Sunday, November 9, 2008

Guest Essay by Christopher Chaffee: The Origins of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

My good friend and colleague Dr. Christopher Chaffee recently submitted the following essay to me, which details the socio-economic climate for the musical arts in Dayton in 1933. 1933 was the year of the very first concert performed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Chaffee's essay appeared in the program for the DPO's 75th anniversary concert, presented last spring at the Dayton Art Institute. Today we find ourselves caught up in the most severe economic turbulence since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Yet even back in those times, new ideas and fresh starts for musical ensembles came out of the chaos. Perhaps this can give us some hope that music institutions will, with vital help from supportive communities, perservere through this current crisis.

The Origins of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

We are here tonight to celebrate and recreate a remarkable achievement. After they finished their first concert in 1933, Paul Katz and his musician friends probably had no idea what would take place over the next seventy-five years. Katz did have a vision of a permanent orchestra for Dayton, and within the next ten years, this dream became a flourishing reality. Look where we are today! This is the joyful culmination but we need to go to the beginning and consider two fundamental questions- why an orchestra, and why here in Dayton?

At the turn of the 20th century, there were less than twenty orchestras in the United States. By 1940 there were more than three hundred. A complex web of social factors contributed to this explosive growth, but here are three that are most relevant to the founding of the DPO:

• Millions of European immigrants arrived in the United States, often settling in cities like Dayton. Unlike their home countries, there were no royal courts or opera houses to sponsor ensembles, so in typical American fashion, orchestras driven by entrepreneurial spirit emerged to meet the strong desire for great symphonic music many of these immigrants shared.

• With the advent of the radio and phonograph, Americans moved away from the idea of active music making in the home to passive consumption of music. This coincides with the rise of greater spending power for the middle and lower classes, especially in the 1920s. More families considered purchasing concert tickets a normal form of entertainment instead of something for special occasions only, leading to a burgeoning interest in live music.

• As cities of all sizes matured from fledgling to established, a sense of civic pride and local identity emerged, often of a competitive nature. Communities considered cultural institutions essential centerpieces of this identity, and civic leaders and local corporations worked together to foster a sense of pride by sponsoring them.

If this fertile social context was not in place, one could argue that Paul Katz’s experiment would have failed. The Great Depression was a barrier, but not as much as we might think today. Even at the height of the Depression, music was an essential part of everyday life. Cash-strapped families often sold all their other possessions but kept their radios during this difficult period. Prior to the 1930s, Dayton heard plenty of symphonic music performed by touring or regional ensembles. It was Paul Katz’s singular vision coupled with the enthusiastic support of the community that created a homegrown orchestra comprised of local musicians.

As the Dayton Philharmonic continues to grow and change with the times, this community support is essential. Paul Katz’s 1 June 1933 concert was a daring idea that set seventy-five years of great music and local pride in motion. Let us make sure that the next seventy-five years are just as amazing.

-Christopher Chaffee, Assistant Professor of Music, Wright State University

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Freelancing in the “New” Economy (Part 2)

This is the next installment post about ideas for retooling freelance careers. See Part One for the first four ideas.

Here are more ideas for making a living as a freelance musician in a precarious economy :

5) Get a church job.

Here's another one that is mostly intended for keyboardists, though some of the bigger places are now employing larger ensembles that can involve other instruments. These jobs can be about as secure as it gets for a musician. People will still go to church in good times and bad, and a recession might just make attendance go up! Look for these gigs on the web and be sure you're on the call list at your local union or college career services office for church work. If you can play a little organ that makes you even more valuable as a candidate. (See #7 below.)

Having a church job can also be very healthy for a classical musician, and I'm not necessarily talking about the religious aspect. It puts you into a whole new social circle and opens up an entire community to you that can help provide some needed perspective. I know a lot of musicians who seem to really know only other musicians, and this can get insular and tired. One of the things in my life that keeps me "close to the ground" is my supportive community at the church. They can also all be potential audience members for your other performances as well.

Here's another benefit – you might get a lot more work once you've settled into a church gig. I have gained private students from families at the church, and I can also make additional income for weddings and funerals. (Please see my post on playing for funerals for guidance if you do not know much about this kind of work.) As I have said before, even in a recession people will continue to marry each other and they will also continue to pass on. It's a fact of life. You might as well be the one who gets paid to provide the music.

If you're lucky to be in a place that supports a concert series, you could really have an excellent situation fall right into your lap. Not only could you be involved in committee work (an experience that is valuable in itself) but you could get opportunities to program your own concerts. It can provide a wonderful outlet for doing some chamber music or solo recitals.

6) Pursue an adjunct appointment at a college or university, or provide tutoring for students.

Let me preface by saying that adjunct work is not all it is cracked up to be. (See this excellent article on the drawbacks.) There are no benefits, pay is skimpy, and there is not much hope for promotion. It is most definitely not suited to some musicians. But if you can get into a good situation as a freelancer, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

I can vouch for teaching coursework at the adjunct level rather than private lessons. Teaching private lessons as an adjunct professor can be grueling and worth very little financially. But coursework can be different. The first time you teach a course is the most difficult since you need to research and prep everything basically from scratch (especially if your class does not use a textbook). But once you have done the course a few times, your workload can actually diminish. I have taught a chamber music literature course at UC-CCM two times (so far), and the amount of prep-time for last year's class was 50% of what I had to do the first year. It is true that when you do a course for the first time, you are earning less than minimum wage for your time. But the thing to keep in mind is that the first year is basically an investment – you won't need as much time in the future once the groundwork for the course is laid.

I want to assert that I do not condone simply recycling coursework year-over-year, which is common practice for some adjuncts. Ethically speaking, adjuncts should keep modernizing and updating their material in order to continue to be effective teachers. The worst situation for students is to be stuck with some uncaring adjunct who hasn't incorporated important new field research for twenty years. Don't be that professor.

But even with the need to evaluate and develop new material, adjunct coursework can be quite friendly to your schedule after the initial year. It's not gravy and you may be better off in the long run with #4 from Part 1, but if you can find the right niche it can be rewarding and fun part-time work.

In a recession, it is possible that the need for adjuncts may increase. As full salaried professors retire, more and more of the full-time positions are being split up into adjunct positions so that the institutions save money. While it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of the implications of this (most of which are NOT good), it could be a good thing for a freelancer looking for an additional (small) paycheck.

In lieu of adjunct work, tutoring could be a consideration for those who have good academic skills and a reputation in the community as a knowledgeable mentor. If you are a whiz at theory or have a knack for music history, there may be a whole pool of graduate students who could benefit from tutoring. Find out if the local university music department requires qualifying exams for their graduate students, then alert teachers that tutoring is an option for students who need help with preparation. This option has the added benefit of little to no start-up cost (outside of pertinent texts on your subject material); another one is that word-of-mouth "marketing" might be all that is needed to keep the community aware of your tutoring business.

7) Get comfy with the other instruments in your instrumental family.

The more instruments you can play competently, the more work you will get. I won't speak for clarinetists who can play saxophone or guitarists who can hammer away on a mandolin. They can write their own posts. But I can definitely speak for the keyboard group! I can estimate accurately that a full 20 to 25 percent of my performance work comes from continuo work on harpsichord or organ. It is extraordinary to me that pianists rarely learn the other keyboard instruments! The real world (the one that writes checks) will not care that much if you can play Rach 3. (They could always get Yefim Bronfman.) On the other hand, if you can play continuo parts for Baroque suites and large ensemble pieces (e.g., Handel's Messiah requires BOTH organ and harpsichord continuo parts) you could find yourself getting paid next week.

Now that I'm a working "stiff" in an urban setting, it is becoming more and more clear to me that the conservatory schools spend way too much energy focusing on training people for solo careers. (This subject may be suited to a separate, longer, and more heated post…) I received absolutely no training whatsoever on organ or harpsichord in my TEN years in degree coursework. I know of what I speak – I've attended three different institutions and in none of these places did anyone even encourage me to get even just a tiny bit comfortable with the other instruments. This reveals an incredible lack of insight about the field. Sometimes performance professors just don't really know what goes on outside of their little ivory tower studios…

But I digress. The point is that people actually really LIKE Baroque and Classical ensemble pieces (I just played organ continuo in a Schubert mass last week) so they will always be an important feature of classical music programming. If you can be the go-to gal for harpsichord or organ work, you may be in yet another "recession-proof" situation. I've got my Messiah gig before Christmas. Do you?

8) Join or start up a local rock band/jazz combo/experimental ensemble.

Classical musicians are notorious for their inability (or unwillingness) to engage in different styles and genres that require improvisation (I include myself). While I have not pursued this option in recent years, there is no reason why others cannot. Heck, you can even start just a simple cover band and get work in bars and clubs around town. (This won't happen overnight of course.) You might not even have to learn a different instrument. If you can write some tunes, get yourself a cool group name, and market yourself like crazy, you could end up like these guys.

You could also start an experimental group of varying instrumentation. One could find a unique market niche with this approach. One of my favorite ensembles in the country, pulsoptional, is a self-professed "band of composers" that plays all kinds of music that defy genre classifications. They are a good example of what I am talking about here.

9) Finally – one more! You could change careers.

Wow, what a cop-out, I can hear detractors say. But this might not be as drastic as you think. The idea is not to give up professional music-making, but rather make it your part-time job. Many people today work more than two jobs (most simply need to in order to just pay the bills) so why can't a musician? Because you won't have time to practice, right? I say "deal with it."

Even if you work forty hours a week, a hard worker could manage to keep at music-making on the side. One of the keys to being an active professional musician is maintaining efficient practicing strategies anyway, so there really is no reason why someone can't work a day job and moonlight as a musician. It could be much more secure than trying to scramble for gigs all the time. You could pick and choose what you actually want to do as well, rather than having to take that dreaded gig that pays you less than dirt.

I have always liked the story of pianist Jon Nakamatsu. He was a high school German teacher when he won the Cliburn competition in 1997. He never went to a conservatory and never pursued a music major in college. His background provides proof of what a determined musician can accomplish while doing something else for a living. Granted, he doesn't need to teach high school anymore, but look at how he got there.

I can foresee plenty of problems with this choice for many musicians. (For example, if you have kids this kind of thing could be difficult.) But I feel that too many people in the business overlook this option, perhaps out of emotional needs or because of fears of stigmatization in the musical community. There is no shame in career change – people do it all the time. Liberating yourself from the stress of needing to freelance for income could provide huge benefits – not just to your income, but also in terms of health, job satisfaction, and other important life aspects that musicians sometimes ignore at their own peril.


Well, there you have it! Those are some of my ideas for shoring up freelancers' work in this difficult economic environment. In the future I will also try to give some additional side "pointers" in an addendum to these posts. If anyone would like to expand on topics I didn't cover, please comment. Good luck out there, fellow freelancers!

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Freelancing in the “New” Economy (Part 1)

Remember that little catchphrase from the late 90's, when internet stocks were soaring and there was no end to rising profits? I think that today we are in for a new "new economy" that reverses the simplistic overconfidence of the previous era. Let's face it: times are going to be tough for everyone (except, perhaps, for the golden parachute boys of Wall Street).

But I'm really not writing this to pour more grim news down throats or complain vociferously. It's time, I feel, to regroup and retool freelance careers. For musicians who do not have full salaried work, now is the time to plan ahead for a recession and its probable impact on our field. While there is some cheerleading about how great things are in the classical music world, I prefer to take a more cautious approach. I believe that the immediate future will most likely bring a serious dollar-diet to many arts organizations, especially those that are dependent on yearly corporate donations. I don't think the sky is falling, though – crystal balls about finances for the arts have usually been quite wrong on the worst-case scenario coming to fruition.

However, for many of us who have freelance careers a good deal of performance work could dry up. (I include myself even though I hold a few part-time positions that provide steady income.) It is likely that in some places orchestra seasons could shrink, people may need to stay at home more, and the regular side gigs many of us enjoy could simply vanish. What do we do in the meantime, wait out the storm and just hope for the best?

Remember the Pasteur quote, "Chance favors the prepared mind." Here are some of my ideas for securing work and income in the near future, some of which are applicable to all musicians while others are strictly keyboardist-oriented. Good luck out there!

1) Don't be lazy.

Let me start with a brazen (and politically incorrect) statement: far too many musicians are lazy and less productive than they could be. Those of us in the field know this to be true – we've seen it in colleagues and students. None of the plans below are an easy out – they all take some legwork and determination. Let us all be aware of this tendency (I include myself) and combat it by hitting the bricks to make things happen.

2) Teach private students if you do not do so already.

I know that most of us do this no-brainer already, but many musicians do not teach. Some claim to not have the temperament, but that is something a pro-active person can change. Teaching an instrument to young people is one of the most rewarding activities we can do. It is win-win – you get paid for your time, you get to share your expertise, and you are providing all kinds of benefits to the people who will be in charge of things thirty or forty years from now.

There are many ways to get started. If you are uncomfortable due to lack of experience, look into a pedagogy course at your local university or college music department. You can start a studio at local community music schools relatively easy and with very little start-up cost. Most of these places are small businesses themselves and carry a good reputation with the community if they have been around for many years. Go to the established places and inquire about starting a studio. You might only get a student or two at first, but then you can build from there. If you are lucky enough to catch an opening when a teacher moves, you could inherit an entire studio. This is what happened to me when I started teaching in northern Kentucky in 2002. I have had 15-20 students at all times since then. It can be very secure once you get established.

You can also try preparatory departments in your local university (though in many cases these teaching positions are only available to those on the inside: graduate students, alumni, etc.) Another option is to open up a studio in your home or apartment. This option is really attractive since you can advertise in so many inexpensive ways now via the web. Another bonus to teaching home lessons is that YOU keep all the income, rather than paying a portion of your earnings to a community music school. It also reduces travel costs: I don't hit the gas pedal when I go from my desk to the piano in the living room for my in-home lessons.

Finally, you may be skeptical about this when money is tight for families. But parents will still spend money on their children's education and music lessons will always be popular. It's really a recession-proof job!

3) Accompany students at a university music department.

This one is for pianists. Do you happen to know the core repertoire for a given instrument? Did you learn a lot of lieder in your bachelor degree days? Put it to good use by sending out feelers to local teachers. Here's an example: if you know a lot of trumpet repertoire, give the local trumpet professor a call (or send an email) and let her know that you are available for lessons, recitals, juries, etc. In most situations these people will be delighted to know someone they can call. Even if they already have a list, you will get a call when the first-call folks are too busy.

The downside of this is that a lot of students do not have much money. But you can still earn something significant if you can respond to advantageous situations. A few years ago, I made a killing playing TWO pieces for a lot of flutists. I knew about a national competition that was coming up, looked at the repertoire required, and offered my services to record those two pieces with students looking to send in an application. The best part was that I did not need to learn twenty different pieces, but made the kind of money that looked like I should have!

There are MANY situations out there that are advantageous for good collaborators. This one is also very recession-proof: students will still need to graduate, so they will need to do their required recitals, juries, competitions, etc. If you're really good at what you do and you impress the professors, you might also get asked to work with them in the future.

4) Hone a skill set outside of the music field for part-time work.

Since the early summer I have been back working a part-time office job for extra income, balancing spreadsheets and doing other clerical duties. If you know how to do spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, for example) and are good with numbers you have a potentially valuable skill. It doesn't have to be office work – you could drive a delivery van, become a handyman in your neighborhood, babysit, etc. Part-time work can be scarce, but if you find something decent it can save you from debt when you hit a no-gig dry patch for a couple of months.

I am always amazed at how some musicians often look down on doing work outside of their field for extra income. I can speak from experience: doing some outside work can actually be mentally healthy, and I've always found that it gives me a little more confidence when I know that I can actually produce something other than pretty sounds at the piano. Another benefit is that a lot of part-time work is left at the work site – you don't necessarily have to take it home with you. Music is usually the opposite: we almost always take our work home with us in the form of practicing or other kinds of preparation.

PART TWO will provide more at a later date – please check back for the next installment!


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blogging - A Long-Term Payoff?

An interesting thing has been happening lately - I am getting new students from my community as a result of this blog! Finally, after about a year and half of online existence, the site is paying me back in new student income. Since the middle of summer I now have three new regular students, all of whom found me via the internet. I am also finding that more people are inquiring about lessons (many through my profile at

I suppose I am writing this to help encourage others to start or continue to blog if it means to be an investment in your business. Now I realize that many folks blog for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is just the pleasure of writing about favorite topics. My main purpose at first was to establish an online presence and then just see what might happen. But after I started, it dawned on me that it might be helpful in actually building my own studio.

To be truthful, I was a little disappointed after the first year (I started the blog in the winter of 2007) - not one new student followed through! But it seems that now a longer-term payoff is beginning, even though I am not blogging as regularly as I have in the past.

It is easy sometimes to forget that a blog is also a larger body of work - not just an engine that always needs to produce something "new". It's clear to me that the more important element is the larger base of content that a blog can provide. That's what my new students (or parents) told me - they were able to get a better sense of what kind of teacher (and person) I might be from fishing around on the site.

So even if you're fretting about not having the time or energy to blog consistently, keep in mind that people will still look at the material you have posted in the past. There seems to be a slightly irrational reasoning in the blogosphere that you must absolutely post every day or else risk losing readership. This isn't necessarily true. For me, what's interesting is that I am getting increased business during a time when I've been actually posting LESS. This might just be a coincidence, but it definitely has made me question the "need" to post something new every other day in order to gain more business.

Could this be an excuse for laziness? Perhaps. But it is nice to know that the blog can keep working for you even if you're not nursing it every day. Go ahead and start that site you've always wanted to have - it may take some time for the investment to return something, but that's not a bad thing!

I'd certainly be interested in readers' thoughts on this. Please feel free to share your own experiences with blogging and business.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fundraiser for Antioch College

A fundraiser in support of the revival of Antioch College, which is currently shuttered, will be held at the Know Theatre in Cincinnati on September 12. This educational institution, located in beautiful Yellow Springs, Ohio, was closed in June of 2007 by its Board of Trustees due to high deficits and increasingly low enrollment.

Antioch College is not just another small-town liberal arts college. Ever heard of Coretta Scott King, Stephen Jay Gould, and Rod Serling? They are just some of the noteworthy alumni who pursued an education at Antioch. I am not an alumnus, but since I am involved with education it is never a good feeling for me when a school goes dark. Therefore I certainly support the (hopefully sustainable) efforts to revive the college.

For more information about this event (which is alumni-driven) please see the article at Antiochans Chapters. (PDF of the event flyer.)

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Online Audio of Beaux Arts Final Concert

The chamber music institution known as the Beaux Arts Trio (pianist Menahem Pressler, violinist Daniel Hope, and cellist Antonio Meneses) has performed their final US concert this past month. Pressler has been the mainstay of this group for just a mere 53 years! He is now 84 and, well, I certainly can't blame him for wanting to calm down in the touring and performance department.

American Public Media's Performance Today has audio clips available (plus a direct link to an iTunes podcast) of their final concert at Tanglewood, Massachussetts on August 21, 2008. I've no idea how long the audio will be available for free, but be sure to catch it before it disappears. The recording is refreshingly unedited and truly "feels" like a live concert. They perform the two gigantic Schubert piano trios, Op. 99 and 100. (To get directly to the performance, skip the announcer's intro of about 7 minutes.)

Since it is Labor Day here in the US, I think it is appropriate that I tip my hat to Menahem Pressler for his more than half-century dedication to the art and trade of chamber music performance. I can only hope that I can play chamber music for as long.

Thanks to Brad Robideau at APM for emailing me about this important event.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Important Dates Fall 2008 Through Summer 2009

Calendar information and events for my students from August 2008 through August 2009.

Monday, August 25, 2008: Fall/Winter Term begins at Slater Academy (17 lessons to be completed by Sunday, January 18).

Friday & Saturday, October 17-18: OFMC State Convention held in Dayton-Fairborn, Ohio. Students who have achieved FIVE consecutive superiors are eligible to perform at this event.

Thursday, October 30—Sunday, November 2: Nemith at IRIS, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 4—Sunday, December 7: Nemith at IRIS, Tennessee.

Friday and Sunday, December 12 and 14: Slater Academy Recitals at Milligan Hall at St. Pius X Church in Edgewood, KY. 7:00 PM recital on Friday; 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00 recitals on Sunday. I will be in touch when sign-ups and further details are available. Directions.

Thursday, December 18: My last day of teaching before Christmas vacation. No lessons will be scheduled from December 19 to January 4.

Monday, January 5, 2009: Lessons resume.

Sunday, January 18: All Fall/Winter Term lessons must be completed by this date. Winter/Spring Term begins on Monday, January 19.

Saturday, March 7: OFMC (District 3-D) Junior Festival at Xavier University. Directions.

Saturday, April 18: OFMC District III Recital at Otterbein Retirement Center, Lebanon, OH. 1:00 PM. Directions.

Saturday, May 16: Academy Recital at Willis Music, Florence. 1:30 PM.

Sunday, May 17: Academy Recitals at Milligan Hall, St. Pius X Church, Edgewood, KY. 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00. Directions.

All Winter/Spring Term lessons must be completed by May 31.

Important SUMMER dates TBA.

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 22, 2008

Weekly Academy Schedule

General Summer Schedule (2009)

(These students attend the Slater Music Academy.)


3:30 Sarahmarie
4:30 Monica


1:30 Zachary
2:15 Grace

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Find an Accompanist at - The easiest way to find an accompanist

This new website provides a valuable service in supplying information about accompanists based on location. If you're looking for an accompanist (or as many of us prefer to say, "collaborative pianist") just visit the site and plug in your postcode (or zip code) and country. The site then loads a list of registered accompanists closest to your area. It already supports location searches in 32 different countries so far!

After looking around the site a bit I decided to join it myself. Registration is incredibly easy. One can supply a profile (qualifications, fees, etc.) and have it available in a couple of minutes. See mine here.

The site was started by two freelance musicians from the Royal Academy of Music in London. There is also a discussion forum where musicians and other users can interact and discuss pertinent topics.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Careers in Music by MENC

Interested in pursuing some kind of career in music? You might be surprised by the wide variety of career paths that are possible in this field. The National Association for Music Education has compiled a very complete list of industry professions on a webpage titled Careers in Music. Many jobs in the music world do not necessarily require virtuoso performance abilities or master teaching skills - one could train to become a librarian, recording engineer, performance arts medicine specialist, music therapist, instrumental repairperson, etc.

The site contains a great deal of useful information on training and/or schooling, qualifications, required knowledge, and salary expectations. This is a great resource to consult if you are looking to work in the music field and need a straightforward guide for comparing career choices. Another page to look at would be the Career Center. Be sure to take a good look around the rest of the MENC site as well - it offers an abundance of material on many topics.

(Via Amy Gould at Music Teacher's Blog)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Playing for Funerals

Of all the possible gigs a pianist may get, funerals are certainly one of the least discussed and mysterious events to face for the first time. Since I have been a part-time church musician for over five years, I thought I would share my experience with these rather common rituals and provide some guidance for you if a funeral gig presents itself. It is yet another one of those practical things you do not tend to learn about in music school, but should – keyboardists often take on church jobs while in graduate school, and many of us who are more or less freelance performers depend on a church gig for steady income during those inevitable "dry" spells. If you work (or think that you will work someday) as an accompanist/organist for a church, playing your first funeral will be just a matter of time.

Readers may be wondering why I am pursuing such a somber topic! Well, let me just break the ice and say that playing for funerals can be rewarding and even quite lucrative. After all, somebody has to do it and that someone is going to get paid. And consider this: if you are a musician that can handle playing for funeral services, you will never be completely out of work! You know the old saying, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: nothing is certain but death and taxes. Now we just need to work on getting some kind of music-requiring ritual involving taxes…but I digress.

If you are a church musician, what follows below may not offer much that is new. I should also add that preparing music for a funeral service is mostly just a matter of common sense. (My focus here is on the funeral practices of Christian-based services; I don't know enough about other religions' funeral rites to properly comment.) But I know that I would have liked to have known a little bit better about what goes into a funeral performance when I first got started. My purpose here is to include the needs of the pianist and/or the organist – in fact I usually play both instruments at funeral services. Here are ten things to consider when preparing for one:

1) A funeral service is almost ALWAYS a short-notice performance.

When you are notified about playing for a funeral service, you will usually have just two to five days notice. That simply comes with the territory for obvious reasons. Enough said. However, you may occasionally get longer notice about a remembrance service that occurs well after the deceased has passed. These types of memorial services, however, are quite rare.

The trick is to be aware that this is the way it is, and prepare ahead of time accordingly. If you follow my guidelines below, you should never have to scramble to prepare for the short-notice funeral service.

2) Develop a repertoire of suitable material to use for the "Prelude" (before the service) slot.

Most funeral services will have a "Prelude" of music selections before the actual service begins. These preludes can last anywhere from five minutes to half an hour in my experience. If you want to feel comfortable with your Prelude material when the call comes to play, have a list of selections that you already know and can perform in a few days' time. You should keep a list handy to which you continually add new pieces that work well for Prelude music (see number 3 below). I keep a list of pieces/arrangements in a spreadsheet document, complete with time lengths, stylistic considerations, and the place in my library where the piece can be quickly located. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the easier it will be to fill in the gaps during crunch time.

You should also mark places in the music where repeats could work – there will be times when you may want to extend a piece for a little while longer if the circumstances warrant it.

3) In general, Prelude music should fit the following descriptions: Reflective, Peaceful, Meditative, Tasteful, Uplifting, and Appropriate.

Prelude music at a funeral should not be a place where you do your aesthetically challenging repertoire. Stick to quiet, subdued classical music (just to provide some examples, I've used Debussy's Reverie and some of the Gliere Preludes) or tasteful hymn arrangements. Some common hymns associated with funeral services are "Abide With Me", "Amazing Grace", "Be Still My Soul" (also known as Sibelius's Finlandia), "I Need Thee Every Hour", "Be Thou My Vision", and many others. One tactic you can use is to look at the appendixes in your church's hymnal and find a section that lists hymns for funerals. You can than shop for arrangements of these hymns online or at your local music store – lots of good arrangements are coming out every year of the most common tunes and hymns. (A future post may contain some more specific suggestions for prelude music at funerals – including that here would make this post way too long.)

Yes, it is true that someday you might be asked to do something a little more off the wall for the Prelude. Maybe the deceased really loved ragtime, and so the family wants you to play nothing but Scott Joplin. In those cases, you should try to go with what the family wants if possible.

Don't get into extensively pyrotechnical music – the funeral service is not for you! Dazzling your "audience" with your most recent rendition of Liszt's Dante sonata will probably get you a dirty look from the clergyperson presiding over the service. Repertoire like that is simply not appropriate here.

Stay away from extensively minor mode music as well – remember to keep it uplifting. Whatever you do, NEVER play the third movement of Chopin's B-flat minor sonata. Not ever.

4) Whatever amount of time you are told to dedicate to the "Prelude" slot, add ten minutes and prepare enough music for that amount of time instead.

Believe me, you do NOT want to get stuck playing prelude music at a funeral and then run out of music before the service starts. Anything can happen before a service – an important family member could be late, children who are speaking about Grandpa might get uncooperative at the last minute, etc. Do yourself a favor and be ready for a delay in the service. Most of the time, you will not get through all of your prepared material. But isn't that a lot better than running out of material and needing to repeat stuff ad nauseam from just-played pieces? It's simply more professional to not have to resort to endless repeats. I've done it before, of course, and I'm never very happy with the result.

If there is to be 10 minutes reserved for the prelude, prepare 20. Et cetera…

(Those of you who are good improvisers probably do not need to worry about extending your repertoire – I just thought I would mention that!)

5) Develop a few solid organ and piano pieces to use for the Postlude.

If you have never played a funeral before, keep in mind that it is usually preferable to do the postlude on organ rather than piano. Like your prepared-ahead-of-time list of known pieces for the Prelude slot, you should have a couple or three pieces that you can whip together in a day or two that work well as postludes. I have a list of about five organ pieces and two piano pieces. The reason you want both instruments covered is so that you can adapt depending on circumstances. Sometimes one or the other instrument is out of service or the institution at which you will be performing does not have an organ. Again, be prepared for an unexpected change in plans.

Postludes should generally be uplifting, up-tempo works that contrast with the reflective qualities of the music for the Prelude. If you are not sure what kind of piece you should prepare, ask your pastor or reverend what they typically expect for the postlude. The family who hires you may also wish for something specific – in those cases, go with what they want if at all possible.

6) Learn the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.

This is the most common request that I have encountered in my experience playing funerals. You can often demand more pay if you are required to play this work. Find a reasonable version (there are many available online) and be able to play it on piano and organ. You will save yourself a massive headache when the request comes in to prepare this in three days. It will happen – it did to me!

7) Be able to play specific hymns on the organ WITH pedal tones.

Let's face it: hymns at funerals really should be played on the organ rather than the piano (unless otherwise requested). If you are new to the organ and have yet to get your feet involved on the pedals, start practicing simple bass lines for the most common hymns ("Amazing Grace" is a great place to start). You should of course have the music theory and harmony chops to come up with simplified bass lines that you can play with your feet for the required hymns if the notated bass line is too technically demanding. (They often are a bit too hard for me – I am definitely a pianist first and a sometime-organist second!) If you can't do the pedals just yet, be sure that at some point you couple the left hand with some 16' or 8' stops for more bass. Let it rumble a bit!

8) Honor any musical requests for the deceased person's family to the best of your ability.

If your pastor calls you in and tells you that the deceased person's Uncle Hank and Cousin Jimmy want you to accompany them on a banjo and harmonica rendition of Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It" – smile politely and say you would be delighted. When the duo show up twenty minutes before the funeral with five chord changes scribbled on a greasy napkin, and they instruct you to just "follow them", smile again and serve up the music as best you can.

If you play in a church long enough, you will be sure to run into an absurd request now and again. You need to be able to just roll with it and not get personally offended or feel like you've "sold out." Keep in mind that this is someone's funeral – the memory of that awful performance (in your mind) might be someone else's long-cherished memory for years to come. It is honorable to meet the needs of the bereaved, no matter how silly or absurd you may find those requests to be.

9) Be sure to leave enough time for one music store run before the funeral.

This goes along with No. 8 above – a family member may ask for something that you do not currently have in your library. Always be sure that there is enough time in your schedule (a free morning or afternoon, for instance) to allow for a last-minute run to the music store to pick up any requests. Do this and you will be remembered as a dependable musician for folks in the real world.

10) Be prepared for the possibility of an intensely emotional experience if the death was tragic.

OK – time to get back to something serious after the fun of writing No. 8 above. Something has to be said about this, even though it is a no-brainer. Believe it or not, most of the funerals you will play will be for very old people who have mostly lived long and productive lives. Their passing is not the tragedy it could have been if it happened years or decades earlier. Therefore the service in these more common circumstances is usually not a heart-wrenching ordeal. But watch out if you get the call to play for the funeral of an accident victim or someone who was taken suddenly by cancer or other fatal health problem. These services can leave you reeling if you are not prepared to handle the highly charged emotional atmosphere that comes with the tragic death.

Usually you can safely check with your clergyperson (the professional clergyperson will understand your need to know if the death was tragic or "nothing unexpected") and then make a decision based on your ability to remain detached. I'll readily admit that this is not an easy thing to do. If you feel like you may be too disturbed to handle a given situation, it is perfectly professional to say no up front. Some weeks it is just not necessary to subject yourself to the intensity of someone else's sudden family loss.

Now these ten items about playing for funerals are certainly not the final word, so I invite you to chime in with whatever else pertains to the subject!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer Arrives

Whew! I just finished submitting my final grades for the chamber music course I taught this past year at UC-CCM. it looks like I can commit to a little more content for this blog over the coming months, outside of vacation time of course!

For starters, let me mention (and link to) a couple of recent topics/events that are important to me in the music blogosphere:

In the good news category, Jason Heath has published his book on the ups and downs of the freelance gigging classical artist, "Road Warrior Without An Expense Account." Anyone interested in what it means to be a non-"superstar" classical artist today should take a look at it - Jason has real industry experience and insight that delves beneath the surface of the issues. Read about the book in Jason's announcement post. The book is available for download or in print form here.

In the aesthetically intriguing category, check out Greg Sandow's ruminations on art vs. commerce, and how the lines are continually blurring as we progress in the 21st century. This topic is always as confusing as it is liberating, but Greg presents some interesting examples throughout his excellent essay. He begins by mentioning an anecdote about Sting's viability as a real "artist", whose recent Police tour has certainly convinced me yet again that artistry emanates well beyond the seams of our often narrow categories.

Now the bad news: I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the awful situation regarding the Columbus Symphony, which has ceased operations for the time being due to serious financial problems. As a fellow orchestra member in the state of Ohio, my heart goes out to the musicians who are suffering through this predicament. I can't pretend to possess insider information or thorough knowledge on this (things have just been too busy lately), but interested readers can look to informed commentary on the situation by Janelle Gelfand and Drew McManus. (The previous links will bring you to a category page that offers a list of each author's posts/articles on the Columbus Symphony, many of which have further links to other commentators and articles.)

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Saturday, May 31, 2008


Want to know how I finished out the performance season this spring? I was the cannon in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, banging away on the bottom keys of the glorious Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer complete with a cheesy "1812" sound patch. (You could probably guess, correctly, that this was a Memorial Day concert.)

What fun! Did you know that the cannon part is notated with precise rhythms in the percussion score? I always thought it was just something that happened toward the end at the climactic places without much specificity. There's one really neat place where Tchaikovsky sounds the cannon in cross-rhythm - it "explodes" every three beats while the music is in four (or two, I can't exactly remember). That's what's supposed to happen, anyway.

Keyboard players just never know for sure what sounds they'll be making out there in the real world...

Image source

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strauss and Mahler Arrangements

I will be involved in an interesting program of chamber ensemble arrangements of Romantic classics by Johann Strauss and Gustav Mahler next week at the Schuster Center in Dayton. The concert will be performed twice: there is a performance on Wednesday, May 21, at 6:30 PM and another on Thursday, May 22, at 10:00 AM.

The two works being presented are Strauss's waltz set Rosen aus dem Suden (Roses from the South), arranged by Arnold Schoenberg, and Mahler's Fourth Symphony in an arrangement/transcription by Erwin Stein. (Stein was a close friend and pupil of Schoenberg.) Both works are chamber versions that include considerable keyboard parts for piano and harmonium. I am excited because Mahler is not usually available to pianists - he wrote mostly gigantic symphonies for orchestra. Now's my chance to be the horns, oboes, flutes, and other instruments in this gorgeous symphony!

These arrangements were written specifically for performance by Schoenberg's organization in Vienna known as the Society for Private Musical Performances (in German: Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen). They were first performed in the year 1921. There were many of these kinds of "economical" arrangements on Society concert programs - the major aim of the organization was to enable experiences of modern music without the prohibitive cost of rehearsing larger forces. 1921, of course, was the year when hyper-inflation began to negatively affect the German economy. Indeed, the Society unfortunately suspended its activities in 1921 due to this financial turbulence.

But on the bright side, I'm certainly looking forward to helping recreate the energetic atmosphere of a Society-style concert from that tumultuous era.

To purchase tickets for this event, please see the webpage for this concert at the Dayton Phil site.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Stravinsky and Sting

Let me share my two weekend concert experiences: On Saturday night, I witnessed an energetic Cincinnati Symphony performance of The Rite of Spring. A spur-of-the-moment decision last week enabled Arpi and I to run up to Columbus on Sunday to catch The Police in concert! (The opening band was Elvis Costello and the Imposters.) How's that for variety?

You could say it was a raucous and rhythmic weekend. It is not every week that one can hear the Rite of Spring performed in the US. But much rarer is a concert by The Police, the classic progressive rock band that broke up in the mid-1980s and hadn't really reunited in performance for more than 20 years. We caught the North American leg of their international 2007-08 tour - and we're very glad we went. They all sounded as great as ever, but I have to say that the shining highlight was Stewart Copeland's drumming. The precision and sheer forcefulness of his rhythmic ideas just blew me away. At one point Copeland moved from the drum set to a large battery of percussion instruments (many of which were used by Stravinsky in the Rite) for a colorful rendition of Wrapped Around You Finger. The array of pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments (including a gong, crotales, and various cymbals and chimes) was brought to vivid life by Copeland, lending the pop tune a curiously modern-classical spectrum of sound. (Take a guess at what other well-known tune featured this battery of percussion.)

It's amazing how different back-to-back musical experiences can remind one of the immediate interconnections between all kinds of music. Certainly the Rite changed music forever, and not just the classical stuff. There's a lot in the music of The Police that would not be possible without the earthquake of Stravinsky's Rite. (Indeed, Police bassist and lead singer Sting has stated that he often prefers to listen to classical music rather than pop.) It's also a reminder that as time progresses the lines between classical and rock continue to be blurred, forever smeared by musicians who refuse to "keep it in the box." That's a positive thing.

Audiences for both concerts were totally engaged and responded with gung-ho applause and standing ovations. Maybe there's a little hope for classical music to reach people in the ways good rock music can.

Hopefully my ears will stop ringing by the time I have to start teaching today...

(For a review of the CSO performance, click here. For a review of a recent Police concert, see this.)

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lunchtime Schubert

On Tuesday, April 29, at 12:00 I will be performing in recital in Oxford, Ohio. The recital is this season's last concert for the "Midday Music in Oxford" series, managed by Jack Daugherty.

The program is dedicated entirely to the music of Schubert. I will be playing just one piece with violin. Oh, but what a piece it is: Violinist Gerry Itzkoff (a Cincinnati Symphony member) and myself will be put to the test in Schubert's C major Fantasia. It is one of the more massive late works by Schubert, brimming over in transcendent beauty and requiring heaps of virtuosity from the performers.

Gerry and I have been working on and performing this piece for about four years. It has taken us both a long time to come to terms with this beast of a piece, but I think we're finally conquering it technically and musically. If you'd like to hear the result, please come to the recital:

12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29
Oxford Presbyterian Church, 101 N. Main Street in Oxford, OH.

The rest of the program includes another work for piano and violin (the D major sonata), and a song by Schubert (Sei mir gegrust) that is used in the Fantasia. The other performers are soprano Alma Jean Smith and pianist Avedis Manoogian.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Our Big Festival Day

This past Saturday my piano students and I went through the biggest event of the year for my studio: the OFMC District 3D Junior Festival. The event was held at Xavier University's Edgecliff Hall in Cincinnati and was populated by hundreds of music-making youngsters. I also participated as an adjudicator, and it was really fun to see (and comment on) so much young talent from the area.

Fifteen of my students (ranging in age from seven to seventeen) performed at the festival, which is pretty hard to believe when I think about it in total! But everyone did extremely well, and thanks to the event's organizers the day was a smooth-running success.

Four of my students qualified for the Honors Recital held in Edgecliff's Long Recital Hall that afternoon. To qualify, a student must obtain the highest rating from the adjudicators ("superior") for three consecutive years. It is quite an accomplishment since it demands quality performances over the long-term. This takes consistency and lots of dedicated practice!

You can see me below with two of my students just after the performance:

These accomplished young artists played some exciting repertoire. Monica (in the center) performed Ginastera's "Creole Dance" from his 12 American Preludes, and Sarahmarie (on the right) performed the Northwoods Toccata by Carol Klose. I also had two other students play at the recital (both of whom escaped having a picture taken): Zachary and Devon performed Myslivecek's Divertimento No. 6 and Tippette's Dance of Fire, respectively.

Congrats to everyone who was involved in the event - of course now it's time to start working on new repertoire!

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Friday, February 22, 2008

BlogRoll Additions #3

Here are a few more worthwhile blogs I've been reading lately - I've followed all of them for some time and am just now getting around to listing them.


Drew McManus on orchestra management. Provides many insights about the ever-changing world of the classical orchestra industry and how to help it face the many challenges of today's artistic, financial, and social environment. Drew's blog is part of the Inside the Arts cultural blogging exchange.

Arts Addict

Jason Heath (he also manages a popular double-bass blog) on "life as a classical music bottom feeder." Features more of Jason's long-form articles and essays on making a living as a classical musician and other relevant topics. Jason's blog is also part of the Inside the Arts cultural blogging exchange.

Music Matters Blog

Natalie Wickham's blog provides "creative, practical, and up-to-date resources for the independent music teacher." She is a Kansas-based music teacher with lots of positive ideas for making piano lessons more rewarding and exciting for students and teachers.


This prominent site/blog is dedicated to the promotion of contemporary classical music. Content is provided by a number of contributing authors/editors from many different locales. Features of the site include a composers forum, cd reviews, performance announcements, and a listening room.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Carnivals and Puppets

It's Petrushka week for me up in Dayton! We're doing Stravinsky's complete 1911 version but with one additional audience aid: projected slides that tell the story of the "living" puppet Petrushka as the orchestra performs the piece. What a good idea.

In my eight years experience playing regularly as an orchestral pianist, I have not yet had the opportunity to perform this classic standard. Of course I've played it many, many times for every orchestral audition that I have taken (it is usually one of the more prominent required excerpts for any keyboard audition) but now I can finally get a real, in-context performance of the work behind me. It's one of those milestones that can make you feel like you're a more complete and accomplished orchestral player. It is very demanding technically with its emphasis on fast 16th-note passagework in octaves and chords (in the "Russian Dance"). But the work also requires a sensitive touch in the second tableau, where the solo piano first represents Petrushka's curses and laments and then later the arrival of the Ballerina (Petrushka's unattainable love interest).

The Petrushka score features plenty of other solo showcases for many other instruments as well; there are big solos for flute, trumpet, tuba ("the bear"!), english horn, and clarinet.

Petrushka is the second of Stravinsky's three cherished ballet pieces composed for Sergei Diaghilev's company in Paris in the years of 1909-1913. (The other two ballet-works are The Firebird and the infamous Rite of Spring.) Read more about Stravinsky and Petrushka here.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Legacy of Patricia Corbett

Cincinnati arts patron Patricia Corbett passed away last week at her home in Hyde Park, Cincinnati. Corbett was one of Cincinnati's most significant and generous philanthropists, having donated tens of millions of dollars to the arts for more than fifty years. She and her husband J. Ralph Corbett made their fortune through their NuTone doorchime company in the 1950s and established the Corbett Foundation in 1955. Donations from the organization have benefitted many facilities and arts venues in the Cincinnati area, including Riverbend Music Center, performance spaces at CCM, the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and many others. She also supported many educational programs in music and various ensembles throughout the region. There is absolutely no question that today's rich cultural landscape in Cincinnati would have been impossible without the dedicated involvement of this remarkable woman.

Read Janelle Gelfand's article at the Enquirer and also Kerry Duke's article at the Post.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

DPO Plays Albert's Cello Concerto

Guest soloist Julie Albers brought Stephen Albert's masterful Cello Concerto to Dayton this past weekend. The epic piece (it's more than a half-hour long) was written in 1990 for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and is cast in four movements. It is a stunningly gorgeous work that combines big Romantic gestures with modern harmonic language and orchestration. The piano part is sizable and difficult, with plenty of good exposure for the instrument throughout the entire work. It is one of those orchestral parts that provides great satisfaction for the pianist at the end of the day. Tragically, this was one of the last works the accomplished American composer would write; Albert perished in an auto accident in 1992 at the age of 51.

Preparing a convincing and emotionally engaging performance of this work was a great challenge for our orchestra (I believe it would be a challenge for any orchestra). Julie Albers brought lots of intensity and energy to the cello solo, and I think we sold the piece: the audience on both nights responded with great enthusiasm.

It was really great to see large audiences open up to a sophisticated recent work that deserves to be heard more often. It is especially pertinent that this reception occurred within a community many would not associate with great love for newer and more challenging concert music. The time has certainly come for contemporary works that are accessible but don't necessarily pander to the lowest listening abilities of audiences just to get more performances. Younger soloists like Albers are aiding the cause through an exuberance for fresh repertoire and commitment to high-standard performances of that repertoire. Being involved in a performance like this gives me hope that good new music is connecting with broader audiences on deeper emotional levels; perhaps the experience is finally going beyond mere sonic impressions. For goodness sake it's about time.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Pieces I Enjoyed Teaching in 2007

Below are some pieces and/or collections that brought me great piano-teaching joy this past year. (I've also added a little random commentary.) One of the immense pleasures of teaching younger students is taking them on new journeys into exciting repertoire. It is especially gratifying if you get to be the one to expose them to music that is unfamiliar yet attractive to them. I hope I can inspire at least a few teachers to take a leap into some of the less well-known (and often underplayed) late-intermediate to early-advanced repertoire. There’s a lot more out there than just the obligatory canonic standards, and kids often respond eagerly to a teacher with some sense of adventure in choosing the next “big project”.

Look inside this title
Bagatelles - Opus 5 - sheet music at
Bagatelles - Opus 5 By Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977). Op. 5. Collection for solo piano. Series: Alfred Masterworks Editions. 31 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.551)
SMP Level 8 (Early Advanced); NFMC Level: Difficult Class 2
See more info...

Every piano teacher worth her salt knows this set of works but many of us don't get past teaching the first one. It's a great little number but, folks, there are nine more beautiful pieces in the book! If you find a student who likes the aggressively playful style of Tcherepnin's piano writing, turn the pages and keep exploring. I have been teaching the seventh bagatelle ("Prestissimo") which requires soft but very fast staccato techniques and chromatic scales in major sevenths. You need a quite musically sophisticated student to tackle the intricacies of the slower bagatelles (Nos. 4 and 5) - I'm hoping to get to one of those next year.

Look inside this title
Complete Lyric Pieces For Piano - sheet music at
Complete Lyric Pieces For Piano By Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Collection for solo piano. 211 pages. Published by Dover Publications. (AP.6-26176X)
See more info...

Selecting suitable Romantic works for those students just getting into the advanced repertoire can be very tricky. Oftentimes Chopin is a little too difficult and you can pretty much forget Brahms and Liszt. If you're looking to get a little bit beyond Schumann's well-worn Album for the Young but see your student merely struggling with the waltzes, preludes, and small polonaises of Chopin, one of the composers to look to is Grieg. These 66 character pieces range from fairly simple to incredibly complex, not just in technical terms but also in emotional content. Many young pianists only play the charming "Arietta" (the first piece of the set in Op. 12) and the ultra-silly "Elves Dance" (also from Op. 12) before they move on to the, ahem, higher-quality music of Chopin and Liszt. Nonsense! Try looking at the music in Op. 38, which already steps into more advanced musical territory. I taught an absolutely luscious piece from this set, "Melodie", which demands subtle phrasing, a good sense of rubato, and rhythmic independence between the hands. Be careful - this piece requires the student to pull off an effective three-against-four rhythm in several places!

If you are truly daring, you'll venture into the later works from Op. 57 onwards. There are some rather strange evocations in quite a few of these works, and some of the pieces even suggest a little of the harmonic perfume found in Scriabin. They won't appeal to every student, but the occasional one who does gravitate towards this literature will offer some really neat opportunities for the teaching of creative and fun interpretation. I'm looking forward to teaching a delicate piece from Op. 62 called "Sylph" ("Sylph" refers to a mythological spirit or elemental of the air), which I assigned to a student a few weeks ago. Yes, the music is a little strange, but it's such fine strangeness.

Look inside this title
Lyric Pieces for the Young - sheet music at
Lyric Pieces for the Young Piano Solo. By Norman Dello Joio. Piano. 16 pages. Published by Marks. (9283)
See more info...

This is another set of lyric pieces, this time by the great American composer Norman Dello Joio. Now here's a composer whose music deserves to be played more often. These pieces (published in 1971) are cast in the tradition of Grieg's lyric pieces: they are brief, evocative character pieces that provide many opportunities for coloristic shading and expressive playing. I have shared three of these with a student this past year. No. 2 ("The Prayer of the Matador") is a study in playing an exquisitely intense Spanish-style melody over a relentless, but very slow, habanera accompinament. It requires a student with a wide emotional imagination - one can sense the private terror of the matador's heart through the heat in the melody's expressive gestures. No. 3 ("Street Cries") is all exuberance and fanfare demanding fine rhythmic incisiveness and control; the last piece of the set, No. 6 ("Russian Dancer"), offers some bitonal moments along with a generous amount of foot-stomping fun in the principal theme. The entire set of six pieces would make a wonderful performance segment in recital.

Look inside this title
Jazz, Rags & Blues - Book 4 - sheet music at
Jazz, Rags & Blues - Book 4 (9 original pieces for the late intermediate pianist) Music by Martha Mier. Collection for solo piano. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.18770)
See more info...

Most young piano students hanker for a good romp in jazz and ragtime music, so I will end this little list with something from that side of the piano music world. Kids are naturally attracted to jazz and swing idioms, so it's only in the teacher's best interest to encourage some material outside of the "eat-your-vegetables" classical pieces and method books. Teachers now really have no excuse, especially since the last decade has seen a virtual explosion of high-quality original repertoire for the late-intermediate to early-advanced pianist. Martha Mier will be no stranger to the piano teacher who has paid attention to the new supplemental books by the ever-growing community of composer-pedagogues such as E.L. Lancaster, Eugenie Rocherolle, and Phillip Keveren. The great thing about a series such as this one by Martha Mier is the fact that it is offered in distinct levels, which can help the teacher match pieces to abilities fairly easily. I've only taught one piece from the book so far; it's called "Katy's Dance". It's an effective tap-dance number, and my student who played it loved the cool solo lines with "blue" notes and other swaggering figuration. It may be too easy for more advanced students, but it's perfect for those just "graduating" from a method series.

So there we have it - just a small sample of neat repertoire that I got to teach last year. For those who teach - just remember that you can make life more fun for your students through repertoire might even have some more fun yourself.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Period Performances from ArsAntiguaPresents

Here is more proof that even groups associated with the most traditional music are making use of web-based technology to promote their message and performances. Jerry Fuller, director of the Ars Antigua period instrument ensemble in Chicago, has started a new (and free) music webcast site: Its purpose is to promote early music performances on period instruments:, directed by Jerry Fuller, is a series of monthly, free audio web cast programs of music from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras performed on period instruments with engaging and enlightening commentary by Peter Van De Graaff. Programs focus on one composition or a few short works. (Source)

The inaugural program from December 15 is available for playback and features a performance by the Ars Antigua ensemble. The site also offers concert archives, information about period instruments, and free subscription services through iTunes, RSS feeds, or email.

It's great that Mr. Fuller (who is an accomplished professional bass player) is building a valuable online resource for early music practitioners and listeners. I look forward to seeing how the site develops and listening to the web casts, since I often engage in continuo playing myself. Best wishes on the new project, Jerry.

Image reproduced from

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