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Learning a J.S Bach Sinfonia from the ground up (F Major, BWV 794)

On to three voice counterpoint, following a two-dimensional Bach Invention journey in the company of several piano students.

So why not open the door to my private practice room for a layered learning sample a trois.

I’m no different than those I teach. The double standard does not exist for those of us who embark upon the study of new music.


My latest undertaking is the J.S. Bach Sinfonia in F, BWV 794, and while my iMac decided not to synchronize my hands voice, and music for most of the track, one can rely on the ears, and gain some insights about voice parceling and counterpoint.

In the video attached, I mapped out the first page, separately playing each of three voices as a paradigm for learning the whole work in a stepwise fashion.

Then in very slow tempo, I played through the composition, noting the SUBJECT as it appeared either alone, overlapping itself, or rendered in parallel motion (in 6ths) as the CLIMAX of the composition. (I considered the Alto, Soprano and Bass parts with attention to Key as well as interweaving counterpoint)

(Not to be overlooked, are pieces of the subject that play off each other in various voices)

This is my second day delving into the Sinfonia’s fabric and as I tell students time and again, slow and steady practicing without built-in deadlines makes the process itself joyful and satisfying.

The rest will come naturally in its time in a patient, self-nurturing environment.

In tempo:

Sinfonia in F p.1

Sinfonia in F p. 2

Sinfonia in F p. 3

Beth Levin, Beth Levin pianist, Beth Levin piano, classissima, Navona Records, The Last Three Beethoven sonatas played by Beth Levin

Beth Levin, pianist, surfaces from one of my past lives

A subscriber to my Facebook page planted a blurry memory of herself when she complimented my blog in a private message. The name rang familiar, but I couldn’t precisely place it. At first glance, I knew she was a reputable musician with a stash of impressive You Tubes but beyond that, my memory faded.

A mouse click to the pianist’s official website, brought a more well-defined profile. Among snatches from posted concert reviews, one caught my eye. It was a quote from the late Allan Skei, Fresno Bee Arts editor.

Oh My God! I WAS THERE! seated in the audience on that memorable musical evening in agriculture’s heartland!

I could hardly catch my breath as I fired off an email to “Beth Levin,” the pianist who moved me to tears as she rippled through the Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31.

Immediately following her performance, I ran back stage to greet her, dribbling on with superlatives.

The love fest took place well over 25 years ago, at Northwest Church, the original venue for the Free College Foundation-sponsored Keyboard Concerts before the series relocated to Fresno State’s Recital Hall.

A rain-swept night, I shielded myself under an umbrella, crying all the way home, thinking about my New York City-based piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, who, like Beth, played from the heart.


Now decades later, Beth Levin is about to release her latest album, April 30th to be exact, on Navona Records.


A Single Breath, Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas

Here’s a sneak preview of the opener, no. 30 in E Major, Op. 109

The pianist’s CD earns my glowing recommendation!

More from “A Single Breath”

Amazon Link:

About Beth Levin (from her website)

“Beth Levin’s artistry invokes an uncanny sense of hearing for the first time
works long thought familiar, as though the pianist herself were discovering
a piece in the playing of it. Such a style of refreshment and renewal can be
traced back to Levin’s unique artistic lineage. As a child prodigy, she made
her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 12. She was subsequently
taught and guided by legendary pianists such as Rudolf Serkin, Leonard
Shure, Dorothy Taubman and Paul Badura-Skoda (who praised her as “a pianist
of rare qualities and the highest professional caliber”). Her deep well of
experience allows Levin to reach back through the golden age of the Romantic
composers and connect to the sources of the great pianistic traditions, to
Bach, to Mozart, to Beethoven.

“Levin has appeared as a concerto soloist with numerous symphony orchestras,
including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Boston
Civic Symphony and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. She has worked with noted
conductors such as Arthur Fiedler, Tonu Kalam, Milton Katims, Joseph
Silverstein and Benjamin Zander. Chamber music festival collaborations have
brought her to the Marlboro Festival, Casals Festival, Harvard, the
Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Ankara Music Festival and the Blue Hill
Festival, collaborating with such groups such as the Gramercy Trio (founding
member), the Audubon Quartet, the Vermeer Quartet and the Trio Borealis,
with which she has toured extensively.

“Among Levin’s recordings are live performances of Bach’s Goldberg
Variations, (Centaur Records, 2008) and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations
(Centaur Records, 2011). Her interpretation of the Diabelli Variations has
been described as “consistently fascinating” (Steve Smith, NY Times) and
simply “stunning” (Robert Levine, Stereophile Magazine). Of Levin’s Goldberg
Variations, Peter Burwasser of Fanfare Magazine stated that she plays “as if
she is in love with the notes….with always the sense that she is exploring
Bach’s genius.” Her performances have been broadcast on National Public
Radio, WGBH (Boston), WFMT (Chicago) and WNYC, WNYE and WQXR (New York).

“For all her devotion to the Romantic canon, Levin remains committed to the
performance of the music of our time, interpreting composers such as Henryk
Gorecki, Scott Wheeler, Mohammed Farouz and Michael Rose, among many others.
Her closest collaborators have been the composers David Del Tredici and
Andrew Rudin, both of whom have written works for her.”

Harmony of the Angels by Burgmuller, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano instruction, piano lessons, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you, yout tube,

Romantic era piano repertoire: A murmuring stream and the supple wrist (Burgmuller creates beauty from simplicity)

“The Clear Stream” from Friedrich Burgmuller’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces offers a student an opportunity to create limpidly beautiful phrases from unraveled broken chords spun out in triplets. In order to create the “mormorando” (murmuring effect) in the treble, it’s best to first block out the “chord” patterns with a “spongy” wrist in slow motion before playing them as written.

The permeating, rolling, triplet figures enlist a counter-clockwise circular motion of the arm/wrist/right hand, most easily perceived when they are practiced in back tempo. (The bass in part A, by contrast, is an alternation of two notes in a perfect 5th relationship–best played with a rotational, “rocking motion”)

The middle section, (Part B) in contrast to the opener, presents two voices demanding equal attention so the bass line, for example, can be practiced independently, as a counter-melody with its own required nuance and shaping. (slow playing is recommended)–The treble has its melody bouncing off the bass as part of the triplet figure continuum. Blocking out the treble, therefore, in pairs of notes reveals a melodic thread that should be fleshed out as an important “voice” once the section is played unblocked.

the clear stream

The videotaped tutorial fleshes out the practicing routines as described above with a harmonic rhythm dimension added.

First, A Play Through: (In tempo)


*Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels,” probably more well-known to pianists, is composed of “rolling” triplets in broken chord patterns. Therefore, a blocking approach to practicing applies here as well. (with the flow of harmonies and their changes influencing phrasing)

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The Berkeley Rose Garden draped in photos and music

Today was my maiden journey to the paradise of Roses in Berkeley. No words can amply describe the effect such beauty had upon me. (Taking pictures was irresistible)

Burgmuller’s “Tender Flower” was the perfect musical framing.

P.S. I made a passing cameo appearance amidst the heavenly, terraced bouquets

LINK to FB Photo Album

About the Berkeley Rose Garden (from its Facebook page)

“The Berkeley Rose Garden is a city-owned park in Berkeley, California. The Rose Garden is situated in a residential area of the Berkeley Hills between the Cragmont and La Loma Park neighborhoods, occupying most of the block between Eunice Street and Bayview Place along the west side of Euclid Avenue.

“The Rose Garden is in the form of a terraced amphitheater nestled in a small canyon and offers stunning views of the city and bay of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. Over a hundred varieties of roses grow along the terraces, with maximum blooming occurring in early Spring.”

choir concert, Marika Kuzma, Poulenc Gloria, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Songs of Praise", UC Berkeley chamber and university chorus

The best seat in the house (concert hall) with a treasured companion

I met 80-plus, sparkling Sonya recently at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, and discovered that her son, Renato, graduated Oberlin– small world.

It wasn’t long before my new-found friend invited me to join her as a choir concert companion to Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley campus.


It was my first formal musical touchdown post Bezerkeley arrival, and I knew Sonya, with her cultural savoir faire, would lead me to the best seat in a modest, but intimate musical space.

She’d tipped me off about the most prime acoustical location in an early bird communication sent the night before.

“I prefer to sit in the center of the back row whenever a choral or symphony work is performed, because the voices blend better there.

“Also one is not regaled by the sight of mismatched socks &/or shoes of the musicians (;-)”

Sonya had pretty much taken everything into consideration in her seating plan, except for this:

hair block

We were square center, last row, happily anticipating “Songs of Spring, Songs of Praise,” offerings from the University and Chamber Chorus, when about 10 minutes into the program, an eye-catching visitor sat squarely in front of me, obstructing all but a trail of second violins and cellos.

Needless to say, I lunged for the nearest empty seat, and spared myself further distress. (a concert-goer to our right, was hangin’ loose, oblivious to any shuffling except for her disapproving glance at my friend for using a micro pen-light to peruse the program)


The concert proceeded on wings of heavenly song. Marika Kuzma, Director, was so innately musical, drawing impeccable nuance and phrasing from a chamber chorus of music, science, philosophy and undeclared majors. (They’re invited to perform in Carnegie Hall this summer, with a stopoff near ground zero)

The nicely diversified choral roster included the works of J.S. Bach, Richard Feliciano, Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Benjamin Britten, David Wikander, Jorge Liderman, John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Paul Hindemith, Claude Le Jeune, and Poulenc’s tour de force, Gloria.


Sonya and I noticed that the young man who’d blocked a lion’s share of the stage as an audience member, had moved into choir-ranking status following intermission.

Here’s what we saw from our plum perches:


The well-capped fellow sang in the grand finale, Poulenc’s Gloria! earning the choir a roar of applause at its conclusion.

choral program

In retrospect, my seat was indeed the best in the house, beating out any keyboard-side pick over decades of concert-going!

Marika and choir

"I am the Violin", "I am the Violin" a documentary about Ida Haendel, classissima,, director Paul Cohen, Ida Haendel, Ida Haendel violinist, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, violinist

“Jerusalem of Gold” led me to a violin treasure

Yesterday, I decided to record Nemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” to prepare for a luncheon appearance at an East Bay Jewish Community Center.

Little did I know that after reviewing my you tube upload, that I’d spot a right column of videos with Ida Haendel, a near 90-year old violinist who proved to be a gem of a musical artist. Her 2006 performance in Israel of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs captured my attention.

The age old thinking about fiddle players, is that they decline in the technical arena, at about 60 or so. But the stereotype is undermined by a feisty “character” who’s demonstrated virtuosity and prowess well into her 80’s and beyond.

In a six-part documentary, I am the Violin, written and directed by Paul Cohen, viewers obtain a long-delayed glimpse of an ageless musician whose playing, like fine wine, has mellowed and ripened with time.

Part one provides the backdrop:

“Born in Chełm, (1923) a small city in Eastern Poland, to a Jewish family, Ida Haendel has taken up the violin at the age of three. At seven, she’s been admitted at the Warsaw Conservatory and later studies with Carl Flesch and George Enescu in Paris.” (Her father, a fine artist has given up his own career, to nurse along his daughter’s musical development)

“During World War II Ida plays in factories and for British and American troops, having ignited a career that develops after the war’s end.”

We learn that she currently lives in Miami, Florida and is actively involved with the Miami International Piano Festival but still jet sets around the world in the good company of her Strad and adorable pooch


In part 5, Ida complains that more than a few big name conductors, like Zubin Mehta and Simon Rattle had stopped working with her because they were seeking youthful, fresh faces. (“mediocrities,” in many cases)

“Why don’t they discover the ones who are already there,” she proclaims, in repudiation of pervasive age discrimination combined with sexism that feasts on the “new and young.” (She still snugly fits into a snazzy concert dress that she wore at 18–It’s “cherry”-colored, purchased in Madrid during one of her European tours. She holds it up for a camera close-up earlier in the documentary)

The complete film minus crackling popcorn and other distractions is recommended because Ida’s interspersed performances deserve undivided attention.


Finally, one comment posted by a you tuber sums up the scope of the maestra’s artistry:

“It’s hard to tell whether she’s an extension of the violin strings or the violin is an extension of her heart!”

I’d say she’s both, and more….

May she live to well past 100, sharing her gifts with a vast, appreciative audience!

Brava, Ida Haendel!


The complete documentary:

TRAILER to This is My Heritage, another well-produced tribute.

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A Tribute to traveling piano teachers

I’m lucky that for decades I’ve been a stationary piano teacher, home-based for Skype, but having two youngsters whom I teach at their house up in the El Cerrito Hills. Fortunately, I get chauffeured to and from the location so I don’t have to schlep to Bart, or burn up gasoline in my non-existent car.

But in deference to some of my colleagues who routinely travel as part of their regular routine, I have to give them a bundle of credit for hangin’ in there.

Case in point. I learned first-hand about the challenges of in-house teaching when I happened to videotape two lessons, extracting their high points. (that is, as pertained to volume)

See for yourself: