A Walk Down Memory Lane with Two pint-sized Piano Students

As I foraged through a closet filled with old picture frames, entangled extension cords, discarded lamp shades and pencil sharpeners, I stumbled upon an ancient Digital 8 camcorder that was my original You Tube movie messenger. With its mega-size cassettes and whooshing audio, it still managed to capture my earliest piano lessons with Rina, age four, using Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey.

Rina and Aiden

I’d say it was a unique year of experimentation since I’d never started a child so young, though Rina’s predecessor, Claudia had arrived on my doorstep at nearly 5, after studying for a short time in Hawaii.

How coincidental that my closet caper brought two teaching experiences out of the darkness, into a camera channeled spotlight.

So without further ado..

Here’s Rina in her musical infancy, as she stroked the keys with a supple wrist and “weeping willow arms” (At the heart of Gorin’s singing tone approach).


And following, a flashback of little Claudia playing in her first recital at my home back in 2006.

claudia face very young

claudia very young at house concert

P.S. When I relocated to Berkeley two years ago, both pupils moved on. Claudia studied with me for about six years before she left for Southern California with her parents, and Rina, who stayed in the Central Valley (agriculture’s heartland) is working with a Russian teacher and making great strides.

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A Conversation about machine and ear tuning (and more) with Israel Stein, Registered Piano Technician

I couldn’t resist an opportunity to immerse myself in an engaging dialog with Israel Stein, RPT, as he was tuning my piano.


Regaled far and wide by a community of pianists and teachers as he amasses awards bestowed by his peers at the National Piano Technician’s Guild, Stein remains thoroughly dedicated to what seems like an ART form. If there’s a Zen-like approach to his work, it embodies a complete immersion in the wellness universe of pianos of all ages, shapes and sizes.

At my Berkeley, California flat yesterday, Israel perched himself at my Steinway M grand as he carefully staked out a two-fold approach to tuning it. First he took out his Reyburn CyberTuner for a complete ballpark assessment and pitch review of my 88’s before he meticulously advanced to the aural phase. (By ear)

Naturally with all the banter and controversy surrounding Machine vs. Ear tuning I was eager to pick this Master tuner/technician’s brains about how he effortlessly inhabits two universes without skipping a BEAT.

A four-part exchange followed with side bars exploring the world of modern-day piano antecedents; digitals and their culture, “paradigm,” etc; tuning/technician standards/exams and much more.




LINKS to Israel Stein blogs and an OVERVIEW OF HIS HONORS and AWARDS






PTG Hall of Fame
Piano Technicians Guild
July 2014

In recognition of continued service to the organizations in the areas of examinations, education and bylaws. Specifically: development and implementation of a training and certification process for technical examiners, development and implementation of more precise and objective scoring methods on technical exams, revisions of technical exam manuals and written exams, introduction of innovative hands-on instruction methods at PTG conventions and…more
Sidney O. Stone Service Award
Piano Technicians Guild – Western Region

March 2012

In recognition of service to the PTG organization in general and specifically within its Western region
Putt-Crowl Member of Note Award
Piano technicians Guild

June 2010

In recognition of recent outstanding service and dedication to the Piano Technicians Guild
Presidential Citation
Piano Technicians Guild

June 2008
In recognition of service on the Examinations and test Standards Committee and as counsel to the President
Examiner of the year Award
Piano Technicians Guild

June 2004

In recognition of outstanding service as Chair of the Technical Examinations Subcommittee and in exam administration.

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Experimentation and refinement are the ingredients of music teaching and learning

One of the joys of teaching piano is to experience awakenings with our students as we experiment with phrasing, and refine original perceptions.

And while a piano teacher is considered a mentor to a student, he/she clearly realizes that roles are easily reversed when a pupil inspires further experimentation and clarification.

In exploring the Romantic genre, for instance, there are infinite ways to spin or sculpt phrases. After various trials among partners in piano study, an aesthetic decision is reached based upon considerations of harmonic motion (and its emotional ramifications); period performance practice and style including Rubato; connections sewn to the motif or germ cell of the composition; sequential awareness; and what is UNEXPECTED in the music, that needs a spotlight. (This last point is underscored in the opener of an embedded lesson-in-progress video where a progression to the Major Key in a Chopin selection is an affectively poignant surprise: see measure 89, Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55)

Chopin F minor Nocturne m. 85 to end 1

A good theoretical foundation is naturally helpful in the experimental phase of learning, but it’s only one of many ingredients that must harmoniously blend in a creative learning process.

As an example, a particularly vibrant interchange transpires over a cadenza-like passage in Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor. (69-70)

Chopin measure 69 and 70

Seeing a series of 16th notes in a solo outpouring for the right hand, the player must decide how to avoid a mechanical rendering.

Following a resounding Dominant 7th Chord, a scale-like descent ensues with some deviations from step-wise motion. These suggest waves or LOOPS that a supple wrist can realize, while Rotation assists with appoggiatura-like figures (skip up, step down).

The unraveling of these measures after thoughtful, exploratory renderings, leads to the Nocturne’s final section that comes with a cello-like solo in the bass and an eventual spin-off to accelerando.

It’s an enlightening journey worth taking with a student.

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Seymour Bernstein’s take on Pianist, Glenn Gould

Seymour picSeymour: An Introduction, produced by Ethan Hawke, is making the rounds through a series of reputable film festivals. Recently screened in Telluride (Colorado) and soon to make its Toronto, Canada debut followed by a Lincoln Center touchdown, the 81-minute documentary has scooped up a Sundance Selection and amassed rave reviews along its way. (Hollywood Reporter and Wall Street Journal)

Seymour Bernstein, a newly baptized Music Messiah and movie star, is now a hot ticket interview subject, drawing a corps of salivating reporters to interview him. So not surprisingly, Toronto Globe writer, Brad Wheeler, corralled the Maestro for his opinions about Canadian pianist icon, Glenn Gould. (The exchange is printed below)

A gentle genius (just don’t ask him about Glenn Gould)

The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 05 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Sep. 05 2014, 2:51 PM EDT
TFF (Toronto Film Festival)

With the TIFF film Seymour: An Introduction, director Ethan Hawke (the actor) has made an intimate documentary portrait of the classical pianist, sage and music teacher. Mr. Bernstein, 85, is seen as soulful, gentle and charismatic, but rather feisty when it comes to Glenn Gould. We asked the titular Seymour about the iconic but complicated Canadian pianist, who is the subject of the Soulpepper production Glenn, which happens to be currently playing in repertory at the Young Centre.

“In the film about you, you describe Glenn Gould as a ‘“total neurotic mess.”’ But how would you assess his playing?”

Seymour: He’s an acknowledged genius in his absorption and his technical acumen in performing, especially the works of Bach. For starters, I want to tell you that I never heard him play anything beautifully, apart from Bach. His recordings of the Mozart sonatas are outrageous, and a slap in the face to serious musicians. If I had him here I would punch him.

Come now. You appreciate his Bach, don’t you?

S: I can admire what he does, but here is the bottom line: When I listen to Glenn Gould play Bach, I’m not aware that I’m listening to Bach at all. I’m only listening to Glenn Gould. That’s the difference between the great, great artists and Glenn Gould, who infuses the music with his own neurotic nature. So that comes out to you, but not Bach.

But isn’t the neurotic nature of Gould something that fascinates people?

S: Let them be fascinated. I’m not. [Laughs] We’re all different, though. We’re all entitled to respond the way we wish, right?

Fair enough. In the film, you speak about the harmony that musicians attain through training and developing their craft, not just in their music but in their life over all. Do you feel Gould reached that harmony?

S: I think the more he practiced the more neurotic he got. I don’t think he reached harmony at all. He certainly didn’t seem like a harmonious person. I once heard him in New York do a lecture and performance. He was spewing forth what I believe was sheer nonsense, just to befuddle the audience.

Sounds like Bob Dylan. So, when you come to Toronto for the film, I take it you won’t be posing on the bronze statue of Glenn Gould sitting on the bench we have in front of the CBC headquarters.

S: Chances are that I won’t. [Laughs] Listen, this is risky business. My documentary is pretty sour on Glenn Gould. I wonder if the audience will be angry with me.

The TIFF film Seymour: An Introduction screens Sept 10, 7 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sept. 11, 4:45 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Sept. 13, 9:30 a.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox. Soulpepper’s Glenn plays to Oct. 1. $29 to $89. Young Centre, 50 Tank House Lane, 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca.

Follow Brad Wheeler on Twitter: @BWheelerglobe

Just want to say that I do not agree with what Seymour said about Gould. I regard Gould as a genius.. mostly in the realm of the J.S. Bach universe. And I don’t think anyone’s neurosis has anything to do with their playing. That’s none of my or anyone’s business. I was not a big fan of Gould’s Mozart or Brahms because it sounded eccentric in tempo, nuance, etc.. And sometimes he would say he did what he did, “to be different,” which is not a premise I concur with. It seems like the composer’s intent comes first.. But as for Bach, and especially the Bach D minor concerto and Partitas, plus the Goldberg Variations, the man was indeed a genius, and we can’t forget that.


From Maine with Love


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Piano Technique: Split-Screen, rolling 4-note arpeggios (C# minor; B minor)

I love to work with students on 4-note arpeggios through inversions, prompting them to ROLL into horizontal, curvaceous groups of notes to avoid up and down finger poking.

The elements of visualization (“imagining” motion SHAPES); kinesthetic translation (counterclockwise arm motions) attentive listening, CENTERING, and relaxed, natural breathing, all work in harmony to produce a smooth, unencumbered journey over a series of octaves. (Hands are spaced by two)

In the attached video, a motivated student explores the keys of C# minor, and B minor, feeling his way through a broken chord landscape– absorbing ways to improve the playing experience as he moves along.

C# minor

C# E G# C#; E G# C# E, G# C# E G#; C# E G# C#

Fingering RH:
1, 2, 3, 5; 1, 2, 4, 5; 1, 2, 3, 5: 1, 2, 3, 5
5, 4, 2, 1: 5, 4, 2, 1; 5, 3, 2 1: 5, 4, 2, 1

B minor

B D F# B; D F# B D; F# B D F#; B D F# D

RH and LH Fingering same as for C# minor

BONUS TUTORIAL on PREP for ROLLING 4-note Arpeggios

on all BLACK KEYS: F# Major

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Piano Teacher Stories from the War Zone! (Part One)

So many of us in the field of teaching can hearken back to our earliest piano student years and flesh out a particular individual who was the “worst” teacher to ever come our way. In my case, it was my second teacher who earned the distinction of being the most inept mentor on record, though she was an admirably accomplished player.

Louise Milota, a pianist, teacher, duo partner, and former long-standing President of our MTAC Alameda Branch, dipped into her memory archive and retrieved details of her colorful music journey in St. John, Canada. It included a near drowning of her dreams to be a pianist before her ultimate rescue.

A serendipitous conversation with Louise followed our rehearsal of Schubert’s F minor Fantasie.

It’s worth a listen:


My Eurhythmics-centered interview with Louise at the San Francisco Conservatory

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J.S. Bach Invention No. 13 in A minor: A Continuing Journey

Students who embark upon learning the beautifully woven Invention 13, have new awakenings about the Subject and its thread of sequences and development through three pages. And as they explore two independent, though complementary voices in counterpoint, they discover that the Subject and what pieces of it are borrowed as the music plays out, have a pivotal bearing on how they communicate the essence of the composer’s work.

In the video attached, an adult student and I probe various dimensions of the Subject and devise an inter-weaving choreography that best realizes its character and unfolding (through sequences, inversions, modulations, etc.)

J.S. Bach Invention 13 in A minor

J.S. Bach Invention 13 in A minor p. 2

Play through in tempo:

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