Edinburgh Scotland, piano, Sydney Australia

A Motivated adult piano student with an International profile

Right now, as I’m posting these words in Berkeley, CA, my student, Claire, (an international lawyer) who avidly practices the piano in two different time zones, is perched high up in her apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor. It’s 19 hours past Pacific Standard Time over there, or the next day in Australia. As a consequence, we have to factor in the time disparity when she leaves Edinburgh, her home base, to avoid its bitter winter. At the Scottish location, we’re distanced by 8 hours.

In Sydney, I greet Claire with a paradoxical ‘top of the mornin'” though I’m in fuzzy culture shock even at 3 p.m. my time, and 9 a.m. hers, the following day. In Edinburgh, it’s a hearty “good afternoon,” as the time zone is reversed, but without an extra day hanging out.


Claire’s Sydney apartment overlooks the Harbor with a breathtaking view:

Sydney Harbor

In Edinburgh, her neighborhood is speckled with historical architectural edifices that she showcased in a post-lesson webcam-guided tour.

Claire’s colorful Scottish brogue, so conspicuously revealed in the narrative, reminded me of percussionist icon, Evelyn Glennie as she delivered a TED TALK. Yet it took several senior moments, bundled in associative strategies, to make the “connection.”

During our Australian cycle, I might be exposed to a distinctly different ambiance:

One week, Claire had taken an interval to visit a friend in a more rural part of the country, so I was treated to a LIVE kookaburra concert as a bunch of colorful “native” parakeets settled onto the porch.

This particular location had introduced a “third” piano into the prior mix of two.


Claire hosts a wonderful Yamaha grand in her Edinburgh apartment while a Clavinova graces her place in Sydney; finally, a loaner piano turns up wherever her extra travels take her.

About two years ago, I received a lesson inquiry from Claire that was very detailed. Her MOTIVATION to learn resonated, and she had a nice prologue of experience at the piano and in a choir, the latter that I sampled on You Tube. It turned out to be a group with an able choral conductor who selected diverse repertoire of many eras. The level of musical expression was at its peak.

Claire had also offered a Wish of List of pieces she wanted to learn in her introductory letter that included the works of Beethoven, Burgmuller, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Mendelssohn among others.

From there, a progressive journey ensued that has accrued shared epiphanies about:

Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dreams”
Schumann “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples,” “Traumerei,” “A Curious Story”
Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119 No. 1
J.S. Bach Little Prelude in F
J.S. Bach Invention 8 in F Major
Burgmuller “Tarentelle,” “Tender Flower”
Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor
Chopin Waltz in B minor, Op. 64

Here’s Claire watching the proceedings during one of our International Skype beamed piano recitals. She’s was settled into her Australian hub readying to play the Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119:


Not to forget that this very devoted student is immersed in Scales and Arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths and has developed an enviable supple wrist, relaxed arm technique.

You can easily discern her fluid approach in this most recent lesson sample beamed from Australia.

Technique snatches: (from Edinburgh)–Yamaha acoustic grand piano

From Sydney Australia Yamaha Clavinova

Back to Edinburgh
on the grand piano.

Claire is a JOY to work with, along with my lovely group of ardent piano lovers!

classissima.com, Kinderszene by Schumann, Kinderszenen by Schumann, Oakland California, piano addict, wordpress.com

Simone Dinnerstein at Dewing Recital Hall: A Crusade for a better piano


Simone Dinnerstein, Pianist
Friday, Jan.31, 2014
Mills College
Oakland, California


It’s sad that what’s most memorable about a concert is a piano not performing satisfactorily for a gifted, invited performer.

simone dinnerstein

Simone Dinnerstein, known for her self-funded Goldberg Variations CD that catapulted her into the media spotlight, leading to IMG Artists Management and full concert booking, drew on her competitive concert arena survival skills to come out a winner last night despite noticeable hardships. (a tonally piercing Yamaha with false strings reverberating into flatness–ill-tuned within its dire landscape; lacking equal temperament, decent voicing, and regulation was a big hill to climb)

Yet the pianist, with admirable grit, braved the shaky terrain, leveling the playing field with her final offering: Beethoven’s monumental Sonata Op. 111 in C minor.


The opener, Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions, that have greater transparency in voicing than Beethoven’s late masterpiece, proved to be a particularly daunting challenge. At intervals, Dinnerstein resorted to soft pedaling when the monstrous, ear-piercing Yamaha became a conquest rather than a tamed repository of beauty. (As most pianists know, sotte voce usually exposes the most imperfect dimension of a modern day grand piano regardless of size and model so controlling dynamics/phrasing at the disposition of fingers, supple wrists, and relaxed arms is essential)

Dinnerstein’s Baroque reading was not particularly nuanced, though in the D minor, no. 4, she captured a somber mood that most pianists fail to associate with a meandering harmonic minor scale sequence. Gould, to my dismay, rushed this one to death with enduring staccato, while Simone Dinnerstein’s interpretation was more appealingly reflective.

In the A minor, No. 13, the pianist insisted on legato throughout, with not one detached note among the 8ths for relief, making me curious about her chosen edition. It was a credible reading though I wasn’t sure what era this one fell into.

The piano’s ponderous character, being most conspicuous in dynamic levels MF (Mezzo Forte) and above, made the pianist sound sporadically insensitive through her Baroque offerings. The G Major French Suite no. 5 that followed 15 Inventions could have been more lyrical in the Allemande, for example, and less bangy in the finale Gigue. (My preference is Angela Hewitt and Andras Schiff’s readings)

After Intermission, Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15 suffered the same depletion of lyricism, though “Poet Speaks” caught my ear at the very end. Often sections of tableaux that required dynamic and emotional contrasts lacked finesse. “Frightening” (no.11) became muddled in the swift tempo change though “Blindman’s Bluff” (No. 3) succeeded by its sheer, unswerving force of energy that fleshed out Yamaha’s DNA!

The tour de force, however, despite audibly conspicuous instrumental shortcomings, was Op. 111, which Dinnerstein masterfully played and communicated. It ushered in an awesome silence at its final cadence that provided a reverential conclusion to a concert that should have been more memorable for its music-making than shabby piano.


If the Mills College Board of Trustees happens to notice this review, please start a fund-raiser to replace the ill-sounding, poorly maintained YAMAHA with a touchingly beautiful grand. It is otherwise inconsiderate to expect pianists of Dinnerstein’s caliber to deal with an uncooperative, sub-standard instrument.



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.