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Adult piano instruction: the singing model in playing/practicing Chopin

There’s no doubt in my mind that Chopin’s music is allied to the opera and the New York Times featured an article on this very subject that resonates in my teaching and playing the composer’s works. From Tommasini, Arts editor:

“It’s a wonder that Chopin, born in 1810, never tried to write an opera, because he was completely smitten with bel canto works, especially Bellini’s. Chopin’s melodies, like the opening theme for the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1, composed in 1830, sing with the long-lined, profoundly melancholic elegance of a bel canto melody. Chopin and Bellini sometimes seem like distant composer cousins drawing from the same creative well.” (excerpt, “Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It?” November 28, 2008)

In my approach to teaching Chopin’s memorable Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64, no.2, I drew on this very singing tone model during an adult pupil’s lesson. Appoggiaturas, especially, were singled out for their lean to resolution character, with more following in sequence. These required attentiveness to melodic shaping and harmonic resolution, especially where a meandering alto voice beneath the soprano could easily drown out a melodic note that was decaying through a tie. (Student was prompted to FOLLOW THE SINGABLE MELODIC strand)

DEF: Appoggiatura:
ap·pog·gia·tu·ra (-pj-tr)
n. Music
An embellishing note, usually one step above or below the note it precedes.. (it falls on the beat and RESOLVES to a main melodic note)
[Italian, from appoggiato, past participle of appoggiare, to lean on, .]


In practicing Chopin’s aforementioned composition, an awareness of a melodic thread is supported by an understanding of harmonic rhythm–Or how the flow of harmony affects melodic shaping (discussed in many of my blogs) Add in exposure to a physical/musical synthesis and beautiful, fluid phrasing is advanced.

Tempo rubato (flexible time) is another area of exploration, and I found myself quite naturally drawing on a singer’s breath and flow in my instruction.

Therefore, these lesson-in-progress videos ostensibly had my not-so-perfect singing voice permeating– surely a consequence of my adolescent studies with NYC mentor, Lillian Freundlich who often drowned out my efforts as well as her own during our weekly hour together.


A note about these lesson samples: The adult student had already played through the Waltz, uninterrupted, so excerpts included below are revisits of measures/phrases that needed practice and refinement.

Parts 1 and 2

Opening falling parallel 6ths, and rhythmic cohesion of dotted 8th/16th-
Appoggiaturas (their nature and resolution)
Physical aspects of playing musically, allied to attentive listening
The SINGING tone is emphasized. (supple wrist, relaxation, arms)
(Many ingredients amount to beautiful playing, not just one)

Rubato dimension of Chopin’s music (playing and breathing as a singer)
Second section practice, (piu mosso)feeling” curve of measures, scoping out HARMONIC RHYTHM as it affects melodic sculpting (deceptive cadence, for example).. Breathing LONG lines where needed.

LINK: “Chopin, the Day After the Opera” (NYT)

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The El Cerrito Hills are alive with the sound of music

In the old days, I commuted by Amtrak from Central CA to the East Bay, chugging along the scenic route with my digital camera pressed against the train window. A few awesome seascapes managed to squeak through the bumpy ride, and these were memorialized by photographic import to my soundtracks, then posted to YOU TUBE. Others were sent to East Coast friends in pretty frames.

Since moving to Berkeley last September, I continued my 5-year stint in El Cerrito as a piano teacher, and sustained the habit of taking photos on and off public transit.

So every Wednesday, following my Y gym workout on Allston Way, I grab the #7 bus to the El Cerrito Hills, snapping images along the way.



Once settled into an awesome, acoustically brilliant space with cathedral high ceilings, I sneak one or two images of my musical sweetheart, a Baldwin grand that was originally a “blind date.” (From a distance, it joins the greater family of Steinway pianos that are squeezed into my Berkeley apartment)


To top things off in my acoustical palace, I place a small camcorder on a colorful table and film a lesson or two. (Students are sent copies to reinforce goals for follow-up practicing)


Here, an adult pupil works on the second page of Chopin’s C# minor Waltz (in slow tempo)

Without a doubt, the ambiance is heaven sent, and ideal for music-making.

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A Love Story Woven on a Chopin Canvas

CourtshipA few years ago, I received a telling message through my Authors Den website.

John Bidwell, a spirited short story writer and poet, shared more than a literary connection with me. He waxed poetic about his late mother and father, Eleanor and David, who were pianists and 1950’s classmates at Oberlin. (my alma mater)

A Reunion photo taken in front of the music Conservatory:


Yet despite the sender’s excitement about contacting another “pianist” who attended the Midwest school, he voiced “regrets about not being into his parent’s kind of music while they were living.”

A gush of e-mails followed. One compared my playing to Eleanor’s. (HUBBARD, maiden name)

“It is beyond endearing, because you have the same spark of life that my mom had.” He added a “smile” to his flattery.

Had John implied that I channeled his late mother’s spirit through my You Tube postings? Or was I more directly, a reincarnation of her?

Soon enough I listened to Eleanor’s beautiful music that followed husband, David’s, and though digitized, the showcase of masterworks was impressive: Bach, Handel, Brahms, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy selections, etc.

John had gone to great lengths transferring reel-to-reel, home-based and church performances to CD, adding a well-researched, companion discography. It was an epic undertaking driven by undying love for what his parents had bestowed to family and community.


Windows Media files bearing Chopin’s music kept me in a state of karmic bliss as John fed them over months and years.

In time, I was privy to the grand musical love affair that bonded two special people together at its Oberlin inception.

It was a relationship borne of “music and magic,” John said.


While Eleanor “taught piano; worked as organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boonton, New Jersey for 39 years; became high school secretary- (and was on call for musicals), dad was employed as an electronics engineer at RFL Industries in the same town.”

Bidwell added that his father “played piano at home, but also accompanied singer Betty Ann Busch/Cluthe who went on to teach voice to some of Broadway’s best!…
He was also principal accompanist for the Mountain Lakes Glee Club in the 1960s.” (John informed me that David’s Oberlin teacher was Joseph Hungate, whom I’d met during my Conservatory years. A “singing tone” advocate, Hungate nursed along many fine pianists who reached concert stages here and abroad)

As for mom, John bemoaned her “playing a dull old Hooker organ at the Episcopal Church in Boonton… But at least”,” he insisted, “it had 39 years of mother’s spark keeping families together— you know, with all those weddings- WOW.”


Was I about to be blessed with further revelations about parents who posthumously brought their son closer to Chopin’s altar?

My prayers were answered when early this morning John posted a Facebook message about my latest You Tube offering.

With a generous touch of gratitude, he wrote: “…. Dad passed away 4 years ago today- so I’m very thankful to not only hear this- but to hear it so exactly as I remember it with such feeling.” 🙂

More channeling?

In an instant he dashed off two e-mails bearing John and Eleanor’s memorialized Chopin at its finest.

Were they planting a subliminal message in my psyche that I soar with them on wings of song?

Quickly, I hopped to the task, sorting through selected photos John had sent over years–importing them separately onto David and Eleanor’s soundtracks.

If Shakespeare were to have the final say in this, he’d leave us with these words,

“If Music be the Food of Love, Play On.”



The Bidwell Discography

Acknowledgement from John Hubbard Bidwell:

“After I got the reel to reel tapes transferred to CD I listened in complete shock to the wonder of it all. A friend suggested getting the material mastered, but I had no idea what that entailed and did not have funds for such a task.

“At that point I encountered pianist Jon England.

“Jon befriended me, and in his amazing generosity mastered the first CD, and sent me a computer program so I could master the rest of the material.
I was beyond grateful, but felt I was in way over my head. But Jon was a patient encouraging friend. I think in spite of my impatience and doubts Jon knew if I would work my way through the process it would be just me and my parents working together on the magic of music.

“I feel profoundly humbled and in debt to the likes of Jon and Shirley, but they both welcome anyone who is about this magical thing that brings us all together, music. Just as it did my parents. I lost them, then discovered them in the best way.”

Eleanor Bidwell Piano Works CD.
Track #1. Schumann Symphonic Etudes Op 13, #3.
Track #2. Bach; Fantasia & Fugue in A minor.
Track #3. Schumann; Etudes Symphoniques Opus 13.
Track #4. Chopin; Mazurka Opus 33 No. 2.
Track #5. Brahms; Intermezzo Opus 119 No. 2.
Track #6. Brahms; Intermezzo Opus 119 #3.
Track #7. Prokofiev; Four Visions Fugitives Con Una dolce lentezza.
Poetico, Dolente, Feroce.
Track #8. Debussy; Les tierces alternees.
Track #9. Chopin; Mazurka Opus 17 #4.

Eleanor Bidwell at the St. John’s Organ.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boonton.
Track 10: Trumpet Tune by Henry Purcell.
Track 11: Prince of Denmark ’s March by Jeremiah Clarke.
Track 12: Jesus Joy of Man’s Desiring by JS Bach.
Track 13: Prelude in B flat Major by JS Bach.
Track 14: Now Thank We All Our God by Karg Elert.

David C. Bidwell CDs. Vol #1.
Track 1: Sebastian Bach Italian Concerto Movement 1, Allegro.
Track 2: Liszt Consolations final part #6.
Track 3: Chopin Polonaise Op 53 #6 in A flat.
Track #4: Chopin Etude No 3 in E Op 10.
Track #5: Chopin Etude No 5 in E minor. Op 25.
Track #6: Brahms Intermezzo Op 117 #2 in B flat.
Track #7: Brahms Ballade Op 118.
Track #8: Brahms Op 118 Intermezzo #1.
Track #9: Chopin 4th movement Sonata #3 Presto non tanto.
Track #10: Chopin Prelude OP 28 #21.
Track #11: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #22.
Track #12: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #4 E minor.
Track #13: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #20.

David C. Bidwell CDs. Vol #2.
Track #1: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #6 B minor.
Track #2: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #1.
Track #3: Robert Schumann Aufschwung.
Track #4: Chopin Fantasie in F minor Op 49 Part 1.
Track #5: Chopin Polonaise in A Op 40 #1 (Military.)
Track #6: Chopin Ballade #3.
Track #7: Chopin Scherzo Op 31 #2.
Track #8: Rachmaninoff Prelude in G sharp Minor Op 32 12.
Track #9: Rachmaninoff Prelude in C sharp minor Op 3 #4.
Track #10: Schumann Fantasiestucke Op 12 #1 Des Abends.
Track #11: Chopin Nocturne Op 9 #2.
Track #12: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #20.

David C. Bidwell CDs. Private Collection
Track #1: Chopin Fantasie Impromptu.
Track #2: Chopin Waltz in A Minor.
Track #3: Beethoven 1st Movement Sonata in F Sharp Major Op 78.
Track #4: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #23.
Track #5: Chopin Mazurka Op 67 #4.
Track #6: Chopin Polonaise Op 53 #6 in A flat.
Track #7: Brahms Ballade Op 118.
Track #8: Brahms Intermezzo Op 117 #2 in B flat.
Track #9: Chopin Nocturne Op 27 #1 in C Sharp minor.
Track #10: Chopin Nocturne Op 15 #2 in F Sharp Major.
Track #11: Chopin 3rd Movement Sonata #3.
Track #12: Chopin Prelude Op 28 #20.
Track #13: Chopin Nocturne in C Minor Op 48 #1.
Track #14: Handel Rejoice Greatly, with Betty Ann Cluthe- vocalist.

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Aiden Cat choreographs the Chopin C# minor Waltz.. seeing is believing

Watch this amazing cat at the beginning and close of this “foot”-age. If any ballet companies are looking for new talent, this floating feline is up for an audition.

In any case, he earned himself a well-deserved catnap after a virtuoso “paw”-formance.

Notice his graceful balletic form as he sleeps.


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Hitting new lows with SKYPE/Comcast: How one Chopin Waltz was eternally hexed! (Videos)

Last night was a first. This time it wasn’t Aiden cat who short-circuited my re-recording of the Chopin C# minor Waltz. It was a Communications giant that was somehow to blame.

Aiden was off the hook:

Two belches into measure 66, (one 6 short of the Devil’s doing) and my performance was corrupted. A few splashing bottles in a tub of water had the same effect.


And it couldn’t have been at a more inopportune time–when the composer chose a FLAT key modulation. The effect FLATTENED the piece.

Even Acid reflux channeled through iMac by way of SKYPE was another possibility. But who would know which one was the real culprit? And why was the C# Minor Waltz a relentless victim, cursed by the Gods.

When I played the piece on Haddy, my hands and the music wouldn’t SYNCH. NO, I hadn’t dubbed in Horowitz’s rendition or Joyce Hatto’s. (worth a blog or two)

I did my own trouble -shooting, contacting APPLE support and the rest, but they had no answers.

Another setback was in-the-making when I tried to re-do Op. 64 on the Steinway grand –This time, AIDEN was the villain, sneaking up behind me, landing on the piano bench, catching me unaware. And of course, he indulged his vanity, flirting with iMac’s built-in camera, ruining my concentration. (The sound is turned down, NOT to add insult to injury)

FINALLY, today’s GLITCH was my breaking point—-

For starters, SKYPE should have been silenced once I’d signed out of rural Pennsylvania yesterday morning. It was a long distance VIRTUAL student who sat patiently beside her elegant 1941 Haddorff after the network crashed a few times.

Once things got underway it was smooth sailing, though Comcast still hadn’t proven itself a heavy-weight compared to AT and T.

I’ll say one thing– iMac never burped on my former Internet provider’s watch.

If I really wanted to get low down and dirty, I could see who’d SIGNED into SKYPE when I was recording the Waltz and send one of those nasty instant messages HIS or HER way.

Chances are it was one of my European contacts who was on the other side of the clock AWAKE, while I was burning the midnight oil.

Or it could have been a former Skype student who signed up with a Russian teacher, and had a roommate who occasionally filled me in on his GENEALOGY expeditions. Their time difference was about 14 hours!

Oh the heck with it, I’ll ignore the dastardly, corrupted measures, and post the belching video just the same. It really doesn’t matter given the big picture. (I should be grateful that I had one)

Please note the link to a Lesson-in-Progress on the accursed Waltz:



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Aiden Cat crashes the piano bench and messes up a video in progress (Chopin’s C# minor Waltz, Op. 64)

It’s one thing to invite Aiden onto the piano bench for a front row seat, but it’s quite another when he appears out of nowhere, lands beside me, and ruins a recording in progress.

Last night Aiden did just that. After he broke into the Chopin C# minor Waltz, he knew he was the lion king taking the lion’s share of my concentration. At that point I just surrendered, and petered off, repeating sections that had knots. Incidentally, after the fact, I turned the soundtrack way down.

Another playing that followed managed to eek through, though Aiden can be heard jiggling his collar when least welcomed.

This clip below is the one where Aiden tarnished what was a recording in progress. He always knows when iMovie is in capture mode. He obviously wanted to get the desired front view and full profile of himself for his audience of admirers.

Move aside, Nora the Cat of You Tube fame, here comes AIDEN, the premier music media monopolizer!

In this subsequent reading below, he is nowhere to be seen, but makes his audible presence known at one point in the Waltz.. Jiggle, jiggle, wiggle, wiggle..

No doubt there will be some re-do’s in the offing…with Aiden safely tucked in his den.

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The woes of technology: No, I wasn’t finger synching someone else’s Chopin Waltz in C# minor (Videos)

I watched in disbelief as my 55th take of the C# minor Chopin Waltz Op. 64 went up in smoke. That is, it had been the most satisfying re-do, until I discovered that for 50% of the iMac iMovie, (commencing on p. 2) my hand motions and the music were out of synch. Add to this bizarre mix, (without having “mixed” anything in a recording studio) the music finally caught up with my fingers in the last few frames. A real heartbreaker! But such a quirky turn of events had at least proven that I did not fake the performance–or borrow the sound track from one of my Chopin interpreter favorites like Cyprien Katsaris, or Guiomar Novaes. (My playing was nowhere near the caliber of their readings so I shouldn’t stretch the truth) In any event it would have been a mighty task to study their poetry in motion and pull off a performance counterfeit.

The complete debacle was no doubt a stark reminder of the pianist Joyce Hatto who had acquired this unfortunate entry in Wikipedia:

“Joyce Hatto (5 September 1928 – 29 June 2006) was a British pianist and piano teacher. She became famous late in life, when unauthorized copies of commercial recordings made by other pianists were released under her name, earning her high praise from critics. The fraud did not come to light until a few months after her death.”

I was not going to land a similar footnote to my bio in life, or posthumously, just because of a wretched experience with iMovie. Shame on the Apple Support team for blowing off hundreds of fuming musicians whose hands, feet, guitar and drum tracks, you name it, were running amok in all directions!

Or maybe it was the Yeti mic that had spaced out on me. Who knows? I’d moved it back from the piano by a yard or two before recording. Big deal! That shouldn’t have thrown my body and soul out of kilter.

Enough said, except to emphasize, ex post facto, that I’ve posted the performance to You Tube out of sheer fatigue and frustration.

And of necessity I’m adding the obligatory disclaimers that 1) I’m in good health and have no motor movement problems 2) Yes, it’s actually me playing with all the perfectly intact imperfections in the reading, and 3) My noticeably out of tune “Haddy” Haddorff should be excused for its tonal shortcomings due to its 1951 vintage and failure to hold the last 3 closely spaced tunings. Cut it some slack in old age. It’s still a singing nightingale and was the best fit for the composer. My Steinway M grand would not do, because of its tightly packed hammers, and sadly there wasn’t a trace of a concert technician in agriculture’s heartland. Most can milk cows but not voice pianos.

The question remains, “When will this iMac related blight next strike?” It’s probably a dice throw, or a dung shoot. Such pangs of misfortune, no less, having been visited upon underlings such as myself, can boast the good company of Vladimir Horowitz whose hands started a measure ahead of the music in this performance of the Schubert Gb Impromptu, Op. 90.

So what’s not to like? You can close your eyes and forget the problem. (Oops, I think I heard a fire engine somewhere on the track, Oy Gevalt!)

Correction: One of the you tube commentators clarified what I thought was a visit from the friendly fire department:

“I believe what you heard was the sound of a church bell tolling outside, possibly from the nearby Karlskirche. It is a tad distracting, but it is also a strangely poetic coincidence, given the deeply emotional music and the fact that this was one of Horowitz’s last public performances.”