Margie Balter
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Margie Balter

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"Practice pays off"

December 7, 2007

Piano teacher unwilling to give up on herself and students produces own CD reflecting her eclectic music style.
By Sue Thoensen

Margie Balter was confident her recently released CD “Music From the Heart” would be a hit when she previewed it for her piano students.
The music passed what Balter described as “the Lilliputian test,” referring to the “very small-sized” but perceptive kids who gave their teacher’s effort a collective thumbs-up.

“Kids know what’s good,” she said. “They’re not jaded.”

Balter will have a wider audience on hand Sunday when she performs at Borders bookstore in Costa Mesa, part of a Borders tour that also includes stops in Los Angeles, Pasadena, West Hollywood and Glendale.

She’ll set up her portable keyboard for a “fun, one-woman show,” sharing the music she wrote, which she describes as “surprising.”

“It’s stuff you’ve never heard before. It takes twists and turns that came from my eclectic brain.”

This was a life work for her, Balter said.

She wrote, recorded and produced the CD herself, and said all the pieces are emotional, “cinematic” solos that will make you feel something when you play them.

Balter envisioned the artwork for the cover, then worked with graphic artist Laurie Dworsky to bring her vision to fruition. The photo of the piano in the gushing water tells the story and sets the tone, she said.

“It’s exotic and eclectic because you don’t expect to see a piano there. That’s pretty much what the music is — surprising, and you can listen to it every day.”

As a teacher, Balter knows the importance of practicing, which she does every day, as well as the value of studying.

“Studying and teaching piano is a lifelong thing. There’s an entire universe of stuff I haven’t gotten into,” she said.

As a teacher, Balter always assumes responsibility for whether or not a student is learning, a quality she said distinguishes the good teachers from the bad.

“You have to totally, totally care. Whatever talent the person has, it’s the job of the teacher to get to that,” Balter said. “You need to be persistent, and try whatever works to penetrate the brick,” Balter said.

She said she won’t let students off the hook, coming at the lessons from every angle — the 11th dimension if she has to — refusing to let someone not get it.

“I’ve used techniques like laying on the floor with them, yelling, or having them do weird body exercises to help them get rid of tension.”

It’s easier with younger students, because they’re sponges, “willing to breathe in and take in what someone’s teaching them.”

One of her students is a 75-year-old man who came to her because he always wanted to learn and couldn’t find anyone who could teach him, which is why Balter said her lessons are 100% customized to each individual student.

That can sometimes be a challenge, especially when your student is a Hollywood actor depending on you to get the job done within the time constraints involved on a movie shoot.

Balter has coached actors including Tom Cruise, Holly Hunter, Jack Black and Barbara Hershey for piano-playing movie roles.

Hunter won an Oscar for her performance in “The Piano,” a movie Balter was apprehensive about getting involved with at first because she was afraid the story would be perceived as “too weird.”

Then again, some things just have “that little bit of luck that you need in this business,” she said.

Balter is hoping luck is on her side when the Grammy nominations are announced today. “Music From My Heart” is being considered for nomination in three categories.

Getting respect as a composer is a bit of a welcome change, Balter said, especially since she’s worked for “every little baby step” that she’s been given.

“I’m crazy about music, and I feel like I’m on a very big roller coaster ride.

“I’m holding on by the seat of my pants.”

WHAT: Margie Balter piano performance and signing
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Borders Bookstore, 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa
COST: Free

INFO: (714) 432.7854 or go to
SUE THOENSEN may be reached at (714) 966-4627 or at
- Daily Pilot - Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, California

"Teaching piano to the stars"

By Molly R. Okeon, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 12/04/2007 08:04:18 PM PST

PASADENA - Known as "Hollywood's Piano Teacher to the Stars," pianist Margie Balter says inspiration is "always buzzing around my brain."

"I have so many ideas, I just can't get to them all. It's really only a matter of time," said the Century City resident.

Balter - who has instructed the likes of actors Holly Hunter, Tom Cruise and Barbara Hershey for film roles - did manage to find the time to compose 13 tunes for her debut CD, "Music From My Heart: Solo Piano Pieces by Margie Balter."

She will give a free performance at 8 p.m. Saturday at Borders Books & Music, 475 S. Lake Ave., with her friend and fellow performer Moqui singing with her.

Balter said she has written and made demos of 180 pop songs and that she has come close to having "huge hit songs." One of them, she said, was recorded by music producer David Foster and performed by singers Denise Williams - famous for her 1980s hit from the "Footloose" movie soundtrack "Let's Hear It for the Boy" - and Philip Bailey of the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire.

The song was titled "A.R.N.F." or "Always Remember, Never Forget."

"(Foster said) he'd never been given a song and recorded it in one day," Balter said.

The song was never released, but that hasn't stopped Balter, a Pittsburgh native whose extensive career includes five years as a percussionist and dancer in a Seattle African music band, acting, teaching and composing music.

Balter says entertaining is "in her blood."

Her grandmother was an accomplished singer. said a cousin, Aline MacMahon, and that another cousin, S. Sylvan Simon, won the Academy Award for producing the 1950 Best Picture "Born Yesterday."

She is proud of her moniker, "Hollywood's Piano Teacher to the Stars," because she said it garners her a lot of respect and, simply enough, "it's fun."

"Many people can't really relate to these stars, and the stars know it," she said. "They can tell right away. My grandparents' family is old-time show business. ... It's in me. The stars, they can tell."

Balter spent three years teaching actress Hunter to play piano for her Academy Award-winning role as a mute Scottish bride in the 1993 film "The Piano." She describes Hunter as "a very smart, driven girl."

"She really cared about what happened with that movie," Balter recalled. "She had no dialogue, so the sound of the music was really important to her."

Actor Tom Cruise, whom she worked with for the 1994 movie "Interview with the Vampire," is "energetic" and "filled with enthusiasm."

"He had never studied music before," she said. "He loved it. He said, `I'm going to be your piano student for life."'

Although she spends much of her time teaching, Balter still composes music.

As for her CD, Balter said the title couldn't be more true.

"It is music from my heart, and I'm trying to get it out there," she said. "I wanted to make this CD ... emotional, very emotional. My playing is emotional. That's one of the strong points of it - that people can actually feel something when they hear it."

For more information on Balter, visit her Web site at

1970s Balter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1944

(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496
- Pasadena Star News

"Music Preview: New Age pianist is a Hollywood Player"

Thursday, August 30, 2007
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pianist Margie Balter will come back to her hometown to celebrate the release of her own CD.

There's a piano teacher in virtually every neighborhood, but very few with a client list that includes Tom Cruise, Holly Hunter, Jack Black and Kevin Spacey.

All of them have sought guidance on the keys from Margie Balter. She has been so busy in her role as Hollywood's "Piano Teacher to the Stars" she hasn't had much time
to work on her own music career.

But on Saturday, the Squirrel Hill native and Winchester Thurston grad returns to town for a performance at Borders Books & Music in Monroeville to showcase her debut CD, "Music From My Heart," a solo recording of sparkling New Age piano.

"It's like film music, a little jazzy, a little classical, all very emotional," Balter says. "I like that I'm under the category of New Age, because they're more open than anything else."

Part of her inspiration for "Music From My Heart," which features works she wrote for everything from "Baywatch" to the 1988 Olympics, came from writing a piece that appeared in the movie "Beauty Shop."

"People really liked it," she says, "and my students really liked playing my music, so I made this record."

After growing up in Pittsburgh and studying with the likes of Nathan Davis and Frank Cunimondo, Balter attended Northwestern for one year to focus on theater and then shifted to Seattle to study ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.

She played marimba and danced in the Seattle-based Dumi and the Minanzi Marimba Ensemble, which she brought to the Three Rivers Arts Festival. She dedicates the song "Zanzi" to that group.

Soon after landing in Hollywood in 1979, Balter began teaching Jane Fonda's son, Troy
Garity. Her big break came a decade later when she was hired to coach Holly Hunter for that
haunting role in Jane Campion's "The Piano." Hunter even gave her a shout-out that year at
the Golden Globes. From there, Balter worked with Barbara Hershey on Campion's "Portrait
of a Lady." She sat down with Cruise for "Interview With the Vampire"
and Kevin Spacey for "Beyond the Sea."

How are actors as piano students? "I haven't met an actor yet who didn't want to do well," she
says. "Every single one tries as hard as they can. Tom Cruise worked an hour and a half every
day for five weeks. That's a pretty big commitment."

Balter has "real" piano students as well -- Al Pacino's daughter and Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo, among them.

Despite her ties to Los Angeles, Balter chose to celebrate her release first in her former hometown.

"I wanted to do my first CD release party in Pittsburgh before I did anything else in L.A. or New York. I have a lot of friends here and it means a lot to me to be doing it in Pittsburgh."

August 30, 2007 Scott Mervis can be reached at or 412-263-2576
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Piano teacher to the stars has musical ties to Seattle"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - Page updated at 11:10 a.m.

By N.F. Mendoza

Special to The Seattle Times

LOS ANGELES — Here's one of Hollywood's best kept secrets: In early 1994, while he was still married to Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise spent an intimate five weeks with a woman named Margie Balter. He spent several uninterrupted hours every day with her at his home in Los Angeles. When he wasn't with her, he was calling her on the phone.

Why didn't the tabloids pick up on it?

Because Balter herself is one of Hollywood's hidden treasures: the University of Washington grad, who still considers Seattle a second home, is the most acclaimed piano coach in showbiz. She was preparing Cruise for his role in "Interview with a Vampire," in which he not only had to play complicated pieces on the piano, but the harpsichord. Balter trained him on both instruments, despite the fact Cruise had never played either before, and Balter had just taught herself harpsichord in the preceding month.

"Tom was great," recalls Balter, who lives in the Century City neighborhood. "He was amazingly dedicated." He was so committed, she says, that he'd frequently call her to play his exercises over the phone and ask her if he was doing it right.

Cruise had heard of Balter on the set of 1993's "The Firm," from his co-star Holly Hunter, who had spent many months training with Balter for "The Piano."

Balter, a Pittsburgh native, began playing piano at 4, composing at 9. In the fourth grade, she started her own theater group, putting on productions for her family and friends, actually doing paid gigs for birthday parties. She arranged and composed music, acted and directed. "My mother always said that if one of the actors became sick, I'd just fill in for an additional role."

She spent a year studying theater at Northwestern University, before she headed to Seattle with a new major: music.

"Seattle was the one city where I didn't know anyone," says Balter, though the gregarious young woman wouldn't be lonely for long. In the eight formative years Balter spent in Seattle, she played with her Zimbabwe-born professor and mentor's African band, Dumi and the Minanzi Marimba Ensemble.

"I was completely — and still am — mad for African music." She jokes, "I played rattle and I think he hired me because I had a station wagon and they needed a way to transport those marimbas!" With her take-charge personality, she quickly doubled as band manager.

They performed every night, six days a week to sold-out audiences and toured. "We played everywhere," she recalls. "At the Bombay Bicycle Club; we opened for Taj Majal; we opened the Kennedy Center's Children's Festival." (The band reunited a couple of years ago at Folklife, and Balter flew up to join them onstage.)

Before she left Seattle, she'd played in nine other African bands, advancing to drums. She headed to Los Angeles to try to break into Hollywood in the early '80s and began working as a television production assistant. Six months after arriving, she took on her first piano student, who introduced her to Jane Fonda, who was looking for a piano teacher for her son, Troy Garity. She spent several years teaching Garity and grew close to the family.

"I was there for the weddings, births, I was there when they were nominated for 'On Golden Pond,' when Henry [Fonda, Jane's father] died and when Tom [Hayden, Fonda's ex and Garity's father] was elected to the California state Senate."

Fonda introduced her to "L.A. Law" star Jill Eikenberry, who became another high-profile student, and her reputation grew. Meanwhile, she continued to act when jobs arose.

Having fun as fill-in
Finally, she was asked to fill in for an actor in 1991's "Captain America," and told to "play Chopin." The actor, Scott Paulin, "was supposed to play [the piece] drunk, as a little boy, as a person ready to commit suicide and someone really angry. I got to play it and it was an acting role, through my music. It felt like a real synthesis and was so much fun."

In the early '90s, Eikenberry introduced Balter to Hunter, paving the way for "The Piano" and its haunting Oscar-caliber performance, film and soundtrack.

"When I first read the script, I couldn't imagine how it was going to be done," and yet, "it was as though magic dust was sprinkled on it." She rehearsed with Hunter, who was already a competent pianist — though not quite ready for her close-up — from August 1991 through March 1992, when shooting began. Balter didn't travel to New Zealand for the shoot, but during the year of post-production, in which Hunter recorded her own playing, Balter was by her side.

"Piano" director Jane Campion then hired Balter to coach Barbara Hershey for "Portrait of a Lady." Hershey, who learned to play several complicated pieces in less than two weeks, was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

To train an actor for an on-screen piano-playing role is considerably different than actually teaching piano. "You have to teach the basics, how to count," she says, but then most of the time is given to making them look like they're pros.

One of her quickest learners was Sandra Bullock, whom she worked with for "The Net." Bullock knew "a teeny bit" about piano, "but she was just great, and got it so quickly." Kevin Spacey "had very good aptitude." Eikenberry and Hunter eventually evolved into extremely accomplished piano players. Balter also coached Scarlett Johanssen for the Coen brothers' film "The Man Who Wasn't There." "She did really well," says Balter. "They all end up doing great — I force it out of them."

But Balter doesn't always get the part. She lost out on "The Pianist," "Ray" (star Jamie Foxx played all of his own music), and "De Lovely" (Juilliard-trained Kevin Kline "didn't want lessons"). Fortunately, there are many more clamoring to work with her.

Young phenom
She's also impressed with 12-year-old Paige Hurd, who plays Queen Latifah's daughter in "Beauty Shop." A natural, Hurd is "super talented," says Balter, who continues to teach her.

Hurd says, "Margie makes things fun and easy, but likes to get her job done at the same time. She and I are really close now. If I asked her to play a song, she would stay with me until I learned it."

Balter says that the pieces Hurd had to learn for the film were complicated, including one Balter wrote herself. In fact, "Beauty Shop" offers Balter her first quadruple credit: composing, arranging, playing and teaching credits.

As she's taken on more students over the years, Balter's confident of her ability. "I could teach a monkey to play piano, I really could," she says. "I can teach anyone, as long as they'll listen to me."

N.F. Mendoza is a regular contributor to The Seattle Times from Los Angeles:

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company
- The Seattle Times

"Film Notes: Playing her song"

Pittsburgh, Pa. Saturday, April 02, 2005

Margie Balter -- Piano coach has original piece of music in "Beauty Shop."
By Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Los Angeles resident Margie Balter is no stranger to coaching actors to play the piano for movies.

The former Pittsburgher who coached Holly Hunter, Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson, Sandra Bullock, Susan Sarandon, Barbara Hershey, Sanaa Lathan and others has added Djimon Hounsou and Paige Hurd to her list.

Balter taught them to play the piano for "Beauty Shop," arranged and performed parts of three musical numbers and -- even more importantly -- sold an original piece of music called "Finding My Wings," which factors into a key scene.

Paige, who plays Queen Latifah's daughter, gives a recital in which she starts off with Chopin, segues into John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and then soars into "Finding My Wings." It proved to be a favorite with everyone from director Bille Woodruff to Queen Latifah to the 250 extras on set the day the scene was filmed.

"Everybody all day was singing it. ... It's an amazing thing for me. I'm very lucky. It doesn't usually happen, it's not normal for a piano coach to get a piece in the film at a pivotal moment."

Talking about Paige, Balter said, "She did an extraordinary job. In 24 lessons, she learned how to play a lot of stuff, she worked really hard. She's still studying with me." Paige had told the moviemakers she had experience and when Balter asked how long she had been studying she proudly replied, "Two weeks." Hounsou, meanwhile, took 16 or 17 lessons to allow him to convincingly play an electrician with a talent for the keyboard.

Balter recently wrote a book of piano music to coincide with the sale of "Finding My Wings." It's called "Music from My Heart: Solo Piano Pieces by Margie Balter”.
- Pittsburgh

"Pittsburgh Tribune-Review"

By Mark Kanny
Friday, August 31, 2007

Margie Balter says her life's "been a very wild ride," and she wouldn't have it any other way.

The Squirrel Hill native, who now calls herself a "Hollywood girl," returns home Saturday to play selections from her new album, "Music From My Heart," and sign CDs at Borders Books and Music in Monroeville.

Balter, who began acting, dancing and piano lessons when she was 4, also has been writing music since she was a child. Now she's best known as the "piano teacher to the stars" for her work in the film industry, which began with coaching Holly Hunter for the 1993 film "The Piano."

"I don't really teach faking it -- I teach how to play," says Balter, who's worked on 13 films since
"The Piano," and with actors such as Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock, Barbara Hershey, Kevin
Spacey, Susan Sarandon and Scarlett Johansson.

"These big stars think they can do everything, and they try," she says. "They don't want to fake it.
Tom Cruise doesn't want to fake it. He is so scheduled, he even schedules his meals. He practiced
an hour-and-a-half a day for five weeks to play in 'Interview with the Vampire.'"

Balter says it was thrilling to her to pick up the phone at home one evening and hear Cruise's
voice saying, "Margie, it's Tom. We're on the speaker phone. Is this how it goes?" Then she heard
him play the music she was teaching him, counting the beats out loud as he played.

Even as a child, Balter knew the entertainment business was her calling and that she would end
up in Los Angeles, because she loves glamour.

"I grew up totally crazy about musical theater," she says. "I had my own theater group, 'The
Playwrights,' in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. I wrote all the plays, all the music, starred in,
directed and booked all the events."

Balter also directed the senior class play at the Winchester Thurston School.

"That was really fantastic for me," she says. "Winchester allowed me to be myself."

But Balter had a less positive experience at the drama department of Northwestern University in
Evanston, Ill. After one year, during which she didn't get a single role, she decided to leave the
school and acting to concentrate on piano.

"I moved to Seattle because I ... didn't know anyone there," she says. "I'm a totally gregarious and fun-loving person, and that doesn't go with being a pianist. Pianists are loners, and I'll go out to five parties in one night."

But instead, her eclectic tastes and ability to learn different instruments led her to join an African marimba band within two months.

Although she had many successes in Seattle, after less than two years, Balter felt it was time to move on. She took a position working on an HBO project in Los Angeles, where her first piano student recommended her to Jane Fonda as a teacher for her kids. Then, she says, Fonda recommended her to a lot of other people, and soon Balter had students "coming from everywhere."

" I even coached (football star) Marcus Allen to play piano," she says.

The music on Balter's "Music From My Heart" includes pieces she's written for films. "Finding My Wings," for example, is an "improvisation" she composed as the third part of a recital Paige Hurd played in "Beauty Shop."

Balter says her CD doesn't really fit into any single genre because it includes classical, jazz and New Age music.

"I like being New Age," she says, "because it's open, it's eclectic, willing to marry this with that, and not stiff. That's me."

Mark Kanny can be reached at or 412-320-7877.
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"Your neighborhood piano teacher was never this fabulous."

August 30, 2007

teacher was never this fabulous. Raised in Squirrel Hill, Margie Balter made her way to Hollywood, and over the past decade, her work has been featured in many a blockbuster – not that you can see it. Which is kind of the point: Balter helps actors look like they know how to play the piano on film, coaching numerous stars including Holly Hunter (in The Piano) and Scarlett Johansson (in The Man Who Wasn’t There).

The pianist and composer is back in her hometown today, celebrating the release of her new-age solo piano album, Music From My Heart, with an in-store performance at the Monroeville Borders.
- Pittsburgh City Paper

"The 60-Day Course in Perfect Fake Piano Playing"

July 10, 2005


THERE is a good reason that learning to play the piano is generally considered child's play. Not because it is easy but because, on thecontrary, it requires years of patient practicing that few adults have time for.

The fingers must be strengthened by hours and hours of exercises - scales, chord progressions and the ubiquitous drills designed by theFrench composer Charles-Louis Hanon, whose 1873 book, "The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises," is still the most widely used hand workout in print. There are fingering patterns to memorize, sounds to recognize, motor skills linking the brain and the body that can berefined only by continuous repetition. Right?

Right - unless you are a movie star, in which case a combination of camera tricks and extraordinary training techniques can take you from"Chopsticks" to Chopin over the course of a few weeks. Like gaining 80 pounds for a role, feigning piano virtuosity is one of those transformations that consistently wins Oscars. From F. Murray Abraham's portrayal of Mozart's sidekick Salieri in "Amadeus" to GeoffreyRush's of the pianist David Helfgott in "Shine"; from Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman in "The Pianist," and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in "Ray": the pianist role, when skillfully executed, leaves audiences mesmerized and full of questions.

Is the actor faking it? Are those hand-doubles? Did he really learn how to play? And if he learned, could I learn?

Would-be pianists may find hope - if false hope - in the new French film "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," Jacques Audiard's adaptationof the 1978 James Toback movie, "Fingers," in which Harvey Keitel played a debt collector torn between a life of crime and classical music. In the updated story, Romain Duris plays Thomas Seyr, a 28-year-old Parisian who makes his living running seedy real estate transactionsand collecting debts - violently - on behalf of his washed-up dad.

But Thomas, whose dead mother was a famous concert pianist, had shown great promise on the piano as a child. Now, fed up with his brutallife, he schedules an audition with his mother's former agent and hires a Vietnamese immigrant, Miao Lin (played by Linh Dan Pham) to help him relearn the instrument, which he hasn't touched for 10 years.

In real life, meanwhile, Mr. Duris, 31, had a much bigger challenge: to learn an instrument he had never played at all. He followed a well-worn path for film actors: learn to play the piano - actually play, not just pretend to play - even though the audience will hear a professional performance while the actor strikes the right keys on a mute instrument.

Margie Balter, a Los Angeles-based pianist who has been the crash-course coach behind many famous on-screen pianists, explains that thisapproach is much more popular than using hand-doubles. "The actor needs to feel like a musician," she said. "They need to be able to read some music and understand the mind-set of a musician in order to look realistic."

Ms. Balter, who has been an actor herself, had her first major film-coaching gig with Holly Hunter, for her Academy Award-winning role in"The Piano." (Ms. Hunter was already a skilled pianist but needed brushing up.) Ms. Balter has also worked with Tom Cruise for "Interview With a Vampire," Scarlett Johansson for "The Man Who Wasn't There," Sandra Bullock for "The Net," Barbara Hershey for "The Portrait ofa Lady" and, most recently, Paige Hurd and Djimon Honsou for "Beauty Shop."

Such students usually come to Ms. Balter with what she calls "Chopsticks"-level skills, a month or two set aside for daily training, and thecharge to master segments of well-known piano works - typically, Beethoven sonatas or Chopin nocturnes - that have been chosen by a film's director or music consultant.

The hardest pieces for nonpianists to learn, Ms. Balter says, are fast pieces with big hand stretches - by Schubert, say, or Liszt. Yet while atwo-part invention by Bach may seem straightforward in comparison, it presents its own difficulties. Since the right and left hands move in counterpoint throughout, Ms. Balter says, "it's like splitting your body into two halves." (The alternative to this "split" would be somethinglike a waltz, where the left hand maintains a consistent pattern while the right hand plays a melody.)

For his role in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," Mr. Duris - like his character, Thomas - labored over Bach's Toccata in E minor (BWV914), a technically demanding piece that leaves no room for error or approximation.

But Mr. Duris didn't need to look far for a coach. His sister, Caroline Duris, 36, is a professional pianist and piano teacher in Paris. He worried at first that working with his big sister would be too comfortable, that it wouldn't be intimidating enough to make him practice.

"But I love her perceptions about music so much," he said, "and I realized that being a good student with her would be a question of thefamily's honor."

Ms. Duris did more than teach her brother; she played the music heard throughout the film. And an accidental moment of frustration that wascaptured during one of her recording sessions, in which she complained that her heart was beating too fast, made its way into the movie, depicting the voice of Thomas's mother on an old tape he listens to again and again.

Mr. Duris worked with his sister for three hours a day over two months, usually at their parents' house or at a music shop in Paris, wherethey had a practice room.

Like his character, he stayed up late in his flat playing a rented digital piano with headphones. But training his fingers was only part of thelearning process. Mr. Duris says he wanted to understand what kind of mental space a pianist inhabits.

"When they sit down to play, are they nervous?" he asked. "Are they inspired?"

To find out, he watched videos of famous pianists. He learned that there were few physical rules, that each pianist had distinctive gesturesand a personal style. "They all fed me," he said.

In the film, Thomas repeatedly watches a black-and-white video clip showing the fingers of Vladimir Horowitz curling down the piano in along run. This obsession with watching performance videos was just one detail from Mr. Duris's real-life study that inspired Mr. Audiard's piano scenes in the movie.

Another source of inspiration was the real-life rapport between teacher and student, which informed Thomas's scenes with Miao Lin. She speaks virtually no French in the film, so she and Thomas communicate through imitation, repetition and body language. Even this, Mr. Duris says, mirrored his lessons with his sister, though they had the luxury of speech communication.

"Speaking or not speaking, it's the same," he said. In any music lesson, the teacher models good technique, watches, listens, waits and says,"Again" (one of the few words Miao Lin speaks), many, many times.

The speech-free method also resonates with Ms. Balter's Hollywood approach. While she describes herself as "wild" and "willing to doanything" in a lesson, she feels she learned more about music instruction from a Chinese musician who taught her to play a zither, she says, than from any classical piano instructor she has had. (Ms. Balter's childhood teacher was Lincoln Maazel, the father of Lorin Maazel, themusic director of the New York Philharmonic.)

For a year during her studies in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, Ms. Balter entered the Chinese teacher's room each week,bowed, then imitated everything he played. "He'd shake his head, and I'd try it again," she said.

Another speech-free technique Ms. Balter uses is to play a piece directly on top of a student's hands. "The body has its own memory," shesaid, explaining that the repeated manipulation of posture (centered), elbows (slightly out) and wrists (flat, never bent) can go a long way toward making a rookie look like a professional. But the most telltale sign of a real pianist, she says, is that the fingers always stay on thekeys.

Still, for all this intensive training, an actor-pianist is the master of only a few bars here, a fragment there: not bad for a couple months' effortbut not the same as really knowing how to play. Mr. Duris admits that most of the Bach toccata would be impossible for him.

"They gave me the beginning of the fugue," he said. "But to play the part that comes 30 seconds later, I'd need 10 years of training."

Fortunately, the repetition of just a few well-chosen segments, artfully arranged with subtle cuts and fades throughout a film can give anaudience a rich illusion that the actor is playing a lot of serious piano.

Mr. Duris's success in playing the role of late-blooming virtuoso has not led him to any major delusions about a real-life musical career. Buthe says he wouldn't mind having a piano around, just in case.

"How do you call the one that is grand but not very, very grand?" he asked, searching for an English translation. A baby grand?

"Yes," he says. "I want a baby grand. Steinway. Black, Maybe somebody in America will read this and be very, very nice." - The New York Times


• Music From My Heart: Solo Piano Pieces by Margie Balter
• Balter / Welsh Catalog (Pop/R&B)
• Margie Balter Catalog (Pop/R&B)



Margie Balter
Baby Grand Publishing
Phone: 310.843.0907

Official Webpage:

Official Myspace:

Balter / Welsh Songwriting:

Burnside Distribution:

***APRIL 2010***
March 31 - THE LAST SONG starring Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear opens. Balter has a screen credit for piano coaching Greg Kinnear.

April 9 - DATE NIGHT starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell opens. Track 3 'Bluesie' on Balter's CD is featured in this film under the title 'Why Me?" and she receives a screen credit.

Mid April - Interview with Kristofer Lundstrom for the popular Swedish show KOBRA airs.

April 23 - Balter appears on the University of Pittsburgh Campus for an event co-sponsored by the film and music departments - "Pitt in Hollywood Presents a Conversation with 'Piano Teacher to the Stars' Margie Balter". The event is featured in 4 newspapers and a TV segment on KDKA.

April 24 - You Don't Know Jack premieres on HBO. Balter supervised Al Pacino to play flute in the movie.

SIXTEEN FILMS and counting, Margie Balter’s film piano coaching career includes:

Holly Hunter - THE PIANO
Scarlett Johansson - THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE
Sandra Bullock - THE NET
Jack Black - THE HOLIDAY
Barbara Hershey - PORTRAIT OF A LADY
Kevin Spacey - BEYOND THE SEA
Djimon Honsou and Paige Hurd – BEAUTY SHOP
(Also composed “Finding My Wings” featured in Beauty Shop)

Music From My Heart: Solo Piano Pieces by Margie Balter…

• Critical acclaim from respected artists such as Taj Mahal and Thomas Newman
• ‘Piano Album of the Year’ – 2008 & 2009 L.A. Music Awards
• Top 10 on Music Choice Soundscapes including #1
• First Baywatch & Bluesie on KJAZZ
(Morning Show with Bubba Jackson)
• Zanzi & Triumph of the Spirit on XM Radio Channel #76
(Fine Tuning Show with Ben Smith)

“One might turn to Margie Balter's 'Music From My Heart' for a master class in the artful subtleties of piano performance, but what grabs a listener is not simply brilliant technique but the emotional power of the works. Balter's beautifully, often hauntingly understated compositions put feeling and melody forward, with results that are soothing, moving, and inspiring. Wonderful music to begin or end a day with.”
(Hollywood Reporter / Billboard / GRAMMY Magazine)

“Magic and Music are two lovers that don’t often get a chance to trumpet each other’s praises in a safe creative haven. With Margie Balter this happens from the first inspired note to the way the songs linger in your mind, in your spirit and in your soul."
(Legendary Grammy Winning Recording Artist)

“Fluid, intuitive and intensely personal, Margie Balter’s piano music pulls you into landscapes both haunted and hopeful, joyous and vividly rendered”
(Academy Award Nominated Film Composer)

Balter / Welsh Songwriting:
Margie Balter / Shea Welsh
Phone: 310.843.0907

• R & B single ‘No One Ever’ featured on ABC Family’s 'Lincoln Heights'
• 'Thinking About You' - Winner for Best R&B/Pop song - 2009 Malibu Music Awards
• 'No One Ever' - Honorable Mention for Best R&B song - 2008 Malibu Music Awards