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'Seymour' an engrossing doc about music

‘Seymour: An Introduction’ is a documentary about music teacher Seymour Berstein, everything the guy in ‘Whiplash’ was not, including real

Seymour Bernstein, famed pianist crippled by stage fright, now revered teacher.
Seymour Bernstein, famed pianist crippled by stage fright, now revered teacher.Read more

"Whiplash" was good movie fun, but I think we all realize there's more to developing musical talent than abuse and humiliation.

If that were true, fraternities would be turning out maestros instead of racists, pornographers and self-incriminating nitwits.

How, then, to extract genius from the talented?

We get the anti-"Whiplash" approach in "Seymour: An Introduction," a documentary conversation with pianist Seymour Bernstein, who quit performing at the peak of his successful stage career, then turned to teaching and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, the latter two clearly linked.

The film is by Ethan Hawke, who met Bernstein by chance at a dinner party, and found his approach to art/life/craft so enlightening he decided to put him on film.

It's a rare and intimate look at a gifted teacher. Watch Bernstein guide a pianist's hand, explaining that the sound she's looking for can be found by pressing the piano key only halfway down - this is part instruction, part revelation.

Bernstein finds, says one accomplished pupil, "the hidden messages" in the music placed there by composers, to be unlocked by those gifted with insight and talent.

There is also Bernstein the autobiographer - he talks of the ruinous stage fright and self doubt that drove him to retirement in fear of his own sanity.

He salvaged what he loved about music and shaped it into a form that could be passed on to other musicians - Bernstein has a rare gift for using words to capture the famously ineffable nature of music. He speaks of music as "a language of emotion," and almost magically puts his students on speaking terms with their own feelings.

It's a nice movie, full of musicians talking of their love of the art form - you'll be enthralled, believe it or not, listening to a couple of guys talking about B flat.

The movie ends with Bernstein making a rare public performance, playing his favorite piece of music - his favorite because the composer made no marks in the final stanza, freeing the pianist to play it as he pleases.

The story, Hawke implies, of Bernstein's life.