Arts & Culture

When both music teachers and students inspire


The most curious thing in the music world is the student-teacher relationship.

The world of the aspiring musicians almost always begins with his or her first teachers. The first impressions of teachers and students are always memorable.

Cecile Licad had most of her lessons with Seymour Lipkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, but Rudolf Serkin monitored her progress. In 1977 after her Curtis schooling, Serkin accepted her as a full-time student at the Vermont Institute for Young Musicians.

”When Cecile auditioned for me there was something very special about her musical personality. She had a deep understanding of music and a conviction in her playing that I did not expect from someone so young. She has an incredible instinct for all kinds of music and seems equally at home in any style. This is a very great gift. Nobody could teach her that – it’s her own,” Serkin recalled.

Before Serkin, Licad had Prof. Rosario Picazo as her first formal teacher.

Cecile Licad with teacher Prof. Rosario Picazo.

Licad paid tribute to her first teacher in Roxas City in 2018. “When I was only 5 years old, I got a very important piece of luck in my life. That was studying with Miss Picazo. Even though I was still very young, she understood me and taught me no other teacher ever did. She knew I had the talent and she nurtured it like a flower.”

National Artist for Music and former Cultural Center of the Philippines president Lucrecia Kasilag called the Licad and Picazo tandem “a perfect example of an ideal pupil-teacher relationship.”

Kasilag said she greatly admired the two, calling them “an interesting example for our teachers and pianists to learn from—for lessons in humility and humanity, discipline, dedication and the handiwork of God’s own plans for our young and developing country now entering and being recognized in the universal world of culture.”

On the other hand, piano icon Martha Argerich admired her teacher Friedrich Gulda: “I like him for his spontaneity, curiosity, and a love for music—for all music, not only for classical. He was such an open-minded person, so vital in this sense. He told me once ‘you have to learn everything before turning sixteen because later on (you) get a little stupid!’”

The celebrity of the hour Yuja Wang has another thing to say about her teacher Gary Graffman who has performed in Manila many times. “Even though Mr Graffman belongs to a very different generation, we had this wonderful relationship. I enjoyed his style of teaching. Artistically he would leave me lots of freedom and just loved it when I found something unexpected in the music. His face would light up and I loved getting that reaction. I ‘worked’ that out, and it inspired me to surprise him again Without him, my career would be nothing. He inspired me deeply and through him I was connected to the whole of the European classical music culture.”

Yuja Wang with her equally celebrated teacher Gary Graffman.

Beyond the world of celebrity musicians, there are aspiring young pianists who combine working in the corporate world and still pursue piano lessons.

You have heard of doctors who play the piano and the violin and other instruments. But at some point, in their lives, they turn to music for fulfillment.

To illustrate, Laarni Dawn Ilan graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (major in computer system engineering) from La Salle. That career choice did not stop her from taking piano lessons from distinguished teacher Cecilia Basilio Roxas.

Presently SAP Consultant in a multinational IT company, Laarni had another recital Saturday night at the Manila Pianos and emerged a formidable performer.

Laarni Dawn Ilan at Manila Pianos.

She was no beginner.  She started touching piano keys at age 5 and her first public recital happened at age 9.

At the Manila Pianos recital, her two Scarlatti sonatas were auspicious openers, her Grande Valse Brillante and Scherzo No. 2 by Chopin were virtual tour de force.

A good sampling from Filipino composers (San Pedro’s Salamisim and Agot Espino’s Pinilakang Tabing) brought out local color in her recital.

But it was in Beethoven’s F Minor Appassionata that her tone colors were vivid and sharp.

Ending with Ginastera’s Tres Danzas Argentinas, Laarni wrapped up her latest recital with flying colors.

Laarni Dawn Ilan with teacher Cecilia Roxas after Manila Pianos recital. Photo by Richard Sy-Facunda

While her sense of pianism was close to excellent, she needs to relax a little bit and enjoy her playing. When the performer enjoys what she is doing, the audience has more reasons to cheer.

One believes she will learn that in due time.

Her mentor, Cecilia Roxas, says she enjoys teaching students who come to her with an open mind and ready to take in all the things that a teacher would like to impart to her. “Of course, it is always a joy to see that your student has practiced and worked out all the technical problems you have encountered in the previous lesson. Laarni is one of the few students who showed grit, determination and the willingness to learn and improve her piano playing. Of course, having Cecile Licad as her idol gives her so much inspiration and motivation! Yes, her performance last night was awesome and am glad that the audience was so responsive!”