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No dumbing down piano study for adult students

I’m ready for a shower of criticism on this one. After all, some adults want their favorite transcription of the Elvira Madigan theme song, (aka Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C, Andante) to encapsulate their musical journey—at least for part of the time. And that’s OK if the transcription route of top ten, poorly transformed (rotten tomato) versions of the Classics doesn’t squeeze out real deal pianoforte masterworks in unadulterated form.

On that pessimistic note, one of my students from the Central Valley, (aka agriculture’s West Coast heartland) had studied with me for 6 years before I escaped to pesticide-free Berkeley CA. Thinking she might be a carry-over on SKYPE, I’d already planned her next deep-layered musical exploration: Chopin’s B minor Waltz which would have been a logical follow-up to the less complex Waltz in A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous.

But no sooner than my pupil showed a lack of enthusiasm for ONLINE instruction, I had referred her out to a seasoned Valley mentor who’d graduated from one of the most distinguished European conservatories and made no bones about her “superior” training.

With such a self-ignited reputation, one would have expected a sequence of lessons on an exceedingly high level.

No such luck. The progression of selected works was tantamount to a poorly transposed, two-page FUR ELISE reduction, minus the meaty middle section and chromatic bridge to final theme.

It wasn’t the Beethoven Classic that was CUT to unrecognizable form, however, but a Chopin substitute that might have been as harmful as a banned artificial sweetener.

In short, the student was given an impossible remake of Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in Db Major, transposed to the key of G, with more technical land mines than the original. Certainly, the overwhelmed pupil was not ready to tackle the URTEXT edition or a shoddy substitute.

The good news is that she grew so frustrated with the roster of fakes, that she headed over to SKYPE in sheer desperation. Now two years later, she’s back to basics and deep-layered learning…

Which brings me full circle to the solid journeys my adult pupils are taking minus God forsaken short-cuts.

Case in point:

One student embarked upon the Schumann “Traumerei,” No. 7 from Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) and has realized how fingering choices and voicing are pivotal to the initial learning stage. If fingering is haphazard, then a seamless legato line is unattainable.

Schumann Kinderszenen Urtext

To assist her study, I prepared a video that draws on the URTEXT edition, with recommended finger-switching maneuvers that will aid smoothly connected lines.

But her first assigned goal this week is to thread through the treble melody without adding the balance of voices.

Such a study model is shown in the video below:

And here’s my play through:

In summary, it all hearkens back to the meaning of piano study and its serious ingredients. If a student wants to read through fun transcriptions in his/her own spare time, I have no objection, but when lessons roll around each week, it’s most valuable to pursue compositions that have been time-tested for their substance and beauty. And as a direct benefit, they seed technique and advance musical growth.

***

PS: There are finely composed Jazz pieces, contemporary literature, etc. that can be integrated into the curriculum. These should be assessed for relevance to a student’s level of advancement.

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An exceptional set of piano “arrangements” for Intermediate Level students (Carnival of the Animals) VIDEOS

In the past, I’ve ranted against giving piano students “arrangements” of celebrated compositions like Fur Elise and Chopin’s Waltz in Eb Major. The latter appears, significantly reduced, in the Faber Adult Accelerated edition. It’s a token Classical music offering interspersed by Boogie Woogie snatches. Oh, I forgot the revised Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a curious transposition of Mozart’s Theme and Variations Sonata, K. 331.

(The above prejudice does not circumscribe well-regarded, advanced level transcriptions by Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and others. Examples: “Liebestraume,” and “Flight of the Bumblebee,” to name a few)

In the realm of elementary and intermediate level piano studies, however, transcriptions or arrangements as found in method books, can be easily replaced with comparably leveled music in original form that has greater musical and teaching value.

Examples: Minuets by Hook, Mozart, J.S Bach, Rameau, et al.

Having said that, I’m going to depart from my well-known inflexibility and praise a collection of Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals “arranged” for piano by Hans-Gunter Heumann.”

I stumbled upon this treasure trove of miniatures after my Intermediate level students had been saturated with the Rachlin ensemble’s performance of Carnival on You Tube.

A feast of wondrous tableaux, it was my student’s entree into the colorful cosmos of French composer, Camille Saint-Saens. Yet, I hadn’t known at the time that my recommended listening assignment would be followed by a hands-on journey through his music in a reduced but appealing form.

As a preliminary, here’s the roster of Rachlin’s You Tube offerings that my students sampled before their playing adventures. (Roger Moore, narrator, serves up delightful Ogden Nash verses as accompaniment)

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=carnival+of+the+animals+racklin&oq=carnival+of+the+animals+racklin&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=s&gs_upl=3939l15554l0l17710l45l39l10l15l25l1l657l3142l3.6.2.1.0.2l14l0

Now here are selections from Heumann’s colorfully illustrated collection that contains 14 pieces:

Introduction and Lion

This tableau was the springboard for a teaching opportunity:

The Aquarium

The Elephant

RACHLIN sample on the double bass:

Wild Asses

CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS: (WIKI)

Composer, Camille Saint-Saens (1835 to 1921)

“Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The orchestral work has a duration between 22 and 30 minutes

“Le carnaval was composed in February 1886 while Saint-Saëns was vacationing in a small Austrian village. It was originally scored for a chamber group of flute/piccolo, clarinet (B flat and C), two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, but is usually performed today with a full orchestra of strings, and with a glockenspiel substituting for the rare glass harmonica. The term for this rare 11-piece musical ensemble is a “hendectet” or an “undectet.”

“Saint-Saëns, apparently concerned that the piece was too frivolous and likely to harm his reputation as a serious composer, suppressed performances of it and only allowed one movement, Le cygne, to be published in his lifetime. Only small private performances were given for close friends like Franz Liszt.

“Saint-Saëns did, however, include a provision which allowed the suite to be published after his death. It was first performed on 26 February 1922, and it has since become one of his most popular works. It is a favorite of music teachers and young children, along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. In fact, it is very common to see any combination of these three works together on modern CD recordings.”