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Ethereal piano playing: Another Irina, with an i in the middle, brings heaven to earth

This is the special month of Irina, Irena, and still another Irina. The latest messenger of beauty via You Tube is Irina Morozova. And as fate would have it, one of my readers, owner of a Knight piano treasure, e-mailed me a sample of her Bach-Siloti, which sent me feverishly finger-tapping the search window for more.

Out popped the Chopin Barcarolle performed with gorgeously spun out lines, to die for singing tone and phrasing. Not to be territorial about playing, but the Russian School of teaching piano is glaring for its focus on producing a molto cantabile.

The wrists are not flat. The hand position is not rigid. There’s a flow from the heart into the fingers via relaxed arms and supple wrists. The motions are curvaceous as one note breathes into another at the right moment. Morozova renders a warm, Romantic era interpretation that has a relaxed roundness.

We learn from artists like her who make piano playing so fluid, that the mystery of how it’s done can be unraveled by listening attentively and carefully observing.

Chopin Mazurka in G minor, Op. 63, no.3

I love this interpretation.

And on to a divinely played Chopin Barcarolle:

Irina Morozova, Bio:

Piano; B.M. with Honors, Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music; M.M., Manhattan School of Music; piano studies with Vladimir Shakin, Galina Orlovskaya, Arkady Aronov; performances include Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, New American Chamber orchestra; participated in Film America’s “Music in the 20th Century” series; awards include Frinna Awerbuch, San Antonio International Piano Competitions; teaches, performs at International Keyboard Institute and Festival in NY; faculty, Mannes College of Music, Manhattan school of Music, Special Music School.

“If music be the food of love, play on….”

Other Links:

Irena Orlov

Irina Gorin

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Piano practicing, performance, and gym routines: Always Reach Beyond! (Video, Bach Invention 8 in F)

I take my inspiration from the two Irina/Irena-s, each pronouncing their names slightly differently. Irina Gorin is the ingenious piano teacher from Carmel, Indiana via the Ukraine, and Irena Orlov is from Washington D.C.’s Levine School of Music via Leningrad. They both inspire students to explore and draw out their deepest creative expression.

That’s what we should all be doing in our personal practice sanctuaries. I certainly try to evaluate and re-evaluate my own performances, whether they’re recorded for myself to review, or for You Tube. Regardless of having an audience of one, or many, the process of learning from experience, examining phrasing, physical comportment, and anything that might have intruded upon a free flow of physical and emotional expression (there’s that word again) is worth noticing.

That’s why I believe that videotaping yourself is an amazing teaching tool– one that can spur musical growth if you, the player, can distance yourself enough from the recorded sample to make some valuable observations. In other words, don’t be hard on yourself. Look at the mirror of your playing like it was someone else’s image– Think of a friend, whom you would not harshly criticize. Underline “O” for objectivity.

This type of mirrored self-analysis is the next best thing to having a teacher present looking over your shoulder. Or maybe you don’t want anyone encroaching on your space. Give yourself a breather and do a little self-assessment.

If you can spot places in your recording where something went awry, and not necessarily a glut of conspicuously wrong notes, you can try to pinpoint a physical problem, where perhaps a tense arm or wrist got in the way. You might remember at this moment, that you lost your breath and became anxious. Every aspect of one’s mental state and respiration factor into a total performance. Musical inspiration or intuition are not enough to get a pianist from the first measure to the final cadence. There must be a pacing, just like athletes know. Pianists are part athlete, part Terpsichore or any nyphm in the forest you choose to be–and part split personality when they’re playing. Vladimir Horowitz talked about fire and ice states when tackling the warhorses.

Being attuned to a relaxed physical state, in any case, works in a player’s favor

Which reminds me that today, a few hours before I attempted to record the whip-lashing, nerve-splitting, Bach Invention 8 on my iMac, I dashed off to Bally’s Gym, with my boots on, no less, and did a self-instigated photo shoot. Actually I aimed the silly Sony Cybershot at the mirror, not realizing that the flash (an automatic setting) would obliterate me, like I was blown up in one of those superhero video games. But at last, I survived once I knocked out the flash.

