A Grand Piano with a captivating design!

Bluthner Modern

“GET THIS!” A piano with sleekness and significant musical dimension: an eye and ear-catcher with a respectable pedigree among keyboard giants.

Who can gloss over the Name Bluthner?

I won’t say more lest I spoil the uniqueness of the LOOKING and LISTENING experience.

So UP and AWAY with alacrity!

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Piano Technique: Energy-saving, Relaxed, Resting hands

It’s common for piano students to tense a hand that is not actively engaged in playing during measured rests.

Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” an aspirational piece for so many, is the perfect representation of interactive, woven hands, that flow across from Left to Right, with a spacious margin of relaxed breaths. (as rests are notated) This over-all legato line mosaic that permeates the opening section, should be responsive to an uninterrupted outpouring without intrusive tension in the hands, wrists and arms at any point.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 12.20.53 AM

In beautifully phrased music-making, a basic underlying, hand-to-hand motion plays out simultaneously in the present and in the future. Therefore, if one hand stiffens while the other is sculpting a portion of the phrase, then extraneous energy is expended to the sacrifice of a well-shaped, continuous line. (In the outflow of “Fur Elise,” in particular, while one hand is not playing, it should gracefully move to its next destination.)

In the following lesson-in-progress snippet, an adult student exerted what was energy-draining in a perceived left hand tightening in Beethoven’s character piece.

In this second lesson sample, a youngster, having studied for 4 and 1/2 months, plays a duet with me with a nice interaction of her hands in relaxed motion. Having been trained from the start with the image of “weeping-willow arms” and supple wrists, she’s well imbued with an approach that will further her progress.


In this third and fourth example, an adult student is made aware of stiffness in her left hand as she practices the F-Sharp Major arpeggio. In the course of our lesson, I demonstrated ways to relieve tension and smooth out the broken chord progression.

Mime Practicing, both hands

Many students, often unconsciously, tense a hand that is not playing in synchrony with the other. By reinforcing the hanging hands off relaxed arms framing, and replaying videos of what needs amending, pupils will practice relaxation techniques that will foster improvement.

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Patient voice-parceling in practicing Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile (Sonata “Pathetique”)

Some piano students view playing a choir of voices with a rich bed of sustain pedal as an un-delayed gratification. It’s an icing on the cake indulgence that often eludes the main course of diligent, attentive, and analytical practicing.

A case in point is Beethoven’s hauntingly beautiful, Adagio movement of the “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, with its layer of voices that begs for a satisfying exploration.

Beethoven Adagio Cantabile segment

From my perspective, the composer’s mosaic is best assimilated through a careful voice-parceling process that invites a sensitive awareness of harmonic rhythm and balance–first among treble, tenor and bass lines, but quickly blossoming into a 4-voice effusion. (Soprano, Alto, Tenor Bass). In a variation-like unfolding, Beethoven eventually adds a rhythmic variant with a triplet underpinning, while he fleshes out a melancholic melody that’s always draped in lush harmonies, moving as chains of broken chords within the texture. And as a core of underlying support, a soulful bass meanders with flowing, cello-like expression.


In the attached teaching video, I examine a recommended layered-learning approach to Beethoven’s middle movement by individualizing voices, then permuting them, so they’re understood in relation to each other before being integrated into a developed whole. In this step-wise journey to musical unity bundled in patience and slow tempo framing, a newfound ecstasy is experienced that’s tied to a deep well of understanding.

(Note: The contrasting, mood-shifting middle section in the parallel minor is not explored in this segment.)

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How to stay calm in the Eye of “The Storm”- Practicing Burgmuller’s L’Orage, Op. 109, No. 13

Most piano students are familiar with Friedrich Burgmuller’s set of Twenty-Five Easy and Progressive Studies, Op. 100, that are tasteful Romantic era miniatures with appealing programmatic titles. “Tender Flower,” “The Little Party,” and “The Wagtail,” to name a few, are far from dripping with the excesses that one might encounter in the manuscripts of Romantic era contemporary, Franz Von Suppe, who orchestrated thunderous music that ceaselessly gallops to final cadence in The Light Cavalry Overture.

Such exaggerated musical forays, though instantly ear-catching, would inevitably invite well-recognized eyeball-rolling among listeners who absorbed a stash of rhythmic and melodic repetitions.

