After a full day of traveling from Manhattan, KS to Manhattan, NY, we arrived this evening (Friday, March 23) at our hotel, the Hilton New York. Registration for the MTNA Conference closed at 6 p.m. so registration will have to wait until tomorrow morning. The first session tomorrow, a piano master class with Nelita True, starts at 8 a.m.
Breakfast will have to be early …
Saturday, March 24.
First things first. I don’t do mornings. I especially don’t eat before about 10 a.m. Cup o’ tea, yes, fine, but oatmeal has to wait until my stomach is awake. And my stomach, like me, doesn’t do mornings (I get physically almost-ill when I force it). So. Having to somehow fit in the registration process and some kind of breakfast and getting to the Grand Ballroom in time to get a good seat before 8 a.m. would be a bit of a challenge. Even though Mark and I splurged and got a room in the conference hotel, thereby minimizing / eliminating any kind of commute, we got up shortly after 6:30 a.m. to allow enough time to find our way around on this first morning.
Just in case there would be a line at the registration table closer to the 8 a.m. Master Class, I went through registration first, then breakfast. My hunch was correct: when we walked past registration at 7:50 a.m., there was a long line.
There is a “Marketplace Cafe” which serves breakfast and lunch in the hotel but you certainly pay for the convenience of staying in the hotel … Breakfast buffet is $30 which I suppose is ok if you have two hours to sit and nosh and sit some more and eat and go back to the buffet several times because, you know, you have two hours. We didn’t, so we carried out some fresh fruit and an egg-and-bacon sandwich both of which were excellent.
My stomach survived food at 7:30 a.m. and at 7:55 I was seated in the Grand Ballroom, eagerly awaiting Nelita True, whom I had seen, heard, witnessed some 17 or so years ago. I also have the four videos “Nelita True at Eastman” which give you a taste of her teaching which defies superlatives. Her master class this morning was outstanding, of course. I was again blown away by her wit, her humor, and her warmth. It’s such a tricky task to work with a student you’ve never met, in front of hundreds of people, on camera, finding the things that matter most and which you hope you can address (successfully) in 45 minutes … Among the many favorite quotes from this morning: “your mind was ahead, you threw that away” – ”could this have more drama? You’re being so nice …” – ”offbeats must be like a nudge in the ribs – don’t be too polite!” and “… could you make that just a bit more evil?” followed by her observation that composers like to use chromatic scales when they want something to sound sinister.
After the master class, at 9:30, I had to choose from four different sessions, two of which were of particular interest to me: “A practical guide to fingering – breaking free of tradition” and “Approaching Anna Magdalena and the Two-part Inventions”. I started with the fingering session and caught the tail-end of Bach. I particularly appreciated that Scott McBride Smith and Steven Spooner (the fingering session) not only had a hand-out at the door but that they offered to email the hand-out to anyone who didn’t get one at the door because they had run out.
At 10:40, there were again four sessions to choose from. I was equally interested in “Dancing the Baroque Suites and Romantic Dances” and “Lecture and Clinic: Basic Technical Principles / Troubleshooting the problems right away”. I chose Technique and learned that especially with teenagers, the reasons for poor posture (slouching mostly) differ between girls and boys. Teenage boys very often grow awfully fast and their bodies can hardly keep up, so Theresa Bogard recommended that boys work out and strengthen those new muscles to get stronger and feel better about this new body. Teenage girls on the other hand often pull their shoulders forward, arms close to the torso, because they feel the need to protect themselves – Theresa reminded everyone that as teachers we must make sure we provide a safe (emotionally safe) environment for them. Much talk about wrist and elbow and shoulder and rotation. What I found interesting was her suggestion that wrist problems can come from being a Type A personality who has this need to control. She suggested that it’s ok for the brain to be Type A, but the body must have a drink at the bar and relax.
Lunch across the street in a little deli Mark had scouted out earlier; we met up with two of my colleagues and had a very pleasant lunch together.
1 p.m. another master class. Like Nelita True, Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky had interesting things to say about the extremely well-prepared performances: “no matter how good one is, there are always other ways to look at things” - “Chopin’s long lines become easier if you insert commas” - “Rotate; think of circular rather than sideways. Sideways twists the hand” - “this LH is not a lyrical legato, it is not necessary to actually connect the notes from key to key” - “a nocturne is not a lullaby” (this one made me smile because I had just the other day told one of my students the very same thing) “don’t use the loud section of a nocturne to wake people up - engage them from the beginning” - ”do not just create affectation, do not just try to create an effect; make it sound more natural, more genuine” (and then she described and demonstrated where and how exactly to be more genuine).
2:10 p.m. I started with “Technique: it’s not just for fingers anymore” and sat in for a bit of “The essence of Chopin’s style” – actually, sitting in was impossible as the room was packed: just as many people standing and sitting on the floor as were seated on the chairs … So I stood for a while. While I don’t think my Hungarian teacher in Germany was a Chopin specialist per se, she certainly knew and therefore taught us how to play and interpret his music. I was a bit surprised to hear the presenter tell the audience that he finally figured out that “sotto voce” means left pedal in Chopin.
Mark and I had stayed in touch via texting; before the next session at 3:20 I took a short break and we went across the street to a Starbucks for some lemon bread and a latte, and then walked half a block to a nice little green space, “Urban Plaza”, to sit and catch up.
“Right from the start” with Marvin Blickenstaff made me wish he’d get in touch with Sheila Paige. And by the time I sat in for a bit on “Back to Bach: performing the Partitas on the modern piano” I was tired and not really able to absorb any more teaching information. So I sat in on the business session “Communication and Marketing” which offered some valuable tips on how to market your business.
Mark and I went back across the street to the little deli but were disappointed this time: it looked like the buffet foods had been kept warm since lunch, and the clientele and therefore the whole atmosphere was very different from our lunch experience. Worst though were the mosquitoes – not what I would have expected in March!
Earlier, Mark had showed me that from the street in front of our hotel we can see Central Park, a couple blocks to the north. The Central Park. He knew that the one thing I would not want to go home without having been to was Central Park. We walked the couple of blocks to and then around the south-east end of Central Park, taking pictures along the way on this perfectly mild spring evening.
A full and filling day. Tomorrow, in addition to events and a master class, the exhibits will open, and at 5 p.m. will be the premiere of the long-awaited documentary “Take a Bow: The Ingrid Clarfield Story”.
Sunday, March 25.
Last things first. The premiere of the documentary: “TAKE A BOW – The Ingrid Clarfield Story” will easily become the emotional highlight of this conference. The video is very good, but to sit in a room with others and watch, witness the documentary, together – it was almost a spiritual experience. To suddenly burst into laughter, together, to see others nod their heads in agreement, to hear emotional sniffs, to smile, together – it was very very special. There was a standing ovation at the end, as much for Ingrid Clarfield (who, along with her husband, was in the audience) as for the maker of the documentary, Lu Leslan. It was a very emotional experience.
Every time Mark and I travel overseas, we hit what we have come to call “the third day”. That’s when the excitement from traveling and being somewhere else has worn off and overwhelming exhaustion sets in. Nothing but a good long nap, and general lying low, helps on that third day.
This morning, after the exhibitor showcases ended at 9 a.m., I was exhausted and in no space to take in any more information, so I went back upstairs to our room and lay down for a nap. 45 min later I felt better and was ready for the day. I skipped /missed the Opening Session, went straight to the Exhibit Hall and browsed. Lots and lots of good stuff … Sigh.
11 a.m. Marvin Blickenstaff’s “Intermediate Piano Master Class” was a delight – I had seen his teaching on video and knew that I would not want to miss an opportunity to watch his teaching live.
With another exhibitor showcase at 1 p.m. there wasn’t too much time for lunch. Mark and I wandered, rather unsuccessfully, around the hotel neighborhood which is littered with little cafes and delis, street vendors and markets, couldn’t find anything that looked good. Mark didn’t feel good so he went back to the hotel room to lie down, and I went across the street to yesterday’s deli and got some lunch from their buffet.
The Henle Urtext exhibitor showcase was surprisingly interesting. Norbert Gertsch emphasized the challenge of determining what the “real” urtext of a composition is. Is it the first publication? The manuscript? What about changes / corrections the composer made after the first publication? One way they deal with this is by offering an extensive appendix (instead of foot notes which tend to clutter the page, often necessitating extra page turns). He stressed particulars of Henle editions such as the non-glare, cream-colored paper which is easier on the eyes (especially in performance situations under artificial light), the fact that the paper won’t tear even if you turn the page quickly (as you must when performing chamber music), the binding of thicker books which allows them to lie flat, etc. Barbara Fry, my teacher when I was growing up in Germany, insisted on Henle editions – except for Chopin where it had to be the Paderewsky edition, or the Cortot édition de travail (study edition) – so I am well familiar with Henle and the benefit of using an Urtext edition.
Back to the exhibitor hall … I turned in many of my coupons and received special goodies, such a sheet music samples etc. Another short break so I could dash across the street to Starbucks for a moccha, hoping that it would help alleviate my headache. Mark had been out and about but we had kept in touch via texting and were able to meet there.
“A Natural History Of The Piano” by Stuart Isacoff was interesting and witty. Mark had bought the book for me the moment it came out, and since the presentation was a one-hour reduction of the book I multi-tasked: listening for a bit, checking email, etc.
After the video premiere, we went to a place called “Astro” which served delicious and plentiful Greek fare. Mark had had a late lunch there to try it out and decided it would be a good place to have dinner. They do have a website but it is not at all as appealing as the restaurant itself so I won’t post it here as it would probably give you a completely different / wrong impression of the real thing.
Tomorrow promises to be another full day, with probably no time for a nap. Exhibitor showcases, the Keynote Address with Benjamin Zander, and, like yesterday, there will be a group of four sessions all at the same time (one such in the morning, one in the afternoon) – very difficult to choose just one!
Monday, March 26.
Anyone who has seen Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk on YouTube or who has experienced him in a live speech knows that the moment Zander opens his mouth to talk you’re in for a treat. His Keynote Address was an elaboration on his TED Talk. I loved the way he used the image of birds flying over the fences that keep the sheep in to illustrate long lines in music. As an exercise to make the audience experience bigger pulses and longer lines in music, he had us – hundreds of musicians and music teachers – sing Happy Birthday to one of the members whose birthday happened to be today, subsequently working on individual phrases to improve. I may not have been the only one who noticed that this may have been a bit of a moot point – we know about phrasing, and pulse; so the very first rendition where at the end we spontaneously broke into (more than) 4-part harmony was already quite spectacular.
Randall Faber in his exhibitor showcase talked about how they have been incorporating the latest in brain research in their method. There are now second editions available for several books in the Piano Adventures series.
While I didn’t have much time to listen to Joanne Haroutounian present her new book “Fourth Finger on B-Flat” it sounded interesting enough so I ordered a copy.
Zenph Sound Innovations looks like a really promising idea – I had read about it in one of our journals already; it was interesting to see it in action. At this time, the price is prohibitive for a private piano teacher with a relatively small studio.
Another piano master class: this one with Alexander Kobrin who worked on two Chopin pieces. Regarding rubato in Chopin, he said, “He writes it in when he wants it. If not, just let it flow – semplice. That doesn’t mean to play metronomically – we don’t breathe metronomically.” - “If you play slower it must be because something is different (such as a new voice in the accompaniment) – listen to what is different, so it has purpose.” - “sostenuto, don’t push it forward, it is not yet exciting” - “gentle, but polonaise” - about LH leaps: “don’t jump – you don’t want the accent from landing” - “don’t play faster than you can hear! Don’t let the fingers just go up and down.” - “In Chopin, unlike Liszt, every note has a purpose – you must hear every note!” - about a tricky ornament which the student played in a somewhat forced manner: “Don’t sound so angry” - and “intense but not hysteric”.
There was not enough time to go out for lunch and browse the exhibition hall, so Mark brought me some carry-out lunch I could eat in between things.
More exhibitor showcases: “The Carnegie Hall Royal Achievement Program” (how much more prestigious-sounding can you get? Not only Carnegie Hall, but Royal, too!), and “Ultimate Music Theory”. At 2:15 there were again four very interesting sessions (all at the same time) and after sitting in for a bit on the Debussy presentation I went on and listened to “The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities”. Most interesting for me were the personal stories of the two presenters.
More browsing in the exhibition hall. The greeter (hall monitor?) at the entrance noticed that Mark and I were chatting for a bit by the entrance before we said good-bye (Mark was going to go back upstairs to the room) and suggested that we could get a day pass for Mark (who is not an MTNA member) so we could browse together. I enjoyed being able to show Mark some of the things I had found, and being able to point out composers such as Dennis Alexander etc. who were available to answer questions and sign books.
For dinner we found another deli, this one much larger and, I thought, a bit nicer than the one across the street. In defiance of normal dinner fare I had cheesecake and hot chocolate. Back to the hotel room for a long nap, and then right back to the deli where, this time, I had foods from the buffet: some hot pasta, chicken, veggies, and delicious cold salads, including some cold salmon.
Very much looking forward to tomorrow’s piano master class with Menahem Pressler.
Tuesday, March 27
Two of my colleagues and friends, Bonnie and Lee, had originally signed up for the Steinway tour but then changed their minds. Since the tour plus getting there and back was going to take a good four or five hours I didn’t sign up – didn’t want to miss half a day of presentations, but Mark eagerly accepted their offer to take one of their invitations. He wrote about it here.
8 a.m. exhibitor showcases offered a choice of 3-D Piano with Fred Karpoff; Hal Leonard new releases; the International Institute for Young Musicians with Scott McBride Smith, Steven Spooner and Jack Winerock; and Stipes Publishing’s Keyboard Fundamentals.
Since I purchased 3-D Piano when it first came out I skipped that presentation.
The Keyboard Fundamentals looks like an interesting book but the horrid voice leading (parallel fifths and octaves and leading tones left and right) in the demonstration of chord improv was appalling and unprofessional; it cheapened everything else.
The International Institute for Young Musicians is located in the middle of the USA: in Lawrence, KS – a mere 75 minutes from where I live. After a short talk about the Institute, there was a (much too) short master class with three high school students. Adrian Saari performed Liszt’s Waldesrauschen stunningly, effortlessly and beautifully – Steven Spooner commented on the fact that Adrian’s playing was able to draw the audience in at 8 a.m., even more astonishing considering that Adrian, in response to Steven Spooner’s question, admitted to not being a morning person … If he plays like that at 8 a.m. I wonder what he sounds like at 8 p.m. His is certainly a name to remember.
One of the several highlights of this conference followed at 9:15 a.m.: Menahem Pressler had graciously agreed to give a master class. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who had left the previous presentation(s) early to secure a good seat in the Grand Ballroom where Mr Pressler was going to be: by 9 a.m. the hall was filling up. Mr Pressler didn’t mince words when commenting on students’ performances … he was genuinely impatient and displeased when a student didn’t do well. It was clear that he expected a lot from the students, but not unreasonably so. And, of course, the few times he said “Yes!” or “Good!” – as genuinely as he had said “No!” before – it really made an impression.
More good stuff still before noon: “Practice With Your Students”, a presentation by Martha Hilley, covered the many ways we can help our students be more productive in their practicing; and another Louis B Nagel presentation, this one on “The Six French Suites”.
At 1 p.m., Alfred Music Publishing presented more new music, but the really interesting stuff happened in Murray Hill (room): “Special Students, Unusual Circumstances, Creative Technology” (Yamaha Corporation). I walked in late, so I missed the introduction but what I heard and saw from then on was yet another emotional highlight of this conference: Daniel Trush and his father introduced Daniel’s Music Foundation which, since 2005, has been providing free musical instruction to individuals with developmental and physical disabilities in the NYC area. Connie Wible shared experiences from her own studio, encouraging the pitifully small audience to look into this special field of music teaching.
The fact that every day so far has brought at least one very emotional experience was not something I had expected when I decided to attend this conference. I expected to learn, to review, to run into old colleagues / friends, to browse the exhibition hall – but I was not prepared for this to be an emotional experience. Mark said a few times that he could hear in the tone of my texts how very special some of the events were.
Tuesday afternoon and I was a bit running out of steam. I knew from the beginning that this would be a time to be overwhelmed, with plenty of time back home to digest. At 2:15 I sat in on “Strategies for Reliable Memory in Music Performance”, yet another presentation that was clearly planned for a smaller audience: the room was packed and the air was getting stale and rather warm which made it a bit difficult to focus.
More exhibition hall browsing, and purchasing … I am finding lots of very good books and materials. MTNA had recommended that especially those of us who travel via airplane bring boxes to ship purchased materials rather than having to pack our suitcases with heavy books. Mark and I decided to pack two suitcases with our clothes etc, and put the smaller of the two bags into a slightly larger one, thereby having three suitcases to bring back home. One of them would be a carry-on = no extra bag fees.
For dinner we went to an Irish Pub Mark had tried and liked for lunch. We met with Bonnie and Lee and had a fabulous dinner together. One of the nice things about having had a (nearly) full glass of beer is that one doesn’t seem to mind when the waiter acidentally spills most of the rest of said beer on one’s clothes (and purse, and bench) …
Last conference day tomorrow. No more master classes, no more exhibition hall, just presentations, and the Awards Brunch (which I hadn’t signed up for).
Wednesday, March 28
I had been looking forward to Amy Greer’s presentation “Let’s Play Ball! Motivation and The Music Lesson” but unfortunately – perhaps because I was tired (physically as well as mentally) – I found her nasally voice hard to take. So I switched to “It’s More Than Just Being Nice” about the MTNA Code of Ethics. Perhaps it was very telling, indicative of the role the issue of ethics plays in music teachers’ lives and organizations that this presentation was pushed (?) to the end / fringe of the conference – I had overheard quite a few people say that they were leaving Tue evening or Wed morning, presumably because there was nothing of worthy interest going on Wednesday.
“Playing Together: The Chamber Music Experience for Beginning and Intermediate-Level Pianists” was certainly of worthy interest. I particularly liked that Kiyoshi Tamagawa tied his presentation in to other conference events: references to the Menahem Pressler master class, Benjamin Zander’s Keynote Address, etc. It made it more – personal? relevant? and less like something that could have happened anywhere anytime, just another presentation. With Mark’s cello studies (beginning of book 4 now) and my about-to-begin viola studies, I am looking forward to trying my hand at chamber music, looking forward to arranging tunes or original late beginner / early intermediate piano works for piano trio.
Mark had been taking wonderful care of me, being there to text or meet in person, bringing me lunch and mochas (spell check doesn’t know about mochas, wants to change it to ‘machos’ …), sharing the exhibition hall experience, taking pictures of me with contemporary composers I met and had asked to sign some of the books I had purchased; he had also been able to “do New York” a bit on his own – Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, Fifth Ave – but we were looking forward to doing some of these things, and more, together.
On our second evening, we had already walked to and around the South end of Central Park. Wednesday, after the last session (bitter-sweet - what do you mean, That’s it? …), we walked to Fifth Ave (away from Central Park first) because I was hoping to do some shopping. Found some basic clothing articles at H&M (familiar from Germany) and jewelry at the Fossil store, but nothing that would say “New York!”. Lunch at Pershing Square – delicious! Back, in light rain, to the hotel, and after a while, out again. Broadway, Times Square, Junior’s Cheesecake (they are famous for a reason …), Fifth Ave toward Central Park, The Apple Store, FAO Schwarz … Grateful for good (“sensible”) walking shoes … The weather was mild again, friendly, so beautiful to see the trees in bloom.
Thursday (yesterday), we traveled back to Manhattan, KS. 11 hours after we got up, we were back home. To sleep in my own bed, take a shower in my own bathroom – ah, yes. Having until Monday to come back and go back to teaching was excellent planning. Right now I am in this delicious in-between stage – part of me is still in NY, I can still hear the traffic, still feel the energy …