Bernice Silk, marvelous pianist and mentor

The world has lost a great musician and person with the passing of Bernice Silk. She was a brilliant pianist — I mean, really brilliant. You may have never heard of her, but take my word for it. She was born in 1927 and developed a stunning talent early in life. She enrolled at Juilliard in the mid 1940’s. She left school before graduating, but she never ceased taking her piano-playing seriously. She gave concerts regularly and became best known for co-founding and performing with the New Jersey Chamber Music Society. Towards the end of her life, she undertook a project to record all her favorite solo works to leave behind with her friends and family upon her inevitable passing.

Bernice was my piano teacher from ages 10-17, but I kept returning to her again and again for her wonderful insight. Throughout the years I spent in music school and until as recently as a couple of months ago, I always played for her whenever I had a piece ready to perform or record. I just never felt it was “right” until Bernice had heard it and given me some guidance. Besides being a great teacher to me, she was a wonderful mentor in every way, and we became extremely close over the years. We went to many concerts together, and got together for lunch or tea on many occasions to talk about my career, music in general, and any other subject that came up. Losing her is proving to be extremely difficult for me to face. I’m coming to terms with the fact that had it not been for Bernice’s guidance during my formative years, I may have never been in the position to choose music as my career. It’s impossible to overstate the impact she had on my life. She helped me connect to music on a much deeper level than I think most people do at the age I was when we were first working together.

I wanted to write this post to commemorate Bernice’s life and work in some way. Her playing was so wonderful. I’ve been thinking about it all week, and I think the best way to describe it is that it had extreme intensity without any hint of melodrama or self-indulgence. Of course, she had a virtuoso technique, but it wasn’t “flashy”. As her sons recently remarked, “her consistent effort was to place that technique at the service of the composer’s deepest intentions.”

Bernice believed in the capacity of hard work to carry one through all the difficulties of life, and she practiced so hard all the time, no matter what was going on. If I have any regret about our relationship it’s just that I have never worked as hard as she wanted me to. Maybe I can still rectify that. The last time I spoke to her in the days before she passed away, she expressed the hope that I would practice more and perform and record more. I’ll do my best.

In closing, here is a great recording of Bernice playing the Andantino from the Schubert A Major Sonata, D959. She requested it be played at her funeral, and it was just right for the occasion.

in Miscellaneous

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