Capturing the rocking motion of Mendelssohn’s F# minor Venetian Boat Song

In Felix Mendelssohn’s Op. 30, No. 6 Gondola Song, the very character of the lilting motion is sustained in the Left Hand with a metrical awareness of Two beats per measure, not 6. The composition (from the Songs Without Words album) is in 6/8 but translated as duple compound, giving a leaning emphasis on the first of two/3-8th note groupings. In the opening bass measures, rotation of the arm also assists the floating, flowing nature of the music, making the journey down a Venice canal a peaceful one.

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Mendelsson Venetian Boat Song p. 1

This is a wonderful learning experience on so many musical/technical levels as I demonstrate in the attached video. Very slow practicing preserves all nuances of phrasing while a student manages the lighter half of each measure with arm weight transfer and a supple wrist.

Posted in Classical music blog, Felix Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, piano blog, piano blogging, Romantic music, Songs without Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Teacher/Student fueled discovery about Staccato playing

I never cease to be amazed by a mutual discovery process that’s ongoing between me and my adult students. Without our learning partnership, we would not have periodic awakenings that feed our reciprocal musical development.

Case in point, is the attainment of Staccato refinement in its most crisp and animated form.

In the past month, after watching my pupils often stumble through their scales and arpeggios when they transitioned from playing legato to rendering short, crisp detached notes, I started to think about ways to remedy the problem.

Through finite observation, and experimentation in my personal learning lab, aka, my practice module, I came to the conclusion that having students snap each finger along the scale or arpeggio spectrum in slow tempo, would fine-tune their ears to what constituted a crisp note release. Naturally, the sensitive ear training phase was bound to a physical awareness of how these notes marched along in an appealingly animated manner.

From my perspective, it wasn’t purely a FINGER-driven staccato that fed a briskly played scale or arpeggio with a desired horizontal dimension, but the fingers at the end of a relaxed arm and supple wrist spectrum provided a necessary unity for fluid playing.

Naturally, a parceled layered learning approach that included a blocking phase, produced positive results.

In this particular video sample I used an Eb Major arpeggio framed in triplets to advance a well-contoured staccato. A lesson-in-progress with an adult student followed my tutorial.

Posted in piano, piano blog, piano playing, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato, word press, you tube | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Steinway M piano is back!

It took the awesome skills of a former Alabaman to resurrect my once beloved M from the dead.
Chuck Terpo Working 2

The keyboard had been an injury risk for months, plundered by too many technicians with pet regulation formulas and experimental impulses. After 6 months of rotating down weights and disappearing aftertouch, the black keys sat out of range above over-shallow white ones creating a two-tier instrument. To play this oddity required mega-compensation and massive denial–or at least a vivid imagination bordering on delusion.

To my astonishment, the first interloper, a RPT (Registered Piano Technician) from San Mateo slyly removed 22 or so lead weights from the keys and placed them in a bowl, hidden from view under a shade on my window sill. (I transferred them to a dinner plate)

lead weights

Within weeks of his departure I made the discovery and pieced together that my playing on air without any support beneath my fingers was not owing to an age-related, declining technique. Meanwhile the tech’s bizarre blaze of anger, bundled into his insistence that my hammers, doped with lacquer, needed a fabric softener treatment had mushroomed into a threat. If I refused the rinse cycle, he was out the door. (How many quarters please for the color free spin?)

To add insult to injury, one of the impostor’s cohorts (meaning the next in the parade of techs) implored me to “trust him” like some kind of snake oil salesman as he pitched a full scale key bed cutting– HALF punching surgery that was painless and promised a “modern day accelerated action.”

Bottom line, the hair-brained scheme left me with a “spring-loaded” action that by comparison made my hammer-weighted digital feel like a ton of bricks.

But just as my piano and me were about to be wiped off the map, I despairingly searched Craig’s List for a GRAND replacement, as if I had become resigned to the death of a spouse.

The timing had to be right because the Messiah came in the form of Chuck Terpo, a transplant from Birmingham Alabama to sunny California, circa 1977.

Popping up as the rebuilder of a For Sale Steinway M (located in San Rafael), he pitched his skills in an organized and convincing fashion. No Ego flashing or snake oil sales. I’d had enough of the former, through a charade of techs dismembering my piano piece by piece.

Chuck offered to come over and look into my deteriorated situation. He would embody the last thread of hope in my cycle of despair.

Terpo’s credentials bore out. He’d worked for Sherman Clay for years, tackling tough challenges in Steinway & Sons Concert and Artists loop: tuning, prepping and regulating for the big players in the concert circuit. That was just a chunk of Chuck’s impressive CV.

To cut a long story short, Terpo rose to the occasion and brought Steinway M back to me, WHOLE and HEALED.

So all I can say is Thank You, Chuck!


Posted in chuck Terpo, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano maintenance, Piano Street, Piano World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

My Piano Assessment adventure at Walnut Creek’s Steinway Piano Gallery

Steinway Piano Gallery

Piano Teachers and performing pianists in the Bay area were tapped to evaluate the tone/touch dimension of Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos so I was pleased to be on the invite list–contacted by Justin Levitt, Manager at Steinway’s showroom in Walnut Creek, CA. It was a reflection of good will spread far and wide by the new Steinway owners who are reaching out to a community that is helping the piano survive amidst crushing digital piano sales.

On a different note, this opportunity was particularly relevant to my own piano’s rocky journey in the regulation realm. My dissatisfaction with technicians had built to crescendo levels, and I had at one point considered putting my M to pasture. I’d replace it with a healthy, well-maintained NEW grand, but before I acted on impulse, I would grab the chance to personally explore a brand new Steinway ‘B’ as a model of relative perfection–affording a smooth, un-blubbered journey in half-steps across the 88’s.

While my tour de force interest was scoping out a Steinway autographed grand at the Gallery, I agreed to assess a Boston grand piano (GP-178-EP) and an Essex EUP-123E Classic studio upright (48″) as part of the total survey project.

As it turned out, the afternoon proved to be very rewarding. Decked out with an iPhone, camcorder and tripod, I managed to film my piano sprint among three instruments, enjoying a compelling interview interlude with store Manager, Justin Levitt.

Naturally, as the historian I’ve become in these regular JOURNAL postings, I was predisposed to record and share my latest piano adventure.

A big Thank You goes to Justin for a very warm welcome and well-informed interview.

And by the way, this very knowledgeable store manager happens to be a pianist and composer, having just released his second music book, By My Side.!product/prd13/2675637191/within-music-book-and-cd

Steinway Piano Gallery Walnut Creek is located at:
1605 Bonanza Street Walnut Creek, CA 94596 (925) 932-0100.

LINKS: (*Note the upcoming piano sale in the East Bay at Zellerbach Concert Hall: by appointment only)


Posted in Boston grand piano, Essex Piano, piano, piano blog, piano showroom, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway B, Steinway Piano Gallery, Walnut Creek | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Piano Lesson summary videos cut to the chase

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I used to customarily record segments of lessons in progress that required sensitive editing before I uploaded them to you tube. It was not only a big job, but much of the video time was taken up with students lumbering through difficult passages, needing more settled post-lesson time to sift through teacher corrections, comments. Therefore with careful reflection, I decided to send my pupils a wrap-up of their lesson, (just me demonstrating) to flesh out pivotal practice routines that are meant to improve phrasing/shaping and over all fluidity. (Naturally, structural and theoretical explorations are central framings of the tutorial.)

For J.S. Bach Invention 1 in C, I found myself producing a few step-wise videos that covered sections of interest to the student as these played out over weeks. In a sample video, magnified views of the Subject and its inversion, augmentation, clarified my own approach to the learning process from the ground up, while it brought new personal awakenings. That’s when I realized that a post lesson tutorial was for my benefit as well as the student’s. (A mutual learning journey in progress!)

(Note correction of my playing parallel 6ths in a harmonic examination of Bach Invention 1–end of measure 10 to 11, but saying “10ths”–without doubt, one of my senior moments)

An Online student in North Carolina validated the importance of the wrap-up video.

“I love our lessons, but this added bonus of having you send summary videos is such a wonderful teaching tool. I for one, often sit at my piano with my computer backing sections up over and over.”

Likewise, many of my long distance piano students sit with their laptops perched by the piano, reviewing the main practicing goals derived from their lessons, and because of these video helpers, they make significant progress over the short and long term. The same applies to LIVE students who often forget some of the main points made during their lessons and need concrete reminders to improve quality practicing.

Here’s another recently Recorded Lesson summary that examines the Coda of the Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119 No. 1:

In conclusion, recorded lesson overviews are of great value to piano students while they create an important challenge to the teacher who must crystallize and fine tune approaches to music learning.

Posted in adult piano lessons, Bach, Bach Invention, Beethoven, Beethoven Bagatelles, Classical music blog, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano learning, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, Piano Street, piano teaching, Piano World, recorded piano lesson videos, Shirley Kirsten, summary piano videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Flower Piano in photos at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

white grand piano people listeningFor twelve days pianos of all shapes and sizes were sprinkled through a verdant paradise as players with diverse repertoire from jazz to Classical serenaded clusters of listeners and a large brood of Canadian Geese. Nature’s backdrop was irresistible.

flower piano poster big

flower piano small poster

Canadian geese

This white grand was a challenge to navigate with its stiff, moisture-filled action, though some players managed quite well with pop tune offerings.

