Majoring in Banacos

A few weeks ago, I was sitting alone in Brooklyn without access to Internet and took a break from transcribing to read through documents I had saved on my computer to read at a future date: JSTOR articles, assorted PDFs, etc.. I came across an NEC doctoral dissertation by pianist Lefteris Kordis on the pedagogy of Charlie Banacos, which I had originally come across while perusing David Valdez's blog. There's a great line by Jerry Bergonzi, close friend and colleague of Banacos with whom I studied freshman year, that's included in the dissertation:
I graduated from Lowell State College with a minor in Banacos.
Certain parts of the dissertation actually end up reading a little bit like an advertisement because of the wealth of testimonials, e.g., Mike Stern: "He's like an encyclopedia," and Geni Skendo, who mentions how he realized he was playing worse after taking lessons with Banacos because he was able to hear himself playing with such greater acuity. 

There's another insightful quote by Banacos himself, explaining his reasons for why he chose to devote his life to teaching rather than performing publicly:
Music for me is like religion. In every religion there are the preachers who are touring all over the world to preach about religion, and the monks, who sit in a basement, practice for themselves, and teach others. I am the monk.
The monk analogy is very apt, I think, and echoes how DFW described professional tennis players in his pieces on tennis. I never had the chance to study with Banacos personally, but Bergonzi and my high school teacher Felipe Salles both benefited from working with him, and from reading the descriptions of Banacos's pedagogical approach, I could see how aspects of his style influenced how Bergonzi and Felipe taught in my lessons. 

Maybe the most striking aspect of his pedagogy, based on my understanding from the dissertation, is the quality of encyclopedism implicit in his musical exercises: checking out the theoretical and practical implications of extensions beyond 15ths (23rd chords!); employing geometrical melodic expansion, or multiplying intervallic distances between notes in a melody by differing factors (apparently Banacos claimed Scriabin had attempted to geometrically expand Bach—can anybody verify this claim?); and writing compositions, like 4-part chorales, constrained to a single interval vertically, horizontally, and diagonally (there's a helpful example given by the author in the dissertation to explain this).

'You can still take correspondence lessons in Banacos's method today, which explains why the overview of Banacos's pedagogy is relatively general and leaves out specific examples of exercises, but I'd imagine at some point in the future, more theoretical-type study in Banacos's musical ideas would expand some of the interesting thoughts mentioned in the dissertation. It'd be best to approach this dissertation as a historical intro to Banacos, in case you'd be interested in taking lessons or learning more about what he was all about, but  definitely worth taking a quick look, if only for the 23rd chords.