A couple of months ago I received an invitation to become a subscriber (read “sponsor”) for a book about my former organ teacher, Joan Hult Lippincott, and I was happy to send in my contribution, with the promise that I would receive a free copy of the book. Here was the promotional copy: Head of the organ department of Westminster Choir College, the largest in the world, Joan Lippincott taught hundreds of students and played more than 600 recitals around the world. The Gift of Music is the story of Joan Lippincott’s life, career, and influence. In addition to a biography by compiler and editor Larry Biser, former students, friends, and colleagues have contributed essays. The book is profusely illustrated and includes recital programs, a list of Lippincott’s recitals, and a complete discography.
Last week, I was thrilled to receive an email message from JHL herself, in which she wrote:
Well, today I finally received my copy of the book! As I quickly thumbed through the book, I found her quote about practice which I have passed on to my students: “Practice means playing perfectly!” In fact, when I met Joan two years ago at the Boston Early Music Festival, I told her that I quote her every day!
As you know, I’ve been doing a fair amount of organ practice every day, in preparation for my August concerts, and in fact, last night our neighbor asked me the question: “How many hours of practice do you need to prepare concerts like these?” I don’t think I was exaggerating when I said, “approximately 500 hours, for two hours of music!”
My Las Vegas friend, Dorothy Young Riess, says that in order to learn a new piece, she counts “reps” = repetitions, a term that one more associates with bodybuilding rather than practicing a musical instrument. She says that it takes at least 85 “reps” to learn a piece, and she is very meticulous about recording her repetitions on a chart.
However, I think that more important is the quality rather than the number of repetitions. I, for one, try to make each repetition better than the time before. And of course, one should play perfectly with each repetition and not practice mistakes. Joan was right: practice means playing perfectly! Someone had made her a quilt with these very words which she had hanging in her studio — I wonder if she still has it?
Guess what! Not only did I find my name in the book as a subscriber, but my former classmate, Clarence Cloak, had remembrances of our organ performance classes, and wrote this: Among the many Westminster memories are those from the organ performance classes including fellow classmates Kay Strunk, Ginny Aubrey, Kim Heindel, Clifford Hill, Ruth Darling, Hal Pysher, Katherine Au, Eric Howe, and Stephen Kolarac. Yes! familiar names from my past!
I absolutely loved this response from Joan when asked “What do you believe is the single most important trait as a teacher?” and she answered: I believe to be a good teacher is to be a good student; that teachers are older students; and that in teaching in a one-to-one context there should be a lot of communication of the teacher’s love of the subject and love of the process. It is necessary, of course, to give the student the tools he must use in the process . . . then the student must use the tools and engage in the learning process as if he were teaching himself.