classissima, classissima.com, Fantasia in C minor K.475 by Mozart, Mozart, piano, Seymour Bernstein, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wordpress, you tube, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano playing at its most inspirational level

Rarely does a musical performance move me to tears, but today was worth memorializing. Seymour Bernstein, a pianist, composer, author, mentor, friend, colleague (do I dare put myself in the —league part of the word), posted a 1955 rendering of Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Fantasia in C minor, K. 475. Immediately, it rang a bell. I’d watched Nadia Boulanger tutor a young prodigy about its harmonic rhythm, grabbing his wrist at a poignant point of modulation. The unexpected, of course, warmed my heart, not the labeling of a KEY transition. To be enlightened about the composer’s form and content, apart from a God-inspired place of origin could help guide a serious music student through thousands of notes. But was it enough?

Seymour Bernstein’s reading was beyond analyses because it naturally radiated though transitions of the most awesome kind. Where rests intervene, these must not be bogged down. They should travel over themselves with perfect buoyancy. One, a dramatic pause–another heart-melting, with various sections fitting together in a well-spun mosaic.

As I remind myself over and again, music is NON-verbal, so I won’t rival any distinguished music critic in my unswerving praise for Seymour’s performance.


From Seymour’s own program notes:

Dear friends,

“This recording appears on my 2-CD set entitled RETROSPECTIVE. I
thought I had uploaded it to YouTube. But I was mistaken. Here it is at
last. I am not sure where the performance took place, but I believe it was
at my 2nd Town Hall recital in 1955. I would do some things a bit
differently now, but still this is a good performance of this profound
piece.

“Sir Clifford Curzon told me that he and Wanda Landowska put their heads
together to list what they thought were the greatest keyboard works in
existence. This piece was among the chosen masterpieces.”

And here’s the snatch from a Boulanger class as referenced, where she tells 10-year old Emile Nauomoff that a particular D Major modulation, “just IS,” and not be likened to a moment of tenderness, or an associated adjective. (I might disagree)

For me, emotion and meaning in music are inexorably paired.

LINKS:

http://www.seymourbernstein.com

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/my-nyc-visit-with-seymour-bernstein-pianist-teacher-author-and-composer/

Part 4:

“You and the Piano” with Seymour Bernstein

http://youtu.be/lNYH8GQrdrc

Recommended Reading

with_your_own_two_hands

classissima, classissima.com, My Music Life Blog spot, philosophy of eduction, phrasing at the piano, pianist, pianists, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessson, piano studio, piano study, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, Piano World, piano world-wide, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein author Monsters and Angels, Seymour Bernstein author With Your Own Two Hands, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Seymour Bernstein With Your Own Two Hands, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, studying piano, teaching piano, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching piano to teens, teaching scales, the transfer piano student, Uncategorized, whole body listening, whole body music listening, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, word press.com, wordpress.com

The Transfer Piano Student

I would hate to pigeon hole all “transfer” students in one way or another. It would be unfair, and unfortunately many piano teachers shy away from prospects who were immersed in learning environments where little progress was made over a period of years.

Some reluctant piano instructors might say, “there’s just too much work involved in reversing bad habits, so I’m not up to the task.”

In my own experience, where a student is at least on a common page, dedicated to receiving a new set of ideas that will help him improve his technique and musical expression, wedded together, of course, then I’m up for the collective journey. (even with its built-in challenges)

Just the other day, I was delighted to meet a “new” adult pupil who had studied for five years with another teacher. The shift, springing from a schedule issue, brought more than a blessing in disguise. I was pleased to discover that the young woman had been exploring the great piano literature with method books being a things of the past. (Thank Goddess!)

In fact she played a gorgeous Haydn Minuet and a Mendelssohn Children’s piece which both offered opportunities to probe the singing tone, and ways of phrasing in two contrasting musical periods. (Classical and Romantic)

Of interest was the motif of the Mendelssohn composition that could have sounded like Schumann’s famous G Major March (Album for the Young) but for the difference in notated slurs. The former had the march spirit, while the other had to be executed as if sung expressively. This second piece required yielding to the upper voice of two, and letting the common thumb go a tad early. In this way a legato melodic line was preserved. (smooth and connected notes)

What a nice entree to style and interpretation.

