piano, Scenes of Childhood

Piano repertoire: Review and Refresh

Striking a balance between learning new pieces and keeping a connection to older ones, requires a commitment to well-parceled, organized practice time. It presents a challenge that invites a particular focus on preserving familiarity with repertoire that can easily slip into obscurity during months or years of neglect. As time passes, tactile estrangement grows.

A review and refresh approach can therefore morph into Repeal and Replace if older compositions had been incompletely learned or prematurely abandoned. In their resuscitation, they will need additional fingering adjustments, introspective harmonic analysis, phrasing revisions, and altered practice routines. Oldies, on the other hand, that had enjoyed embryonic growth to full development in layered stages, will experience a smoother transitional review with the added crossover effect of simultaneous, infused NEW repertoire exposure.

In short, a harmony of new and older pieces in a reciprocal developmental relationship, will enrich a musical journey.

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One of my adult students, who appreciates the review process and its enduring musical value, requested a reconnection with Schumann’s “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples,” Kinderszenen 1, Op. 15. When I suggested a first step parceling of voices, with a plan to permute them in various combinations as we had done before, the task became daunting. Yet such a roadblock simply meant that although the pupil’s initial learning experience had been thorough and layered, a revisit might take a bit longer, requiring a dose of patience and self-compassion.

Second and third reviews of a piece over time, help solidify learning gains and insights, making retrievals less cumbersome and quite natural. In addition, a REVIEW having been built on a solid foundation, even if shaky in the early phase of re-exposure, will attach a deeper understanding of structural, harmonic and affective dimensions in the RETURN.

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In a video summary of ingredients attached to a Kinderszenen 1 Review, I drew upon the tenets of the original approach that added a few epiphanies.

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In a separate, “new” learning journey undertaken by a student, (Beethoven, Adagio Cantabile, Sonata Pathetique in C minor, Op. 13), a voice-parceling approach, comparable to that which applied to Kinderszenen 1, is valuable in the PRESENT, while it’s equally beneficial for a future revisit.

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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.

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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.