"I enjoy teaching very much, and that's the way I want to go out," says Joseph Schwartz. Schwartz, who has taught piano at Oberlin since 1960, taught his last Oberlin students last semester. "It's been a long run," he says, "but in some ways it feels like we came to Oberlin yesterday."
Looking forward to new activities--like playing the stock market-Schwartz, with his wife, Florence, will move to Florida in November. The couple is building a house in Tarpon Springs.
Outfitting his new home with a new Steinway, it didn't take long to realize that his plans to continue teaching, privately, in his new location would work out: The Steinway dealer has already asked about taking lessons himself and about Schwartz's offering master classes to area teachers.
Schwartz will continue to perform with the Oberlin Trio, a group that was formed in 1984 with Andor Toth, professor of violoncello and chamber music, and Stephen Clapp, former Oberlin professor of violin who is now dean of the Juilliard School of Music. The trio will give concerts in Armenia this fall, the second time in two years. Schwartz also plans to continue giving solo performances. He played Beethoven's Fourth Concerto with the Galveston Symphony Orchestra last year and will play the First, Third, and Fifth concertos with the orchestra next year.
But the future has other kinds of playing in store as well. Schwartz says he looks forward to "palm trees, sunshine, and swimming in the gulf." Travel in Europe is also in his plans.
Still, he admits, "I'll miss our friends and colleagues and students-also the ambiance of a small college town." Looking back he recalls outstanding students, many of whom teach in colleges and conduct orchestras and operas.
"It's amazing the number who are professional musicians," he says. For him it has been a "tremendous source of satisfaction to work with the talented students we have at Oberlin." Not only has he enjoyed watching his students grow and develop, but he finds them "such fine people, too."
As a teacher, Schwartz says, "You're part psychologist and part coach and part disciplinarian." You teach "through demonstration, osmosis, and talking about music, explaining certain concepts. Sometimes you try to rid a student of inhibitions that interfere in expressing the character of the music. Often you have to tread carefully. There's a fine line between giving constructive criticism and crushing a student. You look for what's needed in the student, and you gear efforts toward finding a solution."
Correcting and helping students has carried the bonus of helping his own playing, too, he says.
Schwartz has given many recitals in Oberlin. He says the experiences of playing at Oberlin and playing anywhere else are "essentially the same. "You are trying to communicate a subtle musical experience to people, although sometimes it is necessary to gear the program to the sophistication of the audience. At Oberlin one can program any kind of music and find sympathetic ears, while the audiences in small towns may not have the experience to appreciate more esoteric offerings."
In 1983 Schwartz founded Oberlin's Summer Piano Institute, which he directed through 1993. His college committee service includes membership on the Conservatory Faculty Council, Educational Policies Committee, and the General Faculty's Research and Development Committee and Admissions Committee.
Schwartz was named Oberlin's Wheeler Professor of Performance in 1987. The Wheeler Professorship, a five-year appointment, recognizes excellence at the height of a performer's career. With the stipend Schwartz did some traveling and studied fortepiano with Malcolm Bilson.
Schwartz remembers being fascinated with the sound of the piano when he was four or five years old, and says he still is "fascinated with the sound of the instrument." He gave his first solo piano recital-"Grandmother's Minuet" by Grieg--at age 8. At 14 he won his first concerto competition, and at 17 enrolled at Juilliard, where he studied with Rosina Lhevinne and Irwin Freundlich.
Schwartz earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Juilliard in 1954, stayed on for a Master of Science degree, which he earned in 1957, then taught in Juilliard's Preparatory Division until coming to Oberlin. Over the years he studied further with Eric Harrison in London, Guido Agosti in Rome, and Wilhelm Kempff in Positano, Italy.
While he was teaching at Juilliard, Schwartz won first prize in the Naumberg Competition, and gave his New York debut recital in Town Hall. That recital was the first of a dozen solo recitals in important New York venues, which include-besides Town Hall--Carnegie Recital Hall and Merkin Hall. He has also given recitals in London, Brussels, Hamburg, Vienna, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Boston, Boulder, and Austin; and has been soloist with orchestras in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, besides Galveston. He has also accompanied instrumentalists and singers in concerts throughout the United States.
The same year in which he won the Naumberg Competition--1958--Schwartz won the National Music League Competition and was awarded a management contract. Before that he appeared in Town Hall with the Little Symphony Orchestra as the winner of another competition. He was a gold medal winner in the Artists Division of the American Guild of Piano Teachers in 1952.
On the other end of competitions, Schwartz is popular as a judge, most recently judging the Corpus Christi International Young Artists Competition.
"I enjoy listening to the wonderful young talents play," he says, "but to tell the truth I really hate to decide on a winner since there is usually more than one who attracts my interest. Competitions are all somewhat arbitrary."
His recording with the Oberlin Trio of French trios is on Amplitude Records.
Schwartz says that to "work with the music itself" is a "never-ending source of pleasure." The challenge is to find the right sound, or the right gesture which illuminates the inner meaning of the work.
"As I play the piano these days, I feel an even closer kinship with the color and sound, with the character and shape of the music, the balance between its emotional content and its structure." And he is "constantly making new discoveries.
"The process is endless and ever stimulating, and I will continue to strive for ever-deeper meaning as long as I am able physically and intellectually."