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An exceptional set of piano “arrangements” for Intermediate Level students (Carnival of the Animals) VIDEOS

In the past, I’ve ranted against giving piano students “arrangements” of celebrated compositions like Fur Elise and Chopin’s Waltz in Eb Major. The latter appears, significantly reduced, in the Faber Adult Accelerated edition. It’s a token Classical music offering interspersed by Boogie Woogie snatches. Oh, I forgot the revised Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a curious transposition of Mozart’s Theme and Variations Sonata, K. 331.

(The above prejudice does not circumscribe well-regarded, advanced level transcriptions by Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and others. Examples: “Liebestraume,” and “Flight of the Bumblebee,” to name a few)

In the realm of elementary and intermediate level piano studies, however, transcriptions or arrangements as found in method books, can be easily replaced with comparably leveled music in original form that has greater musical and teaching value.

Examples: Minuets by Hook, Mozart, J.S Bach, Rameau, et al.

Having said that, I’m going to depart from my well-known inflexibility and praise a collection of Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals “arranged” for piano by Hans-Gunter Heumann.”

I stumbled upon this treasure trove of miniatures after my Intermediate level students had been saturated with the Rachlin ensemble’s performance of Carnival on You Tube.

A feast of wondrous tableaux, it was my student’s entree into the colorful cosmos of French composer, Camille Saint-Saens. Yet, I hadn’t known at the time that my recommended listening assignment would be followed by a hands-on journey through his music in a reduced but appealing form.

As a preliminary, here’s the roster of Rachlin’s You Tube offerings that my students sampled before their playing adventures. (Roger Moore, narrator, serves up delightful Ogden Nash verses as accompaniment)

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=carnival+of+the+animals+racklin&oq=carnival+of+the+animals+racklin&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=s&gs_upl=3939l15554l0l17710l45l39l10l15l25l1l657l3142l3.6.2.1.0.2l14l0

Now here are selections from Heumann’s colorfully illustrated collection that contains 14 pieces:

Introduction and Lion

This tableau was the springboard for a teaching opportunity:

The Aquarium

The Elephant

RACHLIN sample on the double bass:

Wild Asses

CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS: (WIKI)

Composer, Camille Saint-Saens (1835 to 1921)

“Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The orchestral work has a duration between 22 and 30 minutes

“Le carnaval was composed in February 1886 while Saint-Saëns was vacationing in a small Austrian village. It was originally scored for a chamber group of flute/piccolo, clarinet (B flat and C), two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, but is usually performed today with a full orchestra of strings, and with a glockenspiel substituting for the rare glass harmonica. The term for this rare 11-piece musical ensemble is a “hendectet” or an “undectet.”

“Saint-Saëns, apparently concerned that the piece was too frivolous and likely to harm his reputation as a serious composer, suppressed performances of it and only allowed one movement, Le cygne, to be published in his lifetime. Only small private performances were given for close friends like Franz Liszt.

“Saint-Saëns did, however, include a provision which allowed the suite to be published after his death. It was first performed on 26 February 1922, and it has since become one of his most popular works. It is a favorite of music teachers and young children, along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. In fact, it is very common to see any combination of these three works together on modern CD recordings.”

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A Skyped supplement to piano lessons (Video)

Here’s an example of a Bay area student taking a Skyped piano lesson to supplement her regular weekly meetings with me.

These work well, particularly if a pupil has to catch up from a vacation period absence, or needs reinforcement of technique, and/or an added revisit of a piece in progress.

In this segment, the pupil is playing the opening section of the Latour Sonatina, a Classical era, level 1 piece.

We were working on a fluid legato along with hand/arm rotation and dynamic contrast.

Video:

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Piano Lesson: Rina, 4, climbs the staircase, and then learns about happy and sad in music

The first video below showcases the partial content of today’s lesson. Because I am a staunch believer in introducing black keys early on in the course of piano study, I explored mood affect in music and lowered the E of “Frere Jacques” to E FLAT. Rina was basically exposed to the “minor” mode without a affixing a label to it, and she discovered the “flatted” note without an associated letter name.

Last week’s lesson: (Second session, working on “Frere Jacques” following staircase activity)

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Cyprien Katsaris Masterclass: Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu (Video)

More of the gift that keeps on giving: A wonderful approach using mental imagery and pinpointed practice techniques. Katsaris has the single-minded patience to work with the student on the physical aspects of playing that realize better phrasing and nuance. The singing tone and the imagination fuse together in this magnificent display of artful exchange between teacher and student. Who could ask for a more inspired offering!

(I noticed the blocking technique that I always find helpful) Thank you again, Maestro!

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Piano Lesson: Rina, 4, learns “Frere Jacques” in steps (using my staircase) Video

To spice up and vary today’s lesson, I had Rina transfer her stair climbing to hands-on piano exploration. She already knew her 7-letter music alphabet and had followed flashcards with note names placed consecutively on each step in three previous stair-related activities, so it was time to put “Frere Jacques” into motion, with a few small leaps here and there. We had tried a snippet before the holiday break and Rina enjoyed the romp.

The presence of Rina’s French tutor, Denise, added to the atmosphere.

Here’s how it played out:

After a stair climb review of the music alphabet, Rina continued her movement activity with the French folk song, “Frere Jacques,” noting a special leap from E to C– And in the second line, from G back down to E. She managed the jump very well, and it was fun!

From the piano nearby, I sang the song, named the musical letters, and urged Rina to do the same.

Transferring kinesthetic and cognitive activity to the piano:

1) Rina took her black cardboard circles (short sounds) and arranged them on the piano rack as we sang the opening two measures of “Frere Jacques” together.

We clapped the rhythm
Sang the words
Sang and clapped

We used hand signals for up and down movement

2) I played “Frere Jacques” slowly with finger number 3, focusing on the repetition, while I demonstrated supple wrist playing.
C-D-E-C, C-D-E-C, (I started at middle C)

Rina played it back with her Right Hand, using finger, 3. (Left hand was enlisted separately an octave lower, but not captured on video)

3) We continued to E-F-G, E-F-G

We arranged the circles for short and long sounds.

We tapped the rhythm again, sang letter names, and then used hand signals to reflect melodic motion.

I played this line of “Frere Jacques” using finger number 3 of my right hand.

Rina practiced E-F-G, E-F-G, doing the same.

She next played the line with finger number 2 of her Left Hand. (Not seen in video, as it was edited for length)

We sang the letter names.
We sang the words.
Used hand signals to reflect melodic motion in space.

4) We played the first half of “Frere Jacques,” combining the C-D-E section with E-F-G.

Finally, I devised a simple accompaniment so Rina and I finished the lesson in duet.

As the icing on the cake, Rina indulged Aiden cat with a few affectionate strokes before her official French farewell: “Au Revoir.”

We’ll work on the last part of “Frere Jacques” next week.

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Piano Lesson: Rina, 4, learns about “Long and Short sounds meeting High and Low Sounds,” Chapter 15, Tales of a Musical Journey (Videos)

Today was Rina’s 14th piano lesson and she’s moving right along. Her hand position is greatly improved and she has a nice appreciation of the singing tone.

Irina Gorin’s instruction is laid out in such a way that a student takes no short cuts in learning piano. The physical approach to creating a beautiful tone, one note at a time is a priority, laying a solid foundation for further learning. A student almost unconsciously absorbs each chapter in the fairytale atmosphere of a castle with King Meter, Prince Rhythm, and Princess Melody reigning as central figures in this royally enticing musical journey.

Currently, Rina is exploring melody by playing notes going up and down in step-wise motion.

She began this undertaking a few weeks ago when she identified the musical alphabet going forward and backward, with its associated animal names and pictures on colorful flash cards. As icing on the cake, Rina had climbed the stair steps of my home after she placed alphabet cards on each level.

Irina Gorin has a nice pictorial summary of the music alphabet in a laminated format.

To enrich Rina’s understanding of pitch and rhythm working together to create a pretty melody, we used a “conversational” approach, by dividing the five-note piece, “I am climbing up… I am climbing down” between us. Singing and clapping activities were integrated into this activity along with written insertion of note names into circles along the staircase in Gorin’s Book I. During the week, Rina will “fill in” the short sounds

The lesson also included a playing review of notes, F, G, A and B, where Rina tapped these to prerecorded selections, using assigned fingers of each hand.

We will continue our Journey through the “Magical Kingdom of Sounds” next week.

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When a piano student is not working up to potential, the meeting and e-mail that are needed…

I was reminded by a reader of my post titled, “When love for the piano dies..” and in that particular writing I focused on situations where certain pressures brought by parents and/or the piano teacher can trigger practicing avoidance, leading to the obvious, piano lesson termination. In these scenarios, mom or dad may live through the successes of their children, and make the process of learning another test driven arena. The child, in particular, just starting a musical adventure, will worry about “wrong notes” that have acquired a negative association, causing her to tighten up to avoid them, when in reality, it’s the opposite– a relaxed flow of energy is needed to play the correct ones on the page. Musical study, otherwise, becomes just another tense universe to prove a child’s worth that leads to a downward spiral, with lots of learning resistance and an eventual sensory turn-off.

This original discussion, however, did not focus upon the student who might not be working at his full potential even within a friendly, nurturing environment, with parents as part of a wholesome support network.

By way of example, in the past year, I’ve had two students in the 9 to 10-year old range who came to lessons without having prepared their assignments during the week, and this was becoming a redundant problem. Each had a bounty of musical talent that wasn’t being realized. The parents were affirmative about lessons, and wanted their children to make progress and enjoy the musical adventure. They were not “stage” parents or particularly judgmental.

It wasn’t a question of repertoire choices because each was excited by pieces drawn from Burgmuller, a wonderful Romantic era composer of colorful character pieces, and William Gillock, who had made quite a name for himself as the modern day master of melody and captivating harmony. His pieces are a wonderful panorama of cultures with something for everyone. I particularly love “Flamenco” which one of my Hispanic students doted upon, though she could have moved forward in her practicing at a better pace. (and I’m not one for hastening the learning process, which flows in increments, but students can sometimes think the piece will be practiced for them exclusively at lessons, and the in-between follow through is not necessary or required)

Let me hone in on the last part of the preceding sentence, because I’m sure many of my colleagues can relate to this particular circumstance.

By way of graphic example, I once wrote the following note to a parent AFTER we had gone over the same points at the lesson with the child present. (the name of the student has been changed for privacy reasons)

“As we discussed at Susan’s piano lesson, a few requirements and suggestions are offered to help your daughter realize her full potential so she can better enjoy the creative process of learning piano.

“Susan is very musically gifted. But as we both know, unless a student practices conscientiously and thoughtfully each day, progress is not made, and interest wanes.

“The first thing is to enlist energy and commitment to playing with an engaging tone which we work on each week in detail. If I filmed each lesson, we would get a glimpse of what we are doing. And in the past I have done this as a reminder and reinforcement of the baby steps needed to nurture along a piece to a level of playing satisfaction. When a student works steadily and carefully, she can ultimately savor the fruits of her labor. That’s our common goal in this collaborative teacher/student learning environment.

“And I’ve made sure to select a lovely piece of music that’s a treat–a nice departure from what’s going on in the method book. Repertoire of this caliber presents unique challenges that are well within your daughter’s reach if she would set aside time each day to explore this newest selection that is just four lines, but packed with beautiful melody and sonority. Susan loved it from the start and now needs to give the piece the caring attention it deserves so it can blossom and grow.

“There’s a rhythm to lessons and we want to establish this soon enough. It requires a slow framing tempo, a “feel” for legato that we work on at each lesson, the patience to find notes on the staff and setting a good fingering.

“We make sure to go over each and every step in the process with our metaphorical magnifying glass so each detail is expanded. Susan seems to engage well at the lesson with this framing, so it should be impetus to send her home to emulate what we have done at her lesson.

“If you could remind her of daily practicing with this mindset, I think we can regain the tempo of learning that will keep her interested in playing piano and looking forward to each new landmark she will reach as she explores the repertoire.

“Susan is very bright and once she sets her mind to a task, she develops a nice connection to it.

“In fact at our last lesson we spent the whole 45 minutes parceling out four lines. But this is the launch for her to continue the fine-tuned practicing at home, with attentive ears, relaxed arms, wrists, and a regular flow of energy. Maybe I’m being redundant so please excuse the re-emphasis.

“Just to remind: the nails are too long to allow the round, relaxed hand position that affords contact with the fleshy part of the fingers. So if Susan could make sure to have them trimmed it would allow the practicing to be more satisfying. She could then more easily find the center of her sound, with a nice settled in point of gravity that promotes the singing tone.

“Because Susan loves her ballet classes, I try to relate the piano to dancing that evokes flowing arms and grace of movement. We try to apply the dance metaphor to piano and your daughter relates well to it.

“For the time being, I am going to assign ONE piece until we get back into rhythm and that will be the Gillock selection along with her five-finger warm-up in E Major and minor (Legato to staccato)

“Note-reading skills should also improve with the daily, parceled approach to practicing that I’m recommending. It will take patience and attentive listening.

“Just 30 minutes a day will suffice as long as quality time is invested. Consistency, by the way is all important. Skipping days, and not practicing sets progress back.

“If you have any questions, feel free to call.”

***

I’m sure the contents of this note is familiar to many piano teachers, and perhaps it needs to be a reminder of our lesson paradigm even with its variations in studios across the country.

I would love to hear from parents and teachers about their own experience with energizing practicing when the doldrums set in.

Recital scheduling is a motivator, and always helps, particularly having “themes” that embrace various periods of music. But in between these events, we still need to encourage a satisfying practicing equilibrium that moves a student along.

To be sure, the over-scheduling of pupils in after school activities is an impediment we have no control over. That matter would require still another e-mail that might sound a bit too controlling and invasive.

Nevertheless, within the bounds of our teaching universe, we do the best we can to help our students realize their full potential.

RELATED LINKS:

Skimming the Surface or Getting Deeply Involved

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/taking-piano-lessons-skimming-the-surface-or-getting-deeply-involved/

Frustrated piano teacher-Frustrated student-what to do next?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/frustrated-piano-teacherfrustrated-student-what-to-do-next-video/

Out of a Rut with Spot Practicing


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


In a Piano Teacher’s Arsenal: The Magic Bullet Piece

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/in-a-piano-teachers-arsenal-the-magic-bullet-piece-video-with-aiden-cat-joining-in/

Piano Lessons, Long Nails, Peer Pressure
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/piano-lessons-long-nails-and-peer-pressure/

From Pop to Bach, a 9-yr old makes it over easy

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/from-pop-to-bach-a-9-yr-old-makes-it-over-easy/

Individualizing Piano Study: How to Avoid Method Book Dependency
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/individualizing-piano-study-how-to-avoid-method-book-dependency/