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Our individual musical study grows our piano teaching

For the past year I’ve devoted many daily hours to the study J.S. Bach’s six French Suites while simultaneously keeping pace with my students’ passage through diverse repertoire. The decision to take on this additional musical challenge apart from meeting my basic teacher obligations of being present at lessons; knowing the material assigned, and dispensing meaningful suggestions, is to advance my own personal musical development. By growing my technique and musicianship; organizing music with a theoretical lens; getting deeply embedded in form, harmony, phrasing, and noting the very steps taken in my early learning process, I grow my teaching to the benefit of my students. This message I gladly send along to colleagues who enjoy comparable journeys of self-discovery.

A few weeks ago, I received a pertinent message via You Tube from an adult learner in Israel who was challenged by the Allemande of the B minor French Suite No. 3, BWV 814 and wondered if I’d a posted a tutorial about ways to approach the opening dance movement. Although I had studied the Sarabande, Anglaise, and Minuet/Trio of this work, I hadn’t yet commenced an examination of the Allemande. Her request, therefore, was perfectly timed to nudge my practicing of this movement with an enlisted analytical approach–breaking down the “subject” or main germ cell, and discovering any and all fragments of the smallest idea that unraveled in two-voice counterpoint (and inversion) through the binary form. (Fingering naturally factored into foundational practicing along with the preservation of a “singing” tone.)

The video that I uploaded just three days into my exploration, contained the basic elements of structure/counterpoint that fed the musical/expressive side of interpretation and spawned an early play through that reaped the benefits of my self-driven pedagogical analysis.

Tutorial:

Play Through

I continue to make challenges like these for myself, not just through deep explorations of Johann Sebastian’s Bach’s music in its many forms (Fugues, Gigues, Allemandes, Courantes, etc.) but by stretching the mind in expansive directions: studying repertoire from various historical periods; exploring harmonic flow, rhythm, and theoretical framings that are in the service of how to phrase and imbue emotion governed by what is expected and unexpected in the course of a composition.

Finally, this investment in individual study is not only a promotion of self-growth, but it becomes a gift to our pupils to whom we are teaching the very rudiments of learning so they will become truly independent in their own study as it matures, and ripens over time.

Peter Feuchtwanger, piano instruction

My early learning efforts (J.S. Bach) under the influence of Peter Feuchtwanger

My students know that I say what I do, while they do as I say, with the understanding that we are perhaps interchanging the whole music learning process on an egalitarian basis. Therefore, it’s no surprise that I regularly thank them for “teaching” me what I might otherwise have overlooked in my daily practicing.

For example, as I journey through all six French Suites of J.S. Bach, often in the company of pupils who’ve joined me at various common junctures of study, I can share my baby step approach to a “new” dance movement with a candid admission that my first shaky steps taken through virgin terrain can be as tentative and experimental as theirs. And to the extent that my students see me, their teacher, as the model of a work in progress, they might allow themselves the same space to grow a piece in stages without harsh self-judgment and self-imposed learning deadlines.

That’s why, periodically, I impart my very earliest, slow tempo, learning efforts embodied in various video samplings. (Sarabande, French Suite no. 3 in B minor, BWV 814)

I must admit that bundled into my first stage (second day) Sarabande immersion were epiphanies about phrasing, vocal modeling, fingering choices/rotations, etc. that were allied to Peter Feuchtwanger’s mentoring (via you tube)–my having been under the influence (his) in the proverbial sense.

The late pianist/teacher/and composer, who was based in London, formidably championed fluidity in the context of a vocalized musical line, with a technical universe that was inseparable from what he believed to be a particular expressive musical “language,” be it in the French compositional vocabulary, (Debussy), or within the framing of Couperin, Bach, Chopin, et al.

Fingering decisions reflected a pure, though innate expression of a phrase that had its analog in ways of speaking. (and singing)

Naturally, Feuchtwanger advocated freedom from tension in the arms and wrists, having devised certain exercises to liberate a pianist from any constraints in the flow of phrases. He embraced a flexible, supple wrist approach wedded to a Zen-like, here and now concentration that was the kindred focus of his musical colleague, Yehudi Menuhin.

This particular sample from Feuchtwanger’s home teaching environment is particularly emblematic of an approach that has tweaked my own consciousness about music learning and mentoring. Feuchtwanger begins by demonstrating the opening measures of Fur Elise with an untraditional fingering that heightens the “shape” of the line, preventing a vertical, inorganic rendering. (It allows for a “rotational” movement that promotes a curvaceous contouring of notes.) His student, sitting beside him, fleshes out a “circular” analogy that is quite relevant.

Feuchtwanger’s bio expands upon his legacy as a teacher, his having influenced so many prominent pianists including Martha Argerich.

http://www.peter-feuchtwanger.de/english-version/biography/index.html

In my own rush of enthusiasm, I urge piano students and all music lovers to ingest Peter Feuchtwanger’s ideas that are well communicated in a set of you tubes, one of which showcases his work with pupil, Marian Friedman. It’s an amazing display of virtuosity that’s inextricably tied to the natural expression of musical lines without physical constraint.

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Keeping up our skills as piano teachers, with an “eye” to taking on challenges

I couldn’t resist juxtaposing the importance of learning new and challenging music with an “eye” toward how we can best accomplish our short and long-term goals within our teaching milieu. (The EYE metaphor becomes CLEARER and dual serving as the posting progresses.)

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So many music teachers have a tight schedule of back-to-back students that precludes personal musical development. They’re caught in a tight squeeze, trying their best to keep up with the repertoire assigned to pupils, with the painful knowledge that they could use more than a spoonful of time to more deeply probe a Bach Fugue or a Beethoven Sonata movement.

Yet by not specifically setting aside daily periods for serious practicing, teachers are short-changing themselves and their students.

In my own professional development, I’ve been focusing on the J.S. Bach French Suites these past months– an undertaking sparked by an Online pupil in North Carolina who wanted to study the Allemande from French Suite No. 4 in E-flat BWV 814. Because I’d never worked on this particular movement, or the whole Suite No.4, I felt compelled to immerse myself deeply in the music so I could more effectively mentor the student. Otherwise, I would have been “winging it” without much depth.

The Allemande project led me to a set of independent discoveries within the total volume of French Suites. At first, I was drawn to movements that Murray Perahia had previewed in his you tube trailers where he covered all 6 of the French Suites. The last one in E Major caught my “eye” because it had an enchanting Courante and Bourree which I’d first explored before committing myself to a thorough study of the whole work.

(Without a doubt, the Sarabande proved to be a heart throb)

Perahia will play the French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 during his appearance at Davies Hall, Sunday, April 25th. My pre-immersion in this composition will have deepened my understanding and subsequent revisit. It will keenly benefit my teaching on many introspective levels so the next student who embarks upon this work, will have the advantage of my intensified relationship to it.

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An ongoing French Suite journey has brought even more musical growth opportunities. Sarabande from French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812,is a tender love note, filled with sadness that demands a sustained mood of pathos and tenderness.

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But my biggest learning challenge is embodied in the Gigue from French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812.

Upon first glance, the Gigue looked like an uphill climb with its complex rhythms and crossover voices from hand to hand. In fact, when I tapped into Perahia’s Trailer on this very D minor Suite which ends with a snatch of the Gigue, I realized it was DIFFERENT from all others I had encountered in Bach’s collection: The Gigue from French Suite in G Major, BWV 816 was one I had previously learned when a student asked to study it. In 12/16 time, it has the characteristic mood and motion associated with a Bach GIGUE while the D minor is a cut time (2/2), “triple fugue,” according to Perahia–a revelation that was invaluable to my assimilation of this work from the ground up.

In the first few days of my exploration, I knew tackling this Gigue would ignite a significant growth spurt–the kind that I welcome in my musical evolution. A triple fugue, with its internal complexity, was a big serving that required meticulous voice parceling and thoughtful, painstaking fingering decisions. (The internal trills and ornaments compounded the complex rhythmic overlay that I characterized in totality, as “a cow.”)

In a companion email to my students, I shared the agony and the ecstasy of my journey, putting an emphasis on this very COW aspect of my learning adventure. These pupils know by this time that I’m always looking for ways to notch up my skills, hoping my efforts will trickle down to their individual musical travels. The collaboration, we collective realize, is a two-way growth process.

Finally, with an EYE to taking these big leaps in our musical excursions, and making challenging opportunities for ourselves along the way, I conclude with what may seem to be a mix-and-match ADD-On. It suggests a FOCUS that we should be made aware of in our own playing and that of our pupils.

The attached video provides food for thought, suggesting a discussion about how we absorb, play, read, and retain music when sitting at the piano bench. It certainly factors into our whole creative learning process and how we shape our development as pianists and teachers.

piano

Exploring modulations, secondary dominants and sequences in a J.S. Bach keyboard learning journey

Without doubt, the French Suites and other keyboard works of J.S. Bach require a multi-dimensional learning approach. It’s not enough to enter the universe of the great Baroque master with a singular intent to absorb counterpoint, or parcel voices, sing them, juggle them, properly finger each hand, and in some cases divide one voice between two hands. Even with a two-voice Allemande that resembles a two-part Invention, it’s of necessity to map harmonic movement, study modulations brought about through the use of secondary dominants, and assimilate sequences, in both melodic and harmonic appearances. Yet the true value of detailed theoretical analysis is its direct application to musical expression and beautiful phrasing.

In my recent journey through the J.S. Bach Allemande of French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817, I was immersed in several tiers of learning:

1) I learned each line separately with attention to fingering, though I knew from past experience, that when parts are combined, or interact, that what might be a practical fingering when hands are played alone, would not necessarily work when they played together. So this preliminary fingering gradually firmed up as layered learning unfolded.

Part and parcel of studying each line, is to actively SING either with the same deeply embedded familiarity. I always test this absorption, by prodding myself to sing either line out loud while playing the other. Such an ability bodes well for fleshing out the contrapuntal dimension of the Allemande. (In this learning phase my tempo is regressed, but it’s still framed with a singing pulse and imbued with expressive phrasing.) I don’t hesitate to deeply connect into the keys with ample arm weight, and I ply phrases with a supple wrist and relaxed arms.

Once I put the hands together, I refine fingering, make certain adjustments, and insert options in parentheses where they apply.

At this juncture, how I GROUP NOTES in a Baroque framing is a big part of my exploratory process. Such decisions evolve from experimentation with various articulations, as there are numerous possibilities that can preserve the style, mood and affect of Bach’s music.

2) When both hands actively interact with a modicum of ease, I carefully map out HARMONIC transit. With two parts running horizontal and vertical at same time, the dimension of underlying Harmony again furthers musical expression.

As melodic segments in the treble appear in sequences, I make note to intensify threads that ascend, and relax those that descend. The same will apply to sequences in the bass. How simultaneous sequences in both hand interact, is still another dimension of exploration and experimentation.

Naturally, an understanding of modulations that are driven by “Secondary Dominants” offers the player an opportunity to respond to the leaning effect on the DOMINANT to the resolving, dissolving Tonic. And then any chain of modulations in close proximity prompts a decision to make a crescendo, or in some instances to do the reverse, especially where a deceptive cadence might intrude. Then again, the undulating nature of phrases in the Allemande doesn’t encourage a flat dynamic by any means.

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Learning the Allemande comes with a Multi-dimensional understanding of its essence. In fact the journey of discovery is only at its beginning, and a ripening process often brings changes in articulation, voicing, dynamics, and fingering that individually and collectively further the realization of beauty.

Jeannette Haien, Murray Perahia

Murray Perahia’s earliest piano teacher and her influence on him

Jeannette Haien is rarely recognized for her role in Murray Perahia’s musical development, though it’s clear through her own words, (rekindled posthumously) that she must have had a profound effect on him. (She was Perahia’s mentor from age 4 to 18.)

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-4-51-48-pm

Reminiscences

I knew Murray as a classmate at the NYC High School of Performing Arts where his musical presence was poignant and pervasive. Many piano majors would follow him to after-school rehearsals in dilapidated rooms with old grand pianos where he would rehearse piano trios such as the one of Mendelssohn in D minor. His chamber partners were Diana Halperin, violin, and Marsha Heller, cello. A circle formed around these three in awe of their divinely inspired music-making. I was bowled over, feeling the expressive pulse of every note, phrase, nuance, and the overall context of what was being communicated.

At one of the Winter Concerto concerts held at the high school each year, Perahia played the piano part in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with a keen awareness of structure, period style, and tonal variation/projection. His “sound” at the piano was unmistakable: a signature singing tone that’s fleshed out more generally in his teacher’s comments during the Moyer interview. (Her discussion omitted Murray and other pupils by name.) I readily conjectured that she had no interest in claiming credit for their individual or collective accomplishments. She appeared Ego-less and fully keyed to music-making in its purist dimension as she addressed form, structure, architecture, and tone. (In this particular conversation, she was exploring her writing with infused musical references and metaphors.)

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Murray, her student for the better part of his childhood and adolescent years, was a remarkable chamber musician and soloist. In his role as collaborator he was acutely aware of form, architecture, structure, balance, dynamics, interpretation, and emotional meaning. (A conscious and committed fusion of intellect and affect.)

In all his musical quests he never attempted to outshine his musical partners or flesh out his technical prowess for its own sake. Furthermore, his ability to quickly sub-in for an absent Concerto concert soloist during a pre-program rehearsal was astounding. I was there sitting in the Orchestra (Principal Second Violin), listening to his “reading” of the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto No. 1, as if I heard it for the first time with only the expectation of resonating beauty. All of us present, were moved, some to tears.

Given the virtues of Murray Perahia’s uniquely individual artistry so manifest at a young age, I was motivated to perform an Online search to learn more about Ms. Haien and her relationship to the piano/music that would have trickled down to Murray. My efforts were rewarded when I stumbled upon a riveting interview conducted by Bill Moyers. It had a complete transcript attached that exceeded video bounds.

Jeannette Haien, who became an author later in life, was a student of Arthur Schnabel, and for most of her early to mid-life years was known as a “concert pianist,” and “piano teacher.” Based in New York City, she would have met up with Murray’s father after he sought a mentor once his toddler started singing arias, after sitting on papa’s lap in weekly jaunts to the Metropolitan Opera.

What a responsibility for a young teacher to assume, clearly registered in the body of the Haien’s commentary. (Without, again, her having tagged Murray or any particular student by name.)

BILL MOYERS: What do you look for in a potential pupil?

JEANNETTE HAIEN:
Stamina. And interior tension.

BILL MOYERS: Tension?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Tension. Desire. Wanting it. That we talked about very early on. And it’s a form of tension. It’s like first love. That terrific tension between two people terribly, newly, innocently in love. Innocently is important, because the young talented mind in its first stages is innocent, and the responsible teacher never, never intrudes upon that innocence.

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Selective transcript excerpts continue: Bill Moyers with Jeannette Haien

(What Haien communicated in this interview has conspicuously permeated Perahia’s musical intellect and further reflects his holistic approach to piano study/performance.)

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Structure, which as it sounds-it’s a marvelous word, but it is usually thought to be more architectural in the form. In its peculiar way, structure is a kind of architecture in sound, in a book or anything. The great thing about structure-no, I’ll say it a different way. The biblical phrase, …in whose service is perfect freedom, if you start with structure, then you can move walls. That is, you can move walls in relation to each other.

You have the freedom to work in the freest way imaginable. The best art, the best thinking, is highly structured. It has within it all the windows onto the outside, and light coming in. It’s a well-structured affair. Music is a language, an oral language. And I always begin learning a new score away from the instrument. I never take it to the instrument. I always-….

JEANNETTE HAIEN: A musical score, to a musician, is a narrative, and you take it to bed at night and you read it, and you can-you return to it as you would reread a Conrad novel and find some new marvelous thing in it that you’d never noticed before….

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -yes. That’s where I learned to write. I mean

BILL MOYERS: From music?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -yes. Because, let’s say Mozart, let’s say a Mozart concerto. Here’s this extraordinary thing, with immediately a theme. It’s called-musicologists call it a theme. There’s a statement of an idea, which is oral, but it-you enter, you begin to enter a body of material through it. It has a key, it is a minor key, or it is a major key. It is a vivace, or it is an adagio. So that right away, some mood takes place, and right away, in the hands of a genius, musical ideation, as with the written word, right away is a landscape that is-well, think of Opus 13, the sonata, the so-called Pathetique sonata-

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -{hums] that opening adagio, first moment. I mean, what is going to follow? There is that stark, extraordinary opening, with two sort of interspersions of surprises. And then you come down in C minor, and you come down to a G, and there’s a fermata, [snaps fingers] and then, you light into the extraordinary exercise of thing.

So that a novel sometimes begins with a dire description of a landscape, or a village or a place, or a character sitting alone and thinking, and then the action takes place. It comes to a point, a denouement, the act is done and there is a consequence. If you fiddle with that consequence and that consequence is out of focus, with the oldest series of consequences since the beginning of time, it runs all through Homer, all through the Iliad and the Odyssey, if you try and give it a cute and clever ending, it may be very titillating to an audience for now, but it won’t last….

(Me: Can one imagine the expansive literary context and framing that Ms. Haien had imparted to Murray in the course of his 15 year-long relationship with her?)

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Her words continue to resonate through Perahia’s music-making.

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, because Mozart wrote a story- just talk for a moment about the opening of a work, and let’s say that you know three things. You know the key, you know the tempo marking, whether it’s going to be a fast or a slow movement and you have a dynamic marking, let’s say forte or piano, loud or soft dynamic marking. But-and that’s what Mozart, let’s say, says right away, but it is nigh.

