“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

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Barber: Cello Concerto - 3rd movement

Interpretation Class
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Yuri Ahn (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)

It’s so important to connect with your whole being when you play the cello.

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: You know what? I’m gonna stop you because we have very little time and I have so much to say to you, and it’s not about your cello playing or your music-making. It’s about how you’re being at this moment.

Ben Zander: You’re great. First thing is, you’re great. You’ve made huge progress. Huge progress. And you’re playing fabulously. It’s totally admirable what you’re doing.

Ben Zander: And so, the first thing I would like you to feel is enormous confidence in yourself. Because competitions are funny things. Why do we do competitions? What is the purpose of the competition?

Yuri Ahn: To win?

(Audience laughs)

Ben Zander: That is one possible answer. Can you think of anything else?

Yuri Ahn: While you prepare for a competition, you make some progress.

Ben Zander: It makes you work very hard. Right? Harder than you’ve ever worked. You get more excited, learn the piece, and get tremendously involved in understanding the music. You master every passage. Then you go in for the competition, and it doesn’t actually matter whether you win or not. That’s the beautiful thing. Because the main thing is, it’s great to compete. Look, I’m all in favor of competition. It makes people work hard. It gives them a sense of purpose and focus. It’s like when people are driving along in the car, and they suddenly go through a tunnel. Everybody behaves in the tunnel because they want to get through. that’s what a competition is. It’s a focusing technique.

Ben Zander: So, compete as much as you can. But give up wanting to win, ok? Give it up. Give it up because that’s what’s holding you back. The worry about winning is holding you back from being fully expressive. And that’s what’s missing. What we hear is wonderful cello playing, beautiful music-making, but quite a lot of fear So, give it up. Give it up because it’s not important. What is important is the development you’ve made since the last time I heard you, which is spectacular. So, we’re going to get you to really enjoy yourself.

Ben Zander: I’ll tell you a story. When I was young, very young, I was a cellist. My father used to practice with me. I was about eleven, and every time I played a note out of tune, he would go like that (grimacing). One day, he said, “One day you’re going to read in the Evening Standard a headline saying Boy Kills Father by Playing F-Sharp Too Flat.”

Well, it sounds funny now, but it was terrifying for me. And so, I got more and more careful, and more and more careful, and more and more anxious, and I closed down as a musician. Then I had a teacher who said to me something very beautiful. He said, “Ben, you’ll never play well until you learn to play badly.”

Ben Zander: That was a revelation. So, I started playing badly! And it helped my playing to no end. Now, when you played that run-up, you were so worried about missing it that you play badly. But you didn’t intend to play badly. Now, I want you to play that run-up and intend to play badly. Okay? And see how it goes. So, can you do that just before the big run-up? Right there. Here we go. But you got to play really badly.

(Music playing)

Ben Zander: Okay! here we go! Yes. Good. Now, do the next one. Do it again, do it really badly. Once again.

(Music playing)

Ben Zander: Yes. But stop looking at your hands. Look up in the air. Look up, okay? Here we go.

(Music playing)

Ben Zander: Good! That was pretty good. It wasn’t quite bad enough, but it was very good. Everything in your life has been geared not to do that. From the youngest age, you’ve been told, “Don’t play badly.” So, it’s closed you down a bit. I mean, you’re doing really well. It’s beautiful.

And you’re much more open than you were, which is great. I just want to encourage you to open up everything, including the way you come on the stage when you come out and play. Did you know that you never look at the audience? Your eyes are closed all the time. Are you hiding from somebody? No. Right. There are real people out there. So, enjoy the fact that you’ve got a whole lot of people listening to you.

Look, these people came all the way from Southern Connecticut. They got up at 5:00 this morning in order to get here on time to hear you. Is that not exciting? This gentleman, amazingly enough, I said, “How did you come?” He said, “Well, my parents in India said they heard it on the internet and said I should come.” I love that. Please give my best to your parents.

Ben Zander: So, do you see? These are people. You’re playing for people. And it’s so much fun. So much fun. You know, Jackie Duprey, I’ve told this story. Did you hear me tell this story? It’s so beautiful. Jackie Duprey was five, and her mother told me this story, so I know it was true. She was playing in a competition. She went for her first competition, and she was so excited that she was running down the corridor in that cellar. And the teacher said that one of the mothers saw her running and said, “Well, you’ve just played, haven’t you?” And she said, “No, I’m just about to!”

She was five, for goodness’ sake! She hadn’t gotten into all that worry and concern. You are great. You’re a wonderful player for your age. You’re in high school and you’re playing the way you’re playing, it’s fantastic. So, just relax, enjoy it, and love your audience.

Ben Zander: So, begin again. And just give everything you have. Have fun.

(Piano intro plays)

Ben Zander: This opening it’s terrifying. It’s like the beginning of the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth. It was written just after the bomb exploded in Hiroshima. Did you know that? Terrifying opening. And then he says Appassionata. All the passion in the world is poured into this. It’s not cello playing; it’s tearing your heart out and giving it away and saying, “Look what happened!”

So, once again

(Music playing)

Ben Zander: Are you having fun?

Yuri Ahn: Yes

Ben Zander: And are you nervous?

Yuri Ahn: No

Ben Zander: No! Because you can’t be nervous when you have a message. When you have something to say to people, they’re really excited to hear it. How can you be nervous? Because it’s not about you, isn’t that interesting? It’s about them.

Ben Zander: So, if you can carry that into the competition I promise you, by the way, that you’ll win. But it’s incidental, you see. You’ve got to get that. So, compete. But give up wanting to win. Give up wanting to win. That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is what you just did.

Congratulations. I could go on, but we have other people and I think that’s the main thing you needed to hear. You don’t need to hear somebody telling you how to play because you really play very well. You’ve worked incredibly hard and now you can enjoy the results. It’s like putting seeds in the ground and watching the flowers and now you can enjoy it. Please enjoy it, okay? But for me, the success of your entry into the competition next Sunday will be if you have a wonderful time. And I’ll be interested to see whether you win because it’s interesting to see how good the cellists and the musicians around your age are and so on. That’s interesting. But it’s not as interesting as you are. Great! Well done.

Wow, look at that smile! It’s so important to connect with your whole being when you play the cello. When you came out, you didn’t smile. You just smiled when you met me in the morning, I thought oh great, she’s got it. It’s all about the relationship you have with the audience, the relationship with your pianist, the relationship with me, the relationship with the music. And have a healthy relationship with competition, and then you’ll have a wonderful life. Have a healthy relationship with competition and then you’ll have a wonderful life. Money-back guarantee.

kuen chan
'Mr.zander always can give a student with that magic touch, LOVE to watch, I wish he is my teacher'
Ben Meitzen
'Fabulous!'
dshall27
'13 f***ing thousand views0 dislikes. This man is an inspiration.'
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