Two Romantic era piano lessons are wedded beautifully together

Why not pair Mendelssohn and Chopin in a harmonious duo.

Two piano lessons transmitted over the Internet were framed by the same period expression: mellifluous melodic threads against relentless rocking motions in the bass. A Boat song and Nocturne respectively swayed in TWO, requiring an examination of recurring bass line arpeggios that frequently spanned beyond the octave. These enlisted a ROTATIONAL approach for a smooth, seamless rendering while preliminary BLOCKING techniques acquired a sense of distance and transit.

Rotations, in particular, discouraged twisting associated with thumb shifts. And traveling through various harmonies in arpeggiated form, developed a pupil’s awareness of bigger GROUPINGS of notes as they moved through a horizontal landscape. Finally, infusions of dips and swells through various DESTINATIONS nourished well-shaped lines along with an awareness of harmonic rhythm and cadential sequences.

It was uncanny, though quite predictable that both lessons, one to London, the other to Australia, would form a happy alliance providing a dual opportunity for two students to grow their artistry by watching the other practice in similar framing modalities with a resonating SINGING Tone. (Don’t forget supple wrists and relaxed arms)

Here’s how each lesson unfolded:

To Sydney, Australia

Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 6

You Tube Video Description
Published on Jan 18, 2017

“We worked on phrasing in slow practice tempo; smooth transit of broken chords in Bass (using rotation)- Feeling a sense of TWO beats per measure. (Duple Compound meter) Shaping and SINGING lines; understanding HARMONIC relationships that influence phrasing; voicing and balance; relaxed, measured trill practice.”

Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1

To London, England

Video Description:

“Romantic era phrasing; Think in TWO impulses per measure; Use Rotations for relentless Left Hand broken chords; Enlist blocking techniques in this regard; Play with a SINGING tone legato; Be aware of harmonic rhythm or harmonic progressions/cadences as they influence phrasing. Work on shaping lines and balancing voices. Observe dynamics and use various weight transfers to realize them.”

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Exploring modulations, secondary dominants and sequences in a J.S. Bach keyboard learning journey

Without doubt, the French Suites and other keyboard works of J.S. Bach require a multi-dimensional learning approach. It’s not enough to enter the universe of the great Baroque master with a singular intent to absorb counterpoint, or parcel voices, sing them, juggle them, properly finger each hand, and in some cases divide one voice between two hands. Even with a two-voice Allemande that resembles a two-part Invention, it’s of necessity to map harmonic movement, study modulations brought about through the use of secondary dominants, and assimilate sequences, in both melodic and harmonic appearances. Yet the true value of detailed theoretical analysis is its direct application to musical expression and beautiful phrasing.

In my recent journey through the J.S. Bach Allemande of French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817, I was immersed in several tiers of learning:

1) I learned each line separately with attention to fingering, though I knew from past experience, that when parts are combined, or interact, that what might be a practical fingering when hands are played alone, would not necessarily work when they played together. So this preliminary fingering gradually firmed up as layered learning unfolded.

Part and parcel of studying each line, is to actively SING either with the same deeply embedded familiarity. I always test this absorption, by prodding myself to sing either line out loud while playing the other. Such an ability bodes well for fleshing out the contrapuntal dimension of the Allemande. (In this learning phase my tempo is regressed, but it’s still framed with a singing pulse and imbued with expressive phrasing.) I don’t hesitate to deeply connect into the keys with ample arm weight, and I ply phrases with a supple wrist and relaxed arms.

Once I put the hands together, I refine fingering, make certain adjustments, and insert options in parentheses where they apply.

At this juncture, how I GROUP NOTES in a Baroque framing is a big part of my exploratory process. Such decisions evolve from experimentation with various articulations, as there are numerous possibilities that can preserve the style, mood and affect of Bach’s music.

2) When both hands actively interact with a modicum of ease, I carefully map out HARMONIC transit. With two parts running horizontal and vertical at same time, the dimension of underlying Harmony again furthers musical expression.

As melodic segments in the treble appear in sequences, I make note to intensify threads that ascend, and relax those that descend. The same will apply to sequences in the bass. How simultaneous sequences in both hand interact, is still another dimension of exploration and experimentation.

Naturally, an understanding of modulations that are driven by “Secondary Dominants” offers the player an opportunity to respond to the leaning effect on the DOMINANT to the resolving, dissolving Tonic. And then any chain of modulations in close proximity prompts a decision to make a crescendo, or in some instances to do the reverse, especially where a deceptive cadence might intrude. Then again, the undulating nature of phrases in the Allemande doesn’t encourage a flat dynamic by any means.


Learning the Allemande comes with a Multi-dimensional understanding of its essence. In fact the journey of discovery is only at its beginning, and a ripening process often brings changes in articulation, voicing, dynamics, and fingering that individually and collectively further the realization of beauty.

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Piano Lessons during the holidays: Inserting a creative composing dimension to chord exploration

Every winter holiday season most music teachers are asked by parents to devote at least a few weeks to the absorption of Christmas and related celebratory selections. In the traditional musical cosmos, “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “Hark the Herald Angels” and “Jingle Bells,” are popular learning requests.

This year, my 9-year old student who enjoys the singular status of being the only child amidst a crop of adult students, was eager to tackle “Silent Night,” and my having shuffled through various holiday collections had produced a particular arrangement with simple primary bass chords and broken chord interludes that nicely tied in to our theory journey.

For months, we had been studying scales in Major and Relative Minor through the Circle Fifths, and had added construction of CHORDS in ROOT position on each scale degree starting with C Major and A minor (Harmonic form). –(there is a scant reference to the PRIMARY CHORDS on the Chord Sheet below, but only to show their identities as I, IV, V, not how they can be juggled or “inverted” for smooth transit between them)


The “chord” universe had been carefully prepped with a pre-identification of minor and Major thirds, and how they are arranged to create Major, minor, diminished and Augmented Chords or triads. (EAR-Training experiences were naturally integrated into our lessons) In the days between lessons, my pupil practiced her aural identification of these various chords at Tone

While a digital piano is enlisted at this particular Internet site which is not the best vehicle to expose a child to various chord changes, it still seemed to heighten my pupil’s aural sensitivity. (Again we were focusing on identifying ROOT position triads: Major, minor, diminished and Augmented)

Chord “inversions,” the next juncture of study, as presented in the “Silent Night” arrangement, (IV and V7), enabled the pupil to experience various “positions” of chords in the bass to effect smooth voice leading.

The piece, as notated, also had a preparatory Schemata of the PRIMARY bass chords used, with an attached illustration of the abbreviated forms of the Dominant 7th.



In this video sample below, I demonstrated the principle of chord “inversion” for the student.

This particular holiday selection (“Silent Night”) had also provided reinforcement a NEW rhythm, the dotted quarter–8th figure which permeated the music.

Finally, as a creatively driven teacher, who has consistently inserted composing opportunities into the pedagogical environment, I assigned my student the task of composing a 8-measure piece in 3/4 time using dotted half notes in each measure. It was to use Chords in ROOT POSITION from the A Minor Harmonic form scale in the treble. (Chord Sheet reference) This exploration was to serve as a springboard to INVERTING her chosen chords in a follow-up composing opportunity.

In this initial instance, she was to include a Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented chord in whatever sequence that suited her creative inclination and then label these ROOTED triads in the score. Each chord enlisted fingers 1,3,5 in the Right Hand. (Note that in my teaching practice, I adhere to the principle of framing a composing experience with a particular educational goal, particularly when building a solid learning foundation in the primary year of of piano study.)

The student was asked to practice her chord piece notated in the TREBLE CLEF with a supple wrist in a singing tone fashion, while fleshing out a melody streaming through the upper most voice (the fifth of each chord) This brought up the notion of “voicing” chords which excited her. She had free reign to choose dynamics and enter them in her score.

Next, we had planned to leave the bass clef staff blank until the student had finalized her Treble notated chordal progressions.

Following this creative undertaking, I suggested adding one bass note per measure, perhaps considering the Root of each chord to match up with the treble harmonic sequence, though when I demonstrated adding a THIRD of each chord in the bass, she was far more pleased with the result.

Here is my pupil’s draft of her composition that enlarged her consciousness about chords and their harmonically colorful variety.


As mentioned, for part 2 of this composing adventure, she will put all her treble chords in first inversion, while considering another choice for the bass line progression. It will be stimulating to explore noting the ROOT in the bass against the treble inverted chords, and then sample the third, or the fifth through the bass sequence.

In conclusion, this holiday period offered a wondrous aesthetic journey with educational rewards for both teacher and student.


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Piano Technique: Soft staccato scales with projection, springboard energy, resilience, and shape


One of the biggest weaknesses that present in soft dynamic range staccato scales, is a lack of projection. Students often snuff out notes, play them in a whisper without a tenacious spring UP character, or a necessary rebound effect from note to note. Instead, they become inhibited and constrained. Yet even at the Forte level, their staccato rendered scales may lack definition, animation, adequate SPACING, and overall shape/direction.

In an attempt to remediate lackluster scales that transition from smooth and connected legato to staccato, particularly in the soft cosmos, I suggest mental images to frame the sound, while also demonstrating the springing UP character of these detached notes to create an ear-catching environment.

Two Sample Lesson Excerpts:

B minor


C-sharp minor (Melodic form)

In the second example, the student also worked on intensification of the Melodic minor ascent (staccato), in contrast to a relaxed descent. (i.e. Naturalization of the C-sharp minor scale) Finally, she rendered the C-sharp minor Arpeggio, refining a Forte/Piano staccato transition in triplets.

A wrist generated approach to staccato, to relieve tension, and improve projection.

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Murray Perahia’s earliest piano teacher and her influence on him

Jeannette Haien is rarely recognized for her role in Murray Perahia’s musical development, though it’s clear through her own words, (rekindled posthumously) that she must have had a profound effect on him. (She was Perahia’s mentor from age 4 to 18.)



I knew Murray as a classmate at the NYC High School of Performing Arts where his musical presence was poignant and pervasive. Many piano majors would follow him to after-school rehearsals in dilapidated rooms with old grand pianos where he would rehearse piano trios such as the one of Mendelssohn in D minor. His chamber partners were Diana Halperin, violin, and Marsha Heller, cello. A circle formed around these three in awe of their divinely inspired music-making. I was bowled over, feeling the expressive pulse of every note, phrase, nuance, and the overall context of what was being communicated.

At one of the Winter Concerto concerts held at the high school each year, Perahia played the piano part in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with a keen awareness of structure, period style, and tonal variation/projection. His “sound” at the piano was unmistakable: a signature singing tone that’s fleshed out more generally in his teacher’s comments during the Moyer interview. (Her discussion omitted Murray and other pupils by name.) I readily conjectured that she had no interest in claiming credit for their individual or collective accomplishments. She appeared Ego-less and fully keyed to music-making in its purist dimension as she addressed form, structure, architecture, and tone. (In this particular conversation, she was exploring her writing with infused musical references and metaphors.)


Murray, her student for the better part of his childhood and adolescent years, was a remarkable chamber musician and soloist. In his role as collaborator he was acutely aware of form, architecture, structure, balance, dynamics, interpretation, and emotional meaning. (A conscious and committed fusion of intellect and affect.)

In all his musical quests he never attempted to outshine his musical partners or flesh out his technical prowess for its own sake. Furthermore, his ability to quickly sub-in for an absent Concerto concert soloist during a pre-program rehearsal was astounding. I was there sitting in the Orchestra (Principal Second Violin), listening to his “reading” of the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto No. 1, as if I heard it for the first time with only the expectation of resonating beauty. All of us present, were moved, some to tears.

Given the virtues of Murray Perahia’s uniquely individual artistry so manifest at a young age, I was motivated to perform an Online search to learn more about Ms. Haien and her relationship to the piano/music that would have trickled down to Murray. My efforts were rewarded when I stumbled upon a riveting interview conducted by Bill Moyers. It had a complete transcript attached that exceeded video bounds.

Jeannette Haien, who became an author later in life, was a student of Arthur Schnabel, and for most of her early to mid-life years was known as a “concert pianist,” and “piano teacher.” Based in New York City, she would have met up with Murray’s father after he sought a mentor once his toddler started singing arias, after sitting on papa’s lap in weekly jaunts to the Metropolitan Opera.

What a responsibility for a young teacher to assume, clearly registered in the body of the Haien’s commentary. (Without, again, her having tagged Murray or any particular student by name.)

BILL MOYERS: What do you look for in a potential pupil?

Stamina. And interior tension.


JEANNETTE HAIEN: Tension. Desire. Wanting it. That we talked about very early on. And it’s a form of tension. It’s like first love. That terrific tension between two people terribly, newly, innocently in love. Innocently is important, because the young talented mind in its first stages is innocent, and the responsible teacher never, never intrudes upon that innocence.

Selective transcript excerpts continue: Bill Moyers with Jeannette Haien

(What Haien communicated in this interview has conspicuously permeated Perahia’s musical intellect and further reflects his holistic approach to piano study/performance.)

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Structure, which as it sounds-it’s a marvelous word, but it is usually thought to be more architectural in the form. In its peculiar way, structure is a kind of architecture in sound, in a book or anything. The great thing about structure-no, I’ll say it a different way. The biblical phrase, …in whose service is perfect freedom, if you start with structure, then you can move walls. That is, you can move walls in relation to each other.

You have the freedom to work in the freest way imaginable. The best art, the best thinking, is highly structured. It has within it all the windows onto the outside, and light coming in. It’s a well-structured affair. Music is a language, an oral language. And I always begin learning a new score away from the instrument. I never take it to the instrument. I always-….

JEANNETTE HAIEN: A musical score, to a musician, is a narrative, and you take it to bed at night and you read it, and you can-you return to it as you would reread a Conrad novel and find some new marvelous thing in it that you’d never noticed before….

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -yes. That’s where I learned to write. I mean

BILL MOYERS: From music?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -yes. Because, let’s say Mozart, let’s say a Mozart concerto. Here’s this extraordinary thing, with immediately a theme. It’s called-musicologists call it a theme. There’s a statement of an idea, which is oral, but it-you enter, you begin to enter a body of material through it. It has a key, it is a minor key, or it is a major key. It is a vivace, or it is an adagio. So that right away, some mood takes place, and right away, in the hands of a genius, musical ideation, as with the written word, right away is a landscape that is-well, think of Opus 13, the sonata, the so-called Pathetique sonata-

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -{hums] that opening adagio, first moment. I mean, what is going to follow? There is that stark, extraordinary opening, with two sort of interspersions of surprises. And then you come down in C minor, and you come down to a G, and there’s a fermata, [snaps fingers] and then, you light into the extraordinary exercise of thing.

So that a novel sometimes begins with a dire description of a landscape, or a village or a place, or a character sitting alone and thinking, and then the action takes place. It comes to a point, a denouement, the act is done and there is a consequence. If you fiddle with that consequence and that consequence is out of focus, with the oldest series of consequences since the beginning of time, it runs all through Homer, all through the Iliad and the Odyssey, if you try and give it a cute and clever ending, it may be very titillating to an audience for now, but it won’t last….

(Me: Can one imagine the expansive literary context and framing that Ms. Haien had imparted to Murray in the course of his 15 year-long relationship with her?)

Her words continue to resonate through Perahia’s music-making.

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, because Mozart wrote a story- just talk for a moment about the opening of a work, and let’s say that you know three things. You know the key, you know the tempo marking, whether it’s going to be a fast or a slow movement and you have a dynamic marking, let’s say forte or piano, loud or soft dynamic marking. But-and that’s what Mozart, let’s say, says right away, but it is nigh.

There is no such thing as piano or forte, except as I cause it to happen. It is my vision of that, forte or piano, so that when one walks out onto the stage of Carnegie Hall and sits at the instrument, and you are left with a piano marking, that is, a soft-this piece is going to open softly, this work, I have to enter the realm of the attitude of the softness, which must project to the person who bought the ticket in the last seat, way up there, at the same time as the spirit of that piano -because there can be a piano passage of the most terrific animation, there can be a piano, by piano I keep meaning soft

BILL MOYERS: Soft, pianissimo.

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -pianissimo, that’s better. A pianissimo passage in the animated, vivace movement or a pianissimo passage in an adagio, that is so passionate. So it isn’t a matter of dynamic. The dynamic is a kind of freedom for your perceptions about the score.

BILL MOYERS: Is form, is symmetry the truth to which you say the artist is ultimately accountable? Is it to the true nature of symmetry, the way the world is, or is truth something else?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, it’s a-truth is that thing [chuckles} which is undefinable. I mean, form is a form of truth. Form frames consciousness, it gives a frame to our real consciousness of everything. And our consciousness of things influences our conscience, our respect for that which we are conscious of. And there is a truth larger than the capriciousness of individual conduct. Some people call it God, religion, but I think that it is apparent in the way the universe functions….

BILL MOYERS: What you’re doing is bringing out what is there, is it not?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, it’s where you come together over a score and you ponder it and you say, Don’t you think that that-that in relation to that pianissimo you just come from that that fortissimo is going to be out of scale in relation to the larger architectural scope of the work? Which means that there’s really got to be a fortissimo above the one you’ve just created so the architecture, the form, is again realized. It’s a very different experience from exposing a gifted young musical mind to the first ideas such as what is your sound going to be? Why is your hand formed so that when that finger makes contact with a key it’s going to have a sound that every musician will recognize as being yours and no one else’s.


As the crowning glory summation of Haien’s words as they penetrate Perahia’s artistry, I’ve attached one of the pianist’s trailers that’s meant to promote his recording of J.S. Bach’s French Suites. Yet very quickly the viewer forgets that this is some kind of commercial advancement of a disk set. Perahia rises above the din of self-promotion, just like his teacher would have, and for this shared gift of unfettered musical worship, we should be grateful.


Following Murray’s 2015 Recital at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall:


The Moyers Interview:

Jeannette Haien NY Times Obituary

BALLARD–Jeannette Haien , died on September 23, 2008 after a precipitous decline in health following a heart attack on July 29. Born in the early 1920s to a small Dutch American family, Jeannette was the youngest of four children. Demonstrating precocious talents in both writing and music, Jeannette was home-schooled with her brothers before attending the University of Michigan; in 1943, 1944 and 1945, she won four University of Michigan English Department Hopwood Prizes for ”minor’ and ”summer” poetry and for her extended narrative poem, ”Rip Van Winkles Dream.” In addition, Jeannette per formed extensively as a pianist throughout the mid-West before and immediately after her 1948 marriage to Ernest Ballard, then a law student at the University of Michigan.

In 1950, the Ballards moved to New York City, from then on their permanent home. Pursuing her professional career under her maiden name, Jeannette Haien taught piano privately and, subsequently, as a member of the piano faculty of Mannes College of Music (1969-1991); she toured biennially with the cultural outreach programs of the United States Information Agency in Europe, Asia and Central America throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During the early 1980’s, Haien turned her energies increasingly to writing and, in 1986, published ”The All of It,” for which she garnered strong critical praise and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987.

Haien’s second novel, ”Matters of Chance” was published in 1997. Jeannette’s husband of 60 years died on September 14 of this year. Jeannette Haien Ballard is survived by a daughter, Jean Ballard Terepka, and a grandson, Henry Ballard Terepka, both of New York City, in addition to two nieces and one nephew. Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date. Donations in memory of Jeannette Haien Ballard may be made to the American Academy of Arts and Letters at 633 West 155 Street, New York City, NY, 10032-1799.

