A master class is a public lesson. A distinguished teacher—that would be the master—works with a student on a piece of music, but the teacher isn’t the student’s regular teacher, and instead of the lesson taking place in a private studio, it takes place in front of an audience. It’s a kind of double performance—the student is performing for the audience, but so is the teacher. And the idea is that whatever the teacher has to offer will be of value to both the student and the observers.
My own feeling is that the best master classes are the ones where the student is exposed to ideas and principles that go beyond a single piece of music. The principles may be quite technical, and physical, or they may be more broadly musical, but in either case they should help the student be a better musician … a more comfortable and convincing interpreter no matter what the piece. And the best teachers are supportive. I’ve seen famous musicians stoke their own egos by humiliating students in master classes… but good teachers never do that.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.