"The Inner Game of Tennis", athletic coaching, athletic training, Bay area, California, classical music, classissima.com, Creative Fresno, David Freundlich, dream piano, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Facebook, Facebook friend, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, great pianists, humor, hypnosis, Lillian Freundlich, Major and minor scales, mental imagery, Mildred Portney Chase, mind body connection, MTAC, music, music and heart, music history, music teachers association of california, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, musicology, neurosis, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Northwest Bronx, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin, Oberlin Conservatory, Old Fig Garden in Fresno, performance anxiety, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogy, piano practicing, piano room, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano tutorial, piano warm-ups, Piano World, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, ping pong, ping pong balls, psychiatrist, psychiatry, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, satire, scales, Schumann, self hypnosis, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sports, Steinway and Sons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, talkclassical.com, teaching piano to teenagers, technique, teenagers, tennis, Timothy Gallwey, uk-piano-forums, video performances, whole body music listening, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Performance Anxiety and the Pianist

For too long performance anxiety was a taboo subject, always swept under the rug.

I remember grappling with paralyzing jitters during my years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. My piano teacher at the time, a seasoned professional, would always say the same thing:

“Honey, the music is bigger than you or me.”

Of course it made me otherwise feel like an Egomaniac.

Her altruistic mantra never worked beyond the opening measure of a piece. I would fall apart quite instantly, and hardly remember if I had ever played a composition before an audience of anyone other than myself.

In a previous blog, I referred to going cold, like an ice cube when I was invited to play on “Music in the Schools,” a WNYC F.M. program that showcased talented youth in the city.

It was Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311 that was for all intents and purposes on automatic pilot without a real “live” pilot at the controls. The final cadence was a crash landing with emotional consequence. I was miserable for weeks and months following the disaster and I never again wanted to play in front of a microphone!

REDUX: My teacher would say with even greater urgency, “The music is bigger than you or me.”

The problem with engulfing nerves, is that unless there’s a break in the cycle, it can perpetuate itself. You can go from one performance to another saddled with the same crisis with no end in sight.

And don’t believe the instruction: Learn your notes inside and out and all will be well.
Preparation is a given, but not God given when you need a life preserver in the middle of a piece.

I remember a nightmarish situation that played out at the Oberlin Conservatory when I was a student majoring in Piano, Performance. A very gifted young woman was publicly auditioning the Schumann “A” Minor Piano Concerto, when suddenly she had a massive memory lapse smack in the middle of the first movement. One phrase trapped her and she couldn’t get out of it. The same few measures were repeated 15 times to no avail which kept her from advancing to the final cadence. (I wondered if she would be signaled to go offstage, as happened recently to a participant in the Chopin International Piano Competition) I resisted jumping on stage with the music so the afflicted young Oberlin pianist could make it safely back to her dorm before nightfall.

As it happened, the player finally found her away out of the snag, and managed to play the next two movements impeccably well. She wasn’t chosen among the finalists but the following year she came back and won! Now that’s a story of fortitude and courage that should teach us all a lesson about not giving up.

I might add right here, that my own piano teacher had a significant memory lapse at her well publicized concert at the 92nd Street Y, so I began to make the connection between her son’s life’s work as a psychiatrist and her possible difficulty performing onstage. (though I’m not certain whether her memory lapse was self limiting or a symptom of a greater problem)

There’s hope!

To give others a twinge optimism about finding a cure for their paralyzing nerves, I will explain what I did, that not only helped me, but had been passed down to my students over the years.

1) Hypnosis: I became a confirmed Believer.

I had the courage to visit a hypno-therapist about 20 years ago who began by asking me about the piano; challenges to playing in public; what were my worst fears when performing or anticipating a performance (and inevitably these were related to fear of failure and its consequences, loss of love, loss of identity, etc.)

At that point, I reminded myself that my piano teacher’s son, Dr. David Freundlich, had published papers on Performance Anxiety that focused on masturbatory fantasies. I recall reading his Journal writings from the 1960’s that tied asphyxiating nerves on stage to fear of auto-erotic activity exposure. So if a player was crippled by anxiety, it was because playing piano was a self-gratifying, libidinal process best kept in a dark closet and not exhibited in public.

Well and good, for a beginning construct, but who could afford to lay on a psychiatrist’s couch and mull over the first five years of life, honing in on the psycho-sexual stage as a key to unraveling a Neurosis. It might take decades!

As reference, the late David Freundlich’s paper on the subject of “performance anxiety and musicians, American Journal of Psychiatry. 148:598-605. …. Freundlich, D. (1968) Narcissism and exhibitionism in the performance of classical …
http://www.analyticpractice.co.uk/…/Useful%20Reading%20on%20Performance.pdf”

For me, talking to my hypnotist who had her Certification posted up on the wall, was a more practical and direct approach to my problem.

With the information gathered from me at the first session, she put together an audiotape. And as I lay on the couch, not facing her, she soothingly repeated mantras that were more useful than “music was bigger than me.”

It was more like, “Imagine slowly descending a staircase to a beautiful room that looks out on a magnificent garden, with flowers of all varieties..” She led me to the garden where I contemplated nature and its bounty. I became more relaxed. She reminded me to breathe easily and deeply. She kept coming back to the breath. After 30 or more minutes, I was breathing without anxiety. She then placed me beside my piano which I “loved as a faithful friend.” The elegant, stately grand was not a threat, or something to avoid. She kept revisiting the garden, the relaxed contemplation and meditation. The tie-ins were natural, not contrived.

After 45 minutes, I was in a deep trance, needing to be brought back up the staircase by my hypnotist.

At the very end of the session, before I was in a completely conscious state, she transported me back stage as a rehearsal for my upcoming performance. (Incidentally, my own piano would be shipped to the location so that’s why she referred to it)

I was at the same time in the midst of the lush garden, very relaxed and at peace with myself. The people in the audience would “share” my music with me. They were “not judging” me or otherwise waiting for me to fail.

She planted many of these ideas as I was in my subliminal state, and it helped me on the day of my concert.

***

I can say with certainty that my performance following many re-playings of this audio-taped session was 90% improved over those I had ever previously given.

And in the course of 6 months, I continued my sessions with the hypnotist and acquired a sizable collection of cassettes.

Going Beyond Hypnosis

2) What I previously discussed would fall under Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis strategies in dealing with performance jitters. After all, what I took from the hypnotist was the ability to go home, listen to the audiotapes and then make my own recordings with variations on the same theme.

But in the course of the 20 years since I visited this wise woman, I went further in exploring additional ways to handle performance anxiety. And these, again were allied to the breath and to Yoga in its many forms.

In the present, I advocate a healthy regimen of exercise, at the gym or otherwise. Yoga, again is a wonderful activity.

I tell my students to “breathe” through their playing.. through their scales, especially at the turnaround (the very end of the passage and the very beginning) And I use words like “roll in” into a scale or passage. “Play into the silence.”

I tell them to use MENTAL IMAGERY, and that again, is tied to self-hypnotic routines.

Elite athletes use mental imagery as a matter of course. Just imagine what floats through a diver’s mind as he prepares for an impossibly difficult maneuver— same for
gymnasts, skaters, runners, et al.

Pianists are part athletes, mastering great feats of coordination while simultaneously being artistic interpreters. They have a double challenge.

The mind/body connection applies, as always.

Examples of mental imagery for a pianist:

Playing staccato: Think of the piano as a playground, and in that association, you are a child. Use words “like bouncing a ball,” or for light staccato, imagine “ping pong balls.”

Piano can be child’s play.

For legato, “float, relax, play more effortlessly, don’t squeeze, or hold on.”

These prompts often relax the students, at least during their lessons.

For a more long lasting effect in dealing with upcoming piano recitals, I copy specific quotes from Just Being at the Piano, by Mildred Portney Chase, that I extract as mantras:

“To be a pianist, is to think that a daddy long legs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music…it is to feel that one phrase loves another….it is to think that the tree is a teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing.”

Important chapters: “Body Awareness and Movement,” “Tone,” “Listening,” “Slow Practice,” and “Performance.”

My other favorite book is The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.

Treasured quotes:
“Listen to how D.T. Suzuki, the renowned Zen master, describes the effects of the ego mind on archery” (a metaphor for just about any endeavor, piano playing included)

“As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.” DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? Too many of my students talk about “losing concentration,” with tangential thoughts creeping in. Much of the time, they refer to a little voice telling them things are going too well and a “mistake” is about to happen, and as soon as the thought enters their mind, guess what happens?

“Calculation, which is miscalculation sets in……”

“Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinking. ‘Childlikeness’ has to be restored with long years of training in self-forgetfulness.”

Gallwey continues:

“Perhaps this is why it is said that great poetry is born in silence. Great music and art are said to arise from the quiet depths of the unconscious…”

I agree.

Performance anxiety doesn’t have to be crippling but it takes patience and a grain of optimism to move forward to a better place. Start where you are and go further, one baby step at a time.

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/a-breathtaking-music-camp-finale/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/music-comes-from-the-heart/

.

100 years, Album for the Young, arpeggios, athletic coaching, athletic training, authorsden, Baroque music, Bay area, California, cdbaby, Circle of Fifths, Classical era, classical music, Classical period sonata, Classical sonatina, counterpoint, Creative Fresno, Dario Marianelli, dream piano, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, Faber Primer Piano Adventures, Facebook, Fig Garden Village, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Five for Fighting, Forever and Always, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, Fresno Piano Store, gymnastics, humor, J.S. Bach, Jane Austen, JS Bach, Kabalevsky Op. 39 Children's pieces, keyboard technique, Latour, Liz on Top of the World, Major and minor scales, memoir, MTAC, music appreciation classes, music teachers association, music teachers association of california, music teachers associationo of California, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, musicology, Musictogether.com, my space, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Old Fig Garden in Fresno, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano finding, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogy, piano purchase, piano room, piano scales, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano tutorial, piano warm-ups, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, ping pong, ping pong balls, popular music, Pride and Prejudice, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, sonatina, Steinway and Sons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, teaching piano to teenagers, teenagers, tennis, Theory, uk-piano-forums, video performances, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Teaching Piano to Teenagers: Classical, Pop, Taylor Swift, Liz on Top of the World and more (Videos)

There’s always room for flexibility in choice of repertoire, especially when teaching teenagers. Alex, 18, had taken lessons during primary school, took a long break and returned to the piano as a senior in high school. His first request was to study “Liz on Top of the World,” by Dario Marianelli from the movie, “Pride and Prejudice.” I felt it was a bit above his head, but I realized it could be a terrific practicing motivator. Alex and I struck a deal. He promised to work on a Classical sonatina (Latour, in C Major), the “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach” and a regimen of scales and arpeggios going around the Circle of Fifths as the mainstay of his piano study. “Liz” would be his dessert piece. The plan worked.

Alex took the camera spotlight as he practiced “Liz on Top of the World” in a methodical way, chunking or grouping notes together in the first section using separate hands. He continued by playing the next part, a soaringly beautiful melodic section with his right hand only as I provided the bass.

The melody played out in such a way that chunking two notes at a time was helpful. (The student learned interval relationships through this approach: clumping harmonic 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths) The bass line in this second section is an ostinato, or repeated, pattern that is easily assimilated. It’s a sequence of redundant broken chords that creates a rolling effect.

Related:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/alex-breaks-the-choke-hold-on-his-scales-on-you-tube/

Allyse, 16, who is Alex’s sister, also returned to the piano after a long hiatus. A junior in high school, she had requested to play “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always.” To balance out her repertoire, she had agreed to work on Menuet en Rondeau by Rameau and simultaneously practice scales/arpeggios in all Major and minor keys.

Here’s a snatch from a lesson with Allyse. This was the dessert following the main menu of classics.

Related:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/teens-popular-music-then-and-now-taylor-swift-throw-in-five-for-fighting-100-years/

Aeolian piano, antique pianos, antiques, appraisal piano, arpeggios, Ashburnham, athletic training, authorsden, Bach Invention, Bach Prelude in C Major, Bach Two Part Inventions, Baldwin piano, Baroque music, Beethoven, Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, bluebookofpianos.com, boxing, Brahms, cabinet grand, California, Caroline Scheer, Casio, casio privia 110, cast iron piano plate, cat, Cato, cats, cd baby, cdbaby, Chesterfields, Chopin, Chopin Etude, Christian Zimerman, Classical era, classical music, Classical period sonata, Clavinova, Clinkscale's Makers of the Piano, Connell York, counterpoint, cracked piano plate, Craigs List, CVP509, digital piano, digital pianos, Domenico Scarlatti, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, electronic keyboard, estate sale, Exposition in piano sonata, Facebook, feline, felines, Fig Garden Village, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno designated landmark, Fresno Famous, Fresno Historical Society, Fresno miniseries, Fresno Piano Store, Fresno State Bulldogs, Fur Elise, General McArthur, Geneva International, great pianists, Guitar Center, humor, Infantry, Irwin Freundlich, J. Fritz piano, J.S. Bach, Japanese Music Institute Berkeley CA, JS Bach, Juilliard, Kawai, keyboard technique, Knight piano, Larry Fine, Lillian Freundlich, Liz on Top of the World, Major and minor scales, Masayuki Koga, Massachusetts, Massachussetts, memoir, mice, Mozart, Mozart sonata in C K545, Murray Perahia, music, music history, musicology, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Okinawa, old upright, Pacific Citizen, Paderewski, Patricia Frederick, Peabody Conservatory, pentachords, pentatonic song, Peter Wolf, pianist, piano, piano auction, piano finding, piano finding adventure, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano maintenance, piano pedagogoy, piano pedagogy, piano repair, piano restoration, piano room, piano scales, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano technician, piano technician's guild, piano technique, piano tuner, piano tuning, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, Santa Monica, satire, scales, Scarlatti, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, snowboard, snowboarding, Steinway and Sons, Steinway console, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, tennis, Terry Barrett, The devil in music, The Frederick Collection, The Meux Home, The Piano Book, The Well Tempered Clavier, Theory, trills, tritone, Tschaikovsky, Tulare and R Street, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, US Army, used piano, used pianos, veterans, vets, Victor Thasiah, video performances, Visalia California, Visalia Piano Gallery, Vladimir Horowitz, Waltzing Matilda, Weber upright piano, Well Tempered Clavier, West San Ramon Fresno, Wieser upright piano, Wolf Sound Studio, word press, wordpress.com, World War II, Wurlitzer piano, Yamaha Disclavier, Yamaha Disklavier, Yamaha piano, Yokohama, York, you tube, you tube video

DREAM PIANO: Overview and Acknowledgments

My two-year long romp on the piano finding trail with York as my professional companion and consultant had been worth all the time spent in, around and under pianos. How else would I have acquired knowledge about the piano’s harp, or cast iron plate were it not for his having the bravado to dismantle it from the Proskch 1905 grand and haul it out to the College of the Sequoia’s welding department. In the face of technicians and others who mocked him for his efforts, he persevered; soda blasted the ugly looking frame and dragged it home for a second wind. Rebecca McGregor, a victim of her impulsive sight unseen Internet piano purchase and an unprincipled seller, had written me a thought provoking e-mail after she had hovered over the plate on full view in York’s driveway. It was a funereal scene.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/funeral-for-a-cracked-plate-piano-caveat-emptor/

She wrote, “I actually learned something at York’s, and I think you captured the essence of our meeting and the somber mood. Were we paying for his having tried to mend the plate, I would have stopped him, but with York’s willingness to take it on without payment, we’d have been fools not to let him proceed.” (This was before the plate cracked in two other places as York hauled it to his pick-up truck)

Rebecca had linked hands with Terry Barrett and York’s wife in a prayer vigil over the plate and then helped to flip it on its back to survey its underbelly.

The underside of inanimate things always sparked York’s curiosity and it invariably sent him nose diving under pianos to investigate anything from mice, moths and moisture to the storage of $$$ assets in the crannies of a Kawai.

To my educational advantage, he found it necessary to drag me along on his adventures to prove without a doubt that he had the lowdown on each and very piano he tuned, moth proofed and treated for rats.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/me-york-and-our-great-piano-adventure/

And I can personally attest that his tattered, age worn diaries were evidence of his meticulous record keeping since 1948. These should someday be enshrined in the Smithsonian or at least in the PTG (Piano Technician’s Guild) Hall of Fame.

While Terry Barrett, RPT (Registered Piano Technician) argued that bridle straps had no importance in the assembly of uprights, and moths were basically harmless to pianos because they would die eating cyanide based hammer felts, York produced incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. He marched valiantly on his truth finding crusade and produced a Kimball made “Whitney” spinet without bridle straps that had a basic action defect, and he plucked a hammer from his pick-up truck that had the most perfect, moth drilled hole I had ever seen! Such was Mother Nature at work.

As an unofficial “apprentice” to the city’s senior piano tuner, I had acquired trade secrets that no piano technology school or correspondence course would ever impart. Would most “registered technicians” anywhere in the universe know to battle moths with a bottle of cloves? York was always far ahead of his time banishing moth balls from his tool box. “They cause cancer,” he said repeatedly when we stumbled upon pianos that were victims of merciless moth attacks. While I hadn’t yet seen examples of chewed up bridle straps from nest seeking rats, York had promised to phone me immediately if he had a scheduled DECON call at a church or elsewhere.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/samick-york-tofujie-and-me-on-the-piano-chasing-trail/

The master tuner without his formal “registration” in the Piano Technician’s Guild showed those who had somehow obtained it that he deserved at least the honorary title because of his decades long association with pianos. Thankfully, the local Fresno chapter honored York by giving him a podium to demonstrate piano restringing, and when he turned up at monthly PTG meetings as a devoted “associate member,” his colleagues always greeted him with a hearty slap on the back.

On the day I had shown up to interview “Laroy Edwards” retired Yamaha senior piano technician, and emissary for the company all over the world, York made his presence known by telling his full length account about the cat that had been trapped under a grand piano lid and miraculously, emerged alive and well, though hairless. York fleshed out, colorful new details each time he spun a piano related tale, though he sometimes forgot that he’d told the story one too many times.

Besides being York’s companion through our two year-long piano adventure, my having compiled these stories was a natural outcome of all the trips made to many homes containing used pianos of an infinite variety–some sold in estate sales and auctions.


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/the-great-piano-auction/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/used-pianos-estate-sales-and-mr-york-the-tuner/

And in the course of this learning driven journey, I had hoped that readers would willingly share their own piano memorabilia since a keyboard culture may be dying on the vine if not preserved.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/is-the-piano-a-dying-breed/

The old upright stories should be written down and treasured. The genealogy of older pianos should be a relentless source of research. Piano owners should learn how to discover the age of their pianos by seeking out the serial numbers on the cast iron plate, and by consulting the Pierce Piano Atlas or the Bluebook of Pianos.com. While it’s common for piano owners to throw up their hands and say,”I know virtually nothing about my piano,” it’s time for a new attitude to replace the old. Even “Alice” was exhilarated to know more about her “player piano without a name” when I enlisted her in the fact finding adventure. While the piano had been virtually un-played for 4 years since its purchase from an antique store for $125, she quickly became my “Dr. Watson” beaming a flash light on its cast iron plate; screaming in delight when she discovered the digits that might help date it. In the case of her particular piano, supplementary information acquired from Robert Furst’s Bluebook of Pianos.com led to its more conclusive identity.

Sharing a systemic approach to the whole research undertaking with Alice, I was able to enlist a new partisan in the preservation of old pianos. In fact, she became very reluctant to part with her stately upright once I had breathed life into it as a performing pianist. But at long last, it finally found a worthy owner who had promised to take good care of it and give it a new home.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/a-player-piano-without-a-name/

Another piano, a table style Aeolian with three leaves underwent an equally intense identity crisis as its true birth date was pursued. I couldn’t thank Mr. York enough for his A-1 guesstimate and Terry Barrett for pulling the piano’s action and stumbling upon a note with the date “APR 1936” engraved in the wood. What a miraculous discovery!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/a-table-style-piano-with-three-leaves-the-whole-story-in-lurid-detail/

DREAM PIANO had been all about the exciting adventure of pursuing and finding pianos, primarily in the private party, used piano market and how these travels of mine had changed the hearts and minds of the many piano owners that I’d encountered. Just making a routine house call to check on a piano up for sale, I’d invited myself into the lives of so my people who possessed the kindness and generosity to share their piano stories. “Ralph Cato,” whom I’d met at the Guitar Center looking for a keyboard to give his daughter for Christmas shared a heart rending story about his first piano and how he stole into the night to pick the lock and play it. Even a US Olympic Team boxing trainer with the exterior of a lion, softened up to share a tender memoir.

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

“Caroline Scheer” opened her heart to me and finally imparted the reason she wanted to sell her beloved Knight piano. This had been a mystery all along, but when the truth spilled out one day during a taped phone interview, all the puzzle pieces fit together. I had learned that her father never kept his promise to buy her a grand piano, like the one she had seen at Delaware University, if she obtained all “A’s” on her report card. How many others would want a grand size piano in their home just because they had been deprived of one early in life.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/the-little-knightingale/

In my travels, I had learned that pianos had a wide variety of meanings for different owners. For some, they were not musical instruments at all, but beautiful pieces of furniture to behold. But that might have been because the buyer or seller didn’t know where to begin in assessing the value of something that at one time had a playing life. And from the countless visits I’d made to homes with old pianos, just by playing them, they acquired a new value and meaning for their owners. Maybe there was an important message to heed. Why not bring a performing musician and piano technician to an establishment or home that housed a piano for sale. Why rely on a visual assessment of something that was meant to elicit tones, harmonics, and chords of beauty?

Perhaps the late Anne Meux, whose esteemed Fresno family had been memorialized in a landmark home preservation, experienced an awakening when her pianos came to life the afternoon I had played them. Prior to my impromptu visit, these musical treasures might well have been regarded as decorative furnishings, appreciated only for their external beauty.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/anne-meux-her-pianos-and-my-visit/

Pianos I’d encountered that were pretty but without musical value:

So many piano owners found themselves with antiques of the square or parlor grand variety that were quite ornate looking but could not play worth a dime. And when it was time to sell them, they confronted the hard reality that as play-less instruments and artifacts of the past, that no one wanted them in the present or future. So what was purchased for $5,000 some years back would sell for $200 or less in the private party marketplace. Some of these age worn and ill maintained pianos might have had to be donated out to a favorite charity. As Terry Barrett poignantly said, “An antique piano was just a different animal.”

“Sam” Torcaso, owner of Chesterfield’s in Fresno, brought it home that the older uprights were just not selling and the whole marketplace of antique pianos was abysmal. She pointed to the bleak housing situation with foreclosures abounding and the dearth of interior decorators that would be consulted to design the insides of newly acquired homes as reflecting part of the problem. But despite her registered cynicism about the universe of antique pianos, she had always known to advise her customers to bring in a technician before they made any kind of “all sales final,” piano purchase at her establishment. This recommendation showed her respect and concern for those who would buy a piano from Chesterfields and then pass it to their children to learn on.

***
More stories from Dream Piano:

FUJIE had the patience to await the arrival of her dream Kawai K 15 studio upright model piano housed at California Piano,


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/fujie-finds-her-dream-piano-but-buyer-beware/

and “Sharon Cooper” allowed me to include our clandestine tryst in the seedy parking lot beside Ag Hardware where a cash drop was made for a dream piano.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/a-high-stakes-piano-finding-adventure-or-was-it-a-sopranos-tv-episode/

Not to forget Dan Bates, who stole off and bought a Petrof piano, while in the grip of his obsession over the Steinway 1968. May the best piano win!!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/a-battle-of-two-steinways-a-yamaha-and-a-spoiler-petrof/

And who could forget the Dream Piano I fought for and won, a French Provincial Baldwin Artist Grand.
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/fighting-for-a-dream-piano-hopefully-it-should-not-come-to-this/

On the last lap of my journey, I also stumbled upon “Victor Thasia” who was the first person I had ever met who changed his mind about selling his piano, and was ready to love and cherish it forever. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/5007/

And what an opportunity came my way to record on a Dream Piano compliments of the Visalia Piano Gallery:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/recording-on-a-sleeper-dream-piano/</a

To “Patricia Frederick,” of the Fredericks collection in Ashburnham, Mass., and Thomas Winter, early piano restorer, San Francisco, my sincere appreciation to you for having provided scholarly words of wisdom about period pianos. What a rare opportunity came my way to play a 19th Century Dream Piano that turned up at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-fritz-of-vienna-chopin-reincarnated/

And another period piece that was beautiful on the outside but proved to be a pathetic tonal disaster!


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-ghost-of-fritz-was-i-dreaming/

Concluding Bonus Chapter:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/dos-and-donts-for-piano-buyers-and-sellers-dream-pianos-last-chapter/

Extra: York’s World War II Musical Memoir
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/yorks-wwii-story-in-writing-and-on-video/

More People to Thank:

Terry Barrett, RPT, Fresno gave countless hours detailing pianos for me and helped me write about them from a more technical perspective. While he sometimes disagreed with York about the significance of moth damage and the value bridle straps, he contributed loads of piano related information that enhanced my stories and also assisted sellers in learning more about their pianos.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge all those piano students who gave me my first opportunity to help them find their first real, 88 note, playing pianos. “Michelle” now happily practices on a lovely Baldwin, 1970’s console that had its first tuning, and tweaking by YORK, and my youngest pupil, “Claudia” enjoys her resonating Yamaha studio upright 1992 that I found in the former, Old Hilton Hotel in Fresno where a salvaging company was selling it. I remember how I had managed to get there just at the right time before word got out that two practically new pianos were accumulating dust in a second floor banquet room. Oddly, the Yamaha sat for too long after it was purchased and couldn’t get down the elevator to the ground floor until inspections were made and certification papers filed with the County. In the end, when the piano descended to the first floor level for transport, it was shipped gratis to the base of steps leading to the new owner’s second floor apartment. That’s when a challenge arose! “Elaine,” Claudia’s mother could either pay a whopping $400 to move the piano up two flights of stairs or enlist the help of able bodied neighbors. I wish I could have been there to see how they managed to turn the corner on the landings and push the 700 plus pound piano into the apartment. It must have been quite a sight to behold!

Some piano owners had been luckier than others in moving their pianos. York had told me that the Salvaging company owner, who sold Elaine the Yamaha, tipped over a Kawai piano while he was steering it into another banquet room. “The whole thing just came crashin’ down all at once,” he said. I had dispatched him to give the Yamaha a once over appraisal before it was purchased, and according to YORK, “it passed with flyin’ colors.” While he was at the hotel, he happened to look at the action assembly of the neighboring Kawai console and discovered that the hammers were over-sized and not fitting right. York always knew his stuff when it came to pianos and their interiors. He was also an ace evaluator of piano finishes and could rub the tips of his thickly padded fingers against the grain and ascertain what percentage was veneer.

The old man had done just about everything where it came to pianos. He tuned, repaired, refinished, and moved them. He was quite the master of all trades and he allowed me a share of his knowledge under careful supervision!

Finally, thank you to those who might not have gotten into the pages of this book but who added to my knowledge about pianos of all shapes, sizes, and vintage. I am beholden to “Martin Sigley,” a brilliant player piano restorer who loves what he does like a poet who crafts every word as a jewel. I was so impressed by his little shop that housed an old Behr Player and an “Angelus Orchestral,” and how intensely he worked. The world should regard him as a heaven sent angel. In a universe that values big cars, and expansive, designer homes, there is sadly little room to think about old world type restorers who will someday vanish without the appreciation they deserved in life.

In conclusion, a warm and grateful hug for my 96 year old mother, Jessie Taft Smith who sat relentlessly on the phone in the wee hours of the morning and listened to each Dream Piano chapter as it unfolded and voiced hard fought criticism that drove some periodic changes in my writing. I couldn’t have done it without her.

PS Additional acknowledgments: Peter Wolf, recording engineer, Wolf Sound, Fresno, CA
Bill Sayre, owner, Fasttraxx recording studio, Fresno, CA Heyner Oviedo, Fresno Piano,
The late Anne Meux, Fresno, CA

El Cerrito, Fresno, humor, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano teacher, scales, Shirley Kirsten, tennis, Uncategorized, you tube

Alex breaks the choke hold on his scales (You Tube video)

Alex, a high school senior and varsity tennis player takes his piano lessons very seriously. He’s diligently working on perfecting his technique so nerves won’t cause his scales to crash and burn.

Today we couldn’t have had a better soap opera script in progress, when Alex confessed to losing his composure right before a tennis match and tied this same problem to his scale choke-ups.

Such a personal performance anxiety manifesto arrived in the nick of time. It framed our lesson and provided a specific objective to eradicate all physical and psychological stumbling blocks to playing a relaxed series of 16th and 32nd notes in contrary motion.

I told Alex to “have fun.”

This riveting snippet of Alex letting his guard down, displaying his imperfections in the process of improving his scale performance, illustrates his willingness to help others by his own example.

Over the course of 30 minutes, Alex showed a dramatic improvement in his technique and concluded his lesson with a new sense of confidence. He smiled into the video camera as proof.

The video showcased obtained all necessary releases and is available to the general public and to those suffering with finger tripping syndrome.

Enjoy!

arpeggios, baseball, football, humor, memoir, music, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, performance anxiety, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano teacher, pianoaddict.com, public school 122, scales, Shirley Kirsten, sports, Steinway piano, tennis, Uncategorized, you tube

Sports and Piano Technique: How about chunking–On You Tube

It’s a no brainer to compare piano study to athletics. Both have been my passions throughout most of my life.

At age 6 I competed with my brother for music lessons but lost out. Nearly five years my senior, he got first licks at studying the clarinet, quashing my hopes of holding a shimmering saxophone in my tiny hands. Yes, saxophone. Can you believe? It was such an eye catcher with all the shiny keys on it, and the sound was hauntingly beautiful. But the local music school on the hill in the Bronx had no opportunity to learn this precious wind instrument. The excuse was it hadn’t even a place in a symphony orchestra.

Meanwhile I remember the squeaks coming out of my brother’s clarinet no matter how many times he licked his reeds. And despite many months of reluctant practicing, he couldn’t manage to pump out a few notes without cracking registers. His decision to quit moved me quickly into the privileged position of studying a musical instrument. But with resignation, I accepted the music school’s recommendation that I receive piano instruction.

Besides having to suffer with my first illegitimate $50 upright, a Wieser, or more aptly a WHEEZER, I made sure to take breaks from practicing by dashing over to PS 122’s playground on Bailey Avenue in the Bronx. After school each day, I would surreptitiously pull a broom stick from the kitchen closet and run off to practice my swings, tossing a Spaulding into the air.

The parochial school kids from St. Johns were always at the playground well before I arrived, choosing up the most elite team of stick ball players among themselves, so I could never dream of being invited in. But on one special afternoon, as I was practicing in full view of some its premier athletes, I smacked a ball clear over the fence which landed in a dump truck. That would have been the longest home run I ever hit, and to my good fortune, Patrick McGrath saw it and from then on, chose me into the gang’s stick ball games.

No wonder sports vocabulary permeates my teaching. I learned it from the ground up on the playing fields of the Bronx.

My Studio and sports

As mentioned in a previous blog, Mark, a former tennis pro turned lawyer comes weekly to lessons here at Sports Central. He’s always game for a serious piano workout since we devote the first twenty minutes to technique: scales, chords, and arpeggios.

He, like most students, want to play scales with smoothness and velocity, so I’m happy to linger as the ever-present coach. Problem is that too many pupils crowd the last few notes of a scale and choke up, instead of breathing long breaths into it. Just at the crunch point where the scale turns around to descend, a certain performance anxiety sets in that nips the exercise in the bud. That’s when a lot of students throw their hands up in the air and tie themselves into more knots. Instead of letting go of tension with a relaxed sigh, they race back to the keys with a notched up blood pressure reading. The same problem perpetuates itself.

So how does a student pace himself to deal with this out of control race to the finish line. The best thing to do, I believe, is to start with  chunking. If you happen to pick the key of B Major that has double and triple black key groups with thumbs in between, you can think in larger units instead of laboriously playing note to note. With so many individual ones to count, it can be overwhelming.

In the video attached below you can observe a systematic build up of the B major scale by depressing clusters of black key groups with intervening thumbs, first using separate hands, then hands together. An underlying, relaxed quarter note or steady beat holds the scale together from beginning to end, allowing the student some breathing space.

Recital Jitters

Think of a crowded pile-up of notes at the top of a scale as a massive tackle of a quarterback right in the midst of the final quarter tie breaker.

While there’s no sudden death overtime when playing piano, just put a few students on stage for the mid year recital and watch what happens. That’s when visualization or mental imagery, meditation and other relaxation techniques are desperately needed.

Tim Galway’s the Inner Game of Tennis is a great paperback that addresses performance anxiety in any number of venues. It could be the golf course, the baseball diamond, the equestrian arena, etc. The author permeates the text with the Eastern philosophy of the Tao that embraces the here and now without self judgment. It has perfect application to piano study and performance.

Consider a tennis event where an overhead smash could be the game, set, match point. Coming to the net has to be with the right energy enlisted, not with an overabundance that causes the racket to hit a wind tunnel. The poor player looks like he swung through the air and blew the game. (It happens all too often with wiffle ball players)

Most of the time it’s not about brute strength when doing athletics or playing piano to perfection, but rather it’s finesse that wins the game or advances piano technique.

As I’ve said over and again during lessons, sports and piano are great allies so it’s best to go with the flow, breathe long deep breaths and enjoy the ride.

arpeggios, baseball, dream piano, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, Facebook, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, games, gymnastics, humor, keyboard technique, Lillian Freundlich, memoir, Mr. York, MTAC, music, music appreciation classes, music teachers association, musicology, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, old upright, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano finding, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogy, piano room, piano student, piano teacher, piano technique, piano warm-ups, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, ping pong, ping pong balls, satire, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sports, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, tennis, The Piano Book, Theory, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, used piano, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Scales and Arpeggios with videotaped replay

I often think of piano technique as in the same league as sports. Why not? I practically grew up in the bleachers at Ebbets Field watching the Brooklyn Bums battle their adversaries. And not to forget that I was a tomboy who copied everything my big brother did. I even tried to break the Little League sex barrier but valiantly failed. The American Legion registrar said, “No” to any girl turning up for tryouts regardless of ability.

Baseball was for me a choreography, especially on the field as players fluidly danced through nearly impossible plays, sending base runners unwillingly back to the dugout. A line drive was gloved by a super coordinated shortstop who hurled a ball nearly off balance to the first baseman. He gracefully arched his whole body to retrieve an out of range bullet.

Tennis was no less impressive. Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver, Aussie masters of classic strokes, brought ballet into full bloom on the court. At an exhibition match in Madison Square Garden, they breezed effortlessly through baseline clinchers, overhead smashes, and impossible backhands. Reaching impossible heights, the two champions darted after balls sailing over their heads with the lithe motions of jaguars.

My sports fixation, which played out on baseball fields and tennis courts, never left me, even as I grew up and shifted my interest to music. In fact, my students realized very quickly that not a lesson would go by without my introducing a sports analogy.

Mark, an adult student, who towered above me at six feet five inches, was on the pro tennis circuit before he had settled down to a law career at the US Attorney’s Office. Normally, we’d spend the first twenty minutes of our session working on scales and arpeggios, covering the span of the entire keyboard, likening it to tennis turf—grass, of course.

We focused on deep breathing, relaxation techniques including mental imagery, surrendering to the moment, letting muscles loose, dropping shoulders, and letting the hands shape themselves into naturally contoured curves. Our goal was to be in the zone, sealed off from the stress and strain of busy, bustling work environments. We were immersed in the here and now accepting ourselves without the burden of judgment.

Inevitably, some of my tennis and baseball metaphors would crop up when least expected.

Wolfgang, a 12 year old student, who was an ace pitcher for his middle school baseball team, fully understood the follow through motion a pitcher needed. It was also part and parcel of the technique that applied directly to the piano. When I demonstrated a wind up to the pitch, he raised his eyebrows. What was the piano teacher attempting to do? Invade the baseball diamond?

Wolfgang knew that without a flexible wrist, the pitcher would be dead on the mound. For a pianist, a stiff wrist spelled a harsh key attack, and a good chance of injury.

The best application of these sports inspired physical principles, was in the arena of scales and arpeggios. Rather than consider them pedantic exercises, I viewed these preliminaries as a way to get “connected” to the instrument. The concept brought a constellation of ideas like dead weight gravity, feeling centered, having hanging arms like a marionette.

“Puppet strings” had always been the best auto suggestion for my students. It caused them to relax, sending tension and worries to the recycle bin.

In the video attached to this writing, I’d demonstrated my personal approach to practicing scales and arpeggios, hoping that the image of a piano teacher’s fingers dancing across the keys would inspire some form of modeling .

If nothing else, the videotaped replay of the arpeggios in slow motion without audio would offer music teachers an additional instructional tool. They might also consider revisiting the piece, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as the springboard for a trip to the park. Since we had the SF Giants Triple A farm team here in Fresno, (The “Grizzlies”) it was a no brainer to reserve a seat and grab a hot dog once the new season began.

Piano Technique related videos: My Tutorials
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

100 years, 6 degrees of separation, 77 Sunset Strip, arpeggios, authorsden, Bay area, Bill Haley and the Comets, Bob Dylan, Bronx, Bronx dialect, California, cd baby, cdbaby, Classical era, Creative Fresno, Dario Marianelli, dream piano, Edith Piaf, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Elvis Presley, Facebook, Featherbed Lane, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Five for Fighting, Forever and Always, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, gymnastics, humor, J.S. Bach, Jane Austen, Johnny Mathis, JS Bach, keyboard technique, Liz on Top of the World, Major and minor scales, memoir, music, music appreciation classes, music history, music teachers association of california, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, Music Together, my space, New York, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Northwest Bronx, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Old Fig Garden in Fresno, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano room, piano sale, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano warm-ups, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, popular music, Pride and Prejudice, Romantic era music, satire, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Sohmer upright, sports, Steinway and Sons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, teaching piano to teenagers, technique, tennis, The Beatles, Twenty five Progressive pieces by Burgmuller, used piano, used pianos, Van Cliburn, Well Tempered Clavier, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Teens, popular music then and now, Taylor Swift, throw in Five for Fighting “100 Years”

Today was by no means a first for me, a long-haired musician raised on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms teaching a teen some pop tunes by John Ondrasik and Taylor Swift while I sailed through the universe of “Liz on Top of the World” with another student. Videotaping portions of piano lessons was the natural result of these explorations. If nothing else, it 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 was in the throes of 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 the initiation rite of 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.

Flash forward: Today, Allyse, a 16 year old high school junior at Clovis North, practiced “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always” in a slow and steady tempo at my home studio.

She had brought both these favorite pieces to me a few months ago, desperately wanting to learn them. Her older brother, Alex, likewise dropped off “Liz On Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice which I had to finger and practice in short order.

Both of these endearing piano students were members of the NOW generation, separated from me by decades. Yet despite our age difference, we were on the same page, practicing music that had meaning and evoked emotion. That’s what brought us together.

Roll the video!