Favorites, On AND Off the You Tube screen

This week reaped a set of Internet-channeled treasures along with an off screen, chance meeting with a Rosina Lhevinne student at a Berkeley bus stop.

The first On Air stop-off was Seymour Bernstein’s riveting hour-and-44 minute long interview that covered his Korean war service: a rekindled journey of interspersed infantry training, piano recitals and chamber music.

Seymour’s recorded account is part of an Oral History project that’s been conceived to educate and enlighten Korean youth about a faint and distant war era. In this regard, Bernstein describes a particular outdoor concert that he and violinist, Kenneth Gordon had presented together in the heat of war where bullets were flying overhead while two musicians were thinly protected by a hill that barricaded them in.

Bernstein’s nostalgic, drama-filled memoir pours forth effortlessly in his conversation with a historian tied to the Korean War Legacy Foundation. The focus is Seymour’s four separate touchdowns that included three post-war visits, eliciting his recall of turbulent political changes in the small Asian country. Naturally, he peppers his reminiscences with colorful musical anecdotes.

Most of the pianist’s followers celebrate his time-honored book With Your Own Two Hands along with his Big Screen appearance in Ethan Hawke’s documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. In the 90 or so minute film, a piano teacher is lifted out of the ordinary cycle of giving lessons, to iconic status. Playing himself, Bernstein, a once promising concert performer, retreats to mentoring in the face of crippling performance anxiety and resurrects himself as a doting, thoughtful teacher in a singularly carved journey.

Throughout his Korean Legacy Foundation appearance, Bernstein is on location in his thoughts, revisiting a war-torn Korea, determined to include a tender scene from his early days in uniform. As he tells it, a fawn appears in the fog on the countryside, making Seymour believe that he has died and gone to heaven. The flashback, also a moving segment in Hawke’s documentary, is worth a revisit with additional memories colorfully packed into the recorded Legacy interview.

http://www.kwvdm.org/detail_oral.php?no=751

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On the You Tube Playlist, I was fortunate to have spotted two hot releases by pianist, Irina Morozova:

The following performances are beyond words to describe and speak audibly for themselves. I must admit, in all honesty, that the more I’m exposed to Morozova’s artistry, the more my heart aches that this pianist’s name is not a household word. The sheer poetry of her expression coupled with an effortlessly fluid technique, should invite the adulation of local and international audiences, if only the commercial packaging of musicians, and the social/political demands of making a career did not intercede.

Finally, to cap off my week, OFFLINE, I found myself waiting for the 25A A.C. Transit bus on an overcast weekday afternoon, anticipating an easy, uneventful route to gym. Little did I foresee an encounter with a perfect stranger, a petite senior, who had a pervasive connection to the music world–one that had its alliance to my own life as it unfolded during my New York City teenage years.

The woman had arrived ten minutes after me, thinking she might have missed the bus, but was reassured by my careful scrutiny of the bus schedule that we were both “on time.” I had added that we were clear to board within minutes, if the bus had not experienced delays.

Meanwhile, I kept checking 511# on my cell phone for updates once I realized that we’d passed the posted arrival time. And it occurred to me that delay after delay was the rule of the day, without any certainty of our common means of transport.

As it happened, we were given ample room to start up a conversation that was sparked by the woman’s allusion to an upcoming “Symphony” outing. That was my immediate cue to introduce myself as a “pianist,” which was her CUE to respond, “I’m a pianist, too!”

At this point in our alternate exchanges, I had acquired my rightful turn to squeeze out a stream of details from her past which she was amenable to share.

“I studied with Madame Lhevinne at the Juilliard School,” she announced, proudly. “It was in the mid 1950’s, but I never really graduated. Well, because I didn’t like the whole environment, and then I decided to go to Europe and earn my Ph.D.”

She admitted that she had never completed her studies, coining herself, an “almost there” individual, exposing her whimsical side–the extemporaneous, coy, and self-deprecating dimension of an emerging, delightful persona.

At this juncture, I wasn’t sure if she was going to veer off from our music-centered talk or re-focus on her studies with Lhevinne. I gently nudged her back to her Juilliard days.

