Category Archives: Events

Competitions – who gets to go?

I have in my studio many ambitious and competitive students and parents. Naturally, they want to enter competitions, and win prizes. So, the question is:  who gets to go??

When a student or parent asks whether they get to “do that competition”, I have learned to ask, “Why do you want to enter this competition?”  Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer can be vague: “Because we did it last year?” or “Her friend does it” or such. For me, those are not good enough reasons.

Of course every teacher has their own way of determining whether a student should enter a competition, but for me, I have decided that two things need to be in place:

One, the student has to demonstrate a strong desire to excel. All the time, not just when there’s something “in it” for the student such as a competition and therefore a possible prize. If the student doesn’t seem to have this strong desire to excel then the parent has to have it.

Two, the student needs to benefit from the competition. Preparing for a competition is a lot of work, tedious work, and for some students that’s exactly what they need: a goal, and a deadline. For other students having that kind of pressure is not constructive. And of course, students can have different needs from year to year.

And every year, sigh, I misjudge at least one student …

Goldberg Variations . Aria da capo e fine

Around the middle of February, I decided to join 31 other Kansas State University piano faculty, students, alumni and guests, preparing a performance of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, to take place April 2.

The entire work, 50 pages of “technical  virtuosity, compositional ingenuity, and transcendent musical expression” (according to Dr. Virginia Houser’s program notes) also takes between 75 and 90 minutes to perform, depending on one’s tempo, and is therefore not something that the mortal among us endeavor to tackle in its entirety by oneself.

Since I came in as the preparation was already well underway, I had no choice in which variation I would perform; it so happened that the person who had signed up for the reprise of the aria at the very end was unable to perform, so that’s what I got.

I had heard the piece but had never taken the time to learn it. It was surprising, and a bit depressing, how long it took me to just learn the notes. There is some polyphony, some tricky rhythms, a bit of ornamentation, and then there was, for me, the challenge of trying to figure out what to do with such deceptive simplicity. I listened to a few YouTube recordings but didn’t really like any: most of them were either sentimentally swooney, or strict and unfeeling. Glenn Gould was extreme but actually came close to what I thought it should sound like.

I practiced, and played, practiced, played, over and over, trying different things, and finally realized that I had no real concept of the piece. No plan, no image, no anything. It was such a perfect example of hitting all the right notes and still not making music – at least not the kind of music this utterly sublime Aria deserved.

With some panic, and hesitation – I should be able to figure this out on my own, shouldn’t I?! -, five days before the performance I emailed my professor from grad school, Bob Edwards, asking if he would be willing to listen to me. He was, and did, and mostly encouraged me to use a bolder tone, carrying the sound to the last row, and to linger a bit more, here and there, employing a very careful rubato. He used words like “delicious”, and “scrumptious” to describe the tone and sound to aim for. And always, sing! Sing! It opened my ears, and I liked the new sound.

When I told Mark, who had patiently listened to my practicing over the last couple weeks, that I had found a new tone, but that – three days before the performance – I still wasn’t entirely sure of everything, he asked how this Aria fits with the piece that comes before it – the Aria should be a somewhat logical continuation, or perhaps contrast. Without thinking too deeply about it, I said that this Aria, unlike the first one which – note-wise – is identical, should sound retrospective, perhaps like an old person looking back over their life, remembering the good, and the not so good.

Suddenly I saw my mother who a bit more than seven years ago had just been informed by the hospital physician that the mysterious neurological symptoms that had plagued her for a good ten, twenty years, gradually worsening, were in fact ALS. No cure, no prospect of ever getting better again, or even going back home, only gradually losing more and more of her ability to move, swallow, speak, eventually breathe. She already was unable to use her legs anymore, and because of severe osteoporosis wasn’t able to sit up, comfortably.

My mother used to love to travel – she was in Turkey when she became too sick to stay and had to be flown to Germany -, and she delighted in good food, whether prepared at home or dining out. I remember her phone call from Turkey, “You should taste the food here! The carrots! I’ve never had carrots that tasted so fresh!”  Now she would never be able to travel again, and eating had become a chore already.

While she had a preference for sentimental books and movies, when it concerned her life, herself, she was refreshingly unsentimental. She had short bouts of honest sadness and despair, allowing – once – that her diagnosis was “crushing”.  But she also, in one of the many introspective moments she shared with me, said, in a voice as if it had just occurred to her, “You know … we really did have a good life.”

The next time I sat down to play the Aria, I saw my mother, looking back over her life, remembering, reminiscing, somewhat removed already but still very much here. When I ended I was in tears.

I was afraid that performing the Aria which had now become so very personal, private in a way, would get to me emotionally and I’d end up in tears on stage. But as I kept playing and practicing over the next two days, playing mostly, practicing to perform, my mother who had been so very present started to fade into the background. The memory of her was still there, and I will probably never hear or play the Aria again without thinking of her, but I was able to play without tearing up.

 

Photograph in the local newspaper, The Mercury.

Receiving a short email from Bob Edwards after the performance, saying he thought I played the Aria beautifully – that was emotional. As was having several of my students come up to me after the performance – one even brought flowers. And Mark. Many many hugs, and Thank You’s, and smiles, and relieved laughter.

Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/mLmjuPOoTeE 

Johann Sebastian Bach. After almost three hundred years, he still gets to people.

Thank God.

Watching my students grow up …

One of my former students, Anna, studied with me from when she was in Kindergarten until I went on sabbatical when she was in high school. She continued her studies with a colleague of mine and is now about to graduate from college with a degree in Piano Performance.

As luck would have it, she was looking for an opportunity to practice-perform her recital program, and I wanted to offer a live performance to my group of 2nd graders.

Knowing the ability of my 2nd graders to sit and enjoy about 20-25 minutes of music, but not much more, I requested that Anna perform two of her three recital pieces: a Mozart Sonata and Schumann’s Papillons. I wanted to allow time to introduce the pieces, and time for questions after her performance.

My 2nd grade group had been studying Mozart’s Little Nightmusic, Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, and Beethoven’s Fifth, and were thus familiar with multi-movement works. I thought the Schumann would be a lovely contrast to the Mozart Sonata, both in form and character.

In addition to students and their parents, Mark and I also invited Dr. David Littrell with whom Anna had studied orchestra. And Jamey, another former student who occasionally comes back to play for me.

Here is Anna’s performance of the slow movement of the Mozart Sonata in A minor:

And here is Papillons by Schumann:

 

The Flaxen-Haired Girl, passing a gallstone

Tonight, I went to hear a pianist perform an all-Debussy recital:  all 24 Preludes; the first book before the intermission, second book after.

Concerts that feature only one composer are always a bit tricky.  There is the danger of too much of the same.  All Bach, all Chopin, all Prokofiev can get really old really fast …  Fortunately, in the case of the Debussy Preludes – though the pieces are all “preludes” -, there is enough variety to keep things interesting.

One issue the pianist must grapple with is how to present the twelve pieces of each of the two Preludes books in a row.  How much of a break / pause should there be between the individual Preludes?  Should they all be completely individual, disconnected, unconnected, unrelated, with equal pauses between them? Or should some of them be grouped together with shorter pauses or perhaps no pause in between?

Tonight’s pianist had some interesting ideas.  He decided to group the Preludes into sub-groups.  Most strikingly in the first half (first book) was the connection between the 7th and the 8th Prelude.  There was no break, no pause, in fact not even a pedal change between the last note of Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest and the first note of La fille aux cheveux de lin.  My personal taste would be to separate the Preludes and treat them as individual pieces but I can see that someone else might think differently – matter of taste, nothing dictated by how Debussy presented the Preludes in the books.

What Debussy does dictate, however, are lots and lots of details in the score, especially where it concerns the tempo.  Numerous instances of retenu, serrez, and back to au Mouvt.  Which makes me think that he was very particular about how and where we are supposed to give, slow down, and then pick up the previous tempo.  Which tonight’s pianist seemed to gleefully ignore.

Instead, tonight’s pianist (yes, I am avoiding his name) indulged in continuous rubato. Or at least what he considered to be rubato. There are not that many places where Debussy actually uses the word rubato.  There may by seventeen retenu, serrez and au Mouvt indications in a piece but only two instances of rubato (yes, I counted) .

There is rubato which according to dictionary is “freely slowing down and speeding up the tempo without changing the basic pulse”.  And then there is distorting the tempo to the point where all pulse is lost, and rhythm becomes indecipherable, incomprehensible. Tonight, there were too many instances where for example continuous eighth notes within one measure suddenly screeched to a quarter note halt.  And then just as suddenly reverted back to eighth notes.  With nothing in the score to indicate that this should be happening.

Artistic license?  I think not.

At the beginning of this post I said that I had gone to hear a pianist.  Unlike listening to a recording, with a live performance one also gets to see, watch the performer.

Tonight’s performance was a spectacle.  Technically, the pianist knew his stuff.  So, why the contortions? The raised shoulders, the crouching upper body (reminded me of one of my 5 yr-old students who is fascinated by the innards of my grand piano and crouches to watch the strings as he is playing) – the facial grimaces?  My favorite piano professor once said, “Don’t interpret, for Heaven’s sake! Just play!!”  (when describing a particular student who thought that “interpreting” meant twisting and contorting your body in order to wring meaning out of every note).

Which brings me to the title of this post (the credit for which goes to Mark).  La fille aux cheveux de lin / Girl with the Flaxen Hair: is about a girl.  A girl.  Not grown-up yet, not a complicated person, perhaps not even deep or profound.  Just a girl (with flaxen hair – impressionists liked to be specific).  The tempo indication is “tres calme et doucement expressif” (very calm, and sweetly expressive).  Yet, tonight’s performance was as tortured and tense – in addition to being so completely all over the place rhythmically, with erratic and random dynamic changes (usually sudden) – as one would expect from someone who plays a piece depicting – I don’t know what: a woman in labor? an old man remembering better times in between bouts of sudden stomach pain?

Artistic license? Not if one doesn’t recognize the piece.

The Sunken Cathedral is supposed to start calmly (“profondement calme”), perhaps with an eerie sense that what is about to happen (in the story) is a spectacular, monumental once-every-hundred-years event.  I imagine a calm but not necessarily peaceful atmosphere if that makes sense.  Tonight, we were treated to unceasing tension, imagined pain, trying-too-hard-to-be-meaningful-ness.  The Cathedral’s climax was convincing, but everything else was too much, and yet not enough.

In a way, I wonder how this pianist who seems to have a very definite idea of how Debussy should sound and should be played – I wonder how he interprets other composers. Then again, I’m not sure I care.

Jamey’s Senior Recital

Selections from Jamey’s High School Senior Piano Recital with links to YouTube videos:

 

Jamey’s arrangement of themes from The Phantom of the Opera:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M6IzW94EeY

 

Jamey’s arrangement of themes from Pirates of the Carribbean:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx3Uu8kMqMs

 

John Thompson Piano Concerto in D minor, 1st mvt.  Jamey won First Place when he performed this concerto for the Annual Concerto Competition when he was in 7th grade.  We still like to play it once in a while, just for fun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gt9Mz1wa7rA

 

Elton John, Love Lies Bleeding, arranged by Jamey:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z8mZzcWbYU  This was the first piece on the program. The primary video camera froze at the beginning of the recital. Mark was able to re-format the card before the second piece. Fortunately we had a secondary camera but this one was set up to capture the hands on the grand piano, and since Jamey played his Elton John on the keyboard we only get to see part of his back during this performance.

New York!

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 …

A week-end in Kansas City

(Originally posted by Mark on his site)

Sibylle and I just had a fantastic weekend in Kansas City. We took in Yo-Yo Ma’s appearance with the Kansas City Symphony Saturday evening, spent the night in a wonderful hotel near Country Club Plaza, treated ourselves to a late night snack at Cheesecake Factory, visited some of our favorite shops in Leawood and Overland Park, and attended a Stanislav Ioudenitch piano master class.

It all started on Tuesday when I discovered that Yo-Yo Ma was going to be performing in the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with the Kansas City Symphony. We were stunned to discover that there were still tickets left. Exactly two seats for the Saturday evening performance.

Knowing that the drive home is two long hours in the dark we started looking around for a place to stay. We choose the Courtyard by Marriot on J. C. Nichols Parkway and were delighted with our room and the entire experience there. The hotel was originally apartments, and the hotel has preserved much of the 1920s charm in the building. There are still milk closets in the hallways that allowed milk delivery while maintaining peace and privacy in the apartment. Our room, while cozy, was clean and wonderfully inviting.

The concert with Yo-Yo Ma was exquisite. When I was a child, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, my father took me to see him and Emanuel Ax play. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen him play live twice. The Dvořák Cello Concerto performance was very good. His encore performance of the Sarabande from the D Major Bach Cello Suite was simply superlative. After the performance we treated ourselves to a late night snack at Cheesecake Factory. We each had an appetizer and a piece of cheesecake. We returned to our room around midnight completely satisfied with our evening.

Sunday we had a long lazy start to the day that included the breakfast buffet in the hotel. Around 11:30 we headed south to Leawood and Overland Park to visit some of our favorite shops. Sibylle found two sweaters and I got a chance to visit the Apple store and drool over the iPhone 4S I’ll be getting in a couple of weeks when I am eligible for an upgrade. We also shopped at Whole Foods, picking up a small lunch there too.

Park University north of Kansas City has an excellent music department including Cliburn Gold Medalist Stanislav Ioudenitch. Sibylle learned that he was giving a piano master class at UMKC on Sunday afternoon, so we timed our shopping to allow us to return to central Kansas City to attend. Even a beginning cello student can learn many things from a well presented master class.

We packed a lot in to two days (especially since Sibylle had her normal Saturday lessons prior to our departure Saturday afternoon) and enjoyed every moment of it. Recently we almost forgot about a cello recital in Manhattan and had to rush to the hall. The spontaneity of that evening managed to make it better. Our trip to Kansas City this weekend had that same air of spontaneity, and it too has been wonderful.

Between competitions

Three weeks ago, my students qualified at the district level for the state level of the KMTA Fall Auditions.  One week from today, they will compete at the state level, same repertoire, no changes allowed.  Which means we will have had four weeks between the two competitions.  Which means we had to find ways to keep the pieces alive and well without wearing them out.  The pieces were already practically perfect (or else they wouldn’t have qualified for state), so “practicing” in the sense of “improving” had to take on a new meaning.

Four weeks / lessons suggested four different areas of focus:  week one, LH alone; week two, RH alone and some hands together; week three, practice to start from anywhere, hands separately as well as hands together, with metronome; week four, get back to practicing to perform.

The first three weeks were meant to find anything that wasn’t absolutely perfect, anything where things might possibly fall apart.  I kept telling my students, “If I smile happily when you make a mistake it’s not because I am mean but because I am glad we found this snag at your lesson – and not at the competition!”  Most students had snags here and there, things they were not aware of, things they thought they had down just perfectly fine …

Next week will see some of the same work we did the week before the district auditions:  the major challenge for pianists is that we don’t get to take our instrument with us, we have to make do with whatever instrument we encounter at a competition / recital / audition.  To prepare for that, I ask my students to perform on the other piano, the one they don’t normally play.  It looks just like the one they normally play but it feels, plays, and sounds completely different which means they have to instantly adjust their touch in order to get the sound they want.  We may leave the bench too low, and not use the footstool which really cramps the smaller students.  They have to kind of crouch, and reach, and – do the kind of playing that when I see other students do it at competitions gives me the hives because it is just so unnatural and uncomfortable and unhealthy, but I explain to my students that this may be what they have to deal with and adjust to at a competition. Kind of like preparing for disaster and hoping that we will not need it.  (So far, we haven’t.)

We may review the videos I took at the district level.  They are interesting and revealing because I had the camera at the very back of the hall = some of the sounds disappeared before they reached the camera – even though the student, up on stage, was able to hear everything just fine.  But – for a performance – we must aim to project the sound to the very corners of the performance hall, not just the few feet around the piano.

For some of the students, it will be their last week of lessons with me.  I hope to make it particularly successful and fulfilling.

KMTA Fall District Auditions 2011

Yesterday, Saturday, Mark and I traveled to Emporia for the KMTA Fall District Auditions.

My first student performed at 9 a.m. so we left shortly before 7:30 a.m. to allow not only for travel time but also enough time to see Ava before her performance and to set things up, mainly the footstool which she would be using.

Ava and her family arrived, their mother quite frazzled – they had left their books at home. Word of our misfortune spread; fortunately one of the local teachers, Shane Galentine, offered us use of his copy of one of the books.  Even more fortunately, the judge graciously said, “Oh, I know that piece” about the other piece for which we had been unable to find a book on such short notice.

Setting up footstool went well, Ava’s performance went very well – she is surprisingly grounded for such a young person, not easily shaken.

The rest of the morning went without problems or upsets; Rachael, Hasun, Chris, Sumin, and Suyeon played beautifully and received high praises from the judge:  “dynamics are perfectly in place” – “You are so well prepared” – “expression that is quite mature” – “Your melody in the LH is just elegant and absolutely gorgeous!” – “very interesting and detailed playing!” – “This performance was absolutely brilliant – so satisfying!” – and about one of the Martha Mier jazz pieces: “This really cooks!”

Actually, there was one more upset:  the floor was rather slippery = both the bench and the footstool tended to slip a bit.  I had adjusted the left pedal for Sumin but as she started her piece, Gillock’s Dragon Fly, the left pedal of the footstool slipped off the piano’s left pedal.  The judge was able to adjust it but Sumin, having started an octave too low, actually had to get up and take a quick look at the score to remind herself of the beginning of the piece.  Once she did, she was able to play her piece as beautifully and convincingly as ever.

We didn’t have much time for lunch, so just drove quickly to Ru-Yi’s Asian restaurant to have a quick bite to eat.  As usual, it felt good to get away from the hustle of a competition, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or so.

Two more students from my studio in the afternoon:  both Gabby and Isabelle performed beautifully.  I was a bit concerned that Gabby would perform for a different judge (too many students overall to be heard by one judge in one day) as every judge has different standards and judging / writing style which makes it more difficult to compare.  However, his comments were as glowing as the other judge’s had been for the other students:  “nice clean playing” – “your touch is solid & confident” – “superb rendition!”

The purpose of the District Auditions is to hear all students and determine who will go on to State on November 5, to compete at the State Honors Auditions.  At the District Auditions, there is (supposed to be) no rating, only “state eligible” or not.  However, for some reason, this year, the evaluation form had a line for “numeric rating” where *I* meant state-eligible, and *II* meant not.

Three of my students received a I rating, five of them received a I+ rating.

After the last of my students had performed, Mark and I took at little break.  Walked to the Granada coffee shop for a vanilla latte and some cookies.  In addition to the normal coffee shop wooden or metal chairs, the Granada has two very very comfy deeply upholstered chairs which felt delicious after standing (in order to video tape the performances) or having sat on not-upholstered chairs at the competition for most of the day.

We walked back to the ESU Music Department where the competition was taking place to listen to a few more students and then were able to meet up with Jonathan who had been busy all day with his band performances for the football game.  We met briefly at the Music Department, and then drove to his house to see the new cat and then to Applebee’s for dinner.

On the way home, as usual, Mark was driving. I appreciated being able to doze off for a bit here and there.  It had been a long day, with a long couple of weeks leading up to it.

Today I didn’t do much of anything.  Uploaded the videos to my laptop, and – took a nap.

🙂