This I Believe

Gerschewski, Edwin

  • Edwin Gerschefski describes how he realized that both his beliefs and compositional style were really the products of other people's thoughts, and he recounts how he came to discover and listen to his own voice.
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. Edwin Gerschefski, Dean of the School of Music at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a composer and educator who believes that music belongs to everybody. In addition to his work for symphony orchestras, chorus and various solo instruments, he has written a number of pieces for band with this country’s hundred-thousand performing groups in mind. He is now completing a book entitled “Anyone Can Compose.” Here is Edwin Gerschefski’s creed.
In that June of 1931, I felt that I was well prepared to meet the challenges of my profession, music, and to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. I had just been graduated from college with bachelor degrees in music and in philosophy. I had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. I had given a complete piano recital, written a symphony of four movements, and been awarded a fellowship for study abroad. Besides, I had married the day after graduation. With confidence, I stepped from the steamer at Plymouth, England, on a misty Sunday morning with my bride on my arm.
During the summer, we met a continuously changing group of stimulating English men and women.
We held long discussions on many different subjects. I had ready answers for any topics brought up. When challenged, however, I found that the views I expressed were not really my own. Instead, they had been acquired during the course of the education which I valued so highly.
As fall approached, I felt an increasing urge to compose. An excellent teacher was available at the Royal Academy. Armed with a symphony and other works, I paid him a visit. He listened sympathetically to everything, then he said, “I find here excellent imitations of other composers, but where is Gerschefski?” I picked up my scores and left. For days I wrestled with myself.
Finally I was forced to acknowledge the fact that in doing, as well as in thinking, I had been a conscientious learner, but I had never really found my true self in either.
Then I went back to the wise old professor and said I was ready to begin work. My first assignment was to write a short prelude for piano. As I sat at my desk, I felt exactly as I had so many times before. Ideas which seemed entirely my own, clear logical ideas, flowed spontaneously and naturally. I put them down rapidly. The composition was finished. I took it to the piano to play. As I struck the first chord, I heard a strange sound. Instinctively, I started to change it. Then I suddenly remembered that this was what had always happened before.
I always heard something strange and always corrected the strangeness so that it would sound more like music I was used to. This, then, was the clue. I must keep my ears and my mind open in order to learn to know myself, both in music and in life. At first, it might be difficult. There would be mistakes, but they would be my own.
I began to play my little piece. I discovered interpretative problems that must be solved. I reminded myself that I had devoted diligent practice to every masterwork which I had ever attempted, and I wondered why it had never occurred to me that the same treatment was applicable and necessary in my own compositions.
Composer Gerschefski had been receiving up to this moment a quick once-over treatment from pianist Gerschefski, whose constant thought was, ‘Never practice to find out what’s here, just change it to sound respectable like everyone else.’ Over and over again, I worked with the little piano prelude. After one hundred repetitions, I couldn’t have changed a note. My own piece, as originally composed at my desk, had become, to me, inevitable.
In the years since that revelation, I have composed many works. Periodically I have restudied my own compositions.
I have not hesitated to be critical of myself, noting trends which seemed worthy of further development, discarding those things which did not seem to be producing positive effects. I often look back on that first little piano prelude. I recognize its imperfections, but I also see it as the turning point, not only in my musical career, but also in my way of thinking. Without it, there would have been no real Gerschefski at all.
That was Edwin Gerschefski, Dean of the School of Music at Converse College and an active composer and pianist.