In the ensuing conversation, I learned that Rosina’s crop of students were part of a tight-knit musical family and one particular pupil was my would-be bus companion’s favorite: “John Browning.” She insisted he was far more gifted than Van Cliburn. In rebuttal, I maintained that Van’s Tchaikovsky’s Bb minor Concerto, No. 1, was lyrical, straightforward and without eccentricity. She insisted that Gilels had held the crucial key to Cliburn’s thawed out Cold War victory. (He’d supposedly threatened to resign from the panel of judges if Van was demoted to Silver or Bronze)

I interjected that Nikita Kruschev was the deal-maker, having to rubber stamp the Gold pick! (it was notwithstanding his shoe-banging escapades at the UN)

Obviously, I wanted to milk my newfound musical traveler for any juicy gossip that surrounded Lhevinne, in particular, although I’d viewed one or two lengthy documentaries (on You Tube) that were better than any tell all gossip column. And as it turned out, the only uniquely colorful anecdote that gushed out of my awaiting bus partner’s mouth, was one about Lhevinne interrupting a lesson to talk in Russian by phone with the famed, and often dreaded piano teacher, Isabelle Vengerova. This well-known mentor had been characterized as a tyrant in Seymour Bernstein’s tome, Monsters and Angels, Surviving a Career in Music.

bigger-monsters-and-angels

(Yet, I dared not bring up, Seymour’s inclusion of the Russian icon in his list of “monsters,” aka emotional abusers.)

***
While the bus lingered somewhere OFF ROUTE, I had more space to impart my own Lhevinne-related memoir that rapidly shrank degrees of separation between two common bus riders.

As I recounted:

I had been present at Madame Lhevinne’s 80th Birthday celebration at the very Juilliard School that my newfound companion, who finally identified herself as “Francesca,” had attended. This was at a time when the homespun-looking building was located in the heart of Harlem on 125th Street. As a teenager enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, I was bestowed a complimentary ticket to the event by my beloved mentor, Lillian Freundlich. The birthday fete featured soloist and honoree, Rosina Lhevinne playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, under the able baton of Jean Morel.

While I didn’t have the yellowed PROGRAM tucked into my backpack as hard core evidence of my attendance, I did assure Francesca that it existed, and that it had been embedded in my blog posting about my having “been there,” right smack in the center of an adoring audience.

R. Lhevinne program

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/an-ageless-pianist-and-her-historic-concert-i-was-there/

My story became expanded during our repartee when I described finding myself years later in the Oberlin Conservatory music library, listening with earphones to a turntable spun vinyl of Lhevinne’s very performance that day at Juilliard.

What memories were rekindled, stored safely in my repository of special musical moments, now shared with a common traveler.

Because the bus ended up being delayed by over an hour due to the driver’s apologetic admission of being lost in another city on HER FIRST DAY OF SERVICE, I had been serendipitously connected to a kindred “pianist” who tore off a snatch of her paper shopping bag with her scribbled name and phone number on it. She handed it to me as she disembarked.

“As fate would have it”… I uttered these words right after Francesca’s departure.

However faint they were, they carried over to the driver who glanced with a smile at the empty seat beside me. Without a shred of doubt, she had put two and two together.

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Patience and Practicing

I rarely write what is characterized as a fluff piece, a filler blog that meanders around the powers of positive thinking and related platitudes. Such flighty commentary often sounds time-worn and replete with cliches.

Yet, I have to admit that in my own cosmos of practicing and learning, having all-embracing “PATIENCE” frames my most fundamental pathway to musical progress and development. (Naturally, this paradigm filters down to my students, who are consistently reminded that their journey is taken in “patient,” incremental baby steps.)

In so many words, Patience is my mantra that I spread far and wide with the fervency of a musical missionary.

But putting Religion aside, I have observed through decades of teaching, that many adult students have a particular, self-inflicted time line for learning a new piece to their level of “expectation.” They nip the word “patience” in the bud, setting a preconceived deadline for the type of achievement they have subjectively determined.

Perceiving pages of notes, many crowded with double and triple beams in fast tempo, they resist the very slow temporal framing that magnifies all the necessary details in the score. Add in a need to practice with separate hands that comports with this mega-lens view of a composition. So through this parceled undertaking, it takes PATIENCE to unravel the many dimensions of learning: fingering assignment, meter, articulation, harmonic analysis, structure, phrasing, dynamics, mood, character and more.

Finally, without PATIENCE underlying a learning experience, a student cannot begin to ENJOY the PROCESS of engaging with a new piece.

And here’s where PATIENCE is wedded to gratification in the present. It is NOT delayed gratification as is commonly assumed. The JOY of exploring in the here and now; breathing into notes that are relaxed in time, so that they are “felt” from their inception through their decay, and how they relate to notes that precede and follow them, is made possible by a SUSPENSION of time, where it does not exist with limits, but instead has its own temporal inner space.