My Blog Roll re: Murray Perahia

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Learning a new and challenging piece along with a student

It’s easy for piano teachers to inhabit a comfortable space, teaching mainly repertoire that they’ve well learned, put away and brought back for review. It can perpetuate a stale process of retreading “old” pieces without posing a refreshing self-made challenge to learn a complex “new” work from the ground up side-by-side with a pupil.

About two weeks ago, one of my adults, asked to study the J.S. Bach Allemande from the composer’s French Suite No. 4 in Eb, BWV 815, a composition I had never studied. At first, I thought to counter with another Bach offering that was at least familiar to me through years of practicing and teaching.

But I stopped myself from such a knee-jerk avoidance of what was unknown to me, and prodded myself to map out my musical journey in the company of an enthusiastic pupil partner. Call it a true Adventure par duo.

In truth, there’s nothing more rewarding than sharing mutual epiphanies about a composition from the emotional charge spurred by poignant harmonic progressions, to the contrapuntal interchange of voices that are newly discovered.

Fingering choices, choreographies, passing dissonances/suspensions, counterpoint, become a collective focus with a first sunrise dimension as an intense examination unfolds in layers. It encompasses decisions to be made about dividing a voice between the hands; what notes should be tied over as suspensions without an extra inserted beat of sustain; and what FINGERINGS work or don’t. (There may be optional choices to explore–or changes to be made after finger assignments.) In truth, the student is a full partner to these decisions and the teacher is open to his/her ideas and suggestions.

Naturally, the learning process for both is magnified in SLOW practice tempo, without deadlines of achievement or embedded expectations. Both musical journey companions are PATIENT and unencumbered with value judgments.

Finally, through the launch of this latest Bach adventure, I found myself summarizing a lesson that had taken place as an initial encounter with the Allemande–the ingredients of which were a potpourri of shared epiphanies.

A few days following this posting, I was able to move the Allemande into tempo. I attribute this advance to a thorough, intensified learning experience sparked by my student.

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Piano Technique: Working with the character of rhythms

It’s easy to assess a student’s difficulty with navigating scales in progressive tempo framings from quarters to 8th notes to 16ths, etc. as being the result of shortcomings in rhythmic perception, when a larger cosmos of awareness is lacking.

I think immediately of the Eurhythmics course I took at the Oberlin Conservatory, taught by the legendary Inda Howland. It was not a doctrinaire approach to realizing the individual character of rhythms according to the tenets of Jacques Dalcroze. Instead, it was in part an imagery fed environment that supported the motion of the body in understanding the flow of notes as it also nourished relaxed breathing tied to the vocal and movement model. Triplets were expansive, rolling, and unrelenting, never crowded into a narrow space. They had to “breathe” in concert with our organic sense of them. (Think “vowels”) To experience the breadth of these notes, we grouped them in a horizontal procession, swaying, and physically ingesting their uniqueness.

In a transition to 16th notes, we realized a new character framing, a different “inner speed motion.” Our mentor spoke of “density,” unswerving “energy,” and lack of inhibition. She referenced “shape,” “contour,” “freedom” of physical and emotional expression.

If I tried to cram all that I absorbed from my Eurhythmics experience into a piano lesson, it would be a formidable task. Yet, I find myself prompting my students, not just with mental images, but with conducting motions, singing, demonstrating, and opening the piano technique portion of the lesson to a wide universe of personal/physical/musical discovery. (Choreography at the keyboard is a vital ingredient of rhythmic realization, but it’s always at the service of what’s “natural” or “organic” to the outpouring of notes)

Therefore, a metronome, per se, will not “correct” rhythmic weakness. Instead, an integration of ideas that harnesses the imagination, relaxes the body/mind and opens the student to experimentation and self-analysis, can go a long way to stimulating an awareness of how notes “breathe” in groupings to phrase peaks and resolutions.

Two examples

A local interaction with an adult student (B minor arpeggios and scales)


My “Rhythm Rehab Lab” centered tutorial that followed a lesson with a pupil in Australia

About Eurhythmics

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