she accepted me as her pupil. I think I am what you might call the unplanned pianist. Additionally, I worked with the professional Juilliard graduates and Professors. We agreed on all the original concepts I learned from the all the Juilliard-trained piano performance teachers, including my mom. Every Professor I ever auditioned for gave a highly selective audition process for me.

I was thrilled at my piano lessons, when she pulled out all her old photos of her Professor Raab with Brahms, and Arthur Rubinstein. Some lessons honestly lasted 6-8 hours, with lunch and coffee. Pretty quickly on, we all realized I needed at least 2 lessons a week, if not more.

While she did not tell me what to do, she always talked about Juilliard and preparation for lessons, and she instructed me to always take a very serious professional standard and opinion about it—a certain responsibility for every scale, arpeggios, notes, and every piece of music performed—never to arrive at a lesson unprepared.

We discussed other possibilities for scales and arpeggios, in parallel and contrary motion (3rds, 6ths, and 10ths), including keyboard harmony and how it relates. And then how we could apply this all to complex performance pieces, learning by doing and playing and performing.

She also introduced me to Justin Blasdale, a former student. He studied with Rosina Lhévinne at The Juilliard School, and he made his successful Carnegie Hall debut.

Many of her students also auditioned and were granted admission to The Juilliard School, and they studied at Juilliard with Rosina Lhévinne; Professor Raab was a professional colleague of her husband. Other Professors I took piano lessons from studied with Adele Marcus (she studied with Josef Lhévinne) at Juilliard.

music Liszt

Brahms Theme of Paganini

Look at the score and hear how it speaks to you. If it is not your piece, then drop it. Play what you love to perform. Communicate with your audiences, and they will love you. With regard to practicing, take care to rest when it is required.

I tend to become so absorbed that I find longer hours do not concern me. I always take breaks and hydrate with water and eat food. It should turn out to be a very natural process, to practice with care and lots of love.

Family History of Other Schools Accepted Admissions

Other family members graduated from and attended:

Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Columbia University, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, University of Michigan, U.C. Berkeley, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University, San José State University, San Francisco State University, University of the Pacific, The Juilliard School, Stanford University, and many other fine colleges and universities (in the United States and abroad).

Others in my family that I am related to, like Meryl Streep, and many others have had very successful careers in the performing arts;
Yale School of Drama.

Additional Background

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Steven Heitman

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