blogmetrics.org, Classical music blog, French Suite, French Suites, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano teaching, Shirley Smith Kirsten

Keeping up our skills as piano teachers, with an “eye” to taking on challenges

I couldn’t resist juxtaposing the importance of learning new and challenging music with an “eye” toward how we can best accomplish our short and long-term goals within our teaching milieu. (The EYE metaphor becomes CLEARER and dual serving as the posting progresses.)

***

So many music teachers have a tight schedule of back-to-back students that precludes personal musical development. They’re caught in a tight squeeze, trying their best to keep up with the repertoire assigned to pupils, with the painful knowledge that they could use more than a spoonful of time to more deeply probe a Bach Fugue or a Beethoven Sonata movement.

Yet by not specifically setting aside daily periods for serious practicing, teachers are short-changing themselves and their students.

In my own professional development, I’ve been focusing on the J.S. Bach French Suites these past months– an undertaking sparked by an Online pupil in North Carolina who wanted to study the Allemande from French Suite No. 4 in E-flat BWV 814. Because I’d never worked on this particular movement, or the whole Suite No.4, I felt compelled to immerse myself deeply in the music so I could more effectively mentor the student. Otherwise, I would have been “winging it” without much depth.

The Allemande project led me to a set of independent discoveries within the total volume of French Suites. At first, I was drawn to movements that Murray Perahia had previewed in his you tube trailers where he covered all 6 of the French Suites. The last one in E Major caught my “eye” because it had an enchanting Courante and Bourree which I’d first explored before committing myself to a thorough study of the whole work.

(Without a doubt, the Sarabande proved to be a heart throb)

Perahia will play the French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 during his appearance at Davies Hall, Sunday, April 25th. My pre-immersion in this composition will have deepened my understanding and subsequent revisit. It will keenly benefit my teaching on many introspective levels so the next student who embarks upon this work, will have the advantage of my intensified relationship to it.

***

An ongoing French Suite journey has brought even more musical growth opportunities. Sarabande from French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812,is a tender love note, filled with sadness that demands a sustained mood of pathos and tenderness.

***
But my biggest learning challenge is embodied in the Gigue from French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812.

Upon first glance, the Gigue looked like an uphill climb with its complex rhythms and crossover voices from hand to hand. In fact, when I tapped into Perahia’s Trailer on this very D minor Suite which ends with a snatch of the Gigue, I realized it was DIFFERENT from all others I had encountered in Bach’s collection: The Gigue from French Suite in G Major, BWV 816 was one I had previously learned when a student asked to study it. In 12/16 time, it has the characteristic mood and motion associated with a Bach GIGUE while the D minor is a cut time (2/2), “triple fugue,” according to Perahia–a revelation that was invaluable to my assimilation of this work from the ground up.

In the first few days of my exploration, I knew tackling this Gigue would ignite a significant growth spurt–the kind that I welcome in my musical evolution. A triple fugue, with its internal complexity, was a big serving that required meticulous voice parceling and thoughtful, painstaking fingering decisions. (The internal trills and ornaments compounded the complex rhythmic overlay that I characterized in totality, as “a cow.”)

In a companion email to my students, I shared the agony and the ecstasy of my journey, putting an emphasis on this very COW aspect of my learning adventure. These pupils know by this time that I’m always looking for ways to notch up my skills, hoping my efforts will trickle down to their individual musical travels. The collaboration, we collective realize, is a two-way growth process.

Finally, with an EYE to taking these big leaps in our musical excursions, and making challenging opportunities for ourselves along the way, I conclude with what may seem to be a mix-and-match ADD-On. It suggests a FOCUS that we should be made aware of in our own playing and that of our pupils.

The attached video provides food for thought, suggesting a discussion about how we absorb, play, read, and retain music when sitting at the piano bench. It certainly factors into our whole creative learning process and how we shape our development as pianists and teachers.

Bach French Suites, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano

Learning a new and challenging piece along with a student

It’s easy for piano teachers to inhabit a comfortable space, teaching mainly repertoire that they’ve well learned, put away and brought back for review. It can perpetuate a stale process of retreading “old” pieces without posing a refreshing self-made challenge to learn a complex “new” work from the ground up side-by-side with a pupil.

About two weeks ago, one of my adults, asked to study the J.S. Bach Allemande from the composer’s French Suite No. 4 in Eb, BWV 815, a composition I had never studied. At first, I thought to counter with another Bach offering that was at least familiar to me through years of practicing and teaching.

But I stopped myself from such a knee-jerk avoidance of what was unknown to me, and prodded myself to map out my musical journey in the company of an enthusiastic pupil partner. Call it a true Adventure par duo.

In truth, there’s nothing more rewarding than sharing mutual epiphanies about a composition from the emotional charge spurred by poignant harmonic progressions, to the contrapuntal interchange of voices that are newly discovered.

Fingering choices, choreographies, passing dissonances/suspensions, counterpoint, become a collective focus with a first sunrise dimension as an intense examination unfolds in layers. It encompasses decisions to be made about dividing a voice between the hands; what notes should be tied over as suspensions without an extra inserted beat of sustain; and what FINGERINGS work or don’t. (There may be optional choices to explore–or changes to be made after finger assignments.) In truth, the student is a full partner to these decisions and the teacher is open to his/her ideas and suggestions.

Naturally, the learning process for both is magnified in SLOW practice tempo, without deadlines of achievement or embedded expectations. Both musical journey companions are PATIENT and unencumbered with value judgments.

Finally, through the launch of this latest Bach adventure, I found myself summarizing a lesson that had taken place as an initial encounter with the Allemande–the ingredients of which were a potpourri of shared epiphanies.

A few days following this posting, I was able to move the Allemande into tempo. I attribute this advance to a thorough, intensified learning experience sparked by my student.

Claudio Arrau, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano technique

Piano Technique: Shaking out Bach Ornaments! and the influence of Claudio Arrau

When working on executing ornaments with an adult student as they appear in J.S. Bach’s Prelude in F minor, I thought instantly of Claudio Arrau’s allusions to “shaking” these out, without having a thread of tension in the arms, wrists, and hands. One of his biographers, Joseph Horowitz, profiled the pianist in an extensive interview that drew out many of the virtuoso’s ideas about technique, of which ornaments were a particular focus. (Conversations with Arrau)

A central aspect of Arrau’s playing is arm weight technique as taught to him my Martin Krause: “Relax and let loose, never be stiff of cramped in any joint. Krause even recommended that pianists should engage in sports.”

It was no surprise that I had for years integrated the whole arm, “shake” out recommendation as it permeated Arrau’s teaching, and related it to playing long trills. (in Mozart sonatas, concerti, etc.), and then through years of studying the Classical repertoire, along with Baroque and Romantic era compositions, I drew upon Arrau’s resonating quotes, to unkink my Bach ornaments, freeing them of tension.

Rather than dissect the physical ingredients of the SHAKE ’em out approach to ornaments as they appear in J.S. Bach’s F minor Prelude, BWV. 881, I decided to let a lesson video illustrate the main points.

P.S. As it happens, one of Arrau’s proteges via his assistant, Rafael De Silva, was Ena Bronstein, who perhaps influenced MY SHAKE IT OUT, FREE THROW, ARM LOOSE, WRIST SUPPLE, ORNAMENT GRAPPLE. She was my teacher in Fresno, California for about a year before relocating to Princeton, New Jersey.

The following sources contain Arrau’s ideas about piano technique:

Piano Lessons with Claudio Arrau: A Guide to his Philosophy and Techniques by Victoria A. Von Arx. A book preview is found via the link below.
https://books.google.com/books?id=LGOMAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT141&lpg=PT141&dq=Claudio+arrau+on+trills&source=bl&ots=Lh77NME2Im&sig=DkZ0hWCAxBlFpzj5_3l0tijzo7A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizl-bXhNvLAhUI82MKHehQB8MQ6AEILTAD#v=onepage&q=Claudio%20arrau%20on%20trills&f=false

By the same author from her Dissertation: The Teaching of Claudia Arrau and his Pupils: Piano Pedagogy as a Cultural Work (2006)

https://books.google.com/books?id=T8vOlfQyq3sC&pg=PA85&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

“Arrau explained relaxation as avoidance of stiffening within the joints that impair the body’s ability to move freely. Freedom of motion would allow the realization of musical impulse, the transmission of musical intentions through the body to the keyboard. The freer there body, the more the piano would be experienced as an extension of the player’s body, converting musical impulses into sound.”

