"Respect the Pianoforte! Its disadvantages are evident, decided, and unquestionable: The lack of sustained tone, and the pitiless, unyielding adjustment of the inalterable semitonic scale.
But its advantages and prerogatives approach the marvelous.
It gives a single person command over something complete; in its potentialities from softest to loudest in one and the same register it excels all other instruments. The trumpet can blare, but not sigh; contrariwise the flute; the pianoforte can do both. Its range embraces the highest and deepest practicable tones. Respect the Pianoforte!
Let doubters consider how the pianoforte was esteemed by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, who dedicated their choicest thoughts to it."
Who wrote this quote? (I changed one word to make the entry a little less...umm, sexist. That could be a little clue as to time period.)
To find out who (plus the source), highlight the text just below this sentence.
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)
In Three Classics in the Aesthetic of Music, Dover edition, 1962, p. 101.
Friday, August 31, 2007
"Respect the Pianoforte! Its disadvantages are evident, decided, and unquestionable: The lack of sustained tone, and the pitiless, unyielding adjustment of the inalterable semitonic scale.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
There is a free concert at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Saturday, September 8, from 11:45 AM to 3:00 PM. Called "Chamber Palooza!" (surely named after the famous multi-group annual rock events know as "Lollapalooza"), the concert features many local performers and a wide range of chamber instrumentation. It is an offering from the Chamber Music Network of Greater Cincinnati. Groups include piano trio, a harp duo (that caught my attention), jazz trio, steel drum band, and many other variations on the chamber ensemble (which isn't just limited to classical repertoire). Each group plays for about twenty minutes.
See this flyer for more details. It looks to be a fun and eclectic musical afternoon.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Think you can detect slight differences between similar melodic ideas? Try this free test online:
Musical Perception Test (at Delosis.com)
It is a research project for volunteers and you're invited to participate! There are two tests that take about ten minutes each to complete. Test subjects listen to two melodies and then decide whether they are exactly the same or just slightly different.
The catch: you only get to hear each pair once. There are 30 pairs in each test.
Yours truly got 28 of 30 correct on the first test and 30 of 30 on the second one. Can you tell what the difference is between the two tests? Can you do better than me? (Yes, I only took it once...)
If so, feel free to leave a gloating (but friendly) comment here.
(Via this interesting ScienceDaily article on tone deafness.)
Saturday, August 25, 2007
This is the general schedule for my students at Slater Academy.
Because there will probably be some changes from week to week I will post a weekly schedule, which will always be the most up-to-date.
Make-ups will be scheduled on Saturday on a case-by-case basis.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Recently I was contacted by CincinnatiArts.com, which is an online arts portal supported by the Enjoy the Arts/Start organization.
Their mission "is to promote the arts in the greater Cincinnati region by:
This is a great site that packs a lot of information about arts events in and around Cincinnati. If you are in the area (either permanently or just in for a visit) I would recommend looking there for any arts-related events. All kinds of cultural occasions can be found, including art and photography exhibits, dancing and dining events, musical and theatrical shows, literary events, special museum exhibits, and much more.
Christopher Lamping over at the CincinnatiArts blog was kind enough to offer a blogroll link exhange with my Cincinnati Pianist blog. (You can find my site listed under their Blogroll list, and I put a link to theirs in my blogroll located to the right in the sidebar.) One of the neat things about this blogging project is when an arts organization sees value in a site like this one, which I hope does foster communication and arts advocacy. When arts communities and individuals network online in this way, it really is a step in the right direction for the betterment of interconnected access to the arts (for any particular region). Thank you, Christopher and CincinnatiArts.com, for the opportunity to serve more arts patrons through this link exchange.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
After a long time away from the piano (this means a week or more), I suggest the following:
1) Keep playing sessions SHORTER than usual. Use 10- or 15-minute practice blocks separated by periods of rest. Example: If your typical practice time is one hour per day, just do a total of 30 minutes each day in three 10-minute blocks.
2) Warm-up periods should be LONGER and tempos SLOWER than usual. Revisit scales, chord progressions, Hanon exercises, Philippe exercises, etc. Keep them well under your faster speeds for at least a few days, if not a week.