In the realm of technique, I noticed that the pupil needed to play with supple wrists and more freedom in her arms which we worked on from the very start of her lesson. Scales that were a bit locked by tension, gradually gave way to a curvaceous spill of 16ths to four octaves.

Had I harbored a prejudice toward meeting with a “transfer” student, I would have lost a treasured opportunity to grow as a musician along with a willing student.

Another situation, but less appealing:

I’ve had moms bring Middle school children, in the main, who’ve bounced from teacher to teacher. This can be a RED FLAG, but not always, depending on the individual circumstance. (Family relocations can require a teacher change given the high rate of job transfers and home foreclosures)

However, where the grass is greener mantra infiltrates each and every teacher consult, I tend to shy away from being the next trial and error instructor.

In the Bay area, there are an abundance of gifted teachers, and each offers a well of musical wisdom. But an instructor and a student need TIME to develop a relationship, and not be subject to espresso evaluations.

However, in the Fresno environs, the musical landscape is a bit different, and often the “transfers” are neighborhood driven, or a student has devoted little if any time to practicing, and blames it on the piano teacher. Mom keeps talking about the “right or wrong chemistry” ad nauseum, and while this could be a valid reason for a shift in instructors, it’s often just the opposite. She will insist that the turnover of pieces is too slow, and that junior has spent too much time learning one selection.

Example, an 11-year old was brought to me who had studied for 9 months with one teacher, and barely a year with another. Mom said her child was not playing enough “popular” music and needed someone to make lessons “fun.”

Upon examination of the child’s musical skills, I observed that she was barely note-reading at a satisfactory level and she couldn’t play a one-octave scale up and down. In fact, she’d never been exposed to a scale or anything resembling, including five-finger Major/minor positions.

Was I braced to be the next mentor in line, accused of NOT making lessons a bowl of cherries?

I passed up the chance.

Obviously there are all kinds of circumstances in which we meet up with transfer students, and each should be separately evaluated. One, for example, may circumscribe an emotionally abusive situation, a cosmos I explored in the following blog:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/the-emotionally-abusive-piano-teacher-and-suggested-rehab/

A student may be fleeing an unwholesome learning environment that has stifled his progress and reduced him to feelings of overwhelming inadequacy.

Seymour Bernstein, author of MONSTERS AND ANGELS describes this very abuse that drove him to request another piano teacher at the distinguished Mannes College of Music. The story is well capsulized in this blog posted by Harriet:

http://www.mymusiclifeblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/monsters-and-angels.html

Bernstein’s experience among others must be carefully assessed, or with our cultural blinders on, we could overlook a blessed musical relationship with a transfer student that will grow and ripen with time.

If my beloved teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had viewed me as just one of those garden variety “transfers” who came through her door so ill-prepared to play what I had been assigned by a previous mentor (the Chopin Scherzo in Bb Minor, for example) then I would have given up the piano in sheer frustration.

What I heard in my inner ear, I couldn’t express as a player due to inadequate technique and phrasing. These hallmark musicianship skills had to be learned from the ground up and I needed a willing teacher to guide me. (starting with an awareness of the singing tone)

Teachers make such a big difference in our lives if we let them do the work needed. Support and respect for the instructor and learning environment must come from the pupil, and in the case of youngsters, also from their parents.

Whether students are “transfers” or not, these basic ingredients of a positive teacher/pupil relationship underlie musical growth and development.

***

Please share your experience as a transfer student, or if in a role as teacher, how did you proceed with students from other learning environments?

RELATED LINKS:

The Neighborhood Piano Teacher Lives On

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/the-neighborhood-piano-teacher-lives-on/

How Long Should a Piano Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Pulls and Tugs between students/teachers/and parents in the piano learning cosmos

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/pulls-and-tugs-two-sides-to-the-studentteacher-piano-lesson-relationship/

Baroque era music, Chopin, Chopin Nocturne in F Major Op. 15 No. 1, classissima, classissima.com, harmonic analysis, harmonic rhythm, how to boos piano technique, Martha Argerich, pianist, pianists, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano masterclasses, piano pedagogy, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano practicing, piano repertoire, piano repertoire for intermediate level students, piano student, piano students who drop out, piano studio, piano teacher, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano technique and the singing tone, piano tutorial, piano world-wide, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, playing the piano, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Romantic era music, Romantic era piano repertoire, Romantic music, Scarlatti Sonatas, Scarlatti Toccata in d minor k. 141, Seymour Bernstein, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, Teach Street, teaching piano, trills, Twenty five Progressive pieces by Burgmuller, videotaping a piano performance and self analysis, videotaping at piano lessons, whole body listening, whole body music listening, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube, you tube, you tube video

Practicing knotty piano passages, and tips on how to avoid fatigue while boosting technique (Videos)

At my You Tube Channel site, I routinely pick up comments daily, and the majority center on piano technique. While I lay no claim to being an expert in this complex universe, my trial and error practicing over decades has come with insights that I enjoy sharing.

Earlier today, I’d noticed the following note posted at my site that referred to a devilish strings of repeated notes found in Scarlatti’s D minor Toccata, K. 141:

“My God!

“I can’t believe I’ve found this video—I’ve been killing myself trying to loosen up my 3-2-1 repeated notes for this EXACT piece!

“You’ve helped me to try out new ideas because I was about ready to give up as I no longer take lessons and kept tensing up. I just couldn’t figure out just how to fix myself.”

He referenced one of my comments in passing.

“You mentioned getting fatigued doing the repeated notes later on in the piece…do you think that no matter how loose you are you will eventually get somewhat fatigued by the end of this piece?”

***

Naturally, I answered his final question, emphasizing the dangers of over-practicing knotty passages, especially those with redundant motions that could cause an overuse injury.

It becomes quickly apparent that if you keep playing 3-2-1 repeated note combinations for hours on end, even if you execute them with a supple wrist and relaxed, flowing arm, the oxygen to the cells is going to give out at some point.

Veda Kaplinksy, a Juilliard School Professor of Piano, had driven this point home loud and clear in one of her media interviews.

From ingesting her words of wisdom, it followed that a player should know when it’s time to take a breather. A few hours or more of needed break time would allow the muscles a period of rest and repair.

In the meantime, I had revisited two of my posted videos that might help those agonizing about those time-worn, bummer sections that required renewed fuels of relaxed energy.

The first dealt with those dizzying repeated notes in the Domenico Scarlatti Toccata and how to approach them. I used Martha Argerich as my role model, watching her motions as she generated perfectly formed scads of them. It looked like she was sweeping or dusting the keys.

You can be sure after watching the You Tube video following mine, that her arms, wrists, and hands were very relaxed to pull off such an amazing performance!

In my second instruction, I used Burgmuller’s “La Chasse” as a springboard to explore ways of dividing the hands to advance articulation as well as an effective crescendo in an Allegro vivace frame.

After the introductory measures, I examined the repeated broken octaves in staccato and how to play them easily without tiring.

**
Amidst this whole terrain of practicing passages that require redundant motions with regular infusions of supple wrist-generated energy, I noted my last night’s revisit of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1.

Having already exhausted everyone’s patience obsessing over the “killer” MIDDLE SECTION, I still enlisted it as a potential overuse injury stimulant–that is, if rest and repair breaks were not taken, one’s hands could feel like they were about to fall off.

But before I was completely shut down at my sixth playing, I preserved the first, and uploaded it to You Tube, feeling some progress had been made.

There will be further attempts to unshackle the death-defying mid-section as time permits.

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/a-dreaded-killer-middle-section-of-a-chopin-nocturne-and-how-to-deal-with-it-f-major-op-15-no-1-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/accept-where-you-are-in-your-piano-studies-know-your-limitations-but-still-strive-to-improve-video/

"When do I Play my Best" by Seymour Bernstein, arioso7, authorsden, blog, blogger, blogging, blogs about piano, Chopin, Chopin Nocturne in F Major Op. 15 No. 1, Chopin Nocturnes, Chopin Piano Concerto in E minor, classissima, classissima.com, Frederic Chopin, how to review an old piano piece, how to review an old piece, Irina Morozova, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano practicing, Seymour Bernstein, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube, you tube, you tube video

Accept where you are in your piano studies, know your limitations, but still strive to improve (VIDEO)

This is my credo or philosophy that allows for imperfection without self-punishment. Yet students of all levels tend to invalidate their own performances despite growth spurts springing from dedicated practicing. Many have done all the layered learning steps, but have come to a plateau in a particular piece which is perhaps where that composition will remain for a while, but not permanently.

There are also the realities of technical challenges that may or may not be met in this lifetime, and I’m the first to admit them. I’ve had to accept physical short-comings associated with any number of so-called bravura pieces.

Other players, in mellower moments, have likewise made peace with themselves.

In many cases, technical problems as they occur in sections of pieces, may relate to an individual’s built-in limits of what his hands, fingers, arms, wrists can produce. Some pianists have the gift of a genetically rapid trill. Others can practice their hands off, and still not create a shimmering ornament.

When I studied violin I had a natural vibrato and beautiful singing tone, but no matter how much I slaved over exercises for the left hand, I could not amble up and down the fingerboard with strength and certainty. Even having had the best teachers, I had to admit to myself that an astounding left-hand technique was not within reach. Still, I played for hours on end and improved, but fell short of my goal to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Instead, I gracefully settled for performing the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A minor and lots of chamber music from the Baroque and Classical eras.

A number of violinists that I’d encountered in my musical journey had a slower, wallowing vibrato and less than ideal tone, but they had astounding left-hand agility with excellent bow technique that landed them in the finest symphony orchestras.

Back to piano..

and speaking of physical prowess,

Just the other day, I decided that I would confront my demons head on in the the Middle section of Chopin’s F Major Nocturne. In the past I had dodged any opportunity to post a reading on You Tube, let alone try to teach it in full view of an Internet audience. I was always stopped in my tracks by interminably long strings of broken chord patterns at forte level jumping from hand to hand. Some taxed my small fingers by their big spreads (another limitation that had to be reconciled)

But as I shrunk from a full-blown dive into the work, I approached the difficult section behind tempo, inching my way around familiar landmines.

And while it was all well and good in a slow rendering, what would play out in the big boy universe of in tempo, CON FUOCO? (with fire!)

Seymour Bernstein was listening from the sidelines as I shared my step-wise efforts with him. His full-blown, uncensored comments lit a fire, but not enough to adequately ignite bands of 16ths!

Once my personal bonfire had been smothered by tiring hands, Seymour chimed in with assistance:

Shirley, there are many things to discuss about that passage from the F Major Nocturne. The most important thing concerns the r. h. It would seem that the choreography is down-up for each pair of double notes. Yet my theory is that all double notes are wrist-arm activities with each tone going up (prepare)-down (play), as though we were playing non-legato. In fact if you practice those double tones at first non-legato and then legato with the same wrist-arm movements (but always leading with the fingers), you will see how much more comfortable they are to play and how evenly they sound. The other way requires crab like movements of the fingers alone which creates arm tension.

“Now, having said that, the l. h. can’t choreograph as though you were playing a scale. So because the r. h. goes up-down for each tone, so, too, must the l. h. do the same on each tone of the scales. So practice both hands non-legato to get the correct choreography, and then play legato. Those hairpins are not only dynamics, but, more importantly, tempo fluctuations (see my book entitled INTERPRETING CHOPIN’S NOTATIONAL SYMBOLS). As hairpins open, I suggest they mean to broaden out the tempo. The dynamics must be of our own choosing. I play the passage beginning with an accented forte, drop to piano as the scales descend, and then make a
cresc. together with broadening out the tempo on the ascending scales. The requirement of double notes in the r. h. and single notes in the left occurs on the opening page of Chopin’s A-flat Polonaise. In that piece, the l. h. appears like a simple short chromatic scale. Yet if each tone doesn’t go up-down with each double tone of the r. h., the body goes into shock. In short, both hands make the same movements on each tone. The feeling when you go fast in all such passages is like a vibrating shiver.

“In the final analysis, we all have our pet ways of solving difficulties. If something works for you, certainly adopt it.”

(The last line was diplomatic. It was a bone thrown to me in my dogged despair)

Nonetheless, I took Seymour’s advice.

My next try was abbreviated with its focus on his recommended STACCATO strategy followed by a Legato playing.

Two brief uploads tumbled out evincing sedated cheers from him. He was both encouraging and once again, diplomatic:

“That’s the idea,” he said. But be sure to play with the dynamics I suggested. Now do the same shivering motions fast and legato with vibrato pedal and it should sound terrific.”

