Creative Venues for Musicmaking

I’m lucky to have a music studio with enough space to hold an audience of about 30. But this year I’m planning a big old-fashioned dress-up recital, mostly for the benefit of my young students and their families. Right now I’m looking into booking a church with an excellent piano. If that doesn’t work out, I will look into booking a nearby community center which has a Steinway on their stage.

The reason I say “old-fashioned” is because I’ve been reading about so many creative performance ideas recently. Really you can make any space a performance space.

Museums, shops, private homes, and galleries work well. Here’s a list of 10 ideas in unusual places, including one in a Launderette! The article mentions The Black Cab Sessions. The idea:  one song, one take, one big old London cab. They even fit a small keyboard in there for Au Revoir Simone.

At South by Southwest in Austin, TX, there were performers playing in every venue.  But one was the most intimate of all:

There were gigs in parking lots, the noise carried off on dusty winds. There were lakeside gigs lighted by fireworks. Gigs in big theaters, at an old power plant, in a “death metal” pizza joint. Gigs — parades, funky drummers, ukulele serenades — in the middle of Sixth Street, the always-mobbed party thoroughfare here. And, of course, there were gigs within, outside and above bars all over downtown.

But the most unusual performance space at South by Southwest this year, and perhaps one of the most effective, was a small, quiet hotel room blessedly removed from all the pandemonium. Just after noon on Saturday, a couple of dozen booking agents, artist managers and assorted friends and relations packed into a room at the historic Driskill Hotel to take in three guitar-cradling singer-songwriters in what seemed almost unthinkably intimate circumstances…

…at the hotel on Saturday afternoon, they sat at the foot of the bed and played with a delicacy — and a casualness — that would simply be impossible anywhere else here. Mr. Waller contemplated loss as its own sort of protest against war: “Oh my love,” he sang, “I never dreamed that you would die so far away.” (For a couple of songs, he had a cellist, squeezed between the bed and a window overlooking Sixth Street.) Jenny O. and Alessi Laurent-Marke, who performs as Alessi’s Ark, sang so quietly that, even though I was squatting on the floor just a few feet from them, I had to lean in to catch all the nuances.

Read the entire article here.

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Eight Pianists play Schubert

Thanks to The Cross-Eyed Pianist who found this  via Harold Gray’s Speaking of Pianists. Eight pianists perform the opening of Schubert’s last piano sonata, D960.

Salon Concert, marketing

I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of weeks preparing for a salon concert at The Music Studio which took place last Saturday evening. Jason Smeltzer and I performed a program of music for Theremin and Piano:  two Charlie Chaplin pieces (Eternally and Smile) which acted as bookends for the recital, 4 Leider Op. 2 by Alban Berg, Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part, Song Without Words by James Ricci and a Theremin improvisation.

We performed to a “full house” so there were about 30 people there. I’ve heard that in a larger city, an audience of 30 would be considered large for a concert of  20th century music. When I started thinking about how we managed to fill the house in our little suburb of Scranton, I found it interesting that we did no advertising in the traditional sense. No posters, newspaper articles, calendar listings, or radio announcements.  In fact the only advertising we did was word of mouth, a Facebook event page, and e-mails sent to friends. Jason made some wonderful bookmarks that listed the program details which doubled as programs and hand-out invitations. But besides that, there was no other publicity.

An added bonus, two of my piano students were in attendance!

More on teaching

This past weekend I happened to be in the same building as a group of about 100 high school students  who were on a “retreat.” As I was entering the cafeteria they were just finishing up their dinner and were receiving their instructions for an evening of silence and self-reflection. There was to be no texting and no speaking for the next few hours. The funny thing was that the group leader was shouting at them as if she were addressing a football team or some military unit. The kids were probably afraid to speak after being shouted at like that and I doubt their silence was a result of spiritually uplifting thoughts.

This made me think of piano teaching and how ironic it is that sometimes in trying to get the most beautiful music from our students, we can easily come across as drill sergeants. Wrists high, fingers curved, sing out the melody, less left hand, watch your key signature, count, Count, COUNT, and you call this practicing?

A typical teaching day for me goes from 3 pm to 8 pm with students every half hour and no breaks. In addition to my 15 minute power nap before teaching and my medium coffee (cream only) which I grab on my way to the studio, I’ve learned that I must wipe the slate clean between each student. I make it a point to address them by name, look them in the eye, and ask them about their day at school before they even touch the piano. And then no matter how much nitty gritty work we do in the lesson, whether it’s figuring out the difference between B below and D above  middle C, or working on the phrasing in a Bach Invention – we always part on an up note.

After my experience over the weekend, I’ve been more aware of how I interact with each student. I’m convinced that a little joking around, or sharing of a confidence, will go a lot further to summon up an inspired musical moment than yet another lecture about the importance of practicing.