Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Theme Thursday - HALLOWEEN

At the studio, the students are making statements this week about when they will be practicing. They are going to fill out a POGO Stick Practice minutes Post-it note, which I attached to a full size candy bar. This is an up-front motivational tool to see if the schedule they stated to me is going to work. The form is not a judgment. It is to see whether the times that they stated to me are going to work as they thought it would this week.

Stalker-creepy, yet deliciously wonderful, here is the "Music of the Night", from Phantom of the Opera, for your Halloween pleasure. Take time to watch and listen how truly mesmerizing is the spell he casts. Oooh, I could fall into a trance like that....

When to Practice

I am asking each student to proclaim their practice times to me. When will you be sitting down to study this wonderful instrument? I am writing it out and posting it for the world to see on my french doors and eventually, even you perhaps will be informed of their schedules. This has been a revelation to some of them.
1. You care about when I'm at the bench?
2. I should schedule a specific time? It might be different every day. (That's ok, let's write it down anyway!)
3. You're going to keep me honest and check in with me?
4. Practice requires regular meetings at the piano?

It's going to be a great week. With the November statement, I'll let each family know what we discussed. Later in November, I call all the families at their allotted practice time and ask how it's going. I also have a fair number of students' cell phone numbers and I text them. "Have you practiced today?" Giggle, sneaky sneaky.

Why are these pumpkins still in the field with moments to go before Halloween? Did they not make the cut? Were they not perfect or big enough? There are fields upon fields of these in my area. Do you have your pumpkin purchased? When will you carve them?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Demoninational Differences

I was surprised by the line in this clip that I had not heard before. It's Halloween week at the studio and the talk is all about what they are going to "be" for the big event. I keep asking them if any of them is going to "be" a great pianist or wait for the Great Pumpkin. Some of them don't know the Charlie Brown show! Oh Good Grief!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oct. 23 and Snowing Again

It's time to start my serious fall chores and today's weather is begging for a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. Here is the view from the deck door: embers of autumn tasting tumbling white tears. Merry Fallinter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Theme Thursday - TRAFFIC

Because of my home-based piano studio, and my Wednesday evening musician rehearsals, the traffic I generate on my cul-de-sac would be considered significant to some. I have asked my neighbors to please let me know if anything ever bothers them, and to date only one "incident" has occurred.

I teach many young drivers piano. One slippery winter day, a two-week novice behind the wheel put her vehicle into reverse and slid down my driveway, BUH-BANG! into my neighbors' double mailboxes. The posts broke off right at the frozen ground level. The student was mortified! Her car was smashed and she was so embarrassed.

The mailboxes had been centrally located between the two houses, directly at the bottom of my driveway. But because the posts were now mobile, my neighbors could put them anywhere. This generous, friendly, understanding neighbor got out two five-gallon pails, filled them with sand, (which Minnesotans happen to have on hand in the winter), and put one long pole and box near each driveway. The postman never said anything and continued to deliver the mail. That spring, each neighbor dug his own post hole, and TA-DAH, their boxes have been moved permanently.

Some residential areas have now made covenants against businesses like mine to curtail traffic down their streets. I've been "grandfathered" in, I guess.

Here's an '80's song called "Drive", by, you guessed it - The Cars.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beautiful Red Wing Pottery

The view out the skyroof! Do you see a face, an elephant, or a pig? It was a gorgeous day for a ride in the country.
Red Wing, Minnesota, is known for its pottery. This is the original pottery factory along the water.
Many of you have seen crocks like these. They were made by hand here until 1967. There were many sizes and styles of vessels, which held everything from butter to booze.
Red Wing Pottery currently makes two glaze styles of pottery. The first is salt glazed stoneware, which refers to the process by which salt is thrown into the kiln when the temperature reaches 2400 degrees (Fahrenheit). The sodium from the salt combines with the silica in the clay to form the characteristic "orange peel" glaze on the pot. Red Wing's first potters produced only salt glaze pots from the 1960s to the 1890s.
Our second style of pottery is oxidized stoneware, reminiscent of the Red Wing Pottery's twentieth century ware. These pots are fired in an electric kiln, which allows them to produce ware marked with the world famous Red Wing.

This paddleboat still gives tours around Lake Pepin, Minnesota. It was a very cold afternoon so they had canceled the excursion.
We had a fantastic romantic getaway Saturday night into Sunday. Here are a few pictures of things we saw in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Contest Literature-Beethoven Sonata in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3, 3rd mvt.

Who is the composer and where is he from? Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. He was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the most acclaimed and influential composers of all time.

Born in Bonn, of the Electorate of Cologne and a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in present-day Germany, he moved to Vienna in his early twenties and settled there, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf. Much has been written and debated about Beethoven.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? One of the early pieces students learn is the theme to the 9th Symphony, commonly titled "Ode to Joy" in their books. He was a teacher and wrote wonderful teaching pieces, sonatinas, bagatelles, and other short works that are accessible to students.
What is the title? What does it mean? A sonata literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata (Latin and Italian cantare, "to sing"), a piece sung. The term, being vague, naturally evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms prior to the Classical era. The term took on increasing importance in the Classical period, and by the early 19th century the word came to represent a principle of composing large scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded alongside the fugue as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the sound of sonatas has changed since the Classical Era, 20th century sonatas still maintain the same structure and build. This is the 3rd movement of a sonata.
What time period is it from? This will be considered Classical.
What about this piece do you like? None of my students are interested in playing this piece-they made no comments here.
What sounds challenging? Students, remember that it's the 3rd movement only for the competition.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Contest Literature-Mozart Sonata in c minor, K57, 1st movement

Who is the composer and where is he from? There is a great website that you may want to direct students to:, for this and other composers that is full of "kid friendly" information.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (German: [ˈvɔlfɡaŋ amaˈdeus ˈmoːtsart], full baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. (Did you notice that Amadeus is not in his baptismal name?) He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers. And he and I share a birthday, hence my blog picture!

Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty; at 17 he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and traveled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. Visiting Vienna in 1781 he was dismissed from his Salzburg position and chose to stay in the capital, where over the rest of his life he achieved fame but little financial security. His final years in Vienna yielded many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and the Requiem. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons. Mozart always learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Students seem to know Mozart style, they love Rondo Alla Turca, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
What time period is it from? Classical
What about this piece do you like? The running broken chord octaves and the crossing over of the right hand look fun.
What sounds challenging? Horowitz is rumored to have said that he didn't play Mozart when he was young because it was too easy, and now he doesn't play Mozart as an old man, because he realized it was so difficult.

Contest Literature-Scarlatti Sonata K491 (L164) in D Major

Who is the composer and where is he from? Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (October 26, 1685 – July 23, 1757) was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style. His influential 555 sonatas were almost all written for the harpsichord with a few exceptions for chamber ensemble or organ. The harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick produced an edition of the sonatas in 1953, and the numbering from this edition is now nearly always used (the K. number). Previously, the numbering commonly used was from the 1906 edition compiled by the Neapolitan pianist Alessandro Longo (L. numbers). Kirkpatrick's numbering is chronological, while Longo's ordering is a result of his grouping the sonatas into "suites". What a way to spend your life, right? Numbering the Scarlatti sonatas? Wow.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? other sonatas perhaps?
What is the title? What does it mean? Baroque sonatas are single movements, mostly in binary form (A possible repeat of A, B, possible repeat of B), and are almost all intended for the harpsichord (there are four for organ, and a few where Scarlatti suggests a small instrumental group)
What time period is it from? We will call it Baroque.
What about this piece do you like? Some of my students just don't care for the two equal hands of Baroque style and say it is difficult to compete and win with a Baroque piece. I say if you play it well, it doesn't matter what time period it's from.
What sounds challenging? The runs of thirds.

Here are videos both on a piano and on a harpsichord, just for fun. The pianist treats this piece much more lyrically and romantically, don't you think?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Contest Literature-Haydn Sonata in g minor, Hob. XVI:44

Hello blogging friends and colleagues-you are joining us in the middle of a gathering of Minnesota Music Teachers Association contest literature. Students have the opportunity to perform one of these pieces for an adjudicator, receive a critique, and the ultimate prize is a performance at Northrup auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus. At this Senior A level, there are twelve pieces from which to choose. Music is from across time periods, and hopefully, from across the globe, to provide new pieces and styles to students and teachers alike. So, after hearing the 12, make sure to stop back and tell me which pieces you would choose to learn in depth this year.

