Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California

The SINGING ingredient of phrasing

When I studied piano in New York City with Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, she always sang over my playing as well as her own. Her habitual voice-overs that lingered for years and seeped into the depths of my musical consciousness, gave me a sense of phrase-loving that would spread far and wide in my own teaching. Yet I would endure criticism from a portion of my You Tube audience, who wanted my focus to be on the fingers and where they traveled over the keyboard. (NO distractions please)

If we eavesdrop on Master Classes of the greats: Boris Berman, Dimitri Bashkirov, Richard Goode, and Murray Perahia, as well as others, we observe their sometimes raspy and imperfect vocal expression that nonetheless communicates shape, nuance, dynamics where fingers alone can’t achieve the same.

In the attached video sample, I play and sing at key moments–and at one point I expose dual lines–fleshing out one “voice” as I render another.

(Tchaikovsky’s “In the Church,” Op. 39, was chosen because of its “singing” choir dimension)

Some of the most gratifying interactions I’ve had with students centered on a vocal exchange where lines and contours were discovered, but simultaneously wedded to a physical understanding of musical expression. (Awareness of harmonic movement, modulations, resolutions, and the flow of breath were always part of the integrated whole)

Here I demonstrate a supple wrist to aid the singing tone.

In the Church

In the Church p 2

LINK, Romantic era music

Reviewing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. Posthumous (MOVIE THEME, THE PIANIST)

We have to give credit to movie-makers for putting this hauntingly beautiful composition on the popular marquee of Classical music favorites. It shares notoriety with Mozart’s middle movement theme of Concerto no. 21 in C, which recurred throughout the film, Elvira Madigan.

Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor was a perfect match for Roman Polanski’s THE PIANIST, because it tore at our heartstrings as a wartime musical backdrop. In the opener, Hitler’s troops are invading Poland, ripping the Jewish protagonist concert pianist from his beloved. (the 88s, of course) And being that Chopin was a patriotic Pole, the composer’s music in its somber dimension draws out the poignancy of struggle and hardship during Nazi tyranny.


From Wikipedia:

The Pianist (2002 film)

The Pianist
Directed by
Roman Polanski

Produced by
Roman Polanski

“The Pianist is a 2002 historical drama film directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood and starring Adrien Brody. It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist, a World War II memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. The film is a co-production between Poland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“The Pianist met with significant critical praise and received multiple awards and nominations. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. At the 75th Academy Awards, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood) and Best Actor (Brody), and was also nominated for four other awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 2003 and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Brody.”


I recall one of my teenage transfer students entering my musical sanctuary, bearing a shoddy edition of the Nocturne that was already crinkled from repeated sight-reads. At best, her fingering was a guessing-in-the-dark escapade that needed some taming and attentive practice, but she was extremely motivated to learn the work more thoroughly based on her exposure to the film.

Naturally, when a pupil is enthusiastic about studying a piece, the momentum often supports daily, consistent practicing.

In my case, it’s been years since I explored the Nocturne side-by-side with my teen pupil, so having recently decided to revisit the composition, I embraced a slow, behind tempo approach that’s always recommended.

With this introduction, I’ve embedded a video that is perhaps a primer for those who want to absorb this masterpiece in a step-by-step manner.

The funniest adult piano student confessions

1) I couldn’t get to the piano this week because of my constipated cat.

2) I can’t play the Bb scale because it gets all “gummed up.” (????)

3) The cleaning lady was vacuuming the piano, inside and out.

4) We were away on a whale-watching expedition in Baja.

5) We changed the clocks so I have jet lag (????)

6) My cackling parakeets always drown me out!

7) I get dizzy spells every time I play in contrary motion.

8) My digital piano lost power.

9) I’m needing a vacation from scales and arpeggios.

10) We went on an African jungle safari and I fell off an elephant.

11) I’ll have to cancel my lesson because of the weather. It’s too gorgeous to be indoors.

12) Skype me to the moon, I completely forgot about piano class.

13) Did you say I had to practice this week? I forgot…

14) What piece am I studying?

15) Where’s middle C? Can you send me a video?

16) I’m out to lunch, contact me in a few months about resuming piano lessons.

a peak experience, classical era music,, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano addict, Uncategorized

A Peak teaching and learning experience!

Piano teachers may complain about students who hardly practice, or come to lessons with a truckload of excuses, but the times we savor are when everything seems to click.

Tonight, I had a lesson with an adult student who announced immediately before playing a note that her piece “was in the doghouse.”

What a tension-relieving way to begin our musical exchange!

I chuckled at her quip because I knew it was the disclaimer she needed to relax and enjoy our moments of creation.

The J.C. Bach Prelude is one of my favorite pieces, because it is a repository of heavenly harmonies spread through undulating broken chords. It’s the perfect vehicle to teach a singing tone legato and how to phrase beautifully with an awareness of forward wrist motions, rotation, natural, relaxed breathing, and the emulation of a singer.

This evening my pupil and I reached a pinnacle of communication because we were in the zone, having simultaneous awakenings.

The interplay grew our musical/emotional/physical consciousness to a “peak experience” level worth sharing.

JC Bach p1

JC Bach p. 2


Piano Street

Chopin Prelude No. 3 in G Major, Op. 28: Is the ultimate tempo within reach?

Without a doubt, Chopin’s Prelude in G, Op. 28, No.3, requires a deft Left Hand that can meet the challenge of playing 16th notes in Vivace framing. (extremely quickly) The question is, can most students apply their slow practicing model to the mega-speed zone.

In this connection, I often wonder, if there’s an inborn disposition to play lightning fast notes, particularly with a hand that is not favored. The same might be said of trills, and for violinists, vibrato, though there are ways to break down both into components and build upon them.

I’ve always faced a monumental challenge playing Chopin’s Prelude in G which has a few choice Left Hand finger traps in leaps of nine notes at the tail ends of measures. In my video, I couldn’t help but focus on measures 7, 8 and 9, 10 as the locus of my own snags. But again, my slow motion approach was in itself only a microcosm of what I hoped would generalize into a smooth sailing vivace. Would it, and could it?

I’ve slowly but surely realized that there’s more to this undertaking than fast forwarding the tempo.

For assistance I You Tubed a few of the greats who had a “sweep” effect through the Left Hand. Some pedaled a bit much and did not wish to flesh out the Left Hand contour. Others allowed the bass to be heard more clearly in its rapid journey.

I’m nowhere near their tempo, but in my break down practicing, I’ve used blocking, and rhythms to smooth out measures that are particularly troublesome–always taking mental and physical note of what seems to work–a form of bio feedback that’s pivotal to the whole learning process.

Chopin Prelude in G, Op. 28 No. 3

Chopin Prelude in G, Op. 28 no. 3 page 2

Here are my two favorite performances of Op. 28, No. 3 (I like the balance struck between the hands)

POGORELICH: He not only has a well polished bass, but the melody and bass are together, impeccably phrased and balanced.

In the example below, SOKOLOV produces lovely OLD WORLD phrasing, imbuing a lovely subtle rubato in his melodic contouring. He’s using more pedal than Pogorelich but applied tastefully.

The question still remains: Can this desired tempo be reached in learning stages. Only if the player, realizes that measure to measure sweeps of notes (Left Hand) may be the way to go after breaking them down in slow framing. If there’s a threshold for each player, however, it must be accepted at least in the present, but not as a permanent state of being., Mannes College of Music,

Happy Birthday, Irina Morozova!

Irina MWhen I first discovered Irina’s collection of performances on You Tube, I surely thought heaven had descended to earth. She produced an ethereal singing tone inspired by imagination, but fine tuned with technical fluidity. Without a doubt, her repository of musical insights expanded my own piano learning journey as well as those of her students at Mannes.

Hare are two of many playing samples that drew me instantly into her divinely poetic universe:

And not to overlook Morozova’s ebullient Gershwin! (On CD!)

A resounding Happy Birthday to Irina, and best wishes for years more filled with musical celebration!

Blogs about Irina Morozova:

Pianist, Sara Davis Buechner lights up the Berkeley Piano Club with a special tribute


It was an afternoon to remember. Sara Davis Buechner graced the Berkeley Piano Club stage, and mesmerized her audience with a moving tribute to Reah Sadowksky. (1915-2012)

She generously dedicated a solo recital “to the memory of one of America’s greatest pianists,” who was her friend and inspiration. (All proceeds will benefit the Club’s Dorothy Van Waynen Scholarship Fund and the Emerging Artists Fund)


“In 2008 Buechner commenced a personal friendship with Sadowsky, the last living pupil of Alberto Jonas, which resulted in the re-issue of Jonas’ The Master School of Piano Playing and Virtuosity by Dover Publications. It had been out of print for decades. Reah Sadowsky wrote a new preface for the re-issue and her tribute plus several personal photos grace the Dover edition.”


Playing the piano works of Arensky, Stravinsky and Turina, as well as pieces by Brazilian composers Francisco Mignone and Fructuoso Vianna, from Reah Sadowsky’s repertoire, Buechner spun beautiful lines, interspersed with catchy Latin rhythmic motifs.

Her playing was lush, with a wide palette of emotions and color.

Not overlooking Mozart as the opener, Buechner produced an ethereal Adagio (Sonata in Eb, K. 282) that poured through her veins into a sound universe that resonated with impeccable beauty.

To add to her delicious serving of music, she wooed listeners with an engaging narrative about Sadowsky, interspersing reminiscences with earthy snippets of humor. These were recapitulations of Sara’s personal international adventures that wove in her friendships with composers, their families, and less than six degrees of separation relationships that are common to the insular cosmos of musicians.


Not to forget Buechner’s reference to Sadowksy’s 1947 recording (78 r.p.m.) that’s featured on You Tube as a testimony to Old World, seasoned artistry.


About Pianist, Sara Davis Buechner
She enjoys a “vibrant international performance and recording career. With an active repertoire of over 100 piano concertos ranging from Bach to Wuorinen, she has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s prominent orchestras…

“Praised on four continents as a musician of ‘intelligence, integrity, and all-encompassing technical prowess (New York Times)….she continues to receive performance accolades far and wide in the national and international media.

“Winner of a bouquet of prizes at the world’s greatest competitions, she is now a resident of Canada and Professor of Piano at the University of British Columbia School of Music.

“Profiles of Ms. Buechner have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Macleans, Paris Match, etc. Appearances on radio include profiles on NPR’s The Fishko File and Performances Today, WFMT’s Dame Myra Hess Recital Series, WNYC’s New Sounds with John Schaefer and CBC’s Westcoast Performance and Richardson’s Roundup.”

For more information about Sara Davis Buechner, visit her website:


The Berkeley Piano Club that hosted Maestra Buechner, is percolating with love for music and all the arts. Gorgeous murals give relief to an ambiance of redwood, and rustic, terraced landscapes.