4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, After the Revolution by Amy Herzog, Amy Herzog, Beethoven, Fur Elise by Beethoven, Joe Josephs, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Leepee Joseph, Lincoln Center, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York, New York City, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, The Weavers, Uncategorized, West Village of New York

After the Revolution is my cousin, Amy Herzog’s tour de force play. (An Aurora Theatre Berkeley production)


Amy Herzog is regaled as one of the most gifted young playwrights of her generation. Not only has she been a recipient of the well-regarded Lillian Hellman prize, but she’s amassed a slew of New York Times rave reviews.

Charles Isherwood, Arts editor, lauded After the Revolution in a generous media spread that wove in OUR family’s fervently political fabric (The cast of characters, includes Amy’s late grandmother, and my aunt “Leepee,” (aka “VERA JOSEPH”) pictured in the header; her second husband, Joe Josephs, who’s the play’s driving force, and various kin that weave in and out of the drama.

Though deceased, Josephs has left a trail of speculation about his controversial espionage involvement during World War II.

The disclosure comes in a media release which opens a Pandora’s box of doubt and deception, shaking the very foundation of respect and unconditional love for a parent.

As the plot unfolds, a conflict-driven drama embeds a three-generation split.

Isherwood elaborates


The Back Story (from a child’s perspective—MINE)

I knew and loved Joe Joseph. He replaced my beloved uncle Arthur Herzog, (Leepee’s first husband) who collaborated with Billie Holiday to produce the song, “God Bless the Child.” Arthur and Leepee, parents of Gregory Herzog, (my first cousin) divorced in the 1950s, well before Leepee met and married J.J. Joseph in a Unitarian ceremony presided over by the Reverend Donald Harrington. (I was present at the Greenwich Village apartment)

Joe played the violin, (not deftly) but managed to convene a Baroque chamber trio, inviting me in as pianist alongside step-son, Gregory who played the oboe. I rendered the Continuo part on a Baldwin grand, while Joe scratched along.

Though our collective music-making precluded a mix of MUSIC and Politics, Joe would nourish audibly loud dinner table conversation, permeated by non-stop Dialectical babbling. (the “-ism suffixes attached to Stalin-, Lenin-, Bolshev- were DIZZYING!)

Joe Joseph front view

Years before these chamber music convergences, Greg had become my pianistic inspiration as he belted out Beethoven’s “Rage of a Lost Penny,” and then shifted mood, rendering a gorgeous Chopin e minor Prelude.

better Gregory Herzog playing the piano, my inspiration

Greg’s Prelude playing, especially, seeded my love for music that eventually grew and developed over decades.


More about Greg’s mom, Aunt Leepee

An expressive Villager piece about my auntie enlarges the the meaning of After the Revolution by enriching the landscape in political, ideological and human terms.

Dissidence and Drama have filled her life


This poetically woven writing fleshes out my aunt as more than a rabble-rousing militant. At her memorial service in NYC she was characterized as “a work of art.” I experienced her as nurturant and loving.


The RED DIAPER BABY BACKDROP as applied to me

On a personal note, I’ve never been a Marxist, but was unreasonably indoctrinated as a child, having no ability to question what I was spoon-fed. Though my diapers lacked a hammer and sickle, I was still a Soviet propaganda puppet.

Amy, to the contrary was of a younger generation, and remained a keen observer of her grandparents’ idealism.

In a televised interview about Revolution, Herzog discussed their Marxist devotion in the context of an embrace of “religion.” Perhaps she meant to HUMANIZE families and not pin psycho-pathologies on them.

Finally, no matter how my family or any other will be perceived before Amy Herzog’s script comes to LIFE on stage, a jaunt to Aurora is worth an afternoon or evening’s escape from the blaring TV. Perhaps it’s better to watch families resolve their conflicts with a dose of compassion and forgiveness than blame them for political differences.

(As a footnote to this writing, I wanted to meet director, Joy Carlin, but her industrious devotion to directing precluded a face-to-face conversation. Maybe the PR people in the box office can snatch her from the set for a short coffee break)

Aurora Theatre Box Office information
After the Revolution starts its run on Aug. 30, 2013
TEL: 510-843-4822


LINK: My family’s Genealogy



Bach Sinfornia in F minor BWV 795, Baroque music, J.S. Bach, J.S. Bach Sinfonia in F minor, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

J.S. Bach and blurred tonality (learning the three-part Invention or Sinfonia in F minor, BWV 795)

The Sinfonia in F minor is a tour de force work of art, perhaps evocative of the composer’s Musical Offering in its strikingly atonal sections. Yet there are definitive cadences in Major and minor keys that occur at the terminus of tonally ambiguous tunnels.

Bach wrote a preface to the two and THREE Part Inventions (as per Elaine Comparone, Harpsichordist and Baroque scholar), *”where he beautifully expresses his purpose to develop the art of CANTABILE playing in 2 and 3 voices” (loosely translated) “on keyboard instruments.”

Quote, Johann Sebastian Bach 1723

“Honest method by which the amateurs of the keyboard—especially, however,
those desirous of learning—are shown a clear way not only
(1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress,
(2) to handle three obbligato parts correctly and well; and along
with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well;
above all, however, to achieve cantabile style in playing and at the same time
acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”


The way to approach a composition of this magnitude is to parcel out three voices, and separately track them from beginning to end. This can be tricky, especially where they converge, or are divided between the hands. At one point, the soprano and alto are so closely placed on the printed page, that it takes a keen eye, not to mention ear, to separate them within the texture.

Until the player is thoroughly versed in the alto, bass, and soprano lines to the extent that he can sing each, as if learning his part in a choir, should he begin to layer the voices. The process presumes that singing has been translated into playing each line, beautifully phrased, with a sensible fingering attached. (knowledge of the Subject, its content, articulation and phrasing is pivotal to the learning paradigm combined with an awareness of streamed half-step movement that gives the composition an eerie effect–along with its embedded tritones)

In my instructional video, I take the stepwise journey that begins with a breakdown of voices, and I conclude with a sample playing of three simultaneously layered lines.

There are no learning shortcuts. Laying down a solid foundation is the best route to enjoying a complex composition such as this one.

Play through at Largo Tempo:

Sinfonia in f minor bwv795 page 1

Sinfonia in f minor page 2

Sinfonia in f minor p. 3

classissima, classissima.com, Fantasia in C minor K.475 by Mozart, Mozart, piano, Seymour Bernstein, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wordpress, you tube, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano playing at its most inspirational level

Rarely does a musical performance move me to tears, but today was worth memorializing. Seymour Bernstein, a pianist, composer, author, mentor, friend, colleague (do I dare put myself in the —league part of the word), posted a 1955 rendering of Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Fantasia in C minor, K. 475. Immediately, it rang a bell. I’d watched Nadia Boulanger tutor a young prodigy about its harmonic rhythm, grabbing his wrist at a poignant point of modulation. The unexpected, of course, warmed my heart, not the labeling of a KEY transition. To be enlightened about the composer’s form and content, apart from a God-inspired place of origin could help guide a serious music student through thousands of notes. But was it enough?

Seymour Bernstein’s reading was beyond analyses because it naturally radiated though transitions of the most awesome kind. Where rests intervene, these must not be bogged down. They should travel over themselves with perfect buoyancy. One, a dramatic pause–another heart-melting, with various sections fitting together in a well-spun mosaic.

As I remind myself over and again, music is NON-verbal, so I won’t rival any distinguished music critic in my unswerving praise for Seymour’s performance.

From Seymour’s own program notes:

Dear friends,

“This recording appears on my 2-CD set entitled RETROSPECTIVE. I
thought I had uploaded it to YouTube. But I was mistaken. Here it is at
last. I am not sure where the performance took place, but I believe it was
at my 2nd Town Hall recital in 1955. I would do some things a bit
differently now, but still this is a good performance of this profound

“Sir Clifford Curzon told me that he and Wanda Landowska put their heads
together to list what they thought were the greatest keyboard works in
existence. This piece was among the chosen masterpieces.”

And here’s the snatch from a Boulanger class as referenced, where she tells 10-year old Emile Nauomoff that a particular D Major modulation, “just IS,” and not be likened to a moment of tenderness, or an associated adjective. (I might disagree)

For me, emotion and meaning in music are inexorably paired.




Part 4:

“You and the Piano” with Seymour Bernstein


Recommended Reading


Bach, Bach Two Part Inventions, classissima, classissima.com, J.S. Bach, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, teaching Bach Inventions, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Lesson: What I learned from an adult student about Bach Invention 4 in D minor (VIDEOS)

invention 4 p 1

Today was an ear-opener, though I admit to having had a set of preconceived ideas about this Bach composition. (in two-part counterpoint)

Just from having studied it myself, parceling out each separate voice in a step-wise, layered approach, I could impart what I learned as a self-delivered lecture.

But the ingredient, of adding a student to the mix in a shared learning environment, brought a birth of new ideas that might otherwise have remained below the surface.

I’ve often heard students thump the downbeat, or the first impulse of any new measure. The same might be said of playing a complete 8 note scale. Pupils often attack the top note, or squeeze it unnaturally. The turnaround, on descent gets choked.

In today’s lesson, my student and I realized rather quickly that the opening SCALE of the D minor Invention was NOT COMPLETE. The top note, or “tonic” never arrived. In fact Bach was so cunning as to drop from the highest Bb (scale degree 6) to C# (scale degree 7) (In this Invention, he never ascends 8 consecutive notes up in a standard scale sequence) what he does is UNEXPECTED.

What did this asymmetry create? My student and I had to confer.. (NOT all was covered in the embedded video extract)

We discovered back and forth, that the hanging Bb dropping DOWN to the 7th scale note C# (the leading tone) was an emotional moment not to be passed over.

In fact it was so INTRINSIC to BACH’s SUBJECT or MAIN IDEA. It created a certain tension– yet the player should not attack the descending note, but rather LIFT it UP, phrasing over the measure without an obtrusive accent.

The duality of the subject with its stream of scale-wise 16ths paired with detached 8ths, was more to investigate.

In fact a harmonic component was not only imbued in the scale segment, but more conspicuously in the broken-chord pattern 8th notes–second portion of the subject. These 8ths spelled out distinct harmonies that begged for resolution at desired points in the music. The Diminished chord, measure 4, as example, needed to be shaped down to resolving note D in measure 5.

In this video, which gets into the meat of our lesson, the whole area of melodic contouring and harmonic rhythm reach into the very essence of effectively practicing the Invention in the early, foundational, learning stage.

Our work certainly, opened my eyes and ears to what appeared in the score, though listening to my student, even over SKYPE (on her digital keyboard) brought awakenings that made my teaching more articulate with an enduring value for both of us.

In Tempo (feel ONE beat per measure)



Barbara Hamilton-Holway minister, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Unitarian Universalist Church in Kensington CA, Universalist Unitarian Church in Kensington CA, UUCB in Kensington, wordpress, wordpress.com

A Church where high-level music-making and PIANOS are in abundance


A sanctuary in the East Bay Hills with a Kensington framing, greeted me Sunday. Word leaked out that UUCB, a Unitarian Universalist Church in paradise with a sky-lit atrium and full-blossoming indoor trees, was a divinely inspired music-making repository. And in the words of Shakespeare, “Music” was “the Food of Love,” and it “played on.”


blue water in atrium

The service at 11:00 a.m. proceeded with the music of Brahms, Lehar, interspersed by contemporary popular servings. (The total space houses three pianos, a Yamaha, Chickering and Baldwin grand, not to mention, a double-manual harpsichord)

better Chickering 1890s piano


An awesome Aeolian Skinner Pipe organ resonates to the heavens in a divine acoustical setting. Its planned re-leathering has launched a full-scale fund-raising campaign–no doubt a tribute to the church’s fine instrumental maintenance. (A rare occurrence these days)



Not to upstage the uplifting opening service draped in the poetry of Minister Barbara Hamilton-Holway, but “LOVE Songs and Chocolate,” was for me, the afternoon tour de force!

love songs and chocolate

Bryan Baker, music/artistic director led an extremely gifted troupe through several choral works and solos. A fine pianist and conductor, he sculpted phrases, baton-less with a poetic sweep of his hands and arms.

best choir Love songs and Chocolate

It evoked my sojourn to the Dimitri Metropoulos Conducting Competition in New York City, where I’d observed a very young, graceful Sejii Ozawa sway on the podium to the swells of Brahms Symphony no. 4. The deft Japanese talent prevailed!

Fast forward to the rustic East Bay hills–

landscape outside Kensington Church

“Love Songs” bridged decades–a “delectable Valentine’s Feast” served for well over an hour that offered something for everyone: straight Classical, Broadway theater, opera, instrumental ensembles, duos, trios, etc. and full-blown choral splendor.

Program Excerpts:

“My White Knight” from The Music Man; “A Heart Full of Love” from Les Miserables, “Per me Giunto”– Don Carlo (Guiseppe Verdi) “Believe a Man” from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte; Brahms “Liebeslieder” Waltzes 8, 9, 14, 15 and 3.

I watched Brian rehearse two players at one piano for the Romantic era performance. The pianistic collaborators were at opposite ends of the age spectrum producing a duo ensemble of priceless, balanced music-making.

Throw into the mix, a nykelharpa and violin duet; drama-infused musical renditions from Guys and Dolls, Neptune’s Daughter (Frank Loesser) and the cabaret-like atmosphere was complete.


Intermission brought a buffet interlude of tasty chocolate goodies before the program resumed.

chocolate table at Intermission

A gamelan ensemble inspired an innovative orchestration, while soloists and duo voice collaborators followed. Selections by Kurt Weill, Frank Loesser, Richard Rogers, and Bellini resonated to the rafters, as a culminating choral arrangement of “Glocca Morra” from Finian’s Rainbow and “Seasons of Love” from Rent brought an earth-shaking finale!



My inclination was to jump up and shout “BRAVO” in a chorus of approval, but the UUCB church audience best expressed its appreciation in a sit-down round of enthusiastic applause!


(Preceding service etiquette in the sanctuary had included a hand tremolo in lieu of clapping)

In summary, The Universalist Unitarian Church of Berkeley, NOT to be confused with Fellowship of Berkeley Unitarian Universalists, FBUU is a notch up in the spiritual music arena.

With its glowing ambiance and musical wealth, congregants are drawn back week after week for a potpourri of incomparable artistic expression.



piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano lessons and business practices, piano teaching and business practices, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com

Respect for Piano Teachers and Business Practices

I’m gun shy about approaching this dimension of piano teaching, but I know my closeted colleagues are perhaps waiting vicariously for a public airing of this topic.
Verboten for many. And when I last dared to post about business-related issues as pertained to independent contractors, I feared my readers might shoot back some retaliatory comments, not necessarily in the spirit of wholesome sharing.

I must admit that the economy has dampened the interest of many parents to enroll their children in piano lessons. It might be the first luxury item to go. What about tennis lessons, I ask, or horseback riding? They might be on the bottom of the take-out list, along with Chinese food on Christmas Day, for some.

All I can say, is through a decades-long teaching era, I see some awakenings that are sorely needed.

In a recent calamitous confrontation with an adult student, I found myself defending my right to charge monthly fees, not acquiescing to periodic cancellations without an agreement to MAKE UP the lost time. For this pupil, it was, “I am a good client,” and need “flexibility.” But what did that really mean?

What is flexible for one, is a dip in livelihood for another.

And I pondered, what would fully employed individuals in the corporate cosmos think, if the boss on top, said, we need to close the shop, and take off pay. Your guaranteed salary is on hold. Maybe this has happened? But perhaps not as a regular, chronic matter of course.

For some piano teachers who have the fall back of a second income-producing spouse, the “flexibility” mantra might be insignificant and worth a sympathetic ear.

But in the world of piano teachers whose husbands have been laid off, or where one spouse or unmarried individual is the sole $$$-generating earner, the empathy for the canceling student may rightly fall by the wayside.

Too often a money transaction, or payment for services has greater meaning and symbolism than is associated with its Webster dictionary definition.

I’ve seen some people cancel on me as I brave a steep incline to my studio, or after his/her lesson actually started.

Should the piano teacher be up in arms if already paid? Well, not necessarily. Still if he/she is traveling to the venue, and could otherwise be gainfully occupied in another locale, it could become a serious impediment. (They say time is money)

Over at the Facebook Art of Piano Pedagogy forum and elsewhere, in closed door sessions piano teachers are chattering about this and that glitch to a smooth-running practice, but trust me it does NOT take up the greater site space. If it does, there might be an avalanche of criticism unleashed against the poster, with armed camps forming. In some cases, contributors have been known to seek exile.

For the most part, the piano teachers I know hum along and brave the occasional, heart-throbbing punches to the gut.

Sometimes, I become temporarily overwhelmed with what I’m seeing in this modern day world, with less focus on the arts and humanities–and a growing, blase attitude toward the value of piano lessons in the educational universe.

Yet I’m always interested in feedback barring vindictive and personally-leveled insults.

So let the discussion begin, from anyone and every perspective.

Humorous, tongue-in-cheek links:

“I could write a book called PIANODRAMA”


PULLS and TUGS.. Two sides of the Piano teacher/student relationship


Piano Lessons and Drop-out Rates:

My Pedal protector and other Bay Area favorites:


Skimming the Surface or Getting Deeply Involved?


Piano, Long nails, and Peer Pressure


A Piano Teacher’s Worst Nightmare!


classissima, classissima.com, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mozart Sonata in C K. 545 Andante, Mozart Sonata in C Major K. 545 Andante, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Pedaling Mozart (Andante, Sonata in C, K. 545) Video of lesson in progress

My students teach me so much about aesthetics, phrasing, pedaling and more. It’s because we’re actively engaged in a process of evaluating, experimenting and refining.

There’s no authority figure in the lesson environment to lay down absolutes, yet the teacher, who has benefited from his/her own explorations over time, should share epiphanies with a pupil.

A few of my adult students are learning Mozart Sonata, K. 545, and the middle movement, with its prominent singable lines of beauty, needs a “warming” pedal effect. At first, however, I recommend learning the Andante WITHOUT pedal with a time-honored separate hands approach. Even minus the sustain, fingers must sing in legato style from note to note. The pedal will NOT create the legato, or play the piece for the student. (In this regard, there’s a tendency to over-saturate the composer’s music with the right foot in the wrong way. Excuse my delight with our language and its serendipitous word plays.)

Since I’ve abbreviated the video footage of the piano lesson with Yukiko, who’s a conscientious, hard-working adult student, I can fill in what’s missing by saying that I endorse practicing measure to measure CHORDS in the Left Hand with a supple wrist (or another sub-division of this practicing mode, is isolating just the fundamental bass line particularly at the build to climax–measures 40-48); then studying the melody and its contour, with curves, loops, peaks and valleys; applying weight transfer to vary the dynamics and flesh out crescendi. Then I affirm playing CHORDS (not broken yet) with the undulating, interweaving treble line; paying attention to harmonic rhythm, key relationships, chord progressions, modulations, etc. as they influence the melodic line to make dips and heart-fluttering turns, etc.

One can’t always put precise words to what is ethereal and often illusive, so I’ll refer to the video as a more definite demonstration of my ideas. (The full length segment has more to offer, but because of time constraints, I edited it down)

The area of pedaling of course is subtle one. I certainly would not do as my very earliest mentors did: have me sit in her kitchen, awaiting my lesson, copying lines and lines of fingerings and PEDALING. I do believe that both require real time probing, testing and refining. Particularly in the arena of applying pedaling, the student should learn to develop a fine-tuned ear for what works, and what detracts. The mentor is there to nudge a bit in this or that direction, and to teach ways of learning that in the long run, encourage the student’s confidence in making individual artistic decisions.

P.S. I thank all my LIVE and ONLINE students for participating in these videotaped co-learning journeys along the way.


Videos of Yukiko, an adult piano student, refining her arpeggio technique

E Major:

F# minor in Contrary Motion:

And F# minor scale: