A Tribute to Gray Perry: Master Piano Teacher, Musical Influencer
It’s often said that you can’t know where you’re going unless you understand where you’ve been. The same is true for me as a pianist, composer, and teacher. My journey through the music industry inspires musicians of all levels and continues to propel my own career forward.
I received incredible musical training at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Bowling Green State University. There, I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, respectively. However, it was Master Teacher Gray Perry’s prolific knowledge and unique influence during my earlier years that taught me not just how to play piano, but how to truly make music.
As a young student, Mr. Perry’s low, gravelly voice, long gray hair, and undeniable pianistic ability fascinated me. Like a musical Einstein, he would hand-write finger exercises and demonstrate advanced practice methods that I had never seen in books. His expertise had clearly been handed down from teacher to teacher, or in my case, from generation to generation. Mr. Perry’s techniques and instruction provided the basis for my own teaching practice, and I still use his exercises today as a contemporary piano composer.
I studied under Mr. Perry for almost a decade. During that time, I realized that the depth and philosophy of his teaching originated from his own musical lineage. Isidor Philipp, whom many consider to be one of the greatest piano teachers in history, taught Gray Perry at the Paris Conservatory of Music. Philipp was taught by Camille Saint-Saens and by Georges Mathias, who studied directly with Frederic Chopin. Mr. Perry’s predecessor also learned how to play piano from Theodore Ritter, who studied with Franz Liszt. Perhaps Philipp’s most significant instruction was from Stephen Heller, who studied with Carl Czerny. Czerny learned from none other than Ludwig von Beethoven, who was taught to play piano by Franz Joseph Haydn.
Looking back, their influence was unmistakable. Mr. Perry insisted that I practice finger techniques in the Czerny tradition, and he was also a Claude Debussy scholar. I later learned that Debussy was a lifelong friend of Mr. Perry’s instructor, Isidor Philipp. Working from exercise and technique books by Philipp was a regular part of my musical training with Gray Perry. Like many of his forefathers, Mr. Perry continually emphasized tone quality, rhythmic exactitude, and articulation. He expected his students to play piano with relaxed hands, wrists, and arms and held his students to exacting standards.
Gray Perry embodied the educational philosophies of Isidor Philipp and each of his musical predecessors. Although Mr. Perry passed away in 1995, his legacy and influence as a Master Teacher live on. I’m grateful for the brilliant education I received from him and humbled to share it with my students and other piano composers.
Click here to learn more about the legacy of Master Teacher Gray Perry.
To experience Mr. Perry’s profound influence on piano music, check out my original compositions or listen to Suzanne Herman on Pandora or Spotify!