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Piano Practicing: Breathing into phrases and blocking out passages (Mozart Sonata, example)

I’ve picked the first two pages of Mozart’s Sonata in Bb Major, K. 281, last movement, Rondeau, Allegro to explore breathing and blocking techniques in the learning process. (These principles can be applied to practicing music from a variety of eras)

Starting a composition is often taken for granted. Sometimes students will land on a first note, for example, with the force a belly plop into a pool. Others will forget there are opening notes, (as the 4-16ths upbeat of Mozart Sonata K. 333 in Bb) They’ll breathe a sigh of relief, once they’ve managed to elude them, moving with alacrity to longer, spaced-out notes.)

Yet, this very “sigh of relief,” can be utilized as a relaxed stream of expressed air to usher in a pleasing opening note or notes.

Naturally, breathing into phrases with ease should be ongoing as a composition flows, so biofeedback becomes a vital practicing ingredient. (I recommend that students keep a journal of awakenings)

Blocking

Blocking out passages to obtain fluidity is a simultaneous part of the learning spectrum. Thinking in “groups” of notes, especially with fast passages, encourages “fast melody,” instead of chaotic crowds of notes without shape, meaning or contour. Knowing the geography of notes, therefore, is an organizer that helps smooth out phrases (Relaxed arms and supple wrists accompany)

The first video below spotlights the aforementioned practicing areas, adding an awareness of dynamic contrasts/ weight transfer, and the use of solfeggiated syllables (do, re, mi, etc) to follow and absorb voices. (Separate hand practice and voice parceling within a slow, behind tempo frame are recommended)


Play through
(still behind tempo)

Mozart k281 rondeau p 1

Mozart k 281 rondeau p 2

LINK

Chopin, Warm-ups and the Art of Breathing

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

Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway, Steinway model 1098 for sale, Steinway piano, Steinway piano model 1098, Steinway studio upright

My singing Steinway studio upright is a parting sorrow

Steinway upright dolled up

It hasn’t left Berkeley yet, but I’m sure my second singing nightingale will in time find the right owner. I’ve down-sized since my recent move–going from 3,000 sq feet, to 1500 to 700. Might as well live in a Pod.

Most readers and You Tubers watched me demonstrate for my students on the upright, as the camera was aimed straight at me–and once the piano made history when I briefly fell asleep during a “Fur Elise” lesson, nearly bonking my nose against the rack rim.

But most memories have been bundled in musical warmth and gratitude.

The Steinway beauty, inside and out, is a model 1098 manufactured in 1992. It has a wealth of resonance, added to an even, smooth “feel” across the keyboard.

May it live forever in the heart of its future caretaker, bringing musical love and joy to a new household.

On display:

Beethoven “Fur Elise”


John Peters, Registered Piano Technician comments on the upright:

shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com

serial number 524279

hammers and pins view

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The premier piano “haus” on W. 58th!

Guggenheim white Steinway B Klavierhaus

The high point of my trip to NYC was inhabiting a paradise of pianos on “piano row.” That’s what they call “West 58th” between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

In the imposing shadow of Carnegie Hall that envelops the neighborhood, Klavierhaus manages to retain its unique character amidst a glut of piano restorers such as Beethovens and Faust/Harrison.

(I made a visit to Beethovens that will be covered in a separate posting)

For me, Klavierhaus was indeed center stage from the moment I entered its sanctuary.

Greeted by an eye-catching, Pleyel, circa 1890, I sampled its delicious tone and impeccably even feel from note to note. Perfection to a tee permeated its DNA–In fact, the restoration was an historic journey with a keen awareness of what European materials were used at its inception. Jeremy Denk, concert pianist, had videotaped a riveting exchange with Gabor Reisinger, President of Klavierhaus about the care invested in bringing this instrument to exceptional playing standard. It was more than a miracle of fate, but instead, an artistic and historically authentic undertaking.

In the course of my meanderings through Klavierhaus with the assistance of Jeffrey Baker,(Business Dev. Director and Concert technician) I was impressed by more than a dozen pianos that were each developed to their full potential. No detail of maintenance was left behind.

This is not a common state of the art in most piano establishments. In too many, the instruments may have a basically appealing tone, but regulation and other problems abound that are sadly ignored–most likely for financial reasons.

The ever-looming profit motive compromises the needs of pianists who desire a lifelong compatible musical companion in the present minus a future promise of satisfactory, tailor-made “voicing” and “regulation”

(I’d encountered this in-the-next-life, promotional mantra many years ago when I was looking for a Steinway to replace a damaged one) Most pianos sampled at dealerships were “cottonballs,” without heart-throbbing, immediate tonal appeal.

NOT the “case” at Klavierhaus.

What I heard and experienced hands-on was the golden glow of piano paradise in the here and now without the promise of a honey-dipped afterlife.

And speaking of other-worldly environs, one particularly extraordinary piano captured my attention: It was a shimmering white Steinway in a gorgeous art case that’s best experienced by viewing my on-site video. (Excuse the shaky camera–I was very titillated to the point of tremulousness, not having a bulky tripod to steady me)

In truth, the following three videos in “a row” exemplify the outstanding work of Gabor and his team of tuner/technicians/salespeople who immaculately prepare and showcase these beautiful instruments.

First the lusciously mellow gift that Guggenheim gave to his wife on Valentine’s Day:

Next, a 9-foot Fazioli (Angela Hewitt’s favored piano)

Finally, more Pleyel-dipping, followed by a Bechstein sampling, and visit to the Klavierhaus Recital Hall


LINK:

KLAVIERHAUS
211 W. 58th Street
New York, NY 10019
(The north side of West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue)

http://www.klavierhaus.com


OTHER: My visit to Beethoven Pianos on W. 58th Street

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/beethoven-piano-store-on-w-58th-is-a-treasure-of-restored-pianos-and-new-ones-too/

Berkeley California, classissima, classissima.com, James Barron, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, New York Times, piano, Pianomania!, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Stefan Kupfer, Steinway 1098, Steinway piano, Steinway studio upright, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Mania! and the Bezerkeley arrival of Steinway 1098!

Pianomania! is an apt title for a documentary about Stefan Knupfer, Steinway piano technician, who gallops upstairs and downstairs in a premier “Vienna concert haus,” trying to meet the needs of performing pianists, recording artists, et al. They demand the kind of perfection in voicing, tuning, aesthetics that’s often beyond human capability. One classic example is a relationship, easily characterized as neurotic that plays out with Knupfer and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. The pianist is gearing up to record Bach’s Art of the Fugue and requires “voicing” for Clavichord, Harpsichord and Organ by individual sections. Try transforming an acoustic piano into a 17th century artifact using more imagination than hands-on intervention, though in truth, Stefan has something up his sleeve that no other tech can dream up. (He’s a problem-solving dynamo)

http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/11/04/movies/pianomania-by-lilian-franck-and-robert-cibis-review.html

The assortment of pianos Knupfer deals with is mind-boggling. Steinway grands are numbered like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby.

The numbering, so conspicuously referenced in James Barron’s The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand(book and documentary) also applies to my own assortment of pianos.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/books/review/Morris.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Picture this, before I escaped from Fresno to Berkeley, California–

A living room hodge podge of acoustics: (and one digital)

The aerial view:

Fast forward to the latest piano shuffle in Bezerkeley, a sized-down space, that forced two acoustics out the door–one on loan to a piano teacher in Fresno.

The other, a Baldwin Grand, 1929, is housed up in the El Cerrito Hills! (my second E. Bay piano studio) Skyped piano lessons are launched at my Berkeley pad.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

But Hallelujia! Yesterday, Steinway 1098, a bright-sounding studio upright made it’s maiden voyage to my apartment, displacing Yamaha Arius 141 that was shuttled off to the kitchen! The latter incensed Jakov Corsa, Facebook friend, who just purchased Arius 161, and considers it having altar status. (Kitchen?)

Well, it was better than relocating an electronic to the bathroom, if you consider the economy-sized layout of my digs. (By the way, a hamper joins the blended family, with an ironing board neatly folded into a custom-made cabinet–It’s ready for deployment) Talk about an all-purpose kitchen!

Yamaha Arius 141 in kitchen

Almost center-stage, but still UP-staged by my Steinway Grand, M, 1917, NO. 185152, is 1098, delivered expertly and with panache by Greg McCrea, AA Pianos, Oakland. (Check Yelp and you’ll need no further help)

McCrea piano movers

AA piano movers McCrea

DSC05400

DSC05402

Sitting pretty, all dolled up, and ready for action!

Steinway dim lighting

How’s this for lighting and color framing!

pretty Steinway with blanket

A few camera pans around the room

2 Steinway pianos

Mac back and Steinway pianos

The back story. I purchased Steinway 1098 in Fresno about 7 years ago. A friend spotted an ad for a Steinway upright in the FURNITURE section of the Fresno Bee classifieds. Naturally, I raced to see/play it, and my curiosity was rewarded by years of playing pleasure. The seller, a native Italian, planned relocation to the homeland and desperately needed to find a good home for her sweetheart. I guess it was love at first sight and sound! A match made in heaven!

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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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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/