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Piano Lesson from the Big Apple by iPhone!

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 7.27.10 AM

It’s one thing to fly from California to New York, taking in awesome views from the plane.Over NYC JFK But would I lay back and lapse into surrendering a week of piano instruction just because I had a NYC based family obligation? No way! As long as I had my iPhone as backup, I would try to teach my North Carolina student from my landing on West 97th.

My best friend, Laura, Oberlin alum and ex-Big Apple roommate had given me her West Side digs that came with a rebuilt Steinway B, so I could play away and teach a lesson or two.

Steinway B at Laura

Using the iPhone with its Face Time application was a first for me! Would the tiny mic properly amplify my voice, demonstrations, and could the internal speaker provide the right volume as the student played? It seemed there were many variables to worry about.

Well, not a problem! Everything worked with a couple of shutdowns since I didn’t have my router or hard wire cable which seemed the best hardware for Online lesson transmission.

Some adjustments, however, seemed to improve the iPhone cyberspace: I reduced my USB extensions and switched to cellular, not relying on the local Wi Fi provider. (Different rooms had varied reception, some better than others)

Overall, I think the undertaking was a success– well documented by my tripod mounted camcorder that captured the whole lesson on video.

Here are a few samples:

Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, New York City, piano blog, piano blogging, visit to NYC

Musical Memories of New York City and my impending journey back home

Today, I’ll fly back to New York City for my mother’s Memorial, and in a tight 4-day span I’ll visit the edifice of my High School of Performing Arts,

a designated landmark at 46th and 6th Avenue. Ironically, I recently unearthed a graduation photo that shows me holding a Music award in the presence of my late father, and dear friend, Setsuko Nagata, violinist.

Performing Arts Graduation 1

(Over the coming weekend I’ll join in “PA” reunion activities that happened to fall during my stay–a nice coincidence.)

I’ll be sure to hop the IRT subway to W. 103rd, and saunter over to 105th and Riverside Drive where I took piano lessons with the late, Lillian Freundlich, expecting more than a gulp of emotion.

Two musical friends live fairly close by, so I’ll spend time with them, and tickle the ivories.


The old Sohmer upright, that was my first “real” piano, and formerly housed in mom’s Inwood apartment was spared the dump after her death. A music teacher adopted it, though it’s more like a furniture centerpiece since the radiator in winter and excruciating humidity of summer swelled and contracted its soundboard to a point of no return. Forget the hammers, wippens, and flanges.

Sohmer upright

I recall dispatching a piano restorer long distance, who threw up his hands in futility at the very thought of refurbishing this once beautiful sounding instrument. (It had been owned by concert pianist, Lucy Brown)

My beloved parakeet, Tykie christened the piano leaving little droppings in his wake. He soared to the ceiling as I played Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels,” and danced across the keyboard to “La Chasse.”

The violin I left behind:

A few years ago, my then 97-year old mother informed me that my violin, known as the
“cigar box” that was retrieved from my grandparent’s dusty old closet in very bad shape, was given away to a neighbor. Amazingly, he restored it to playing condition despite the fact that it never played well enough to be considered playable. Who could imagine its rebirth.

The last exposure I had to my cigar box was in the Bronx, performing “Exodus” at a Junior High music festival on the eve of Yom Kippur, a poignantly sad occasion. Dr. Loretan, Board of Ed Music Director, happened to be in the audience, and came back stage to offer his sympathies. He arranged for me to “loan” a violin from the School District in Brooklyn. I thought it was a “Stradivarius” before my violin teacher, Samuel Gardner, took out his magnifying glass and clarified that it was a “copy.” My hopes and dreams were shattered.

Perhaps I’ll find time to visit the very area on W. 68th where I took my violin lessons, before Lincoln Center ate up the greater part of the neighborhood. I remember the rubble, carefully monitoring my footsteps as I walked along the route from the West 66th Street subway station to Lincoln Towers. It was the perfect backdrop for West Side Story which hadn’t yet made its movie debut….

Which reminds me of the evening I attended the Dimitri Metropoulos conducting competition at Avery Fisher Hall on W. 66th after the area was transformed by Lincoln Center’s presence.

Sejii Ozawa, one of the competitors prevailed, along with tied finalist, Claudio Abbado. As I was standing on the subway platform about to board the IRT back to my apartment, I caught a glimpse of Sejii looking like a teenager with his impressive shock of black hair. It was a memory I’ll always treasure.

Not too far from Lincoln Center is Carnegie Hall on W. 57th where I spent many evenings soaking up performances of legendary pianists, cellists, and violinists. Most memorable performers: Emil Gilels, Sviatislov Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Rosalyn Tureck, Nathan Milstein, and Daniel Shafrin. At one of these I met my future piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich and the rest was history.

Carnegie Hall better

Perhaps I’ll walk over to Carnegie and ponder the space its former neighbor, Patelson’s Music House occupied. A hub for serious musicians seeking Urtext editions and rare manuscripts, it sadly closed its doors in 2009. Marsha Popowitz Patelson, an alumna of the High School of Performing Arts during the years I attended, was its owner and champion after husband, Joseph, passed away.

Patelsons music store

Patelson’s had such a homey atmosphere, like Wurlitzer’s where violinists gathered to try out Strads and Amatis that were hanging in rows. I always spotted a famous musician over there as I was looking to purchase a decent set of Italian made strings, and I never failed to solicit an autograph.

How shall I preserve the memory of being taken to Lewisohn Stadium in the Bronx to hear Van Cliburn play the Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1 in Bb minor following his momentous victory in Moscow?


Will I have time to travel away from Manhattan? I wonder if this outdoor concert hall still exists? I recall having heard Marian Anderson sing there as well.

I think she narrated Copeland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” which tied into my recollection of Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts,” one of which I attended in Carnegie that made an indelible impression. Actually it was a rehearsal along with one conducted by Stokowski and the American Symphony. Those were the days.

I’ll be lucky to make three nostalgic visits if weather permits. In Spring New York City is very lovely, but you can feel the winds gusting up now and then. It gets people going. I notice the pace of steps in the Big Apple is brisk. The same quickness of meter is mirrored here in the Bay area. Watch out, or you’ll get mowed down at the Bart station.

Robert Levine, one of my relatives, wrote a book about this very geography of time, and included my quote about “tempo rubato” as part of the volume’s introduction. He traveled the world counting footsteps and came to conclusions about cultural differences in time perceptions. Very fascinating.

I don’t think I’ll have time to mark my own walking rhythm or that of others in the Big Apple. I’ll be lucky if the trains run on time so I can take my journey down memory lane without too much inconvenience. Wish me luck.

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, After the Revolution by Amy Herzog, Amy Herzog, Beethoven, Fur Elise by Beethoven, Joe Josephs, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Leepee Joseph, Lincoln Center, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York, New York City, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, The Weavers, Uncategorized, West Village of New York

After the Revolution is my cousin, Amy Herzog’s tour de force play. (An Aurora Theatre Berkeley production)


Amy Herzog is regaled as one of the most gifted young playwrights of her generation. Not only has she been a recipient of the well-regarded Lillian Hellman prize, but she’s amassed a slew of New York Times rave reviews.

Charles Isherwood, Arts editor, lauded After the Revolution in a generous media spread that wove in OUR family’s fervently political fabric (The cast of characters, includes Amy’s late grandmother, and my aunt “Leepee,” (aka “VERA JOSEPH”) pictured in the header; her second husband, Joe Josephs, who’s the play’s driving force, and various kin that weave in and out of the drama.

Though deceased, Josephs has left a trail of speculation about his controversial espionage involvement during World War II.

The disclosure comes in a media release which opens a Pandora’s box of doubt and deception, shaking the very foundation of respect and unconditional love for a parent.

As the plot unfolds, a conflict-driven drama embeds a three-generation split.

Isherwood elaborates

The Back Story (from a child’s perspective—MINE)

I knew and loved Joe Joseph. He replaced my beloved uncle Arthur Herzog, (Leepee’s first husband) who collaborated with Billie Holiday to produce the song, “God Bless the Child.” Arthur and Leepee, parents of Gregory Herzog, (my first cousin) divorced in the 1950s, well before Leepee met and married J.J. Joseph in a Unitarian ceremony presided over by the Reverend Donald Harrington. (I was present at the Greenwich Village apartment)

Joe played the violin, (not deftly) but managed to convene a Baroque chamber trio, inviting me in as pianist alongside step-son, Gregory who played the oboe. I rendered the Continuo part on a Baldwin grand, while Joe scratched along.

Though our collective music-making precluded a mix of MUSIC and Politics, Joe would nourish audibly loud dinner table conversation, permeated by non-stop Dialectical babbling. (the “-ism suffixes attached to Stalin-, Lenin-, Bolshev- were DIZZYING!)

Joe Joseph front view

Years before these chamber music convergences, Greg had become my pianistic inspiration as he belted out Beethoven’s “Rage of a Lost Penny,” and then shifted mood, rendering a gorgeous Chopin e minor Prelude.

better Gregory Herzog playing the piano, my inspiration

Greg’s Prelude playing, especially, seeded my love for music that eventually grew and developed over decades.


More about Greg’s mom, Aunt Leepee

An expressive Villager piece about my auntie enlarges the the meaning of After the Revolution by enriching the landscape in political, ideological and human terms.

Dissidence and Drama have filled her life

This poetically woven writing fleshes out my aunt as more than a rabble-rousing militant. At her memorial service in NYC she was characterized as “a work of art.” I experienced her as nurturant and loving.


The RED DIAPER BABY BACKDROP as applied to me

On a personal note, I’ve never been a Marxist, but was unreasonably indoctrinated as a child, having no ability to question what I was spoon-fed. Though my diapers lacked a hammer and sickle, I was still a Soviet propaganda puppet.

Amy, to the contrary was of a younger generation, and remained a keen observer of her grandparents’ idealism.

In a televised interview about Revolution, Herzog discussed their Marxist devotion in the context of an embrace of “religion.” Perhaps she meant to HUMANIZE families and not pin psycho-pathologies on them.

Finally, no matter how my family or any other will be perceived before Amy Herzog’s script comes to LIFE on stage, a jaunt to Aurora is worth an afternoon or evening’s escape from the blaring TV. Perhaps it’s better to watch families resolve their conflicts with a dose of compassion and forgiveness than blame them for political differences.

(As a footnote to this writing, I wanted to meet director, Joy Carlin, but her industrious devotion to directing precluded a face-to-face conversation. Maybe the PR people in the box office can snatch her from the set for a short coffee break)

Aurora Theatre Box Office information
After the Revolution starts its run on Aug. 30, 2013
TEL: 510-843-4822

LINK: My family’s Genealogy


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East Coast/West Coast (East Bay) culture shock

Bigger appleBezerkeley

Recently, I made a trip back East to New York City to attend my aunt’s Memorial Service, and the experience hit “home!”

Being a child of the Bronx and Manhattan, my emigration to California over three decades ago, definitely came with culture shock, but my most recent relocation to the East Bay (Berkeley aka “Bezerkeley”) fleshed out stark bi-coastal differences in social environment/interpersonal communications that are worth screaming about!

For example,

NYC–You make friends on the elevator. I stayed at my ex-roommate’s apartment on Central Park West and ended up stuffing 27 crinkled post-its into my pockets with names, addresses and phone numbers. Three days, 9 rides, 12 floors.

East Bay–No phone number unless you OCCUPY the bank, post office, street corner, or even Trader Joe when it refuses to take Fiji Water off the shelf.

NYC– The subways are a miraculous social network–Getting lost is the best thing to happen. People will scramble, if not trample each other to assist. Goes with the territory. You’ll find your pockets bulging with more names, addresses and phones.

At my aunt’s Memorial, I had a reunion with my Performing Arts High math teacher, and she brought along a friend. No sooner than I offered my arm to the 85-year old, I found an empty pocket to stuff with her name, address and phone. (Not three days back in California, I received a no-strings-attached invitation to stay at her East Side digs.. food, lodging and a guaranteed schmaltzy hug)

By contrast,

The East Bay: No bed, no breakfast– but one small space for a homeless person in Downtown Berkeley, or an endless ride on the friendless BART.

: The ‘Y’ gym on West 63rd is another great hangout! Free bi-coastal passes–no hitch in snaring a clean towel or directions to the women’s lockers. Getting lost in the maze of work-out rooms is another opportunity to make new friends.

The East Bay ‘Y’— An instant death sentence. Once inside the Women’s gym, it’s solitary confinement. No eye contact! Talk under your breath and risk a 5150 to the Alta Bates psych ward.

And Heed these posted WARNINGS!

1) NO CELL PHONE USE in this AREA 2) NO FREE PASSES to Albany, Oakland, or any ‘Y’ gyms in the area. Pay up or go back to where you came from! (Good Idea!)


NYC: Getting together with a friend is as easy as pie, i.e. “Meet me at the coffee shop on Amsterdam in twenty minutes.” (a done deal)

East Bay: It’s three years of strategy planning with NO clause to reconnect in a lifetime. Anything sooner is considered a “boundary” violation.

My first house guest, (after 18 months of back and forth text-ing) confessed that her appearance was “ephemeral.”

“Don’t think I’m coming back. That way you won’t be disappointed.”

Your friends will wine and dine you with unswerving generosity– home-cooked delights and an unconditional welcome mat are your birthright.

East Bay:
A Berkeley eating companion, who turns up 9 months after the planning stage, brings a calculator to evenly divide the tab.

(She forgot that you treated her the last ancient time at the Ethiopian Hut on Durant)

Every other spoonful, she mega-Networks and collates foot massage flyers for you to post around the neighborhood.

“Hey, how about us bartering a big toe rub-down for life-time piano lessons?”

“NO thanks! I’m pre-OCCUPIED!” (Need to practice!)

NYC: Performing opportunities may be sparse in the Big Apple, but no one will ask you to play Chopin into a drone of meaningless, high-decibel banter!

East Bay: Expect to be drowned out!


From Sanity to Insanity

The Last Lap My return to California

NYC: Going to the airport for my departure comes with good wishes. Elevator friends, the doorman, street cleaner–even the garbage men and fruit cart pushers give a warm thumbs up! Peace, Goodwill, and God Speed.

East Bay: At SFO arrival. Where’s the baggage area? Super shuttle, anyone?

Icy stares from a skeleton crew of janitors and OCCUPIERS, everywhere!

Rent controllers scream, “I hate landlords!” Landlords rage against the Rent Board. An avalanche of hate! A round of gunfire! Revolution now! Che Guevara!

Geezus! I’m way safer in NYC under Bloomberg.
When’s the next Apple-bound jet? I’ll call the lady who offered me her place on the East Side and firm up my reservation a.s.a.p.

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Growing piano technique in baby steps: Rina, 5, advances to hands together five-finger positions (adding in 10ths)

Rina may not know the words “pentascales” and “tenths,” but she has the intelligence to notice when her fingers move up and down together, playing the same notes an “octave” apart. With a sound knowledge of the music alphabet in both directions, she has good cognitive reinforcement. (She also knows “running notes” or 8ths, “long sounds”–half notes, “short sounds”– quarters, and “half-note dot” is a dotted-half note.)

But note-name recognition and having a concept of rhythmic values are just part of the learning process. She needs to cultivate the singing tone wedded to limpid phrasing–a dimension of playing we’ve explored from day one embracing Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Music Journey philosophy.

In this regard, Rina is working on softening the impact of her thumbs, so she can nicely roll into her LEGATO five-finger positions and smoothly taper them. (LEGATO means smooth and connected, finger-to-finger)

She has progressed from having played each hand alone through five notes ascending and descending, in a “conversational” way, to synchronizing both hands at the same time in parallel motion.

She also creates an “echo” effect on a repeat and we make sure to include the parallel minor in her playings. (Black notes also belong to the keyboard family)

Next, I thought to introduce a bit of “magic.”

How about starting the Right Hand on E while the Left Hand remained on bass C. (still five notes up and down but spaced in 10ths)

Rina took to it like a duck in water especially with an enticing harmonic landscape.

Here are two snatches from her lesson, starting with the first (both hands playing same notes in legato)

In the second video, she plays in 10ths:

Our next piece is “Little March” by Daniel Gottlob Turk. This follows Minuet by Reinagle of which Rina is separately studying the bass part. In addition she’s rendering it in the “minor,” enlisting a “B flat.” (She performed the melody on our recent Spring Recital) The Reinagle piece came with its own new landmark: Rina played detached and legato notes in one selection.

I’ve prepared a video to assist mom with ear-training experiences for “Little March” during the week. Rina will be saturated with listening; doing hand signals for melodic shape; singing notes and then rhythms. (phrase one) This is the first stage of her learning process.



Rina plays at the Spring Recital

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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)