Burgmuller, no doubt, must have possessed a keen ear to the pulse of such 19th Century musical culture, responding with a markedly colorful piece that would earn instant popularity among advancing piano students.

Though the composer’s “L’Orage” elicits a reserved nod of approval, it will nevertheless remain a signature piece for students who want to ride into the “eye” of the storm without being overcome by the force of its technical challenges.

To tame gusty winds and rain rising to climactic levels, one must, therefore, examine ways to practice the piece so it does not overwhelm, intimidate, or imperil the player.

Braving the natural elements, I set out to plan a video built around slow practicing Op. 109, No. 13, using big arm energies, supple wrists, weight transfer and rotation, framed by attentive listening.


L’Orage (Baldwin piano)

L’Orage (Steinway piano)


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My Piano Students of Yesteryear: Where are they now?

Over decades of teaching, and with relocation being the norm for students and mentors, it would have taken a bit of research to track down all my beginner, intermediate, and advanced students dating back to 1968 (NYC); and from 1979 (Fresno CA) to 2011, before my 2012 move to Berkeley, California.

What I discovered in a retro-journey to my very first students in Manhattan post-Oberlin Conservatory graduation, was mind-boggling! To think that my earliest pupils are now in their 50s!!

I’m not ashamed to admit that Naomi and Annie Ehrenpreis were 5 and 7, respectively when I set out as a traveling teacher in Manhattan. (It was by Washington Square Park, in a luxurious high-rise)

As a fledgling mentor, I shunned method books but found sanctuary in Robert Pace’s uniquely creative materials. They became the springboard for composing activities that filled one full hour of lessons, divided in half between the sisters. As little children enrolled in the Ramaz school on the East side, and as the grandkids of a great Talmudic scholar, it was natural for them to be quite attentive; to have a singular motivation to compile a decorated collection of their own pieces that had original rhyme schemes. And with words scanned into iambic pentameter, they appreciated mood shifts from “Major to minor” that kept interest aflame through our time together.


Looking back, I often wondered where these first students were today?

Would they remember me and my efforts to enrich their imagination?

I tried contacting them through Facebook but was stunned by their silence. Would their knowing I had named my first child,”Naomi” in honor of the younger sister have altered such indifference?

Without further word, I took it upon myself to check Google and Linked-in to satisfy my curiosity:

“Ann Ehrenpreis Scherzer” is a Judge of the New York City Criminal Court in Bronx County, New York. She was appointed to this position by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013, and her term will expire in 2018.

Sister, Naomi E. Voss graduated Harvard, and subsequently relocated to Israel as a Computer Software Professional.

Did one or both sisters return to the piano as adults, or had their children been music students? I would never know.


I fast forwarded to 1985, six years into my relocation to Fresno, California from New York City.

As I perused a self-published 1985 collection that contained student names attached to their individual compositions and companion illustrations, I found these entries:

composing children

Jason H. was 15 in 1985 when he composed “Scottish Highlands,” which would make him 46 years old today! I happily discovered that he’s a pediatrician in Kaysville, Utah, having graduated Brigham Young University and the University of Utah School of Medicine. Bravo J.! Naturally, a large family is woven into his many accomplishments.

Scottish Highlands crop

Michelle S. who was age 6 in 1985 when she composed “Music Box,” is now a Central Valley California-based M.D. Anesthesiologist. Her father, I recall, was a physician specializing in lung diseases.

Paul M. who is not represented in the album, but was one of my first piano students when I arrived in Fresno in 1979, (he was about 7 at the time) stayed with the piano until he entered UC Berkeley. He’s in the Engineering field, but I haven’t specifically tracked him down. His mom was a Nursing Professor and Administrator at Fresno State University when her son studied with me.

Melissa S. age 9, in 1985, and composer/illustrator of “Windsor,” is Executive Administrator of Bain & Co., previously employed at Goldman Sachs.

Windsor Pic best

Windsor music crop

Julia Dahl (real name disclosed as I’m sure she’ll appreciate the exposure) is a novelist with a commanding website.


In 1985, at 7 years old, Julia composed “Clouds.”


Becca Wong was a diligent piano student in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s who became a dance accompanist.

When we reunited as Facebook friends, I took the opportunity to interview her about her fascinating career.



Amy B., 12, was immersed in Burgmuller pieces, Op. 100, in 1990, as she continued her musical journey with dedicated practicing. Today, she’s an intellectual property attorney working in the Silicon Valley.

Valerie F. studied with me years later, in 2009, and was an entrant in two MTAC piano local branch competitions. Attached is one of her recorded performances of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” (8-12 year old competitive division). Though the video is grainy, the audio track is a testimony to her splendid musicianship.

In 2011, older sister, Stacey (also a student of mine) performed the Fugue in C minor, by J.S. Bach BWV 847 at a Baroque Regional Festival.

Valerie and Stacey are currently students at Brigham Young University.


David Su was age 6 when he began piano studies. He’s now a software developer in San Francisco, having completed his graduate work at UC Berkeley. His, sister, Stacey, not a student of mine, who won many Local Fresno-based and Statewide piano competitions, is a practicing physician in the Department of Surgical Oncology, Division of Thoracic Surgery, Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadephia, PA.

Not to overlook, Mark C. an adult student who studied piano with me in Fresno for over 6 years! At the time, he was a Federal Attorney, who managed to sandwich in practicing between jaunts around the country.

Most recently, he sent me an email about his promotion to Judge, an appointment made by Governor Brown! A big Congratulations!


There are many other pupils whom are not as easy to locate given the passage of years, but it’s apparent that many have carved out successful professional careers, perhaps owing in part to their piano study.

May the love of music embrace them for a lifetime!



Shrinking Degrees of Separation in the Music World

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The Piano Primer transition to early repertoire selection

Creative music mentors know innately that NO Primer Package with its sequence of red, blue, and purple levels, A, B, C etc. will meet the needs of most piano students. That’s because each pupil is an individual with unique talents, abilities, strengths and weaknesses which demand a flexible, singularized plan of study.

By example, my student, Liz, age 8, having had about 4 or so months of study, is at the crossroads: from her Primer Method book, (Clark’s Time to Begin) to early repertoire study, and unfortunately, I’ve not found any one collection amidst the vastly published pedagogical materials, that embodies music with ear-catching
melodic/harmonic/structural and synthesized technical value.

This is why I’ll continue to OUT-source this post-Primer journey drawing on pieces from various collections that have been carefully evaluated.

Repertoire transition


Flashback REFERENCE: Liz’s music-learning journey in its earliest stages





In the following two videos (Part 1 and 2), I begin by summarizing my pupil’s journey to the present, describing the creative excursions we’ve made, since I refuse to be regimented by any piano METHOD, but instead I use the basic material as a SPRINGBOARD to self-realizing CREATIVE activities.

Composing, transposing, etc. have been well-integrated into lessons, along with theory and harmonic analysis on a very fundamental level. Since this student has unusual cognitive and affective abilities that are combined with her natural musical instincts, her path might be carved differently from those of other students with an altered set of gifts and capacities.

Finally, in my TWO Part tutorial or overview, I’ve drawn on the works of Kabalevksy, Gillock, Tansman, Paciorkiewicz, Lubarsky, Poole, Beyer, but also recommend a host of composers for this early bridge to repertoire study. The list includes Turk, Gurlitt, Reinagle, Peskanov, Randall and Nancy Faber, Rebikov, Bartok, et al.


Gillock is a particular favorite!

Here are further Gillock samples played by various Beginner level piano students, including infusions of my instruction: (I think Level 2 is misapplied to ACCENT on Gillock–Blue, as many of the pieces in this collection can be taught to students not rigidly categorized)


My Gillock inspired concert for Aiden cat:


Many teachers will add to the mix, a big serving of modern, jazz style works by contemporary LIVING composers that add a spicy dimension to an enriched musical adventure.

In this example, Fritz plays a well-known Boogie, and then plays his own composition!

DUET playing

The teacher/student duet playing experience is also invaluable in this post Primer transition as evidenced by some of these older videos with relevant samples. (This particular student, Fritz, age 8, had a potpourri of repertoire experiences)

A Primer flashback sample duet from Faber Piano Adventures:

The Repertoire-based journey should be fun, enlightening and packed with enticing musical adventures if selected pieces are the right fit for the student.

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Scenes from MTAC Los Angeles! What you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!

I’m safely nestled, if not sequestered, “Under Surveillance,” in my all-purpose, webcam-wired piano room following a two way Mega-BUST ride between West Oakland and Union Station, L.A.

me under overhead cam

Quite unexpectedly, my daughter and I were stranded on the Freeway, 20 minutes from destination, with our bulging baggage, roadside, after a double decker demise. (Transmission shutdown) And from the dust-ridden, smog zone, (following a dung heap passage through the Central Valley)dung zone it was a pricey $50 cab ride to the Airport Hilton in rush hour traffic!

Seven hours earlier, I’d texted my piano students that I was seated in the LAP of LUXURY with Wi-Fi perks and push back seats.wi-fi bus

Go figure!


The journey south was sparked by my scheduled appearance at the MTAC State Convention in a High-Tech, break-the-barriers, ONLINE music lesson framing. I was slated to “BRAVE” the cyber-energized SKYPE and FACE-TIME MUSIC-learning cosmos with its techno-bundled trimmings, in an encapsulated ONE HOUR. This demanded significant NIP and TUCK in the illustrious MAKE-OVER capital.

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Once settled into the Airport-based Hotel room with its amazing 9th floor panoramic view of plane landings and take-offs, I headed to the LOWER LOBBY for a gym workout in prep for my 12-hour intense program review.


me at gym


As it turned out, the set-up in the Carmel Room was perfect: The computer podium, Steinway piano and Big Screen were nicely arranged, with outstanding access to tech support. I couldn’t have asked for more!

setup in Carmel room

Aviva, my traveling companion and assistant (daughter), scoped out the space for nifty hand-held Camcorder angles before she stopped off at the Steinway piano for a test run.

Aviva at the piano

The Hotel glittered with colorful exhibits: a repository of sheet music displays, YAG RECITAL POSTERS, PROGRAM highlights, instrument galleries, and hands-on electronic keyboard stations to drive sight-reading improvement.

Exhibit Hall

I made sure to whiz over to the Frederick Harris exhibit to peruse its new Preparatory samplers, while I chatted amiably with Editor, Nancy Rusk.

Frederick Harris

I couldn’t skip the Steinway Pianos display in the adjacent room. After breezing over the keyboard of a resonant Steinway ‘B,’ I collected the business card of Beverly Hills Sales Rep, Nancy Dovan. She was an over easy connection to Justin Levitt at the Walnut Creek Steinway Gallery. (It’s a small musical world!)


Following an early Friday morning spree through the Exhibit Hall, I made final preparations for my 4 p.m. presentation! (It had been about 24 hours since the grueling MEGA-bus calamity with its lingering after effect.)

For the trip to L.A., I had encased my big iMAC 21 computer in a newly bought hard shelled, Chinese-imported BRIGHT RED expandable piece of luggage, and with its revolving wheels, I schlepped the monster to the second floor for unloading. (Don’t ask how many elephant-size elevator excursions I took, and why the heck the room key card was not working?!) Repeated staccato strokes in the narrow slots skinned my fingers!

red luggage

After TWO intensely concentrated PROGRAM DRESS REHEARSALS, I placed dozens of hand-out packets on a music stand by the Carmel Room entranceway, hoping these would be taken by Program attendees. A few people ran off with them, before being apprehended. I guess they were trying to be at more than one event at a time.

Still, despite competing program offerings, we had a GOOD turnout with the inharmonious drone of two blasting pianos seeping through thin walls.

What emerged in the aftermath of my event was an abridged 15-minute filmed overview without many of the sample lessons-in progress that I’d inserted. Just the same, the footage well-summarized the effort.

**NOTE: For reference, these two blogs below contain an outline of what played out during my presentation.




….Finally, it was nice to meet up with Facebook Friend Sophie, from Australia, who was my Online cheerleader. We posed together for this wonderful OFFLINE photo!

Crop Sophie and I

Such a warm and fuzzy musical connection ushered in a Social Hour in the Hotel Courtyard that was the evening finale to a long, but satisfying day.

courtyard reception

reception panorama

reception filled

Thank you, MTAC for great hospitality, planning, and inspired events!

Convention booklet

Post Script:

I was sad to leave before the Convention’s end, but the Mega-Bus ride back home trumped my attention, and as feared, the journey North was anything but smooth.

As foreboding, the bus driver announced:
“I have nothing to do with the A/C or Wi-Fi.”

Good thing I brought my winter coat, mittens, and a muffler or I would have froze to death!


It’s always great to be back home!

Shirley Kirsten guest artist

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