2012 MTNA Conference – Wednesday Morning – Playing Together: Chamber Music Repertoire for Beginning and Intermediate Level Pianists with Kiyoshi Tamagawa

Welcome to the final morning of the conference! It will be short today, as there were only two sessions scheduled. After so many late nights and early mornings we checked out the schedule for today and decided to get a little extra sleep and then make it for this final session. Quite a few of my students either play a second instrument or play with friends who play other instruments, so I was very interested in finding out more about chamber music for young students!

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Kiyoshi prepared a lovely handout (something very few of the presenters seem to do anymore) with an outline of the session, printed excerpts from scores, and a repertoire list.

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The trigger for research into this topic has been personal experiences. Kiyoshi thus began by sharing some of his own experiences playing chamber music. He now teaches at a 2-day Heart of Texas Piano Workshop for beginner to intermediate students. Many of the students are young and are not reading fluently. It is also often their first experiences with mixed ensembles.

The literature they use has been especially created for these students. The arrangements make use of solo pieces that the piano students already know and then add string parts to them. Joseph McSpadden has arranged a lot of these and published them in a book called, Twenty Triolets: for piano, violin, and cello. Because he is a Suzuki teacher, many of the included pieces are from the Suzuki repertoire. Kiyoshi has also put together some of his own arrangements to supplement McSpadden’s publications.

Is the use of arrangements that use intermediate repertoire with added parts valid pedagogically? Kiyoshi says yes for two reasons:
1. In most chamber music, the student must be quite advanced in order to have the skills that make this literature accessible. These arrangements enable students to experience the joy of ensemble playing at a younger age.

2. Students who don’t yet have fully developed reading skills are not kept back from participating in the chamber music experience.

Kiyoshi went on to show a video clip of three of his students playing the Rameau Rondino he arranged with added violin and cello parts. This enabled the pianist, who had already learned the piece as a solo, to participate in a chamber music experience.

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Because the parts are not very difficult, the students can work on other aspects necessary for excellent ensemble playing.

There are several techniques for adding parts to a piano solo:
* Double the melodic line in the second instrument.
* Support the harmony by arpeggiating or playing double stops.
* Take advantage of little rests in the piano part to create a dialogue between the instruments.

Kiyoshi proceeded to play an audio excerpt from the Mozart Sonata in B-flat, K. 570, first as a solo piano work, then a version with the violin part that was added by an unknown person. You could clearly hear an example of the last of the three approaches to adding parts, where the violin filled in the spaces left open by the piano part. It was very nice!

There are numerous other examples of the accompanied piano sonata throughout history. They are published as sonatas rather than piano trios and the string parts often duplicate the piano part at alternating times in the piece.

Why should we include chamber music in our students’ music study? What are the benefits?

* Awareness of other musical lines while playing your own. Musical multi-tasking.
* Learning to give physical cues and make eye contact to indicate starting and ending points. Greater understanding of physical preparation. (Kiyoshi never lets students count in; they have to learn to give physical cues.)
* Establishing an inner pulse and establishing an appropriate tempo.
* Listening to the length of sound for each note and ending together.
* Dynamic balances. Can you hear the violin? Can you hear the cello?
* Becoming aware of the different nature of string and/or wind instruments. There are vast articulation capabilities on string instruments.
* Developing good rehearsal strategies. Working together helps build better habits for practicing and drilling difficult parts. Start at various points within the piece and work exclusively on bass or treble lines.
* Preparation for more advanced literature and ability to develop independent skills.

Kiyoshi used to have the philosophy that it was his business to teach music exclusively and not to “interfere” in students’ personal lives. But that philosophy has shifted over the years. He’s come to realize even in this small format that music-making is a social as well as an artistic endeavor. If you are a skilled chamber music player you are aware of those around you and their needs. For example, you don’t play as loudly as possible, drowning out the other players. And you can’t just determine your own tempo and go with it. The lessons instilled through chamber music experiences are beneficial for other areas of life as well.

Share and enjoy!

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