Piano Inspires Podcast: Ingrid Clarfield

To celebrate the latest episode of Piano Inspires Podcast featuring Ingrid Clarfield, we are sharing an excerpted transcript of her conversation with Pamela Pike. Want to learn more about Clarfield? Check out the latest installment of the Piano Inspires Podcast. To learn more, visit pianoinspires.com. Listen to our latest episode with Clarfield on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!

Shana Kirk, Marvin Blickenstaff, and Ingrid Clarfield at NCKP 2023: The Piano Conference.

Pamela Pike: When I was sort of first coming on the scene, if you will, when I was a young professional, you were a big star in our field, you really were. And you still are! But you know, I just—I attended so many of your sessions, and you know, it was just always a pleasure to be able to speak with you. You were always so kind to young professionals. But then it seemed like at the peak of your career you had this devastating stroke.

Ingrid Clarfield: It’s so interesting that word “devastating.” I can do it. It’s been sixteen years.

PP: But it could have been devastating!

IC: Could have been!

PP: The point is here again, you demonstrate your resilience and your persistence. So maybe talk through your recovery because it’s amazing.

IC: Well, what is interesting is that the day before, I was onstage doing a session with George Litterst on the Disklavier and I came home that night, woke up at four in the morning, and had a stroke. Still they don’t know why. But, as I tell people: I’m here, I’m alive and well. I don’t mean to minimize it. But I think for me, I was determined to go on. I did not know how I was going to and—a grad student who was helping me with stuff, I said, “Cancel everything.” I mean I was in a wheelchair drooling on drugs—very attractive. Anyway, and then I cancelled everything because I didn’t know how I was going to do anything. Then I get an email from Sigrid Luther. Do you know Sigrid?

PP: No, I don’t.

Ingrid Clarfield at NCKP 2023: The Piano Conference.

IC: Okay. Wonderful teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Oh, we’re so excited to sponsor your Ingrid Clarfield Pedagogy Workshop. We have got a grant from MTNA. I really don’t remember if it’s a phone call or an email, but probably an email. I was like, “Oh my god, we forgot somebody.” And so then I said, “Well, there’s a slight problem: I had a stroke.” “Oh!” And she was all embarrassed, and the loveliest woman anyway. No, it was an email because I needed time to think. I said, I wonder what it would be like if I said I’ll come if she plays my left hand because I knew she was a good pianist. But I first checked with Gary Ingle—good friend! I said, “How crazy would it be to say I’ll come do a conference and I’ll play with one hand? Do I charge half price?” So anyway, she agreed and I had no idea what I was doing, okay. Because she was so great and it went so well, that was how I came back. She subsequently—probably a half a dozen times—has been my left handed at MTNA conferences. Because it worked, I could continue to do it. I did not want to become a right hand pianist because there’s 8,000 pieces for left hand alone and four for right hand. But several people—like Dennis Alexander—wrote beautiful pieces for me. I wanted to do things my way, which was still me, but with somebody else. I’ve had over forty different people play my left hand in sixteen years. That was how I chose to go on. But I am convinced that it’s because of her and that it went so well that I thought, “I can do this.”

PP: It demonstrates a flexibility in your thinking, first of all, you know, that you were willing to try something different, but still be authentic to who you are.

IC: That’s—you’re really good with words. Authentic—that was it, because for me, that was important. I felt like what I do with pedagogy is important and it’s a little different—my style, to say the least. I wanted to still be me. I’ve been so lucky. And like today—like the young man you met here, he was in my pedagogy class. He was he was a student of Phyllis Lehrer and the fact that this is his first time to present like at a big conference to do this. I was really proud of him. There were certainly plenty of other people who worked with me and but I thought no, he’s helping me.

PP: Yeah, and you still have so much to contribute so there’s no reason to stop. You just have to find the alternate path forward.

IC: And find good left hands wherever I go!

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Piano Inspires Podcast’s latest episode, listen to the entire episode with Ingrid Clarfield on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!


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