"When you Wish Upon a Star" from Walt Disney, duet playing with piano students, Five for Fighting a Hundred Years, John Ondrasik, Liz on Top of the World from Pride and Prejudice, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Taylor Swift, Wlat Disney, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

A piano student kicks back over the summer playing a Disney selection while I rekindle old musical memories (Videos)

It’s not a big deal when a student forgets her scale, arpeggio, and total assignment, then drifts into a casual reading of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio.

Albertina, 13, had brought a coffee-table size anthology of popular tunes to her last lesson. It was indexed by Movies Themes, Broadway Show hits like “Annie,” and some contemporary Christian hymns like “You Raise Me Up.” She basically played through the melody without yet having explored the bass line.

Great! This was a wonderful duet opportunity I did not pass up.

(Over school vacation, students were sniffing daisies, taking hikes, and playing computer games. Finding time to practice was not the norm so I was impressed with Albertina’s initiative.)

In the past, I’d played off-season duets with Allyse, a 16-year old, who was enraptured with the Beatles and Taylor Swift. Both she and her brother, Alex, had invested enormous energy downloading pieces they wanted to study in lieu of Bach Minuets, and Clementi Sonatinas–not to mention, SCALES!

After a bit of cajoling, however, they always compromised, taking their musical vitamins beside treat pieces.

I noted my journal entries about these excursions into popular music that were accompanied by a treasure trove of personal memories:

“Today was by no means a first for me, a long-haired musician raised on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms was playing pop tunes by John Ondrasik and Taylor Swift while I sailed through the universe, playing a hands divided version of “Liz on Top of the World” with another student. Videotaping portions of piano lessons, in any case, was the natural follow-up to these explorations. If nothing else, they had historical value.

“I’d been born into the cosmos of popular music, a member of the Rock n’ Roll generation and my big brother Russ, four years older, plugged me into Alan Freed at the Paradise, Bill Haley and the Comets, Johnny Mathis, Paul Anka, and the Everly Brothers, among others. The music of this era could be movingly Romantic, especially the ballads. Presley singing, “Love Me Tender,” a tear-jerker, and the Penguins crooning “Earth Angel,” a lilting, bittersweet melody, filled with heartfelt emotion.

“Melody permeated the most rhythmically-driven songs, like “Rock Around the Clock!” And “Little Darlin,’” another ear-grabber, drew me instantly into its harmonically engaging universe beside its catchy banjo-strumming beat.

“Many of these “pop” favorites intermingled with the great Classical works of the piano literature, making me quite a well-rounded listener. It was well before my musical preferences were set in stone. Throw in Peter Seeger, Marais and Miranda, Edie Piaf (“The Street Singer”), Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and all the marvelous musical theater selections from Brigadoon, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, and I was in seventh heaven!

In the late 50′s, Van Cliburn was riding the crest of his victory in Moscow, performing his winning selection, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in Bb minor, a victory that inspired a ticker-tape parade down Wall Street. I had a full-fledged crush on him. Meanwhile, my teenage peers were exchanging “Kookie, Lend me Your Comb” pics, casting me out of their inner circle. They wanted their real friends to conform, sharing an initiation rite by fainting in the presence of heart-throb, Fabian. Or later, it was the Beatles.

“I loved the Beatles, but not in the same way my peers did. “Yesterday” was for me a melancholy, heart stopper. “Hey Jude,” rocked in the Gospel style. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” had the surreal, contemporary sound with amazing, lush, sometimes dissonant sonority. I knew nothing of the LSD connection, and it didn’t matter because my love for the music prevailed. In truth, I tuned out the words of a song in my personal listening experience, but I was amazed me by how my brother and his friends memorized all the lyrics of a particular favorite, regarding words at the focus of their appreciation. I wanted to feel the melodic and harmonic contour to the exclusion of all else.

“My brother had also been exploring Classical, Romantic and Expressionist music during his intense Rock ‘n Roll phase. For hours he would blast LPs of Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor, Rimsky-Korsakov’s the Easter Overture, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture played on our modest phonograph. These works were his obsessions alongside Alan Freed’s rambling radio commentary.

“So it was not surprising that I would emerge from my childhood and adolescence with a propensity to love a diverse menu of music that included popular, ballad, folk, symphonic, and anything that communicated a memorable melody and compelling harmonic mosaic.

“Fast forward the clock: Today, Allyse practiced “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always,” agreeing to a slow and steady tempo.

“A few months ago, she begged to learn them. Meanwhile, older brother, Alex,dropped off “Liz On Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice in virgin form without fingering. My work was cut out for me.

“Both of these endearing piano students were members of the NOW generation, separated from me by decades, but still on the same page, practicing music that had meaning and evoked emotion. That’s what brought us together.”


A Piano Lesson with Alex, 17, as he practiced his favorite, “Liz on Top of the World.”

100 years, 6 degrees of separation, 77 Sunset Strip, adult piano students, Amsterdam Avenue and 74th Street, arpeggios, athletic coaching, athletic training, authorsden, Bach Inventions, Baroque music, Baroque trills, Beatles albums, Beethoven, blog, blogger, blogging, boxing, boxing lessons, California, Caroline Scheer, casio privia 110, cdbaby, Classical era, classical music, Classical period sonata, classissima, classissima.com, Creative Fresno, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Facebook, Facebook friend, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Five for Fighting, Forever and Always, Fresno, Fresno Famous, fresno filmmakers alliance, Gospel Music, Guitar Center, humor, keyboard technique, Major and minor scales, memoir, mind body connection, MTAC, music, music and heart, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano scales, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano tuning, piano warm-ups, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, popular music, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Ralph Cato, satire, scale fingerings, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sparring partner, Steinway and Sons, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, Steinway studio upright, talkclassical.com, Taylor Swift, Teach Street, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching scales, technique, teenagers, The Beatles, Uncategorized, video performances, whole body music listening, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Letting my hair down with a snatch of “Let It Be!” (VIDEO)

The piano room was a mess yesterday with music strewn about. Two ’60-’70’s era Beatles albums were excavated from a pile of sheet music, hard bound theory texts, and Urtext editions of Beethoven’s sonatas.

Foraging a big carton of stuff like this was a trip down memory lane. My very old Yamaha guitar, a prized possession, was off to the side, propped against a book shelf. A 1974 model with magnificent resonance, it evoked memories of my one and only group classical guitar lesson at New York University with a South American virtuoso. On the very first day of class, he tried to teach one of the more difficult pieces in the flamenco repertoire. It was Rubira’s “Estudio,” later renamed “Spanish Romance.” (The performer in this video was not related to the instructor)

Within a few weeks, class enrollment had dwindled to three and quickly, I made it two. It reminded me of several Oberlin Senior Recitals at Kulas where one audience member was seated in the front row holding a musical score. (I recalled a New Yorker cartoon with the same theme)

The NYU guitar teacher like many other music instructors I’d encountered needed a reality check. Half the students in his class had never read a note, but they expected to play guitar “in a flash.” Generations that followed were tapping iPhones and game boys with guitar tab charts and animated keyboards. It was an espresso learning revolution!

My sixteen year old student, Allyse was an anachronism in her approach to piano study. A fledgling, she went with the program, played scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths, and studied the Baroque Masters as an entree to sampling Classical and Romantic literature. No short cuts for her.

Just the same, she drove a hard bargain, insisting the Beatles went with the territory somewhere along the time line.(Allyse had already niftily tackled Five for Fighting, “100 Years,” and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always”) She had me enslaved to these pieces, as I sifted through practical fingerings and labeled harmonic progressions. But the prep work jump started a two way roller coaster ride through the contemporary pop music landscape.

With bristling enthusiasm, I indulged Allyse’s Beatles’ request. In truth, I had a vicarious interest in reading through reams of my favorite songs besides pumping out Scarlatti sonatas on You Tube. I loved “Eight Days a Week,” “Hey Jude,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Michelle,” “Yesterday” and the tour de force, Gospel style, “Let it Be!” Ralph Cato, US Olympic Boxing coach and former student, could have put me through the paces on that one. (*”Cato, His Killer Keyboard and a Round of Piano Lessons”) No one could pound the piano the way he did.

Allyse had lobbied to study “Let it Be!” with her new found confidence flying high. Just one week into our practicing, we had divided the parts at two pianos and did some public jamming–at least a snatch.

Our musical encounter was a peak experience!

This Saturday Allyse will come back down to earth playing her Baroque Rondeau at the Music Teachers Association’s Celebration Festival. An assigned adjudicator will evaluate each student’s performance and send them off, in any case, with a handsome medallion and Certificate.

Those who earn a Superior rating will play in one of the marathon Honors recitals taking place over two days.

If Allyse is not a marathoner, she’ll still race home to practice the right hand part of “Let it Be!” We have a re-run scheduled for next week. It should be a blast!



* https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/cato-his-killer-keyboard-and-a-round-of-piano-lessons/

arpeggios, athletic coaching, athletic training, Beethoven, Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, California, cd baby, classical music, Classical period sonata, Creative Fresno, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Exposition in piano sonata, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, gymnastics, humor, keyboard technique, memoir, MTAC, music, music and heart, music history, music teachers association of california, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, pianist, piano, piano pedagogoy, piano society, Piano Street, piano teacher, piano technique, piano tutorial, piano warm-ups, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, ping pong, ping pong balls, pyrotechnical exercises, scales, Shirley Kirsten, sports, Steinway and Sons, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, Taylor Swift, Theory, Uncategorized, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

From Chords to Gym and Back: You Tube Video

This video tells all. It was one of my hair brained ideas to embed a trip to Bally’s Gym in my piano tutorial on the subject of playing blocks of robust chords using upper body weight transfer — energy streaming down the arms, through supple wrists into the fingers.

Naturally, warming up on the Gravitron had to be included at the proper time and sequence. It couldn’t be a cheap media devised trick.

My main points:

The whole arm and a supple wrist are invested in the playing the piano.

To produce a smooth set of rolled out, broken chords (arpeggios) that generate from a sequence of blocked out chords in various inversions or positions, the student should have free flowing arms. The elbows never stay stationery or fixed against the body. They move away and toward the body in a contrary motion relationship to each other. The right elbow creates circular counter-clock-wise motions going up, and the reverse, going down. The left elbow has a reciprocal relationship to the right.

To gather speed or velocity, lighten the overall weight coming down the arms. Always use gravity to its best advantage, not pushing into the notes, or squeezing them.

Don’t forget to breathe and relax!!!

Finally, this tutorial feeds directly into preparing the last movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata which is extremely fast paced and contains an opening section of rolled, inverted chords that repeat at various intervals during the movement.

Final advice from the coach:

Get into the zone!

Roll it!