White grand piano 1

white grand piano Asian player

The ambiance

water lillies and pond

pond to the side and palms

pond straightened out

pond more green

More pianos

back view brown console piano

brown console male player

brown grand piano under large tree

I had less problems with this Storey and Clark, though a few sticking notes were the ruination of Fur Elise.

hand up playing brown console piano

These steps led to still another piano.

steps with trees Botanical garden

small piano maple

trees, grass, and mist

I returned for an encore before heading home.

standing by white grand piano

bricks and flowers

Posted in blogmetrics,, Flower piano, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, pianos, San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco Botanical Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Early Musical Exposure and its importance

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I recall my early childhood in the East Bronx on Featherbed Lane. At age 2 or 3, I was exposed to music emanating from a victrola perched on a corner table in a small two-room flat. From sunrise to sunset, heart-throbbing violin concertos, interspersed with operatic solos of Puccini played endlessly. My mother, standing by the ironing board, with a pile of freshly dried clothes that were line-dried on the roof beside a fleet of message bound pigeons, squeaked out arias as tears rolled down her cheeks. Such a poignant emotional response to music was deeply embedded by her Russian parents and grandparents who sang bits and pieces of operatic solos, along with Yiddish folkloric melodies.

mother family

To confirm a music gene of sorts that complemented the environmental nurturance of a musician-to-be, I was told that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Musikant. Yet I had no reference to a specific relative who made his living playing a musical instrument. All I knew was that the violin had been embraced in my family as the living, breathing expression of full blown emotion, beside the human voice.

When I think of my pianistic idol, Murray Perahia, his earliest exposure to music was through the opera. His father took him as a toddler to the Met every week, and when the child returned home, he would sing parts of arias by memory. Similarly, I was astonished when I heard a crawling 8-month old, intoning the opening measures of Bach’s C minor concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060. His father was an oboist and member of a well-known symphony orchestra. His chamber ensemble had been rehearsing the Bach work over days and weeks as the baby meandered between music stands.

Countless musicians hearken back to their earliest childhood years that were permeated by the sounds of beautiful music. The genres could have been diverse: folk, jazz, Classical, but the performances and performers offered a level of music-making that was riveting and made a profound and memorable emotional impression. (Seymour Bernstein refers to his early discovery of a Standchen recording that brought him to tears)

In the universe of phrasing, the impact of these early musical exposures is significant, because a LANGUAGE is passed down that becomes the basis of a primordial “feeling” about music, its contour and shape as one grows and develops.

As I grew older, my mother took me to Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, the Museum of the City of New York to hear Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazi, Emil Gilels, Vladimir Horowitz, Rosalyn Tureck, Daniil Shafran (cellist), Nathan Milstein, violinist, while an updated living room hi-fi system in the Marble Hill Projects of the Bronx, delivered 33 LP recordings of Arthur Rubinstein, Oscar Levant (Chopin? where did they get that one?), Perry Como singing Kol Nidre; Zino Francescatti rendering the Mendelssohn violin concerto; Michael Rabin playing Paganini 1 beside Oistrakh’s Beethoven Op. 61, and Leonid Kogan’s Tchaikovsky D Major Concerto: (the second movement was a well of sadness and catharsis) Meanwhile my brother blasted Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Overture and Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor, increasing interest on my musical memory deposits.

All of the above puts EXPOSURE center stage in feeding musical study. And since many pupils come to the piano without an early embedded language of music, they must make up for lost time through various directed opportunities.

Since I work primarily with adults, I recommend that they saturate themselves with the best performances they can access, whether LIVE (preferred), on you tube, by CD, etc. and in favorable acoustical environments. Mp3s fall short. Same for iPhone delivered transmissions of the masterworks which sound like they’re coming from a tin can.

About Modeling

Last week I found myself, at my student’s request, sitting at my grand piano, giving an overview of the sonata she was studying. This followed her rendering that I had interspersed with comments and small segment demonstrations/analyses. Still, she requested and needed a lingering musical impression that was the equivalent of a language exchange.

My most treasured teacher, Lillian Freundlich, communicated by singing. She sang over my playing, guided and shaped phrases, though she didn’t displace me at the piano bench to demonstrate the interpretation of a composition. Instead she taught a physical/musical approach that emphasized relaxation, supple wrist, bigger funnels of energy down the arm, that she would channel by guiding my arm/hands. (I was 13 at the time, having my first encounter with the physical dimension of playing that allowed my well-embedded imagination to roam free.)

In retrospect, the physical dimension of playing should have occurred earlier, as artfully illustrated in the video below: (another form of “exposure”)


No to be redundant, but exposure to beautiful phrasing can indeed be nurtured along at lessons without fearing the universal taboo that a student will not develop his/her own personal rendering or style if unduly influenced by the teacher. Same applies to recordings and LIVE performances. They are, to the contrary, a repository of enrichment that in many cases may not have been available in the formative years, so better late than never resonates to crescendo levels.

Posted in piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano learning, piano playing, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments