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Jeanne Bamberger, 94, shares a rich and abundant musical life

A former student of legendary pianist, Artur Schnabel, Jeanne Shapiro Bamberger sat comfortably at her piano bench, nestled in her Berkeley Hills home. She meticulously traced her East to West Coast journey that’s reached beyond the boundaries of piano performance. Through decades of creative discovery, Bamberger has synthesized elements of music and cognition; form, structure, analysis, with an understanding of how we react/respond to music. Her work has had a far-reaching effect. Four of her titles are read and respected across an audience of many disciplines, while her popular U.C. Berkeley course, “Music Cognition” draws interest/attendance from diverse academic, scientific and musical communities.

Adding to a prolific output of university-based activities, she’s created a software program that’s allied to the website Tuneblocks.com. It has integrated a community of musicians and technology mavens, some of whom sit in Bamberger’s classroom. Their posted mission “is to build computer-based and hands-on products that will help you develop your creative intuitions while having fun with music.”

http://www.tuneblocks.com/whoarewe.jsp

Bamberger’s list of well-reviewed books include:
The Mind behind the Musical Ear (Harvard University Press, 1995), Developing Musical Intuitions: A Project-based Introduction to Making and Understanding Music (Oxford University Press, 2000), Discovering the Musical Mind: A view of Creativity as Learning (Oxford University Press, 2013) and The Art of Listening.

Of no surprise, Jeanne Bamberger has been regaled as “one of the seminal figures in the fields of music cognition and child development.” (Bio: UC Berkeley, Music Department-http://music.berkeley.edu/people/jeanne-bamberger/)

In our videotaped conversation, Jeanne revealed her inquisitive mind that, in part, sprang from her deep immersion in Philosophy study at the University of Minnesota. Nevertheless, her interest in music, embedded early in life, never waned. Her status as a child prodigy led her to teachers, some of whom embraced the approach of Jacques Dalcroze.

Joanna Graudan, a Russian mentor, who had, herself, studied with Schnabel in Berlin, sent Jeanne to her very own teacher. It forged a lineage that continued through shrinking degrees of separation, to the Contemporary music cosmos at U.C. Berkeley where Roger Sessions became an influential figure in Bamberger’s musical development. (Earlier in her musical journey, Jeanne had studied with Ernst Krenek at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.)

Of particular interest, however, is Jeanne’s recorded memories of lessons with Artur Schnabel that were based in New York City during the 1950’s. In the company of Leon Fleisher, Claude Frank among other notables in fields of performance and musicology, Bamberger provided what is historically significant and of relevance to musicians, students, and educators around the world.

(Note Jeanne Bamberger’s re-labeling of her opening musical excerpt. It’s a Schubert Dance, Op. Posth. 171, #4 in D Major.)

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LINK: Schnabel Music Foundation
http://www.schnabelmusicfoundation.com/

Mozart piano sonata, Mozart Sonata in F Major K. 332, music study and ripening, musical phrasing, musical phrasing and breathing, pianist

Playing Mozart: Phrasing and Nuance

Expressing Mozart’s piano music beautifully is a composite of many ingredients that include vocal modeling; an understanding of form/structure and harmonic elements; sound imaging, and in the cosmos of the imagination, exploring how to produce what we want to hear. In our ongoing phase of “experimentation,” we delve through a terrain of unclarity, seeking ways to phrase expressively with shape and contour, accepting the premise that decisions we make are subject to change as our immersion deepens.

In a spirit of being receptive to a filter of new “ideas”, I revisited Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 332, (Exposition) recreating the steps I took in sculpting phrases.

Along the path of my renewed journey, I discovered the following “POINTS of Interest” about the Exposition that provided a necessary framing of my re-learning process. I borrow a few, in part, from Dr. Clark Ross: http://www.clarkross.ca/143_Mozart_k332_I_Exp.pdf

“There are several thematic ideas, if the transition is included. Each of the thematic ideas has a musical character that is distinct from the others.” (My comment, I found many more thematic strands in this Exposition than in most of the Mozart Sonatas I’ve studied, and each needs a unique realization through a synthesis of the musical and physical aspects of playing.)

“Principal Theme 2, (PT2) and Second Theme 3 (ST3) have similar textures (homo-rhythmic, homophonic) but their character is different. PT2 is playful, dance-like, while ST3 is more solemn and chorale-like.

“The direct modulation to d minor at the beginning of the transition (in a markedly contrasting section) is striking. It’s part of the abrupt dramatic change to the “Sturm und Drang” character. “Storm and Stress.” (from Wikipedia: Sturm und Drang is literally “turbulence and urgency.”)

(Paraphrase)…. This transition is uniquely syncopated and intense, emphasized by frequent Sforzando markings–(I note a poignant sequential modulation from D minor to C minor, via diminished chord entrances) SEQUENCES, like these, are formidable in Mozart’s music and provoke emotional/aesthetic responses.

Dr. Ross effectively reinforces structural and harmonic considerations in the Exposition that are important underpinnings of analyses, but these will not amply address the aesthetics of creating well-shaped phrases with a Mozartean singing-tone character.

In my tutorial, I absorbed a harmonic and structural dimension that ultimately complemented and expanded a hands-on, “experimental” journey through the Exposition. It included “emotional” responses to harmonic shifts and sequences that permeate the composer’s music, while it infused the learning process with a pronounced feature of attentive listening. (i.e Listening to the decay from a previous note or sonority into the next, especially in crossover measures) Riveted attention to dissolving tones, prevents unwanted accents in measures where students misguidedly believe that the first beat of 3/4, in this instance, comes with an unchallenged pronounced emphasis. If executed in this way, a phrase can be upended by interruptions in the smooth flow of a musical line. Similarly, crescendo’s made prematurely and peaking on a downbeat, because of metrical misconception, must be re-aligned otherwise to enhance expressive playing.

Where Mozart has a plethora of juxtaposed repeated notes in his contrasting themes, I demonstrate ways of shaping these, so they’re not robotically rendered.

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Theory and Harmonic Analyses serve musical expression

Theoretical analysis has been part of my personal immersion at the piano since I began studies at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. As a student enrolled in the the Music department, I had three years of Sight-singing/Ear training, extensive exposure to harmony and musical structure, all within a performance-centered curriculum. And while I obsessively mapped out my piano pieces for every vestige of primary and secondary dominants, pivot chords leading to modulations, deceptive cadences, first and second themes, variations, points of Development and what characterized every section of a composition, I didn’t fully understand how to synthesize these analytical ingredients into expressive playing. (At that point in my adolescent life, I was more of an “intuitive” player.)

It was after years of study at the Oberlin Conservatory with its enriched courses of Theory, Music history, Eurhythmics, Keyboard Harmony and Piano Literature, that an expressive musical dimension surfaced as a resonating theme in my approach to learning piano works of varied historical periods. I would no longer compartmentalize what I considered to be a unity of elements in pursuit of beauty.

I still inveterately mark up a “new” composition with harmonic tracking, structural annotations, and fingering choices that comport with what I believe serves the best realization of phrases and this unshackled habit is fully fleshed out in the attached score. (Enrique Granados, Valse Poetico No. 1)

In synch with these scribbles, I dared to upload a video on my second day of practicing as I slowly waded through the music, bar-to-bar, separate hands, no less, with in-depth scrutiny of harmonic and interval analysis; symmetries of phrases; what was different?–how certain harmonic progressions created an “emotional response.” The iii chord, for example, known as the “Mediant,” was a heart-wrencher as it was poignantly “unexpected.” And in this cosmos of “affect” linked to harmonic events, expected and unexpected, I’d been taken by the book, Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer.

In tempo reading:

In a second video posting, which was my reconnection with Burgmuller’s “Barcarolle,” Op. 100, I embraced “Elements of Expressive Playing” that underscored awareness of pivotal harmonic junctures (modulations) that necessitated an emotional and physical synthesis. (i.e. How to “delay” the approach to certain sonorities in modulation; how to use a supple wrist to soften the impact of after beat chords, and to sensitively advance tapered cadences; how Rotation factored into a bridge back to a Recapitulation; how the beginning and end of the Barcarolle must be related, with a sense of reflection, mood connection, etc.) All identified key departures had an embedded affective significance that was bonded to choreography. In this pursuit, labeling a key shift needed translation into the physical playing experience with the “singing tone” as an underpinning.

In summary, a music-learning journey should deeply plant the seeds of cognitive, affective and kinesthetic awareness in the earliest phase of exploration. It must ideally include an array of analyses that serves the highest form of musical expression and shared human emotions.

executing trills, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog

Navigating Tricky Trills

Experimentation is central to piano learning in all its phases, including that which applies to the build-up of trills. Unfortunately, for many students engaged in such a learning process, rapid alternations of notes will often ignite instant panic and fear which tighten muscles, inhibiting a smooth flowing musical line. In some instances, the initial approach a pupil undertakes in practicing trills becomes marred by poor fingering choices and a precipitous push to play these figures at a “fast” pace too soon.

In my own experience practicing trills over decades–a journey that’s been introspective, experimental, and open to new and creative fingering assignments, I’ve had epiphanies that have grown my technique while filtering down to my pupils in productive increments.

Currently, I’m preparing the Enrique Granados Oriental (Danza Espanola No. 2, Op. 5) that one of my students plans to study. In this particular undertaking, I’ve been laying the groundwork for smoothly rendering a tricky set of three trills for the Right Hand–each with a different resolution that presents a technical and musical challenge.

All 3 trills, however, share a sustained alto note under them, with quick grace note driven resolutions requiring not only fingering that is “natural” to the hand/fingers, (different for each player) but can propel an uninterrupted shimmering beauty to resolution. When I sampled the editor’s recommended 3, 5, 3, 5 etc. trill fingering, I could not nearly realize a fluid progression of notes to my satisfaction. And with a subsequent realization that R.H. trill fingers 2, 3, 2, 3, etc. were my most reliable ones, I immediately tried these as I attempted the first unfolding figure in the Spanish Dance. (This trill springs into an awkward resolution divided by an octave bundled into a Major Third) Unfortunately, my choice resulted in an immediate surge of strain and tension that sparked an experimentation most likely considered unorthodox. Still, I persisted with a “creative” exploration that ultimately produced desired fluency.

In the video tutorial posted below, the final fingering that became a springboard for further development of each trill, relied on right hand fingers 2, 4, 2, 4, etc. in conjunction with a hanging hand, energized by relaxed arms and supple wrists. I even added a “sigh” to my trill executions to bundle them in warmth and lucidity. (The breath is so intrinsic to a fluid trill outpouring that’s imbued with a singing tone) Trills, are essentially fast melody, vocally modeled.

Fundamentally, the build-up of each trill in the Granados Oriental was based on a sighing back tempo approach that flowed gradually into the tempo desired, using fingering that not only worked for me, but well served the music.

(P.S. The footage encompasses fingering decisions for each trill sample that naturally considered the grace notes and how to navigate all three trill settings to full resolution.)

Oriental Play through:

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A deep immersion in Schumann’s Wiegenliedchen, Cradle Song No. 6, Op. 124

Who would have thought that a Romantic era character piece of short length could have so much to savor on multi-tiered levels? Relentless triplets with double stemmed quarters, seemed at first glance to direct the player toward a horizontal rendering of a conspicuous melodic thread that’s reinforced by the highest notes in the Right Hand. It’s clearly a vocal line that requires a singing tone wedded to a seamless legato.

But the more one delves into the score, an awareness of note groupings, within phrases, requires the player to breathe as a vocalist would, with an attendant understanding of how fingering, harmonic analysis, rotational motions, and exploration of the bass line all factor into a deeper rendering of the composition.

While the piece only landed in Berkeley just two short days ago, having been emailed in attachment form from a Scottish Isle, it was “cradled” with great care upon its arrival in the Berkeley flats–having passed through an embryonic stage of discovery to a more heightened level of understanding.

Since a tutorial is like a diary of epiphanies, the one I’ve included below, is a springboard to further learning discoveries that grow from repeated exposures and more intense scrutiny of what the composer, Robert Schumann, intended.

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“Listen to the Long Notes”

Five words resonated profoundly through a Masterclass given by Pianist, Andras Schiff at the Juilliard School. They framed a myriad of movements in Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras.

Three students offered selections by Bach, Schubert and Schumann. (The event was Live-streamed)

While Beethoven did not grace the program, Maestro Schiff’s mentoring had far-reaching implications for piano teachers sifting through suggestions about attentive listening, phrasing, spacing, harmonic rhythm, instrumentation, voicing and much more. They flowed into repertoire well beyond the limits of programming.

In my domain of mentoring and eternal music-learning, the words, “Listen to the Long Notes” struck a riveting chord. The idea of hanging with a note, especially one that stood out as a destination in an unwinding melodic thread, was pivotal to beautiful phrasing. By coincidence, such instruction nicely trickled into a Classical work I’d been poring over.

The recurrent, heart-throbbing theme from Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile, Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”) was a Masterclass beneficiary.

The well-known middle movement, framed in Classical terms, but reaching toward full-blown Romantic effusion without over-exaggeration, requires “attentive listening” that underlies many dimensions of playing expressively.

The opening melody recurring in many musical “attires,” has a directional pull toward the very long notes that can be easily over-anticipated, or played before their time. (i.e. the dotted quarter note) Time, in this case, is not metronomically measured. It is has a breathing pulse that hearkens the arrival of a note in a fulfilling place. (The decay of a preceding one must be felt to its last in order to “know” kinesthetically and affectively what comes next.)

Instrumentation and voicing also apply to this universe of peak musical expression. (Schiff made many references to strings, trumpets, even percussion through his class that ignited the imagination of students who refined their thinking about phrasing.) His prompts and metaphors gave more context to their musical expression.

As pertains to the opening of Beethoven’s middle Adagio movement, a “violin” plays the lead melody within a Trio that includes a viola and cello. The viola renders wavy broken chord-like figures, while a significant underlying cello bass line provides a necessary Fundament-driven richness to the texture. Voicing decisions encompass how to balance the “instruments” especially as the “score” shifts to 4-voices, adding a “second violin.” By increasing the voices, the dynamics shift upward.

What needs formidable mention, notwithstanding Long Note to Long note emphasis, is an understanding of how harmonic flow or rhythm influence the crafting of phrases. (shaping, sculpting lines, etc.) A Dominant to Tonic progression suggests a dip down, but it can become a cliche if over-observed. Because there’s so much repetition of the theme, the idea of varying each statement, even with an unexpected diminuendo can create a heart ripple that is otherwise lost by rigid harmonic thinking.

And finally, without reference to supple wrists and relaxed arms, expressive music-making would be under-“played.”

While I’ve veered for a moment from the LISTEN to the LONG NOTES rubric, I’ve best communicated the value of Schiff’s all-embracing wisdom in my two video offerings.

1) A Play through of the Beethoven Adagio Cantabile

2) An analysis of theme repetition in the context of attentive listening that includes LONG NOTE awareness, scoring, notation, sequences, harmonic rhythm, dynamics, etc.

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Note: Juilliard Masterclasses (Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia) can be revisited at Medici-TV

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Seek and Ye shall find the right FREE piano!

Once I sold my beloved Steinway ‘A’ grand that had eaten into the space of my neighbor’s apartment where it had been well cared for over a year’s time, I felt obliged to replace it. The ‘A’ had been the first piano for a beginning student who lived at the end of our walkway. For me, it was a spillover piano that I’d purchased in the heat of passion at a nearby estate sale. Located about block away, it so grabbed my attention that I sped off, played it, and snagged the beauty for a bargain price. But I knew a 6’2″ size instrument could not realistically fit into my shrinking apartment–a clutter-box of two side-by-side grands, a P-115 Yamaha portable, and a Yamaha Arius console digital. The only way I could keep it, short of considering expensive storage, was to convince a neighbor to take it bundled in with FREE piano lessons. (Pure baby-sitting barter)

As fate would have it, the family appreciated the “loan” but was heading to a smaller space that could not accommodate the piano. And my not wanting to sell my family heirloom Steinway ‘M’ to make room for the ‘A,’ was my signal to sell off the large grand along with the excess of electronics tightly squeezed into my pod.

But I could not forget the student who needed a piano to fill in the gap Steinway ‘A’ would leave by its departure (set for Sept. 9)

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It all played out with a story-book ending. I sold my Steinway ‘A’ within a week; posted the P-115 and Arius digitals on local Classifieds, (moved them out in quick sales) while making frequent visits to Craigslist in search of a decent, small-size instrument for the neighbor.

After a short piano-searching spree, a tantalizing used Baldwin 44″ upright turned up in San Leandro, (some would call it a “console”) and it played like an angel had blessedly delivered it! So as the Steinway ‘A’ heads to a small church in Morgan Hill, the little Baldwin will look forward to a happy life in El Cerrito!