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Into the Hills with the Sound of Music –a Baldwin Acrosonic “acoustic” sings

The video attached to this writing validates the beauty of music-making on a well-maintained, though 1940s vintage era acoustic piano.

Baldwin Acrosonics were the Cadillacs of the spinet and console variety pianos. They had a noticeable innovation compared to their sister-size instruments. (A deeper sound chamber, especially noted in the consoles that measured 40″ or taller) Baldwin Acro’s standard 36″ spinet was still a resonating musical treasure, if properly cared for. The pianos were manufactured starting in 1936.

“Coined from the Greek word, “Akros,” meaning supreme, and the Latin, “sonus,” meaning tone, the trademark Acrosonics were famous for their tonal clarity, power, and *Full- Direct Blow action.” (Bluebook of Pianos.com)

*This action sits on top of the keys instead of being a drop action where the action connects to the key by a rod or some other “indirect” method.

***

An Acrosonic with fluted legs, sequestered in a gorgeous El Cerrito Hills home lived up to its singing nightingale reputation, in the good company of “Haddy” Haddorff, one of my pianos, now in the good care of a well-regarded Central Valley piano teacher. (Both instruments have an immaculate set of ivory keys)

images haddorff

The Hills Acrosonic, purchased at DC Pianos in Berkeley, is accompanied by a sturdy adjustable concert bench.

And while many of my students own digitals, if they can possibly locate an acoustic of this variety in excellent condition, I would say, Go for it!

Acrosonics are easily found on Craig’s List, though a piano teacher and technician should be taken along for an assessment.

Just listen to this one and make up your own mind.e bay hills acro

The occasion was a make-up lesson on site at my students’ home. (We were working on Chopin’s A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous)

More often I’m found in a separate El Cerrito Hills location that houses my Baldwin Hamilton 1929 grand, another vintage charmer.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

Finally, look at these lovely representations of Baldwin Acrosonics, striking for their beauty, inside and out:

images Baldwin Acro

piano_22  Acro 2

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The business of copying the piano teacher: Who has the final say or PLAY?

The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.

When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.

From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.

That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.

How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.

Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?

In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.

Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.

So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?

1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.

The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.

He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.

He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.

If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.

Which leads next to:

2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.

I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.

3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.

I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.

In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.

4) What about lessons and video follow-up?

I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.

Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.

To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.

(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)

On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.

To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.

Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.

Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.

These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.

The Art of Breathing and piano playing


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

Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)

***

To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.

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Using piano repertoire as a springboard for a theory lesson: Major, minor and Diminished Chords (Videos)

One of my adult students is working on the gorgeous J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor which has a second page full of “Major,” “Minor” and “Diminished” chords. The sonorities progress in sequences, but they also have a secondary dominant relationship to resolving chords. The “harmonic rhythm” moves quickly.

While this particular pupil may not be ready to understand “functional” harmony or the “modulation” dimension of the broken chords as they occur in the B section, she could learn how to form “Major,” “minor” and “diminished” chords, and then appreciate their differences through ear-training exposure.

In this video, sent between lessons, I reviewed Major, minor and Diminished chords and their derivation from five-finger positions which she has been studying in the Major and Parallel minor. The fact that the chords (broken) moved in a sequence, or a pattern also helped her navigate this section.

The Secondary Dominant aspect had been briefly noted, but will be more deeply explored as the student’s scale work around the Circle of Fifths gives an opportunity to build chords on every degree of the scale, noting harmonic relationships, cadences, and modulations.

Teaching Video:

In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar revisit with part of the opening A section.

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are woven into the artistic process.

Playing through entire prelude, first in chords, then as written in broken chord sequence.

RELATED:

Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/music-theory-and-piano-study-video-it-doesnt-have-to-be-drudgery/

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Piano Instruction: Pastorale in D Major, K. 415 by Domenico Scarlatti, a stepwise approach

The Pastorale in D, included in Margery Halford’s Scarlatti, An Introduction to his Keyboard Works, poses significant musical challenges. In the technical realm, the composer has a tricky landscape of two-note legato figures as offbeats in the treble, and these are set against bass, dotted quarter rhythms. (This counterpoint is later inverted in the middle section)-Note that 12/8 meter is felt in 4.

Intertwined with this mosaic are a series of apoggiaturas, or non-harmonic tones that resolve into the bass chords through redundant two-note groupings. These passing harmonic clashes in duple 8ths are strongly “motivic” meaning they reflect the composer’s main idea in its smallest form.

In realizing these redundant figures, the pianist has to carefully lean on the dissonant note, and artfully resolve it. A supple wrist helps to shape down these slurs.

In my video instruction, I show ways to practice the Pastorale, starting with separate hands, isolating voices, blocking, and tracking harmonies. The application of a flexible wrist is naturally indispensable to this whole learning process, and playing with a singing tone should underlie all practicing.

LINKS:

LIVE webcam instruction at POWHOW

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

***

Scarlatti Sonata in G, K. 431 Tutorial

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/learning-a-new-piano-piece-quickly-and-thoroughly-videos/

Scarlatti Minuetto in C, L. 217 Tutorial:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/piano-instruction-domenico-scarlatti-minuetto-in-c-l-217-videos/

alica delarrocha, Artur Rubinstein, Daniel Barenboim, pianists with big hands, pianists with little hands, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano, The art of phrasing at the piano, the art of piano pedaling, the art of piano playing, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube

Piano Technique: The big hand/little hand controversy (Videos)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked the same question by either parents, or people I meet on Amtrak. It’s about “piano fingers,” “hand size,” and the best physiological fit for the keyboard. Next in line are queries about tone deafness and “perfect pitch.”

The stereotypes are: A great pianist has God-given perfect pitch and long-tapered fingers. End of story.

Now if you log onto You Tube and sample lots of remarkable piano playing, you’ll quickly discover that short and stubby fingers can work musical magic.

Example, the late Alicia de Larrocha defied all physical stereotypes: She was pint-sized and with little fingers. (the pairing was perfect)

Given her bio-genetics and 4’9″ inch height, you can watch her rip through a fiery composition!

De Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance”

Try this out for size. Alicia playing Liszt’s “La Campanella”–

Talk about finger stretches that KILL!

I wish we could SEE her in this one. But listening without the distraction of vision is even better. Imagine this woman dancing around the keys.

It’s mind-boggling!

I’ve also discovered that Artur Rubinstein had rather small hands, and Daniel Barenboim, even smaller.

A famous pianist of yesteryear, Arthur Loesser, was said to have diminutive hands and fingers but played with finesse and fluidity.

(To be a devil’s advocate, I’ll admit that I’ve had students with such thick, long fingers, that if sandwiched between two black notes, their one finger couldn’t avoid depressing more than one key. And there was no easy way around it.)

After all is said and done, however, one must admit that some passages in the piano literature are more easily navigated with big hands and long fingers.

So why should I bring this up? Well, because my current obsession is Variation 3 of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 331 with finger-jamming parallel octaves in legato. (smooth and connected)

To cut a long story short, after I carved out what seemed to be a legato-feasible fingering, I found that my work-horse wrist had to elevate beyond comfort.

One solution was to lower the wrist and change my fingering. And that I did.

So even with my smaller hands, I smoothed out a gnawing passage, avoiding further anguish.

To satisfy your curiosity, watch this video, and think of what Professor Henry Higgins said to “My Fair Lady” as he rehearsed the Cockney out of her:

“I think you’ve got it!”

Play through Variation 3:

RELATED:

A pitch for a reduced-size piano!

When Big hands/fingers play unwanted notes

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/when-big-hands-and-fingers-play-unwanted-notes/

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

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

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

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

From Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piano Lesson:

Playing Tarentelle in tempo:

RELATED:

La Chasse (The Chase) by Burgmuller


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

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Bonus post-concert Video Footage: Daniil Trifonov Interview, Fresno, California

In supplementary video footage, Trifonov discussed the role of “relaxation,” and physical “freedom” in beautiful music-making. He reiterated a practicing modality where a pianist plays a composition in “seven different emotions.”

One of my adult students and her husband joined me during the post-recital interview that took place in the private Fresno State University music studio of Professor Andreas Werz, Artistic Director, Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts.

Thanks once again to Andreas, Daniil, and Aviva Kirsten (video assistant) for making this interview flow smoothly.

Related Link:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/daniil-trifonov-pianist-shares-his-artistry-and-imparts-musical-wisdom-in-a-post-concert-interview-in-fresno-california-video/