What pianists can learn from opera singers

You Tube has its distractions and delights often to the benefit of pianists, especially when a colorful personality springs upon the screen who rises above and beyond her particular art form.

I can confidently say that I was happily blessed to have been side-tracked by a Masterclass appearance at Juilliard by Opera diva Joyce DiDonato. An earthy mezzo soprano born of the Midwest, she spoke in a universal language to an intimate and simultaneous U-streamed international audience.

So what did I know about the world of glittery coloraturas that could have any practical application to piano teaching and performing?

While pianists had to cultivate the singing tone, they faced the challenge of rising above their instrument’s hammer mechanism to find a spiritual core of musical expression. (Our vocal cords seemed subsidiary to our fleet fingers)

Murray Perahia, “tone poet” of the piano, enjoyed early exposure to opera performances at the Met (NYC) as a toddler, propped in his father’s lap.

The pianist recalled the deep impression these staged musical productions made upon him as he soaked up ingredients of drama and molto cantabile that seeped into his playing, ultimately creating a bigger than instrumental-centered expression. (Underline the divine, full-bloomed breath of his immaculate phrasing)

My early memories of the Bronx where I was born, included weekend-beamed Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts of Traviata, Carmen, The Magic Flute, etc. introduced and critiqued by Milton Cross in his indomitable squeaky voice.

How could I forget the strains of Bizet’s “Habanera,” with its rhythmic intensity so appealing to a child engaged in imaginative play. (My mother would tell the story in her own words)

To see the production, “live” years later, added a dramatic component that heightened my pleasure and expanded musical consciousness…which brings me back to Joyce DiDonato as she rehearses Drama Queens (Royal Arias from the 17th and 18th Centuries) with interspersed commentary that underscores communication and emotional engagement. (these being so fundamental to performing) In addition, the two video links below are equally applicable to our collective journeys as pianists.

Here they are:

An excerpt from the Q and A following Joyce’s Juilliard Masterclass, titled, “On your Inner Critic,” and her Vlog, “Handling Nerves.” (Take note of her focus on BREATHING)

I can say with confidence, that absorbing the multifaceted dimensions of this opera diva’s artistry brought home the unity of our creative undertakings as “musicians” and bestowed an expanded horizon of learning that adds to our growth and development.

Joyce DiDonato’s Official Website


What we can learn from String Players


Singing in our culture and vocal inhibition


Performance Anxiety and the Pianist


Piano warm-ups, Chopin and the Art of Breathing


Murray Perahia is in a league of his own


About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
This entry was posted in classissima, classissima.com, coloratura Joyce Di Donato, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Joyce Di Donato, Joyce DiDonato, Metropolitan Opera, Murray Perahia, opera, opera singers, piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What pianists can learn from opera singers

  1. Thiago says:



  2. hannahannika says:

    I love her perspective. It’s true – breathing is important!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s