|Leroy Anderson recounted in a 1953 interview for the
Boston Sunday Post how Piston taught him to be objective:
"The general tendency of a composer is to fall in love with what he does. Piston
always advised us to listen to our compositions as though someone else had written them.
My biggest disappointment came the day he handed me back one of my pieces with the comment
that it sounded like improvisation. I was crushed...But he was right. Every church
organist improvises and that was my trouble. I had been playing the organ at the East
Congregational Church in Milton for $10 a Sunday and sure enough, I had fallen into the
habit of improvising to fill the gaps that always occurred. Piston's advice was good and
I've never forgotten it."
Walter Piston, composer and educator, taught at Harvard for 34 years, from 1926 to 1960.
During this time scores of eminent composers and musicologists studied with him, most
notably Leonard Bernstein, Eliot Carter and Leroy Anderson.
Bernstein said of Piston "Everything he taught me has stuck - especially the example
of his highly refined ear, and his non-pedantic approach to such academic subjects as
fugue...I love his own music (and still do) although I cannot say that I was particularly
influenced by it stylistically (as I was by Copland) - except in the matter of the highest
standards of craftsmanship and clarity of sonic intention".
As an educator Piston was known for his seminal musical textbooks: The Principles of
Harmonic Analysis; Counterpoint; and Orchestration. As a composer Piston is best know for
his fanciful ballet "The Incredible Flutist" which was written for the Boston
Pops Orchestra. More typical of his compositional style were his two Pulitzer Prize
winning symphonies, the Third Symphony and the Sixth Symphony.