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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.

Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway, Steinway model 1098 for sale, Steinway piano, Steinway piano model 1098, Steinway studio upright

My singing Steinway studio upright is a parting sorrow

Steinway upright dolled up

It hasn’t left Berkeley yet, but I’m sure my second singing nightingale will in time find the right owner. I’ve down-sized since my recent move–going from 3,000 sq feet, to 1500 to 700. Might as well live in a Pod.

Most readers and You Tubers watched me demonstrate for my students on the upright, as the camera was aimed straight at me–and once the piano made history when I briefly fell asleep during a “Fur Elise” lesson, nearly bonking my nose against the rack rim.

But most memories have been bundled in musical warmth and gratitude.

The Steinway beauty, inside and out, is a model 1098 manufactured in 1992. It has a wealth of resonance, added to an even, smooth “feel” across the keyboard.

May it live forever in the heart of its future caretaker, bringing musical love and joy to a new household.

On display:

Beethoven “Fur Elise”


John Peters, Registered Piano Technician comments on the upright:

shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com

serial number 524279

hammers and pins view

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How I deal with my performance anxiety? (Video)

I prepared a video as a meditation, or spiritual assist for tonight. I’m playing at my house of religious worship. It’s an open MIC event, and I thought it would be a relaxing opportunity for SHARING. Underline that last word and think about tossing PERFORMANCE out of your vocabulary. Key words– getting inside the music–GIVING it as a gift to others without expecting a return of any kind.

Expunge JUDGMENT.. and believing listeners are counting your note errors and the rest.

The best advice I can give is imparted in the footage below, followed by my dress rehearsal–imagining I’m at the piano, in a warm, loving space.

Here’s my mantra… quotes from Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase:

“To be a pianist, in one sense of the word, is to think that a daddy longlegs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music; it is to feel that one phrase loves another; it is to think that the tree is the teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing; It is to know a loneliness that is crowded with the beautiful as you play.”

LINK:
Performance Anxiety and the Pianist

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/performance-anxiety-and-the-pianist/

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The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase

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Piano lesson-in-progress: Shaping a solo for the right hand in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” ( a “vocal” transition) Videos

Marie, an adult student practiced measures 32-40 of “Fur Elise,” enlisting the model of a singer who shapes and nuances phrases with meticulous breath control. While pianists are not operatic performers, they must imagine that their arms, wrists and fingers are making a vocal transfer to the keyboard thereby overcoming a physical distance from the strings.

***

Today’s video of a lesson-in-progress fleshed out a creative process that required attentive listening, and sensitivity to the physical requirements of channeled relaxation through arms, supple wrists, into the fingers.

The measures explored formed a recitative-like section where the right hand alone sculpts a lilting melodic line.

In this second video, Marie shares her thoughts about returning to the piano 6 years ago, decades after she had studied the instrument in childhood.

LINKS:


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

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Beethoven’s Fur Elise with orchestra? or without (Videos)

During the night, I stumbled upon a piano solo with orchestra arrangement of “Fur Elise” that included a set of nuanced special effects. First, the pianist, nonchalantly flowed into the first theme to a stream applause, reminding me of the time I played this same piece without embellishment in the dining hall of Fig Garden Retirement.

With no smiling orchestra members surrounding me, I was squeezed into a tight space, drowned out by cranky residents who complained about digital piano volume levels.

It was nothing like the smoothly-staged you tube performance of Beethoven’s treasure that seemed rehearsed to finite detail.

I noted the broken E octaves in the opening section, with an animated conductor gathering the forces of nature under his sprightly baton.

Was this a Grieg transcription with a counterpoint of clarinet, nasal oboe, strings, and triangle? (It was phrased in twos, if you will, with a few chirping birds needed for added effect)

In the midst of this serene musical forest, the pianist played, but where were the seven dwarfs and Snow White?

Compare to what Beethoven had intended, minus a green bag of Trader Joe Pine Litter that was shabbily left on the set.

***

RELATED:

Mystical Journey–Relax Music at Georgii Tcherkin’s You Tube Channel-He presents solo and orchestra arrangements of the “Moonlight” Sonata.

http://www.youtube.com/user/tcherkin?ob=0&feature=results_main

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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/pianist-irina-morozova-blends-a-satisfying-career-of-teaching-and-performing-videos/