The Magic Touch and DVD at AUS$67 – Digital Download
reviewed by Neville Cohn
I must declare an interest: I have known the author Wallace Tate for twenty years – and Lionel Bowman has known me since my childhood. As a music critic in Cape Town, I often reviewed associate professor Bowman's recitals and concerto performances. And at the South African Broadcasting Corporation studios in Cape Town, I was music producer for many of Bowman's recitals being recorded for later transmission. This took place a good many years ago. Some time after settling in Perth, Australia in the early 1980s, I learned that Wallace Tate was working on a book about Bowman's idiosyncratic piano-teaching method. My initial reaction was one of scepticism. In many years of listening to, and writing about, music, I had come across many books relating to piano playing, most claiming foolproof solutions to technical problems in prose that ranged from the absurdly superficial to the impenetrable. As well, I had never encountered anyone who claimed a significant improvement in command of the keyboard as a result of resorting to any of these primers. Was Tate's book to be added to this dreary collection? I am happy to report that my reservations were groundless. To my astonishment – and gratification – I discovered as I read slowly and carefully through this remarkable tome, most of it while at the keyboard, that Tate had achieved what I had considered near-impossible: a compendium of useful, practical advice on solving a range of technical problems. Throughout, the language used is straightforward and unambiguous. In fact, the lucidity and cogency of the text puts Tate's work in a special category of excellence. It is the end-product of a years'- long study of Bowman's method. Its clarity and logic are as rare as they are significant. Methods – and books such as this – don't just fall from the sky. For Bowman, the route to keyboard control was no musical equivalent of some instantaneous Pauline conversion, some magical revelation from on high. Hardly. Bowman has been frank about the genesis and development of the teaching method that Tate has so admirably captured in print. Experiencing increasing physical discomfort at the keyboard – and finding nothing in his background that offered meaningful solutions to his dilemma – and needing to externalise his system for the benefit of his many students with their manifold problems, Bowman, through trial and error over years, gradually evolved a way of approaching the piano that resolved many of his own physical difficulties at the keyboard. These solutions brought him acclaim as an artist and gratitude and relief from innumerable students whose playing had been bedevilled by muscle tension and physical and emotional pain. It is Tate's great achievement that he recognised the significance of Bowman's approach to the piano (and that it might disappear with Bowman's retirement from teaching) – and captured its essence in this book. Let it be said clearly, though, that the method is no instant, all-embracing, panacea for success at the piano; such a utopian solution does not exist. Rather, in the most approachable of terms, it enables the serious teacher, student and professional to set about solving a range of otherwise intractable technical problems in a meaningful way. There is, incidentally, a video that comes with the book which provides a handy visual dimension to Tate's text. For copies of The Magic Touch and DVD digital download, head over to The Magic Touch Website.
© October 2003