Bernard Rands began playing piano at age 5. When he was 10, he started working with a new teacher who told his young student to carry a book of manuscript paper with him. At the end of a lesson, after Rands had played the pieces he’d learned and they’d worked on exercises, the teacher would write out a melody — it could have been a popular tune, or the melody of a Bach chorale. Rands’s job would be to harmonize that melody before his next lesson. Another week the teacher might write down a series of a dozen or so chords, the assignment being to turn them into a composition. To this point, Rands had had no instruction in music theory; his farsighted teacher simply wanted to unlock his mind to the experience of musical creation.
“Can you imagine how many piano teachers on the planet would actually engage a young child that way?” Rands said by phone recently from his home in downtown Chicago. “That man was unique, and why I’m talking to you today. Having spent 70 years of my life pursuing this is directly because of that man.”