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Scenes from Manhattan

First day in the Big Apple:

These are popular picture postcard themes yet worth memorializing.

I took this photo set as I trekked from 34th Street and Penn station to the West Side ‘Y’ gym at 63rd off Central Park.

Bogged down with luggage, I approached Columbus Circle at W. 59th Street (off Central Park)



Columbus Circle



The Y Gym where I have a six-day guest pass


Day two:

My visit with Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist (and pianist)


Elaine discussed Baroque ornaments while displaying her impeccable artistry at the harpsichord and piano. Her riveting interview will be posted after my return to California.


Today, Sunday (Day 3)

I’m going to my mother’s 100th Birthday celebration at her apartment on 218th Street in Manhattan.

Mom’s  place overlooks the Hudson River at the picturesque northern tip of Manhattan.

I’ll take the ‘A’ train to 207th and then climb a steep hill to Park Terrace Gardens.

Once arrived, I ‘ll be sure to capture the old Sohmer upright, my first REAL piano after I endured treacherous years practicing on an abysmal sounding Wieser (aka WHEEZER)

Sadly,  the Sohmer has deteriorated  from extreme temperature and humidity shifts over decades, so it’s now a living room centerpiece and photo gallery.

More to come….

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Favorite Tchaikovsky piano pieces and their pedagogical value

Tchaikovsky painting

I made a promise to myself well before the New Year, that I would learn one new Tchaikovsky composition each day from the composer’s Op. 39 Children’s Album. (24 tableaux) Not that I’m recommending to piano students that they assimilate new music at lightning speed, but for me the challenge was to make a spurt of growth without sacrificing quality in my quickened journey. In fact, often an early reading is like experiencing the first sunrise with a childlike gaze.

The Back Story

Rada Bukhman’s gift to the music world, The Magic Link, had arrived for Chanukah with its colorful bouquet of program-driven piano miniatures that were sensitively juxtaposed offerings of Peter Ilyich and Robert Schumann.

Rada Bukhman The Magic Link

In a heartbeat, I bonded to Tchaikovsky’s pieces, perhaps because my *DNA (Russian background) increased my affection for the composer’s emotion-packed music, yet, simultaneously, I appreciated the teaching value of each and every tender musical morsel.

The following selections from the Op. 39 collection received my latest embrace, winning me over with their grace and beauty.





The Organ Grinder Sings

Italian Song

Morning Prayer

From a teaching perspective:

Each musical tapestry requires a vivid imagination coupled with a singing tone repository. Bigger than finger energies, a supple wrist and relaxed arms allow for a legato (connected touch) when needed, and a diversified staccato (crisp notes in contrasting dynamics) as well as tenuto execution (detached, press lift approaches with a leaning emphasis).

Finally, a tasteful rubato (flexibility of time) and sensitive use of the sustain pedal apply to both dance and song forms, fleshing out their character and emotion.

Addendum: A performance of Op. 39 that made the most overall indelible impression on me, came from the late Brigitte Engerer who sang like a nightingale with imagination and artistry.


*My Family’s history and genealogy

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Birds invade the Piano/Skype universe, but this one on You Tube stands out!

An adult piano student who continued her lessons by Skype after I relocated to Berkeley from Fresno, brought along her choir of parakeets. Despite a muddy transmission last night, they registered cackles of chagrin and chirps of approval through Burgmuller’s “SORROW.”

But their intuitively musical avian responses were trumped by Frostie the Parrot’s feather-ruffling, SHAKE IT but don’t break it, Rhythm-perfect, perched performance!

“SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHER!” is Frostie’s, not-to-be-missed, tour de force!

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Piano Practicing: Taking the robot out of fast passages

It’s easy to stare at a Presto Rondo from the Classical era, and wonder how to navigate scads of notes that can end up on the assembly line, pumped out with no sense of individuality. And while herds of them might be corralled with a sensible fingering, their shape and direction often remain out of reach. That’s when the robot relentlessly controls the flock.

Repeatedly, I’d tried to stave off the mechanical monster in Haydn’s final movement,(Sonata in Eb Hob.XVI:52) but without success, until I carefully examined the harmonic outline of the Bass part as the organizer of Treble fast melody.

The “dips” that are part of harmonic resolutions–like Dominant to Tonic, and the longer approaches to cadences (resting points) from phrase to phrase, gave me a grouped sense of the notes above, without stealing their individual identity. It amounted to the happy paradox of playing well-shaped lines that sprang from notes cushioned in harmony as they robustly sang out their solos.

The video below tracks the journey.

Haydn sonata in E Flat Hoboken 52

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My Steinway upright has a “new” home, and so do I

Model 1098 was eased out my front door by two piano moving Zen masters, Greg and Jeremy. (I’ll give them a Yin/Yang Yelp for their artful twists and turns)

It wasn’t the first time McCrea’s picked up or delivered a piano for me. Two years ago, they transported my Kawai GE20 grand from a smaller space to one with cumbersome steps, easing their way over rocky terrain (chipped concrete) with mind-blowing finesse.

But nothing compared to this fearless feat of flight!

out the window piano


Once 1098 was bundled into the “AA” truck bound for its new home, I decided to redesign my own space as the perfect entree to Jewish New Year 5,744!

Adding a touch of antiquity, I filled the void left by my ex-music lover.

replace upright with book shelf

Finally, a flashback to more ancient times when a tricky grand piano move was mastered by B and L in the Central Valley. It was UP the steps and onto a narrow Bima at Temple Beth Israel!


(The sanctuary has since MOVED to the burbs)

What else is *NEW?


P.S. *The rest of my remodeled solo piano room after furniture shuffling.
spacier piano room

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Adult student Rhythmic REHAB

rhythm chart

I have four piano students in rehab who are grappling with metrical issues. They might start with a healthy quarter note in a five-finger position warm-up; manage proportioned 8th notes, but totally relapse playing 16ths.

That’s when their confidence sinks to new lows.

It’s just in time for the metronome, not used as a crutch, but to raise consciousness about a steady pulse. Then I shut it off.

With a robotic injection of quarters set at MM= 45 embedded in the memory, those rhythmically afflicted will re-start their 4-measure warm-up in an upbeat spirit, until the devilish double-beamed notes plague them once again.

But there’s hope.

Bring on the “double-leedle” second responder syllabic squad, (DSRSS) and add tapping hands to keep the life blood of semi-quavers flowing.

The left hand can flesh out quarters atop the piano, while the right fills in with 4 even impulses.

Then transfer to the keyboard. (Prescribed, as needed)


“RAVI” (no relation to Shankar) is a good example of braving a rigorous treatment course given the scope of his disorder.

Sam blue eighth note stickers

He not only tenaciously fights the demons of rhythmic unrest, but he sets up challenges that most students would shrink from.

The Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5, a land mine of triplets and 16ths is HIS chosen milieu and he’s determined to deal with its unsettling terrain, one quaver at a time.

Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5

And in keeping with protocols meant to move rhythmically compromised students along the path to cure, I heeded Ravi’s request for humanitarian aid by video capsule.

At snail’s pace, I counted out every measure of the first page:

This injection of rhythmic life was meant to sustain Ravi through long days and nights at the piano. He’ll ingest it in iPad form, taking his medicine DAILY as directed.

By all accounts the prognosis is GOOD! Ravi will be out of REHAB in a heartbeat, humming along from measure-to-measure with new-found confidence and control.


Piano Instruction, Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5

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Perfect pitch? What’s the big deal?

As I foraged through old e-mail files, I stumbled upon my note to Oberlin alum, Robert Krulwich, WNYC RADIO LAB program moderator. krulwich

He and his co-host had featured psychologist, Dr. Diane Deutsch’s podcast on Perfect Pitch. One of her published papers, among others, provided a springboard for discussion:

Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch

My correspondence follows:

To: Robert Krulwich,

Greetings from an Oberlin classmate who caught the “Perfect Pitch” podcast.

Was it you or your co-host moderator who bubbled over “perfect pitch” during the presentation? Why an over enthusiasm about “perfect pitch” per se, along with the disseminated misinformation attached to the legendary composers who were supposedly born with it?

In so many words, I believe perfect pitch is notably irrelevant to musical genius or accomplishment, and may give those endowed, a false claim to having an advantage over those who don’t.

My REVISED and updated letter to Dr. Deutsch elaborates:

Subject: WNYC Podcast on language/music ties, etc.
A partial list of Dr. Deutch’s papers

Diane Deutsch

Absolute Pitch Is Associated with a Large Auditory Digit Span: A Clue to Its Genesis

Perfect Pitch: Language Wins Out Over Genetics

Perfect Pitch in Tone Language Speakers Carries Over to Music
Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch

Mothers and Their Children Hear Musical Illusion in Strikingly Similar Ways

Dear Dr. Deutsch,

A piano student of mine referred me to your WNYC podcast (2006) and I found your ideas fascinating though I have some reservations about your initial emphasis on perfect pitch springing from the “tone” languages, such as Mandarin. (Does it follow, given your research, that Asians of Chinese origin have a natural yen for it?) And what’s the appetizing ingredient of having it?


From my perspective as a piano teacher, having mentored a large sample of students of every level, I would de-emphasize the importance of perfect pitch as it impinges on musical progress, or the path to a high standard of performance. (And I realize that your discussion did not circumscribe perfect pitch as it bears upon instrumental accomplishment)

Mr. Robert Krulwich, however, and his co-host, were overwhelmed by the micro-incidence of perfect pitch in the world population, and made a puzzling leap to the ingenious European composers of the Classical era. It followed that Mozart should be regaled for internalizing his scores and putting notes instantly down on paper with his perfect pitch endowment, while Beethoven who struggled endlessly with scribbled sketchbooks of an edited variety was overlooked. Did he have perfect pitch?

Given that many legendary composers did NOT come into the world in a pitch perfect bundle of love, the program feature led listeners astray. (Why not flesh out the basic truth that perfect pitch is NOT a requirement for meaningful musical pursuits) In fact, it’s RELATIVE pitch that’s more relevant to sight-reading, practicing and progressing.

DEFINITION RELATIVE PITCH: (From Free Dictionary-Farlex)

1. The pitch of a tone as determined by its position in a scale.

2. The ability to recognize or produce a tone by mentally establishing a relationship between its pitch and that of a recently heard tone.

RE: Your Pitch on Tone languages

What resonated with me was your demonstrated inflections in Mandarin and other related languages, and how each had different meanings attached to the same syllable or word. Obviously, this would have a bearing on parent/infant communications.

It made me realize that our English language is permeated by inflections of speech that register various emotions. (You pointed that out)

With Mandarin, the evolution of the micro-interval scales as realized by the ancient instruments seems relevant to the discussion. For instance, in China, the ERHU, introduced by Lang Lang in his debut concert in Carnegie Hall, clearly reflected the sound of the Chinese language with its sliding, micro-interval scale. Have musicologists, therefore, made its connection to the Chinese language? Obviously, there’s a logical flow from native speech to instrumental expression, yet I’m not certain that our very fixed intervals of Western Major and minor scales can easily be tracked from Greek, Italian, German, etc.

Music history books are filled with information about the modes, and moods, etc. and most of us riveted to historical anthologies, realize, that in Gregorian Chants, for example, the prayer texts in Latin are interwoven.

Clearly in Handel’s Messiah, “He was Despised and Rejected”, the falling interval realizations of Despised and Rejected have enormous emotional meaning. But would a native Mandarin of a few hundred years ago respond emotionally to the Western descending scale in this way??? (I believe musicological research is underway)


For me, Perfect or ABSOLUTE pitch, as you isolated it in your studies, has little if any immediate or long range musical significance, even if it can be proven that infants exposed to tone languages are more PITCH sensitive.

And does it follow that the success of a few Chinese instrumentalists is largely due to their environmentally nursed tone language exposure? I’m thinking of Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Yundi Li.

In conclusion, in my own teaching practice spanning decades, I don’t believe that perfect pitch is relevant to building solid musicianship skills. In addition, it’s not necessarily genetic and can be acquired (as you more than suggest by your study.) String players, in particular are constantly tuning to concert A, 440, and eventually “memorize” the frequency. It transpired when I took up violin study at age 11. (P.S. I wonder if those who have perfect pitch can become confused when playing an out-of-tune instrument, like a piano for instance)

In any case, I enjoyed the podcast, and will look forward to exploring your research in greater detail.