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Keeping up with a fast turnover of repertoire and reclaiming an old piece from the Classical era (Videos)

I always make it a point to advise students of all levels, to stay with a piece long enough to feel at one with it–to experience a fluidity of motion that comes from baby-step, layered learning.

Despite my admonitions, some pupils choose to remain in the fast lane, whizzing through one selection after another without a second thought.

Last night, I looked back on a Clementi Sonatina that I had a faint recollection of lightly “reading” in my formative years of study, though to reclaim it on a deeper level was a must if I planned to teach it.

As it happened, an adult student wanted to learn the opening Presto, which sent me scampering back to the score at an indelicate hour to carve out a layered-learning sequence in SLOW TEMPO that I could reasonably pass down to the pupil at his lesson.

Such a self-teaching opportunity, was just what I needed to advance my own understanding of Sonatina, Op. 36 No. 5.

(If a teacher can put herself in the shoes of a pupil, like a fledgling on a maiden musical journey, then both grow in creative directions)

As a start knowing the form and structure of a Classical era sonatina would frame the learning process. (Exposition: first and second themes, Development and Recapitulation)

And of course, FINGERING a piece from the outset was a high priority pursuit–making sure decisions made would artfully realize the composer’s phrasing and articulation.

My Discoveries:

1)The first movement was permeated with undulating groups of triplets, which suggested a “chordal” approach in practicing them. The way the piece flowed as a sequence of blocked chords, would amplify the melodic contour. Dominant chords to their tonic resolutions suggested a lean to relax sequence. Unexpected harmonic shifts needed to be “felt” and communicated.

2) The keys through which the composition passed had to be noted, especially in the Development section where modulations were the composer’s principle device.

3) Looking for counter-melodies, as they might appear in the bass, would direct the player to these lines that might be obscured in the fabric of redundant sets of triplets.

4) Voices needed to be balanced, with an ear toward fleshing out the melody, counter-melody, against the rolling triplet sequence. Dynamics and their contrasts were pivotal to phrase-shaping. Knowing where the climax appeared would give the Presto movement direction.

5) Playing the melody alone, even as it passed for some measures to the bass, was another baby step– feeling the underpinning of harmony to guide it. (BEHIND TEMPO)

6) Blocking chords derived from triplets, played along with the melody was another intermediary learning layer. (Once again, in slow tempo)

As to metrical framing, the movement was in alla breve, cut time, so ultimately, in tempo it would be experienced as two impulses per measure though divided by underlying triplets. (In the practicing phase, one might stretch to 4, but it might be better to sense a SLOW division of two beats per measure, to capture the flow and nuance the composer intended)

In the final analysis, the instruction was best communicated as I revisited the Presto movement last night on video, with my play-through following:

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Arioso7's Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

York called me from a client’s home in Clovis right after our great treasure-seeking adventure under the Kawai 7-foot grand piano. He’d been appraising a Samick studio upright manufactured in 1990 that was owned by Joel Van Ginkel. “I’d appraise it at about $2000,” he said, “but between you ‘n me, he’ll unload the piana’ for a lot less ‘cause he’s movin’ to L.A.”

A few months before York had given me a bum steer, sending me on a wild goose chase to a no man’s land Evangelical Church in East Fresno. My gas-guzzling van had very nearly collapsed on me after I’d found myself  on the outskirts of town driving in circles before I’d located an abysmal-sounding, console-size Everett.  Its cage-like vibrations in the middle range and mangled hammer assembly caused multiple notes to sound when any one key was depressed. York claimed this 1982 model had been manufactured in a USA based Yamaha plant which he believed gave it added…

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Muzio Clementi, piano lessons, piano lessons by Skype, piano teaching, POWHOW, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Skyped piano lesson to Greece, skyped piano lessons, Sonatina in C Op. 36 no. 3 by Clementi

Excerpts from a SKYPED Piano Lesson to Greece

In these video segments, the student is practicing Sonatina in C, OP. 36, No. 3, first and last movements:

These replays can be very helpful for the student, who is sent copies of his lesson-in-progress.

***

"Splashing in the Brook" by Gillock, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano, William Gillock, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Technique: Turning a door knob helps a 9-year old piano student in her practicing (Videos)

I use various motions extracted from daily life to teach fluidity in piano playing. In this particular example lifted from a lesson-in-progress, Ilyana, 9, applies a door knob-turning gesture to smooth out a passage from William Gillock’s “Splashing in the Brook.”

It’s also helpful to enlist mental imagery to capture the mood of a composition. In this case, the composer has the piece’s character embedded in the title.

In the videos attached, I emphasize a “playful” scene and a “rippling” brook. The water image, in particular, softens the impact of the opening measures. A contrasting pair of FORTE measures, follows with a wave-like motion.

Extra-musical suggestions go a long way to improve technique and musicianship. They frame the music with something bigger than the narrow goal of playing the “right notes.”

In so many words, the joy a student derives from playing the piano comes from his imagination springing to life.

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Arioso7's Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

I had to pinch myself when I discovered a Craig’s List ad that featured “an antique baby grand piano selling for $1500.”

Staring at me was a larger-than-life “Johann Fritz” that seemed to closely resemble the heart-breaker with the same surname formerly housed at a local American Cancer Society Discovery thrift store! It looked like the one I had sadly let go and lost forever.

Now deep down, I knew that the original Fritz Sohn (son) with a florid rack and scrolled legs, probably had second thoughts about being placed with a City College Assistant Chief of Police who would probably never play it. And as proof of the pudding, the buyer was supposed to call me for piano lessons but never did. Was this beautifully sculptured beauty only a display case, exploited purely for its good looks?

I was staring at a photo of a generation two Fritz that…

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"When you Wish Upon a Star" from Walt Disney, duet playing with piano students, Five for Fighting a Hundred Years, John Ondrasik, Liz on Top of the World from Pride and Prejudice, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Taylor Swift, Wlat Disney, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

A piano student kicks back over the summer playing a Disney selection while I rekindle old musical memories (Videos)

It’s not a big deal when a student forgets her scale, arpeggio, and total assignment, then drifts into a casual reading of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio.

Albertina, 13, had brought a coffee-table size anthology of popular tunes to her last lesson. It was indexed by Movies Themes, Broadway Show hits like “Annie,” and some contemporary Christian hymns like “You Raise Me Up.” She basically played through the melody without yet having explored the bass line.

Great! This was a wonderful duet opportunity I did not pass up.

(Over school vacation, students were sniffing daisies, taking hikes, and playing computer games. Finding time to practice was not the norm so I was impressed with Albertina’s initiative.)

In the past, I’d played off-season duets with Allyse, a 16-year old, who was enraptured with the Beatles and Taylor Swift. Both she and her brother, Alex, had invested enormous energy downloading pieces they wanted to study in lieu of Bach Minuets, and Clementi Sonatinas–not to mention, SCALES!

After a bit of cajoling, however, they always compromised, taking their musical vitamins beside treat pieces.

I noted my journal entries about these excursions into popular music that were accompanied by a treasure trove of personal memories:

“Today was by no means a first for me, a long-haired musician raised on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms was playing pop tunes by John Ondrasik and Taylor Swift while I sailed through the universe, playing a hands divided version of “Liz on Top of the World” with another student. Videotaping portions of piano lessons, in any case, was the natural follow-up to these explorations. If nothing else, they had historical value.

“I’d been born into the cosmos of popular music, a member of the Rock n’ Roll generation and my big brother Russ, four years older, plugged me into Alan Freed at the Paradise, Bill Haley and the Comets, Johnny Mathis, Paul Anka, and the Everly Brothers, among others. The music of this era could be movingly Romantic, especially the ballads. Presley singing, “Love Me Tender,” a tear-jerker, and the Penguins crooning “Earth Angel,” a lilting, bittersweet melody, filled with heartfelt emotion.

“Melody permeated the most rhythmically-driven songs, like “Rock Around the Clock!” And “Little Darlin,’” another ear-grabber, drew me instantly into its harmonically engaging universe beside its catchy banjo-strumming beat.

“Many of these “pop” favorites intermingled with the great Classical works of the piano literature, making me quite a well-rounded listener. It was well before my musical preferences were set in stone. Throw in Peter Seeger, Marais and Miranda, Edie Piaf (“The Street Singer”), Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and all the marvelous musical theater selections from Brigadoon, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, and I was in seventh heaven!

In the late 50′s, Van Cliburn was riding the crest of his victory in Moscow, performing his winning selection, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in Bb minor, a victory that inspired a ticker-tape parade down Wall Street. I had a full-fledged crush on him. Meanwhile, my teenage peers were exchanging “Kookie, Lend me Your Comb” pics, casting me out of their inner circle. They wanted their real friends to conform, sharing an initiation rite by fainting in the presence of heart-throb, Fabian. Or later, it was the Beatles.

“I loved the Beatles, but not in the same way my peers did. “Yesterday” was for me a melancholy, heart stopper. “Hey Jude,” rocked in the Gospel style. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” had the surreal, contemporary sound with amazing, lush, sometimes dissonant sonority. I knew nothing of the LSD connection, and it didn’t matter because my love for the music prevailed. In truth, I tuned out the words of a song in my personal listening experience, but I was amazed me by how my brother and his friends memorized all the lyrics of a particular favorite, regarding words at the focus of their appreciation. I wanted to feel the melodic and harmonic contour to the exclusion of all else.

“My brother had also been exploring Classical, Romantic and Expressionist music during his intense Rock ‘n Roll phase. For hours he would blast LPs of Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor, Rimsky-Korsakov’s the Easter Overture, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture played on our modest phonograph. These works were his obsessions alongside Alan Freed’s rambling radio commentary.

“So it was not surprising that I would emerge from my childhood and adolescence with a propensity to love a diverse menu of music that included popular, ballad, folk, symphonic, and anything that communicated a memorable melody and compelling harmonic mosaic.

“Fast forward the clock: Today, Allyse practiced “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always,” agreeing to a slow and steady tempo.

“A few months ago, she begged to learn them. Meanwhile, older brother, Alex,dropped off “Liz On Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice in virgin form without fingering. My work was cut out for me.

“Both of these endearing piano students were members of the NOW generation, separated from me by decades, but still on the same page, practicing music that had meaning and evoked emotion. That’s what brought us together.”

**

A Piano Lesson with Alex, 17, as he practiced his favorite, “Liz on Top of the World.”

Clementi Sonatina Op. 36 no. 3, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, long distance piano learning, piano, piano lessons, piano lessons by Skype, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, skyped piano lessons, teaching piano online, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Instruction: Clementi Sonatina in C, Op. 36 No. 3 (parts 1 and 2) and a Skyped lesson-in-progress recorded by camcorder

Supplements to Skyped lessons come in two forms. I will either send an unlisted mid-week video to a long-distance learner as a brush-up, or I’ll upload public videos that can be universally shared.

Both help me crystallize how I will phrase a composition and teach it. The student, in an interactive role, feeds me ideas that are processed and put to work in each subsequent lesson. The growth process is dynamic and ongoing.

In this revisit of Clementi’s Sonatina in C, Op. 36, No. 3, I sat beside by iMAC in the morning facing a pupil in Greece, while my camcorder was set up to capture a clear view of my hands for the student’s benefit.

Routinely, I record these lessons, unless pupils object. Most often they’re pleased to have pivotal excerpts of footage sent to them following our web exchange. Where transmission-related problems might temporarily interrupt a lesson-in-progress, supplementary videos reclaim valuable teaching moments.

The follow-up to my Greece to California SKYPE, included three supplements:

Instructional videos (part 1 and Part 2) made separately in my studio and uploaded to You Tube. (I. Exposition, II. Development to Recapitulation)

A five-minute excerpt of the pupil’s Skyped lesson-in-progress uploaded to You Tube.

All three were sent to the student to assist his practicing during the week.

But first a play through, movement 1, Spiritoso

P.S. I appear as a ghost in my first tutorial since my piano lamp splashed unintended light beams in my direction.

SKYPE Excerpt, California to Greece: