Congratulations are due

My daughter was part of the winning choir in their category at Young Prague 2014 last month. The announcement that the winning choir was “all the way from Canada” set off a storm of excited screams.

Congratulations to the William Aberhart High School Concert Choir and their amazing conductor, Erica Phare-Bergh.

A huge thanks to music educators everywhere! I have great admiration for those who can effect this level of musicianship in a public school setting.

The announcement:


One of their performances at the festival:



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Blow up your blog

Blow up the blogOr, in my case:

  • Practice the piano. Regularly. So many reasons to do this.
  • Read more. The Great Pianists. Memoirs of a Geisha. The Lost World of Genesis One.
  • Spend time – lots more time – with family and friends. Over coffee, good food, wine.
  • Write for local newsletters.
  • Join a music côterie. An opportunity to socialize and to perform with and for other musicians.
  • Teach more. Invest time and energy and self. Open up the wonder of the world of music for the young ones.
  • Share with other teachers. Prepare more talks and workshops. Maybe explore adjudicating and examining.
  • Enlarge my own world through a deeper appreciation of all the fine arts.
  • Give more.

This blog is not dead. But it is on the back burner.

Image: Grant Snider

Posted in Studio News | 9 Comments

A very generous policy

b&w piano handsI stumbled upon this studio policy by a local teacher from a few decades back. I’m struck by the generosity, which overrides an attempt to keep some sense of studio management.

This is an inspiration. Perhaps some of us have gone too far the other direction. Too strict about the no make-up policy. Too unforgiving of the stuff of life that sometimes gets in the way. A little kindness and generosity feels good all around.

“Registration is made for the school year. The term, which will extend from September to June inclusive, will comprise a minimum of 36 weekly lessons…

Students may, if they wish, stop at the termination of 36 lessons… Students wishing to continue after the 36 lessons until the end of June may do so with no extra charge. Senior students are encouraged to do so as a three month break is too long for a serious student.

There is no charge for extra lessons needed at Exam, Festival or Recital time.

Wherever possible, 24 hours’ notice would be appreciated if the student is to miss a lesson… I will be happy to try and change the occasional lesson with another student, for any reason, at a time convenient to both, but sufficient notice, if possible would be appreciated. 

A student’s musical growth and happiness are my greatest concern. Students should be encouraged to enjoy their accomplishments by playing for family, friends, school and church functions. Accompanying singers, choirs, and instrumentalists is of invaluable help to the student. Please inform and consult me so that I may advise and possibly give extra time.”


Image credit

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No tortoisian ambling, please

tortoise“Slow practice can be a complete waste of time if the mind is not working quickly. Simply to trawl through passages like a contented tortoise is a waste of the felt on your piano’s hammers. Good slow practice is more like a hare pausing to survey the scene – sharp in analysis, watching through the blades of grass, calculating the next sprint. My favourite kind of slow practice is the half and half variety. For example in a semiquaver passage I will play four notes at performance tempo then four notes exactly half the speed – then reverse the groups. It can sometimes be useful to do this with eight-note groups. It stops any tortoisian ambling and it focuses the mind quickly from one reflex to another. It is a hare with alert eyes.”

Stephen Hough in a fabulous (as always) blog post at The Telegraph – The Practice of Practising. Read the whole article here.


Image credit.

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The luckiest person alive

“Every day, life is beautiful… Music is a dream… I felt this is the only thing that helps me have hope. A sort of religion. Music is God.” (Alice Herz-Sommer)

Here’s an inspirational video about the oldest Holocaust survivor still alive. An accomplished pianist at an early age (she could play all of Chopin’s Etudes from memory), she was part of a group of artists used by Nazis for propaganda purposes – to show the world all was well.

Alice’s positive attitude and her music were responsible of her survival in the concentration camp, as well as her son’s.

I hope I can still play this well, and have this same spirit and gratitude, at age 109.


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NY Times: “Is Music the Key to Success?”

LaDona's Music Studio:

To which I might add an admission of extreme annoyance when people want their kids to study music for the purpose of getting smarter …

Originally posted on Arioso7's Blog (Shirley Kirsten):

Condoleeza Rice playing the piano
A good portion of this opinion piece focuses on how music study fueled high-profile careers, (by and large) outside the arts arena.

The writer, Joanne Lipman, is author of Strings Attached…, non-fiction that reads like a novel and honors a task master H.S. music teacher who endured a life of hardship. No doubt the meat of the matter is accompanied by a side dish of book promotion.


Here’s the attention-getting opening NYT paragraph that KEYS in on mega-successful, high income earners:

trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.”

Could this item have packed a punch if it opened as follows?

Jim Schwartz, former Curtis grad, is now on Food Stamps and roaming the streets of downtown…

View original 246 more words

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License to fritter

black and white pianistJohann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832, German writer and politician and Franz Schubert’s poet of choicce) thought it futile to try to write without that spark of inspiration.

“My advice therefore is that one should not force anything; it is better to fritter away one’s unproductive days and hours, or sleep through them, than to try at such times to write something which will give one no satisfaction later on.”



Quote from Daily Rituals. How Artists Work. Edited and with text by Mason Curry (Knopf, 2013).

Image credit.

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Was it the piano or the pianist?

C. BechsteinI recently went to a recital given by last year’s Honens winner Pavel Kolesnikov. It was on the new C. Bechstein piano recently acquired by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts. This was the piano’s debut.

My interest was piqued. Since reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (Thad Carhardt) a few years ago, I’ve been curious about hearing performances on pianos other than Steinway and Bösendorfer. 

I found it a bit disappointing and was frustrated that I couldn’t tell whether my dissatisfaction was with the pianist or the instrument. Am I so used to the “perfect” even sound of the Steinway that all else pales? The Steinways, I must add, heard more these days via Youtube than live. 

Have I not been to enough live concerts?

Memories of recitals from my youth came flooding back. My teacher insisted we all attend every piano recital in town. I remember overhearing conversations in the lobby about how fabulous or dreadful the piano was at the time. And feeling clueless about the whole thing.

Can I trust my ears now?

To me the works by Debussy sounded the best on this piano. There was some Rameau that I loved as compositions, but sounded too resonant for how I imagine French Baroque should sound. And the Chopin sounded too brittle.

Was it the pianist or the piano? I don’t know. I’m interested in any feedback.

Russian pianist (and Honens Laureate) Pavel Kolesnikov playing Debussy’s La cathdrale engloutie on – what else? – a Steinway.


Image: via Sonataharder

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The sense of the beautiful

Russian soldier

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Image credit: pulpinsidefiction


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No bad tastes

no bad tastes



Image credit.

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Somewhere over the rainbow

In the RCM Grade 9 piano repertoire book – a piano reduction of George Shearing’s arrangement of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Every grade 9 student latches onto this piece first. They’ve likely played simplified versions along the way, and are now ready for “the real thing.”

It’s tough. The jazz chords are thick and difficult to read. Chords need to be rolled with some careful pedaling. The melody should be voiced – and there are a few other melodic bits that are delightful when they’re brought out as as well.

Don’t assume they’ve actually heard Judy Garland sing this in The Wizard of Oz. A student and I watched it this week – in the midst of me blabbing on about the beauty and longing of her voice and phrasing. I proved my point.

And then, I figured we could listen to George Shearing’s version – which is, after all, the arrangement in the book. It occurred to me I had never heard it.

It’s a completely different feel. And now we’re faced with more artistic and interpretive choices. I’m not sure I like his performance. It seems flippant. I like his lush chords, but with the tenderness of Garland’s performance – more classically interpreted.

And so it goes. Endless food and sound for thought.

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Practice and listen and practice and listen

Brahms… and win a Nobel prize along the way.

Especially if bassoon is your instrument.

In an interview with Thomas Südhof, Nobel prize winner for medicine and physiology, his bassoon teacher gets the credit for teaching him how to do something right. Practice and listen and practice and listen. Hours, and hours, and hours.

Be passionate. “I always try to understand everything I encounter—not only in science, but also historical and political events and music and movies—get to grips with the content, meaning, and process. This is immense fun, as strange as that may sound.”

To relax, drink wine and talk to the people you love. If possible, dine with Mozart to try to figure out the source of his creativity.

And good things then happen …


Read the entire interview in the Lancet, or an abridged, music-bits-only synopsis at Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc.

Illustration: Johannes Brahms by Richard C. Thompson via Composers Illustrated

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