There is no such thing as piano or forte, except as I cause it to happen. It is my vision of that, forte or piano, so that when one walks out onto the stage of Carnegie Hall and sits at the instrument, and you are left with a piano marking, that is, a soft-this piece is going to open softly, this work, I have to enter the realm of the attitude of the softness, which must project to the person who bought the ticket in the last seat, way up there, at the same time as the spirit of that piano -because there can be a piano passage of the most terrific animation, there can be a piano, by piano I keep meaning soft

BILL MOYERS: Soft, pianissimo.

JEANNETTE HAIEN: -pianissimo, that’s better. A pianissimo passage in the animated, vivace movement or a pianissimo passage in an adagio, that is so passionate. So it isn’t a matter of dynamic. The dynamic is a kind of freedom for your perceptions about the score.

BILL MOYERS: Is form, is symmetry the truth to which you say the artist is ultimately accountable? Is it to the true nature of symmetry, the way the world is, or is truth something else?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, it’s a-truth is that thing [chuckles} which is undefinable. I mean, form is a form of truth. Form frames consciousness, it gives a frame to our real consciousness of everything. And our consciousness of things influences our conscience, our respect for that which we are conscious of. And there is a truth larger than the capriciousness of individual conduct. Some people call it God, religion, but I think that it is apparent in the way the universe functions….

BILL MOYERS: What you’re doing is bringing out what is there, is it not?

JEANNETTE HAIEN: Well, it’s where you come together over a score and you ponder it and you say, Don’t you think that that-that in relation to that pianissimo you just come from that that fortissimo is going to be out of scale in relation to the larger architectural scope of the work? Which means that there’s really got to be a fortissimo above the one you’ve just created so the architecture, the form, is again realized. It’s a very different experience from exposing a gifted young musical mind to the first ideas such as what is your sound going to be? Why is your hand formed so that when that finger makes contact with a key it’s going to have a sound that every musician will recognize as being yours and no one else’s.

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As the crowning glory summation of Haien’s words as they penetrate Perahia’s artistry, I’ve attached one of the pianist’s trailers that’s meant to promote his recording of J.S. Bach’s French Suites. Yet very quickly the viewer forgets that this is some kind of commercial advancement of a disk set. Perahia rises above the din of self-promotion, just like his teacher would have, and for this shared gift of unfettered musical worship, we should be grateful.

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Following Murray’s 2015 Recital at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall:

murray-and-me-2

The Moyers Interview:

http://billmoyers.com/content/jeannetie-haien-piano-novelist/

Jeannette Haien NY Times Obituary

BALLARD–Jeannette Haien , died on September 23, 2008 after a precipitous decline in health following a heart attack on July 29. Born in the early 1920s to a small Dutch American family, Jeannette was the youngest of four children. Demonstrating precocious talents in both writing and music, Jeannette was home-schooled with her brothers before attending the University of Michigan; in 1943, 1944 and 1945, she won four University of Michigan English Department Hopwood Prizes for ”minor’ and ”summer” poetry and for her extended narrative poem, ”Rip Van Winkles Dream.” In addition, Jeannette per formed extensively as a pianist throughout the mid-West before and immediately after her 1948 marriage to Ernest Ballard, then a law student at the University of Michigan.

In 1950, the Ballards moved to New York City, from then on their permanent home. Pursuing her professional career under her maiden name, Jeannette Haien taught piano privately and, subsequently, as a member of the piano faculty of Mannes College of Music (1969-1991); she toured biennially with the cultural outreach programs of the United States Information Agency in Europe, Asia and Central America throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During the early 1980’s, Haien turned her energies increasingly to writing and, in 1986, published ”The All of It,” for which she garnered strong critical praise and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987.

Haien’s second novel, ”Matters of Chance” was published in 1997. Jeannette’s husband of 60 years died on September 14 of this year. Jeannette Haien Ballard is survived by a daughter, Jean Ballard Terepka, and a grandson, Henry Ballard Terepka, both of New York City, in addition to two nieces and one nephew. Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date. Donations in memory of Jeannette Haien Ballard may be made to the American Academy of Arts and Letters at 633 West 155 Street, New York City, NY, 10032-1799.

My Blog Roll re: Murray Perahia

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/a-documentary-about-murray-perahia-is-an-ear-grabber/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/murray-perahia-pianist-is-in-a-league-of-his-own-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/when-a-ny-times-music-critic-and-reader-clash-over-a-piano-recital/