My goal was to get a pic of myself working out on the Gravitron where I build upper body strength and feel a good workout for my arms. It’s really helps leverage weight into the keys, so I strongly recommend it.

Here’s a fleeting look: I set the weight at 70, which means I’m pulling about 45 pounds. I follow up with 30-minutes of leg press, deep breathing all the way through.

Not to forget, that behind every performance, especially one being recorded, there’s a cat lurking in the wings ready to pounce at the wrong moment, sending any and all music to the trash! So make sure when you sit down to videotape yourself, that your feline is not permitted on the piano, in the piano, or near the piano. In this instance, Aiden was about to leap to the window sill to make his favorite racket, pawing the blinds.

Tutorial on this Invention 8, BWV 779–using a spring forward wrist motion:

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When great piano teaching must be recognized

In my four decades of teaching piano, I never had a student recital quite like this one. Reams of Irina Gorin’s pupils ascend the stage in Indiana at what looks like a piano store with a recital hall. (The backdrop is the Meridian Music Company’s Munger Hall) There’s a Steinway for the children to play on, and a second piano that I’m assuming is the same judging by its timbre.

A 4-year old boy leads the troupe, playing a Russian folk melody that comes straight from a Tschaikovsky Symphony. The child has been studying piano for just 4 months and already he’s at ONE with the instrument. His relaxed arms, supple wrists flow in and out of phrases, communicating a primordial connection to the music. He’s well on his way.

Another child performs a concerto movement by Peskanov as the teacher plays the tutti, orchestra part at the second piano. This youngster is a bit older, at 10. But we witness the same oneness, visceral connection to the music– easy breaths, paced, graceful motions–something that many students around the country will struggle with. Most pianists of all ages are very tense, and devote too much energy in the wrong direction–grabbing, lunging for right notes–tensing up, when they should be breathing a deep sigh of relief before they even begin to play.

This is not a fluke–or an atypical display of talent. All these children have studied under Irina Gorin using her materials that have a central theme: imbue the earliest beginners with an awareness of the singing tone capability of the piano, and teach them how to physically create it.

A 6-year old boy and his 9-year old sister perform a duet. (a tender moment)

Another 6-year old:

and her sister, 9 years old

Irina Gorin has something special and its not just her book, Tales of a Musical Journey. It’s what she does with it in real time, devoting herself to the development of beginning students from pianistic infancy (as early as 4) to their teenage years and beyond. She’s the rare teacher among teachers who takes very seriously the musical development of very young pupils, refusing to parcel these fledglings out to assistants until they’re ready for her. (unlike the usual caste system among teachers affiliated with prestigious music schools) I remember reams of string players who had to wait their turn to be worthy to study with Ivan Galamian. In many music schools, even with prep divisions, students have to audition for teachers. It’s a difficult ladder to climb.

Whereas, Irina, a top caliber performer in her own right, is attainable and willing to do the hard, patient work from the ground up. And sometimes, it’s not a piece of cake. To harness the energy of little ones can be a test of will and endurance.

Still more children, one by one, step on stage with the poise of pianists three times their age. If there is any nervousness, it’s undetectable, so noble and graceful are their performances.

Here are some additional recitalists:

A 12-year old:

Duo partners playing an arrangement of Bach’s “Badinerie” (Winners at the Carmel Arts Competition)

As a footnote to these inspiring displays by youngsters who take the piano quite seriously even at their tender age, I must admit that while using Tales of a Musical Journey with a 4-year old, I came to the conclusion, that it’s not just the book that provides a magic passageway to music learning and progress, but the relationship forged between student and teacher bolstered by a solid technical foundation. To teach with the finesse of Irina Gorin requires an understanding of the singing tone and how to produce it, at the very minimum.

An instructor of the earliest beginner should be hard at work, practicing and perfecting technique and musicianship skills all in one. Attending concerts of fine pianists on the local concert series; frequenting music teacher conventions for idea exchanges, seminars, classes, demonstrations, add up to expanding musical horizons.

There can be no stasis when teaching children. Learning along the way with our students as we, too, polish performance skills helps us become better at what we do.

We can also benefit from Irina Gorin’s teaching videos and materials, or just be inspired by her work priming the next generation of pianists. It’s time the Chinese and Russians allowed a crack in the door for Americans to squeeze through, stage center. We’re no doubt on our way via Carmel, Indiana.


Irina Gorin’s You Tube Channel


REVIEW: Tales of a Musical Journey–my-review-of-a-creative-new-teaching-material-for6207751051<a href="”&gt;

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Piano Lesson: Rina, 4, learns about “Long and Short sounds meeting High and Low Sounds,” Chapter 15, Tales of a Musical Journey (Videos)

Today was Rina’s 14th piano lesson and she’s moving right along. Her hand position is greatly improved and she has a nice appreciation of the singing tone.

Irina Gorin’s instruction is laid out in such a way that a student takes no short cuts in learning piano. The physical approach to creating a beautiful tone, one note at a time is a priority, laying a solid foundation for further learning. A student almost unconsciously absorbs each chapter in the fairytale atmosphere of a castle with King Meter, Prince Rhythm, and Princess Melody reigning as central figures in this royally enticing musical journey.

Currently, Rina is exploring melody by playing notes going up and down in step-wise motion.

She began this undertaking a few weeks ago when she identified the musical alphabet going forward and backward, with its associated animal names and pictures on colorful flash cards. As icing on the cake, Rina had climbed the stair steps of my home after she placed alphabet cards on each level.

Irina Gorin has a nice pictorial summary of the music alphabet in a laminated format.

To enrich Rina’s understanding of pitch and rhythm working together to create a pretty melody, we used a “conversational” approach, by dividing the five-note piece, “I am climbing up… I am climbing down” between us. Singing and clapping activities were integrated into this activity along with written insertion of note names into circles along the staircase in Gorin’s Book I. During the week, Rina will “fill in” the short sounds

The lesson also included a playing review of notes, F, G, A and B, where Rina tapped these to prerecorded selections, using assigned fingers of each hand.

We will continue our Journey through the “Magical Kingdom of Sounds” next week.

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Excerpts from Rina’s 9th piano lesson, using instruction from “Tales of a Musical Journey” by Irina Gorin

Lesson 8 suffered the pangs of loss because of a camcorder shut down so today we switched over to my iMac’s iMovie. (I’m still learning the video editing program so apologies for synch-related issues at the track’s end)

Rina reviewed the musical alphabet and tapped individual notes to various prerecorded CD selections. For “Bear” by Rebikov (F practice) and Burgmuller’s “Ballade” (C) I joined her on the bench as a duet partner.

Rina will play at the MTAC Fall Festival on October 29th in a Halloween theme recital so we rehearsed “Bear” at today’s lesson. During the week, she will tap to a You Tube video I had made for her.

I see nice progress since her very first lesson. She has developed a round, relaxed hand position, (with periodic teacher reminders) and has a keen sense of rhythm. Her attention span is improving along with her awareness of the singing tone.

I’m enjoying this richly rewarding musical journey with a 4-year old beginning student because it gives me an opportunity to focus on tone production in baby steps with no rush to “position” the hand or force fingers into premature “legato” playing. The pace makes sense and the instruction is musically sound. Beautiful, classical style repertoire is the mainstay of this book, which is most appreciated.

Read Review, “Tales of a Musical Journey” at

Recommended links:

Irina Gorin’s Piano Studio

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Rina, 4, brings a toy piano to her lesson; creates her own rhythm; and learns A and B; (7th week of instruction using Tales of a Musical Journey) 5 videos

Rina surprised me by bringing her precious mini-purple plastic piano that played a salsa rhythm style piece with very fast notes. It was gratifying to watch her spontaneously point to the “big” and “little houses” on her tiny keyboard that comprise “neighborhoods” or “octaves” in Tales of a Musical Journey. This preceded her relaxation movements to Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels.”

Part one:

Part 2:

We followed our opener with rhythmic activities using cardboard back and white circles. Rina clapped short and long sounds to verses, two of which were brought to me in Spanish and French.

Part 3:

Rina then created her own unique rhythm by arranging the black and white cardboard circles in a desired order on the music rack:

Part 4:

Rina learned “A” and tapped it to a melody:

Part 5:

Rina learned “B” and tapped it to a melody

These were videotaped excerpts from Rina’s 30-minute lesson. For all her tapping note experiences she played right and left hand separately in different registers of the piano.


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Piano Instruction: Going outside the method book track

Method books on the commercial market have a certain lure because they attempt to conveniently package a set of step-by-step lesson goals through approximately six books that are divided into Lesson, Performance and Theory. A teacher can also choose Technique and Artistry to add to the mix. The basic program outlined in brochures includes branch-offs into separate albums with a classical, jazz, and popular focus. And there are sub-headings of sonatinas in various levels not to mention other musical genres. Add in Christmas time classics and the rest, and you have a dizzying listing, especially when the original method book progression is supposed to accommodate prescribed side trips to the holiday albums at a correlated level.

Most unwelcoming, at least for me, is the protracted reliance on fixed “positions” that are built into the basic progression of the underlying “method” and its spin-offs. The hand is molded into a predictable and contrived set of “positions” starting with Middle C and C position, journeying along to the same in G, etc. At least for the first year or so of study, flat and sharp recognition is delayed, though in most method books, the ambitious leap to playing on black keys for purposes of identifying the white ones inaugurates the journey. But it’s short-lived. One of my African American adult students commented that the black notes are musically ostracized.

The other issue I have with method books is related to their social network implications. Students who start Faber Piano Adventures, for example, are in touch with friends who do the same gig. They watch their peers go from the purple to red to blue to orange books, etc. (with subdivided level A’s/B’s attached) and measure their own progress in color coated advances. If a teacher should drop out of the “track” or side-step the method route, a student might have a serious psychological setback. More than likely that pupil will transfer to their friend’s teacher who’s waiting to shelter him/her in the next letter-named “position.”

I once interviewed a middle school transfer student who brought a music bag filled with four partially completed sets of Piano Adventures in various shades, fully expecting her journey to continue along color lines. When I candidly suggested that I would toss the method books aside in favor of repertoire-based learning, I watched the color drain from mom and daughter’s faces. Needless to say, the teenager was not signed up for lessons.

When I look back over decades and compare progress of students who used method books as the mainstay of their study with me, (in my early years of teaching) to those whom I steered away from the “positions” dominated material, substituting creative repertoire choices, I can confidently say that the latter developed a more long-lasting and gratifying connection to the piano. Their note reading skills also substantially improved.

Repertoire-based instruction that includes a substantial dose of scales and arpeggios traveling around the Circle of Fifths provide in my opinion, a more realistic assortment of keyboard geographies that are otherwise inhibited by method books. Would Mozart have applauded “C position” as he was composing his early minuets? How would Bach have felt about boxing one of his Inventions into G position?

The question for me is how to creatively teach when the very early materials available do not realistically prepare a student to branch off into music that does not have “positional” crutches?

Right now I am experimenting with Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey which has no positional indoctrination and focuses on tone production and the physical means to the end, note by note. There is no rush to play pieces framed in rigidly assigned places along the keyboard spectrum. While many parents would wonder why junior is not tapping melodies that can be easily sung back in the first few lessons, the delay built into the material has pedagogical merit. It allows the teacher to work on the very fundamental aspect of playing the piano–creating the basic singing tone that underlies all music making.

Taking each note, one at a time, learning how to physically produce tonal beauty with relaxed “weeping willow” like movements; traveling over octaves with rainbow gestures, without a deadline to connect notes in premeditated legato (connected) fashion before knowing the detached way of encountering them, is for me, a slow but substantial approach to teaching the art of playing the piano.

I think the most popular method books out on the market want to produce “tangible” results in contrived parcels on a time allotted schedule. They want teachers to have the color code to progress in short order. They want parents to see children advancing from level to level according to the “program” without a second thought.

Perhaps thinking outside the method book track is needed with a creative mix of ingredients.

Tales of a Musical Journey: