MTNA Session – The Performance Tradition and Pedagogical Relevancy of Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young

Following are my notes from the session: The Performance Tradition and Pedagogical Relevancy of Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young by Lora Deahl

A path-breaking collection of character pieces written by Schumann in 1848. 2006 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Schumann. His Album for the Young was borne out of his deep affection for his children.

“I always tell my wife that it is not possible to have too many children. It is the greatest blessing on earth.” Most 19th century fathers tended to ignore their children or treat them as miniature adults. Schumann subscribed to enlightenment theories that likened children to delicate young plants. He took walks with them and spent time with them. He incorporated these feelings and ideals in his music.

“We shouldn’t make the mistake of dismissing this music as naïve.”

Clara Schumann considered the music sophisticated enough to program in concerts. They are appropriate repertoire for pianists of all ages.

Schumann was a man of duality.
• Florestan vs. Eusebius
• Incurable romantic vs. astute businessman
• Inward reflection vs. outer reality
• Esoteric music vs. accessible music
• Writer vs. composer
• French brilliance vs. Germanic solidity
• Catholic pageantry vs. protestant inwardness
• Glitzy salon music vs. the heartfelt simplicity of hausmusik
• Public music vs. private music
• Theatricality vs. inwardness
• Aristocratic privileges serious middle class values
• Virtuosic music vs. romantic music
• Melody vs. harmony
• Music as entertainment vs. music as education

Creating your own Cycles

Use smooth key relationships between adjacent pieces
You may begin and end in the same key
You may begin and end in different, but related keys
Have an overall tonal plan that will provide the structure for the entire cycle
Arrange pieces so that the end of one and the beginning of the next connect smoothly
Use recall to connect the beginning and endings of cycles
Half of the pieces should be by Florestan, half by Eusebius
Try ending your cycles quietly as if the subject of the story were falling asleep

Cast of Characters

Florestan
Eusebius
Master Raro
Clara
Marie, Eugenie, Laura

In one of the most creative sessions I attended, Lora Deahl shared a story she wrote (from her wealth of knowledge on this subject!) that included the above characters and excerpts [which she performed for us] from many of Schumann’s pieces in Album for the Young. She incorporated the history behind what led to the composition of certain pieces in her story dialogue. It was a very captivating and memorable presentation! If you are considering ordering recordings of any of the sessions, this would be a great one to listen to and would even be interesting listening for older students who are playing pieces from Schumann’s Album for the Young.

MTNA Session – A Musician Acts

Following are my notes from the session: A Musician Acts – How Acting Techniques Can Improve Music Performances and Pedagogy by Jaren S. Hinckley

The Magic If
Play/sing a few lines of the piece.
Play/sing the same piece as if…
Think of how it would come across if that situation applied – still correctly and with all technique and skill – just use the question to elevate or change the piece. Picture yourself in that situation. Don’t alter the sound intentionally, just picture the different scenario. (What’s your favorite movie? Favorite character?)
…you were drunk.
…you were at a circus.
…you were at a funeral.
…you were assigned to play background music.

The Unbroken Line
Know what your character was doing before you came onto the stage and what your character will do after you leave. Think of playing a movie in your head and you’re playing the soundtrack to the movie. From the moment you stand up, create an unbroken line until you arrive at the piano and play your piece. Imagine you are the greatest pianist in the world and are performing at Carnegie Hall.

Adaptation
What to do if you get sick of the piece? Practicing deteriorates because you don’t want to deal with the piece anymore.
You can change “The Unbroken Line” or “Magic If” at any point if you get bored or tired of it. Picture something radically different when you play.
This can also be applied in chamber groups to help create interest and utilize the phrasing of others.

Communion

There are “invisible rays” of light on stage that help create a connection between the actors; a sense of togetherness when performing with others.
[Mr. Hinckley had trumpet duet play just notes and not focus on anything else. Then, had them turn and look at each other as often as possible while still playing the duet. The cohesiveness this simple step added to their performance was incredible!]

Emotion Memory
First acting experiences – a British Farce. Two comic characters. Mostly physical comedy. Would start to laugh and couldn’t control self when everyone else was laughing. Asked another actress, “how do you keep from laughing?” Actress said, “I’m a social worker. When I feel like laughing, I think of all the abused children I work with.” Didn’t work. Real solution: emotion memory. Don’t dredge up horrible thoughts, just draw upon a memory of a time when you felt that same emotion. Seek out experiences so that you have a vast reservoir of experiences upon which to draw in the future. Then, when playing a piece, recall the memory that you associate with an experience. Don’t relive the experience, just recall the emotion.

Physical Actions

Too many people took the Emotion Memory technique too far. This was the culmination of the other five techniques. On stage, perform a physical motion that would bring up the emotion without damaging your mind/soul by dredging up the experiences themselves. Can also be applied to stage entry.
Use for someone who suffers from stage fright. Conscious of everyone looking at you? Have you ever been on a stage with a spotlight focused just on you and you’re blinded momentarily? That momentary blindness gives you the feeling that you’re all by yourself – almost a sense of safety in your little circle of light. Imagine that spotlight encircling you, then play. “Public Solitude”
“You either have it or you’ve had it.”

Strike a pose, then freeze. Deliberately release tension in all muscles that are not necessary for maintaining the pose. Mr. Hinckley acknowledged that there are personality types amongst our students that will resist our efforts. The goal is to help them develop “stage charm.”

Mr. Hinckley shared an illustration of a teacher who told students he would be playing for them at their next masterclass. He arrived late, shuffled in, carrying armload of junk, plopped it all down, messed around with reed, then played piece, didn’t acknowledge applause, shuffled out. He then re-entered and repeated his performance the same way, but with a completely different approach and presence. He helped students see a real life model of how their presentation can completely affect the overall performance of a piece. He also suggested filming students so that they can see what they really look like. Encourage students to talk to the audience before they play their piece. Give them something to say. This helps break the ice with the audience.

MTNA National Conference – Saturday

The renowned Van Cliburn gave the opening Keynote speech of the Conference. Though I didn’t transcribe the speech verbatim, I have attempted to capture the essence of it in the following notes.

Van as a young boy

Van Cliburn began his speech by expressing his gratefulness to his parents, particularly his mother, Rildia Bee, who had been his piano teacher from the age of 3 until he was 17, giving him a lesson every day. Rildia Bee was being honored posthumously by MTNA with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Rildia Bee was an accomplished pianist, dedicated teacher and devoted wife and mother. Although she could have become a concert pianist in her own right, she chose instead to stay home and live her life as a homemaker.

Rildia Bee

In a short video clip, Rildia Bee shared about their family; about her fervent prayers to God to bless her with a child. Shortly thereafter, her request was granted and she gave birth to a son – Van. She described him as being “truly God-given.” At a young age, it became apparent that Van had unusual musical ability. Rildia Bee discovered this when, after having finished a lesson and dismissing the student, she went into the kitchen only to hear the student back in her living room playing his piece. When she came to the piano, she found 3 year old Van playing and exclaimed, “You?! Do you want to learn to play the piano?” Van enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” So, like any good teacher would, she replied, “Well, you’re not going to play by ear. You’re going to know what you’re doing.” His father constructed a keyboard with a staff on the reverse side for her to use with new students and for theory and by 4 years of age, Van was reading music. Rildia Bee expressed that playing the piano is not a digital exercise, but a sonic endeavor. At 5 years of age, Van informed his parents that he would be a concert pianist and he has never looked back since.

At the age of 8, Van discovered that he had a nice voice and he sang as a boy soprano. Van shared that by the end of his 11th year it became harder for him to reach the high notes and that his parents never explained to him why this was so. :-) His mother helped him with correct breath control and always wondered if she should send him to another teacher. He said if she sent him away, he would stop.

At the age of 12, his mother was contacted by the Superintendent of Kilgore public schools – would Van be interested in competing in the state competition for young people 12-17? He would be required to play a Concerto and he was determined to play the Tchaikovsky Concerto in B-flat minor. He only had two months, but persevered and played in the competition in Austin, Texas, with his mother accompanying him.

On April 12, 1947 Van made his debut with the Houston Symphony. Following his mother’s advice, he went on to study at Julliard with Rosina Lhevinne. Rildia Bee described a great teacher as someone who is a guide so that a student can discover for himself or herself the secrets of great music.

In 1958 Dr. Irl Allison had the idea to start a competition to be named after Van Cliburn, in honor of Rildia Bee. Rildia Bee told Van, “Don’t worry, nothing will come of it. Dr. Allison was just trying to be nice to me.” Four years later, the first competition took place – September, 1962. Even still, Rildia Bee remarked, “Don’t worry, it will only happen once. No one will ever remember it.”

Van described his mother’s personality from birth as magnetic, warm and captivating. She was the baby of the family and her older brothers and sisters were intensely protective. Music was a definite part of her family. Her mother played organ, piano, violin and soon began teaching Rildia Bee. At the age of eight, she had the opportunity to play for and receive lessons from a renowned European musician.

Rildia Bee was Valedictorian of her graduating class. Although she was offered a scholarship to Baylor, she chose instead to attend Cincinnati University. While there, she heard Rachmaninov play. Knowing that she couldn’t study with him, she pursued her studies instead with Arthur Friedheim, who had studied with Liszt. She later moved to New York and filled her life with opera, museums, etc. After moving back to Texas, Rildia Bee met a man she greatly admired, but who, unfortunately, was already engaged. She, too, was already dating and “spoken for.” They were nevertheless drawn to each other and eventually were married on June 6, 1923. For the next 11 years, they lived in ElDorado, Arkansas, and then Shreveport, Louisiana, which is where she gave birth to Van.

Rildia Bee teaching piano

Rildia Bee had a few pupils at that time, but her first priority was to be a dedicated mother. She continued to practice and her practicing was mesmerizing to Van as he saw her tackle and conquer technical challenges at the piano. As he watched his mother play the Chopin Etudes and Liszt Transcendental Studies, he exclaimed, “Oh, mother, your hands are so perfect and you have much better technique than I will ever have.” To which she replied, “There are no perfect hands. Each individual must ferret out and eradicate the difficulty that is theirs alone. What you may think is difficult for you may be easier for me and what is difficult for me may be easier for you.”

Rildia Bee passed away just before her 98th birthday. With his thoughts revolving around music, Van wrote the following acrostic:
Motivating
Understanding [while]
Stimulating
Intelligent
Concentration

Van further emphasized this by saying that small children know whether music will ultimately be their profession. The real push, however, is not for them to make music their profession, but for them to be mentally stimulated. Music is a language that exists in the invisible, while notation is visible. Unseen mental exercises are important for every child. Music should be taught in all public schools. When a child is shown the miracle of making music, it stimulates parts of the brain that would otherwise lie dormant forever. Music is not entertainment – it is an exact science. It is open to interpretation and expression, but is not open to self-indulgence. Music study will provide students with strength of purpose, a carriage of will-power and determination for the rest of their lives. The pursuit of music is all-encompassing and so extraordinary. Van shared a quote from Rachmaninov, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”

As he wrapped up his speech,Van Cliburn expressed, “Every day of my life, I thank God for the privilege of knowing Rildia Bee, but I am equally grateful for my father who loved her so that I can say today that Rildia Bee Cliburn is my mother.” He went on to end his speech with a quote from his beloved mother.

“Musical inspiration is the gift of God. Use it with the purest motives. Aim high and consider yourself capable of great things. Lend your talents to the world to make it better.”

Following the speech by Van Cliburn was an entertaining performance given by Michael Hawley, winner of the 2002 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.

2006 MTNA National Conference

Welcome

Although I was unable to post throughout the conference like I had originally hoped, I took quite a few notes and pictures so that you can join me on a virtual trip to the 2006 MTNA National Conference in Austin, Texas. The following posts will be devoted to each day of the conference. Perhaps it will serve to pass on the tremendous inspiration I received from every aspect of the conference. Enjoy!

MTNA 2006 National Conference

Here is some information I received from MTNA about the 2006 conference that will be held March 25-29 in Austin, Texas. I attended the conference in 2004 when it was held in Kansas City. It is a wonderful event for any music teacher! There are numerous sessions to attend, opportunities to meet other teachers from around the country, listen to amazing performances and browse the extensive Exhibitor’s Hall. I came home with a bunch of free music and other goodies from the conference! Plan now to attend this year’s conference!

The 2006 MTNA National Conference is just around the corner. Did you know that it will be the largest gathering of independent and collegiate music teachers in the country? This year’s conference will feature all the things you’ve come to expect from an MTNA conference, in addition to much more.

You won’t want to miss any of the conference events. With more than 100 educational sessions and industry showcases, there is something for everyone. Legendary pianist Van Cliburn will officially kick off the conference with his keynote address at the Saturday evening Opening Session. The popular Group Teaching and Technology Tracks will be offered again this year along with the new Just Duet sessions. Just Duet, offered four times during the conference, will give attendees an opportunity to sight read popular duet literature from favorite composers. In addition, the Texas MTA Student Ensembles will perform duet concerts twice during the conference. Also Van Cliburn amateur winner Michael Hawley will give a performance, in addition to a collaborative concert by the Amadeus Trio. Saturday through Tuesday of the conference will feature the finals of the MTNA Student Performance Competitions and the Winners Concerts.

The evenings will be just as exciting as days with special events such as the Monday night FOUNDATION FUND Gala, where the MTNA FOUNDATION Fellows will be recognized. Stanislav Ioudenitch, Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist, will play a recital on Sunday evening and From the Top, one of the nations most popular public radio shows, will be recorded on Tuesday evening in conjunction with the conference.

Arrive early to the conference to take advantage of three pre-conference sessions-Pedagogy Saturday, Professional Studio Saturday and Collegiate Expo. Pedagogy Saturday, headlined by Robert Duke of The University of Texas at Austin, will focus on the art of teaching, while Professional Studio Saturday, with invited keynote speaker James Jordan of Westminster Choir College, will encourage music teachers to take a closer look about the time they spend in various areas of the teaching profession. Collegiate members are encouraged to attend the first ever Collegiate Expo. This new, day-long session, will offer students an opportunity to network with colleagues and speak with experts about starting an independent studio, obtaining professional certification, completing auditions, submitting compositions and preparing portfolios and résumés.

Your schedule won’t be complete without spending some time in the exhibit hall. This year’s hall will offer a variety of print music, music technology, instruments and more.

To find out more about the conference or to register, visit the MTNA conference website. Remember the early registration deadline is February 16, 2006.