great pianists, great pianists speak, piano, piano blog

“Great pianists speak about imagination and the singing approach”

I’m grateful to Pianist/Teacher Emma Leiuman for posting this recorded ensemble of inspired voices.

Leon Fleisher, Daniel Barenboim, Gyorgy Sebok and Arthur Rubinstein share an approach to music-making that is devoid of mechanics, didactics, and methodology. They speak about a cosmos of internally imagined tonal images, emotions, colors, and orchestration that spring from the keyboard’s vast repository.

For Sebok, contouring of lines with shapes, swells, nuances, have a group dynamic that reflects in freedom of the arms, hands and wrists, as opposed to restricted finger-centered activity. (The pianist’s influence on my own teaching cannot be overemphasized as my students constantly hear me rhapsodizing about playing well beyond the fingers.) Too often pupils think of “hitting” the right notes as being the centerpiece of learning, without allowing the breathing space to hear before they play (Fleisher), to take the time to practice silently with a sense of inner calm and contemplation.

***

In the late 1960’s, I was privileged to attend one of Sebok’s Masterclasses at the Oberlin Conservatoy, where his fluidly expressive relationship to the piano drew on the imagination as well as upon the physical resources that freed the arms, wrists and hands of tension. Each stroke of the keys had a follow-through as if he was mesmerized by the very rainbow he envisioned in the video collage. It was an illusive reference, but nonetheless an important ingredient of poetic expression wedded to the singing tone.

Sebok’s philosophy and demonstrations were most memorable as he sat beside a student who was trapped in a self-made, note-perfect, finger-generated speed zone, only to be enlightened by the maestro, who effortlessly breathed out a set of phrases, with groupings that flowed through his hands in a sculpted manner. He then modeled how one can enter a note with a delay, giving the illusion of the very glissando that pianists believe is out of their reach.

I often use the violin or the human voice as an analogous to playing beautiful phrases at the piano.

With a bow, one can apply pressure to the string or lighten it to vary dynamics and phrasing. And with vibrato, one can intensify a note or notes. A string player can control the speed of the bow which can be physically observed. (Pianists can think about the violin when phrasing– bowing with their right hand, applying various weight transfer into the keys, even thinking about vibrato in an abstract way. There are cello sections in Bach’s Keyboard Prelude in F minor, BWV 881, for instance, that evoke deeply drawn “bowed slurs” in two, that if consciously explored in the BASS, can expand the depths of interpretation.

In the vocal universe, singers control their breathing and infuse notes with increased or less air flow, and though their internal apparatus is not visible to the listener, they nonetheless display organic/biological, respiration dependent resources that we can more readily appreciate than that which pertains to a pianist who’s often short shifted as deprived of a “real connection” to his instrument. (It’s based on the distance of the player from from the strings, and how hammers must be activated by finger-generated efforts) But pianists must be eternal SINGERS and not be dismissed as technique bound, keyboard wizards.

In this regard, I watched a Masterclass with a celebrated trumpet player who winced when looking over at the accompanist (collaborator), saying that pianists don’t have the ability to express what brass and woodwind players can via their instruments. (Naturally, I didn’t hesitate to email the Masterclass Foundation CEO about my disagreement and offense, after which I received a note of apology)

Pianists are full-breathing, expressive musicians when they become aware of their potential to Hear before they Play; to appreciate the “illusions” that are embedded in a beautiful performance, and to cultivate their imaginations allied to physical movement, shapes, forms that are born of supple, relaxed, uninterrupted fluid motions whether in Legato, staccato, or combined, articulations, etc. But like all musicians, they have to explore their inner consciousness and rise above the mechanics of their instrument, imbuing a “singing” model in their playing, even when detractors insist otherwise. (I refer readers to my blog posting on Emanuel Ax’s view of playing ONE note and whether a pianist can vary it through various physical approaches.)

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/does-approaching-notes-in-different-ways-at-the-piano-affect-tone-production/

***

Finally, as a coda to the inspired words of the masters as expressed in this posting’s opener, I add this personal favorite:

P.S. Reprised gratitude to Emma Leiuman for posting the you tube video of Great Pianists’ musings.

LINK:

Emma Leiuman: The Art of Piano Technique

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9Ti4ThCKJj4-oQMALH3KOw

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Why Play Scales?

Scale practicing examples:

***
The Backdrop:

As a young piano student living in New York City, I remember my reluctance to prepare a mandatory scale each week for my lesson. In fact my first teacher had so many students, she always seemed to forget the scale she had assigned to me, so I remained happily in the key of C for most of the year. (Played on all white keys) Little did I know that C Major was a lot more challenging to practice than the keys of B, F# and C# Major that had nice, regular patterns of double and triple black notes that fit the longer fingers perfectly, with the thumbs meeting in between.

Frederic Chopin was known to teach these three black-key scales before all others. Think about how much easier it would have been for a sightless person to play these step-wise passages with braille-like elevated black notes in regular patterns, as opposed to a sea of white notes without reference points.

Now that I’ve grown up to be a piano teacher and you tube poster, I realize the importance of scale study in the growth and development of musicianship.

Scales are about the “feel” and geography of the keyboard. They are about shaping, phrasing, sculpting. Sometimes they’re practiced with catchy rhythms, crisp and detached (staccato) or as smooth and connected, freely spun out, rolling triplets. You can even reverse the direction of the fingers when practicing scales, having them lightheartedly dance together and apart, in shades of loud, soft, and in between. And you might bring out one voice over another, by drawing more intensity from the left hand, then reversing the process, giving the right hand its place in the sun.

Most importantly, scales help us understand where we are in a piece of music because they define the TONAL CENTER of a composition or a section of it.

I wish I had known about the famous Circle of Fifths when I was beginning my piano studies. The Circle maps out the progression of scales (Major and minor) in an orderly fashion with sharps acquired going clockwise, and flats in reverse. As a student moves from the Key of C, to G, to D, to A, etc. he/she learns not only the new sharp that is picked up in the clockwise journey but comes face to face with fingering adjustments that make the smooth playing of various scales more attainable.

Scales, in summary, are part and parcel of piano study and they feed in and out of the piano repertoire. What could be a better entree to the pieces we most cherish than to find the key they’re in, and dance through a few preliminaries.

Example of a Classical era Sonata by Mozart (first movement) permeated by a series of scales.

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Performance Anxiety and the Pianist

For too long performance anxiety was a taboo subject, always swept under the rug.

I remember grappling with paralyzing jitters during my years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. My piano teacher at the time, a seasoned professional, would always say the same thing:

“Honey, the music is bigger than you or me.”

Of course it made me otherwise feel like an Egomaniac.

Her altruistic mantra never worked beyond the opening measure of a piece. I would fall apart quite instantly, and hardly remember if I had ever played a composition before an audience of anyone other than myself.

In a previous blog, I referred to going cold, like an ice cube when I was invited to play on “Music in the Schools,” a WNYC F.M. program that showcased talented youth in the city.

It was Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311 that was for all intents and purposes on automatic pilot without a real “live” pilot at the controls. The final cadence was a crash landing with emotional consequence. I was miserable for weeks and months following the disaster and I never again wanted to play in front of a microphone!

REDUX: My teacher would say with even greater urgency, “The music is bigger than you or me.”

The problem with engulfing nerves, is that unless there’s a break in the cycle, it can perpetuate itself. You can go from one performance to another saddled with the same crisis with no end in sight.

And don’t believe the instruction: Learn your notes inside and out and all will be well.
Preparation is a given, but not God given when you need a life preserver in the middle of a piece.

I remember a nightmarish situation that played out at the Oberlin Conservatory when I was a student majoring in Piano, Performance. A very gifted young woman was publicly auditioning the Schumann “A” Minor Piano Concerto, when suddenly she had a massive memory lapse smack in the middle of the first movement. One phrase trapped her and she couldn’t get out of it. The same few measures were repeated 15 times to no avail which kept her from advancing to the final cadence. (I wondered if she would be signaled to go offstage, as happened recently to a participant in the Chopin International Piano Competition) I resisted jumping on stage with the music so the afflicted young Oberlin pianist could make it safely back to her dorm before nightfall.

As it happened, the player finally found her away out of the snag, and managed to play the next two movements impeccably well. She wasn’t chosen among the finalists but the following year she came back and won! Now that’s a story of fortitude and courage that should teach us all a lesson about not giving up.

I might add right here, that my own piano teacher had a significant memory lapse at her well publicized concert at the 92nd Street Y, so I began to make the connection between her son’s life’s work as a psychiatrist and her possible difficulty performing onstage. (though I’m not certain whether her memory lapse was self limiting or a symptom of a greater problem)

There’s hope!

To give others a twinge optimism about finding a cure for their paralyzing nerves, I will explain what I did, that not only helped me, but had been passed down to my students over the years.

1) Hypnosis: I became a confirmed Believer.

I had the courage to visit a hypno-therapist about 20 years ago who began by asking me about the piano; challenges to playing in public; what were my worst fears when performing or anticipating a performance (and inevitably these were related to fear of failure and its consequences, loss of love, loss of identity, etc.)

At that point, I reminded myself that my piano teacher’s son, Dr. David Freundlich, had published papers on Performance Anxiety that focused on masturbatory fantasies. I recall reading his Journal writings from the 1960’s that tied asphyxiating nerves on stage to fear of auto-erotic activity exposure. So if a player was crippled by anxiety, it was because playing piano was a self-gratifying, libidinal process best kept in a dark closet and not exhibited in public.

Well and good, for a beginning construct, but who could afford to lay on a psychiatrist’s couch and mull over the first five years of life, honing in on the psycho-sexual stage as a key to unraveling a Neurosis. It might take decades!

As reference, the late David Freundlich’s paper on the subject of “performance anxiety and musicians, American Journal of Psychiatry. 148:598-605. …. Freundlich, D. (1968) Narcissism and exhibitionism in the performance of classical …
http://www.analyticpractice.co.uk/…/Useful%20Reading%20on%20Performance.pdf”

For me, talking to my hypnotist who had her Certification posted up on the wall, was a more practical and direct approach to my problem.

With the information gathered from me at the first session, she put together an audiotape. And as I lay on the couch, not facing her, she soothingly repeated mantras that were more useful than “music was bigger than me.”

It was more like, “Imagine slowly descending a staircase to a beautiful room that looks out on a magnificent garden, with flowers of all varieties..” She led me to the garden where I contemplated nature and its bounty. I became more relaxed. She reminded me to breathe easily and deeply. She kept coming back to the breath. After 30 or more minutes, I was breathing without anxiety. She then placed me beside my piano which I “loved as a faithful friend.” The elegant, stately grand was not a threat, or something to avoid. She kept revisiting the garden, the relaxed contemplation and meditation. The tie-ins were natural, not contrived.

After 45 minutes, I was in a deep trance, needing to be brought back up the staircase by my hypnotist.

At the very end of the session, before I was in a completely conscious state, she transported me back stage as a rehearsal for my upcoming performance. (Incidentally, my own piano would be shipped to the location so that’s why she referred to it)

I was at the same time in the midst of the lush garden, very relaxed and at peace with myself. The people in the audience would “share” my music with me. They were “not judging” me or otherwise waiting for me to fail.

She planted many of these ideas as I was in my subliminal state, and it helped me on the day of my concert.

***

I can say with certainty that my performance following many re-playings of this audio-taped session was 90% improved over those I had ever previously given.

And in the course of 6 months, I continued my sessions with the hypnotist and acquired a sizable collection of cassettes.

Going Beyond Hypnosis

2) What I previously discussed would fall under Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis strategies in dealing with performance jitters. After all, what I took from the hypnotist was the ability to go home, listen to the audiotapes and then make my own recordings with variations on the same theme.

But in the course of the 20 years since I visited this wise woman, I went further in exploring additional ways to handle performance anxiety. And these, again were allied to the breath and to Yoga in its many forms.

In the present, I advocate a healthy regimen of exercise, at the gym or otherwise. Yoga, again is a wonderful activity.

I tell my students to “breathe” through their playing.. through their scales, especially at the turnaround (the very end of the passage and the very beginning) And I use words like “roll in” into a scale or passage. “Play into the silence.”

I tell them to use MENTAL IMAGERY, and that again, is tied to self-hypnotic routines.

Elite athletes use mental imagery as a matter of course. Just imagine what floats through a diver’s mind as he prepares for an impossibly difficult maneuver— same for
gymnasts, skaters, runners, et al.

Pianists are part athletes, mastering great feats of coordination while simultaneously being artistic interpreters. They have a double challenge.

The mind/body connection applies, as always.

Examples of mental imagery for a pianist:

Playing staccato: Think of the piano as a playground, and in that association, you are a child. Use words “like bouncing a ball,” or for light staccato, imagine “ping pong balls.”

Piano can be child’s play.

For legato, “float, relax, play more effortlessly, don’t squeeze, or hold on.”

These prompts often relax the students, at least during their lessons.

For a more long lasting effect in dealing with upcoming piano recitals, I copy specific quotes from Just Being at the Piano, by Mildred Portney Chase, that I extract as mantras:

“To be a pianist, is to think that a daddy long legs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music…it is to feel that one phrase loves another….it is to think that the tree is a teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing.”

Important chapters: “Body Awareness and Movement,” “Tone,” “Listening,” “Slow Practice,” and “Performance.”

My other favorite book is The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.

Treasured quotes:
“Listen to how D.T. Suzuki, the renowned Zen master, describes the effects of the ego mind on archery” (a metaphor for just about any endeavor, piano playing included)

“As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.” DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? Too many of my students talk about “losing concentration,” with tangential thoughts creeping in. Much of the time, they refer to a little voice telling them things are going too well and a “mistake” is about to happen, and as soon as the thought enters their mind, guess what happens?

“Calculation, which is miscalculation sets in……”

“Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinking. ‘Childlikeness’ has to be restored with long years of training in self-forgetfulness.”

Gallwey continues:

“Perhaps this is why it is said that great poetry is born in silence. Great music and art are said to arise from the quiet depths of the unconscious…”

I agree.

Performance anxiety doesn’t have to be crippling but it takes patience and a grain of optimism to move forward to a better place. Start where you are and go further, one baby step at a time.

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/a-breathtaking-music-camp-finale/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/music-comes-from-the-heart/

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More piano teaching favorites: Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, op. 100

Burgmuller, a German composer living in France during the Romantic era composed these delightful programmatic pieces in order of “progressive” difficulty; I’ve chosen 3 favorites to showcase: “Arabesque,” “La Chasse” (The Chase) and “L’Harmonie des Anges” (Harmony of the Angels)

Arabesque (“beautiful decoration”) is a sprightly, fast paced miniature in “A” minor, that basically utilizes an open hand position. There is just one shift of the thumb under other fingers, in the “A” section. The challenge is to observe punctuated accents and learn to shift the 16th notes from right hand to left hand with as much facility as possible. The piece whizzes by so fast that it’s easy to forget the precise phrasing, articulation of notes, etc. The best approach is always exaggerated slow practicing with attention to detail until the student is able to pace himself at a faster tempo and not lose sight of Burgmuller’s phrase marks, dynamics, accents, etc.

The Chase: This is a hunting song in C Major, with a punctuated chordal Introduction followed by three distinct sections. The “A” section is tricky to master, because the composer has triplet staccato figures over legato, dotted quarter length chord progressions that emulate the hunting horn motif. (harmonic sixth, fifth, third) Hands should be separated in slow motion before playing “up to tempo” is undertaken.

The “B” section is in G Major (the Dominant key) and is less technically challenging as compared to part “A” Once again, slow and steady practicing always helps in the overall learning process.

The “A” section then returns before a distinctly contrasting “C” section begins.
This is a beautifully spun out part of the compositions, with broken chords in the left hand over a gorgeous lyrical minor (sad) melody in the right hand. This is a good opportunity to block the left hand chords alone as a preliminary, and then play the melody over these chords, before the chords are broken as written.

Finally the “A” section returns again with an added Coda concluding the piece.

“Harmony of the Angels” strikes a real contrast to the preceding two pieces from Burgmuller’s collection. It is totally spun out broken chords crossing from hand to hand, and should be seamlessly played if at all possible. A supple wrist, and rotating hands will assist in the communication of a limpidly flowing melodic line.

What a simply heavenly composition this is, and a nice one to conclude with.

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DREAM PIANO: Overview and Acknowledgments

My two-year long romp on the piano finding trail with York as my professional companion and consultant had been worth all the time spent in, around and under pianos. How else would I have acquired knowledge about the piano’s harp, or cast iron plate were it not for his having the bravado to dismantle it from the Proskch 1905 grand and haul it out to the College of the Sequoia’s welding department. In the face of technicians and others who mocked him for his efforts, he persevered; soda blasted the ugly looking frame and dragged it home for a second wind. Rebecca McGregor, a victim of her impulsive sight unseen Internet piano purchase and an unprincipled seller, had written me a thought provoking e-mail after she had hovered over the plate on full view in York’s driveway. It was a funereal scene.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/funeral-for-a-cracked-plate-piano-caveat-emptor/

She wrote, “I actually learned something at York’s, and I think you captured the essence of our meeting and the somber mood. Were we paying for his having tried to mend the plate, I would have stopped him, but with York’s willingness to take it on without payment, we’d have been fools not to let him proceed.” (This was before the plate cracked in two other places as York hauled it to his pick-up truck)

Rebecca had linked hands with Terry Barrett and York’s wife in a prayer vigil over the plate and then helped to flip it on its back to survey its underbelly.

The underside of inanimate things always sparked York’s curiosity and it invariably sent him nose diving under pianos to investigate anything from mice, moths and moisture to the storage of $$$ assets in the crannies of a Kawai.

To my educational advantage, he found it necessary to drag me along on his adventures to prove without a doubt that he had the lowdown on each and very piano he tuned, moth proofed and treated for rats.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/me-york-and-our-great-piano-adventure/

And I can personally attest that his tattered, age worn diaries were evidence of his meticulous record keeping since 1948. These should someday be enshrined in the Smithsonian or at least in the PTG (Piano Technician’s Guild) Hall of Fame.

While Terry Barrett, RPT (Registered Piano Technician) argued that bridle straps had no importance in the assembly of uprights, and moths were basically harmless to pianos because they would die eating cyanide based hammer felts, York produced incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. He marched valiantly on his truth finding crusade and produced a Kimball made “Whitney” spinet without bridle straps that had a basic action defect, and he plucked a hammer from his pick-up truck that had the most perfect, moth drilled hole I had ever seen! Such was Mother Nature at work.

As an unofficial “apprentice” to the city’s senior piano tuner, I had acquired trade secrets that no piano technology school or correspondence course would ever impart. Would most “registered technicians” anywhere in the universe know to battle moths with a bottle of cloves? York was always far ahead of his time banishing moth balls from his tool box. “They cause cancer,” he said repeatedly when we stumbled upon pianos that were victims of merciless moth attacks. While I hadn’t yet seen examples of chewed up bridle straps from nest seeking rats, York had promised to phone me immediately if he had a scheduled DECON call at a church or elsewhere.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/samick-york-tofujie-and-me-on-the-piano-chasing-trail/

The master tuner without his formal “registration” in the Piano Technician’s Guild showed those who had somehow obtained it that he deserved at least the honorary title because of his decades long association with pianos. Thankfully, the local Fresno chapter honored York by giving him a podium to demonstrate piano restringing, and when he turned up at monthly PTG meetings as a devoted “associate member,” his colleagues always greeted him with a hearty slap on the back.

On the day I had shown up to interview “Laroy Edwards” retired Yamaha senior piano technician, and emissary for the company all over the world, York made his presence known by telling his full length account about the cat that had been trapped under a grand piano lid and miraculously, emerged alive and well, though hairless. York fleshed out, colorful new details each time he spun a piano related tale, though he sometimes forgot that he’d told the story one too many times.

Besides being York’s companion through our two year-long piano adventure, my having compiled these stories was a natural outcome of all the trips made to many homes containing used pianos of an infinite variety–some sold in estate sales and auctions.


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/the-great-piano-auction/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/used-pianos-estate-sales-and-mr-york-the-tuner/

And in the course of this learning driven journey, I had hoped that readers would willingly share their own piano memorabilia since a keyboard culture may be dying on the vine if not preserved.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/is-the-piano-a-dying-breed/

The old upright stories should be written down and treasured. The genealogy of older pianos should be a relentless source of research. Piano owners should learn how to discover the age of their pianos by seeking out the serial numbers on the cast iron plate, and by consulting the Pierce Piano Atlas or the Bluebook of Pianos.com. While it’s common for piano owners to throw up their hands and say,”I know virtually nothing about my piano,” it’s time for a new attitude to replace the old. Even “Alice” was exhilarated to know more about her “player piano without a name” when I enlisted her in the fact finding adventure. While the piano had been virtually un-played for 4 years since its purchase from an antique store for $125, she quickly became my “Dr. Watson” beaming a flash light on its cast iron plate; screaming in delight when she discovered the digits that might help date it. In the case of her particular piano, supplementary information acquired from Robert Furst’s Bluebook of Pianos.com led to its more conclusive identity.

Sharing a systemic approach to the whole research undertaking with Alice, I was able to enlist a new partisan in the preservation of old pianos. In fact, she became very reluctant to part with her stately upright once I had breathed life into it as a performing pianist. But at long last, it finally found a worthy owner who had promised to take good care of it and give it a new home.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/a-player-piano-without-a-name/

Another piano, a table style Aeolian with three leaves underwent an equally intense identity crisis as its true birth date was pursued. I couldn’t thank Mr. York enough for his A-1 guesstimate and Terry Barrett for pulling the piano’s action and stumbling upon a note with the date “APR 1936” engraved in the wood. What a miraculous discovery!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/a-table-style-piano-with-three-leaves-the-whole-story-in-lurid-detail/

DREAM PIANO had been all about the exciting adventure of pursuing and finding pianos, primarily in the private party, used piano market and how these travels of mine had changed the hearts and minds of the many piano owners that I’d encountered. Just making a routine house call to check on a piano up for sale, I’d invited myself into the lives of so my people who possessed the kindness and generosity to share their piano stories. “Ralph Cato,” whom I’d met at the Guitar Center looking for a keyboard to give his daughter for Christmas shared a heart rending story about his first piano and how he stole into the night to pick the lock and play it. Even a US Olympic Team boxing trainer with the exterior of a lion, softened up to share a tender memoir.

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

“Caroline Scheer” opened her heart to me and finally imparted the reason she wanted to sell her beloved Knight piano. This had been a mystery all along, but when the truth spilled out one day during a taped phone interview, all the puzzle pieces fit together. I had learned that her father never kept his promise to buy her a grand piano, like the one she had seen at Delaware University, if she obtained all “A’s” on her report card. How many others would want a grand size piano in their home just because they had been deprived of one early in life.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/the-little-knightingale/

In my travels, I had learned that pianos had a wide variety of meanings for different owners. For some, they were not musical instruments at all, but beautiful pieces of furniture to behold. But that might have been because the buyer or seller didn’t know where to begin in assessing the value of something that at one time had a playing life. And from the countless visits I’d made to homes with old pianos, just by playing them, they acquired a new value and meaning for their owners. Maybe there was an important message to heed. Why not bring a performing musician and piano technician to an establishment or home that housed a piano for sale. Why rely on a visual assessment of something that was meant to elicit tones, harmonics, and chords of beauty?

Perhaps the late Anne Meux, whose esteemed Fresno family had been memorialized in a landmark home preservation, experienced an awakening when her pianos came to life the afternoon I had played them. Prior to my impromptu visit, these musical treasures might well have been regarded as decorative furnishings, appreciated only for their external beauty.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/anne-meux-her-pianos-and-my-visit/

Pianos I’d encountered that were pretty but without musical value:

So many piano owners found themselves with antiques of the square or parlor grand variety that were quite ornate looking but could not play worth a dime. And when it was time to sell them, they confronted the hard reality that as play-less instruments and artifacts of the past, that no one wanted them in the present or future. So what was purchased for $5,000 some years back would sell for $200 or less in the private party marketplace. Some of these age worn and ill maintained pianos might have had to be donated out to a favorite charity. As Terry Barrett poignantly said, “An antique piano was just a different animal.”

“Sam” Torcaso, owner of Chesterfield’s in Fresno, brought it home that the older uprights were just not selling and the whole marketplace of antique pianos was abysmal. She pointed to the bleak housing situation with foreclosures abounding and the dearth of interior decorators that would be consulted to design the insides of newly acquired homes as reflecting part of the problem. But despite her registered cynicism about the universe of antique pianos, she had always known to advise her customers to bring in a technician before they made any kind of “all sales final,” piano purchase at her establishment. This recommendation showed her respect and concern for those who would buy a piano from Chesterfields and then pass it to their children to learn on.

***
More stories from Dream Piano:

FUJIE had the patience to await the arrival of her dream Kawai K 15 studio upright model piano housed at California Piano,


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/fujie-finds-her-dream-piano-but-buyer-beware/

and “Sharon Cooper” allowed me to include our clandestine tryst in the seedy parking lot beside Ag Hardware where a cash drop was made for a dream piano.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/a-high-stakes-piano-finding-adventure-or-was-it-a-sopranos-tv-episode/

Not to forget Dan Bates, who stole off and bought a Petrof piano, while in the grip of his obsession over the Steinway 1968. May the best piano win!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/a-battle-of-two-steinways-a-yamaha-and-a-spoiler-petrof/

And who could forget the Dream Piano I fought for and won, a French Provincial Baldwin Artist Grand.
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/fighting-for-a-dream-piano-hopefully-it-should-not-come-to-this/

On the last lap of my journey, I also stumbled upon “Victor Thasia” who was the first person I had ever met who changed his mind about selling his piano, and was ready to love and cherish it forever. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/5007/

And what an opportunity came my way to record on a Dream Piano compliments of the Visalia Piano Gallery:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/recording-on-a-sleeper-dream-piano/</a

To “Patricia Frederick,” of the Fredericks collection in Ashburnham, Mass., and Thomas Winter, early piano restorer, San Francisco, my sincere appreciation to you for having provided scholarly words of wisdom about period pianos. What a rare opportunity came my way to play a 19th Century Dream Piano that turned up at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-fritz-of-vienna-chopin-reincarnated/

And another period piece that was beautiful on the outside but proved to be a pathetic tonal disaster!


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-ghost-of-fritz-was-i-dreaming/

Concluding Bonus Chapter:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/dos-and-donts-for-piano-buyers-and-sellers-dream-pianos-last-chapter/

Extra: York’s World War II Musical Memoir
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/yorks-wwii-story-in-writing-and-on-video/

More People to Thank:

Terry Barrett, RPT, Fresno gave countless hours detailing pianos for me and helped me write about them from a more technical perspective. While he sometimes disagreed with York about the significance of moth damage and the value bridle straps, he contributed loads of piano related information that enhanced my stories and also assisted sellers in learning more about their pianos.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge all those piano students who gave me my first opportunity to help them find their first real, 88 note, playing pianos. “Michelle” now happily practices on a lovely Baldwin, 1970’s console that had its first tuning, and tweaking by YORK, and my youngest pupil, “Claudia” enjoys her resonating Yamaha studio upright 1992 that I found in the former, Old Hilton Hotel in Fresno where a salvaging company was selling it. I remember how I had managed to get there just at the right time before word got out that two practically new pianos were accumulating dust in a second floor banquet room. Oddly, the Yamaha sat for too long after it was purchased and couldn’t get down the elevator to the ground floor until inspections were made and certification papers filed with the County. In the end, when the piano descended to the first floor level for transport, it was shipped gratis to the base of steps leading to the new owner’s second floor apartment. That’s when a challenge arose! “Elaine,” Claudia’s mother could either pay a whopping $400 to move the piano up two flights of stairs or enlist the help of able bodied neighbors. I wish I could have been there to see how they managed to turn the corner on the landings and push the 700 plus pound piano into the apartment. It must have been quite a sight to behold!

Some piano owners had been luckier than others in moving their pianos. York had told me that the Salvaging company owner, who sold Elaine the Yamaha, tipped over a Kawai piano while he was steering it into another banquet room. “The whole thing just came crashin’ down all at once,” he said. I had dispatched him to give the Yamaha a once over appraisal before it was purchased, and according to YORK, “it passed with flyin’ colors.” While he was at the hotel, he happened to look at the action assembly of the neighboring Kawai console and discovered that the hammers were over-sized and not fitting right. York always knew his stuff when it came to pianos and their interiors. He was also an ace evaluator of piano finishes and could rub the tips of his thickly padded fingers against the grain and ascertain what percentage was veneer.

The old man had done just about everything where it came to pianos. He tuned, repaired, refinished, and moved them. He was quite the master of all trades and he allowed me a share of his knowledge under careful supervision!

Finally, thank you to those who might not have gotten into the pages of this book but who added to my knowledge about pianos of all shapes, sizes, and vintage. I am beholden to “Martin Sigley,” a brilliant player piano restorer who loves what he does like a poet who crafts every word as a jewel. I was so impressed by his little shop that housed an old Behr Player and an “Angelus Orchestral,” and how intensely he worked. The world should regard him as a heaven sent angel. In a universe that values big cars, and expansive, designer homes, there is sadly little room to think about old world type restorers who will someday vanish without the appreciation they deserved in life.

In conclusion, a warm and grateful hug for my 96 year old mother, Jessie Taft Smith who sat relentlessly on the phone in the wee hours of the morning and listened to each Dream Piano chapter as it unfolded and voiced hard fought criticism that drove some periodic changes in my writing. I couldn’t have done it without her.

PS Additional acknowledgments: Peter Wolf, recording engineer, Wolf Sound, Fresno, CA
Bill Sayre, owner, Fasttraxx recording studio, Fresno, CA Heyner Oviedo, Fresno Piano,
The late Anne Meux, Fresno, CA

Aimi Kobayashi, Brahms, Elaine Comparone, Glenn Gould, great pianists, Johannes Brahms, keyboard technique, Liszt, Murray Perahia, music history, Myra Hess, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, pianist, piano, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, scales, Scarlatti, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Steinway and Sons, Steinway console, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, video performances, Vladimir Horowitz, word press, wordpress.com, Yamaha piano, you tube, you tube video

My Favorite Video Performances of Beloved Pianists: Do you have some to share? (UPDATED)

Update: Approaching still another New Year, I will add more favorite performances by pianists to the group: These inspiring players include Irina Morozova, Cyprien Katsaris, and Georgy Cziffra plus Yeol Eum Son playing Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.”

******

Since it’s the New Year, here are some of my picks, though I’m a bit of throwback to the old days, when modern technology had not yet invaded the recording studio. There are few reel to reel interspersed performances, and one special concert appearance that dates to the World War II era, when pianist, Dame Myra Hess played the Mozart concerto in G Major, K. 453 in London’s National Gallery,  joined  by the Royal Air Force orchestra. Let’s start with this one, and move forward in time. (with zigzagging here and there)

This concerto has special meaning for me since it was the very first one I studied, and was fortunate to have performed at the annual winter Concerto Concert of the HS of Performing Arts Orchestra. Though my heart was set on playing the Beethoven Bb Concerto, Murray Perahia and Robert DeGaetano earned the honors, and rightfully so.

Speaking of Murray Perahia, I can say with certainty, that those who took classes beside him at “P.A.” (Performing Arts High) were indelibly influenced by his artistry, up front and personal. Here is one of my favorite performances of his, that is a bit scratchy, but resonates with Perahia’s singing tone, vibrant energy and shimmering passage work.  For Mozart Concertos, I would recommend his CDs of ALL 27!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnMKeShFOd0

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And don’t forget the  middle (slow) movement of this concerto that was adapted as the movie theme for “Elvira Madigan.” Who says the MAJOR key can’t be soulful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7335XDZQP0

Embed code is unavailable.

Let’s back track a bit. Watch Glenn Gould practicing Bach at home on his old Chickering grand (not the beloved Steinway written about in Katie Hafner’s book) Excuse his singing, but it does give life to the pianist’s phrasing.

Lang Lang plays Liszt’s “Liebestraume” at his Carnegie Hall debut recital.

Krystian Zimerman performs the Schubert Impromptu No. 3 in Gb Major Op. 90 in a lovely parlor setting.

Vladimir Horowitz plays the Chopin “Black Key” Etude, Op. 10, No. 5. While the video and audio clarity is not perfect,  this performance has historical value. Horowitz was interviewed in his Manhattan apartment in the presence of his wife Wanda, who is the daughter of the famed maestro, Arturo Toscanini. The impromptu playing of the “Black Key” Etude is worth a listen, minus all the recording studio edits, splices, etc.

And in the present, my favorite young pianist who reminds me of a   young Richter or Gilels, whose concerts I attended at Carnegie Hall.

In this appearance at the 2010 Chopin International Piano Competition in Poland, Evgeni Bozhanov from Bulgaria plays the Chopin Waltz in Ab Major, Op. 42

Notice the Yamaha piano that Bozhanov selected over a Steinway and Fazioli. Interesting story going back to the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition in Texas: Bozhanov was not pleased with the Steinway grand sent to his host family, so he chose to practice on a Yamaha Clavinova. (digital piano) I thought it was charming to see him perched at the Clavy rehearsing some of the warhorse concertos, minus the orchestra, of course.

Aimi Kobayashi (age 14).. not just a child prodigy, but a fully developed young artist who communicates music from the heart with an abundance of technique to spare. Here’s the Chopin Etude no. 4 in C# minor.

Excuse this departure, but I must include one particular, resonating harpsichord performance.

The artistry of Elaine Comparone is displayed in this performance of the Scarlatti Sonata in D minor, K. 517:

And to come full circle, looking back over a panorama of wonderful pianists and their performances, here’s a sample of Dame Myra Hess’s artistry, reel to reel, playing Brahms selections.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX9TgQUclfg (Looks like the account was closed down)

Once again, who says that the MAJOR key cannot be beautifully soulful and melancholy.  (Brahms Intermezzo in C Major)

Please share your own preferences and choices. I look forward to seeing/hearing your selected artists and their videos.

Apple iPhone, authorsden, Bay area, California, children's music, Children's pieces, Classical era, classical music, Classical sonatina, Clowns by Kabalevsky, counterpoint, Creative Fresno, diminished 7th arpeggios, diminished 7th chords, diminished chords, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Faber Primer Piano Adventures, Fig Garden Village, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fresno, Fresno California, great pianists, humor, Internet, iPhone, Kabalevsky, Kabalevsky Op. 39 Children's pieces, keyboard technique, Latour, Lillian Freundlich, MTAC, music, music and heart, music teachers association of california, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, musicology, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano lesson, piano maintenance, piano pedagogy, piano scales, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano tutorial, piano warm-ups, Piano World, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, scales, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sonatina, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, talkclassical.com, technique, uk-piano-forums, video performances, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

A Day in El Cerrito and my return to Fresno

An awesome view from my piano studio in the East Bay

At 6:50 a.m. Monday morning, I climbed aboard Amtrak 711, destination Richmond, on the way to my El Cerrito piano studio in the East Bay.

The weekly trip north was a welcome breather from the tedium of Fresno’s blazing hot sun, 90  degree plus temps into the fall season, and an insalubrious haze over the city.

The good news was that once comfortably seated on the train, I completely forgot the Central Valley and looked forward to a ride with my two traveling buddies, Jim and Jose.

Jim, nearing 60, had a cherubic face and an impish smile. A repository of information, he was a web consultant for a well known, top of the line retailer. Often, during the course of our trip, he excused himself for a couple of minutes to complete a status report, or to reply to his boss via instant message. A hearty fellow with an engineering background and flair for technology, he came equipped with an iPhone and a state of the art Toshiba lap top.

If you asked Jim any technical or scientific question, he was an amazing compendium of information, like a traveling Wikipedia.

One time, Jose asked Jim about microwave cooking and if the rays negatively affected a food’s nutritional value, to which Jim gave him a symposium on ionizing radiation and various levels from safe to unsafe, etc. It was equal to a Physics lecture given at an ivy league college.

Jim also liked to banter about the economy. He dispensed his meticulously detailed descriptions of the financial market, speckled with raw data that would add brain convolutions to novices like myself. If Jim got going on California’s economy, he’d advise residents to bail out and run like the dickens to another state.

Jose was a good listener. An economist in his 40s, originally from Venezuela, he worked for a spice company in Northern California. His stay on Amtrak was briefer than Jim’s since he departed at Stockton and took an awaiting bus to Sacramento.

I enjoyed Jose’s international political perspective and his analysis of countries that had stable as well as failing economies. He could be as convincing as Jim in his own area of expertise.

I sat comfortably beside my two traveling companions offering a totally different perspective on life and the cosmos. I imparted the artistic side of life: a universe of practicing, teaching, and recording.

Jose had informed us that he was going to Paris on business the following Monday and wouldn’t be back on Board Amtrak 711 for two weeks. I felt of a twinge of disappointment because our table would be whittled down to two.

I departed the train at the Richmond station where I hopped over to Bart, going one stop to El Cerrito Del Norte. My studio, within walking distance, was about half way up into the El Cerrito Hills. Homes at the very top overlooked the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. From my more modest studio, well below the peak, I still appreciated a breathtaking landscape as beautiful as a painting with hills and terraced homes.

Before I had officially started lessons in the early afternoon I always took a scenic, steep walk into these very same hills, and then wound my way down to the Ohlone walk way under Bart on my way to the El Cerrito Library. An hour later, after a stop at Subway for a veggie burger I would meander back to the studio for a lesson plan review.

My Bay area students were mostly kids at beginning and intermediate levels. The last lesson, ending at 9 p.m. was with a retired business professional who has an affinity for world wide travel. An eager learner she practiced intensely when she could, though her time at the piano was sparing.

The pieces I’d been teaching up north were Minuets and Sonatinas from the Classical era; a Baroque Rondeau, and some ragtime music by Scott Joplin. The beginners were journeying happily through their Primer Faber Piano Adventures learning the basic symbols and notation of music while the older students enjoyed the works of Bach, Rameau, Mozart, and Latour, a classical era composer.

When lessons were over well past 9 p.m. I had set my alarm clock for a Tuesday departure, regretting the trip back to Fresno where I would be greeted by stifling heat. The ride home would also feel longer without Jim and Jose, as companions. But there was always the chance I would run into someone to strike up a conversation with.

And it happened. As I sat in the dining car munching on a fruit and nut bar, I overheard a woman chatting about her self made “guitar” earrings. I soon learned that she had hand crafted her adornments from guitar picks, painted them and added some fancy attachments.

Before long, I began telling her about myself and the piano and she, in turn, shared her life story. The journey home was definitely quicker than expected.

Before I knew it, I was back in Fresno, with four students on the roster for the late afternoon. Since a few were preparing for an October 30th recital, I thought about you tubing performances as practice motivators. Kabalevky’s “Clowns,” would be a great shoot. A very colorful, short programmatic piece with a circus like backdrop, it had droll harmonies and appealing dissonances.

The next few weeks would be packed with rehearsals, which made life a nice, creative adventure.