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.)

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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/

Beethoven, Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 8, Beethoven Sonata Pathetique, piano, piano blog

Patient voice-parceling in practicing Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile (Sonata “Pathetique”)

Some piano students view playing a choir of voices with a rich bed of sustain pedal as an un-delayed gratification. It’s an icing on the cake indulgence that often eludes the main course of diligent, attentive, and analytical practicing.

A case in point is Beethoven’s hauntingly beautiful, Adagio movement of the “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, with its layer of voices that begs for a satisfying exploration.

Beethoven Adagio Cantabile segment

From my perspective, the composer’s mosaic is best assimilated through a careful voice-parceling process that invites a sensitive awareness of harmonic rhythm and balance–first among treble, tenor and bass lines, but quickly blossoming into a 4-voice effusion. (Soprano, Alto, Tenor Bass). In a variation-like unfolding, Beethoven eventually adds a rhythmic variant with a triplet underpinning, while he fleshes out a melancholic melody that’s always draped in lush harmonies, moving as chains of broken chords within the texture. And as a core of underlying support, a soulful bass meanders with flowing, cello-like expression.

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In the attached teaching video, I examine a recommended layered-learning approach to Beethoven’s middle movement by individualizing voices, then permuting them, so they’re understood in relation to each other before being integrated into a developed whole. In this step-wise journey to musical unity bundled in patience and slow tempo framing, a newfound ecstasy is experienced that’s tied to a deep well of understanding.

(Note: The contrasting, mood-shifting middle section in the parallel minor is not explored in this segment.)

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Why Play Scales?

Scale practicing examples:

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The Backdrop:

As a young piano student living in New York City, I remember my reluctance to prepare a mandatory scale each week for my lesson. In fact my first teacher had so many students, she always seemed to forget the scale she had assigned to me, so I remained happily in the key of C for most of the year. (Played on all white keys) Little did I know that C Major was a lot more challenging to practice than the keys of B, F# and C# Major that had nice, regular patterns of double and triple black notes that fit the longer fingers perfectly, with the thumbs meeting in between.

Frederic Chopin was known to teach these three black-key scales before all others. Think about how much easier it would have been for a sightless person to play these step-wise passages with braille-like elevated black notes in regular patterns, as opposed to a sea of white notes without reference points.

Now that I’ve grown up to be a piano teacher and you tube poster, I realize the importance of scale study in the growth and development of musicianship.

Scales are about the “feel” and geography of the keyboard. They are about shaping, phrasing, sculpting. Sometimes they’re practiced with catchy rhythms, crisp and detached (staccato) or as smooth and connected, freely spun out, rolling triplets. You can even reverse the direction of the fingers when practicing scales, having them lightheartedly dance together and apart, in shades of loud, soft, and in between. And you might bring out one voice over another, by drawing more intensity from the left hand, then reversing the process, giving the right hand its place in the sun.

Most importantly, scales help us understand where we are in a piece of music because they define the TONAL CENTER of a composition or a section of it.

I wish I had known about the famous Circle of Fifths when I was beginning my piano studies. The Circle maps out the progression of scales (Major and minor) in an orderly fashion with sharps acquired going clockwise, and flats in reverse. As a student moves from the Key of C, to G, to D, to A, etc. he/she learns not only the new sharp that is picked up in the clockwise journey but comes face to face with fingering adjustments that make the smooth playing of various scales more attainable.

Scales, in summary, are part and parcel of piano study and they feed in and out of the piano repertoire. What could be a better entree to the pieces we most cherish than to find the key they’re in, and dance through a few preliminaries.

Example of a Classical era Sonata by Mozart (first movement) permeated by a series of scales.