Cincy Chic: Did you have a teacher/instructor that inspired you?
Gail Berenson: My piano professor at Northwestern University, Dr. Guy Duckworth, was my mentor, nurturing both my pianistic and pedagogical skills. His skill as a teacher helped me develop my musicianship, allowing me to maximize my pianistic abilities. His pedagogical approach that encouraged independent thinking, helped me become the pianist and teacher I am today. There is not a day that goes by that I do not use something I learned in my piano lessons or my pedagogy classes with him.
Cincy Chic: Of all the instruments out there, why did you “fall in love” with the piano?
Berenson: The decision to play the piano really was not initially mine. My mother decided that it was appropriate for me to play the piano, so at the age of six I began my lessons. Now a professional pianist, I love the fact that I can perform alone, able to create an incredible range of sounds. In addition, I can collaborate with vocalists and instrumentalists, enjoying the ability to share our performances. Their extensive repertoire also becomes mine.
Cincy Chic: What do you love most about being a teacher/instructor?
Berenson: I love working with people, challenging them to achieve their best. Even the least innately skilled pianist can be a joy to work with as they begin to progress and enjoy the ability to make music.
Cincy Chic: You wear many professional hats: piano pedagogue, expert on musician wellness issues expert, performer, clinician, master class artist, adjudicator, author, reviewer and pedagogy consultant. Which hat do you find yourself putting on frequently and enjoy wearing the most?
Berenson: As president of Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) since March 2007, and being on professional leave from my university teaching for the past fourteen months, the presidential hat is the one I’ve worn most frequently. One of the privileges of being president is the ability to leave a legacy. I hope to make a positive and lasting impact on this organization.
I am currently working in conjunction with our Board of Directors to promote the areas of musician wellness and collaborative performance. Projects are currently underway to increase our offerings in both of these areas and positively affecting our members and their students. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, traveling the world representing MTNA and meeting so many talented and dedicated musicians.
This position has also involved my writing on a regular basis for The American Music Teacher, the professional journal of MTNA. It’s been exciting to have a “bully pulpit” to draw the attention of our members to topics I feel are especially important. This September, I will return to full-time teaching and know that I will enjoy returning to my work with my Ohio University students and colleagues. I will also return to a more active performing schedule, something I felt I needed to limit due to all my travel commitments. I feel I have the best of all worlds, being able to take on these many roles.
Cincy Chic: Do you have any advice for future teachers who hope to one day become as successful as you?
Berenson: Firstly, work hard and challenge yourself to do your very best. Secondly, as a teacher, always treat each of your students as unique individuasl. Thirdly, never stop learning. Organizations like MTNA serve as a wonderful resource for continuing your learning.
Cincy Chic: In your opinion what makes a good student? A good teacher? A good learning experience?
Berenson: A good student is one who is open and willing to try to new ideas. A good student is also a dedicated student who is not afraid to work hard.
A good teacher is one who listens to his or her students and treats them as unique individuals, not just 10 fingers. A good teacher is one who is creative and resourceful, helping each student achieve his or her best. A good teacher is one who nurtures each student’s independence, providing them the problem-solving tools to continue a lifetime of learning.
A good learning experience serves as a catalyst for future learning. It is one that motivates a student to want to rush to try out the ideas they just learned, transferring the idea just learned to a new setting.
Cincy Chic: You have been honored with many prestigious distinctions and awards. Which one means the most to you and why?
Berenson: I have tremendous respect for MTNA and the outstanding benefits it offers its members. As a result, it is a special honor to have been elected President of MTNA and asked to serve in this leadership position for one of the pre-eminent music teacher associations in the world. It is my privilege to represent the 24,000 members of MTNA.
Cincy Chic: What was your favorite thing to learn about, either as a child or now as an adult?
Berenson: The skill I have most recently learned was how to create a Power Point presentation. I’m still learning how to do more with this. It is exciting to learn something new and see the results of that learning.
Cincy Chic: What’s your favorite thing about Cincinnati?
Berenson: I love all the new restaurants that have been added to Fountain Square. It’s great to explore these new restaurants each time I come to Cincinnati for an MTNA meeting. Of course, everyone loves Graeter’s ice cream!
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Photo: Courtesy of www.GailBerenson.com