The Pianist’s Artist Statement

photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

An Artist’s Statement is the artist’s written description of their work. Generally anywhere between 100 and 1000 words, the Artist’s Statement describes the artist’s intentions. It is both descriptive and reflective and shows an understanding of his or her place in the context of art history and theory. Artist’s statements are a relatively recent development and they are used for grant applications, gallery showings, promotional materials. Most art schools incorporate them into their curriculum. The days when the artist can say “My work speaks for itself” are in the past.

It’s more rare to see an musician’s artist statement. Composers seem to be more likely to have them than performing artists (pianists). Too many pianists still seem to think “their work speaks for itself.” It’s almost like they think they can throw together a program of Bach, Beethoven, Intermission, Chopin, Ravel and, voila, a piano recital!

But many pianists are thinking about what they want to say in their programming and what they want their audiences to take away.

I admire Lara Downes not only for her playing, but for her creative programming. Not surprising, she has an artist statement on her website. Doesn’t this last sentence tell you all you need to know?

From Lara Downes’s Artist Statement:

Whether I’m at home in my studio or out on the road, packing or unpacking, doing my scales or doing my laundry, day in and day out, my life is a life in music.

 

Ora Itkin places her artist statement front and center on her website. Then she takes you into her private world with her biography. After reading you can’t help but want to listen to her music.

Ora Itkin’s Artist Statement:

In music everything starts and ends with the Sound
On piano everything starts and ends with the Touch.
Search for that sound, that transmits feeling, thought, emotion, imagery, color…even taste.
In other words, sound that makes music “alive” is the essence of my interpretation.

 

Similarly, Anderson & Roe has their mission statement prominently displayed on their website.

a&r mission statement

-to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.

-to connect with others; to engage, provoke, illuminate; to serve as a conduit for the composer’s voice; to express our inner lives; to share the joy and fulfillment that only music can elicit.

-to free the world from the constraints of sleep-inducing concerts.

Ask a teenage piano student to write an artist’s statement and you’ll probably get a lot of groans and eye-rolling. But, in my opinion, it should be a requirement. Writing an artist statement, which will most certainly change over the years, is the first step to finding your own musical ‘voice.’

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Finding Joy in Piano

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about piano, taught piano, or as a matter of fact, even played piano. But it took another blogger to write a post that inspired me to post again.

Elissa Milne (pianist, writer, teacher and composer) has written a piano teacher’s manifesto. In the manifesto she lays out the purpose for piano lessons. It is what frames her teaching, her expectations and her composing for students.  Every item on the list is spot-on and I find myself wishing I had a copy of this years ago to hand out to parents and students and to hang on the wall as a reminder to myself.

Elissa talks about the “cool stuff” students can learn to do at the piano and then moves on to talk about the emotional benefits of piano lessons. You learn to understand yourself better, as well as other people. You begin to understand your place in history. You engage your brain in a way unlike the way you do with any other activity. Perhaps most importantly, you play for the joy you feel when you’re able to share an effortless performance with an engaged audience.

So, in the spirit of finding the joy in piano once again, maybe it’s time to resurrect this blog. Just maybe.

 

Adele and Free Notereading Method

Have you seen these guys?  Jon Schmidt, piano, and Steven Sharp Nelson, cello, call themselves ThePianoGuys and have a popular YouTube channel with arrangements of everything from the Theme from Charlie Brown performed for an audience of seniors to Carmina Burana performed on a racetrack. I love this arrangement of Rolling In the Deep.

By the way, when you visit Jon Schmidt’s website, be sure to download his Ten Week Notereading Method for FREE – a great resource for teachers and older students who are teaching themselves.

Frederic Chiu at PMTA

Saturday morning I gave a presentation at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Music Teacher’s Association which was held close to home this year at The Inn at Pocono Manor. My topic was “Innovative Performance Opportunities for 21st Century Students” and my goal was to encourage teachers to provide their students with many varied performance opportunities, both formal and informal, and stop stressing kids out with one big end-of-the-year Spring Marathon Recital.

That evening I was fortunate to attend the recital of guest artist, Frederic Chiu.  The scary drive through a heavy Pocono Mountain fog back to the Manor last night was well worth it! The first half of the program included the lyrical (Chopin), the colorful (Debussy and Ravel) and the percussive (Prokofiev) culminating in the symphonic for the second half of the program – the exhilarating Liszt transcription of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

Mr. Chiu’s powerful command of the keyboard seemed to come from somewhere deep inside, since his upper body was practically still during his performance. Earlier, during his morning workshop, Mr. Chiu spoke about the balance of body, mind and heart and his performance demonstrated this to perfection.

Interestingly, one aspect of Mr. Chiu’s teaching program, Deeper Piano Program, involves cooking. I asked him about this after the recital and he explained how the process of putting together a dish is similar to his method of learning a new piece. Much of the work is done away from the piano, taking the piece apart and putting it back together. I suppose the analogy can extend to adding spices and stirring it all up. Unfortunately, many of us learn our music start to finish on the bench because that’s the way we’ve been doing it since we started lessons.

After hearing Mr. Chiu speak and perform, both live and online, I realize just how important it is for piano teachers to start their young students out with a well-rounded musical education (listening to music, moving to music, learning basic theory, studying the score) and try not to rely so heavily on keeping the children’s butts on the bench and noses in the method book.

Daniil Trifonov plays Chick Corea

Daniil Trifonov is one of six finalists in the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition and today he’ll be performing the Schumann Piano Quintet Op 44 (streaming live here) . I became a fan of his during the International Chopin Competition where he placed 3rd. He’s only 20 years old so I know we’re going to be hearing a lot more from him.

A message of positive energy

My social network of choice is Twitter and like Erica Sipes, I too have found a great support group of musicians that I can check in with any time of day (or night) to bounce around ideas, get inspired, or just chat.  I’ve recently been reading about one Twitter friend, pianist Wayne McEvilly, and his work with Mozart in the Schools, a program he implemented in 1974 when he recorded all 17 Mozart piano sonatas on a 5 disc set and distributed it to elementary school classrooms in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  He says the Mozart Sonatas send the students a “message of positive energy” and a “general attitude of all is well” – the same message he sends out through his Tweets every day!