Menahem Pressler on the Adventure of Practicing

by Monique Mead


It was during a performance of the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler that I stopped wondering how it would feel to be in the presence of God.

menham presslerNo, it was not the pianist’s imposing stature or powerful performance that invoked images of divine grandeur — quite the opposite, in fact. I was witnessing the diminutive figure of a 90-year-old whose artistry transcended the parameters of music: notes, phrasing, and technique dissolved into a realm of subtle magnificence, connecting me with the very essence of music.

The baggage of my musical life fell away and I was reawakened to the powerful emotional imprint of my earliest musical experiences and my consuming passion for learning the violin. Once again I connected with why I had wanted to become a musician.

Having heard thousands of concerts in my lifetime, the significance of this experience was not lost on me, and I could not let him leave without finding out the source of his magic. Where was he coming from? What was he connecting with that I was not?

Fortunately, Mr. Pressler was gracious enough not only to speak to me privately, but also to share his “secrets” in a taped on-stage interview. I publish it here (linked below) with his blessing, in hopes that others will also be inspired by the extraordinary spirit of this great musician. After speaking with him, I came across a quote that encapsulates him perfectly: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  –Mahatma Gandhi.


On making a career in music (Listen to the quote: 2:10)

“You don’t have to be a concertizing artist…you can sit in a small town and teach and find not only satisfaction in teaching, but feeling that when you transmit music to someone else and reach their lives you have really done something in your life. Therefore, your life is important because you bring so much.”

On teaching amateurs (Listen to the quote: 4:19)

“Amateurs – the word come from “amare,” from loving – that means they love music. I wish that all the professionals would love music….It is real, it can touch you, it can move you. It can inspire. Life is out there, there is a great deal missing….But the truth is, the real greatness in living is being able to feel, when you are able to feel you feel friendship, you feel love, you feel connection.”

On practicing (Listen to the quote: 6:33)

“Practicing I think is a wonderful thing. I must admit I belong to the very few who love to practice….really practicing is an adventure. Really practicing means to find out. Practicing is what to a scientist is research, to what a writer is research. Or to an architect is looking at other buildings and coming to his own conclusions. Practicing is not drudgery. It is difficult sometimes – especially if you’re married, if you teach. You find the time. Yes, you have to find the time. Yes, you have to somehow sacrifice in finding it. Practicing is very solitary, you are not a social person at that point. You are there, devoting yourself to be able to find the answers for yourself….”

Where does Menahem Pressler go for inspiration?

Pressler’s response was not what I was expecting! Listen to his quote at 6:00….

Follow the link to listen to the full interview!

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