The Practical Pianist

Paul Kovacovic Paul Kovacovic’s family never doubted he had a future in music. When he picked up the plastic mallet and started clinking out notes on his Fisher Price xylophone, his grandmother recognized his affinity for music. Today, Central College’s newest music professor sits at a piano bench in his office and laughs as he looks back on his undistinguished debut instrument.

Soon after, he set the toy-store instruments aside and moved on to the piano, the instrument that has become his specialty. He has been playing since age 6 and has made piano the center of his academic and professional pursuits.

“It’s obsessive-compulsive,” says Kovacovic with a deep laugh as he explains his lifetime of continuous development as a pianist. “I enjoy the process of learning piano technique—how to play better and better and how to play more expressively.” As a performer, part of that obsession is fueled by the euphoric high he gets from performing. It’s a feeling he’s sure every performer knows.

The musician’s eyes betray his eagerness to pass his knowledge on to students. He appreciates the challenge this presents him as an educator. “Teaching the piano, every day is different. Every student is different. There’s no limit to what you can do,” he says.

On a day-to-day, lesson-to-lesson basis, Kovacovic sees a dynamic flexibility in the work he does. On a deeper level, he enjoys the subtle adjustments he has to make to his teaching style in order to best present a lesson to each student. He says it keeps him from stagnating and encourages him to constantly change his methodology.

Today, Kovacovic is an instructor with a profound and realistic awareness of the relationship music has—or needs to have—with the rest of the world. During his doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, rather than taking the traditional course and studying a particular composer or genre, he completed a study entitled “Marketing Art Music in the Twin Cities.”

Kovacovic set out to find how music groups continue to attract audiences. “There’s a feeling that’s been going on for a long time that classical music is about to die,” he explains. He met with marketing directors from music organizations in the Twin Cities area and found that people are faced with barriers to attending concerts: price, time, unfamiliar etiquette, etc. Organizations therefore strove for ways to market themselves around those obstacles.

The result of his multifaceted study was a deep interest in the relationship music has with other disciplines. “For instance, if you look at English, there’s song, the combination of music and text.” He also describes the interaction of music and science. “There’s the physics of music, acoustics.” And the connections continue. “There’s the psychology of music. How does it influence your emotions, your brain?” Kovacovic asks.

Students at Central get the opportunity to work with an instructor who is aware of what they’ll need after receiving their degree. “There can sometimes be a gap in music education between the instruction you receive at your lesson and the instruction about career.”

Kovacovic insists that students develop the entrepreneurial skills that musicians need to help them land jobs in the future. This is an area that Kovacovic is intimately familiar with. For much of his adult life, he worked as a freelance pianist. He has played in theatre and worked with other performing groups. “I feel these things help me to inform my students about careers and how to function in the world outside of music,” he explains.

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