A second pianist and teacher with singular gifts and achievements, added her own two cents:

“Feel very strong support in your palm, in the knuckles, and try putting your wrist down every bit lifting it a little higher toward the end of each group of 6 intervals, (every BEAT)”

That would have worked if I could do it consistently over long spans of measures, not in bite-size chunks. (A goal to strive for)

Seymour Bernstein added his final comments to my growing collection:

More suggestions about the middle section: stop concentrating so intensely on the r. h. and focus exclusively on the l. h., especially the eruptions at the ends of the ascending scales. You must broaden out the tempo and make a decided cresc. as you approach those rests before the final quick repeated tones. The feeling should be energy going to the key bed in the l. h. and a floating, surface approach to the double notes in the r. h., shimmering, so to speak, only to the escapement level of each key and not to the key beds. In fact, practice this section sounding the l. h. and simulating the correct touch with your r. h. only on the surface of the keys without sounding them. Then gradually allow a few tones to sound in the r. h. until you hear a fast murmur of those double tones. This way you will gain speed and make progress.

Incidentally, these discussions suggest another blog on preferred tempo. I noted that Livia Rev had a playing time of 5:24 (Nocturne in F Major) so the middle section perhaps was played on the moderate side of the metrical spectrum. In its divine simplicity, the reading was for me very appealing.

(I’ve heard from many towering pianists/teachers that a slower tempo can still have the vitality or spirit needed. I tend to agree)

***

When all was said and done, I recorded the complete F Major Nocturne, with a few prayers said before the camera rolled.

While the performance was not stellar, the playing showed marked improvement compared to my efforts years ago.

If nothing else such progress was worth celebrating.

And that’s what I’ve always said to my piano students as they advance along in baby steps…

Links:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/killer-advice-from-seymour-bernstein-for-the-killer-mid-section-chopin-nocturne-in-f-op-15-no-1-videos/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/a-dreaded-killer-middle-section-of-a-chopin-nocturne-and-how-to-deal-with-it-f-major-op-15-no-1-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/the-old-world-playing-like-fine-wine-of-livia-rev-hungarian-pianist-and-teacher-see-her-teaching-segments-on-the-pliant-wrist/

Seymour Bernstein, Video 4, You and the Piano

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNYH8GQrdrc&feature=relmfu

arm and hand rotation in playing piano, classissima, classissima.com, Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase, Mildred Portney Chase, phrasing at the piano, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique and the singing tone, playing piano, Seymour Bernstein, swinging arms in playing piano, teaching piano, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein

The Chopin Bb minor Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1, and arm/hand rotation/phrasing (Video)

Chopin’s Bb minor Nocturne (Night Piece) requires a player to use a full arm rotation to fluidly play the arpeggios in the left hand that span over an octave. These broken chords which fill a large space by their expansion, create a Romantic underpinning for the molto cantabile heart-rending melody in the treble.

If the wrist, hand, and arm don’t work in unity to execute the bass figure which permeates the whole composition, then the player will quickly tire and the tone will become inhibited.

When I rotate my arms in the course of playing this work, I feel like I’m swinging them toward and away from my body. My elbows with their curvaceous movements, in particular, have wide a wide range of motion. Intertwined with the arm and hand movement is the undulating or flexible wrist. It’s suppleness advances phrase-sculpting and shaping, and its follow through motion allows a player to “breathe” through a composition. (both treble and bass lines)

A pervasive feeling of TWO impulses per measure further lifts the music, so it’s not bogged down in six. (6/4) This rhythmic adjustment helps the player float more naturally in half measures until the final cadence. It’s with a unity of hands, wrists and arms nursing phrases along.

Seymour Bernstein talks about an “upper arm roll” that allows a pianist to have more control over phrasing, dynamics and nuance. He encourages the use of large levers–not just fingers down playing.

Mildred Portney Chase, in her book Just Being at the Piano explains how she focuses on a “release” motion when practicing.

“I may play a short phrase and in the release, allow my hands and arms to move away from the instrument and then back again as a dancer would, with a feeling of grace and fully in contact with the last sound played. Or, I may simply move, using the gesture in choreographed movement to a musical phrase. This may undo any tension that might bind the fingers in playing out the phrase.”

***

I like to think of the arms as playing the fingers, perhaps like by-passing the keyboard, drawing music from the strings inside the piano.

The only way perhaps to begin to illustrate what often seems a bit beyond words to describe is to embed an example.

In this reading, I make it a point to study phrases that had particular flow and nuance, and store these in my muscle memory bank.

The touch/feel part of music-making is often under-played (pun intended) Notes only have meaning as musical ideas drawn from inspiration allied to fluid movement.

Learning individual notes in the early learning process, should be wedded to the singing tone– to beautiful phrasing and nuance. From the very first exposure to a new piece, ( as Mildred Portney and Seymour Bernstein wisely say) the savoring of each musical moment is a treasured one.

This tableau posted by Seymour Bernstein nicely frames the process of reaching deep down into oneself for musical inspiration:

The backdrop: Aria from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Link:

You and the Piano, A Lesson With Seymour Bernstein, Part 4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNYH8GQrdrc

Chopin Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 no. 1, Chopin Nocturnes, interpretation of Romantic era repertoire, Morey Amsterdam, Oscar Levant, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, Romantic era piano repertoire, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

A long distance Chopin Nocturne Makeover that might help others

It’s amazing that at 3 a.m. in the morning, I’d be fussing around with the Chopin Nocturne in E minor (Op. 72, No. 1) that I’d previously embedded in a blog about revisiting old repertoire. Either my kind neighbors love classical music, or they’ve managed to double pack their ears with spongy stopples. (These can be permanently “embedded” if one is not careful)

So lucky for me, with my unplugged, wide open ears, I had the benefit of a long distance communication from Seymour Bernstein (author, With Your Own Two Hands) who emailed me constructive criticism related to the Chopin. Basically, he zeroed in on what I knew in my sub-conscious to be on point–but because of my DNA connection to the piece, I was just too embedded in it (not that word, again, please consult a Thesaurus)

It was one of those situations, where I knew that I’d over-exaggerated my rubato, perhaps, but of more concern was my tendency to play unsynchronized bass/treble notes. You know what I mean, when the right and left hand should come together and not be schmaltzed up to high heaven, and divided all over the place. It’s what Liberace might do, or the celebrated hypochondriac pianist, Oscar Levant, who played Gershwin. He made it a point to exhibit all his illnesses on 1950s TV, kvetching the whole time on the Jack Paar Show, sniveling, snorting- about to pass out before a commercial break.

My family had an old 78 of his Chopin which I’ll have to dig up. In those days, the vinyls were very long-lasting, like some of Liberace’s half cadences, rolls and flourishes.

I’d imagined a less mannered interpretation as had permeated my last reading, and having Seymour Bernstein’s long-distance coaching would level me out. It was nothing short of a mitzvah (blessing in Hebrew)

But before I go further, here’s a comparison of conditions for each home-based recording of the Nocturne.

1)The first performance, previously embedded, was rendered at a civilized hour so my fingers didn’t feel like icicles. Here in Fresno, it’s dipped below 32 degrees at night so we’re having a honeymoon, of sorts, because the next season is our normally sizzling summer, with 100 degrees in the shade. (We are basically bi-seasonal with the help of global warming.)

2) In the second recording made at 3 a.m., my hands were ice balls, so forget the trills, if you can manage to find them–For relief, I’d shoved my bare hands in front of a portable heater, blocked by Aiden Cat who didn’t appreciate being pulled from his sun bath. He would otherwise be rattling the blinds, or tipping over nick knacks.

To be more precise about what I was thinking about before I attempted a Chopin Nocturne MAKEOVER, here’s what Seymour Bernstein recommended after hearing my first performance:

(I hope this advice will help others who are studying the composition)

“Some theorists hold to Chopin always beginning trills on the upper note. But that practice ceased with late Bach and Mozart. It comes down to personal choice. And choices are usually made on what the melody is doing”.

My comment: Bernstein is spot on. I appreciated the advice that the trill should preferably start on the principle note. (If you can bake your hands in a warm oven, you have a shot at playing any trill in the dead of winter) I ended up reducing my first few to upper neighbor ornaments. Don’t copy me.

“I like your new fingering. I divide that passage rhythmically as follow: 123, 1234, 1234.” (He’s referring to measure 37 with those 11 insanely bunched up treble notes crowding into one beat)

My chosen fingering was 1,2, 1,2, 123, 1234

“If you record it again, be sure to play your hands together more often, especially on downbeats. Of course one divides hands for special moments.”

In my first reading I had too many special moments, so don’t copy me. I made it a point to have less of them in the second performance.

Second, improved reading: I’m not gloating over this one, but it’s on the way to the next, which will be followed by another. The process is never-ending. (But I’ll admit to being in a happier place listening to this rendition)

Mikhail Pletnev, the great Russian pianist, always bemoans the existence of recordings, comparing them to mirrors of fixed, undesirable images.

I like to think of them as springboards to improve one’s playing and to grow as a pianist over time.

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/seymour-bernstein-pianist-displays-wisdom-about-the-supple-wrist-and-its-influence-on-the-singing-tone-video/

About Oscar Levant:

A reminder that the man’s celebrity was based upon his reputation as a pianist. He studied with Sigismond Stojowski, a friend and student of Paderewski. He also was a member of George Gershwin’s inner circle.

Levant was considered a genius by some, in many areas. (He himself wisecracked “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.”)

Birds, Birds Book 1 composed by Seymour Bernstein, Birds Book 2 composed by Seymour Bernstein, Manduca Music Publications, music with bird themes, piano teaching repertoire, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein composer, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Birds spring to life in these collections for piano!

Here’s a case of music composed by a pianist who has an abundance of talent in so many directions that it’s dizzying!

If I thought LEONARD Bernstein was the renaissance man, with gifts as a conductor, pianist, composer, and mentor, well here comes SEYMOUR Bernstein in a shimmering spotlight of his own!

I’m awestruck!

Having composed my own collection of miniature character pieces (Moonbeams and Other Musical Sketches) they are no rival to Seymour’s well developed Birds tableaux. I say well developed, because though some are quite short in length, they all have musical substance.

Birds, Book 1 attaches a fascinating anecdote which Bernstein relayed to a receptive audience at the University of Missouri. He described and played the compositions as he went along.

The opener was worth a chuckle and a gulp of emotion.

As Bernstein wove the story, during a composing summer in Maine, he met up with a neighbor’s child of 10-years old who was a beginning piano student and played for him. Bernstein being very impressed with the child’s progress in such a short time was inspired to compose 3 pieces in the frugal space of one hour that could be taught by rote. One of these called for smashing fists over a series of notes to imitate the raucous sound of The Seagull.

As it was charmingly related, when the child excitedly returned home to play this delightful musical morsel, he managed to pound away on his piano, promptly shattering hammers in the treble range.

Bernstein woefully reported that the cost of repairing the hammers exceeded the price of the piano so a new one was no doubt on the horizon. (It took a year for the family to forgive the teacher)

Apparently, on a whim, Bernstein submitted the three composed pieces to a publisher. Though well received, they were needing expansion to a larger set, so Seymour hopped to the task creating five more that filled out the delightful first collection that includes The Purple Finch, The Humming Bird, The Woodpecker, The Sea Gull, The Chickadee, The Vulture, The Penguin, and The Eagle. (Upper Intermediate to Advanced Level repertoire)

Once this first group is sampled, it’s enticement to check out Birds, Book 2 which comes with surprising special effects.

Here are both links to Seymour Bernstein’s performances:

(Performed at the 92nd St. Y)

Birds 2
A Second Suite of Nine Impressionistic Studies for Piano Solo
Seymour Bernstein

“The nine masterful studies are somewhat more difficult than the pieces in Birds 1. There is a great variety in articulation. The piano is used as a echo chamber in the Phoenix. Musically the trills, glissandi and clusters give a wonderful picture of each bird. The pedaling is very specific and will teach pianists a great deal about resonance. The birds included in this set are Myna Bird, Swan, Robin, Owl, Roadrunner, Condor, Nightingale, Guinea Hen, and Phoenix. These pieces have been used by students and teachers worldwide for their evocative qualities.”

Available at Manduca Music Publications

A young student plays Birds, Book 1
Note the use of fists in SEAGULL–1:43 into the video

If you’re curious to discover additional repertoire composed by Seymour Bernstein, run to check on RACCOONS!

http://seymourbernstein.com/publications/music/