This week, Augustana strings students and pianists rosined their bows and flexed their fingers for two luminaries of the Midwest musical world. 

On Monday, Leslie Shank, violinist and former assistant concertmaster for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Susan Billmeyer, a pianist and regular performer with the Minnesota Orchestra, offered their guidance to a handful of music majors through a pair of masterclasses.  Strings and piano students used the masterclass time to perform a particular piece and receive prompt feedback on possible areas of improvement.

“It’s a chance for a player to perform in front of an audience but hear a new approach for playing—both like a concert and a lesson,” Shank said.

For her masterclass, Shank specifically advised trainees on how to improve technical skills.  She also characterized them in a manner that senior Sonora Ruybal described as “lyrical.” Indeed, many students who participated found the masterclass helped improve both their technique and their thematic understanding of certain music.

“I enjoy it,” Ruybal said.  “It’s nice to have training under someone with different teachings and interpretations of the music.”

Ruybal credits Shank with “looking at the music as a whole” even while critiquing individual portions of it.

“[When you are playing a piece] you just dive into it,” Ruybal said. “You never stop to hear it all together, and she [Shank] was able to piece it all together.”

Senior Andrew Paulson has participated in at least six masterclasses throughout his college career. He also believes that masterclasses play a key role in a musician’s development.

“They’re all beneficial,” Paulson said.  “It’s always nice to get outside your head and hear a few new ideas.”

According to Paulson, Billmeyer also advised “being more open” and “loosening up” in order to better foster the sound of the music.  Shank similarly advocated for “openness” when performing and, accordingly, found students very receptive to her various suggestions.

“I thought they were all eager learners and open-minded,” Shank said.  “They wanted to learn and be challenged.  That impressed me.”

Augustana Orchestra director Christopher Stanichar notes that having Shank and Billmeyer on campus proved valuable to all students who participated in the masterclasses—and even to some of those who did not.

“Anytime we can bring in someone from the outside music world we try to do it,” Stanichar said.  “It helps them [students] to build their repertories and their ability to play in front of a teacher.  And the other students who are just watching learn from the advice as well.”