Monday, December 31, 2007

Piano Music of Africa now available

There is wonderful news from Oxford University Press: A new anthology of piano music by composers of Africa and the African Diaspora is becoming available over the next few months. The anthology is edited by Dr. William Chapman Nyaho, who has been featured on this blog before. He deserves great credit for the important work of collecting and presenting such a valuable resource. As far as I know, I don't think there has ever been a serious resource for African piano music until now. I thank William Zick for alerting my attention to this project.

The first two volumes are available for order now from OUP's US site through a current promotion. There will be a total of five volumes that are graded from early-intermediate to advanced levels. I think that this offering will be a timely and tremendous addition to the contemporary piano repertory for both teachers and students. The fact that there are offerings at the early-intermediate and intermediate levels confirms that Nyaho and OUP are intent on a wide reception of these works.

I'll be ordering my copies this week!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Life Moves Quickly Sometimes

Things have been pretty slow here at the Cincinnati Pianist blog for some time. I thought I'd throw a bone to my readers with the following update.

Recently it has been problematic for me to do any posting because my own computer has a bad video card and I have needed to use it only in "safe" mode (and only in 16-bit color, which is taking me back to the mid-90's!) My usual dedicated "blog browser" is Opera, but it won't work for me in 16-bit safe mode. But it turns out that I have some deeper hardware problems and will need to replace the poor machine entirely. So I am avoiding committing much more material to the blog until I get the new machine.

How about some good personal news? I have just been offered an adjunct teaching position at CCM in the CMT division (Composition, Musicology, and Theory). The course I will be teaching is a survey of chamber music literature for graduate students, many of whom are pursuing a cognate minor in chamber music. I have done this class once before in 2005 but gave it up after one quarter because I was still pretty burned out on academic life at that point. (I graduated with my doctorate in 2004 after a seven-year slog through the curriculum!)

But it's been a couple of years now; life has moved on, and it's now the right time to get back into academia with this opportunity. Usually this class has been taught by a musicology professor (rather than a performance professor) so the CMT division is showing considerable faith in my academic and classroom skills by offering it to someone who is mainly a performer and private lessons teacher. I am looking forward to improving and streamlining the coursework this time around. The good thing is that my performance schedule will be solely local for a few months, which will allow me a decent amount of time for preparation and research. UC is just down the street from me, so there's really no commuting issue either.

The bad news is that this new part-time job will take even more energy away from blogging here, but I am planning on continuing to post at least once (maybe twice) a week in the new year. Since I will be teaching the history and repertoire of the string quartet first, it will be nice to come back to writing keyboard-oriented material on off-days.

I'll be back soon with new material. Happy Holidays to all!

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Computer Issues

I am having some serious problems with my computer right now that are totally cramping my style. Blogging will need to wait for a little while.

While I try to get the system repaired I will continue posting student schedules from another machine.

Wish me luck...

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Take Lessons Now, Earn More Later

A parent of some of my students sent me a link to an interesting story about a new music education poll by Harris Interactive. People who study music during student life are more likely to earn more and pursue higher education later in life. Here’s a quote from the article (on Yahoo! News):

“The poll by Harris Interactive, an independent research company, showed that 88 percent of people with a post-graduate education were involved in music while in school, and 83 percent of people earning $150,000 or more had a music education.” (Source.)

There is also a press release from Harris Interactive that includes some more discussion of the implications of the results. The National Association for Music Educators was also involved in the study, and executive director John Mahlmann has some choice words about the state of music education today:

“Research confirms that music education at an early age greatly increases the likelihood that a child will grow up to seek higher education and ultimately earn a higher salary. The sad irony is that ‘No Child Left Behind’ is intended to better prepare our children for the real world, yet it’s leaving music behind despite its proven benefits...While music clearly corresponds to higher performing students and adults, student access to music education had dropped about 20 percent in recent years, thanks in large part to the constraints of the No Child Left Behind Act.” (Source.)

It is clear that so many of the skills important for success in life are supported and strengthened through the intensive study of music. Everyone can benefit from good musical training. It can teach us about practical discipline and improve real-time focus. Musical training inspires a healthy attitude towards constructive criticism and can teach us how to manage complex responsibilities. It sensitizes us to the world in so many ways. In my opinion (which is shared by many), our national leadership on education needs to wake up and respond constructively to these realities.

Let’s also not forget about that little side-benefit called “personal fulfillment” that music-making can provide. One of the best aspects of being a music teacher is witnessing the look of deep satisfaction on a child’s face after an accomplished performance or an overcome hurdle. All music teachers know this look and what it means. It’s certainly a great enough experience on its own. But when I consider the other long-term effects an accumulation of achievements in music provides, it feels even better to be a music teacher.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Recital Prep: The Three M's

My student recitals are fast approaching. Here is a set of ideas on preparing well for a relatively short performance of one or two solo piano pieces:

Have it Mastered, Memorized, and Moving!

(Don’t you love alliteration, too?)

Have it Mastered: Your pieces should really feel like they are completely “in your fingers” and you should feel confident even in the most difficult parts. Remember that there is a big difference between mastery and perfection. Perfection is impossible but mastery is necessary for achieving a rewarding experience as a performer. Most students who have played for at least a few years have fond memories of a good performance that went well. Think about why it went well, and you’ll probably realize that it was because you were in control, felt confident, and knew your music thoroughly.

Have it Memorized: To most piano students, this means knowing your notes, fingerings, and rhythms. But don’t forget about dynamics, phrasing, articulation, pedaling, tempo adjustments (like ritardandos, accelerandos, etc.), as well as any other stylistic considerations. All of these elements must be incorporated so that your performance really speaks with authority and expression. I also take this one step further: You have not truly memorized thoroughly unless you are able to skip ahead in the music in case of a memory slip. Can you skip to the next section or phrase if you forget where you are? If you can skip ahead successfully, your confidence will only be increased! That, of course, will make it less likely for you to have a memory slip in the first place.

Try practicing this before your recital by forcing yourself to stop sometimes while running your piece. Then see if you can skip ahead quickly. If you have several “markers” you can skip to in any given piece, you will be more likely to save a nervous first performance where memory slips can be common. This is one practical reason why it’s important for students to understand the basic musical forms (ternary, sonatina, sonata, five-part forms, etc.) and cadences (the V-I motion being the most common).

Remember, everyone has memory slips from time to time. Be prepared to skip ahead, and your audience might not even notice if you do have a slip!

Have it Moving: This is about tempo. All too often I see students who are otherwise well prepared for a recital simply play a piece at the wrong tempo. You should be ready to perform at the right tempo without forcing it. It is important for music to flow naturally without feeling hesitant, and this is what I mean by “moving”. Be sure to check regularly on any metronome markings (composers mark them for a reason) and try to get yourself as close to the tempo marking as you can.

Fortunately, tempo markings are often suggestive of a range of tempos. For instance, there is no definitive metronome marking for “Andante moderato.” What’s important is to understand that the tempo marking doesn’t just imply the speed but also the character of the music. Play the wrong tempo, and the piece might not really get off of the ground. If a composer marks an absolute tempo (like quarter note = 120), it is usually your duty to get the tempo as close as possible to that marking. But even then there is some freedom. Your version of the piece might sound better at 126, while others will be more comfortable at 116. Most composers are actually looser in what they want for tempos than what is evident in the score.

The flip side is that a performance can also be played too fast. Notice that my choice of wording was “moving,” not “frantic!” If you’re simply trying to impress everyone at your recital with super-fast tempos (this notion afflicts the young quite often) you might crash and burn. That’s usually not impressive, even to untrained ears. So keep your performance moving along, but not so fast that you are out of control and your fingers get ahead of your mind. That’s a sure recipe for disaster!

Ideally, these three M’s of performance preparation should be achieved by no later than TWO weeks before your performance. Even better would be three weeks or a month, but then you do run into the danger of having your pieces peak musically before your performance instead of at your performance. You want to sound as fresh and spontaneous as possible. Reaching this balance can be a real challenge, so you must know yourself as a performer and take the right path to avoid “overcooking” your performance. But, to be sure, better safe than sorry – preparing ahead of time is always preferable to stressful crunching at the last minute.

Happy preparation…perhaps more on this topic will appear in future posts soon.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Travel and Work

I'm busy at the "other keyboard" these days. Hey, it's great to have work as a performing musician.

So it's off to IRIS tomorrow for a date playing harpsichord repertoire (Bach's Brandenburg #1 and Stephen Hartke's A Brandenburg Autumn from 2006).

Isn't it amazing how composers are coming back to the harpsichord? (Even the arch-modernist Iannis Xenakis wrote for the instrument!) Funny to think how the instrument pretty much flew off of the radar for composers during the classical and romantic eras.

I bet that pesky new pianoforte invention might have had something to do with it...

More blogging will continue next week, in between Dayton Philharmonic services.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Complete Series on Improving Practice

Chris Foley (The Collaborative Piano Blog) has completed a wonderful month-long series of posts on how to improve practice skills and achieve better results. He wrote a succinct but substanceful post each day of October on this topic - what an amazing accomplishment!

Just in case anybody missed my previous link to this series at the beginning of October, I'm linking now to Chris's convenient post that lists all of these articles by day and topic. His presentation of the material is well-organized and has a definite trajectory, but you can skip around at will by using the links in the sum-up post.

This is highly recommended material for anyone looking for new ideas or a fresh approach to practice techniques. Chris covers everything from goal-setting and practice scheduling to the subjects of memorization and artistic sensibility. 

Thanks to Chris for such a solid and expansive resource!

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!


Dr. Nemith-stein will be performing secret medical experiments later this no blogging tonight!

(Well, actually, I'm going to be getting the pants scared off of me at Kings Island in one or two of those awful mazes.)

Be sure to tune in for the "Tunes from the Crypt 2007" program tonight from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (with a repeat of the program at 8:00) on Cincinnati's classical public radio station, WGUC. It will feature many dark and haunting selections by Gounod, Stravinsky, Williams, Berlioz, Whitacre, Zimmer, Mussorgsky, Holst, and many others!

You can listen online at any time here at their website. Check out the playlist and then perhaps you might use the program as background music for your haunted mansion when the trick-or-treaters come lurking...

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New "Classical Music News" Blog (BlogRoll Additions #3)

My good friend and colleague John Grillo, a bassist and musical entrepreneur located in the Philadelphia area, has just started a new blog and music news resource:

John has been a good friend of mine since 2000. We met during our fellowships with the New World Symphony and have enjoyed many experiences (musical, social, and celebratory) together over the years. John has a unique and refreshingly irreverent perspective on the classical music industry and I am sure his resource will be one to follow closely.

In one of his first posts, John writes about his recent experience performing with the IRIS orchestra (where yours truly plays orchestral keyboard). He has also waxed poetic about New World's ongoing annual Oktoberfest celebration, an event John organized in the fall of 2000. Coincidentally these two events pretty much frame the time period we've known each other so far, and I was present for both of them as well!

John has been a special guest on Jason Heath's Contrabass Conversations (you can check out John's episode on bass excerpts here) and he is a frequent contributor to the program.

I've added a link to ClassicalMusicNews to my blogroll in the sidebar. Best wishes to John on the new site!

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Note By Note: New Piano Documentary

A representative from Plow Productions (a New York-based film production company) emailed to inform me of their most recent documentary, "Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037". It is about the actual making of a hand-crafted Steinway concert grand piano, which can take up to a year to manufacture. I've always been interested in this subject, but quite frankly I do not know much about the whole process of what it really takes to make a piano from start to finish. This film explores the many aspects of piano-making and what it means to create something so special and unique in today's climate of cheap mass-produced products. It includes viewpoints from various craftsmen, tuners, and artists such as Lang Lang and Harry Connick, Jr. Go here to read more about the film.

The movie will open in New York on November 7th (it will also play in other cities), and it looks like a DVD will be available soon. It has already won Best Documentary Feature at the 2007 Sarasota Film Festival, and has been officially selected at many other film festivals. Check out the trailer embedded below or watch it at Plow Production's website.

Did I mention how excited I am to be contacted by someone associated with a film production company? How very cool!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Playing Opportunity: Fort Thomas Holiday Walk

The Fort Thomas Holiday Walk will be on Sunday, December 2, from 5:30 to 8:30 PM. Students from my studio can play holiday selections by signing up for a 1/2 hour slot. Email me to let me know if you would like to participate.

This is a really fun opportunity for people who like to play holiday tunes and only four or five selections need to be prepared. You simply rotate through the music as people walk through the academy site. I've had students in previous years enjoy playing for this event; it's pretty low-pressure and it's also good exposure for the academy. If you want, you can also share a slot with a friend or sibling.

(This event has also been added to my Important Dates 2007-08 post.)

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Some Profiles of African Pianists

Check out these in-depth profiles of pianists of African heritage over at AfriClassical. This blog (authored by William Zick) has recently been calling attention to some worthy keyboard artists:

Glen Inanga

Ivan Kiwuwa

Girma Yifrashewa (he is also a composer)

Listen to some short samples of Yifrashewa's spacious and lovely piano compositions at his page at the AfriClassical website. His music incorporates traditional Ethiopian musical styles with Western harmonies and gestures. How wonderful it is that an African composer is channeling some of his own rich traditions into music for the piano! I hope that this music becomes available from international publishers; it would be fun and enriching to learn, study, and teach some of this new and fresh repertoire.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sun Sets on CCM Summer Programs

Thank Charles Dickens for an opening sentence that rings true for so many situations: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." For me this month has been filled with some really fun and energetic music-making in various places, but there is some bad to balance out the good. It is with a distinct feeling of melancholy and disappointment that I (reluctantly) write the following:

CCM’s yearly offering of a wide variety of enriching music festivals known as CCM Summer Programs has been officially declared cut for good. Summer 2008 will be the last year for these programs that include many internationally and nationally well-known festivals: Opera Lucca, MusicX (the X being whatever year it happens to be, such as Music 2007), the Conducting Workshop, Flute Symposium, and the always popular Grandin Festival. This was a difficult decision made by the current dean, Warren George, in order to make up for CCM’s budget shortfall.

