Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sparks fly at Otterbein Recital

The OFMC District 3 Junior Honors Recital was held yesterday at Otterbein Retirement Center near Lebanon, OH. This recital honors District 3 participants who have achieved FOUR consecutive superior ratings, which is quite an accomplishment. This year I had one student who qualified and performed on the recital, Chase P. Congratulations to Chase, who played an energized and solid interpretation of “Prehistoric Processional” by composer Melody Bober. The recital featured 25 talented young people from the southern Ohio area. Many played some rather advanced repertoire, including Toccata by M. Cuellar, Newfound Gap by M. Kelsey, Macdowell’s Scotch Poem, Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, and two waltzes by Chopin. It was really great to see so many committed young musicians reach this milestone, and I look forward to seeing some more students from my studio at the event next year.

Read More......

Monday, April 23, 2007

Couperin's Le Tic-Toc-Choc

Today I was teaching one of my students about the various music periods (and their oh-so-fluid chronological edges) and I remarked how music from the Baroque tends to be dominated almost entirely by J.S. Bach in modern piano recital programs. Often overlooked are the beautiful pieces penned by French Baroque masters such as François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Like Bach's music their keyboard works were (mostly) intended for harpsichord but transfer wonderfully to the piano in most cases. One of Couperin’s most exciting pieces is a little perpetual motion machine called “Le Tic-Toc-Choc”; the French words of the title are a collection of onomatopoetic words that mean pulsing, knocking, and clashing. (The piece is also known as "Les Maillotins" after a family of rope-dancers!) This absolutely characterizes the piece for the keyboardist, since he/she is required to play constant sixteenth notes (“pulsing”) while both hands have notes that overlap within the same octave (“clashing”). The result is a really fascinating rhythmic collage that sounds more complex than what the music in each separate hand suggests. (See a PDF copy of the score here.)

I found a great performance of this piece on YouTube by pianist Grigory Sokolov (winner of the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Competition and a frequent interpreter of French Baroque music on the piano). Though the video isn’t synced too well to the music, pay careful attention to how Sokolov uses his hands one over the other to play much of this music that stays within a very close range. The quality of the articulation is superbly clean.

It would be rewarding for listeners if more pianists (and their students) tried to venture into this territory more often (I include myself in this criticism). Yes, Bach is very profound, but we shouldn't always exclude the rest of the most attractive Baroque literature. (If any of my students wants to take on some Couperin, step right up and let me know!)

Read More......

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Mozart Effect" Debunked

Remember the popular idea that listening to Mozart’s music could make you smarter? Well, it turns out that it’s total bunk.

The “Mozart Effect” was the name given to a phenomenon studied by psychologist Francis Rauscher and physicist Gordon Shaw that involved subjects listening to Mozart and taking spatial-reasoning tests just after the listening sessions. Results were published in a paper in 1993 which found a correlation between listening sessions and better scores on these tests. The big draw for this seemingly esoteric bit of experimentation was the fact that these positive test results made a difference in terms of IQ points. 

Of course, it’s not that far of a leap (though it IS a leap) to start claiming that you’ll be smarter if you listen to Mozart. This has indeed happened in terms of conventional wisdom: After this study was widely popularized, it became important to play Mozart for unborn babies, make kids listen to classical music before big test days, etc. Now it’s not my intention to make fun of anyone who did these things – I certainly fell for the “leap” as well. (Though it should be added that it doesn’t hurt to expose young’uns to classical music.) I can remember hearing friends or parents of students talking about putting on “Mozart music” for his/her unborn infant, and I would say something like, “Great – there seems to be a good amount of evidence to support that kind of activity.” And then we could wait a few years to see if the A’s would start rolling in when they got to school…

But just recently, the German government decided to get to the bottom of the “Mozart Effect” case by supporting a substantial examination of the ME literature. The team of nine researchers (all of whom possess musical expertise in addition to their other qualifications) could find no real evidence that passive listening to Mozart makes you any smarter over the long-term. In fact, there are apparently many different things you could do before a cognitive test (like hearing stories) that have exactly the same effect in the immediate short term (e.g., 15-20 minutes) as listening to Mozart’s music. To be fair to Rauscher, she herself has noted that misconceptions about her study typically confuse limited (and temporary) improvement in specific mental tasks with a general increase in an individual’s IQ (see Rauscher’s quote in the Wikipedia article on the Mozart Effect). There have also been others who have disputed the claims of the more popular versions of the Mozart Effect (many skeptics have written on the issue before the German report).

The German researchers, however, stipulate that active participation in musical activities (such as playing an instrument and taking lessons) may or may not improve IQ over the long-term and more studies need to be done to determine this for sure. For those of you who have followed some of my posts about the benefits of musical training, you know that I am interested in the findings of this kind of research. Many studies have been done which show strong evidence for the “side-benefits” of musical training, such as promotion of intellectual development (this study actually supports IQ-sharpening!), memory enhancement, and the positive effects on different kinds of success. But despite a few important studies on the issue, the jury is really still out when it comes to improving general IQ through musical training.

The “Mozart Effect” may be in its grave (at least in terms of long-term IQ enhancement), but we’ll have to wait and see if any “Musical Training Effect” can permanently pump up someone’s IQ. Time will tell.

Read More......

Friday, April 13, 2007

Want to be in an Opera Production?

Cincinnati Opera is looking for some "extras" for the 2007 summer season (specifically from June 14 through July 31). If you're 8-12 years of age, unexperienced, and stage-hungry, this might be the gig for you! I found out about this from Janelle Gelfand's blog. You don't have to sing but you get to be on stage with some pretty big stars and work with world-class opera directors. Plenty of adults are also needed, so some of you more extroverted parents could get up on stage and bring honor (or shame) to your good family name. 

Here's a link to the open casting call page at the Cincinnati Opera website. The casting call is April 30. Look at the details and take advantage of a wonderful summer opportunity!

Read More......

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Steve Reich's Eight Lines

I will be performing with the Dayton Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra on April 20 at 10 AM and 6:30 PM at the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton. This group is basically a subset of the Dayton Philharmonic, an orchestra I have been involved with for about five years.

The program is comprised of some Bach, Handel, and a really neat and groovy contemporary piece by composer Steve Reich: Eight Lines (composed in 1983). This piece is scored for two pianos, two flutes, piccolo, two clarinets, bass clarinet, and strings. I'll be performing on the Reich as "Piano 2"; "Piano 1" will be covered by my good friend and colleague Dave Skvorak. The piece has great rhythmic drive, slowly changing musical textures, and jazzy melodies which all interact in beautiful kaleidoscopic layers. To get a taste, here's a video of an excerpt of Eight Lines (performed by the London Steve Reich Ensemble).

If anyone is interested in attending this concert, please click here to get tickets online, and here are directions to the Victoria Theatre.

Read More......