Don’t leave it to chance

behind music barsI’m big on intervallic note-reading. Once the students get started, they’re away.

But they need to get started. And sometimes restart mid-stream.

At some point they need the ability to identify cold any given note on the grand staff. And I admit I need to do much better here.

Week in, week out, as we go through new pieces, I stress the relationship between the note they’ve just played and the one following.

Up or down. Step or skip. Two skips equals a triad. Line-space-line-space equals a scale. Bring in the Alphabet Drill that we’ve been reciting for the last month.

But. The gap needs filling. Then it all needs to be synthesized. Brought together into a whole that will allow for more ease in reading.

So – the flashcards and Note-finder are coming out again this week. And the One-Minute Club chart will be up by next week.

Note names will not be absorbed by some magical process. This can’t just be left to chance.

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Image: ilovedoodle.com via Blog of a Pianist

 

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SING. Even in your 80s.

scan0056I attended a funeral yesterday. My uncle, 84, died after a full life, then a lengthy illness. He was well-loved and well-respected, known for his joyful optimism and jokes.

It was a good day. I reconnected with some cousins I hadn’t seen for – well – decades. We remembered, and caught up, and somewhat sadly, realised we would keep meeting at funerals now.

My uncle loved to sing. He was part of The King’s Servants, a male choir of about twenty. Octogenarians every one them, including the pianist. They sang a few songs at the funeral, all from memory.

The sound was remarkably good. The enthusiasm and love for singing were inspirational. Surely this keeps them all young and gives them a purpose.

I hear male choirs and I’m transported back – especially when the songs are German. It’s part of my heritage.

Schubert’s Heilig ist der Herr, sung by Vocallegro (Hamburg):

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Photo: some of the cousins ca. 1972.

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We move within time in a kind of dance

fountainofyouth“The way we move within time is a kind of dance. We are always keeping time within one rhythm or another. Music, of course, is exemplary. One reason we love music so much is that it’s so complete and the notes harmonize with one another in time to make a beautiful, ideal statement; not like our daily life where the rhythms are more subtle or hard to find or are constantly being interrupted or changed in ways that aren’t so easy to handle.”

~Mel Weitsman

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Quote source: whiskeyriver.blogspot.com via davidkanigan

Image: via Classical Musicians Everywhere

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Go away. I’m practising.

i'm practising

 

Painting by Berthe Morisot (France, 1841-1895).

Image via Amanda Clyne.

 

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Joie de vivre

autumnJoie de vivre (noun): a feeling of happiness or excitement about life

Major=happy; minor=sad.

It’s how we usually introduce the concepts to the students. But this is too simplistic. The harmonies are only part of the picture.

It’s the rhythm – always the rhythm – that drives music. Or maybe doesn’t drive it – settling at times for complete repose.

On this sunny autumn day (no, the photo is not mine) the piece that jumps to mind as being the embodiment of the joy of life is in a minor key.

Bach’s Keyboard in D Minor – the first movement – played by Murray Perahia. His tempo and interpretation and the rhythmic vitality go a long way for me.

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Image via Thrive. Definition: Merriam-Webster.

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Tough Teachers Get Results (finally, some common sense)

LaDona's Music Studio:

… and speaking of good teaching …

Originally posted on Live & Learn:

Mr. K

“I had a teacher who once called his students ‘idiots’ when they screwed up…he made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.  Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country…I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher…Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields…What did Mr. K do right?…Comparing Mr. K’s methods to the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion:

It’s time to revive old-fashioned education.  

Not just traditional but old fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing:…

View original 227 more words

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Pianos should be everywhere?

funny-beach-old-piano

Hmmm … several thoughts leap to mind.

  • you can play and record pretty Tchaikovsky or Chopin tunes and not have to add in the sound of the ocean later. Should sell well.
  • what is the humidity doing to the tuning? Wait. Has it ever been tuned?
  • the bench needs leveling.
  • oops. The pedals don’t have room to work at all. So much for Tchaikovsky and Chopin.
  • the view. Ahhh – the view!
  • memories of church camp pianos – and somehow the expectation that because you can play, you can make any piano sound good.
  • why?

With that, I’ll head down to my sterile studio. Not much of a view. The only background noise will be the various hums of a house in a steadily cooling climate. And the traffic.

But the piano is fully functional, in tune, and it sounds good.

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Image: The Meta Picture

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Yay! I can just use my ear

or How To Pedal Chopin’s Waltzes

scoresAnother great session at the recent APTA Conference was Allen Reiser’s Chopin in 3/4 Time. The Waltzes and Mazurkas. How they’re the same – and different – and a few tips on how to teach and play them.

One topic was pedaling. I was all ears. In my youth my teacher was so hung up on getting the correct pedaling, I was left thoroughly confused – and afraid to teach anything authoritatively for fear I’d get it wrong.

Turns out there are three main pedal techniques for the waltzes (and mazurkas) which, it should be remembered, are each a medley of different waltzes. This is significant.

All three techniques can – and should – be used in every waltz. Use different techniques to express the characters of each of the smaller waltzes that make up the larger one.

  1. Direct pedaling – down on beat 1 and up on 2 or 3 (again, more choice!)

2.   Syncopated or legato pedaling.

3.   No pedal at all.

The last technique is, according to Reiser, not used nearly enough. He demonstrated bits of waltzes using no pedal at all. And what a delightful difference it suddenly made.

In the mazurkas, a typical pedaling that would bring out the unique character of the dance is direct pedaling from beat 3 to beat 1.

Regarding Chopin’s own pedal markings – ignore them.

So go crazy. Experiment. Use a combination of techniques. Change it up on the repeats. Waltz forth with the confidence that it’s all good!

Wilhelm Fischer in a, recording of Opus 69 No. 1 that is in turn, tender, joyous, restful …

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Image via Vanille-fields

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Music teaches us the passing of time

sax notes to heaven

“Music teaches us the passing of time. It teaches the value of a moment by giving that moment value. And it passes. It’s not afraid to go.”

~Anna Kamienska

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Image via pixielife.

 

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I’m home. We’re home.

lighteningMy husband and I were welcomed as New Members at the Anglican Cathedral Church of the Redeemer this morning. I feel settled now. It’s been such a long round-about journey and finally, finally, I’m settled.

My family and faith background is Mennonite – where it can be tricky to separate the culture and the faith. But that’s my grounding. Those are my beliefs. Fundamentally, theologically, they haven’t changed a whole lot.

My uneasiness with the worship services in my home church increased with my first exposure to the liturgical service.

I was a music student at University, originally a pipe organ major (a long story), when I became friends with some Lutherans. My ethnocentrism started unraveling.

Then they invited me to fill in on the organ when their organist was unavailable. And I was introduced to the liturgical service.

The ritual, the beauty, the contemplative and reflective spirit. The holiness.

I changed universities and switched majors – back to the piano I had always done. I was unable at that point to conceive of a commitment to the kind of church where I could get a job as an organist. But the craving for the soul-nourishment of a liturgical service never left.

Then I married a Catholic. He very patiently attended my home church those first few years. We left the Mennonite church to attend a (very) large Evangelical church. We thought – and no regrets here – that it would be a good place to raise our kids.

Now they’re almost adults. Making their own decisions. And it was the right time to do something for the two of us.

It didn’t even take any “church-shopping” to decide on the Anglican Cathedral Church of the Redeemer (Calgary, AB). We’d been there a few times over the years – for those special Christmas and Easter services. It’s a good meeting-place for a Protestant and a Catholic. We can both participate fully.

The music is arguably the best church music in the city. Bach or Mendelssohn on the organ many mornings. A choir that sings Renaissance motets, Brahms, Stanford, Holst. The sermons are far from fluff – there’s an intellectual approach that sits so well with me.

I can relax there and yet, be completely engaged in my worship. It feels like a homecoming.

Did I mention the good music? The Cathedral choir singing Hassler’s Cantate Domino:

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Image via Blue Pueblo

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Don’t motivate. Inspire.

bird and flower and notes“I need you to motivate my daughter.”

Red flag. Big Red flag.

“She won’t practice. And she keeps telling me she won’t.”

I accepted the student. I needed the money. 

“She’s 13 and more interested in sports than music.”

I’m thinking, surely I can do better than her previous teachers have. I’ll connect with her. I’ll motivate her.

It didn’t happen. We had a miserable year together.

Don’t even try to motivate. Inspire.

It’s not my job as a teacher to motivate the student. That’s the student’s responsibility. It IS my job to inspire. To focus on the MUSIC. Get excited about it and show it.

Dr. Dale Wheeler, in his talk at the current Alberta Piano Teachers’ Association Conference (happening as I write), encouraged us to put the focus on the music, above the teacher and the student. He challenged us to be proactive, rather than reactive teachers. 

Reactive teachers bounce with their students from crisis to crisis, allowing the students to dictate the parameters of the lesson, ending in frustration on all fronts.

Proactive teachers control what they can – their own attitudes and actions.

They don’t just give information; they equip students to make intelligent choices.

They know that piano lessons are about learning music, enjoying music, discovering what it is to be human; the piano is the vehicle.

They know it’s not about the grade in the festival or exam or jury, but it’s about the journey. They recognize that the student’s success depends on a myriad of factors, many out of control of the teacher.

Focus on the music. Seek to inspire. Then the health and vitality and, ultimately, motivation, of student and teacher often fall into place.

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Image: via Hungarian Soul.

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Bohemian Gravity

For all the geeks out there – or anyone who just wants a laugh.

Read more about it here.

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