The amateur pianist Glenn Kramer, a creative director by day, plays with incredible virtuosity. He learned to play at age seven, and currently he aspires to play Mendelssohn’s Fugue in F Minor, Bach’s English Suites, and Chopin’s Bolero, among others. Yet in his teens, this founder of the website AmateurPianists, struggled to learn the notes.
Tell us about your experiences learning the piano as a child.
My piano teacher, Dick Warnick, is a friend of my parents, and he lived only two houses away. He made learning exciting and inspiring. Once at nine years old, I was so excited for my lesson that I walked into his house without ringing the doorbell or knocking.
Dick taught me to play music partly “by ear” and partly “by chord/melody.” He wrote out the notes and chords using note letters, not the classical notation as most students are taught. At the end of every lesson, he recorded himself playing the piece. I was able to listen repeatedly to the tempo, chord modulations, pedaling, and feeling. When I was 10, my teacher recorded his version of a boogie-woogie that I admired so much, I told myself that I would have given up all my other songs just to perform that one piece like he did.
What happened after many years of studying under this method?
I became very good at playing by ear, but was an absolute beginner in terms of understanding proper classical notation. It puzzled many people that I could play so well, yet could not read music. I felt severely limited. I couldn’t play my favorite classical piano music by Bach, Chopin, Mozart, or Beethoven.
Dick recognized that in order to reach my full potential, I should be supplementing his technique. So, I began taking lessons from two teachers every week: Dick continued to teach me to how to listen and improvise, and my new teacher taught me the fundamentals such as notation, scales, sight-reading, and Hanon exercises (we all know those Hanon exercises!). Going back to the basics was difficult for me, but was essential training. To this day, sight-reading is not my strong suit.
I still talk with Dick Warnick frequently. He’s a very good friend to my parents and me. His motto to this day is “keep a song in your heart and a smile on your face.”
As an adult, you participated twice in the Paris International Competition for Outstanding Piano Amateurs.
Yes. In 1999, I entered the Paris competition for the first time. In the preliminaries, with 100 pianists competing for 12 spots, I didn’t advance.
For the 2001 competition, I was motivated to do better. At the time, the piano I had was not in good condition, so I visited hotels and looked for empty banquet halls so that I could practice on better instruments. I shortened my work day to part-time status so I would have more time to practice. After I performed in the preliminary round, the jury loved my Rossini’s La Danza and asked me to play it to open the finals event. There were almost 2,000 people in the beautiful Sorbonne Amphitheatre. It was one of the most exhilarating days of my life!
Tell us about your work as an advocate for students of adult piano lessons and adult amateurs.
Earlier this year, I launched AmateurPianists.org. The site offers relevant news, information on competitions and festivals, and helpful links for the global community of amateur piano enthusiasts. I also created AmateurPianists San Diego to provide opportunities for amateur pianists to perform in my hometown. I want to stay involved with the piano community and hopefully make a difference for other piano enthusiasts.