SHAUN CHOO pays tribute to great piano pedagogue KARL-HEINZ KÄMMERLING

On 14 June 2012, the worldwide piano fraternity mourned the passing of one of the piano's greatest pedagogues of our time. Over the decades, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling has mentored and guided some of the world's most respected and exciting pianists. Young Singaporean Shaun Choo holds the distinction of being the first Singaporean admitted into the famed Salzburg Mozarteum and Kämmerling's only Singaporean student. Presently serving National Service, Shaun Choo pays tribute to his mentor and Maestro.

“Tribute to Prof. Karl-Heinz Kämmerling”
By Shaun Choo, 30-06-12

No amount of words can do justice to the man whose demise has left a hole in the hearts of all his students, friends, and fellow music lovers around the world. As his pupil for 5 years, Prof Karl-Heinz Kämmerling had guided and opened new realms into my understanding of classical music and had played a huge role in moulding me to what I have become today. Being the only privileged Singaporean to have the honor of working with him so extensively, I feel compelled to share my personal experiences of this esteemed Maestro.

I first got to know Prof Kämmerling during the summer of 2005. I was 15 then and had just attained my Diploma a year before and was looking to pursue my music studies abroad. My teacher in Singapore – Ms. Lena Ching – had suggested Europe as it is the heart of Classical arts culture, and home to countless legendary musicians over the centuries. I took several masterclasses, one of which was Prof Kämmerling's which was held at the Salzburg Mozarteum. It might have been merely a two-week course, but by the end of it, he left me with such a deep impression that I immediately expressed interest to enter his class. I was thrilled when he accepted me. Shortly after, I was enrolled in the Mozarteum under the “Young Talented Musicians Programme”.
Prof Kämmerling was a great musician in more ways than one. His substantial experience and knowledge of the arts – a result from more than 60 years of dedicating his life to music – distinguished him from the many teachers out there. Though we could not get lessons from him on a weekly basis (he simultaneously taught at three Universities in Austria, Germany and Croatia and was constantly sought after for masterclasses and as a juror in international competitions), his critical, methodical and superior teaching style more than compensated for anything else. Looking back, his occasional absence had taught me to be independent and self-reliant. Moreover, with his guidance and advice, I gradually built confidence in my own judgment.

Professor Kämmerling had a reputation as a strict and demanding teacher, but it stemmed from his care for his students; like a stern parent having constant high expectations from their children. Amusingly, wrong notes did not overly concern him, nor was he impressed by sheer technical virtuosity alone; both aspects were far from sufficient in making good music. It was the way one spoke through the music that mattered. This was accomplished with the mind as much as with the heart. “Your mind filters your emotions, converts them to signals which are then relayed to your servants, your hands, who in turn carry out the order” he used to say.

With his unquenchable thirst for musical knowledge and respect for each student's individualism, I often enjoyed good arguments and debates with him. He was always ready to listen to my opinions so as to better see things from my perspective. Rather than driving me along a linear path, he often compared records of as many different interpretations and analysed various editions during class to expose me to the infinite possibilities that exist out there. To him, ignorance was bad, and negligence, worse.

Prof Kämmerling was exuberant and youthful for someone in his eighties. He could climb flights of stairs or lift a grand piano's lid with ease, going often for swims and occasionally, even dancing with us! He possessed a keen sense of humor, and we had much laughter during our time together. Though bilingual, German being his mother tongue and English being his second language, he often blundered in the latter, with comical results. Once, when trying to translate a phrase “Du musst die tasten fuelen”, he ended up misinterpreting “tasten”, which is German for “key”, into “taste”, consequently saying “you must feel the taste”!

Though he has left this world, he had lived a full, eventful, and illustrious life doing the one thing he cherished most. He accomplished many things and because of him, 23 of his students hold professorships in renowned universities across the globe, with countless others establishing themselves as fully-fledged concert pianists. His legacy will live on through us, and I shall continue to do my best to make him proud.

Note: Kämmerling’s students over the years have included Bernd Goetzke, Lars Vogt, Wolfgang Manz, Herbert Schuch, Alice Sara Ott, Severin von Eckhardstein, Ragna Schirmer, Eckart Heiligers, Lisa Smirnova, Yu Kosuge, Alexej Gorlatch, Da Sol Kim, Claire Huangci and Gerhard Vielhaber, just to name a few.