Seymour: An Introduction–Ethan Hawke’s Docu of Pianist Bernstein

Ethan Hawke, better known as an actor (Oscar nominee for Boyhood this year)  explores the life and lessons of pianist, teacher, sage Seymour Bernstein.

Ever since he gave up a career as a concert pianist at age 50, Seymour has dedicated his life to teaching his students and himself about music, happiness, and the power of detaching satisfaction from success.
Hawke’s Goal:

I never set out to make a documentary. I met Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party and found myself completely hypnotized.  The party’s host, a longtime student of Seymour’s, shared the same feeling and began a campaign to convince me to document a few of his piano teachings. I attended one of his
teachings, and a few years later find myself with this film.

My hope is to share with people what a blessing it is to find a mentor like Seymour. There are profound lessons inside Seymour’s piano teachings that are relevant to how we approach our daily lives. His simplicity has much to offer.

Seymour Bernstein: What You Need to Know

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Seymour Bernstein was already teaching piano at the age of fifteen, when his teacher at the time, Clara Husserl, arranged for him to supervise the practice of some of her gifted younger pupils. Soon, he had a class of pupils of his own, some of whom are still studying with him. He achieved local fame quite early as a performer, winning the Griffith Artist Award at the age of seventeen. Inducted into the army during the Korean War, he gave concerts on the front lines and for top military leaders. During this experience, he came to understand that he possessed a missionary zeal, a desire to bring music’s message to a wider audience. His concert career took him to Asia,

Europe, and throughout the Americas, bringing this goal to fruition — as did his books With Your Own Two Hands and 20 Lessons in Keyboard Choreography, which have been published in German, Japanese, Korean, and Russian.

Bernstein studied with such notable musicians as Alexander Brailowsky, Sir Clifford Curzon, Jan Gorbaty, Nadia Boulanger, and Georges Enesco. In 1969 he made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing the world premiere of Concerto No. 2 by Villa-Lobos. Winner of the First Prize and Prix Jacques Durand at Fontainebleau, the National Federation of Music Clubs Award for Furthering American Music Abroad, a Beebe Foundation grant, two Martha Baird Rockefeller grants, and four State Department grants, he made a point of offering master classes and lecture recitals wherever his concert tours took him. When grant money allowed, he filled his suitcases with scores to distribute to teachers and students. Manduca Music Publications has recently published two new books, Monsters and Angels: Surviving a Career in Music and Chopin: Interpreting His Notational Symbols.

One of the most sought-after clinicians in this country and abroad, Mr. Bernstein is also a prolific composer, with many works on the best-seller list. His compositions range from teaching material for students of all levels to the most  sophisticated concert pieces. He continues to perform as a guest artist with chamber ensembles and serves regularly on the juries of a number of international competitions. He maintains a private studio in New York City and is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Music and Music Education at New York University.

On December 18, 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Shenandoah University.