In perfect harmony with his students.
Jean-David Coen can play sonatas and concertos to packed venues without breaking a sweat. Yet when the professor of music and renowned pianist first began teaching classes at Willamette, he could not avoid a twinge or two of stage fright. "Every class used to feel like a performance," he remembers.
This admission says a great deal about the importance Coen attaches to his teaching. Like every great performer, however, he always rises to the occasion. "I'm in love with the material so that makes it easy. A liberal arts college is a wonderful place to explore music. Making all of the cultural connections and the connections with intellectual history is very important to me."
So is helping students to cultivate their critical faculties and use them instinctively. That skill, says Coen, is as essential to good performance as it is to good scholarship. "Whatever piece you perform, the pianistic and technical demands are always going to be there. However, ones understanding of style; the analysis of the piece; your ability to take it apart and peel away the layers of meaning; and heart - all of those things are necessary for a good interpretation."
As a board member and instructor with the Aspen Music Festival, one of the world's premiere music festivals, Coen also gives Willamette students access to one-of-a-kind musical opportunities. Many summers he has brought Willamette students with him to train alongside elite musicians from every corner of the globe. In addition, Coen uses his connections with Aspen to bring renowned artists to Willamette's campus. This March, Coen invited Chinese pianist Yujia Wang, whom he calls "one of the most outstanding young artists I've ever heard."
For all of his contributions to music, Coen continues to be most sought after for his abilities as a teacher. An Aspen Festival colleague, John Perry - considered by many to be one of the world's top piano instructors - recently asked Coen to teach his studio of 25 graduate and undergraduate piano students at the University of Southern California (USC) for a semester. Perry's course is among the most competitive in the United States and the students Coen will teach are some of the most promising in the world.
Whatever level of student he works with, Coen believes that great teaching comes from understanding where each student is in their learning process and how much direction they need. Coen notes that this method of teaching, which has been practiced by music instructors for centuries, has never gone out of fashion. "In the training of artists, we have been doing for generations what modern educators want to do now, which is teachers modeling for their students. That's what great teachers have always done with great students."