Musical Role Model

Last weekend the newly formed Millennium Music Teacher’s Association of Northeast Pennsylvania held a piano master class and recital at Wyoming Seminary’s Great Hall in Kingston, PA.  The informal recital featured musicians from the West Chester University Student Chapter of Pennsylvania Music Teachers and the master class was held by Clement Acevedo.

I happened to be sitting behind three boys who looked to be about eleven. They were friends, sitting together, with no parental supervision… in the front row. I glanced at the program. Bach, more Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Weber and then Ravel. Could they sit still that long? Would there be squirming and whispering? Would they distract the soloists? Would snack wrappers and water bottles that were provided turn out to be a mistake?

I’m happy to say “no” to all of the above. In fact, when it came time for the Ravel they were spellbound. Here was a young man (PMTA Young Artist award winner, John Kline), dressed in jeans and sneakers, dazzling them with the repeated notes and glissandos in Ravel’s Alborado Gracioso from Miroirs.  They looked at each other and mouthed “Wow.”

I can’t help but think, if these boys weren’t sitting together in the front row, on the same level as the piano, less than 20 feet away from the performer; and if the pianist didn’t look like he could have been an older brother, or someone on their high school’s football team…then maybe, just maybe…these three boys would have found their empty water bottles more interesting than the Ravel.

Daria van den Bercken plays Handel

A blog post from Norman Lebrecht (Slipped Disc) via a Twitter Tweet from Harold Gray (pnoman) just made my morning and I had to share this. Here is Dutch pianist Daria van den Bercken taking Handel to the street, performing on a rolling piano.

The project is called Handel at the Piano and here’s what Daria has to say about it….

There have been moments in my life when certain music — more than normally — struck a chord in me and I felt this sense of incredible beauty. It happened again a while ago when playing the keyboard works of George Frideric Handel.

I was overwhelmed by the stillness and melancholy, but at the same time it was music that felt electrifying and energetic. ‘Why is this music performed so rarely?’ I wondered. As there is no logical response, I’ve made it my goal to ensure more people can experience the beauty and power of these works. In the coming months I will be delving into Handel’s world, in preparation of recording his keyboard works in Hannover next January.

I admit, I’ve played very little Handel, except for the occasional piece for a wedding or background music, but after hearing this “rolling” performance I will be taking a second look.  I agree with Daria that there is an urgency and vibrancy to his work that fits this day and age.

Classical BRIT newcomers

The 2011 Classical BRIT Awards are being held right now at Royal Albert Hall in London. (You can follow the tweets here.)

Deutsche Grammophon pianist Alice Sara Ott is one of the nominees in the newcomer category. In this video she talks about how she started piano, one of her signature pieces – La Campanella, and practicing.

Other nominees in this category are classical guitarist Milos and violinist Vilde Frang.

All three amazing young musicians!

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.

Many hats of a musician

The Music Studio

As I’ve talked about before here, in addition to a teaching studio, The Music Studio is also a local performance venue. Over the past year and a half, I’ve hosted four salon concerts as well as several evenings of free improvisation including:

  1. An evening of free improvisation with bass, sax, and prepared piano.
  2. A Theremin and piano performance featuring Rubberball piano.
  3. An evening of Chopin.
  4. Violin and piano recital highlighting Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata.
  5. More piano improvisation.

There are several advantages to hosting musical events in your own teaching space.

  1. The space is small enough for an intimate and friendly gathering of musicians and friends.
  2. I get to schedule performances at my own convenience and there are no time limits on the performance or after-performance chit-chat.
  3. There’s no (extra) rental charge for the space or the piano.
  4. I can choose the type of performances and performers I like to hear.
  5. And the best part (for me) is I can participate in the performances as much (or as little) as I’d like to.

So – during the weekdays, The Music Studio is home to about 40 local students who come for their weekly piano lesson. One weekend a month in 2011, The Music Studio will turn into a performance space. Sadly, my expectations for blending the “teaching” side of The Music Studio with the “performance side” are very low. Based on the attendance at all of the performances so far, I realize I can count on only TWO piano students (if any) to attend any performance, no matter what the genre. This is something that baffled me all last year and I’m finally coming to terms with it. Just as most students don’t follow my blog, they don’t find the performances relevant to their life right now. Hopefully this will change soon as I tweak my “marketing” skills and introduce more varied programs, new music, and audience friendly performances.

As usually happens, just when I needed it, I came across a terrific blog post that talks about the balance of performance and pedagogy.  Cellist, Emily Wright, in her Stark Raving Cello Blog, recalls an email exchange she had with a friend which reminded her:

I’m a cellist. Someone who lives a life in the cello. Teaching, learning, playing, blogging, ruminating. I am allowed to let the balance shift from one facet to the other as life demands it, and I am fortunate to be able to do so.

This is a good reminder! As I start the new year, I’m happy to say I’m a pianist who wears many hats – performer, teacher, writer, and mom. Gosh, I guess I can even add “impresario” to that list.

Holiday Recital at The Music Studio

To follow up on my post about the informal holiday recital at the studio, here is a link to a video of Sara Bareilles and Indrid Michaelson recording Winter Song. One of my 8th graders performed this piece and sang it beautifully…no easy task to carry the melody over the rhythmically complicated accompaniment in the middle section.

The short program included Charlie Brown’s Christmas, a Chopin Nocturne, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself A Merry Little Chritmas, and more favorites. The students (ages 8 to 15) all did well… and the parents loved hearing the music they recognized. And just about all of the pieces were learned and in less than two weeks!

Cookies and candy canes topped off the evening!

Performing with little or no preparation

In the spirit of “Go Play!” my students are presenting an informal performance tomorrow night. I try to schedule these “coffeehouse” performances monthly so what’s so special about this one?

Well, I realized today that every student who’s performing has had less than two weeks to prepare their piece(s). Most of them have had less than one week. Granted, they are playing familiar Christmas tunes, but nevertheless, all fifteen of them will be getting up in front of an audience and playing…and not one of them has hesitated or mentioned the word “nervous.” In fact, if it weren’t for scheduling conflicts, there would have been over twenty students performing at The Music Studio tomorrow evening.

What can be gained from this seat-of-the-pants performance?

  • Students are learning how to take a piece from sight-reading to performance quickly, a skill that will come in handy if they are called upon to accompany or perform on the spur of the moment.
  • The performance is a chance for them to share their music, not a performance to be judged.
  • The pieces aren’t polished, so the performances are spontaneous and some may be almost improvisatory.
  • The students will listen to their peers and get a taste of the sense of community that their friends in band and orchestra feel each time they rehearse or perform.


Jay Chou Piano Duel

A different kind of Chopin Competition.

Taiwanese musician, singer, film producer, actor and director, Jay Chou…duels in his film Secret.

International Chopin Piano Competition

International Chopin Competition

Once every five years the best of the best meet in Warsaw for the International Chopin Piano Competition and this year we are lucky to have access to some of the most amazing performances by the new generation of piano virtuosi via streaming video. The third stage finished up this morning and now we have to wait to find out who made the final cut. Starting Monday there will be a final round with performances of Chopin’s concerti. In the meantime the performances from the first three stages are posted in the video archive. Enjoy a weekend of Chopin! I know I will…

Piano Improvisation at The Music Studio

Friday night, The Music Studio was host to another in the Salon Concert Series for 2010. This time we all enjoyed an evening of amazing virtuosic piano improvisation from Ron Stabinsky.  Fortunately, the concert was taped and is available here for anyone who missed it. Check it out!

Christian Marklay – Shuffle

Anthony Coleman performs Christian Marclay’s “Shuffle.

Each of the 75 images collected here is presented on an oversized playing card, and the entire deck is enclosed in a distinctive package. Part Fluxus box, part John Cage-ian “chance operation” or Eames House of Cards, this highly collectible edition offers a compelling, serendipity-driven visual experience, as well as the components for a spontaneous musical score: a player need only shuffle the deck and let the cards fall where they may in order to produce a unique, experimental sequence. With text and instructions by Marclay. (more)

The performance was part of the Christian Marclay Festival going on at the Whitney Museum this month. The chalkboard in the video is part of the project…visitors create a “collective musical score” for an ongoing performance throughout the show.

But getting back to those cards..and from a teachers point of view…wouldn’t this be an interesting way to perk a piano lesson?

Libertango – Piazzolla

Winding down the summer with what I think is the best arrangement of Piazzolla’s Libertango…find the piano solo score here and have fun!