We believe in celebrating all approaches when it comes to learning the piano and perhaps one of the most interesting is that of the Scaramuzza technique, created by the famed maistro and pianist Vincenzo Scaramuzza, this unique style of learning is dramatically different from that of other styles of learning, yet the results it brings speaks volumes.
Today we speak to Juan Rezzuto, Argentinian pianist, composer and founder of the WKMT Piano Studios in London. Juan is an expert in the Scaramuzza technique and one of the world leading teachers of this technique. We speak to him not only about his own findings of the Scaramuzza technique, but also to highlight the unique approach to teaching that they take at WKMT and what they believe their unique approach brings to the table.
We began by asking Juan on his personal affinity with the piano and how he became involved with the Scaramuzza technique.
“I can’t remember not being excited about music because I started when I was just 3 years old. I started playing the piano and from an early age I went into the preparation to become a classical pianist in Buenos Aires.
In my opinion, Argentina has recently produced 3 of the best pianists in the world: Daniel Darenboim, Martha Argerich, Bruno Leonardo Gelber and many more. Interestingly, all of these students were taught under the same maestro Vincenzo Scaramuzza, I believe it’s too much of a coincidence.
With so many amazing pianists being created from Argentina, there was a big buzz to learn piano this way. I was lucky enough to enter this world at the end of a golden era when many of the other maestros who knew or worked with Scaramuzza were approaching retirement.
I managed to absorb the philosophy of learning piano with such a passion and it has defined my life. The act of playing the piano, it’s not about the technique only, it’s about respecting the text that is in front of you, understanding the instrument and knowing yourself and your abilities. These three parties work together and build around this to allow you to play almost anything.”
With this philosophy embedded in his playing style, Juan then carried forward his learnings from his maestros and wanted to blend the South American approach to teaching with the European - And so the foundations of WKMT were born.
“After my early education, I decided to follow in the steps of Scaramuzza and wanted to study composition and the mechanics of performance. I did it in the university of Buenos Aires and then later decided to come to Europe. Specifically, I wanted to come to the UK as even though I am Italian and Spanish, I don’t speak Italian and I wanted to go to a place where I could experience a completely different culture: Argentina, Spain and Italy are all somewhat similar culture wise so I wanted to go somewhere where the style of learning and approach to the piano was completely different.
I came to England and applied to the college of music to study further in composition. What happened though, because the UK and Argentina have very different systems, in Buenos Aires I had already studied around 7 years of composition, in the UK the study is split differently, so my masters in the UK was already covering the same subjects I had covered in Argentina.
Instead, I started working so I opened the studio in West Kensington. I was trying to bring to the UK something I didn’t find, that was the ability for someone to study really seriously with a maestro instead of attending an institution. I created a very unique model that allowed me to offer a very unusual standard of facilities, community and quality of teaching at a very very low price.
When I first moved here, I saw some jaw dropping fees for some maestros charging £100 or £250 per hour. I thought “You have to be a total millionaire to play the piano in England!”, which for someone who was a poor South American where education is free was a real shock.
I created a very unique way of lowering our costs, so our team live and work in the same space, we have this beautiful victorian flat that at least of the day is a flat share of musicians and then is also a studio almost like a monastery, we wake up we have the pianos in our rooms, the bedroom disappears and becomes a very elegant victorian style studio in the same way that Scaramuzza did. He lived in a townhouse that was then transformed into his studio where his daughter would welcome you into this giant space where everyone looked very dignified, this was the impression we wanted to give too.
We believe everyone should have access to music and it should not be to do with your household income. We don’t want to leave super talented people out of the game.”
Juan then goes onto explain why he believes the Scaramuzza technique is so revolutionary, the process that his students undergo and why the technique is so vastly different from other learning styles today.
“In order to understand Scaramuzza, we have to give a little framework first. He was from Southern Italy but highly influenced by San Pietro a Majella, this was THE conservatoire in this point in history, the most important place to study music in Europe. It was here that Scaramuzza learned to understand the ability of the piano to ‘sing’ and thinking of the piano not as a percussion instrument, but trying to talk about the instrument as being similar to a vocal range.
Scaramuzza then moved to Buenos Aires, where he applied this thinking with a scientific approach to performing the piano. He was so deeply focused on the idea of ‘the machine’, both us as pianists and the piano as separate machines working together. He would say things like: ‘We cannot dominate an instrument if we don’t fully understand how it works or how we make it work.’ or ‘We cannot go into the mysteries of artistic performance without first understanding how we have to operate the machinery.’ He deduced that we may know what we want to achieve in our minds, but without understanding the instrument, this would not come across to the audience.
Scaramuzza studied deeply the anatomy of the hand and the way we deal with weight, he believed the principal of true piano playing was the pursuit of total relaxation. He believed that it is far more efficient to be relaxed and have the muscles disengaged when playing and use the effortless resources such as gravity before enacting the muscle. He stated that we should only use the muscle when absolutely necessary.
The biggest issue many people have is not to activate the muscles they use when playing, but instead the opposite, most people find it hard to switch off the muscles that are not necessary when playing the piano. This requires constant work and feels rather unnatural at first because as human beings, our body is always coordinating with itself. But when playing the piano we want the body to be specifically activated and independant.
The most amazing product of using the Scaramuzza technique is that you feel you can play anything. After a certain amount of time, because of the foundations you have built, you can resolve any problem presented to you and even if you can’t get it at first, you understand how to approach the problems which is not the case from some other techniques.”
In terms of how this then translates into playing, Juan continues by explaining how this conservative use of energy allows Scaramuzza students to not only play for longer, but also have some surprising expressive advantages.
“I assure you that you will not pick up any injuries using the Scaramuzza technique because it’s designed not to strain the muscles. In terms of how it affects play, it’s notable how you can produce much more powerful scales and arpeggios because the finger movement is very strong and done with a great deal of economy. This allows you to play fast passages at a very loud level, a more linear performance that uses the arm and shoulders can produce the same effect but won’t be able to maintain it for even half as long as a student of Scaramuzza.
Another running joke that we have is that Scaramuzza student’s don’t like to study, we like to play. If you ask Bruno Gelber for example he is asked how much practice he does, he would say ‘As little as possible’ because playing piano is being there with all of your resources for the necessary amount of time, if you do more, it’s just gymnastics . If your perspective is clear and you know what you have to do, then you don’t have to think about it.”
Finally, we wanted to get down into the understanding of what piano playing means to Juan and as a student of Scaramuzza, how this style of learning affects people’s lives.
“In my opinion, studying the piano can produce three main outcomes. In 95% cases, you turn into a very good member of the audience. 4% of people then try to teach and 1% or less find a living out of only performing. None of these are better or worse than the others, just the three main categories people fall into.
For the audience listeners, pursuit of the piano is an intellectual development, they develop alternative thinking, they find solutions to other things through applying the same approach to music. In the piano, they find a companion for life that they can share with family, friends and talk to others.
For the teachers, the piano is everything. It’s a way of living, inspiring and finding a meaning to life. The study of music and performance gives a great deal of satisfaction and music is something so abstract that it is a language that doesn’t refer to anything material, it’s a very non referential art. This study is very complex, attractive and respectable.
For the performers, we owe everything to them. There is no audience without the performers and there are no teachers without them either as they set the example of what innovation looks like. They are excellent members of the audience and in 90% of the cases, they are the best teachers (sometimes). I have learned the most from my performer maistros because they are simply doing it all the time. I think these three characters are the most representative of what the piano can bring to people.
In terms of new projects at WKMT - we’re currently fighting to integrate our school with a Spanish contingent. We want to create a unique setting for a new studio in Spain in the countryside that we are literally fixing with our own hands to create a space for those people who really want something different. This location is not about grades or standard study, but to go to a place without any outside distraction, pollution or psychological issues for one or two weeks where you share every meal and share every lesson with your fellow students, focusing on a specific subject. This could be something such as musical composition of the 18th century or piano technique on a specific selection of pieces. We think it will be a totally different experience for people from the UK and around the world to further their learnings of the piano, share ideas and experiences.
To learn more about the incredible work that WKMT are undergoing, you can explore more on their website here or across their social media channels.