Now it is not my place to pontificate on whether this action is right or wrong, or whether or not UC is doing the right thing by forcing so many colleges in the campus to cut operating budgets by double-digit percentages. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I’ll admit that I am not an impartial observer. But it is certainly not an event to celebrate no matter how one thinks about necessities and practical financial responsibility. While I don’t like to use my blog as a podium of negativity, I want to share some thoughts on the subject. Here’s my point of view as a participant, which might serve to add another layer to the picture:

I came to CCM in 1997 as a doctoral student looking forward to participating in these festivals, especially because students could get high-level (and often paid) performance experience during the penniless off-season months of the summer. It’s probable that the first concert I saw in Cincinnati was at one of these festivals. For many of us graduate students attending CCM, they were more accessible than some of the expensive and long summer festivals such as the Aspen Music Festival. Imagine traveling to Lucca, Italy, on a scholarship that put you in the heart of Tuscany performing operas and songs of Puccini and Mozart. A student enrolled in MusicX could meet composers from all over the country and perform their music, making some money doing new music premieres. You could also earn money playing chamber music in the Grandin Festival, being part of a guinea pig wind band for aspiring conductors in Rodney Winther’s conducting workshop, or accompanying flutists in masterclasses with some of the country’s leading flute performers. There are plenty of other workshops and festivals, too.

I was able to do a lot of these things as a doctoral student. In MusicX from 2000-2002 I got the opportunity to work closely with composers George Crumb, Augusta Read Thomas, and George Rochberg. I gained invaluable experience learning how to play keyboards in large ensembles through the Conducting Workshop (and go figure, most of my performance income now comes from playing in large ensembles).

But I also got the chance to develop another set of skills and gain some practical administration knowledge as an assistant worker with the CCM Summer Programs business office. For the past six years I have been an on-and-off part-timer working with the ever-patient and knowledgeable Joan Van Brocklin in the Summer Programs office. There I learned about spreadsheets, balancing budgets, taking care of travel arrangements for artists, preparing mailing lists and registrations, working with convoluted university account systems (it’s crazy), and all kinds of other administrative duties. All of these things are necessary for any kind of music festival to operate, but many musicians don’t get a chance to look at exactly what the process involves, let alone help out with the work associated with that process. This job gave me an added appreciation for the scaffolding that behind-the-scenes administration is for a festival. Without it, absolutely nothing can take place.

My point is that all of these wide experiences for me (as well as for others) were made possible by CCM Summer Programs, the loss of which may save money but will cost the school, its faculty, and students in non-financial ways. The programs might not be of core importance to the school’s functioning, but it is part of what made CCM a special place of many different types of opportunities for graduate students in music. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be among the last beneficiaries of Summer Programs’ varied opportunities.

This wasn’t a happy post to write, but I think a necessary one for me to put up. Perhaps some readers would like to comment or even provide some memorable moments of what it was like to be an observer or participant in these festivals.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Music in the Area for October 11-14

I will be away in Memphis this weekend to play some Barber with the IRIS orchestra. Hence, there will be no blogging for a few days. If you're in the area, why not go out and catch some of the great classical music performances being offered this weekend? Here are a few ideas:

The CSO Chamber Players are featuring the Brahms Horn Trio (with CCM faculty pianist Frank Weinstock) on their program this Friday at 7:30 in Memorial Hall.

How about a free concert of innovative percussion music? Check out Percussion Group Cincinnati at CCM on Friday, October 12, at 8:00.

The CSO is doing a program of Mahler and Beethoven (with guest violinist Vadim Repin) at various times October 11-13.

The Dayton Philharmonic is doing another program of American music by Copland, Bernstein, and Winteregg Thursday and Saturday evenings.

Here's one more (I wish I could be here to catch this): Pianist Kenneth Griffiths and tenor Stanford Olsen will be performing Schubert’s great song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin on Sunday at 2:30 PM at CCM.

Tickets for this last event can be purchased here.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Children's Verbal Skills Enhanced by Practicing?

That’s right: Researchers at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory have recently completed a study which found that overall audiovisual sensitivity (necessary for good verbal skills) is improved if one has had musical training. An article about this project is here at Northwestern’s Newscenter.

Specifically regarding practicing, the article says:

“Study participants, who had varying amounts of musical training or none at all, wore scalp electrodes that measured their multi-sensory brain responses to audio and video of a cellist playing and a person speaking.

The data showed that the number of years that a person practiced music strongly correlated with enhanced basic sound encoding mechanisms that also are relevant for speech. Beyond revealing super-accurate pitch coding vital to recognizing a speaker's identity and emotional intent, the study showed enhanced transcription of timbre and timing cues common to speech and music.” (italic emphasis added by me)

Notice that the study involved people who had practiced for years. Not months, but years. This means that an extended time period of musical training (learning an instrument or learning to sing) reaped the most neurological benefits for individuals.

Here’s how the researchers think it works: Music involves an all-encompassing attention to multi-sensory stimuli (you must watch, listen, feel, move, etc. when playing music). The processing of this multi-sensory data through musical training actually specializes or finely tunes the neural response to audiovisual input. Since multi-sensory processing is also necessary for speech recognition skills and literacy, the cognitive benefits from musical training affects the brain’s ability in those areas as well. In fact, the research suggests that music training for children could provide a better (and neurologically deeper) benefit to communication skills than learning phonics (don’t take it from me, read the article). That seems almost shocking to me!

(See also my post about music and speech sensitivity which discussed another research project conducted at Northwestern University.)

I think that it is ironic and somewhat sad that so much evidence for the wide-reaching cognitive (and academic) benefits of music is coming out from US research institutions at a time when overall arts education (which includes serious music training) is being continually cut back if not eliminated from school curriculums. Who knows how long it will take for the pendulum to swing the other way?

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hello! Ma Baby! in Central Park

I was involved in a wonderfully inventive program of music this morning up in Dayton at the first of the Philharmonic's Demirjian Chamber Explorations Series:

Charles Ives, The Unanswered Perennial Question
Charles Ives, Central Park in the Dark in the Good Old Summertime
George Walker, Lyric for Strings
Peter Schickele, Concerto for Chamber Orchestra

You'd be correct if you thought this looks like a program dedicated to the music of American composers. Unfortunately for me, I was only involved in one of these works: Central Park in the Dark. (The rest had no keyboard parts.) But Central Park makes up for this by having no less than THREE keyboard parts! Two other pianists (Evan Mack and Philip Amalong) played the second part, which is intended for four-hands on another piano.

Both Ives pieces (Ives picture at right) were written in 1906 and pursue a rather unusual experiment: the orchestra is split into two parts (strings in one, all the other instruments in the other) which are then directed separately by two conductors. What was innovative about today’s performance was the idea of moving the string section behind the stage shell (unseen by the audience) and keeping the rest of the orchestra in front of the shell (exposed to the audience). This achieved a heightening of the distant and slightly hazy character desired in the string parts for both of these pieces. I’m not sure how often this kind of split-staging technique is used for these two pieces, or if it’s even been done before, but it did prove to make the experience more dramatic and effective.

You can read about The Unanswered Question here, but I’ll describe our performance of Central Park briefly. The strings (which were offstage) begin the piece playing somewhat undefined and dissonant harmonies softly, perhaps representing the laid-back ambiance of a warm summer night in Central Park in New York (remember to keep in mind it’s 1906!) The stage lights slowly rise up from total darkness, and the onstage instruments gradually infringe on the dense texture of the strings. All sorts of tunes and melodies that one might have heard coming from turn-of-the-century New York City neighborhood pubs, apartments, and street music groups chaotically interact with one another and increase in density and intensity. My part was really fun: I jump-start the chaos that soon engulfs the audience by playing the well-known tune Hello! Ma Baby! in ragtime style. The other instruments gradually pick up the tune, overlapping at different times, and the tempo gets faster until everything comes unglued in a frantic climax. The onstage instruments fall silent after this hullabaloo, and we are left with only the strings playing their humid chorale and quietly fading in the late summer night. The lights come down slowly during the final strains and fade back into complete blackness…

It was really quite a fun (and crazy!) thing to do. I think the audience possibly got a better sense of what the eccentric Ives was trying to communicate through the added theatricality of lighting effects and the physical separation of the two orchestra groups. 

The Lyric was just a gorgeous offering from this great contemporary Pulitzer-Prize winning composer (audio sample), and the Schickele provided an upbeat and light-hearted ending to a rather challenging program. Never heard of Peter Schickele? You might know him by his alter ego.

Photo of Charles Ives by Eugene Smith, Charles Ives Society website.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Music Education vs. Performance?

Should college-level music students necessarily force themselves to choose to pursue only music education or only music performance in their undergraduate years? Could there be such a defensible position in today's multifaceted career paths in music? Apparently someone still thinks so and is looking to keep potential professionals squarely on one side or the other through a rather alarming list of what I would consider outmoded reasons.

Jason Heath has written a beautiful response to this attitude that I think would benefit readers who are music educators, performers, or both. The truth is, most of us career musicians are already both educators and performers; the lines between these roles are becoming increasingly blurred in the 21st century due to many reasons that Jason eloquently elucidates in his substantial post.

Yours truly even left a (probably overlong and overheated!) comment because I was moved to make my point of view known. (Indeed many have joined in the discussion of these topics; see the other comments below Jason’s post.)

Many music educators might defend the instructor’s position that I’ll summarize: Potential K-12 instructors must focus more purely on the acquisition of the many skills needed to become an effective music educator in the current school environment today, at the expense of honing performance skills as an instrumentalist, vocalist, or conductor. This is largely true, and there is no doubt in my mind that future school instructors need a lot of careful training and study to become effective classroom educators.

But the instructor’s list of reasons in support of this seems meant to dissuade students from exploring if they might be able to balance the two (performance skills and educational skills) in their pursuit of a musical career during their undergraduate years. I can speak from some experience myself: I spent three very busy years pursuing doctoral coursework full-time, tackling a large teaching load (both private and class piano inside and outside my university), and at the same time bettering myself as a pianist and performer. Yes, I had plenty of 15-hour days. Yes, some days I was a better teacher but a worse pianist. Some days it was the other way around. It wasn’t easy. But if I can do it, others can too. Students shouldn’t be preemptively funneled into limiting their growth through the exhortations of some authority who thinks that no one can balance it at all.

I’ll rephrase a popular saying: The path to a narrow musical career is paved with good intentions. Today, more than ever, that path needs to widen rather than permanently branch into two unconnected avenues: educators who are not performers, and performers who are not educators.

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Attention All Piano Students and Parents...

...please read a new post over at Chris Foley's Collaborative Piano blog that explains how to make practice time schedules work for busy kids and teens.

My students have heard most of this advice from me already: at lessons after a rough week of missed practice, or at the beginning of the year, or when a student bumps up from a 30-minute lesson to a 45-minute lesson, etc. But it is always good for students and parents to hear it from people in the music teaching field besides me. Chris has also organized his thoughts on the matter according to age, and I think it's obvious that we've shared many of the same experiences with a wide range of ages. Since it is still just the beginning of a new season of lessons and practice, remind yourself (whether your role is that of a student or parent) of the various ways to effectively plan practice time.

I can't overstate how getting the most out of piano lessons (including the enjoyment factor) means regular, daily, consistent practice. Use Chris's guide to jumpstart a better routine!

By the way, Chris is writing a post every day of this month on getting better practice results. To go to all of these posts as they come out this month (which I highly recommend), click on this label url: 31 days to Better Practicing.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Franck Explored by Nigerian Sodi Braide

William Zick (AfriClassical) informed me of Nigerian pianist Sodi Braide’s recent recording of Franck solo piano works (released on the Lyrinx label). Mr. Braide won a jury discretionary award at the Twelfth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005. He placed sixth in the Leeds International Competition in 2003. I look forward to listening to this artist’s rendering of these often overlooked Romantic works sometime soon. I am sure that it will be a source of pride for the Nigerian musical community. Mr. Braide’s accomplishments at the two highly significant international piano competitions reveal that he will be an important pianist in years to come. You can read more about Sodi Braide in Mr. Zick’s informative post about the Franck release.

Nigeria is increasingly producing some young pianists of note. Glen Inanga, one half of the Micallef-Inanga piano duo, is of Nigerian descent. The duo has released quite a few records, one of the most interesting being a massive set of variations by Robin Holloway based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations (the work only fits on two CD’s and is titled “Gilded Goldbergs”). Another significant Nigerian pianist is Funsho Ogundipe, who works in jazz and Afrobeat styles through his band Ayetoro.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Long Tail of New Classical Radio

Bob Shingleton (whose contemporary classical radio program was the subject of a recent post here) wrote to me the other day:

The kind words in your post are very much appreciated - as you realise I'm
simply trying to leverage new media to create a radio 'long tail' that reaches
music currently being neglected by the ratings driven high profile stations.

The very positive response from you, and many others, is prompting me to
go further down the 'tail'.

On this week's programme (Sunday Sept 30) I will be playing two full length pieces from young European composers, Rebecca Saunders (England) and Bernard Schweitzer (German) commissioned by the period instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra with funding from the Siemens Arts Program. This will probably be the first broadcast of these two works, and they will bookend Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 6.

I think it is always helpful to place newer music into some kind of stylistic context alongside older works with similar instrumentation, common approaches to sound, etc. This can often serve to help listeners identify how composers interact with the past in the present. Bob is taking some very good cues from the programming talents of forward-looking music directors who program adventurously but with an ear for thematic continuity. Pitting two new pieces involving period instruments against a Bach work that would have used much of the same kinds of instrumental colors in Bach's time is a fascinating idea. (For anyone who might not understand this, period instruments are those that would have been used during a certain historical time period. Many ensembles (here's an example) are attempting more historically informed performances of older works through the use of such instruments as sackbuts, basset horns, recorders, baroque violins, etc.)

It is this kind of creative and audience-obliging approach that will help revitalize the newly restructured classical music industry. Yes, that's right: this business is beginning to form multiple "long tails" (like Bob's radio program and others like it) that will eventually replace some of the outmoded and ineffective models of classical music presentation. What other long tails are there, you ask? Read this post by Jason Heath to learn about the surging long tail in classical music downloads.

(Once again if you missed it before: Listen to Bob Shingleton's show on Sundays at Future Radio; it is available for online listening)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

American Voices and George Crumb

I’m trying to find some scraps of time to get back into new blog entries this week. My schedule has been extremely busy lately because of multiple performances in Dayton, but it’s been really fun to get back into the professional music-making life after a restful summer.

Last week at DPO I played some really cool American orchestral works: Bernstein’s Symphony no. 2 (The Age of Anxiety) and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral. (Norman Krieger was the piano soloist on the Bernstein; it was quite an excellent performance.) The fall line-up at DPO is dedicated to American composers exclusively, as part of the NCR Made in America Festival (supported by NCR and the National Endowment for the Arts).

This week I am involved in a special festival performance of George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children, his beautiful song cycle from 1970 (based on texts by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca). Crumb is one of America’s most treasured art-music heroes, having contributed many massive and thoroughly unique chamber ensemble masterpieces to the American repertory over the last few decades. Ancient Voices is scored for a pretty strange cast of instrumental and vocal forces: mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, oboe, mandolin, musical saw, harp, amplified piano (and toy piano), and percussion (three players).

The texts are evocative, earthy, and emotionally direct. Crumb responds to Lorca compositionally through music that is just as direct and earthy: Highly decorated melodies, a wide palette of musical colors, and special sound effects are incorporated into a sound world that seems ancient yet energetically alive and virile.

Crumb has always written well for his primary instrument, the piano, and he is one of the chief innovators of music that is played “inside” the (grand) piano. I am required to play directly on the piano strings in this piece, and I thought it would be interesting for readers if I shared a couple of these techniques through some pictures.

The photo below shows me plucking the strings (like a harp) using an upward finger gesture from the string. I should mention that this technique (and all of the others shown here) are made sonically possible only by depressing the damper pedal and allowing the strings to vibrate freely.

This next picture shows the preparation of a very cool (and extremely loud!) technique using both hands on the lowest strings of the piano. You can see that my left hand thumb is poised at the edge of the lowest bass strings (just in front of the hammers), which will perform a rapid glissando across the notes of the bass region. At the same time, my right hand will swipe some bass strings (using my fingernails) which will create a “whistling” sound. These two gestures combine to create a powerful "whoosh" that will knock you out of your seat!

Here’s what my hands look like AFTER I’ve played the gesture (notice where the hands have moved):

Finally, here is a picture of an even more strange and wonderful example of Crumb’s endless creativity in generating instrumental sound through extended techniques. This technique is called “chisel-piano”: I hold a metal chisel (precisely 5/8 inch wide) in my right hand with the point resting firmly on a specific string and produce sliding pitches by moving the chisel up and down the string. You can see that I have specific places marked with bits of masking tape. These bits of tape, which are place on the strings directly next to the ones I have to “chisel”, show me where to move the chisel to produce specific pitches. My left hand plucks the string to get it vibrating. Then I move the chisel rapidly from pitch-point to pitch-point, creating a ghostly and eerie sound completely removed from any other sound normally associated with the piano.

Yes, I know what the request will be for this post: can I please hear these effects? Well, if you can, come see the concert! This piece (as well as any of Crumb’s other compositions) needs to be experienced live to get any idea of what his music is all about. If you can’t make it, I’ve posted a video here of a portion from one of Crumb’s solo piano works. (Someday when I'm less busy I'll get the equipment/software to do my own sound files on the blog...)

Below is a video performance of a movement ("Primeval Sounds - Genesis I")from George Crumb’s solo piano masterpiece Makrokosmos I, Margaret Leng Tan performing. You can witness one of the wonderful special effects I mentioned above, the glissando effect on the strings. (Notice that there is a small chain placed on the bass strings during most of this movement; it adds a “rattling” sound to the music.)

Guest pianist Andrew Russo will be playing this work in the first half of our Wednesday night concert devoted to the music of George Crumb.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Antioch Piano Series

The Antioch College Music Department presents a professional piano series every year in the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. This season features two solo piano recitals and one trio concert.

Sunday, October 7, 2007 at 7:00 PM: James Tocco, piano (Mr. Tocco is a former teacher of mine; he teaches at UC-CCM in Cincinnati.)

Monday, November 12, 2007 (time TBA): The Merling Trio of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 7:00 PM: Jon Nakamatsu (gold medal winner of the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.)

The series is made possible through support from the Adams Foundation, which sponsors many professional piano series throughout the country. It is also co-sponsored by Chamber Music Yellow Springs. All performances are located in Kelly Hall on the campus of Antioch College.

No brochure is available online yet for this year’s series, but there is a PDF brochure from last year that contains directions, contact info, and other information. I will update this post with a link if a current online brochure is produced.

(Thanks to Dr. Christopher Chaffee for bringing the series to my attention.)

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Contemporary Classical on Future Radio

Bob Shingleton (author of the blog On An Overgrown Path) is hosting a truly unique radio program dedicated to contemporary classical music on Future Radio in the UK. It airs weekly on Sunday afternoons from 17:00-18:00 in Norwich, eastern England. This converts to an airtime of 12:00 PM if you are in Eastern Standard Time in the US.

Anyone can listen to the show via streaming audio over the internet. Click here for direct connection to the audio stream. It can only be heard in real time so listeners must tune in at the appropriate time. (Bob suggests using Winamp or iTunes.)

I am personally excited about this program because of its focus on contemporary classical music, which is something too many public classical radio stations avoid (unfortunately) like the plague. Why? Well, as far as I can tell, many classical stations are afraid of alienating the narrow-minded but deep-pocketed patrons who only like easy-listening (translate: OLD and BORING) classical music programming. But how much Baroque guitar music and endless replays of Haydn symphonies can one person take before falling asleep or switching to the much more exciting rock/pop stations? (Of course, those are getting more dreary and overly commercialized as well…but that’s another topic for another day.) It’s time to put some excitement back into sleepy concert music broadcasting, and this radio show is a great place to start challenging ears and expanding musical minds. The programs in September (of 2007) will feature music from many interesting composers including Terry Riley, John Adams, Judith Weir, Elisabeth Lutyens, Lou Harrison, and Vanessa Lann.

Future Radio is a community radio station that features a great deal of music programming that ranges all over the map from rock and gospel to blues and world music. They are doing the right thing broadcasting online (in addition to their local radio broadcast) for world-wide exposure. Online radio is providing wonderful forums like this for marginalized music in every genre, but it’s especially needed for the promotion of good contemporary classical music. Please support the good fight for accessible contact to great concert music that is being written now and later: tune in on Sundays at 12:00 EST.

After all, hearing music that is new and unfamiliar can be fun and exhilarating!
(Suggestions for links to other good contemporary classical broadcasts are welcome.)

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Giant is Gone

The great operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti has passed away at the age of 71. He was, perhaps, the most widely celebrated classical music icon of his time.

Read the NY Times notice here.

Anthony Tommasini takes an honest and critical look back at Pavarotti's wide-ranging career.

Most classical music bloggers will certainly link to many of Pavarotti's juicy operatic scenes from the 1970s through the 1990s as a memorial tribute. Since this is (sometimes) a piano blog, I'll offer a different but appropriate selection: Luciano sings a lovely Italian song in a smaller space with just piano accompaniment (Leone Maggiera, pianist). He's seen here in the more intimate art song format, allowing the focus to be on his exquisite artistic and interpretive abilities unobstructed by concert hall super-stardom.

It is difficult to be unmoved by Pavarotti's presence in this performance of Tosti's Non T’amo Piú. RIP, LP...

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Respect the Pianoforte!

"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.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chamber Palooza! at Cincinnati Art Museum

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.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Test Your Musical Perception

Think you can detect slight differences between similar melodic ideas? Try this free test online:

Musical Perception Test (at

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.)

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

General Academy Schedule Fall 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.


2:15 Kyle
2:45 Kelsey

4:00 *OPEN*
4:30 Grace
6:30 Sarahmarie
7:30 Devon


3:30 Amanda
4:00 Eileen
4:30 Chase
5:30 Andrew


4:00 *OPEN*
4:30 Julia
5:00 Julie


4:30 Nathan
5:00 Cory
5:30 Christopher
6:00 Monica


Make-ups will be scheduled on Saturday on a case-by-case basis.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007 Link Exchange

Recently I was contacted by, 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:

  • Providing a level playing field for marketing all arts organizations, large and small, as well as individual artists.
  • Being a clearinghouse for arts and arts-related information in the city and region.
  • Fostering communications between arts organizations to promote collaboration and growth.
  • Informing the public on issues of arts advocacy.
  • Assisting smaller arts organizations by providing services like low cost online ticketing."
(Source page)

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, for the opportunity to serve more arts patrons through this link exchange.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Post-Vacation Practice Sessions

It's good to be back from a refreshing vacation, where I touched a piano nought but once during a whole week! Believe me, this can be healthy once in a while. Since a new performance and teaching season is upon me, I will share how I like to get back in shape at the keyboard after some time away. I hope this will be helpful for all pianists, but especially for those students who may have had quite an "extended" vacation away from the piano.

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!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

...and another moment of rest...

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").

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Moment of Silence

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.

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Bach Repertoire with “Training Wheels”

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

Look inside this title
Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to his Keyboard Music - sheet music at
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:

Look inside this title
Johann Sebastian Bach: Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach - sheet music at
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 - sheet music at 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...

Look inside this title
Johann Sebastian Bach: Notebook For Wilhelm Friedemann Bach - sheet music at
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.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

BlogRoll Additions #2

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

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.

Musical Perceptions
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.

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The audience CAN inspire the musician

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.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Dayton Phil in the IM magazine

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.

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Important Dates Fall 2007 through Summer 2008

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.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Thomson on the Musical Life

“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.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

pulsoptional – debut cd

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”.

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