Narrative Musicianship 2021 at The Juilliard School

My guest writer today is Russian American concert pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski, who is based in New York. Amongst his many exciting projects, Konstantin directs a Narrative Musicianship Course at The Juilliard School. In this post, he writes about the course and his reason for instigating it.

Narrative Musicianship is back at Juilliard in Fall 2021.  

Here is a unique opportunity to take a course at the Juilliard School that never existed before. I developed a system – Narrative Musicianship based on Russian Method acting adapted for pianists in order to elevate their story-telling skills. I had a great fortune to begin acting professionally in my teens in Moscow. It was then that I was introduced to certain principles of emotional recall and living the inner life of a character that seemed so naturally applicable to music-making. However, in my extensive music education, I have never experienced the deliberate and strategic approach that would develop the acting skill of a musician as an underlying interpretive technique. 

For over 20 years I have tried and tested my theory as well as specific step-by-step elements of what has become the Narrative Musicianship curriculum for myself and my own performances, and I realized what a powerful tool it is for improving the ability to be laser-focused on the music at hand while managing stage freight and anxiety. The power of anxiety can animate your character instead of paralyzing you, the person, and therefore with practice, you can learn not to suppress the nerves but to transfer the energy onto your character and their circumstance, thus freeing you from the grasp of stage fright. 

The more I practiced Narrative Musicianship in a methodical fashion the more I experienced its positive impact on memorization as well. Living the music as your character has a spatial awareness element, which ties into specific data such as keys, individual notes, and phrases, that in turn, create a safety net for your memory on which to rely upon beyond motoric muscle memory. 

As a composer and theory double major, I have always looked at the music from the ‘inside’ perspective, reverse-engineering the structure and looking for the building blocks of each work. Improvisation is a skill and a language that helps develop the ability to see the underlying musical structure both in terms of its construction as well as emotional landscape.

I have developed group improvisation exercises that bring a specific narrative into focus and develop your skill of converting a given emotional state into musical expression in real-time. 

I have teamed up with remarkable kinetic movement specialist Anuta Bondarenko (Somatic Yoga, MovNat Cert, Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) Specialist) in creating a body awareness and control regimen designed especially for pianists, as we are spending most of our lives in a sitting position. While most of such techniques (Alexander, Feldenkrais) focus on a body that is standing upright, our approach is to strengthen the body in the seated position. Over time these exercises will enable your body to optimize its movements and sensations to accommodate healthily the demanding physical work that is playing the piano. 

During the 10-weeks course, we will cover the basic principles of Narrative Musicianship, apply them to your repertory and go through the group of exercises created specifically for the course. Fall 2021 course, like its 2020 iteration is designed for the Zoom environment and relies on group participation and feedback with an emphasis on performance. 

You will acquire:

  • fundamental principles of the acting process
  • script analysis as it applies to a music score
  • emotional recall and narrative development skills
  • how to apply all of the above to effective music performance
  • Improvisation in-the-moment on the given narrative
  • Composition as means of expressing one’s specific emotional narrative

We will address:

  • stage and performance anxiety issues
  • body awareness, alignment, and healthy habits as developed by me in conjunction with Anuta Bondarenko (Somatic Yoga, MovNat Cert, Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) Specialist) specifically for the Narrative Musicianship course. It adopts good practices for lower back health and arm movement for pianists.
  • music and science intersection and how music education affects the brain
  • memorization and how to improve it with Narrative Musicianship

We will also have exciting guest speakers, among whom will be Anuta Bondarenko, to take us through the physicality of acting out music on the piano in a healthy way. The course begins September 28 and meets for 10 weeks on Tuesday 6-8 pm via Zoom.

You can access the application by clicking, here

What students say from Fall 2020 Narrative Musicianship:

[Konstantin] provided us with a non-threatening environment to share personal information that applied to each of us and helped us to adapt the [musical] material to our own lives. [He] always made us feel comfortable and supported. Also enjoyed the guest speakers!

Konstantin Soukhovetski


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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