The Jewish New Year ushers in poignant musical memories

We sometimes think of our childhood in musical terms. Seymour Bernstein mentions hearing Schubert’s Standchen that brought him to tears. Otherwise his home was bereft of music, let alone the time-honored Classics. It was mostly silent.

I was bathed in Yiddish melodies that my South Bronx grandmother (bubbe) sang in her beautifully tremulous voice, but even from an old victrola placed on a corner table came the wailing voices of Richard Tucker and Jan Peerce (both Cantors) before they acquired operatic fame.

This particular recording stays with me to this day, and has deep significance because my father, a railroad worker and very schmaltzy man, sang it in a less than perfect tenor, but with great emotion:

Here’s Peerce in a soulful rendering:

The heart-wrenching song was so embedded in my DNA that it rose above the drone of a short wave radio that my zayde, (grandfather) blasted from sunrise to sunset. It was Radio Moscow, with static that drove my bubbe crazy. She shouted “Shweig,” which meant shut-the damn thing off, NOW! He would roll the tuner around to capture Radio Free Europe that had even more static, at which time, bubbe would escape to the kitchen and shut the door. (I remember her braided Chalah, fatty flanken, feathered chicken legs, and soup with luction.. add a few kreplach; burnt peas/carrots–and for dessert, apple pie with a lumpy crust)


Otherwise, when not cooking, she would cavort with plump Mrs. Lox who barely made it down a flight of stairs with her edematous ankles. Together they would gossip about this or that neighbor who was adulterous or in search of a Match. My father mimicked one of their pairings between a deaf man and stuttering woman in perfect comedic rhythm, a talent nourished by my bubbe who took him to the Yiddish Theater on the lower East Side.

Not to overlook the Shule that bordered the tiny apartment. I would see and hear davenning men droning prayers through parted curtains. It was an auditory hypnosis, snuffed out quickly by bubbe Besse who deemed it sacrilegious to eavesdrop. She worried that the Rebbe would get wind of it, and the Evil Eye would interminably haunt her. (That’s why she often met my father on the corner of Longfellow Avenue to have a bite of Chinese pork, well out of Rebbe’s range)

Somewhere around 1956 or so, my Marble Hill project dwelling (in the North Bronx) was another repository of emotion-filled musical outpourings. Would you believe that between vinyl servings of David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern, and Arthur Rubinstein, came Perry Como singing the “Kol Nidre?” (Incidentally, my late aunt Leepee, was Perry’s secretary and social assistant before she moved over to Mary Martin, and eventually Bella Abzug.)

Perry is no Peerce, but gives it a warm framing:

This lament or prayer, is sung at the end of Rosh Hashanah during the Day of Atonement–Yom Kippur, which leads me to my bubbe’s tremulous outpouring of two Yiddish songs: One is a Lullaby– “Schluf Meine Kind” with these lyrics in part. (English translation)

“Sleep my child, sleep be peaceful,
There’s a song I want to sing;
When you, my child, are somewhat older,
There’s something you will come to know.”….

The other is “In the Glowing Stove.. ”

“Oyfn Pripetchik”

“In the glowing stove
Flames leap merrily
And fill the house with heat
And the rebbe teaches
All the little ones
Our Aleph Beth.”(the alphabet)

L’Shana Tovah! (Happy New Year to all!)


Posted in Jewish New Year, music, piano blog, piano blogging, Ruth Rubin, Shirley Kirsten, Yiddish Songs, Yiddish Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

An Adult Piano Student teaches the Teacher

Awakenings alternately occur between teacher and student, especially if they’re collectively open to them. And embracing this sharing spirit, I welcome ideas from pupils about phrasing, technique, etc. since we enjoy a common journey of discovery.

By chance, one student brought a “new” fingering for his assigned D Major arpeggio in 10ths, and it worked so well that I tried it and liked it. Naturally, it wove its way into my recommended repertoire of fingerings and became an ever-flowing gift to other pupils.

In the White, Black, White stream of root position arpeggios  that use LH  5, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, etc. against RH 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, etc.. in the sequence for example of D  F# A,  D  F# A,  D  F# A, D instead of using the Right Hand fingering as a springboard for tenths, where RH F# A  D  F#  A  D  F# would enlist 2, 3, 1, 2,  3, 1, 2, etc. my student suggested for the same Right Hand sequence  2, 1, 2, 4, 1, 2, 4, 1, 2, 4, etc. which provided an inner symmetry between the hands and a nice RH spill into the last octave without an awkward thumb shift at the peak turnaround. (The “new” fingering explored also applies to A Major and E Major arpeggios in 10ths)

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The video below examines the feasibility of the revised fingering, showing its ease especially in brisk tempo. And where a crescendo to the peak note is needed, the RH 1, 2, 4 spread of fingers in the last octave is particularly defining. Viewing the hands together dimension there are convenient chord blocks in respective hands that if practiced in a parceled way, will aid fluency. And once the sequence plays out in broken chord fashion these symmetries will kick nicely into the speed zone.

Posted in arpeggios, arpeggios in 10ths, Classical music blog, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, piano technique | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A “cool” dip into Quicktime for wrist, finger, and forearm staccato practice

Amazing how 90-degree temperatures in the East Bay can wreak havoc over Face Time transmissions. It nearly made Online mentoring come to a grinding halt yesterday! except that a Quick Time saving grace Lesson Preserver came to the rescue!


In my Scotland travels, I’m accustomed to subbing in the iPhone for the iMac because of two-way computer Online Face Time/Skype irregularities, so from week to week, I’d been giving my back-up camcorder a 60-minute workout, snatching the whole lesson for a same day uploaded re-cap. But once I realized Quick Time on the Big Mac could be enlisted to simultaneously record selected lesson segments while glaring at the cell image of a Yamaha grand, I had the best of both worlds: Live iPhone transmission and a selective mouse clicked re-run in progress.

Here’s the set up: Call it an EMT piano teaching equivalent.

Naturally, the mechanics of Quicktime allow focus on well-measured lesson goals. For example, yesterday, I demonstrated a variety of Staccato approaches in scale and arpeggio framings using the overhead keyboard web cam view. (wrist, forearm, finger driven detached notes on display)

And once the day played out with cooler evening temps draping the East Bay, I had sufficiently “warmed up” my ‘finger’ staccato to demonstrate a fast 32nd-note romp.

In summary, being flexible and resourceful in this Online universe is a must to keep lessons up and running despite occasional annoying transmission problems.

Posted in adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, legato, online piano instruction, piano, piano blog, piano pedagogy, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dining with musician friends at Bacheesos in Berkeley, CA

Friedrich and Rebecca crop

This was a happy reunion after many long months. The last I caught up with Friedrich Edelmann and Rebecca Rust they were returning from one of their European tours only to land one in Japan, playing for the Emperor and Empress. The happily married bassoon and cello duo, who sometimes add a pianist to the mix were in esteemed royal company.

The latest musical updates were imparted by Friedrich as Rebecca, Alana (a mutual companion) and I dove into our plates filled with salads, artichokes, salmon, seasoned chicken, pilaf, hummus, and infinite ambrosian delights:

“On our tour to Japan in July-August 2015 we played 15 concerts in Tokyo, Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Kobe, Kyoto, Oita, Tsukuba and others. The concerts were organized and supported by Mercedes-Benz, Japan, by Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation, Nagoya, and by the German-Japan Society, Kobe.

“On July 13th we were invited privately to the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, playing for the Emperor and the Empress of Japan, and Empress Michiko also played on the piano together with Rebecca on the cello.”

Rebecca and Friedrich touring Japan

What a unique musical journey among many this couple has taken around the world.

I took my own sojourn to the house piano, a satisfying Kawai studio upright with a lovely resonant tone.

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As an encore to this get together, note the riveting interview I’d convened with Friedrich that tied his 27-year Munich Philharmonic tenure to various adventures with piano soloists, Michelangeli and Barenboim.

And finally, not to overlook a fine dining Bacheesos hostess who made our musician family reunion a memorable one.



Posted in bassoon, cello, Friedrich Edelmann, pianist, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, Rebecca Rust, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press,, you tube, you tube video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Piano Maintenance: Resolving a weighty problem

Chuck at work (Crop)

Chuck Terpo, who continues to finely regulate my Steinway M grand, gave an encore performance yesterday, as he meticulously “lightened” some weighty bass notes. His nifty maneuvers on display in my iPhone generated video, revealed an analytic approach and smooth follow-through.

Watch Chuck methodically check the bass range, that was a bit too heavy for me by comparison to the balance of tenor, alto and treble registers.

Using the principle of the seesaw, the masterful tech applied a small lead weight to a particular juncture of the keys under evaluation, and made each one depress with less resistance.

The whole process, so riveting to observe, deserved exposure among teachers, students and piano lovers so here it is:


My evening piano lesson on forearm and finger staccato provided an easier “feel” terrain in the bass range.


Posted in "The Endangered Piano Technician" by James Boyk, blogmetrics,, chuck Terpo, Classical music blog, pianist, piano, piano maintenance, piano technician, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press,, you tube, you tube video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

No dumbing down piano study for adult students

I’m ready for a shower of criticism on this one. After all, some adults want their favorite transcription of the Elvira Madigan theme song, (aka Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C, Andante) to encapsulate their musical journey—at least for part of the time. And that’s OK if the transcription route of top ten, poorly transformed (rotten tomato) versions of the Classics doesn’t squeeze out real deal pianoforte masterworks in unadulterated form.

On that pessimistic note, one of my students from the Central Valley, (aka agriculture’s West Coast heartland) had studied with me for 6 years before I escaped to pesticide-free Berkeley CA. Thinking she might be a carry-over on SKYPE, I’d already planned her next deep-layered musical exploration: Chopin’s B minor Waltz which would have been a logical follow-up to the less complex Waltz in A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous.

But no sooner than my pupil showed a lack of enthusiasm for ONLINE instruction, I had referred her out to a seasoned Valley mentor who’d graduated from one of the most distinguished European conservatories and made no bones about her “superior” training.

With such a self-ignited reputation, one would have expected a sequence of lessons on an exceedingly high level.

No such luck. The progression of selected works was tantamount to a poorly transposed, two-page FUR ELISE reduction, minus the meaty middle section and chromatic bridge to final theme.

It wasn’t the Beethoven Classic that was CUT to unrecognizable form, however, but a Chopin substitute that might have been as harmful as a banned artificial sweetener.

In short, the student was given an impossible remake of Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in Db Major, transposed to the key of G, with more technical land mines than the original. Certainly, the overwhelmed pupil was not ready to tackle the URTEXT edition or a shoddy substitute.

The good news is that she grew so frustrated with the roster of fakes, that she headed over to SKYPE in sheer desperation. Now two years later, she’s back to basics and deep-layered learning…

Which brings me full circle to the solid journeys my adult pupils are taking minus God forsaken short-cuts.

Case in point:

One student embarked upon the Schumann “Traumerei,” No. 7 from Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) and has realized how fingering choices and voicing are pivotal to the initial learning stage. If fingering is haphazard, then a seamless legato line is unattainable.

Schumann Kinderszenen Urtext

To assist her study, I prepared a video that draws on the URTEXT edition, with recommended finger-switching maneuvers that will aid smoothly connected lines.

But her first assigned goal this week is to thread through the treble melody without adding the balance of voices.

Such a study model is shown in the video below:

And here’s my play through:

In summary, it all hearkens back to the meaning of piano study and its serious ingredients. If a student wants to read through fun transcriptions in his/her own spare time, I have no objection, but when lessons roll around each week, it’s most valuable to pursue compositions that have been time-tested for their substance and beauty. And as a direct benefit, they seed technique and advance musical growth.


PS: There are finely composed Jazz pieces, contemporary literature, etc. that can be integrated into the curriculum. These should be assessed for relevance to a student’s level of advancement.

Posted in adult piano instruction, adult piano pupils, adult piano students, Kinderszenen, piano blog, piano blogging, piano pedagogy, piano transcriptions, Robert Schumann, Scenes of Childhood, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Traumerei, wordpress, you tube | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

When an adult piano student advances well beyond Primer preliminaries

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Peter started piano lessons from scratch about 1 and 1/2 years ago, not reading a note of music at the time, but having gads of enthusiasm about his maiden musical journey.

Readers will be reminded of his earliest efforts playing Faber Piano Adventure duets with me. (I chose the Primer edition because it moved slower than the companion Accelerated Adult Adventures)

Peter’s second piano lesson: Jan. 14th, 2014

The purple-colored book provided more opportunities to explore black note-based melodies for imbuing the singing tone/supple wrist/weight transfer/dynamic contrast spectrum while the companion adult book raced too quickly through the preliminaries. Still, the standard “method book” mentality was not compatible, in my opinion, with long-range acquisition of sound note-reading skills.

If I had to do it over, I would have thrown Frances Clark’s Music Tree into the mix. (Her materials shuffle fingers on landmark notes, Treble G, Bass clef F, Middle C, etc. and create departures from these at various, gradated intervals, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc.)

Nonetheless, hitched to early FABER pages, Peter made remarkable progress in a 4-6 week sprint with the material. The lovely Faber duos with harmonically engaging secondo parts, grew his love affair with the piano at a pivotal learning juncture.

Fast forward to the present. My inclination had been to snatch engaging music from various collections, creating a repertoire-based study environment, though Peter has had a regular dose of scales and arpeggios in legato and staccato. (parallel and contrary motion) Most recently he’s added 4-octave parallel 10ths to his technical routines.

In a Circle of Fifths journey through Major and Relative minors, he’s absorbed a lovely singing tone and animated staccato. With the latter, he can play convincing forearm to wrist-driven detached notes as demonstrated in a recent penta-scale framing. (Peter has also zoned in on clipped finger staccato contrasts when needed)

Yesterday, my very engaged pupil, made a landmark leap in playing J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor. His legato pedaling practice stemmed from his exposure to Poole’s Mist, and using the sustain, he admits, was comparable to experiencing a first sunrise. Without doubt, it ushered in a universe of piano love eternal.

Post Script: Over the past 18 months, Peter has acquired a beautiful singing tone that is advanced by his supple wrist approach to the piano. Combined with an understanding of weight transfer and its relationship to a producing a wide dynamic palette, he’s creating steadily beautiful musical outpourings.

Peter’s Repertoire List

“Happiness” by D.G. Turk
“Sadness” by D.G. Turk
Minuet by James Hook
“Go No More A-Rushing” (in two-part Invention form) by Willard Palmer
Study no. 6 Chernyavskaya
Study no. 8 Barenboim
“A Little Joke” by Kabalevsky
“Mist” by Poole
J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor
Peter is currently learning “First Sorrow” by R.Schumann, from the composer’s Album for the Young
He will also shortly embark upon “Clowns” by Kabalevsky

Posted in adult piano instruction, adult piano students, blogmetrics, Classical music blog, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano learning, piano lessons, piano teaching, piano technique | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments