Performing Debussy as a Scholarly Pursuit
Andrew Le, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of Music
Dr. Andrew “Drew” Le completed his second CD in October 2017, performing all 12 piano études by French composer Claude Debussy, and it was an all-Hope production.
The album was recorded — in one day — in the college’s gleaming new Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, performed on the 9-foot Steinway Model D grand piano that Le hand-picked for Hope from the Steinway factory, and produced by the college’s director of recording arts, Drew Elliot. It’s scheduled for release in summer 2018, the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s death.
“I wanted this album to showcase the best of Hope,” says Le. “I go through phases with different composers, but the one I return to time and again is Claude Debussy. There is something about his life story, his daringness as a composer, that has always gripped my heart.”
Le says that his research and rehearsal to perform compositions such as the études — pieces so technically difficult that Debussy himself called them “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands” — help inform his scholarship and advance his teaching methods as a piano instructor. Apparently the strategy is successful: Le was honored with a 2016 Top Teacher award from Steinway & Sons last year for outstanding leadership in piano education. (Linda Strouf, adjunct associate professor of music, also received a 2016 Top Teacher award from the company.)
The award is not Le’s first recognition from Steinway; the company named him a Steinway Artist in 2013.
Le, a Hope faculty member since 2005, says he’s grateful Hope acknowledges his performances and the process of mastering the piano repertoire as a scholarly endeavor. “Not all institutions recognize that,” he says. “I want to get a grasp on as much of the vast piano repertoire as I can so I can teach it well. It’s important my students understand from a historical perspective why a piece was written and the context in which it was composed.”
Le says that his students were extremely curious about the process of recording the CD, so he shared his preparation openly. “They were all fascinated by the process of rediscovering what it takes to really get to know a piece of music,” he says. “It aided my scholarship by having to re-teach myself how to prepare. It’s made me a better teacher.”