Essentially Arrau “expressed the importance of experiencing mind and body as an integrated whole.” (There’s a substantial section on the maestro’s “Piano Technique” that’s easily accessed within the Von Arx Dissertation.)

LINK:

Conversations with Arrau
Conversations with Arrau
http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-With-Arrau-Joseph-Horowitz/dp/0879100133

Bach, Egon Petri, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, piano arrangement, piano transcription, Sheep May Safely Graze, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten

Learning J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” (Egon Petri piano transcription)

Egon Petri offers a transcription of J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” (based on the Baroque composer’s “Birthday” Cantata) and it’s drawn a cult of admirers, mostly adult students begging to learn it. The work originally scored for two flutes, soprano and continuo, comes a close second in popularity to “Flight of the Bumblebee,” with its enticing stream of breakneck speed chromatics, evoking the buzzing insect.

Not unexpectedly, one of my students who’s deeply immersed in J.Bach’s Prelude in F Minor, BWV 881 (Book Two, Well-Tempered Clavier) happened to bring a fresh copy of Petri’s “Sheep…” saying she wanted to “read” through it, and might I insert fingering in the virgin score.

My undertaking, therefore, required careful screening of various lines, with recommendations for an optimally smooth journey through a chord laden terrain with some challenging, treble range parallel sixths, etc. (In this regard, there were measures that included intervals over the octave, where the player is given the option of eliminating a note or two.) In truth, given the transcription landscape, the player has a guilt-free, creative license to make sensitive changes that serve the smooth rendering of a phrase without doing an injustice to the COMPOSER’s work.

During my 4 page finger-assignment, I found that the experience sparked a deeper journey of discovery. Therefore, as follow-up, I carefully examined my own learning process, and uploaded a tutorial that focuses on the relaxed floating arm and supple wrist as aids to navigate various awkward sets of measures. (I also emphasized the relaxed, featherlight thumb in practicing pertinent measures well behind tempo.)

An earlier tutorial provided an optional fingering here and there with attention to an inner alto voice in the first section of Petri’s arrangement.

Other Helpful Sources

1) The Cantata excerpt as originally scored by J.S. Bach


2) Egon Petri plays his transcription with the manuscript scrolling through.

3) A pleasingly tranquil reading by Italian pianist, Alessio Bax

Murray Perahia analyzes and then renders “Sheep May Safely Graze,” during an interview broadcast from Israel with Arie Vardi.

Start 20:42 in the track below:

P.S. The whole program, centered on the works of J.S. Bach, is worth watching.

Fugue, Fugue Analysis, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano

Putting Slow Practicing to good use in a J.S. Bach Fugue Analysis

I’ve been my own mentor to the exponential these past intensified 48 hours as I immersed myself in a slow, deep-layered analysis of J.S.Bach’s Fugue in Ab, BWV 862 (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1) The detailed exploration not only heightened my understanding of this ingenious composition, but it increased my love and reverence for it.

So without waxing poetic about the longing that’s expressed through a chain of emotion-gripping modulations, I will defer to my Two Part introspection of this Fugue that’s the beginning of my immersion. Awakenings and epiphanies ensue once the solid foundation of analysis with cognitive, affective and kinesthetic dimensions are integrated.

Finally, in a slow practicing frame, the Subject/Countersubject interaction that includes fragments of each and inversions therein in partnership with a divine set of harmonic progressions, affords a learning process that brings fulfillment with each incremental and parceled out discovery.

J.S. Bach Fugue in Ab analysis

J.S. Bach Fugue in Ab analysis p. 2

Part ONE:

Part Two:

Link:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/why-is-practicing-slowly-so-unpopular/

fugue form, Fugue Structure, J.S. Bach

A Bach Fugue is a neuron booster and soul searcher

In my tepid re-entry into the universe of piano repertoire for two hands, I chose what would be the antithesis of a comfort zone in my injury recovery phase. But just the same, my brain needed stimulation, building neurotransmitters, as it signaled the hands and fingers to regroup in a gradual healing process.

Without doubt, my having chosen the Bach Fugue in Ab (BWV 862) during my rehab period, has fed a cognitive, affective AND kinesthetic dimension of my learning process, while it has simultaneously ignited a conversation with Harpsichordist, Elaine Comparone about the form itself and our respective approaches to it.

The Back Story:

I was spoiled a few years ago, when tackling my first Bach Fugue: The C minor Fugue II, WTC Book 1, BWV 847 had an invaluable mapped out Analysis produced by theorist, Jose Rodriguez Alvira that amplified the structural aspect which afforded the compact framing I needed for a soul-searching journey.

http://www.teoria.com/articulos/analysis/BWV847/index.htm

At this early point of my exposure to the Fugue form, I was riveted to its structure not just for my own educational benefit, but for that of an 11-year old student who was taking a side-by-side contrapuntal journey.

Having produced these tutorials below, I supplemented them with large extracts of our lessons together. (To teach a composition is to illuminate the learning process by parceling out its vital ingredients)

Part One: covers all elements of the Fugue form, and the EXPOSITION inclusive.

Part Two: Continues with episodes, etc. fleshing out the appearance of three voices.


Part Three:
Continues where part two left off.

As I flash forward to the F minor Fugue (BWV 881) which I learned in the past year, I was firmly grounded in Bach’s form/architecture, expecting the bounds of Subject, Counter-subject, episodes, and various devices of inversion, and fragmentation to tightly associate as they comported in BWV 847, but to my surprise J.S. Bach was “freer” in the F minor Fugue. The Subject statement and its tonal answer plus counter-subject=Exposition were intact, but from there grew the composer’s soaring spirit through myriads of measures to final cadence in a mosaic of varied contrapuntal elements. By definition, the Subject whether stated in tenor, alto, soprano, bass, resonated and begged to be fleshed out but the complex devices of BWV 847 were not in analytical order.

F minor Fugue Tutorial:

Play Through:

Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist, plays the same Fugue in F minor, BWV 881 at 2:21 in the track: Note that Juan Downey produced this documentary that was programmed for PBS.

Finally, as I recently launched my journey through the Ab Fugue no. XVII, BWV 862, (WTC I) I’ve noticed that its form exhibits even more FREEDOM as the Subject and Counter-subject meander along. Where I could locate an exact inversion of a Subject or Counter-subject in BWV 847, this one in Ab has the ILLUSION of inversion without the exact intervallic components. My observation ignited the conversation below the score:

(The Ab Fugue below has tricky voice tie-overs and hand divisions of the Subject: You might need to alternate the Left and Right hand, without conspicuously BREAKING up the subject flow, so you can hold down other voices for their given value.)

Ab Fugue p. 1

Ab Fugue p. 2 revised


Shirley Kirsten:

“So this Ab fugue has a strict tonal answer a fifth above Subject, with the Counter-subject above the Answer..but my question circumscribes measure 11 for example (in bass) which is not a strict inversion of the subject but to the player and listener it gives the illusion of inversion, though not matching intervallic upside down.. cause it isn’t. Did Bach choose to create this illusion? (In the c minor, BWV 847 he actually has perfect inversions, and does the strict, to the last detail devices–carefully manipulating Subject and Counter-Subject)

“The challenge in this one (Ab) is to brave the subject divided between the hands, often not symmetrically.. or you can break your hand, literally– as in Measure 10. Measure 17 (tenor) is another tricky place. I must say that the F minor fugue Bk 2 was easier to navigate, pianistically.

“With my particular RH sensitivity post-injury I have to be really careful not to tear anything, with some of these crazy divisions, or nutty tie-overs that are a cow to realize here and there.

“It’s a unique challenge overall but worth persistent, organized, parceled out practicing.
This is my second full day of getting deeply involved and this one is growing on me.”

Elaine Comparone
portraitelainecomparone2

“Any fugue that draws you, for whatever reasons, gives back a thousandfold all the work you put into it. The more work, the more gratification. I always felt that way when I memorized a fugue. Talk about work.

“Anyway, for me, fugal analysis apart from playing the thing is not something I indulge in, except on a sub-conscious level. I don’t find that right brain activity sticks around when you’re totally in left brain space. That’s the only way I can put it. You are continuing to use your intellectual gifts as you analyze. That sort of thing doesn’t carry over with me. Playing it is different. But I can understand your interest in the structure. We just have different approaches.

“Out of curiosity I read thru the A-flat fugue in WTC 11. Jeez! If the one you’re looking it is anything like that, it’s a monster! This one has chromaticism galore and the ending is about as free and non- “school fugue” as you can get. Formidable. I think I’ll be looking at it some more later. I’m so happy for you and your present fugal immersion. There’s nothing like it in life.

“Anyway, there’s a bar near the end of this where he hits A Major!!! (Enharmonically of course. A whole bar of it. I just think it’s fabulous!”

Shirley Kirsten

“Thanks, Elaine. I’m immersed in all music-learning on cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic levels. They totally deserve my attention.

“As we both know to be effective musical communicators, we must be multi-dimensional interpreters.

“Having said that, all wonderful Bach players, (including yourself) in my opinion, enlighten us with structural/musical/emotional awareness.”

LINK:
http://www.harpsichord.org

Bach Prelude no. 17, Baroque music, blog, blogger, blogmetrics.org, BWV862, California, fingering, J.S. Bach, J.S. Bach Prelude in Ab, Johann Sebastian Bach, learning a new piano composition, making fingering choices, pianist, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, piano technique, piano tutorial, practicing new piano music, Preludes and Fugues, setting a good piano fingering, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, tutorial, Well-Tempered Clavier

J.S. Bach Prelude in Ab, BWV 862: A Fresh Start for Student and Teacher

In the course of teaching, a situation may arise where a particular favored piece is requested by a student that I’ve never studied–which means a deep-layered journey is ahead of two learning partners.

And given that J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in Ab, (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1) requires thoughtful fingering choices; an awareness of Baroque era ornamentation, phrasing/articulation/voicing, and a knowledge of counterpoint/harmonic movement/structure, the undertaking requires a baby-step advance.

Therefore, one of my learning reinforcers is to create a self-made tutorial early in the assimilation process, well before I’ve had significant exposure to a composition. The goal is to exemplify a parceled practicing approach that is stacked heavily in the direction of gaining mastery, or relative fluidity when the piece ripens to tempo.

The big embracing mantra, however, is Patience un-enslaved to any Deadline because learning and growing into a desired tempo has no marked out notches of predictable progress. Yet one has to have a heap of confidence on credit to keep optimism in high gear.

With that said, one pivotal aspect of the learning journey is setting a good fingering and in the case of Bach’s Prelude in Ab, a separate hand approach becomes only one dimension of the undertaking. In truth, there are more than two steps to be taken in determining a workable fingering.

1) I assigned what I thought were reasonable choices for the Right Hand in a slow tempo frame.

2) I did the same for the Left hand.

3) The above first and second steps had to be refined if not revised significantly in certain measures, when hands were played simultaneously.

And this is an epiphany that most students will have as they explore a new score. Where fingering might work separately for each hand, it will not necessarily comport for both. (This explains the current adjustments I’ve made since I last e-mailed my student)

Naturally, the Baroque style of phrasing is the other important universe of decision-making, and all that follows in relation to harmonic rhythm, modulation, and the contrapuntal cosmos must be part of a nit-picking, ground-up exploration.

So in the spirit of step-by-step learning, the video below should be foundational and of particular assistance to my student and others taking this common journey.

Bach Prelude in Ab WTC revised p. 1 revised

Bach Prelude in Ab WTC revised p.2