3) Do some sight-reading. Your musical mind will also need to get back into shape in addition to your hands and fingers. Try to read through some potential repertoire for the upcoming year, or look at some unfamiliar pieces at a level down or two.
4) Memorize something immediately. In the interests of continuing to get your mind back on track for the upcoming year of learning and memorizing, make it a goal to memorize something immediately from the first practice session. It could be as little as two measures of the opening of some new piece. The amount memorized doesn't matter; what matters is exercising your memory right away and committing to the process. Memorization should be an ongoing activity, not just something you do only when a piece is close to performance readiness.
5) Re-examine your technique. The first few practice sessions after a long time away can be wonderfully interesting and full of unfamiliar sensations. Take advantage of this transitional time to experiment with how you approach the keyboard physically. Your "good" technique will be a little rusty, but you may have also let bad habits fade away into the background due to the time away from the piano. If tension has been an issue, try to focus on being completely relaxed in your wrists, forearms, and shoulders throughout your first few sessions. You may discover new ways to reduce fatigue, or how to voice lines without force, or how to keep your fingers in better contact with the keys. The possibilities are endless.
6) Enjoy yourself and LISTEN. Don't be judgmental or overly critical when you are first coming back to the piano. You must have faith that your relationship with the instrument will come right back in due time. But don't expect it to be 100% the first day, or even the third day. I prefer to avoid a purely technical focus during the initial sessions and instead work more on phrasing, dynamic range and expression, and other interpretive possibilities. This way I have a good time making music first, so that my ear is engaged from the start. I realize that this may seem to contradict #5 above, but it really doesn't. Just to clarify things: What I am trying to avoid is the repetitive technical practice that one needs when polishing a piece to performance level. You don't need that right now; wait until you your transitional return to form is over. It might take only a few days or more than a week - everyone is a little different. Patience and acceptance are good virtues to abide by during your "recovery" period!
Monday, August 13, 2007
Another vacation period commences. Blogging will be discontinued here for a little over a week.
OK, how about some recommended reading offsite? Here you go:
Jason Heath on This Crazy Business (3 parts, all about musicians and our mindsets).
Chris Foley's posts on piano practice (quite a few under this path).
Alex Ross on music education (July 2006).
An interview with Randall Scott Faber (1999), co-author of the famous "Piano Adventures" piano method.
Why not learn something about musical acoustics? Or maybe the Baroque Suite?
If you're tired of reading, watch something instead. Below is a video of Vladimir Horowitz playing some rather bizarre and thunderous Scriabin ("Poem Vers La Flamme").
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Alright, it’s time to go on vacation! Arpi and I are heading to Chicago to see some good friends (including double bass-blogger extraordinaire Jason Heath), eat some fantastic meals, be a tourist, and catch a Grant Park Music Festival concert. The program for Grant Park is Mahler 5 this weekend. Just thought I'd share.
I’ll return to blogging sometime next week. In the meantime it could be a good idea to browse around here and catch up on any overlooked posts.
Photo of Chicago's Millenium Park by Jerod Schmidt.
So you say that you are into Bach. You love the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Two- and Three-part Inventions, the Partitas, the Suites, etc. You’ve had two years of class piano and one year of private lessons. You think Glenn Gould and Rosalyn Tureck are major deities. What repertoire of the German contrapuntal master should you attempt first?
Many students make the mistake of starting their rewarding relationship with Bach by going too far on the “first date.” A particularly enthusiastic Bach worshipper might love to jump right into the Inventions, or one of the preludes from the WTC, or even a sarabande from one of the Partitas.
Before long, this student is tearing out her hair because it just isn’t working: it is taking months to learn one page, the coordination of the hands is making your mind numb, and what fingering should be used for this 16th-note passage? Well, most likely the answer is that the chosen piece is just too difficult for you at the present moment. Why not start off learning some of the simpler Bach pieces, the ones that Bach himself thought were good enough for introducing his musical style without thoroughly overwhelming the inexperienced player?
There are three major sources for Bach’s famous teaching pieces:
1. First Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, 1722 (all works by J.S. Bach.)
2. Second Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, 1725 (works by Bach and other composers, some unknown.)
These notebooks were music collections (in manuscript) presented to Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena. There are a lot of distinct dance-style pieces (marches, minuets, bourrées, polonaises, rondeaux, etc.) as well as pieces from traditional instrumental/vocal genres (preludes, sonatas, chorales, arias, etc.)
3. Little Clavier Book for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, 1720.
This book also contains many diverse pieces by Bach; some of these pieces may have also been written by W.F. Bach or other composers of the era. It was used primarily as an instruction book for Bach’s son (Wilhelm Friedemann).
While it is obvious that a lot of these pieces were intended to be instructional, they remain some of the most musically sophisticated and intricate examples of early intermediate repertoire even today. They are delightfully contrapuntal but do not sport the complexity found in the inventions, fugues, and other advanced repertoire. These pieces work great as a “prelude” (pun intended, sorry) to the next level of Bach’s repertoire.
There are many good collections available from music publishers that simplify the learning process through a carefully graded selection process. One of the best of these collections is presented below (with a link to the book at Sheetmusicplus.com):
|Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to his Keyboard Music Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), edited by Willard A. Plamer. Instrumental solo book and performance CD for piano solo. Series: Alfred Masterwork Library CD Editions. 64 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.24456)|
See more info...
I’ve used this particular collection for many students and find it to be very useful for many reasons: There is a nice preface on Bach’s life, a solid tutorial on ornamentation and stylistic practices, and there are good fingering, dynamic, and tempo suggestions in the pieces themselves.
If you are committed to owning more complete editions of the original sources and can handle (hopefully with some guidance from an informed teacher) selecting repertoire at your proper level of difficulty, below are some collections from respected publishers:
|Johann Sebastian Bach: Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach Figured bass by Siegfried Petrenz, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), edited by Ernst-Gunter Heinemann. Collection for Piano (Harpsichord), 2-hands. Urtext edition-paper bound. 65 pages. Published by G. Henle. (HE.349)|
See more info...
|Little Clavier Book By Johann Sebastian Bach. Edited by Willard A. Palmer. For Piano. Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. 0. Masterwork. Level: Intermediate / Late Intermediate (grade 4/5/6). Book. 64 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (603)|
See more info...
|Johann Sebastian Bach: Notebook For Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), edited by Wolfgang Plath. Collection for solo piano (or harpsichord). Urtext of the New Bach Edition. 119 pages. Published by Baerenreiter-Ausgaben (German import). (BA.BA5163)|
See more info...
If you start your Bach keyboard study with these pieces, with some dedicated work and practice you will gain familiarity with Bach’s style and the coordination necessary for proceeding into the Inventions, Preludes and Fugues, and the suites.
I was originally inspired to write a post about Bach’s easier repertoire through this interesting inquiry and exchange on my post about “chunking” Bach’s first invention. It goes to show that people are indeed benefiting from blog posts regarding good practice techniques and other pedagogical matters. More posts on repertoire and practice techniques will follow at this blog in coming months.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Here are three more sites I've been following recently (they have been added to the BlogRoll list in my sidebar):
William J. Zick’s blog on composers, performers, and other musical figures of African heritage. It is a companion to his excellent website resource AfriClassical.com.
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross provides wide-ranging articles on musical culture around the world. An important site that can be found in many musician blogrolls, Ross’s writing is attractive and erudite yet accessible. Highly recommended.
Dr. Scott Spiegelberg, coordinator of the music theory program at DePauw University, provides a lot of interesting insights on many strands of music and on music education. While there are certainly perceptions from a theory perspective, articles here seem more refreshingly intended for a general (but musically informed) readership and less focused on jargon-heavy, insular academic discourse.
Be sure to remember my disclaimer (located at the bottom of my blogroll descriptions post) about content outside my blog domain.
Read this lovely and touching article about how a unique audience member provided fresh inspiration for musician Holly Mulcahy. (via Drew McManus)
Stories like this provide more reasons why it is important (and beneficial) for classical musicians to interact "one on one" with audience members. Besides, you never know what kind of unpredictable response you might get (Holly's story involves cows!) At my next performance I will track down a familiar-looking audience member and ask them why they are at my concert and what do they get from the experience. Maybe some of you performers out there could try to do the same? Let's offer someone a chance to give something special back to us. As Drew says, it shouldn't be a one-way street.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
The August 2007 issue of International Musician (the official journal of the American Federation of Musicians) has a cover story on the Dayton Philharmonic. It is a special story because the focus of the article is on the musicians’ committee and how they have worked closely and effectively with the orchestra leadership, the local union, and on behalf of the musicians in the orchestra.
I have been playing with the Dayton Philharmonic as a substitute musician for about five years now, and I just recently became a regular member of the orchestra. In those five years I have witnessed the huge growth and increased stature of this regional orchestra. This article addresses how committee members have succeeded, over the last seven years, in bridging common gaps between musicians and management. Because initiatives have been pursued with innovation and commitment, everyone involved has come out of their negotiating work more united in purpose for the future of the institution. It is no mean accomplishment.
Principal clarinetist John Kurokawa*, principal bassoonist Jennifer Speck, and violinist Tom Fetherston (all of whom have committee experience) are given ample space to express themselves, as are Don Sutton, the secretary of the local union, and Kareem Powell, the union’s current young president. It is genuinely refreshing and uplifting to read testimony from these people about working together for the benefit not of individuals, but rather for the benefit of an improved orchestra experience for everyone. Since the arts media often focus on the more negative stories about orchestra negotiations, I recommend this article to anyone who would like to witness a process with good results.
Perhaps the most palpable sign that the Dayton Philharmonic is healthy and aimed for higher achievement is its newly constructed performance venue. The orchestra moved from a mediocre hall to the grand and acoustically excellent Schuster Center in 2003, and the difference in the orchestra’s performances is obvious to musicians and audiences alike. (See the online article’s great accompanying picture that captures the immensity of the hall’s vertical space.) Don Sutton and John Kurokawa weigh in with their thoughts on the new space at the end of the article:
"Schuster Center has added class. The members are proud of it, and so is the community. The sound inside the hall is great. It's night and day compared to Memorial Hall," says Sutton, a sentiment echoed by Kurokawa. "Schuster Center has done wonders for the morale of the orchestra," Kurokawa says. "It is one of the most wonderful halls I've ever played in."
I can only agree wholeheartedly.
*John is a well-known colleague and friend; we recently participated in a fun chamber music event for donors to the Dayton Philharmonic. Read about that here and here.
Calendar information and events for my students from August 2007 through August 2008.
Monday, August 27, 2007: Fall/Winter Term begins at Slater Academy (18 lessons to be completed by Sunday, January 20).
Thursday, October 11—Sunday, October 14: Dr. Nemith will be out-of-town for an IRIS orchestra performance in Germantown, TN. Thursday and Friday students will need to reschedule missed lessons; see other out-of-town dates below.
Saturday, October 13: OFMC State Convention held in Columbus, Ohio. Students who have achieved FIVE consecutive superiors are eligible to perform at this event.
Thursday, November 8—Sunday, November 11: Nemith at IRIS.
Thursday, November 29—Sunday, December 2: Nemith at IRIS.
Sunday, December 2: Fort Thomas Holiday Walk, 5:30-8:30 PM. Students can email me to sign up to play a half-hour of holiday selections at the Academy.
Saturday and Sunday, December 8-9: Slater Academy Recitals at Milligan Hall at St. Pius X Church in Edgewood, KY. 2:00 recital on Saturday, 2:00 and 4:00 recitals on Sunday. I will post and email when sign-ups and further details are available. Directions.
December 22 - January 1, 2008: Academy CLOSED – Christmas vacation. My last day of teaching will be Friday, December 21; lessons will begin again on Thursday, January 3.
Monday, January 21, 2008: Winter/Spring Term begins at Slater Academy (17 lessons to be completed by Sunday, June 1).
Saturday, March 15: OFMC (District 3-D) Junior Festival at Xavier University. Directions.
Thursday, March 27—Sunday, March 30: Nemith at IRIS.
Saturday and Sunday, May 17-18: Slater Academy Recitals at Milligan Hall at St. Pius X Church in Edgewood, KY. 12:00 and 2:00 recitals on Saturday, 2:00 and 4:00 recitals on Sunday. I will email when sign-ups and further details are available. Directions.
As time progresses I will update this list with other dates of interest for performance opportunities and other events. Other lesson-time conflicts (such as those with my DPO schedule) will be handled via email or other form of communication. Check back to this post periodically for updates by using the "Important Dates" link to the right at the top of the green sidebar.
Friday, August 3, 2007
“Of all the professional trainings, music is the most demanding. Even medicine, law, and scholarship, though they often delay a man’s entry into married life, do not interfere with his childhood or adolescence.
Music does. No musician ever passes an average or normal infancy, with all that that means of abundant physical exercise and a certain mental passivity. He must work very hard indeed to learn his musical matters and to train his hand, all in addition to his schoolwork and his play-life. I do not think he is necessarily overworked. I think rather that he is just more elaborately educated than his neighbors. ...In any case, musical training is long, elaborate, difficult, and intense. Nobody who has had it ever regrets it or forgets it. And it builds up in the heart of every musician that those who have had it are not only different from everybody else but definitely superior to most and that all musicians together somehow form an idealistic society in the midst of a tawdry world.”
--Virgil Thomson, From "The State of Music," (1962 Second Edition) in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Musiced. Elliott Schwartz and Barney Childs (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 173-4.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
On this CD pulsoptional is:
marc faris: composer, electric guitar
Jennifer Fitzgerald: composer, piano
Todd Hershberger: composer, bassoon, alto sax
Thom Limbert: percussion
Caroline Mallonée: composer, violin
John Mayrose: composer, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass
Carrie Shull: english horn
The Durham-based “band of composers” released this finely recorded album of six all-original compositions in early spring of 2007. The overall musical style (which I would roughly and playfully describe as asymmetrically funky, groovy chamber art-music) remains remarkably coherent throughout the entire album despite the fact that there are five distinct compositional personalities. The unique instrumentation quite well lends itself to taut rhythmic gestures and pattern-driven textures, which we hear in delightfully diverse contexts in each work. I am also very happy to hear, finally, some more attention given to crafty and insistent counterpoint from these young American composers. Many of the up-and-coming composers here in the US write in an overly prettified and “safe” tonal style, which usually can be too easily digested. It always leaves me hungry for something with a little more edge.
pulsoptional delivers that edgy counterpoint with gusto and frenetic energy, and each composer relishes the bright sounds of their instrumental choices. Though the band’s name implies freedom of choice when it comes to tempo regimentation, “pulse” is a fairly constant topic in this album’s music. It is a good thing, too, because these folks know how to lay down a groove.
John Mayrose’s opening piece, What Hath God Wrought (2003), introduces the listener to the funky, terse licks that are a hallmark of the musical style throughout the CD. Based on a Morse code “theme”, the music is appropriately syncopated and jazzy. I hear a little melodic influence from Steve Reich in the guitar, vibraphone, and piano accompaniments. The dots and dashes of the Morse code language are gradually layered into a barrage of intense rhythmic interaction which closes the piece in dramatic fashion.
I Heart Rosa Luxemburg (2005) by marc faris comes next (he prefers his name to be presented without capitalization). It continues to explore increasingly dissonant counterpoint and asymmetric rhythms in its opening section, but the journey veers into unexpected territory when the pulse suddenly stops and the tense silence is broken by the gentle clanging of Tibetan prayer bowls. In this little moment of “West meets East”, the listener can sense a profound juxtaposition of musico-cultural values: ancient tradition vs. modern innovation, density vs. space, cerebral palpitations vs. meditative poise. In such carefully designed transitions arises an unavoidable sense of the political, via purely musical phenomena. This is one of the most interesting sides to faris’s more recent works. Since he has been a good friend for many years, I have been able to witness the gradual incorporation of the abstract reflection of political discourse in his music. It gives his music other layers of meaning. Now would be a good time to reveal the piece’s surrealist-inspired subtitle: Why Embracing Socialism Should Result in the Irrevocable, Systematic Rejection of the Major Principles of the EuroAmerican Art Music Tradition (But Seldom Does). (!)
If the prayer-bowl moment represents rejection of Western ideals, the music just following unmasks the impossibility of maintaining such a stance (“but seldom does”). To my ears, a Hegelian synthesis is the result: The burbling liquidity of background electronica melded with quiet marimba pulsations and mellow melodic guitar fuses the distinct values of “East” and “West”. It is one of the most beautiful passages on this album, not in the least due to the nicely balanced softness in the orchestration of this ending section. To read more about faris’s political influences and thoughts during the compositional process of this piece, click on the piece's title here.
I really enjoy the combination of marimba and piano (so wonderfully utilized in Reich’s modern classic Music for 18 Musicians) and it is the color that opens Todd Hershberger’s wildly fun piece Kid Sparkle and the Parliament Prince (2003). I cannot do better than the composer’s own description of this work:
Kid Sparkle and the Parliament Prince introduces two contrasting musical characters - one: sweet, playful, and quite amiable - the other: hard-edged and chaotically funky. What results is a highly volatile musical play-space where lyricism and groove are matched by organized disorder.
And what a disorder it becomes: honky bassoon, whining violin slides, punchy piano clusters and blustery marimba tremolos all coexist in the playground of this brief and splashy work.
The centerpiece of the album, in more ways than one, is Jennifer Fitzgerald’s tour-de-force How Terrible Orange (2005). For me, this is the most challenging and difficult piece on the album. It is not for the faint-of-heart! After the “misleading” tranquility of the opening, the instruments are used to create terrorizing blocks of alternating harmonic fields that pummel the listener into sublime submission. I do admire the formal properties of this piece. After its gradual build-up of intensity, a much-welcomed contrasting middle section of worn-down emotionality ensues. Fitzgerald patiently weaves in a recap of the chordal material from the opening over the course of a nice long accelerando. At this point in the album, it is refreshing to hear a continuous tempo change. The work reminds me a little of the music of Louis Andriessen (especially his piece Workers Union).
Caroline Mallonée’s contribution, ‘stain (2002) offers a nice contrast to Fitzgerald’s head-crushing sound colossus. It features the leanest instrumental line-up of all the pieces: just bassoon, two electric guitars, marimba, and piano. The title is an abbreviated, slang-ish treatment of the word “sustain”; the work features a predominance of sustained gestures and harmonies. The title is also an obvious double-entendre in its reference to the word stain. The piece develops layers of color, staining the musical texture, in Mallonée’s words, “like a deep batik pattern”. Jumpy, extroverted gestures collide with the medium-groove ostinatos. But my favorite moment in the piece is towards the end: just quiet, yearning piano notes with gentle guitar note-slides. It is the most delicate passage on the CD, and one of the most beautiful. Moments like this really stand out because of the pervasiveness of attack-heavy instrumentation. I would like to hear more of these delicate moments. Perhaps that will be pursued in future recordings.
The CD ends with another offering by faris, What Chaos Received Bounds (2004), which is a great finale to such a satisfying collection of new pieces. If pulsoptional’s work can be considered as chamber music in some ways, this piece gleefully throws off any association with classical music tradition. pulsoptional becomes the ultimate stadium-friendly heavy metal band in this “piece”, a real rocker that ends the show on an upbeat note. Guitar distortion and drum set take us out of the concert hall and straight into the garage. Even if he didn’t mean it, faris pays tribute here to technically solid hard-rock groups like Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, and Don Caballero. Hear it to believe it.
Now that I have tried to offer some of my personal reactions to these six pieces, go to this page and give a listen to some of the samples. Their CD is also available from that page.
Please also read my previous post that explores how pulsoptional’s performance events can help reorient our concepts of the “chamber music ensemble”.