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Letting my hair down with a snatch of “Let It Be!” (VIDEO)

The piano room was a mess yesterday with music strewn about. Two ’60-’70’s era Beatles albums were excavated from a pile of sheet music, hard bound theory texts, and Urtext editions of Beethoven’s sonatas.

Foraging a big carton of stuff like this was a trip down memory lane. My very old Yamaha guitar, a prized possession, was off to the side, propped against a book shelf. A 1974 model with magnificent resonance, it evoked memories of my one and only group classical guitar lesson at New York University with a South American virtuoso. On the very first day of class, he tried to teach one of the more difficult pieces in the flamenco repertoire. It was Rubira’s “Estudio,” later renamed “Spanish Romance.” (The performer in this video was not related to the instructor)

Within a few weeks, class enrollment had dwindled to three and quickly, I made it two. It reminded me of several Oberlin Senior Recitals at Kulas where one audience member was seated in the front row holding a musical score. (I recalled a New Yorker cartoon with the same theme)

The NYU guitar teacher like many other music instructors I’d encountered needed a reality check. Half the students in his class had never read a note, but they expected to play guitar “in a flash.” Generations that followed were tapping iPhones and game boys with guitar tab charts and animated keyboards. It was an espresso learning revolution!

My sixteen year old student, Allyse was an anachronism in her approach to piano study. A fledgling, she went with the program, played scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths, and studied the Baroque Masters as an entree to sampling Classical and Romantic literature. No short cuts for her.

Just the same, she drove a hard bargain, insisting the Beatles went with the territory somewhere along the time line.(Allyse had already niftily tackled Five for Fighting, “100 Years,” and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always”) She had me enslaved to these pieces, as I sifted through practical fingerings and labeled harmonic progressions. But the prep work jump started a two way roller coaster ride through the contemporary pop music landscape.

With bristling enthusiasm, I indulged Allyse’s Beatles’ request. In truth, I had a vicarious interest in reading through reams of my favorite songs besides pumping out Scarlatti sonatas on You Tube. I loved “Eight Days a Week,” “Hey Jude,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Michelle,” “Yesterday” and the tour de force, Gospel style, “Let it Be!” Ralph Cato, US Olympic Boxing coach and former student, could have put me through the paces on that one. (*”Cato, His Killer Keyboard and a Round of Piano Lessons”) No one could pound the piano the way he did.

Allyse had lobbied to study “Let it Be!” with her new found confidence flying high. Just one week into our practicing, we had divided the parts at two pianos and did some public jamming–at least a snatch.

Our musical encounter was a peak experience!

This Saturday Allyse will come back down to earth playing her Baroque Rondeau at the Music Teachers Association’s Celebration Festival. An assigned adjudicator will evaluate each student’s performance and send them off, in any case, with a handsome medallion and Certificate.

Those who earn a Superior rating will play in one of the marathon Honors recitals taking place over two days.

If Allyse is not a marathoner, she’ll still race home to practice the right hand part of “Let it Be!” We have a re-run scheduled for next week. It should be a blast!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/teens-popular-music-then-and-now-taylor-swift-throw-in-five-for-fighting-100-years/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/teaching-piano-to-teenagers-classical-pop-taylor-swift-liz-on-top-of-the-world-and-more-videos/

* https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/cato-his-killer-keyboard-and-a-round-of-piano-lessons/

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Teaching Piano to Teenagers: Classical, Pop, Taylor Swift, Liz on Top of the World and more (Videos)

There’s always room for flexibility in choice of repertoire, especially when teaching teenagers. Alex, 18, had taken lessons during primary school, took a long break and returned to the piano as a senior in high school. His first request was to study “Liz on Top of the World,” by Dario Marianelli from the movie, “Pride and Prejudice.” I felt it was a bit above his head, but I realized it could be a terrific practicing motivator. Alex and I struck a deal. He promised to work on a Classical sonatina (Latour, in C Major), the “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach” and a regimen of scales and arpeggios going around the Circle of Fifths as the mainstay of his piano study. “Liz” would be his dessert piece. The plan worked.

Alex took the camera spotlight as he practiced “Liz on Top of the World” in a methodical way, chunking or grouping notes together in the first section using separate hands. He continued by playing the next part, a soaringly beautiful melodic section with his right hand only as I provided the bass.

The melody played out in such a way that chunking two notes at a time was helpful. (The student learned interval relationships through this approach: clumping harmonic 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths) The bass line in this second section is an ostinato, or repeated, pattern that is easily assimilated. It’s a sequence of redundant broken chords that creates a rolling effect.

Related:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/alex-breaks-the-choke-hold-on-his-scales-on-you-tube/

Allyse, 16, who is Alex’s sister, also returned to the piano after a long hiatus. A junior in high school, she had requested to play “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always.” To balance out her repertoire, she had agreed to work on Menuet en Rondeau by Rameau and simultaneously practice scales/arpeggios in all Major and minor keys.

Here’s a snatch from a lesson with Allyse. This was the dessert following the main menu of classics.

Related:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/teens-popular-music-then-and-now-taylor-swift-throw-in-five-for-fighting-100-years/

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Teens, popular music then and now, Taylor Swift, throw in Five for Fighting “100 Years”

Today was by no means a first for me, a long-haired musician raised on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms teaching a teen some pop tunes by John Ondrasik and Taylor Swift while I sailed through the universe of “Liz on Top of the World” with another student. Videotaping portions of piano lessons was the natural result of these explorations. If nothing else, it 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 was in the throes of 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 the initiation rite of 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.

Flash forward: Today, Allyse, a 16 year old high school junior at Clovis North, practiced “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always” in a slow and steady tempo at my home studio.

She had brought both these favorite pieces to me a few months ago, desperately wanting to learn them. Her older brother, Alex, likewise dropped off “Liz On Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice which I had to finger and practice in short order.

Both of these endearing piano students were members of the NOW generation, separated from me by decades. Yet despite our age difference, we were on the same page, practicing music that had meaning and evoked emotion. That’s what brought us together.

Roll the video!