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...

Read More......

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!

Read More......

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!

Read More......

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.)

Read More......

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.

Read More......

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.

Read More......

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.

Read More......

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?

Read More......

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.

Read More......

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.

Read More......

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.

Read More......