“My ambition and my goal when I’m teaching and with myself is to amalgamate the musician with the person so that they’re one and the same,” says 88-year-old pianist Seymour Bernstein, the subject of Ethan Hawke’s resonant documentary Seymour: An Introduction.
The moniker is fitting, as cramming a person’s life into an 81-minute feature is simply impossible. Still, we get a clear enough picture of Bernstein, who left a flourishing concert career at age 50 to devote his life to teaching.
Though he’s headlined his own concerts and created his own compositions, Bernstein continues to be fascinated by the “re-creative” aspects of his artistry, and sharing his knowledge with people willing to learn may be his life’s greatest work.
Director/actor Ethan Hawke was in the middle of a career crossroads when he met Bernstein at a dinner party several years ago. Through their friendship and the making of this documentary, Hawke has a newfound approach to his craft.
During our conversation, Bernstein (who’s a Korean War vet) explained why a person’s art and humanity should actually be a unified essence. Some would argue that separating one’s work from their day to day existence is the way to go, but for Bernstein has refreshingly traveled a different route.
Saying the right things and spouting words of wisdom is ultimately an ephemeral exchange if there is no meaning behind the phrase. After watching Seymour: An Introduction and meeting the genial Bernstein, I understand why E.M. Forster’s oft-used quote “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted” rings true.
My full audio interview with Seymour Bernstein is below. Along with talking about his friendship with Ethan Hawke and the importance of working on one’s craft, he also shares a fascinating account of a piano recital he gave in a New Jersey mental institution:
“If we’re conscientious, and we really love our art, we’ll walk over coals for it.” – Seymour Bernstein.
Seymour: An Introduction is now playing in Los Angeles (The Landmark).