My Piano Pedigree: in honor of all my teachers


Polly van der Linde in 1982

Polly van der Linde in 1982

With the advent of the academic year fast upon us, I have been thinking of all of the pianists who have shaped my musical life. I want to honor them for all they’ve given me, even if their role was just a small fragment of my musical education. Every one of them shaped my life and meant something to me. I’m often asked about my piano history so here it is in as short a synopsis as I can offer, in chronological order of appearance in my musical upbringing:

Rosamond van der Linde: my mother. She started me out on piano at age 4, inviting all of my neighborhood friends to come in for a lesson, too. She put the fun in piano and has never doubted me in my pursuits as a minor and as an adult (that’d be the equivalent of major!). See A Piano in Every Room

Rein van der Linde: my father. He put the passion in piano for me. We talked piano shop all the time and played many a duo piano concert (and sometimes trio piano concert with my sister, Erica). He was on the faculty for mathematics at Bennington College but most people thought he was a part of the music faculty. Sadly, he died from leukemia in 1996. He is missed every day. It’s hard to find anything online about Dad but someone on a pipe organ forum posted his obituary. Read more.

Beth Eisenberg: a student at Bennington College, who was what was called my “practice buddy” when I was gearing up for auditions. She worked with me for about a year. I wonder if she’s still playing since, in my limited search, I could not find anything recent.

Lionel Nowak: he never taught me piano but he invited me to Bennington College to join us piano class for sightreading sessions when I was all of 13. Somehow I wound up playing the Trout Quintet with BC faculty members at this time as well, thanks to simply being around campus.

Edgar Roberts: my teacher at the Juilliard Pre-College Division from ages 15 – 17. He pushed me to do full solo recitals at Juilliard. Repertoire included: Bach Preludes and Fugues, several Chopin Etudes, several Beethoven Sonatas, Haydn E-flat Sonata, Mendelssohn Variations Serieuses Op. 54, Bartok Suite Op. 14, Creston Prelude and Dance No. 2 and others.  He died in 2003. Single click on the black button near bios on this site. Read more

Robert Goldsand: my teacher for two years while I was an undergrad at SUNY Purchase. I commuted to the Manhattan School of Music for lessons with him. I learned lots of Brahms with him and got more guidance in technique, but, I think I bored him as he ate his lunch in almost all of my lessons. I was not one of his best students.  He died in 1991. Read more

Daniel Epstein: worked with me my last two years at SUNY Purchase. I learned a huge amount of repertoire with Dan. He got me to believe in myself as a pianist, too. Larger works: Beethoven Sonatas Op. 27, No. 1, Op. 31, No. 3, Waldstein, Op. 109, several etudes and pieces by Liszt, more Brahms, Prokofiev Sonata No. 3, Chopin Sonata No. 2, Estampes, Rachmaninoff-Paganini Variations. Dan’s website

Samuel Sanders: while I never worked with him on solo repertoire, he was my chamber music and Sonata music coach at SUNY Purchase. I swear I learned how to really play 2 against 3 when I worked on the Brahms F minor viola/clarinet Sonata with him. He was strict, funny as anything but also extremely giving. I learned and performed more repertoire with him than solo rep during my undergrad days. This was before the days of anyone pursuing a degree in collaborative piano. We were simply known as accompanists then. Sam prided himself on being the first to get proper billing when playing with (not for) big name artists. He also encouraged me to pursue this avenue as there not very many women doing so at the time. I found I enjoyed working with others more than being on the stage solo. Read more

Gilbert Kalish: he was my piano repertoire coach at Purchase. He had everyone in his class learn at least one Bach Invention, Sinfonia, Haydn Sonata, Crumb Makrokosmos (these had been composed only a few years prior to my learning them). I had never seen such beautiful musical scores before (in the shape of a spiral, a crucifix and all based on the zodiac). Read more

Robert D. Levin: well, he didn’t teach me piano – he taught me theory, and, I suppose, discipline during my undergrad days at Purchase. I have never worked so hard to understand theory, but, like math, I was not very good at it. Nevertheless, I learned so much, in part because I got to witness the genius side of RDL. I loved hearing him sight read or play by ear, full orchestral scores in classes. It was mesmerizing. And, yet, I will never forget when he sightread the Rachmaninoff-Paganini Variations with me as soloist for the Purchase Concerto Competition (yay, I won) and he misread the meter in the 6 bars before Variation XIX! Horrors! However, he saved the day by putting up his hands and telling the jury that it was his fault and started that spot over again. Somehow this story really resonated with me as his brilliance could be a tad frightening. Read more

Benjamin Kaplan: for the 2.5 years (1982-84)I spent in England, Benjamin Kaplan was my teacher. At that time, he was not affiliated with any music school but I took two 1.5 hour lessons per week at his studio. He completely revamped my technique and prepared for my first international piano competition in 1984, the Busoni, in Bolzano, Italy. Repertoire in those days included: Schumann Carnaval, Debussy Preludes, nineteen Chopin Etudes, a half dozen Nocturnes, Bach-Busoni Chorales, several Liszt Etudes, Beethoven Sonatas Op. 10, No. 3, Tchaikovsky Concerto and other pieces. There is mention of the late Benjamin Kaplan in an article by David C. F. Wright online (it’s copyrighted so I only mention of it here.

Theodore Lettvin: I returned to graduate school, at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, in 1987. Ted Lettvin was my assigned distinguished professor. He expanded my dynamic range, especially on the quiet end and had an interesting way of counting. I remember spending long hours on the Brahms-Handel Variations as well as the Beethoven Op. 101 Sonata. Read more

Ilana Vered: another concert pianist that I worked with at Rutgers. A true tour de force at the piano. I loved her energy and excitement in her playing. I hoped that it’d rub off on me as well. Ilana’s website

Paul Hoffman: also at Rutgers, Paul got me interested in Berio, premiering new works and taught me how to count in circles. Paul’s website

Marina Young: Marina was also at the Mason Gross School of the Arts and showed me various ways in how to produce differences in tone. Strumming and plucking the strings of the piano helped to feel a new sensation under my fingertips and it translated back to the piano keys. Read more

Bernard Greenhouse: my passion for cello music gave me the opportunity to play with a lot of cellists, learning lots of repertoire. I had the good fortune to work with him on the Carter Sonata, a piece written for him specifically. I also had the honor of playing the Debussy Sonata with him. Lucky me. There were many more pieces learned but those two really stand out. Read more

Arnold Steinhardt and Michael Tree: I had the privilege to work with these two major string players for many, many coachings. They always graced the coaching sessions with a good sense of humor.  Read more

Also, a big shout out to my colleagues who give back so much to our piano camps, both for children, ages 7-16 and adult pianists.

Finally, since I come from a family of seven pianists, I’d be remiss if I did not mention my five siblings, who all were a big part of the piano world at home. Thank you Tasha van der Linde Irving, Amy van der Linde, Erica vanderLinde Feidner and Tiaan van der Linde. We always had a good dose of healthy competition for who would get to practice on the best piano. This launched the need for a practice wheel and it is still incorporated in the daily routines for all of our piano camps.

Many thanks to all the teachers who have molded my piano life. When reading bios on concert pianists, they often do not single out their teachers. Teachers matter and can make a difference! Who has shaped yours?

To end with a giggle: the photographer , whose name escapes me, came to take this photograph at 7:00am! I was an exhausted college student and couldn’t comprehend my Mom’s enthusiasm for this appointment. Only after I accepted this particular shot did I learn that this photographer had never taken pictures of anyone at the piano. His norm was taking them of horses!!! Neigh, neigh! (a little double entendre here if you speak Dutch!).


About Polly van der Linde

Pianist, teacher, director of International Piano Camps in VT, for adults and children of all levels of ability
This entry was posted in Piano, Piano faculty, Sonata, Sonatina, Summer Sonatina, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to My Piano Pedigree: in honor of all my teachers

  1. Nan Hampton says:

    I loved this, Polly. Thanks for sharing it!


  2. emdrgreg says:

    What a wonderful essay, Polly! I love hearing about the teachers who have shaped and influenced musicians’ lives. My teacher, Harry Whittemore, studied for a time with Tobias Matthay and Isidore Philipp. Many of Philipp’s editions are still available and highly regarded. Mr. Whittemore studied with at least another well known musician of the day, but the name escapes me; he was a composer who dedicated one piece of a piano suite to him. Whittemore also toured for a season with the singers Emma Eames and her husband (for a short while) Emilio Gogorza. Whittemore was, at least later in life, a very decent, straight-laced high church Episcopal organist, and Eames and Gogorza were true bohemians; their divorce was scandalous. Touring with them must have been an eye-opener for poor young Harry. Mr. Whittemore was also an early teacher of Zo (Alonzo) Elliott, who wrote the famous WWI song “There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding” while a student at Yale. Just about everyone has heard that tune; it’s a staple in most WWI era movies. Zo was from Manchester NH, where Mr Whittemore lived and worked. To top it off, Mr. Whittemore’s first teacher (his name was Baldwin) was a musician in the Union Army during the Civil War. Whittemore must have been in his mid to late 90s when I studied with him; I had no idea what a treasure he was— I was far too young and stupid. This is all just a very fond remembrance of a teacher I really loved.

  3. lya ferrer says:

    How very interesting. best regards from México.

  4. A wonderful tribute to all your music teachers, Polly

  5. Doryce Wheeler says:

    I wish I’d met your dad (& glad I’ve had many laughs with mom!); I always make it a point to spend some time in the Rein Garden when at Sonata thinking on what I know of his life and legacy and then, just thinking (until the mosquitoes drive me back in). Thanks for being one of my every-couple-of-years teacher. : )

    • Doryce, Lovely to hear from you. You’re right, Dad was one of a kind but know that he is a big part of who I am. So glad you found the Reingarden, which is mentioned in an earlier post here on my blog. Look forward to seeing (and hearing!) you again. Best, Polly

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