My regular blogging will be sporadic as I gather this information for my students and you. But I'm still here!

Who is the composer and where is he from? (Franz) Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809) was an Austrian composer. He was one of the most important, prolific and prominent composers of the classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these genres. He was also instrumental in the development of the piano trio and in the evolution of sonata form.

A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Hungarian aristocratic Esterházy family on their remote estate. Isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original". At the time of his death, he was one of the most celebrated composers in Europe.

What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Student may have played other sonatas or sonatinas, short minuets or German dances.
What time period is it from? Classical
What about this piece do you like? The arpeggiated figures running down the keyboard sound fun to play.
What sounds challenging? One student complains that the classical style takes too much listening for the differences. "It all sounds similar if you're not paying attention." This is also one of the longer selections.

Contest Literature-J. S. Bach Prelude and Fugue #15 in G Major

Who is the composer and where is he from? Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750) (often referred to simply as Bach) was a German composer and organist whose works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. Bach's works are revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty. Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the greatest composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Bach wrote new pieces for his church every week. It is an extensive collection of keyboard repertoire.
What time period is it from? Baroque
What about this piece do you like? "I think Baroque music is an acquired taste", she said. "I didn't used to like it at all and now I find it to be so brainy and interesting."
What sounds challenging? Fugues, what else do you need to say. Equal difficulties of fugue subjects in each hand, the LH is usually the downfall of a fugue. I do not know these pianists, but this gives an indication of the many tempi that can be considered.

Contest Literature-Schumann Forest Scenes

Who is the composer and where is he from? Robert Schumann 8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856 was a German composer and influential music critic. He is one of the most famous and important Romantic composers of the 19th century. He had hoped to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist, having been assured by his teacher Friedrich Wieck that he could become the finest pianist in Europe after only a few years of study with him. However, a self-inflicted hand injury (NOTE this students!) prevented those hopes from being realized, and he decided to focus his musical energies on composition. Schumann's published compositions were all for the piano until 1840. In 1840, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with his piano instructor (Wieck), Schumann married Wieck's daughter, pianist Clara Wieck, who also composed music and had a considerable concert career, including premieres of many of her husband's works. Robert Schumann died in middle age; for the last two years of his life, after an attempted suicide, he was confined to a mental institution at his own request.

What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? My students could not answer this one. One thought maybe he had heard the piano concerto. I guess I have overlooked teaching this composer. There is also Papillons (Butterflies), Carnaval, and Scenes from Childhood repertoire that they may have studied.

What time period is it from? romantic
What about this piece do you like? "It is shorter than some on the list and I probably could memorize it".
What sounds challenging? It's not what sounds challenging per se, but it is advanced in depth of character and the tiny details. It will take a finicky pianist, who is ready to dig into the details.

This recording is all movements, but the competition will use only Entrance AND Hunter in Ambush.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Contest Literature-Toccata, Aram Khachaturian

Who is the composer and where is he from? Aram Khachaturian(June 6, 1903 – May 1, 1978) (born in Tiflis, Russian Empire) was a Soviet-Armenian composer whose works were often influenced by Armenian folk music. Khachaturian showed such great talent as a young man, that he was admitted to the Gnessin Institute where he studied cello In 1925 Mikhail Gnessin started a composition class at the Gnessin Institute which Khachaturian joined.

In 1929, he transferred to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied under Nikolai Myaskovsky (composition) and Sergei Vasilenko (orchestration), graduating in 1934. In the 1930s, he married the composer Nina Makarova, a fellow student from Myaskovsky’s class. In 1951, he became professor at the Gnessin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute (Moscow) and the Moscow Conservatory.
Aram Khachaturian was enthusiastic about communism. In 1920, when Armenia was declared a Soviet republic, Khachaturian joined a propaganda train touring Armenia, populated by Georgian-Armenian artists. The composer joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1943. His communist ideals are apparent in his works, especially Gayane (which takes place on a collective farm) and the Second Symphony. It was the Symphonic Poem, later titled the Third Symphony, that earned Khachaturian the wrath of the Party. Ironically, Khachaturian wrote the work as a tribute to communism: “I wanted to write the kind of composition in which the public would feel my unwritten program without an announcement. I wanted this work to express the Soviet people’s joy and pride in their great and mighty country.”
He also held important posts at the Composers' Union, which would later severely denounce some of his works as being “formalist” music, along with those of Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich. These three composers became the so called "titans" of Soviet music, enjoying worldwide reputation as some of the leading composers of the 20th century.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? the "Sabre Dance" and an intermediate piano work Ivan Sings, is in many collections.
What is the title? What does it mean? Toccata (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers.
What time period is it from? contemporary
What about this piece do you like? TBD
What sounds challenging? TBD

YIKES! I have studied the wrong Toccata! I will post the music as soon as I clear this up!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Contest Literature-Chopin Mazurka

Who is the composer and where is he from? Frédéric François Chopin (Polish: Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, sometimes Szopen; 1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He was one of the great masters of Romantic music.

Chopin was born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, in the Duchy of Warsaw, to a French-expatriate father and Polish mother and was regarded as a child-prodigy pianist.In Paris, Chopin made a comfortable living as a composer and piano teacher, while giving few public performances. Though an ardent Polish patriot,in France he used the French versions of his names and eventually, to avoid having to rely on Imperial Russian documents, became a French citizen. After some ill-fated romantic involvements with Polish women, from 1837 to 1847 he had a turbulent relationship with the French authoress George Sand, (her pen name). Always in frail health, he died in Paris in 1849, aged thirty-nine, of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Chopin's compositions were written primarily for the piano as solo instrument. Though they are technically demanding, the emphasis in his style is on nuance and expressive depth. Chopin invented musical forms such as the instrumental ballade and was responsible for major innovations in the piano sonata, mazurka, waltz, nocturne, étude, impromptu and prélude.

What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Some of Chopin's smaller preludes and waltzes may be in a student's repertoire. I suggest playing a more traditional mazurka or two before using this slow one as a competition piece.
What is the title? What does it mean?The mazurka (in Polish, mazurek) is a stylized Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo that has a heavy accent on the third or second beat. This is "one of Chopin's most evocative and melancholy themes, known mostly to pianists. It is almost a secret to other musicians or the public", according to Michael Glenn Williams.
What time period is it from? romantic
What about this piece do you like? Chopin's works are usually very weighty, meaningful, deep. And most that I've heard have elements of melancholy.
What sounds challenging? I see many small notes not lining up with the Left Hand.

The first video is the famous pianist, Vladimir Horowitz and the music follows along below the clip! The next video is a musical response to Vladimir's playing. Both are interesting musically and watch their differences in technique! Look at wrists, fingers, and fingering! Which one do you prefer?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Manor Ball-the Event!

I adore the idea of daydreaming. A ball, a dress, an escort, a moment to be in a beautiful room of amazing people. An invitation to believe in possibilities can also be daunting. What if I don't fit in? Will I know what to say, how to dance? These same feelings sometimes come to the performer as he waits to take the stage. Will I be heard as I want to be heard, will I do and speak and become the music that is so amazing?

Shine, dance, and be-all the world is a stage. My gown is Versace, my jewelry is from Tiffany's. My escorts are Antonio Banderras and Denzel Washington, Pierce Brosnan and Tom Selleck. They are all 6'2" tall today. To be fair, I asked all their wives if it was acceptable to have them accompany me. And the music is eclectic: Mozart, Haydn, Spanish tangos, rock and roll. It's rather like A Knight's Tale, where old meets new and somehow, it works. Aaah, the music takes me there. Can you hear it?

I arrived in a bright red Ferrari Enzo, it was a wonderful day for a drive. Willow is such a gracious hostess, I brought her a little something as a token of thanks for the lovely party. October's birthstone is the opal, and there is none quite so lovely as the black opals from Australia.

Anthony Bourdain prepared a few appetizers, then decided to join the party in person, and flew ahead of me to the manor to get started in the kitchen. I heard him mumble something about the freshest ingredients and getting something imported quickly.

I can't wait to see who else is coming! Click here to transport yourself to the ball!

Contest Literature-Graceful Ghost Rag

Who is the composer and where is he from? Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, and honored with multiple Grammy Awards for his ground-breaking setting of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Bolcom is a composer of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more. He was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano. He is originally from Seattle. In 2007 Bolcom was feted in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, with a two and a half-week festival of his music, including master classes, recitals, and concerts of his organ and chamber music. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973-2008. Named a full professor in 1983, he was Chairman of the Composition Department from 1998 to 2003 and was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in the fall of 1994. He retired from teaching in 2008.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Did you go to the festival?
What is the title? What does it mean? It was written in 1970. It is lovely, wistful and elegant piano "rag" in the exotic key of B-flat minor called "Graceful Ghost," - one of a set of three "Ghost Rags." Few ragtime pieces outside Scott Joplin's oeuvre can boast such a beautiful melody, and some of Bolcom's adventurous progressions are at once astonishing and perfectly natural.
What time period is it from? contemporary
What about this piece do you like? (These are student answers, remember) There is a graceful quality, but I was expecting something, well, more spooky.
What sounds challenging? The ragtime genre is a challenge who want to play too fast, or do not have hand capacity to reach the octaves (in both hands in this piece).
The following are two examples of ways to play this piece. There are more variations out there, a lot of tempi choices, including an arrangement by George Winston. The first is with repeats played very differently from the prime section. The second is with a swing rhythm that is not usually associated with ragtime. We will have great discussions about this if you choose this selection.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Contest Literature-Pas De Deux

Who is the composer and where is he from? Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? His Adagio for Strings is among his most popular compositions and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music. Since they didn't know it, we will listen to this too.
What is the title? What does it mean?pas de deux (French, step/dance for two) is a duet in which ballet steps are performed together. This piece was also written for one piano, four hands, a duo!
What time period is it from? contemporary
What about this piece do you like? It's so sad and poetic, she said.
What sounds challenging pianistically? Not to get bored, to find the climax points.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Contest Literature - Arabesque

Who is the composer and where is he from? Achille-Claude Debussy (French pronunciation: [aʃil klod dəbysi]) (August 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of Impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is not only among the most important of all French composers; he was also a central figure in European music at the turn of the twentieth century.

His music is noted for its sensory component and how it is not often formed around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music to twentieth century modernist music. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as Symbolism, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? She answered the first Arabesque, Golliwog's Cakewalk, and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn.
What is the title? What does it mean? The arabesques are two of Debussy's earliest works, composed between the years 1888 and 1891. Debussy was still in his twenties. Although quite an early work, the arabesques contain hints of Debussy's developing musical style. Debussy seems to wander through modes and keys, and achieves evocative scenes through music.
What time period is it from? We sometimes classify Debussy as late-romantic, Impressionist, or early Modern. He seems to span across time periods.
What about this piece do you like? It feels good under the hand. It's light and fluid.
What sounds challenging pianistically? Keeping those RH motifs clean?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Contest Literature-Cordoba

I'm gone this weekend, but I hope you enjoy the following music selections that I'm hearing at the studio. My students are choosing contest repertoire, and prior to this decision we gather information, and listen to lots of recordings. From the Senior A (17-18 year old) list, here is Albeniz, "Cordoba".
We keep this list in a spiral notebook, and after they've heard 4-5, they choose their favorite from the list. Sometimes, we do this as early as summer, if the piece will be challenging for them. I tell my students that iPods are our friends, listen to lots of recordings of the same piece, different pianists, other pieces by the composer and other pieces in this style to really understand what's happening in their music.
The questions I ask are similar but not limited to:
Who is the composer and where is he from? Isaac Albéniz was a child prodigy who first performed at the age of four. At age seven he passed the entrance examination for piano at the Paris Conservatoire, but he was refused admission because he was believed to be too young. By the time he had reached 12, he had made many attempts to run away from home. At the age of 12 he stowed away in a ship bound for Buenos Aires. He then made his way via Cuba to the United States, giving concerts in New York and San Francisco and then traveled to Liverpool, London and Leipzig. By age 15, he had already given concerts worldwide. Cordoba celebrates one of Albéniz’s favorite cities. In the heart of Andalusia, the city of Cordoba is home to Spain’s famous “great Mosque”. The city is rich in history, but Christian and Moorish, and Albéniz captures the mood and feel of both in Cordoba. Clark states that the name of the piece may have been inspired by Albéniz’s namesake, St. Isaac of Cordoba, who died defending his faith in this southern Andalusian city.

The piece begins with the sound of tolling church bells. The sound of a g dorian hymn plays in a faux bourdon style, rhythmically ambiguous so as to resemble liturgical singing. The A section ends in contrasting character, reminiscent of a guzla playing a serenade in a more Moorish sound. The B section sounds of flamenco dancers and Spanish folk song rhythms as it mounts to a moving climax. There is a repeat of the A section and a brief Coda before the end.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard?
What is the title? What does it mean? See above.
What time period is it from? Late Romantic
What about this piece do you like? The ability to move the tempo and be very expressive was this student's answer.
What sounds challenging pianistically? To him, it was fast sections with octave work.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Theme Thursday - COLLECTION

Behind my sofa in the studio is a wall full of autographs. They are addressed to the students by "famous" teachers, performers, artists, rock-n-rollers and other people that might encourage them. I call it the "Wall of Inspiration". It is ongoing "atta boys" to follow their dreams, work hard, keep striving.
Sometimes learning music is hard. It is lonely and difficult to practice every day. It can be misunderstood to put your whole self into this art. It is certainly on the lower end of the financial gain ladder. But, when the student answers honestly that this is the only thing he can see himself doing for the rest of his life, you know he is a musician. I believe it is then my job to bolster him with any collegial support I can find.
Sometimes the artists are surprised that I've waited in a line to get an autograph when they hear to whom it's addressed. I've had some pianists go to extraordinary lengths to ponder their autographs and become quite poetic. I've also seen some scoff and simply sign their name.
Here's a pianist that I would love an autograph from someday-my students still love to play Billy Joel, and I adored playing the last two minutes of this clip in 1978.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wedding Pictures

The wedding was beautiful and the couple is now happily honeymooning in a non-disclosed location-a cabin in northern Wisconsin-for a few days. They will also take a second honeymoon for two weeks to Hawaii in February where they have use of a condo.
The music went well, but I'm still mentally exhausted. Performing both on Saturday for the wedding, and Sunday for worship is a lot of music. I dare say I feel my age on Monday. Even into Tuesday!
There were many details of this wedding that set it apart; the bride is a perfectionist graphic designer and her fingerprints were all over the three day event. Here are some great ideas if you are planning a wedding.
In St. Paul, home of Charles Schultz, there are six foot statues of his characters all over the city. Here, Lucy has donned a bridal gown and stood near the entrance to the chapel.
The reception was in the top of the Crowne Plaza, St. Paul. We had the blessing of seeing the city, the river, the paddleboats, and the sunset while we feasted.
Every piece of carrot cake, their wedding cake, had a bride and groom figurine atop a mound of fresh whipped cream. It was heavenly.
Unfortunately, life's celebrations and death's reality have collided in my life.
This weekend I will be part of a funeral for our brother in law. His heart stopped on Friday. The ambulance was finally able to get it started again, but his brain had been without oxygen an hour. He was merely 55. We will go to support his wife and five children with our arms, our smiles, and our tears. We last saw him over Memorial weekend when we mini-golfed together. I'm glad for the pictures I took of that trip.
The bride wanted traditional hymns played pre-service and during the service to make the convention space of the hotel seem more holy. The singer did a lovely arrangement of "How Great Thou Art", big and full of grace. This song will appear before me again at the funeral, combining and intertwining the two events in a bittersweet melody. It has been a part of all of my grandparents funerals. I'm so glad I got to hear it in a happy way at the wedding before I play it again for Bob and family.
Do you remember your wedding music or have you planned any "must haves" for your funeral? I find that people are very interested in having certain pieces for their loved ones at both events.
"How Great Thou Art", "Beautiful Savior", "Day by Day", "In the Garden", and "Softly and Tenderly" in the traditional section, "I Can Only Imagine", "Eagle's Wings" and "Borning Cry" are more contemporary. These are the Often Requested at the Lutheran funerals I've played recently. I've also played "What A Friend We have in Jesus", "Sissy's Song" by Alan Jackson, "My Redeemer Lives", and "The Wind Beneath My Wings" this year.

I think maybe I'm not cut out to be a funeral musician. But I do it in love. Sometimes music says what words can not.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Transcendental Music Moments

I am playing at a wedding today, so this post's credit goes to a friend in Australia. Martin wrote a wonderful note to me after reading about the Elizabeth Gilbert presentation on my blog, August 18th. So, while I'm playing Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, How Great Thou Art, and Beethoven's Joyful Joyful, please enjoy an indescribable moment of the Beatles, courtesy of Martin.

Martin wrote: I finally got time to watch the whole clip you posted - it is awesome! Personally, I love the part about performances that "transcend" starting at 15:35. I'm lucky enough to have seen lots of these moments during performances. Occasionally, I've also been part of such performances. The worst thing you can do is notice that it has happened and try to apply logic to it to try and keep it going, because then it is over!

I think that when a performance transcends you usually have to be in the audience to appreciate it. However, here's an example ( where you can see it happen in a fairly low quality video of a performance. During the 3rd chorus, around the time when Eddi Reader improvs, something just happens, fantastic!

Chris here again: To me, moments like this share a glimpse, a foretaste of the day when all the world vibrates in harmony again. Our voices, our innermost beings resonate with each other ever so briefly. Sharing the same air, that same stopped bit of time eternal, we can do nothing but love each other, because we realize we are all one, all part of the whole.

For some background information on the artists:
Eddi Reader started performing as a busker in Glasgow when she was ten. She sang backing vocals for UK punk legends, The Gang of Four, which led to session work with the Eurythmics and Alison Moyet. In the late 80s she formed Fairground Attraction and their first single, Perfect, was a number one hit in the UK. Eddi released a tribute album to her lyrical hero Robert Burns in 2003 and her eighth solo album, Peacetime, in 2006.

Liam O’Maonlai started out as a teenage busker with a school friend, Fiachna Ó Braonáin. The pair were joined by Peter O’Toole and they formed the band Hothouse Flowers in 1985. Rolling Stone declared them "the best unsigned band in Europe," and within a year Hothouse Flowers were supporting U2. Their first album, People, was the most successful debut album in Irish music history and it delivered a string of hit singles.

Friday, October 2, 2009

PIANO PROGRAMS-Minnesota Music Teachers Piano Exams

Our next program is a state rather than a national opportunity. The state of Minnesota has a very active and comprehensive association that has diverse and varied programs for students. They are working toward more events for non-pianists. I will be discussing some of the piano related events.

To be a member of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association, (MMTA), you must also pay dues to be a member of the Music Teachers National Association, (MTNA). These dues are in line with professional dues across other lines of industry, last year $105, combined national and state.

The state Piano Exam is a sliding fee, based on level of program, $16-48. There are three options to take the exam, Fall, Winter, and Spring in most parts of the state.

This exam is a piano solo, very comprehensive, and includes technique, theory, sightplaying, and repertoire performance. Memory is now optional, but if you don't perform for memory, your score is reduced so that it is nearly impossible to receive a high distinction score.

The repertoire consists 3 or 4 pieces, one from each time period. All repertoire must come from a list which is reviewed every decade to include works that are now available in print and remove others that have gone out of print. More advanced students perform more difficult, longer works. I think this program is similar to the Royal Conservatory exams held in Great Britain and Canada. They are distinctly by level.

Student receive a critique and certificate. Optional ribbons can be purchased through the state office at the teacher's discretion. There are some cash awards for high scores at the upper levels. These are awarded from the Minnesota Music Teachers Association Foundation, a non-profit arm of the MMTA.

This program is not for everyone in my opinion. It is a stricter, more serious program for traditional western study of classical piano. Students are held to a high standard and many do not take these exams annually, it is too challenging.
Although not mandatory, the state theory exam is listed as a prerequisite to many of the levels if you wish to be included in the possible awards.

Some of my students choose to do this exam in addition to the National Guild report card. Some students have transferred here, done both the exam and the report card, and decided they preferred the guild to the exam.

This is a complete assessment of student musicianship and a wonderful achievement for those who are able.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Theme Thursday - FLIGHT

The bumblebees are en masse around my lovely Autumn Joy Sedum. Can you hear them?

Who's been to Visit?