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One grand piano in, and another out, but not forgotten

My tiny Berkeley apartment had been shrinking by increments with its herd of tight-squeezed grand pianos and digital keyboards. Count in a Baldwin grand acquired in April, 2015; a medium size Steinway grand (5’7″) bequeathed by my father after Oberlin graduation, and two side-by-side digital keyboards–YDP 105, and Yamaha Arius 141. The electronics were fun to play in the wee hours of the morning, with a snug pair of earphones to ensure privacy.

In truth, I had no real need to seal off my practicing from an appreciative audience of neighbors. Many admitted to eavesdropping–pressing their ears against my door, to savor a “free” concert of diverse timbres.

Why, then would I want to add a 6’2″ grand to my overflowing, “colorful” instrument collection?

I had no intention of allowing a tenuous keyboard situation to spiral out of control, until one Saturday, a neighbor’s baritone voice boomed through my door, announcing with urgency that “a Steinway A grand piano” was the centerpiece of a nearby Estate sale.

Instantly, I recognized the Letter “A,” like a dog sniffing out and pursuing a tantalizing beef bone– the impetus of which triggered a Pavlovian response.

I sprang out the door, running like a fiend to the McGee Street framed house only a block away, in hot pursuit of a prized instrument that I’d fantasized about since adolescence.

***

 

The ebony grand with lid open, was a 1911 model, making a stately appearance, and begging to be sampled. In a heartbeat, I was seated at the piano bench, running my fingers over its immaculate set of original ivories that afforded a fluid passage from phrase to phrase.

Steinway full view

Ivory keys

The piano sang like a nightingale and was smooth as silk to the touch. It sparked an impulse to possess it that barred a shred of doubt and common sense.

It was a mad love frenzy that sent me scrambling for my check book.

But first I’d dispatch a technician for a piano inspection.

His thorough assessment came within hours, and was so remarkably positive, that I sensed the man’s imminent, if not fantasized desire to rob the cradle of my future piano-playing pleasure.

I responded with a hasty offer aimed to thwart a bid by side-by-side salivating contenders. A few had huddled around me as I sampled the ‘A,’ with servings of Romantic era repertoire– the last offering was the first tableau from Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. (Kinderszenen, “Of Foreign Lands and People.” )

As I inhabited my ethereal playing universe, a Chinese couple had edged close to the keyboard, breaking a spellbound immersion with a barrage of questions about the ‘A.’ They wanted to know if they should purchase it.

With a tiny, transparent sales slip chugging slowly out of a machine, I quickly sealed my ownership of ‘A’ and promptly contacted the piano movers .

While the logistics of containing THREE grands in a pod-size space were beyond my comprehension, I chose to let my fever pitch excitement abate before making a final decision about the fate of my PIANOS.

Somberly, I concluded that Steinway ‘M’ had to go with its modest, though resonant voice that matched its “medium” size and proportion.

My ads for an adoptive family spread far and wide in neighborhood Online listings. ‘M’ would either be placed in a temporary home with a suitable environment, or be sent to climate-controlled storage in a bumpy ride to Oakland. The latter seemed like a death sentence.

Israel Stein, my retired technician had e-mailed me a set of valuable recommendations that supported the well-being of my ‘M.’ These were borrowed and inserted in my posts.

“1. Keep it out of direct sunlight – always. (“only an hour or so per day” is just as damaging).
“2. Keep it away from open windows and doors (especially in the winter)
“3. Keep it away from heat sources (radiators, heat vents, space heaters, etc.)
“4. Keep it away from steam, vapor, and other excess moisture (in today’s “open” floor plans, pianos often get subjected to kitchen steam and vapor).

“Unfortunately,” he emphasized, “people too often placed pianos in accordance with their home decor needs, not considering what was good for the piano.”

My ardent pursuit of a caretaker took many twists and turns.

One eager prospect, was a song writer with admirable credentials. She and her composer husband who lived about 2 miles from Steinway ‘M,’ almost became its temporary parents, but for their open kitchen in close proximity to the grand. The gas heat, and vapor would swell the soundboard, ushering in a compensatory contraction. Their bedroom was at first a possibility for containment, but ‘M’ could not fit into the small space.

Other wooing adoptive applicants were ruled out by radiators, and very young children. Still, I was clinging to the hope that perhaps my neighbors down the walkway would agree to take my ‘M’ in exchange for piano lessons bestowed upon their chirpy 8-year old daughter who sang past my door each day. It was her dad who had first alerted me to Steinway ‘A.’

***

Through this whole, foster care-seeking process, I felt more than a shred of guilt for abandoning ‘M’ though I knew that it was time for ‘A’ to claim the rightful space that had been taken up by ‘M’ these many years.

To my great relief, my neighbors came through in the wee hours of the morning with a text that they would take ‘M’! And that’s how the piano shuffle began.

(‘A’ now sits snugly beside ‘B’ (Baldwin) in my music room, as ‘M’ is resting comfortably in her neighboring abode)

side by side piano best

 

Finally, piano lessons will soon start where ‘M’ resides, and I’ll keep my ties to a piano that will not be forgotten.

Little girl in front of M

LINK
http://www.mcpianomove.com/mccreas_piano_moving/McCreas.html

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Pianos, Old Age, and Cosmetic Imperfection

I wish I could order an instant make-over for gorgeous-sounding pianos that suffer rejection because of imperfect exteriors. By example, one of my students who’d grown attached to her respectable-looking, 70′s era, walnut console piano, was devastated when her family whisked it away during a move to a bigger house. Apparently, the instrument’s wood grain clashed with the decor of a newly furnished living room.

In another “case,” a prospective piano buyer declined a resonant 1980 Wurlitzer spinet because it had a scratch or two, only noticed upon ultra-scrutinized, up-close inspection.

Yet, the beginning 6-year-old student for whom it was intended, would have ignored the piano’s dings, compared to its pleasurable ping.

***

My first real piano, a Sohmer upright in glossy black, wasn’t much of a looker, but it played to the heavens and sang like an angel. What more could I want.

After Oberlin graduation, a Steinway M, 1917, bestowed as a gift by my father, had its share of nicks, glossed over with glop an East Bronx shop owner had in his apron pocket. Decades later, its many moves to performance venues and rebuilding shops, incurred more dings, while my love for its golden sound intensified over time.


***

Pianos absorb the prevailing culture’s obsession with eternal youth and cosmetic perfection. Not surprisingly, quite a few with great soundboards and strings are put on the Goodwill Industry truck as the last stop before the scrap heap.

Connell York, age-defying piano tuner, ivory-key scavenger, and hammer-assembly collector, owes his treasure trove of piano-associated skeletal remains to the premature retirement of towering old uprights. These “antiques” are lined up on Craig’s List as either “free” for the taking, or priced not to sell. As ornate as some appear, their age and size make them piana non grata.

As piano stores drop away like flies and digital entertainment centers appeal to buyers of all ages, acoustic pianos with or without cosmetic eyesores are being put out to pasture. What was once considered space-saving and attractive about spinet and console pianos, is now passe.

Pressing buttons that ignite a shower of big sounds whooshing around the living room beside the streamlined I mac, iPhone, and super big screen plasma TV, are a sign of the times. “Old” technology is not “in.” Even a space-age looking Roland will be replaced by something more spiffy, sexy, and up-to-date.

But back to acoustic pianos that have aged out and lost their family heirloom status. My 1951 Haddorff console was one of those passed down through three generations and suddenly sent on its way. While I benefited from the owner’s decision to cut the umbilical CHORD, it was sad to see this beauty leaving its home without a tear of regret.

Contrast this emotionless separation to circumstances surrounding the sale of an old nameless player piano housed in the Central Valley. A middle-aged owner bound for Las Vegas shed tears upon her blemished piano’s departure, admitting that a “part of her arm” was taken during the heart-wrenching move.

Last year, I spoke to the music-teacher owner of a vintage Gulbransen Grand who reluctantly placed it for sale on Craig’s List. While she sang its praises, describing a piano of great tonal beauty, she expressed a desire to “clean house” in the aftermath of her spouse’s death, and start a new life without lingering memories of the past. The poor piano, loaded with extra-musical baggage carried a burden it least needed. As it was, an older grand with a $3000 price tag in a depressed economy would probably not sell. Like other pianos of this vintage, it would join the roster of fine pianos appealing to the few and far between.

(A recent sale of a 1962 Sohmer baby grand, priced down to $1500, was driven by its beautiful art case, Queen Anne scrolled legs, and florid rack. A hastily produced video about this piano surely helped! But bottom line, its drop dead good looks sealed the deal!)

At DC Pianos in Berkeley, Dennis Croda has an interesting crop of vintage pianos that are appealing in appearance and sound. An Acrosonic console from the 60’s was purchased by a student of mine over there that shimmered and resonated to the exponential. Its gorgeous tone, plus embellished case, gave it more than an edge over brand pianos of comparable size.

(I’ve always regarded Baldwin Acrosonics as the “Cadillacs” of console and spinet-variety pianos. They’re at the top of my list in the used instrument category because of their wide, innovative sound space)

****

Three-thousand miles away in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Pat Frederick resurrects very old pianos of historical importance that have life breathed into them through regularly scheduled performances. These instruments, replete with dings, still sing in a voice that preserves what composers of the past intended.

(Frederick Collection of Pianos, http://www.frederickcollection.org/)

In this spirit, pianos that are heading for a premature demise around the country might be revitalized in some form or another. Youngsters starting lessons should have the chance to play a piano that doesn’t sound electronic and devoid of personality. With decent piano maintenance, instead of benign neglect these instruments’ lives can be extended without the dire, end of the line, need for life support.

Even cosmetically unappealing Oldsters should have a place to shine in the musical universe.

In tempo with the times, New York City hosts street pianos decorated in graffiti as part of “Sing for Hope.”

Watch concert pianist, Jeffrey Biegel give a flawless performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on a twangy console in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Needless to say, the composer would have appreciated this Tin Pan Alley celebration.

***
My blog with a tie-in.. but more attuned to resurrection at its conclusion
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/pianos-old-age-and-cosmetic-imperfection-2/

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Piano Lesson: Analyzing/playing Bach Invention in D minor, No. 4, BWV 775 in slow tempo (Videos)

In J.S. Bach’s Two-part Inventions both voices overlap and imitate each other creating counterpoint.

The SUBJECT of no. 4 contains a d-minor Harmonic form scale whose 6th note, B flat does NOT continue in an upward motion to the leading tone, C# or 7th note, but instead, the C# is displaced down to the lower one. (B flat goes down to C#) This is unexpected in the course of scale progressions, so it has an emotional impact bound up in the intrinsic nature of the interval and its fall. (watch phrasing, and roll wrist forward for the ascending scale)

In truth, the descent sounds generically like a Major 6th, but its spelling conforms to a 7-letter spread, making it a 7th.

The second part of the opening subject, is the broken-chord, detached 8th-notes. They should not be too short. (I think press/lift)

Once the content of the Subject is understood, then any elaborations should be noted as occurs starting in measure 5 and on, as well as sequential measures, where a melodic or bass segment may be repeated a step below or above–or for that matter any uniform distance as long as there’s a symmetrical relationship between measures or phrases. (melodic and/or harmonic component–rhythmic as well)

The trills spelled out in the Palmer edition, are not played rapidly. They’re designated as treble 32nds against 16ths in the bass. When the trill is reversed, the Left Hand plays 32nds against 16ths in the Right Hand. (These would be called “measured” trills)

A very poignant juncture is at m. 48, with its DECEPTIVE cadence. An awareness of this surprising emotional shift is needed, so be prepared for an unexpected delay by way of a Bb VI chord.

Above all, carefully shape phrases and be aware of the counterpoint at all times.

Play Through:

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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/pianist-irina-morozova-blends-a-satisfying-career-of-teaching-and-performing-videos/

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Piano Technique: Burgmuller’s Tarentelle, Op. 100-Fueling and shaping fast passages with a dipping, supple wrist (Videos)

Most piano students will have been assigned a Burgmuller selection or two during their formative years of study. And most likely, these would have been snatched from the composer’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, Op. 100 that advance by steps in difficulty, though it can be argued that all contain unique technical challenges.

Composed in the Romantic style, this music is strikingly beautiful while it advances specific technique-related goals.

One of my favorites, “La Tarentelle” in a fast and furious tempo, has its origins steeped in fear.

From Wikipedia

“In the region of Taranto in Italy, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” after the region[3], was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. The stated belief in the 16th and 17th centuries was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as Tarantella.”

It’s no surprise that over time, many composers tried their hand at writing their own Tarantellas. (Italian form)

Rapid, frenzied passage work characterizes Burgmuller’s “Tarantelle,” which requires whole arm activity and supple wrists.

And while it may seem that the fingers are propelling the composer’s music along, they can easily tire if not fueled by a bigger physical energy.

Breathing long, relaxed breaths, being in the moment and thinking slowly through fast stretches of notes, keep the music flowing.

Rolling through three note group figures that are characteristic of 6/8 time, also helps to style and phrase streams of eighth notes. This is where a supple wrist allows an infusion of energy when most needed. For shaping lines, it’s indispensable.

(Notice a SLOW MOTION video-only replay that’s sandwiched into the Lesson video)

A defined section of punctuated quarter note chords found on page 2, shifts the mood and character of the composition giving it a robust, march-like character. At this point, it’s best to style, cajole, and phrase the notes in such a way, that draws listener interest.

Piano Lesson:

Playing Tarentelle in tempo:

RELATED:

La Chasse (The Chase) by Burgmuller


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/piano-technique-re-arranging-hands-for-speed-and-agility-in-burgmullers-la-chasse-the-chase-videos/

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Lesson planning for a 5-year old piano student–(Video)

Rina who’s into her sixth month of study, is ready to learn dotted-half notes. Up to now, she’s been saturated with black and white cardboard circles included within a packet along with Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey instruction.

The black notes (quarters) are known as “short” sounds, and the white ones (Half-notes), “long-sounds”

In “Frere Jacques,” we say:

short short short short–
short short short short—
short short long-sound, short short long-sound

For running notes–8ths
in the next part of “Frere Jacques:”

“run-ning notes and short sounds
“run-ning notes and short sounds

short short long sound (Ding Ding Dong)
short short long sound (echo)

I’ve branched off a bit in my own creative directions, introducing Whole Notes that Rina plays through in the Left hand on Tonic C, and as mentioned, we’ve experienced “running notes” within “Frere Jacques” (“morning bells are –) All FLOATING on a page– no staff notation as yet.

(Rina knows the 7-letter music alphabet forward and in reverse, and can sing letter names)

(also played in the parallel minor using Eb)

Her mom has gone the distance during the week between lessons by creating arts and crafts projects- Rina has cut out cardboard WHOLE NOTES that she brings to her lesson (“Whole Note Hold Down” is how she’s learned its duration)

Today I found a lovely Minuet by Reinagle (Faber Elementary -Developing Artist–old, unrevised edition) to introduce the DOTTED-HALF Note. In this effort, I took one of the cardboard white circles and added a BLACK DOT beside it. After mounting it on a piece of white paper, I made copies for Rina to have today. (It’s a springboard for another arts and crafts activity that Rina can undertake with her mother)

***

In today’s lesson, we will be clapping dotted half notes, as “HALF NOTE DOT,” and we’ll spend most of the time feeling its rhythm/duration and singing.

Ideally, we should put the notes on white paper and float them OFF the staff since Rina is used to this now but I think she should have “exposure” to what the real score looks like with notes going up and down. (This does NOT pin us down to reading music so early in the child’s musical development)

Rina will learn the Minuet in Non-Legato form, separate hands.

But I will take the leap to let her play one consecutive finger after another. I feel that decisions like these arise from what the teacher intuitively feels is appropriate.

I believe that Rina has enough physical, coordination-related abilities to move ahead now. It will of course be a trial run to see what works. The exploration is subject to modification.

(Incidentally staircase climbing for spatial relationship understanding clearly applies here, since the Minuet encompasses five-notes up and down)

Here’s the video to help things along: (Part A of Minuet only as a start)

Rina will sing, clap, use hand signals, intone rhythmic syllables and then letter names.

Separately, she’ll study the Left Hand voice alone, which is so perfectly written with all the Dotted-Half notes.

The built-in Echo is also a nice follow-up to our work with “Frere Jacques.”

Hands together will wait for a while since we have a new frontier to explore.

In the offing–exploration of parallel minor along with additional key transpositions. These activities should start early in the learning process as part of ear-training experiences.



RELATED LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/rina-5-shows-outstanding-progress-over-6-months-of-piano-lessons-videos/

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Piano Lesson: An adult student continues her Beethoven “Fur Elise” learning process (Video)

These are excerpts from today’s lesson where we covered:

1. Broken chord blocking; refreshing inversions of the Tonic as applied to practicing Fur Elise.

2. Voice balancing: fleshing out the treble (soprano) melody, on page 2 (F Major section) Using supple wrist and hand rotation; relaxation of arms.

3. C section–with repeated bass notes, alternating fingers, against, thread of melody woven through chords in the treble.

Paint brush stroke motion for Left Hand repeated note patterns.

Prior adult student lesson-in-progress links to Fur Elise by Beethoven

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/when-the-piano-teacher-is-absent-between-lessons-a-you-tube-video-can-fill-in-the-gap-fur-elise-and-chord-voicing/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/piano-instruction-fur-elise-by-beethoven-video/

OTHER Instruction:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/piano-instruction-fur-elise-by-beethoven-video/