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Into the Hills with the Sound of Music –a Baldwin Acrosonic “acoustic” sings

The video attached to this writing validates the beauty of music-making on a well-maintained, though 1940s vintage era acoustic piano.

Baldwin Acrosonics were the Cadillacs of the spinet and console variety pianos. They had a noticeable innovation compared to their sister-size instruments. (A deeper sound chamber, especially noted in the consoles that measured 40″ or taller) Baldwin Acro’s standard 36″ spinet was still a resonating musical treasure, if properly cared for. The pianos were manufactured starting in 1936.

“Coined from the Greek word, “Akros,” meaning supreme, and the Latin, “sonus,” meaning tone, the trademark Acrosonics were famous for their tonal clarity, power, and *Full- Direct Blow action.” (Bluebook of Pianos.com)

*This action sits on top of the keys instead of being a drop action where the action connects to the key by a rod or some other “indirect” method.

***

An Acrosonic with fluted legs, sequestered in a gorgeous El Cerrito Hills home lived up to its singing nightingale reputation, in the good company of “Haddy” Haddorff, one of my pianos, now in the good care of a well-regarded Central Valley piano teacher. (Both instruments have an immaculate set of ivory keys)

images haddorff

The Hills Acrosonic, purchased at DC Pianos in Berkeley, is accompanied by a sturdy adjustable concert bench.

And while many of my students own digitals, if they can possibly locate an acoustic of this variety in excellent condition, I would say, Go for it!

Acrosonics are easily found on Craig’s List, though a piano teacher and technician should be taken along for an assessment.

Just listen to this one and make up your own mind.e bay hills acro

The occasion was a make-up lesson on site at my students’ home. (We were working on Chopin’s A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous)

More often I’m found in a separate El Cerrito Hills location that houses my Baldwin Hamilton 1929 grand, another vintage charmer.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

Finally, look at these lovely representations of Baldwin Acrosonics, striking for their beauty, inside and out:

images Baldwin Acro

piano_22  Acro 2

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The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase

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The business of copying the piano teacher: Who has the final say or PLAY?

The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.

When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.

From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.

That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.

How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.

Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?

In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.

Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.

So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?

1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.

The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.

He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.

He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.

If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.

Which leads next to:

2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.

I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.

3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.

I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.

In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.

4) What about lessons and video follow-up?

I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.

Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.

To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.

(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)

On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.

To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.

Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.

Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.

These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.

The Art of Breathing and piano playing


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)

***

To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.

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Piano Lesson in progress: Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2 (shaping the opening phrases) Video

An adult student practiced the transition from the opening Largo broken chord, to grouping double 8th-notes in the Allegro, by blocking them, then unraveling the duple figures.

The Adagio that followed required phrasing with an ear toward shaping the line in a different temporal universe before a spill of note-pairs in a tension-building crescendo.

Video:

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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.

***

LINK:

Rina plays at the Spring Recital


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/rina-5-performs-at-our-spring-recital-after-8-months-of-piano-lessons-video/

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Piano Technique: Practicing dip/roll motions, and dead weight fat lady to skinny dipper for diminuendo (Videos)

I show my 13-year old student, Albertina how to dip/roll the last measures of Burgmuller’s frenzied Ballade, while applying weight control to taper a phrase. (diminuendo)

We’re on the final lap of preparation for Saturday’s Spring Recital!

ONLINE Webcam piano classes and Instructional schedule:

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

Play through:

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Part Six Piano Instruction, Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2 and all FIVE teaching segments preceding

In order from Part One to Six:

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

LINKS:

Part ONE: Beethoven Tempest Sonata in D minor

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/practicing-tips-for-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-part-one-video/

Part TWO Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/piano-instuction-part-two-beethovens-tempest-sonata-hand-cross-over-with-tremolo-in-the-middle-voice/

Part THREE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/piano-instruction-part-three-beethoven-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2/

Part FOUR Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/piano-instruction-part-four-beethovens-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2-measures-55-93/

Part FIVE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/piano-instruction-part-five-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-measures-93-to-158-development-recitative-submerged-pedal/

PART SIX, referenced in You Tube format

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwQzBpWJWqs