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Rina, 5, performs at our Spring Recital (after 8 months of piano lessons) Video

Rina is moving right along. She can spin a legato phrase with finesse after having practiced her detached-note playing for months. Now she’s working on using featherlight thumbs to craft smoother lines.

Notice her supple wrist approach to the piano:

***

Here’s a sample of Rina’s offerings at the May 5th evening recital held at Valley Music Center in Fresno.

More playing:

LOOKING BACK ON EARLY LESSONS WITH RINA

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/looking-back-to-early-piano-lessons-with-rina-5-with-a-solid-musical-foundation-to-build-on-and-now-the-present-videos/

Teaching piano to young children

Tales of a Musical Journey by Irina Gorin



Class starting on May 19th

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

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The piano teacher as conductor–sometimes shaping gestures help a student phrase better (Video)

I couldn’t resist an opportunity to conduct my student playing the Bach Invention 13 in A minor today. She’s preparing two selections for a competitive Baroque event coming up in two weeks, and the second offering is the Prelude in C minor BWV 847.

Claudia, 11, rehearsed the Invention a few times with a few sideline prompts from me, but at some point she needed her teacher to coach her close up to extract desired arpeggio shaping.

****

Flashback to my student days

My New York City piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, didn’t conduct the music I played, but she compulsively SANG over my feeble attempts to please her, making her point loud and clear that I needed more contoured melodic lines. (Wake up little girl and play from your heart)

I guess her approach became so embedded, that to this day I can’t resist singing when I practice, and obviously it spills over into my teaching.

But the conducting comes from another place within me—perhaps from a well of frustration that I don’t have an orchestra to direct.

So as the next best option, I find myself choreographing and singing at the same time which is great prep for a Broadway musical audition. At minimum I’m up for a place on the Chorus Line, hoping against hope to be picked.

Worse case scenario, as the saying goes, Those who can’t perform, teach. (which is ridiculous) It should be revised as, those who teach CAN perform– dancing and singing all over the place in their private studios.

So having cleared the air, owning up to my teacher-driven eccentricities, I offer an impromptu choreography and a few grunts that sprang out of Bach’s exuberant Invention 13.

The point was well taken. Claudia decided to imagine that she’s the conductor of her own duo, a two voice instrumental, as she ascends the stage to play her pieces.

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Playing through Chopin’s B minor Waltz with its sighing motif (Video commentary)

Last night I sat myself down at my imperfectly regulated Steinway M grand and managed to sigh several times through torrents of phrases crafted by design and inspiration to tug at the heartstrings.

And in the video below, I journeyed in baby steps through this intensely emotional landscape pinpointing how I could flesh out the SIGHs that spill from recurrent tied notes in Chopin’s somber Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69, No.2. (The singing tone–molto cantabile-is intrinsic to this music)

It seemed natural to draw a comparison to the violin in the execution of such repetitive figures. If I had a bow in my hand I would delay entry into the string and follow through with a deliberate broadening of the tone. (I spent six years of my life studying violin noting its carryover to the keyboard)

No doubt it’s easier to draw a slow bow than to translate this effect to the piano, but a pianist can accomplish the same by entering a note from below using a dipping wrist.

The permeating tied notes that seek relief in a curve down, dissipating motion flow into a contrasting middle section in D Major, marked con anime, with animation. Here the notes are lifted and configured in groups of three leading to a longer note.

To realize the vibrancy and unique character of the dotted-quarters springing from the shorter eighths, still another delayed entry into these longer ones is suggested. But just as conspicuous is the circular motion of the phrases that move the composition along. To best flesh out these shapes, I enlist the right elbow to swing in and out in counter-clockwise movement.

In measures where there is a sudden note-wise build-up in passion and intensity (forte outpourings, along with a staccato, or PORTATO) I find that broadening these streams of notes thwarts a tendency to crowd them. And allied to this more relaxed, freedom of expression is a tasteful application of rubato.

A second interlude in the B minor Nocturne utilizes the Parallel B Major key, giving the composition a lift. But no sooner than our emotions are plied, we are pulled back to the somber opening theme with its elaboration that closes the composition in sighing despair.

I consider this Waltz a favorite of mine and dote upon Artur Rubenstein’s reading on You Tube. His performance has a disarming simplicity, framed in a relaxed tempo. In all, the master takes about 4 minutes to weave his poetry with the grace and beauty he’s known for.

LINK:

What Pianists can Learn from String Players

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/what-pianists-can-learn-from-string-players/

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Down to the wire: An 11-year old piano student prepares for a competitive Baroque event (VIDEO) with a tender flashback

Claudia has made significant gains this year. She’s shaping her phrases more, and becoming ear-attentive and physically responsive to the music she plays.

Today, she made additional headway with J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C minor, BWV 847.

Coming into her lesson with two introductory readings, she was bobbing her head up and down, reinforcing beats which impeded the bigger flow of phrases above and beyond these metronomic impulses. (The playing was initially VERTICAL and without direction)

In the video attached, Claudia had a bigger conception of the work, playing it more HORIZONTALLY, with an ear toward melodic contouring AND harmonic rhythm. To play this composition requires at least a two-tier understanding of their interaction, not to mention an absorption of form or structure.

The interluding ad lib sections, are in marked contrast to what unfolds in between, requiring sensitive tempo shifts.

In this arena, Claudia is developing her sense of a Baroque rubato without going overboard.

***

It’s always valuable for a teacher to sing various sections of a composition while the student plays, and to conduct, or use body language to help shape phrases along.

The big challenge on the day of the big event is for the student to have the presence of mind to communicate all that she has learned along the way.

Videotaping allows examination of what needs improvement, while simulating performance conditions as best as possible.

Flashback: Claudia, age 6, playing at her very first recital in my home.

LINK:

Claudia’s musical time-line

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/a-piano-students-milestones-and-memories-in-photos-and-video/

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The most popular blog explores piano teacher/student relationships

I’ve been aware that this particular writing seems to touch a nerve, or strikes a chord of recognition among piano teachers, parents and students: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/pulls-and-tugs-two-sides-to-the-studentteacher-piano-lesson-relationship/

It’s only rival in popularity on my roster has been “Funeral for a Cracked Plate,” a real life soap opera about a piano buyer who slipped up by ordering a piano off the Internet without having requested an inspection by a registered piano technician.


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

Regardless of whom should have been blamed for a vintage Proksch (a lesser known Czechoslovakian grand piano) ending up with a cracked plate (or harp) the buyer was at least redeemed when the lucrative owner of a piano exporting business was nailed by the feds for illegally smuggling ivory into the country. (There are laws on the books against it)

The appeal of this writing was probably tied to old man York, a homespun Fresno piano tuner who was schlepped cross-country by the buyer to tiny-town Georgia to testify about the plate and its mishap. When the pair arrived at the courthouse, the judge thought York, at least, was “no expert” due to a legal technicality, and basically closed the case, sending the two home packing.

York thought it was a case of redneck justice.

The flashback scenes of a bare plate sitting on one of those wooden horses used at parades, was surreal. For me it evoked a rotunda in the Capitol without an honor guard. The post-mortem gathering in York’s Northwest Fresno driveway included a piano tuner hunched over the thing like he was praying, York, his wife, the buyer, her husband, and myself, the photographer.

The whole plot and its aftermath was grist for a movie.

***

Back to piano teachers and their often shaky vocation as fleshed out in the numero Uno Blog.

It’s hard to gauge exactly who would identify with the adventures of a piano teacher in any town USA– preferably a less cosmopolitan area like Fresno as compared to New York City.

I’m not sure the Big Apple contingent of piano instructors would run into students whose music landed in a pick-up truck headed for Texas. More than likely, an album might be left on a subway train bound for Queens or Brooklyn–a less appealing journey to write about.

Back in my early days, when I was a traveling piano teacher in New York City, I never encountered students without music because they didn’t budge from their apartments for lessons. Yet there were time old excuses for not practicing. Among them, HOMEWORK absorbed most of the blame.

Adult students

A 50ish lady who lived in an apartment a few floors above my mother in the Inwood section of Manhattan, was a hard-working, Irish civil servant who thought taking piano in her later years, would be a piece of cake. She figured it was, at best, a transfer of her typing skills.

With that impression intact, she lasted for 6 months, and then moved on to crocheting. A no drama momma, she barely registered any emotion upon her departure.

I didn’t endure any power struggles with parents during my years teaching back East. It was probably because New Yorkers were riveted to TV and other news media for the latest bulletin about a serial killer–either Son of Sam, or another lunatic let loose in Central Park to attack joggers.

Little energy was left to fight with the piano teacher over repertoire choices or time switches.

I don’t recall any beefs about fees in those days either. Parents would neatly tuck cash into my palm, and sometimes send me home with a bell jar of chicken soup, or freshly made Borscht. It felt good.

I must admit that one of my Korean parents here in Fresno, rushed over to my place after I e-mailed her tragic news that my treasured blog, “After the Fall” had bitten the dust.

And to make matters worse, tech support was at a loss to help.

So what!

Who could care less about a silly, old blog, when the economy was rapidly tanking?

Still the Korean pastry arrived like clock work, and the sugar high gave me energy and motivation to re-write the blog from scratch. It came back miraculously, paragraph by paragraph.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/after-the-fall/

In all candor, my personal blog favorite is usually the newest one I’m writing, though I have to confess that “Pulls and Tugs” still tickles my fancy, and makes me laugh like crazy, especially when I get to the part about the missing music and the Lone Star State, along with a choir of parents screaming for changed lesson times.

To preserve our unique piano teaching culture, I believe we should ardently gather stories like these from around the country and publish them in an anthology.

Let’s begin…

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The Complete Piano Work-out in 3 parts (Videos)

Most of my late intermediate and advanced students know the routine at lessons. The first twenty minutes are spent warming up in the Key they’ve been assigned the previous week. Once seated at the piano, they’re ready for a challenging kinetic whirl around the keyboard as scales and arpeggios dance through the cosmos in various rhythms and articulations. It beats an aerobic work-out at George Brown’s.

The wrists are pliant, and there’s a slight pull on the elbows as contrary motion between the hands nudges them out. They never hug the sides of the body at any time, and there’s always a relaxed space for the arms to swing back and forth enabling the elbows to “stretch” out. It “feels” like what the doctor ordered, pushing the physical envelope to its limit and getting the resultant health benefits. Perhaps a Cardio routine for pianists?

It’s more. You gradually groove into the keys before you do a swan dive into your repertoire with “free,” natural breaths to spare.

So let F Major play out in three parts, with a modest preliminary leading to a rigorous romp around the 88’s.

I.

II.

III.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/piano-technique-thumb-shifts-in-playing-scales-and-arpeggios-video/

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Piano Instruction: Chopin Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28, Teacher, Shirley Kirsten

Chopin composed 24 Preludes in Op. 28 exploring 24 different keys (Major and minor) with each Prelude having its own mood and character.

In my step-by-step practicing of the E minor Prelude, I start with the Left Hand with its chordal mosaic, and listen attentively for descending chromatic movement between chords. In the foundational learning process, I want to be aware of common tones and those voice or voices within the sonorities that move. (Note that there are some progressions that are not chromatic)

I also need to use a supple wrist so I don’t enter the chords too fast, or with unnecessary impact. Listening across the chords helps to avoid a vertical rendering.

Next, I shape the right hand, which is especially challenging with its long notes in Largo tempo. The Alla breve indication of cut time, or a feeling in two helps move the melody along.

Finally, I play hands together trying to keep a nice balance between chords and melody, listening for how the passing, chromatic and other harmonies nourish the expressive line above.