I guess, I’m somewhat influenced by my Eurhythmics teacher, Inda Howland when I laud these timeless metaphors that she well- integrated into her life as a musician and teacher. And if there was anyone who had a wealth of “patience” it was this treasured Oberlin Conservatory icon.

To summarize and integrate the ingredients of “patient” practicing by way of a video representation is difficult, since many adult students have traveled through many months of practicing a particular piece, realizing that there are always more enlightenments on the horizon at each learning juncture.

In this particular sample, one of my pupils, who has “patiently” worked on the Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119, No.1 for several months, if not a year, is sculpting, shaping lines with the added dimension of wedding words to phrasing in a SINGING frame. At least as this lesson unfolded, the best prompt to improve the contour of a particular phrase was to seize upon a few choice words with the added ingredient of Harmonic rhythm to clarify the contour of a phrase to final cadence.

I’m reminded here of the impressionable delivery of pianist, Irina Morozova when she made words and music the theme of the video I was privileged to make and circulate. (The link is included below). This approach is inevitably part of a progressive unraveling in the learning process that I referenced earlier. (As it happened I was studying this very piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2, and it brought some “new” revelations that I was open to absorb without a defensive, boundary imposed attitude.)

When the student is patient, he/she is open to these new awakenings, transformations, re-assessments, and refinements that are the keys to musical growth and development.

***

A second lesson sample where patient examination of phrasing, harmonic rhythm and choreography apply.

LINKS:

Music and Words: The window to learning the Chopin Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2 (Irina Morozova)

The gift of Irina’s “patient” practicing:

Eurhythmics, A whole body listening experience
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/eurhythmics-a-whole-body-listening-experience-video/

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When the flu hits or the weather tanks, ONLINE piano lessons preserve progress

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Here in California we’ve been blitzed by pounding rain, gusty winds and the inevitable round of flu. In the midst of bad weather conditions and the flight of viral illnesses, piano lessons are often suspended, as students are immobilized and lose ground. But to the happy rescue is the Internet that affords ONLINE instruction by Face Time, Skype, or any other nifty provider that ploughs through piles of natural obstacles.

This past week I was able to teach via webcam from my safe, insulated bubble at home as my 9-year old student was protected from my contagions. It can obviously work in reverse when a pupil is afflicted with the latest bug, and is in the recuperating stage, but still contagious.

For teachers who travel, ONLINE transmission is a particular lesson-saver as rip-roaring hurricanes, snowstorms, etc., tie up roads and public transportation.

***

As it played out here in Berkeley:

A FACE TIME activated lesson focused on composing, practicing chord inversions, and exploring repertoire. The hour sailed through smoothly without a hitch, while the use of FACE TIME RECORDER afforded a valuable split screen playback. (I chose the Overhead Keyboard view)

Liz, 9 years old responded well, and continues to make progress. Having completed about 11 months of piano lessons, she grabs every opportunity to compose and experiment. Naturally, her composing exercises are devised to weave in theoretical and musical goals that advance artistry.

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Two Romantic era piano lessons are wedded beautifully together

Why not pair Mendelssohn and Chopin in a harmonious duo.

Two piano lessons transmitted over the Internet were framed by the same period expression: mellifluous melodic threads against relentless rocking motions in the bass. A Boat song and Nocturne respectively swayed in TWO, requiring an examination of recurring bass line arpeggios that frequently spanned beyond the octave. These enlisted a ROTATIONAL approach for a smooth, seamless rendering while preliminary BLOCKING techniques acquired a sense of distance and transit.

Rotations, in particular, discouraged twisting associated with thumb shifts. And traveling through various harmonies in arpeggiated form, developed a pupil’s awareness of bigger GROUPINGS of notes as they moved through a horizontal landscape. Finally, infusions of dips and swells through various DESTINATIONS nourished well-shaped lines along with an awareness of harmonic rhythm and cadential sequences.

It was uncanny, though quite predictable that both lessons, one to London, the other to Australia, would form a happy alliance providing a dual opportunity for two students to grow their artistry by watching the other practice in similar framing modalities with a resonating SINGING Tone. (Don’t forget supple wrists and relaxed arms)

Here’s how each lesson unfolded:

To Sydney, Australia

Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 6

You Tube Video Description
Published on Jan 18, 2017

“We worked on phrasing in slow practice tempo; smooth transit of broken chords in Bass (using rotation)- Feeling a sense of TWO beats per measure. (Duple Compound meter) Shaping and SINGING lines; understanding HARMONIC relationships that influence phrasing; voicing and balance; relaxed, measured trill practice.”

Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1

To London, England

Video Description:

“Romantic era phrasing; Think in TWO impulses per measure; Use Rotations for relentless Left Hand broken chords; Enlist blocking techniques in this regard; Play with a SINGING tone legato; Be aware of harmonic rhythm or harmonic progressions/cadences as they influence phrasing. Work on shaping lines and balancing voices. Observe dynamics and use various weight transfers to realize them.”

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Exploring modulations, secondary dominants and sequences in a J.S. Bach keyboard learning journey

Without doubt, the French Suites and other keyboard works of J.S. Bach require a multi-dimensional learning approach. It’s not enough to enter the universe of the great Baroque master with a singular intent to absorb counterpoint, or parcel voices, sing them, juggle them, properly finger each hand, and in some cases divide one voice between two hands. Even with a two-voice Allemande that resembles a two-part Invention, it’s of necessity to map harmonic movement, study modulations brought about through the use of secondary dominants, and assimilate sequences, in both melodic and harmonic appearances. Yet the true value of detailed theoretical analysis is its direct application to musical expression and beautiful phrasing.

In my recent journey through the J.S. Bach Allemande of French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817, I was immersed in several tiers of learning:

1) I learned each line separately with attention to fingering, though I knew from past experience, that when parts are combined, or interact, that what might be a practical fingering when hands are played alone, would not necessarily work when they played together. So this preliminary fingering gradually firmed up as layered learning unfolded.

Part and parcel of studying each line, is to actively SING either with the same deeply embedded familiarity. I always test this absorption, by prodding myself to sing either line out loud while playing the other. Such an ability bodes well for fleshing out the contrapuntal dimension of the Allemande. (In this learning phase my tempo is regressed, but it’s still framed with a singing pulse and imbued with expressive phrasing.) I don’t hesitate to deeply connect into the keys with ample arm weight, and I ply phrases with a supple wrist and relaxed arms.

Once I put the hands together, I refine fingering, make certain adjustments, and insert options in parentheses where they apply.

At this juncture, how I GROUP NOTES in a Baroque framing is a big part of my exploratory process. Such decisions evolve from experimentation with various articulations, as there are numerous possibilities that can preserve the style, mood and affect of Bach’s music.

2) When both hands actively interact with a modicum of ease, I carefully map out HARMONIC transit. With two parts running horizontal and vertical at same time, the dimension of underlying Harmony again furthers musical expression.

As melodic segments in the treble appear in sequences, I make note to intensify threads that ascend, and relax those that descend. The same will apply to sequences in the bass. How simultaneous sequences in both hand interact, is still another dimension of exploration and experimentation.

Naturally, an understanding of modulations that are driven by “Secondary Dominants” offers the player an opportunity to respond to the leaning effect on the DOMINANT to the resolving, dissolving Tonic. And then any chain of modulations in close proximity prompts a decision to make a crescendo, or in some instances to do the reverse, especially where a deceptive cadence might intrude. Then again, the undulating nature of phrases in the Allemande doesn’t encourage a flat dynamic by any means.

***

Learning the Allemande comes with a Multi-dimensional understanding of its essence. In fact the journey of discovery is only at its beginning, and a ripening process often brings changes in articulation, voicing, dynamics, and fingering that individually and collectively further the realization of beauty.

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Piano Lessons during the holidays: Inserting a creative composing dimension to chord exploration

Every winter holiday season most music teachers are asked by parents to devote at least a few weeks to the absorption of Christmas and related celebratory selections. In the traditional musical cosmos, “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “Hark the Herald Angels” and “Jingle Bells,” are popular learning requests.

This year, my 9-year old student who enjoys the singular status of being the only child amidst a crop of adult students, was eager to tackle “Silent Night,” and my having shuffled through various holiday collections had produced a particular arrangement with simple primary bass chords and broken chord interludes that nicely tied in to our theory journey.

For months, we had been studying scales in Major and Relative Minor through the Circle Fifths, and had added construction of CHORDS in ROOT position on each scale degree starting with C Major and A minor (Harmonic form). –(there is a scant reference to the PRIMARY CHORDS on the Chord Sheet below, but only to show their identities as I, IV, V, not how they can be juggled or “inverted” for smooth transit between them)

chords-major-and-minor-on-every-scale-degree-2-2

The “chord” universe had been carefully prepped with a pre-identification of minor and Major thirds, and how they are arranged to create Major, minor, diminished and Augmented Chords or triads. (EAR-Training experiences were naturally integrated into our lessons) In the days between lessons, my pupil practiced her aural identification of these various chords at Tone Dear.com

http://tonedear.com/ear-training/chord-identification

While a digital piano is enlisted at this particular Internet site which is not the best vehicle to expose a child to various chord changes, it still seemed to heighten my pupil’s aural sensitivity. (Again we were focusing on identifying ROOT position triads: Major, minor, diminished and Augmented)

Chord “inversions,” the next juncture of study, as presented in the “Silent Night” arrangement, (IV and V7), enabled the pupil to experience various “positions” of chords in the bass to effect smooth voice leading.

The piece, as notated, also had a preparatory Schemata of the PRIMARY bass chords used, with an attached illustration of the abbreviated forms of the Dominant 7th.

silent-night-p-1

silent-night-p-2

In this video sample below, I demonstrated the principle of chord “inversion” for the student.

This particular holiday selection (“Silent Night”) had also provided reinforcement a NEW rhythm, the dotted quarter–8th figure which permeated the music.

Finally, as a creatively driven teacher, who has consistently inserted composing opportunities into the pedagogical environment, I assigned my student the task of composing a 8-measure piece in 3/4 time using dotted half notes in each measure. It was to use Chords in ROOT POSITION from the A Minor Harmonic form scale in the treble. (Chord Sheet reference) This exploration was to serve as a springboard to INVERTING her chosen chords in a follow-up composing opportunity.

In this initial instance, she was to include a Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented chord in whatever sequence that suited her creative inclination and then label these ROOTED triads in the score. Each chord enlisted fingers 1,3,5 in the Right Hand. (Note that in my teaching practice, I adhere to the principle of framing a composing experience with a particular educational goal, particularly when building a solid learning foundation in the primary year of of piano study.)

The student was asked to practice her chord piece notated in the TREBLE CLEF with a supple wrist in a singing tone fashion, while fleshing out a melody streaming through the upper most voice (the fifth of each chord) This brought up the notion of “voicing” chords which excited her. She had free reign to choose dynamics and enter them in her score.

Next, we had planned to leave the bass clef staff blank until the student had finalized her Treble notated chordal progressions.

Following this creative undertaking, I suggested adding one bass note per measure, perhaps considering the Root of each chord to match up with the treble harmonic sequence, though when I demonstrated adding a THIRD of each chord in the bass, she was far more pleased with the result.

Here is my pupil’s draft of her composition that enlarged her consciousness about chords and their harmonically colorful variety.

a-minor-chord-piece-harmonic-form

As mentioned, for part 2 of this composing adventure, she will put all her treble chords in first inversion, while considering another choice for the bass line progression. It will be stimulating to explore noting the ROOT in the bass against the treble inverted chords, and then sample the third, or the fifth through the bass sequence.

In conclusion, this holiday period offered a wondrous aesthetic journey with educational rewards for both teacher and student.

LINKS:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/liz-age-8-composes-a-piece-at-her-third-piano-lesson/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/a-9-year-olds-complete-piano-lesson-integrates-theory-and-ear-training/

Posted in Christmas music, piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Piano Technique: Soft staccato scales with projection, springboard energy, resilience, and shape

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One of the biggest weaknesses that present in soft dynamic range staccato scales, is a lack of projection. Students often snuff out notes, play them in a whisper without a tenacious spring UP character, or a necessary rebound effect from note to note. Instead, they become inhibited and constrained. Yet even at the Forte level, their staccato rendered scales may lack definition, animation, adequate SPACING, and overall shape/direction.

In an attempt to remediate lackluster scales that transition from smooth and connected legato to staccato, particularly in the soft cosmos, I suggest mental images to frame the sound, while also demonstrating the springing UP character of these detached notes to create an ear-catching environment.

Two Sample Lesson Excerpts:

B minor

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C-sharp minor (Melodic form)

In the second example, the student also worked on intensification of the Melodic minor ascent (staccato), in contrast to a relaxed descent. (i.e. Naturalization of the C-sharp minor scale) Finally, she rendered the C-sharp minor Arpeggio, refining a Forte/Piano staccato transition in triplets.

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Additional:
A wrist generated approach to staccato, to relieve tension, and improve projection.

Posted in piano, piano blog, piano blogging, playing scales in staccato, Shirley Kirsten, staccato, staccato scales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment