pianist, piano, piano addict.com, piano instruction by Skype, piano students, piano teaching, piano techique, pianos lessons, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld.com, pianoworldwide, staccato, staccato playing, teaching adult students, teaching scales, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

A Fear-less, Horizontal Approach to Staccato playing

Most piano students become DIS-connected when asked to play staccato. Their full blown trepidation wedded to DETACHMENT is so conspicuously on display during scale and arpeggio playing that a teacher must first devise mental cues to bring the student down to earth, in a comfortably secure traction with the keys.

It’s no surprise then, that LEGATO playing (smooth, note-to-note connection) may be the paradoxical entryway to staccato journeys across the 88s. In an octave-by-octave transit that essentially draws on a pianist’s ability to hug the keys, if not drag notes using touch-sensitive weight transfer, a resultant grooved, grounded, and gravitational centering will become the psychological and physical model for subsequent crisp releases. (It’s a natural transition that feeds relaxed and well-shaped staccato playing.)

In the following videos, two adult students respond positively to “horizontal” framings of their arpeggios and scales. They also make nice playing transfers from legato to well-contoured staccato.

Diminished 7th Arpeggio
(In slow and incrementally quicker tempos–Note that a slow-paced staccato rendering retains a horizontal dimension with teacher prompts.)

F#-minor Scale (Melodic form)

classissima.com, pianoworldwide, youtube.com

An adult piano student’s musical journey began in Holland

Marie, a pupil of long-standing, bestowed a heartwarming narrative about her piano study and its European roots.

Uncannily, when I’d posted a beautiful rendering of Chopin’s Db Nocturne in one of my blogs, she commented that pictures imported through the soundtrack were places she had known as a child, so her memoir flows from these tableaux:

From Marie:

“My relationship with the piano began while I was growing up in Holland. My brother and sister and I all hid under the table when this huge, black thing was hoisted with a crane into our two-story window of a small living room. I eyed the black and white keys cautiously wondering why it all looked so strange not like any other furniture in the house. Then, my mother began to play. Chopin, she said. My five-year old self had never heard anything so beautiful. Our home instantly filled with music and I began to long to play myself. Do, re, mi mother taught as the lessons began. But, to my dismay, what came so easily to her became a mystifying struggle for me. Our tentative relationship became more strained as I tried her patience. Yet, how I longed for the notes to become beautiful music.

“The lessons stopped abruptly when we moved to America. The piano could not come with us, and now was a luxury we could not afford so music became phonograph records and the Lawrence Welk Show. The piano became a childhood memory.

“I was in college before the piano emerged again in my life. It was in a mandatory music class that required us to play a piece on the piano. I stared at the notes unable to make any sense of them. Why can’t you just get it, badgered my teacher. I was a failure without a prayer of a chance to create any music. I dared not touch those elusive keys again.

“Yet, the music remained in my heart and the desire to play awakened when I could finally afford a piano of my own. At first my mother attempted to teach me again, but that went no better than when I was a child. Determined, I found another teacher and slowly the notes started to sound more like music. Lessons continued in fits and starts as one teacher after another moved away. Then, one day staring at my dormant piano, I dared to risk finding a teacher again. That is when I connected with Shirley.

“The right teacher is a student’s dream. Shirley understood my struggles. She inspired confidence and gave me the courage to believe in my musical self. She patiently undid all the doings of inept teachers, as she methodically taught me how to create beautiful sounds with a flexible wrist, swishing thumb, coming under a note and not poking it out.

“While most of the theory still goes over my head, Shirley thoroughly explains how it applies to each of the pieces filling in the gaps of my schooling. And all without pressure or put downs! I was able to relax into the music at my own pace.

“It has not been easy. If I don’t practice, my playing suffers. That has been a challenge with a busy work schedule and family commitments. Yet, all the effort is worth it.

“I have learned so much more than just music. It has been about mindfulness and focusing on the present moment. It has been about letting go of control as l learned to let go and let the music flow. It has been about becoming so much more aware of my body and breath as it transmits sound and emotions into the music. It has been about patience and pacing myself when I am anxious. After all, music has tempo and rests. It is a continuous learning process that really is about life itself. Then, one day, when I was able to play “Fur Elise” all the way through, I realized the notes became music. And that has been my biggest joy, and is my continued desire to create something beautiful in this world.”

Marie and Aiden

Marie and I breathe through warm-ups together. We learn from each other over weeks, months and years.

After I moved from Fresno to Berkeley, Marie became a SKYPE student, keeping intact her love for piano and cats:

Marie and Cat on Skype

My comment: While I appreciate Marie’s unsolicited praise, she has done most of the work with unswerving passion and devotion. She continues to experience new awakenings that she shares with me, and her inquisitiveness keeps me on my toes.

Marie’s studies over the years: Beethoven “Fur Elise,” the Chopin Waltz in A minor, no. 19, Op. Posthumous, Chopin Prelude in A Major; a collection of Burgmuller pieces: “Angels’ Voices,” “The Clear Stream,” “Sorrow,” “Sincerity,” and “Tarantelle,” from Op. 100; Bach Invention no. 4 in D minor, and going back in time, Clementi Sonatina in C, Anna Magdalena Bach selections; Schumann “First Sorrow,” (Album for the Young), Rameau Menuet and Rondeau, J.C. Bach: Prelude in A minor, and Andante; Mozart Dance in F Major, James Hook Minuet, Mazurka by Maria Szymanowska; Schein Allemande; Tansman “Arabia,” Telemann “A Dance,” J.S. Bach Bouree in A minor, Kabalevksy “Joke,” Le Couppey “The Shepherd’s Pipe.”

Update: Tchaikovsy’s “In the Church,” Op. 39, No. 24

Technique: Circle of Fifths: Four-octave Major and minor scales, in parallel and contrary motion; now adding parallel 10ths–from quarters to 32nd notes/legato/staccato

Four-octave arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths, Major and minor–Triplet 8ths to triplet 32nds
Contrary motion, three octave spread.. Legato/staccato

NEW: Parallel tenths (Legato/staccato)

Parallel and contrary thirds in staccato (five-finger Major and minor positions, all keys) and TENTHS.

EXTRAS in knowing Marie: A few years ago, she graduated to a beautiful Acrosonic Baldwin that I helped select, and then asked me to play a small concert for her mother’s 90th birthday. It was a memorable occasion because Marie’s mom had known and played all the compositions I offered, including Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata.







Are Adult Piano Students Stigmatized?

pianoworldwide, youtube.com

A Heart-wrenching blend of Music and Memoir

Stage before Golabek performance

A one-woman show playing at the Berkeley Rep (adapted and directed by Hershey Felder) is so emotionally riveting that it must reach Broadway and beyond.

In The Pianist of Willesden Lane, Mona Golabek weaves a dramatic wartime story in music and words, producing a unique theatrical experience.

With the expressive framing of the Grieg Piano Concerto, Golabek retraces her mother, Lisa Jura’s life at a poignant juncture–when her childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist are “interrupted by the Nazi regime.” In a Kindertransport from Vienna to London that’s arranged by her Jewish parents following Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), the 14-year old is painfully separated from a nest of familial love and cultural wealth. Yet she “holds on to the piano” as a vestige of hope through a series of emotionally challenging ordeals.

These include include housing relocations, and journeys from tedious factory sewing to entrance at the Royal Academy of Music. In every personal life transition Lisa makes, her mother, (also a pianist and once her teacher) is spiritually present to reinforce the power and beauty of music to ensure survival. It’s a message she embedded in her daughter’s psyche before their separation.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

The epic Grieg Piano concerto is thematically woven through 90 minutes of captivating theater. It’s revealed in Golabek’s introduction as Lisa’s concert debut wish fulfillment. (LIVE music gushes forth from a concert Steinway in pulsating waves with sequenced portraits of family and wartime events. These light up the stage in an impressive multi-media display)

stage and pics

As the narrative unfolds, Willesden Lane becomes the most settling nest for Jura amidst her relocations. It’s where she finds a treasured basement piano that becomes the hub for enduring friendships and emotional support—a springboard to a life of musical recognition at the Royal Academy and a paid playing opportunity at a lavish Hotel. A wealth of admirers follow.

Golabek, a sensitive pianist and convincing actress, intersperses her mother’s memoir with generous servings of Grieg’s composition to bravura levels at dramatic moments where needed, while she liquidly turns a phrase in poetic mood shifts. Almost beyond belief is her ability to brave technically challenging pianistic terrain, while simultaneously spinning the events of Jura’s life in vivid detail.

An astounding pianistic interpreter, Mona Golabek reveals musical insights that exceed the bounds of any specific historical era. In the course of her solo performance, she delivers the works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin with musical depth and profound expression. Selections, including the Moonlight Sonata, Chopin’s E minor Prelude, Claire de Lune, the Grieg Concerto, etc., are revisited in a memorable CD that I purchased post performance and had instantly autographed. (The proceeds fund scholarships and other worthy causes)

Mona Golabek and me cropped 4

Without a doubt, Golabek would make her mother proud by this living, breathing, musically draped memoir. Technique, expression, emotion, nuance, are all bundled together in a perfect theatrical framing, making the Pianist of Willesden Lane, not only a gift to Berkeley, but one that is boundless in its reach.


A post-performance audience interactive with Mona

Golabek post perf animated

Mona Golabek cropped solo

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.

The Berkeley Rep is located at Addison off Shattuck.
For tickets, telephone, 510-647-2949

Hold on to your Music Foundation

coffee, Irina Gorin, non-legato, piano, pianoworldwide, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, youtube.com

About Coffee, Cats, and Non-legato

This blog mishmosh is as ridiculous as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a best-selling children’s book title, though it’s the perfect segue way to an unmatched set of events that transpired yesterday in Berkeley.

Coffee was my first preoccupation after Marta Vago, a long lost “connection” to my late piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, surfaced on FACEBOOK regaling a coffee bean. Let’s back up. She posted a link to “Top Nutrition Lies That Make the World Sick and Fat”...http://authoritynutrition.com/top-13-nutrition-lies-that-made-the-world-sick-and-fat/ and while EGGS suddenly rose to prominence as the perfect food, Coffee also acquired a new lease on life, as an Alzheimer blocker and more.

To be exact, here’s how coffee drinkers measure up.

According to the spread,

“They have up to a 67% lower risk of Type II diabetes.”

“Are at a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

“And have up to an 80% lower risk of liver diseases like cirrhosis.”

“Caffeine also helps to mobilize fatty acids from the fat tissues, boost metabolism and increase exercise performance by an average of 11-12%”

“Many studies have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, showing that it can improve mood, memory, reaction time, vigilance and overall brain function.”

“….coffee is also loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it is the biggest source of antioxidants in the modern diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables, combined.”

The aforementioned was motivation enough for me to resume coffee drinking, though I’ll admit to having fallen off the wagon, months ago.

During my verboten forays, I noticed higher performance at the GYM after creaming an 8 oz. container of Organic McLaughlin, and an increase in stamina from mid-afternoon into late evening. (nearly midnight)

Organic iced coffee on Gravitron

As for coffee and its relationship to piano playing, I entered only PLUSes on the balance sheet—noting enhanced coordination, greater animation, awareness, cognition, and emotional connectivity to music. (With no reported jitters)

On my sprightly way home from the Berkeley ‘Y’ Gym, (loaded with Organic Iced Coffee) I spotted two daunting felines that caught my eye. (Naturally, I had to snap ’em)

blue eyed cat in North Berkeley

kitten in North Berkeley

And since these pics are worth two-thousand words, no more need be said.



Finally, having acute, caffeine-driven awareness, I continued on my way home, greeted by a computer-generated LinkedIn spotlight on “NON-Legato.”

Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey believes that a gentle arch of the hand is gradually built by individually developing fingers 2, 3 and 4. That’s why her very young young students tap single, DETACHED (NON-LEGATO) notes to musically rich melodies from the folk and classical literature. (prerecorded with a ticking metronome)

Here’s an example: (My former Fresno student, Rina, was nursed along on Gorin’s book One, having embarked upon piano study at age 4.) A snatch from her 11th lesson included tapping A’s to a modal melody.

Naturally, many approaches to piano study are valid and each teacher makes decisions about learning schedules based upon individual student needs.



Do I dare add more to this hodgepodge?

I can’t resist. One of my MTAC (Music Teacher) colleagues posted this hysterical skit on her Facebook page that dates back to the 50’s. It’s a such a blast that I had to embed it, and besides there’s a conspicuous MUSICAL thread running through it. (I was in STITCHES!)