Dedicating my birthday to Chopin!

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I’m often asked to name my favorite composer, and nearly always, it’s the one whose music I’m currently studying and teaching.

In this case, Chopin’s posthumous Waltz in A minor, discovered by musicologists in the 1950s, is the CHOSEN.

Not cluttered with reams of intricate runs and fancy ornaments, it’s a good first Waltz to teach among the composer’s rich collection. And students can separately piece out the melody, fundamental bass notes, and after-beat chords before a synthesis is made in baby steps. I always have pupils explore pedaling last.

One of the big challenges in this composition is PHRASING. One must shape lines like a singer, with curves and contour. Third beats should be lightened, and dynamics need to be varied. Rubato playing gives character and nuance to the Romantic era style and is a vital ingredient of interpretation.

It’s a challenge to immerse oneself deeply in this music, so a layered learning process is worth the investment of time.

CONTOURING and Phrasing Chopin’s A minor Waltz

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Physical fitness and piano playing

me at gym upper arm workout

For the past few years, I’ve adhered to a fitness program that includes daily exercising at the Y gym. I don’t use weights because of their stress on my wrists, but I find the Gravitron (demonstrated in part one of my video) to be an upper body strength-builder. Particularly when I need added dead weight to apply directly into the keys, this pull-up routine has perfect application.

I set the bar at 70, meaning I have 40 of pounds resistance based on my 110 lb. body weight.

My second favorite work-out is at the tilted table holding a 6-pound ball that I swing from side-to-side, alternating with ab crunches.

The power ball also helps with leverage into the keys, especially when an extra big dynamic in the FORTE range is required.

“The Captain’s Chair,” so nicknamed by one of the Y resident trainers, is more of an ab tightener, though overall its fitness value is way up there.

The remaining machines showcased in my footage are used for bicep development–again to help with my upper body delivery of weight into the keys.

In a flashback video, I demonstrate my use of a 65 cm Go-fit stability ball which was obtained to relieve an acute back spasm that paralyzed me several months ago (without explanation) as I was sitting on the piano bench.

My routines with this ball have cured my back problems while they continue to promote spinal elasticity.

Daily brisk walks of 2 miles plus, round out my exercise program.

A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, and Chopin

Scarlatti and Chopin

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She plays “red-blooded” harpsichord!

It’s well-known to a wide audience of admirers that Elaine Comparone has a commanding presence at the harpsichord. And while she sits this one out in a bedazzling reading of Bach’s D minor concerto, she’s made headlines standing before her beloved as Queen of a Chamber Band that’s produced reams of high quality performances.

Comparone, in royal fashion, continues to champion the harpsichord as a front and center player among its keyboard kin. In solo and ensemble appearances, her resonant Dowd or Hubbard make a profoundly audible impression to final cadence, leaving an entranced audience with an insatiable appetite for more.

What better way to showcase the impeccable artistry of Maestra Comparone than to post her most recent gift to a growing league of You Tube fans and subscribers: an inspired recording session at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in New York City.

J.S. Bach Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052

Elaine’s music can be found virtually everywhere, starting at Arabesque:

Comparone’s You Tube Channel:


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The SINGING ingredient of phrasing

When I studied piano in New York City with Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, she always sang over my playing as well as her own. Her habitual voice-overs that lingered for years and seeped into the depths of my musical consciousness, gave me a sense of phrase-loving that would spread far and wide in my own teaching. Yet I would endure criticism from a portion of my You Tube audience, who wanted my focus to be on the fingers and where they traveled over the keyboard. (NO distractions please)

If we eavesdrop on Master Classes of the greats: Boris Berman, Dimitri Bashkirov, Richard Goode, and Murray Perahia, as well as others, we observe their sometimes raspy and imperfect vocal expression that nonetheless communicates shape, nuance, dynamics where fingers alone can’t achieve the same.

In the attached video sample, I play and sing at key moments–and at one point I expose dual lines–fleshing out one “voice” as I render another.

(Tchaikovsky’s “In the Church,” Op. 39, was chosen because of its “singing” choir dimension)

Some of the most gratifying interactions I’ve had with students centered on a vocal exchange where lines and contours were discovered, but simultaneously wedded to a physical understanding of musical expression. (Awareness of harmonic movement, modulations, resolutions, and the flow of breath were always part of the integrated whole)

Here I demonstrate a supple wrist to aid the singing tone.

In the Church

In the Church p 2


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Reviewing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. Posthumous (MOVIE THEME, THE PIANIST)

We have to give credit to movie-makers for putting this hauntingly beautiful composition on the popular marquee of Classical music favorites. It shares notoriety with Mozart’s middle movement theme of Concerto no. 21 in C, which recurred throughout the film, Elvira Madigan.

Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor was a perfect match for Roman Polanski’s THE PIANIST, because it tore at our heartstrings as a wartime musical backdrop. In the opener, Hitler’s troops are invading Poland, ripping the Jewish protagonist concert pianist from his beloved. (the 88s, of course) And being that Chopin was a patriotic Pole, the composer’s music in its somber dimension draws out the poignancy of struggle and hardship during Nazi tyranny.


From Wikipedia:

The Pianist (2002 film)

The Pianist
Directed by
Roman Polanski

Produced by
Roman Polanski

“The Pianist is a 2002 historical drama film directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood and starring Adrien Brody. It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist, a World War II memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. The film is a co-production between Poland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“The Pianist met with significant critical praise and received multiple awards and nominations. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. At the 75th Academy Awards, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood) and Best Actor (Brody), and was also nominated for four other awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 2003 and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Brody.”


I recall one of my teenage transfer students entering my musical sanctuary, bearing a shoddy edition of the Nocturne that was already crinkled from repeated sight-reads. At best, her fingering was a guessing-in-the-dark escapade that needed some taming and attentive practice, but she was extremely motivated to learn the work more thoroughly based on her exposure to the film.

Naturally, when a pupil is enthusiastic about studying a piece, the momentum often supports daily, consistent practicing.

In my case, it’s been years since I explored the Nocturne side-by-side with my teen pupil, so having recently decided to revisit the composition, I embraced a slow, behind tempo approach that’s always recommended.

With this introduction, I’ve embedded a video that is perhaps a primer for those who want to absorb this masterpiece in a step-by-step manner.

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The funniest adult piano student confessions

1) I couldn’t get to the piano this week because of my constipated cat.

2) I can’t play the Bb scale because it gets all “gummed up.” (????)

3) The cleaning lady was vacuuming the piano, inside and out.

4) We were away on a whale-watching expedition in Baja.

5) We changed the clocks so I have jet lag (????)

6) My cackling parakeets always drown me out!

7) I get dizzy spells every time I play in contrary motion.

8) My digital piano lost power.

9) I’m needing a vacation from scales and arpeggios.

10) We went on an African jungle safari and I fell off an elephant.

11) I’ll have to cancel my lesson because of the weather. It’s too gorgeous to be indoors.

12) Skype me to the moon, I completely forgot about piano class.

13) Did you say I had to practice this week? I forgot…

14) What piece am I studying?

15) Where’s middle C? Can you send me a video?

16) I’m out to lunch, contact me in a few months about resuming piano lessons.

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A Peak teaching and learning experience!

Piano teachers may complain about students who hardly practice, or come to lessons with a truckload of excuses, but the times we savor are when everything seems to click.

Tonight, I had a lesson with an adult student who announced immediately before playing a note that her piece “was in the doghouse.”

What a tension-relieving way to begin our musical exchange!

I chuckled at her quip because I knew it was the disclaimer she needed to relax and enjoy our moments of creation.

The J.C. Bach Prelude is one of my favorite pieces, because it is a repository of heavenly harmonies spread through undulating broken chords. It’s the perfect vehicle to teach a singing tone legato and how to phrase beautifully with an awareness of forward wrist motions, rotation, natural, relaxed breathing, and the emulation of a singer.

This evening my pupil and I reached a pinnacle of communication because we were in the zone, having simultaneous awakenings.

The interplay grew our musical/emotional/physical consciousness to a “peak experience” level worth sharing.

JC Bach p1

JC Bach p. 2


Posted in a peak experience, classical era music,, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano addict, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment