Sunday, April 26, 2015

Introducing Seymour

Seymour: An Introduction (dir. Ethan Hawke, 2014) caught my attention by way of its Salinger-inspired title. This documentary introduces the viewer to Seymour Bernstein (b. 1927), who gave up an anxiety-making life as a performing pianist for a better life as a teacher of pianists. Bernstein emerges as a man of consummate wisdom and monastic simplicity, having renounced aspirations to a big career, as it’s called, for his own version of happiness. And who can argue with that?

Scenes of Bernstein teaching are, well, instructive: he is clear, demanding, and patient, taking the student from one note to the next. It’s teaching with a microscopic attention to the musical text. A scene of Bernstein practicing confirms that he equally demanding and patient with himself. I found in this film, as in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, strong inspiration for the work of writing: getting things right as a matter of ongoing, endless attention, identifying and solving difficulties, one by one.

The least rewarding scenes of the film, alas, are those with Bernstein and Hawke. (It was their chance meeting as dinner guests that led Hawke to make the film.) Bernstein’s tranquility makes Hawke look like a tightly wound mess. Then again, that might be the point.

Here is more about Seymour Bernstein and the film. And here is a page with a trailer and a clip.

Seymour Bernstein on the work of teaching music: “The most important thing is to inspire an emotional response for all aspects of life.”

[I’ve quoted from the trailer. In the film it’s said a little differently: “The most important thing music teachers can do is to encourage an emotional response not just to music but all aspects of life.” Or something like that: I was scribbling in the dark.]

comments: 0