Scenes from Manhattan

First day in the Big Apple:

These are popular picture postcard themes yet worth memorializing.

I took this photo set as I trekked from 34th Street and Penn station to the West Side ‘Y’ gym at 63rd off Central Park.

Bogged down with luggage, I approached Columbus Circle at W. 59th Street (off Central Park)



Columbus Circle



The Y Gym where I have a six-day guest pass


Day two:

My visit with Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist (and pianist)


Elaine discussed Baroque ornaments while displaying her impeccable artistry at the harpsichord and piano. Her riveting interview will be posted after my return to California.


Today, Sunday (Day 3)

I’m going to my mother’s 100th Birthday celebration at her apartment on 218th Street in Manhattan.

Mom’s  place overlooks the Hudson River at the picturesque northern tip of Manhattan.

I’ll take the ‘A’ train to 207th and then climb a steep hill to Park Terrace Gardens.

Once arrived, I ‘ll be sure to capture the old Sohmer upright, my first REAL piano after I endured treacherous years practicing on an abysmal sounding Wieser (aka WHEEZER)

Sadly,  the Sohmer has deteriorated  from extreme temperature and humidity shifts over decades, so it’s now a living room centerpiece and photo gallery.

More to come….

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Arrived! Big Apple energy abounds!

A bleary-eyed, overnight jet traveler, I was instantly re-charged upon my early morning arrival at Kennedy. The City never sleeps.

Avoiding the Sky train maze, I jumped the shuttle bus, belted in and felt the bumpy ride of ensnaring traffic before being DROPPED at Penn Station. Imagine carting swelling luggage with wheels revolving in every direction. My wrists and arms were twisted, turned and strained as my fingers clenched the handles for dear life- it was the antithesis of what I teach about a relaxed hand position at the piano.

Meanwhile my heavy shoulder-strapped camera bag was laden with technology: camcorder, adapter, battery-charger, adapter, mini cassettes, iPhone, iPhone tripod, extension cord, etc as my bulging fanny pack, with back-ups to batteries, credit cards, comb, combination lock, cosmetics, travel-light toothpaste, tooth brush and more weighed me down.

Trudging along the retail garment district, in rush hour people traffic, I hopelessly searched for an escalator to take me down to the subway preventing a morbid tumble into the darkness to join the homeless and disenfranchised.
I’d surely be packed up and sent back to Berkeley C.O.D.

To complicate things, there was NO escalator in sight and it was high risk to bounce a ton of Samsonite down the stairs…

so I trekked by foot up to 63rd and Central Park West (over 30 blocks) to the Y gym where I’d planned my Big Apple touchdown workout!

Was this insane or what after a sleepless night on Flight 168?!

Forgot to mention lunging after my suitcase on the baggage area treadmill, spinning my wrists around the handle as I fell forward, plummeting into a procession of tagged bags.

Meanwhile a deplaned passenger behind me forewarned of her coffee puddle, trying to prevent my tumultuous backslide.
It was a near miss!


Needless to say, the march up crowded Manhattan streets was somewhat liberating though an early morning chill demanded a quickie jacket purchase since I had nothing practical packed.

Imagine the Samsonite, fanny pack, camera bag, and plastic white bag that I knotted around my keyboard belt trailing me into H and M on 34th. A bag lady in motion, I was a target for any secret shopper would would turn me into security for an imagined breach.

Breakfast on the run, was simpler, though at 7:30 a.m. a mob of seated customers forced me to the counter. Two scrambled eggs, wheat bread, and fresh squeezed O.J. and I was off and lugging!

Gym arrival was no piece of cake since my LUGGAGE was a resonating issue.
Its not fitting into the locker space, instigated an all points alarm at reception and security.

The thing had to be CHECKED in through a complicated set of computerized maneuvers: click this option, and then that, press DONE, and proceed to the next–start again, your email address defaulted…oops I didn’t get the last 3 letters of my name right. Fortunately I was rescued by a foreign student who managed to complete the transaction and print out the flimsy receipt to take to Security for safe storage. But having to stuff still another piece of paper into my fanny pack that needed to be produced for luggage retrieval was added to a crowded inventory of THINGS to keep tab of.

The workout, by comparison, was a smooth ride, though time was flying and my host friend, Laura (Oberlin alumna and former NYC roommate) was wondering what happened to me HOURS post touchdown.

With a dying iPhone battery, I trudged onto the M10 Central Park West bus like an elephant, and without a Metro card, dropped in a bunch of quarters (compliments of my stopoff at Chase Bank) making it to my destination at about noontime.

To cut this very long story short, the best part of my arrival was playing a short Schumann 4-hand piece- Am Abend (Evening) with Laura, who has a magnificent vintage Steinway B sitting in her gorgeous living room.

Our playing together seemed to erase the burdens of travel, clearing the way for the next few days of interviews and musician meetups. I think I’m over the hump.

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Piano Technique: Studying/Mapping out the F# minor scale and arpeggio (Video)

F# minor (Natural form) 2 octaves

Exploring the two octave model is a good start with a separate hand approach to clarify fingering.

I prefer making an adjustment for the opening F#, G#, A in the Right Hand (2, 3, 1) instead of 3, 4, 1

When considering a fast tempo, 2, 3, 1 is less awkward than passing a thumb under 4. The same adjustment works well when concluding the scale on the descent. (RH 1, 3, 2)

In the Left hand, I make an adjustment at the peak (F#) using 3–Which matches up with the same finger 3 in the Right hand at that juncture.

When playing hands SLOWLY together:

In the body of the scale there are cohesive MIRROR points between the hands at the F# G# juncture (Reminder: this reciprocal relationship occurs in the second octave since we made the opening finger adjustment in the RH, 2, 3, 1). In the subsequent octaves, while the LH uses 4, 3, (F#, G#) the Right Hand enlists 3, 4. (F#, G#) It therefore makes sense to BLOCK out the MIRROR points in the scale going up and down (by octave)–Note that the upper most F# that terminates the scale uses finger no. 3 in both hands. (another symmetry)

Finger no. 3 of both hands also meet on C# through the body of the scale, so marking these points out should be helpful in a practice regimen.

Identifying ORGANIZERS belongs, in part, to the COGNITIVE dimension of scale playing, though having cerebral knowledge is surely not enough. The Cognitive must fuse with the Kinesthetic and AFFECTIVE aspects of playing to foster beautiful musical expression.

F# Minor Arpeggio

F# minor Arpeggio

It’s best to practice a slow rendering, separate hands, for fingering clarification then to notice symmetries between the hands.

Thumbs will meet on As as the perfect 4th, C# to F# will have MIRROR fingers or reciprocals. (RH 2, 4) and LH (4, 2) on the ascent and in reverse F# to C# when descending. (RH 4, 2); LH (2, 4)

Blocking out these perfect 4ths with thumbs meeting in between on A, is a thoughtful approach to practicing them. (The attached video will illustrate physical motions in greater detail)

Finally, Arpeggios are rolling figures that enlist supple wrist motions. Even rendered in Staccato they have a well-shaped contouring that suggests a SNIPPED LEGATO approach to preserve their curvy shape.

Above all let the playing of scales and arpeggios give full reign to the musical imagination so they’re not churned out like pedantic exercises.

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You Tube and rekindled memories

You tube never fails to deliver when precious memories seem to fade with time.

Today as I was checking Facebook notifications, I noticed a you tube link to a Bach Cantata directed by Josh Rifkin. His face had been buried in the very darkness of the basement shule we both attended in the Bronx. (Isaac Raboy was on Giles place in one of the old Amalgamated buildings known as the Sholom Aleichem Cooperative.) It was where Bess Myerson, an early Miss America of the late 40s, resided. authentic giles place

The sub-level space relegated for the shule was dreary and dim-lit, but the saving grace was its out-of-tune old upright that brought the place to life when the right hands glided over its chipped keys.

Josh, the anointed music Messiah, had to be about 8 or so at the time, (in the 50s) and he couldn’t have gone unnoticed even then. A powerful improviser of Yiddish songs that were the mainstay of our education, he rendered these modal themes to orchestral proportion! “Hava Nagilah,” “Zog Nit Keynmol,” (The Freedom Song of the Warsaw Ghetto) among many others were at his gifted command. By ear, he created florid arrangements that were so awe-inspiring that it awakened children who’d dozed off to dull repetitions of the Yiddish alphabet. (They were exhausted after a long day at public school)

Like my overtired peers, I could have gone into indefinite hibernation for three treacherous years at Raboy were it not for Josh’s life-affirming musical infusions.

Decades later, as I plan my departure to New York City in celebration of my mother’s 100th birthday, I’ll be sure to make a side journey to the Northeast Bronx to honor a treasured memory.

In the meantime, here’s Josh on musical display with an impressive attached bio. (Rifkin’s The Baroque Beatles album is noted, Baroque Beatles as well as his emblematic recordings of Scott Joplin’s ragtime treasures)Scott Joplin Now J.S. Bach’s towering works are his artistic centerpiece.


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Sequences and Phrase contouring in J. S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5, BWV 816

An adult student and I explored sequences in the Allemande opener of Bach’s French Suite in G as we parceled out the treble and bass lines. (Still another voice that danced from the alto to tenor range, was separately identified and practiced)

Bach French Suite p. 1

To craft beautiful phrases in the opening movement that limpidly flows in legato, the player has to understand how one set of measures relates to another, or how snatches of a particular idea, can be utilized in a “sequential” manner. Smaller parcels of a bigger idea can literally pile up as occurs in Part B, the more developed section of the Allemande.

As a refresher:

“In music, a sequence is the immediate restatement of a motif or longer melodic (or harmonic) passage at a higher or lower pitch in the same voice…At least two instances of a sequential pattern—including the original statement—are required to identify a sequence, and the pattern should be based on several melody notes or at least two successive harmonies (chords).” (WIKI)

I think the key word that underscores SEQUENCES is RELATIONSHIP. The player must be aware of the before and after in the course of music-making, fleshing out how one phrase relates to another that has a remarkable similarity or tie-in, and then he should devise ways of making musically sensitive connections. (Dynamic shifts are often utilized in the sequential universe)

J.S. Bach permeates his Allemande with Sequences. Threaded throughout the movement, their sensitive rendering is a big ingredient of expressive music-making and interpretation.

A lesson-in-progress focused on these very sequences and how to respond to them in a musical way.

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The latest about Seymour Bernstein, the Hawk(e), and two colorful Birds

Today began on a high note. Ethan Hawke’s documentary about Seymour received a rave review in the New York Times. It was the latest in a series superlatives that synchronized perfectly with the film’s debut in New York City at the Lincoln Center Festival amidst whispers about a probable Oscar nomination.

To many film mavens, it’s been a pleasant surprise that an artistically framed portrait has racked up reams of star-studded notices on its journey from Festival to Festival. (Telluride and Toronto, being the most recent)

Of particular importance in the annals of documentary-making, is the break piano teachers around the world have been longing for. The film’s front and center validation of their often abstract and intangible contributions to humanity may spawn a long-delayed cultural shift. Thanks to High Holy Seymour and his Ethan Apostle, both have inspired a Gospel-like fervor for the Muse that’s only paralleled by a sidebar contribution Seymour added to his creative composing treasury.

No less a coda to his well-published avian collection, BIRDS, Bernstein honored producer, Ethan with a Hawk(e)-dedicated piece of inexorable beauty.

Against a whole tone opener in the Impressionist genre, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention a relevant tie-in to my unpredictably colorful stop-off this afternoon at a well-known supermarket.

As I sauntered over to the deli counter in a bustling area, a woman in my shadow pushed a shopping cart with two mascots perched opposite each other in nature-perfect splendor.


“Alex,” son of the matriarch eagerly spread his wings for the camera with a slight prodding from its owner. And momma bird beamed with pride as junior’s wings were eloquently spread.


What a well-timed set of events, so harmonious with Seymour’s love for music, birds, and other wildlife.

What could have been more precious and pleasing as my day unfolded.


LINKS to Blogs about Seymour

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When big hands and fingers play unwanted notes


After 6’4″ Big Mike sits snugly in front of my Baldwin grand–his knees crushing in on him, he’s thoroughly prepared to avoid a set of land mines that trigger a wrong note implosion.

Normally when his mega-sized third finger depresses a G, wedged between framing black notes, he’s at HUGE risk to strike TWO notes instead of ONE. In this testy keyboard terrain, an unwanted Gb joins the pity party, channeling a dissonant minor second that poses a threat to all surrounding notes. (especially if they belong to a five-finger Eb MAJOR position)

But MIKE has it all figured out. He can maneuver around G, by pulling his hand out of danger, making the bumpy ride over the keys virtually non-existent. With an artful rotation in full swing, he’s armed to confront and eradicate any traps in the making.

If you don’t believe me, here’s the Big Guy in action!



The Big Hand/Little Hand Controversy

Wise thoughts about fingering, big hands, small hands and the rest (Author: Rami Bar-Niv)

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