squeaky piano pedal repair

A Conversation about machine and ear tuning (and more) with Israel Stein, Registered Piano Technician

I couldn’t resist an opportunity to immerse myself in an engaging dialog with Israel Stein, RPT, as he was tuning my piano.


Regaled far and wide by a community of pianists and teachers as he amasses awards bestowed by his peers at the National Piano Technician’s Guild, Stein remains thoroughly dedicated to what seems like an ART form. If there’s a Zen-like approach to his work, it embodies a complete immersion in the wellness universe of pianos of all ages, shapes and sizes.

At my Berkeley, California flat yesterday, Israel perched himself at my Steinway M grand as he carefully staked out a two-fold approach to tuning it. First he took out his Reyburn CyberTuner for a complete ballpark assessment and pitch review of my 88’s before he meticulously advanced to the aural phase. (By ear)

Naturally with all the banter and controversy surrounding Machine vs. Ear tuning I was eager to pick this Master tuner/technician’s brains about how he effortlessly inhabits two universes without skipping a BEAT.

A four-part exchange followed with side bars exploring the world of modern-day piano antecedents; digitals and their culture, “paradigm,” etc; tuning/technician standards/exams and much more.




LINKS to Israel Stein blogs and an OVERVIEW OF HIS HONORS and AWARDS






PTG Hall of Fame
Piano Technicians Guild
July 2014

In recognition of continued service to the organizations in the areas of examinations, education and bylaws. Specifically: development and implementation of a training and certification process for technical examiners, development and implementation of more precise and objective scoring methods on technical exams, revisions of technical exam manuals and written exams, introduction of innovative hands-on instruction methods at PTG conventions and…more
Sidney O. Stone Service Award
Piano Technicians Guild – Western Region

March 2012

In recognition of service to the PTG organization in general and specifically within its Western region
Putt-Crowl Member of Note Award
Piano technicians Guild

June 2010

In recognition of recent outstanding service and dedication to the Piano Technicians Guild
Presidential Citation
Piano Technicians Guild

June 2008
In recognition of service on the Examinations and test Standards Committee and as counsel to the President
Examiner of the year Award
Piano Technicians Guild

June 2004

In recognition of outstanding service as Chair of the Technical Examinations Subcommittee and in exam administration.

Internet social networking, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Klout, Klout.com, LinkedIn, Linkedin.com, piano, Shirley Kirsten



A slew of oddball Linkedin endorsements instantly boosted MY KLOUT score.

A measurement of belly punches on the web , it’s the latest Internet boxing arena with referees weighing in the world over.

Example: After I posted a Facebook LINK to pianist, Murray Perahia’s interview in Israel, 5 Arab cross-over “connections” clicked “PERCUSSION,” drastically boosting my Klout profile..

In response to my Schumann’s HUNTING SONG posting, two Africa-generated spear-throwing “endorsements” pierced the KLOUT barrier. (Thank you, Ethiopa!)

But how do I “manage” those silly game requests flooding my FB message box? (Each one is worth a BONANZA of Klout rewards!)

OMG! There’s an onslaught! “Texas Hold-em Poker, Farmville2, Baby Adopter, Lobster Lovers, and Solitaire Arena. I don’t give a rat’s ass, I’ll DECLINE ALL with ONE crushing blow to my KLOUT making me nearly KLOUT-LESS!

It’s no sweat! GOODREADS and PININTEREST, will issue me a whopping 500-point cyber credit restoring a power balance.

Jolly Green Giants, You Tube and Google Plus will easily steam roll over Farmville and those smelly goat turds so why not use these muscle-builders to plow me through the haystack back at the FARM.

Oops, KLOUT deducts points for OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE You Tube video uploading while it redeems reward coupons at the FACEBOOK LOONY BIN GAME TABLE and I’m invited. (I should have cross-fertilized at the FARM)

Did I overlook Word Press, Authors Den, My Space, and El Cerrito Patch with their collective clout? With the exception of Patch which may be a hole in the ground in a matter of days after down-sizing, the balance of websites are worth their WEIGHT in gold. (Think Olympiad winner’s pyramid)

Just watch! I’ll wave my KLOUT flag proudly in the wind, representing my country and the world as the BIGGEST INTERNATIONAL game changer!!!

(Unless the foul wind blows in my direction)

Oh NO! My worst nightmare! UN-FRIENDING Facebook conspirators have cut me down to size with this ball-breaking Update:

Klout notice

What a set-up! After I tried RECONNECTING through FB to SAVE my KLOUT, I was repeatedly BAMBOOZLED with ERROR messages.

Who the heck cares! I don’t need KLOUT when I can barely keep up with Pin-ups at Pininterest and LINKEDin CONNECTIONS in Bangladesh, not to mention scores of javelin-throwing endorsements that need I.O.U’s.

It’s a blessing in disguise!



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Piano “Competitions”–Do we need them?

The word “competition” in the realm of music-making doesn’t work for me. Those who serve the poetry of music and view technique, not as athletically driven, but as a means to a higher artistic end can be offended by glitzy, media-hyped productions that show young Asian, American, Russian, etc. flowers of youth posing for thumbnail video sketches like Olympic hopefuls.

Some young entrants at multiple concours here and abroad, might consider a personal trainer, wardrobe adviser, PR person, and face-making coach to help them advance to the winners circle.

A cute smile, tilt of the head, or even tongue twisting maneuver might side-step going through the hoops, recital after recital, in pursuit of the GOLD.

A good media profile, culled months if not years before the BIG EVENT might land an aspirant a budding career. (as long as it’s technology bundled)

In this age of mp3s, quickie uploads, you tube playing flashes, blogs, vlogs, logs—pods, pads, and anything new on the horizon that will outdate the former, young pianistic talents have to adapt to changin’ media channels.

The good news, if one favorably views the NEW WORLD we live in, is that our current generation of gifted pianists are WITH IT, having a generous grounding in computers, originating in Kindergarten.

Hence, their websites are streamlined and hyper-linked to guarantee maximum exposure.

But back to competitions.

In the era of Van Cliburn, dating to his win in 1958, the environment was DIFFERENT. It was a resoundingly POLITICAL era.. Not to say that “Vanya” didn’t deserve to claim the Gold at the prestigious Tschaikovsky Competition in Moscow circa 1958, but the COLD WAR was raging and a thaw was a welcome, DRAMATIC, if not world-changing event. (And Cliburn rode the crest)

Cliburn Moscow

The tall rangy, sandy-haired TEXAN was at the right place during an opportune historical moment that bestowed an unheard of ticker tape parade for a musician in Lower Manhattan!!!!! (Who would believe??)

The Gold RCA generated Vinyl RECORD of Van and Kiril Kondrashin collaborating in Tschaikovsky’s Bb minor concerto earned the young pianist a life-long following and solid, financially secure life.

Would it be the same today for Van or any other first place winner of a high profile International Competition? It doesn’t necessarily follow. Too many current Cliburn entrants to the current 14th International convergence, have racked up victories all over the world, yet they’re still in feverish pursuit of another big PRIZE that might have enduring value. (throw in an appearance on ELLEN to assist!)

In that vein, consider the so-called prodigies, some of whom have won the undeserving, premature attention of ELLEN DEGENERES as they savor 15 minutes of fame at the instigation of pushy parents. In truth, some of these preemies need to stay home and practice for at least 10 to 15 years before banging their way to final cadences on the public stage. Maybe some day they’ll make it in the competitive arena!


Murray Perahia, my personal musical hero, and poet of the piano, avoided the prodigy loop for early recognition, and did the LEEDS Competition in the UK back a few decades. His win sparked a great, enduring career, but times were qualitatively different then. Young talented musicians picked and carefully chose a PRESTIGIOUS competition to enter and didn’t have to run around to scads of them. They hoped ONE victory would CAPTURE enough attention to stop their FRENZIED pursuit.

Consider as well the judges at these competitions: Many have taught a truckload of entrants or are linked by the next generation to teachers who might have taught mentors of these newbies, and by further association to piano-playing pedagogues in the OLD COUNTRY.

Veda Kaplinksy, Chair of the Juilliard Piano Department and a frequent jurist, excuses herself from voting for her own students at the Cliburn Competition and Lord know where else? But how could she realistically manage to keep track of the complex lineage of professorial forebears without doing a current genealogy search on the WEB.

Seymour Bernstein, pianist, teacher, author, has now become so incensed about the competition milieu and its impure environment that he sent out an all points bulletin registering his discontent with the whole atmosphere that pits pianists as rivals, while he expressed outrage that one of his favored entrants, Sara Daneshpour, was not a chosen semi-finalist. (her website: http://www.saradaneshpour.com/)

With Seymour’s permission, I’ve memorialized his riveting statement, “NO COMPETITIONS”

Dear friends,
I have concluded something that I wish to share with everyone on my mailing list: the Cliburn Competition has revealed the greatest young performers among us. Of course there are other qualified performers who were not chosen for non-musical reasons: either they haven’t won a major competition, or they never performed with a major orchestra, to mention only two reasons.

This is my conclusion: The word “competition” must be eliminated. The Cliburn Competition is rich enough to expose these phenomenal young artists to the world for one reason only: they ought to be heard as models of human achievement on the highest level, and they ought not to have to compete with one another.

The worst aspect of competitions is the assumption that jury members are qualified to judge who is the best among the competitors. This is impossible given each person’s varied tastes. I, myself have adjudicated at major competitions where a pupil of mine was among the competitors. While I was not allowed to vote for that pupil, my colleagues knew that I taught that contestant simply by reading the bios of the competitors. Some jury members will want to support me and my pupil, while others, compelled to uphold fairness at all cost, may vote against my pupil.

In addition, I have known jury members to support a competitor who studies with a close colleague. Finally, jury members are not beyond the possibility of falling prey to sexual attraction. Considering the human factor, visual attractiveness may override objective listening.

Considering these factors, let’s vote for abolishing all competitions. Let’s have these performers share their artistry with us for no other purpose than to inspire us with their accomplishments, thereby spreading the essence of the divine art of music to a world sorely in need of it. Let’s all write to the competition board and suggest this for future Webcasts.



My comment: While I agree with Seymour’s assertions, my underlying thesis is that our culture should properly nourish and sustain musicians, and not force them into competitive environments.

Many Juilliard grads, for example, when researched a decade after their graduation could not make a living at what they loved, cherished, and nurtured since childhood. (Competitions, notwithstanding)


In conclusion, until we get off the instant message, mp3 driven train, abandoning LIVE concerts, and drinking the KOOL AID served up by sound byte-ing advertisers, (the not so hidden persuaders) we’ll always have aspiring pianists taking an alternate route, far afield form their first love, just to put bread on the table.

And what a loss to a society that should embrace those who have something SPIRITUAL to offer in a world plagued by violence and all the rest we should abhor.


Seymour Bernstein speaks even louder about Piano Competitions and the need for CHANGE:


Star Telegram, questions jury ties to competitors at Cliburn Competition


Memories of Van Cliburn


The 14th International Van Cliburn Competition


click ON DEMAND LINK to hear performances of all entrants

Circle Dance by Beyer, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique, playing piano

Technique is creatively woven into the piano learning environment from the very beginning of study

A discussion is intensifying on Facebook’s “The Art of Piano Pedagogy” about teaching technique as a separate sphere of learning, versus an inseparable part of the total music-making process. I tend to embrace a style of teaching that fuses all ingredients together.

This bias does not rule out quality time I assign students to practice scales and arpeggios in all keys around the Circle of Fifths. These experiences are NOT isolated from the pieces a pupil studies. In fact they are interwoven into any number of compositions from various historic eras. And these are not regarded as pedantic exercises to be drilled relentlessly by a task master. (They are a panoply of geographies that require adjustments of hands, wrists, elbows and fingers)

Scales in various articulations, for example, are springboards to shape phrases, create beautiful dynamic contrasts, and explore a variety of groupings that the pupil will encounter in the piano literature. They feed in and out of his repertoire.

Having said that, I demonstrate in this video how a five-finger position piece such as “Circle Dance” by Ferdinand Beyer, is the very springboard to teach phrase shaping, nuance, dynamic contrast, in an INTEGRATED physical, affective, and cognitive learning environment. (Notice the flexible wrist, in particular, and rolling motions)

Students of all levels and ages can grow technique and musicianship together in a happy blend in the course of their piano studies.

“Circle Dance” in Duet with Fritz, age 8

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Bias against Black Notes stopped me in my tracks! (Video)

I would have been leg pressing at the gym but for my detour to Nancy Williams’s Facebook Page.

Here’s what I found:

“Those bloody sharps and flats–those endless calamities of the personal past. Bah! I disown them from the rest of my life, in which I mean to rest.” From “Grass” by Mary Oliver.

My inserted comment

Shirley Smith Kirsten: “I wish it were not that way. If our teachers had made us friends with black notes from the very beginning, there wouldn’t be such avoidance.”

“For example, my little 5-year old student whom I mentor, loves her new FLAT as much as the whites.”


Nancy strongly interjected when a prior poster had voiced surprise that the blacks were stigmatized:

Nancy Williams: “Adult students sometimes” have a “bias” about “black notes” and perhaps they’re not white notes “gone wrong.”

To me, this attitude hearkened back to 1960’s Montgomery, Alabama with its apologia about desegregation.

Such double talk as it applied to keyboard inequality was nipped in the bud by an African American piano student/retired postal worker:

“Gosh darn, I see only 36 Blacks, and 52 Whites? That’s a sure-fire case of discrimination.”

I could relate.

Lyrics from South Pacific suddenly popped into my head.

“You’ve Got to Be Taught before it’s too late,
“Before you are six or seven or eight,
“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Such riveting words were applicable to piano learning in “traditional” teaching environments around the country.

The cold-hearted truth was, beginning piano students were TAUGHT that BLACK NOTES DIDN’T EXIST as EQUALS among whites.

As a case in point VICTIM of BLACK-NOTE AVOIDANCE SYNDROME, I believed:

1) That too many of us were glued to the WHITES with our THUMBS stuck on middle C until it hurt. We were so primordially ENSLAVED by the 52s that our DEEP SOUTH-indoctrinated prejudice deterred us from making friends with our NORTHern neighbors.

To wit:
2) Our Southern-biased teachers, may they rest in peace, refused to introduce us to the stigmatized blacks until we had advanced so far along in our primers that we would rather eat spinach than make friends with the dark-colored outcasts.

Sad but true.

I was fed on John Thompson RED books and he, too, furthered the cause of Whites as a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee from Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell.

John S. Thompson Bio

“For thousands of people who taught or studied piano in the 1930s and later, the name of John Thompson brought immediately to mind the shiny red covers of his “Teaching Little Fingers to Play;” his six-volume series, “Modern Piano Course;” and his three-volume series, “Adult Piano Course.” Using his own original compositions, simplified transcriptions of familiar classics, and actual works by famous composers, Thompson crafted a graded series of piano pieces that allowed students to begin with an introduction to the keyboard and music reading and to progress to a fairly sophisticated performance level. These publications had a profound influence on the teaching of piano…..”


Time marched on with little progress made since Thompson churned out Pixie plus publications.

Lisa Corcoran, an adult piano student residing in Oregon, seconded the stone age view of “blacks.”

“They always called them ‘accidentals’ because they were accidents waiting to happen.”

Likewise, a candidate for admission to a major East Coast music Conservatory flew in from Mississippi and played a Beethoven sonata, avoiding all black keys. In response, a shocked panel of teachers queried him about his new arrangement. His reply: “I’m not going to touch those blacks.”

Seymour Bernstein, pianist and author, added his own black-key anecdote:

“When I performed the Bach F minor Concerto with orchestra during my one year at the Mannes School, the late Leopold Mannes, who was present at the rehearsal, said to me, ‘Isn’t it odd that when we get nervous before a performance, the black notes seem so much higher than the whites?!!’

“I did a double-take because I never considered these keys to be ‘higher.'”


In the Millennium, enter the Faber Piano Adventures Generation, with a peep-through, veiled relief of black-key associated anxiety.

At least for the first few pages of Primer Performance Purple, the little ones pleasingly dance on the blacks without a hint of displeasure–an ebony-realized dream that should be FOREVER, according to fairy tales.

But like Cinderella’s fate at the stroke of midnight, Primer page 6, sent the blacks packing– banished from their privileged KINGDOM, restoring WHITE-note supremacy!

The story line might have been changed:

“Wind in the Trees,” and “The Shepherd’s Flute,” such sweet black-key melodies, wooed newbies, keeping them in the throes of love-sickness through page 5. They could have stayed in variation form but were mercilessly bumped by “Hot Cross Buns” on the Whites, (p. 6) dashing the hopes of blacks for keyboard EQUALITY.

Oh No!!!!.. “HOT CROSS buns” and the DEEP South. The pairing smacked of unabashed black-note bigotry!

The clock had been turned back..

More of the same:

“Lil’ Liza Jane,” Level I, RED FABER, Piano Adventures, (Revised?)

It was time to bring on the Black Notes for a rousing rebellion!

I’d say, Give beginning students early exposure to sharps and flats,

“before it’s too late.

“Before they are six or seven or eight,

“They’ve got to be carefully taught….”

REPEAT refrain as needed….in chorus


Curtain drawn

Chopin Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 no. 1, Chopin Nocturnes, interpretation of Romantic era repertoire, Morey Amsterdam, Oscar Levant, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, Romantic era piano repertoire, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

A long distance Chopin Nocturne Makeover that might help others

It’s amazing that at 3 a.m. in the morning, I’d be fussing around with the Chopin Nocturne in E minor (Op. 72, No. 1) that I’d previously embedded in a blog about revisiting old repertoire. Either my kind neighbors love classical music, or they’ve managed to double pack their ears with spongy stopples. (These can be permanently “embedded” if one is not careful)

So lucky for me, with my unplugged, wide open ears, I had the benefit of a long distance communication from Seymour Bernstein (author, With Your Own Two Hands) who emailed me constructive criticism related to the Chopin. Basically, he zeroed in on what I knew in my sub-conscious to be on point–but because of my DNA connection to the piece, I was just too embedded in it (not that word, again, please consult a Thesaurus)

It was one of those situations, where I knew that I’d over-exaggerated my rubato, perhaps, but of more concern was my tendency to play unsynchronized bass/treble notes. You know what I mean, when the right and left hand should come together and not be schmaltzed up to high heaven, and divided all over the place. It’s what Liberace might do, or the celebrated hypochondriac pianist, Oscar Levant, who played Gershwin. He made it a point to exhibit all his illnesses on 1950s TV, kvetching the whole time on the Jack Paar Show, sniveling, snorting- about to pass out before a commercial break.

My family had an old 78 of his Chopin which I’ll have to dig up. In those days, the vinyls were very long-lasting, like some of Liberace’s half cadences, rolls and flourishes.

I’d imagined a less mannered interpretation as had permeated my last reading, and having Seymour Bernstein’s long-distance coaching would level me out. It was nothing short of a mitzvah (blessing in Hebrew)

But before I go further, here’s a comparison of conditions for each home-based recording of the Nocturne.

1)The first performance, previously embedded, was rendered at a civilized hour so my fingers didn’t feel like icicles. Here in Fresno, it’s dipped below 32 degrees at night so we’re having a honeymoon, of sorts, because the next season is our normally sizzling summer, with 100 degrees in the shade. (We are basically bi-seasonal with the help of global warming.)

2) In the second recording made at 3 a.m., my hands were ice balls, so forget the trills, if you can manage to find them–For relief, I’d shoved my bare hands in front of a portable heater, blocked by Aiden Cat who didn’t appreciate being pulled from his sun bath. He would otherwise be rattling the blinds, or tipping over nick knacks.

To be more precise about what I was thinking about before I attempted a Chopin Nocturne MAKEOVER, here’s what Seymour Bernstein recommended after hearing my first performance:

(I hope this advice will help others who are studying the composition)

“Some theorists hold to Chopin always beginning trills on the upper note. But that practice ceased with late Bach and Mozart. It comes down to personal choice. And choices are usually made on what the melody is doing”.

My comment: Bernstein is spot on. I appreciated the advice that the trill should preferably start on the principle note. (If you can bake your hands in a warm oven, you have a shot at playing any trill in the dead of winter) I ended up reducing my first few to upper neighbor ornaments. Don’t copy me.

“I like your new fingering. I divide that passage rhythmically as follow: 123, 1234, 1234.” (He’s referring to measure 37 with those 11 insanely bunched up treble notes crowding into one beat)

My chosen fingering was 1,2, 1,2, 123, 1234

“If you record it again, be sure to play your hands together more often, especially on downbeats. Of course one divides hands for special moments.”

In my first reading I had too many special moments, so don’t copy me. I made it a point to have less of them in the second performance.

Second, improved reading: I’m not gloating over this one, but it’s on the way to the next, which will be followed by another. The process is never-ending. (But I’ll admit to being in a happier place listening to this rendition)

Mikhail Pletnev, the great Russian pianist, always bemoans the existence of recordings, comparing them to mirrors of fixed, undesirable images.

I like to think of them as springboards to improve one’s playing and to grow as a pianist over time.



About Oscar Levant:

A reminder that the man’s celebrity was based upon his reputation as a pianist. He studied with Sigismond Stojowski, a friend and student of Paderewski. He also was a member of George Gershwin’s inner circle.

Levant was considered a genius by some, in many areas. (He himself wisecracked “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.”)

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Nikolai Lugansky, pianist, plays chess and loves poetry

The nearly 7-minute You Tube interview was telling. Luganksy waxed poetic about poetry, and recited one of his favorites by Boris Pasternak. It was in Russian, but it’s lyrical lines stole the show. No translation needed.

He was seated beside a conductor named Petrenko, and both were being queried by the first bassist of the Israeli Philharmonic.

Lugansky: “In poetry and music there is no win, no loss, it’s like life….chess, it’s a game.”

Location: Israel, where a good percentage of the population speaks Russian.

I must admit that I was led to the You Tube interview after sampling Lugansky’s artistry on Facebook. (I can hardly summon the right words in English to describe the listening experience)

Perhaps an ever flowing reservoir of emotion and nuance: когда-либо проточном водоеме нюансов и эмоций

If pressed to further enunciate what I loved about the playing, I would say the pianist’s phrasing is liquid, and overall his approach is magical. It’s one of those rare encounters with the soul of a pianist and composer meet.

Debussy’s Arabesque no. 1

And as icing on the cake, Seymour Bernstein forwarded me this link to the Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 118 no. 2:

If this isn’t heaven on earth, then what is:


Nikolai Lugansky
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nikolai Lugansky

“Nikolai Lugansky (Николай Львович Луганский; born 26 April 1972) is a Russian pianist from Moscow. At the age of five, before he had even started to learn the piano, he astonished his parents when he sat down at the piano and played a Beethoven sonata by ear, which he had just heard a relative play. He studied piano at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky.

“During the ’80s and early ’90s, Lugansky won prizes at numerous piano competitions. At the same time he began to make recordings on the Melodiya (USSR) and Vanguard Classics (Netherlands) labels. His performance at the Winners’ Gala Concert of the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition was recorded and released on the Pioneer Classics label, on both CD and video laser disc formats. This was followed by more recordings for Japanese labels. He went on to make recordings for Warner Classics (UK), Pentatone Classics (Netherlands), Onyx Classics and Deutsche Grammophon.

“Lugansky has performed together with Vadim Repin, Alexander Kniazev, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Rudenko and Mischa Maisky, among others.

“In addition, Lugansky has collaborated with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Neeme Järvi, Kurt Masur, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, Leonard Slatkin, Vladimir Spivakov, Evgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov and Edo de Waart.

“As well as performing and recording, Lugansky teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.”


About Lugansky’s teacher: