Computer Woes

In case anyone is wondering about the lack of posting around here…my computer crashed a little over a week ago and has been out of commission ever since. It’s definitely slowing things down around the studio, but I’m hopeful that either it will be up and running again soon or I’ll be able to get a new system. We’ll see what transpires in the next week or two!

2012 MTNA Conference – Full Conference Post Schedule

Friday
Hello New York!

Sunday
Morning – Alfred Music Publishing: The Colors of Music: Instructional Materials for Developing Pianists
Morning – Conference Opening and Keynote Presentation with Norman Horowitz and Melvin Stecher – Introductory Remarks
Morning – Conference Opening and Keynote Presentation with Norman Horowitz and Melvin Stecher
Morning – Intermediate Masterclass with Marvin Blickenstaff
Afternoon – Exhibit Hall
Afternoon – FJH Exhibitor Showcase – Succeeding at the Piano: Taking Success to the Next Level with Helen Marlais
Afternoon – A Natural History of the Piano from Mozart to Jazz and Everything In Between with Stuart Isacoff

Monday
Morning – Energizing Your Students’ Musical Adventures with Randall and Nancy Faber
Morning – Keynote Address with Benjamin Zander
Morning – Musicality & Technique: Friends or Foes with Barbara Lister-Sink
Afternoon – Lunchtime!
Afternoon – Willis Showcase: Recital Repertoire for Rave Reviews
Afternoon – Ultimate Music Theory Showcase with Glory St. Germain
Afternoon – The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in the Music Studio with Beth Bauer and Scott Price

Tuesday
Morning – Hal Leonard Showcase: Cutting Edge Releases for Your 21st Century Studio
Morning – Piano and Chamber Music Master Class with Menahem Pressler
Morning – The Six French Suites: Bach’s Bon-Bons with Louis B. Nagel
Afternoon – Frederick Harris Showcase – Chord Play: The Art of Arranging at the Piano with Forrest Kinney

Wednesday
Morning – Playing Together: Chamber Music Repertoire for Beginning and Intermediate Level Pianists with Kiyoshi Tamagawa
Afternoon – Steinway Tour

Wrap-Up
Taking Home $200
The Blogging Set-Up

Again, I hope you all have enjoyed the live coverage of this year’s MTNA Conference. Start making plans now to attend the 2013 MTNA Conference in Anaheim, California from March 9-13!

2012 MTNA Conference – Wrap-up: Full Post Schedule Coming Soon!

I am working on putting together a full schedule of all the conference posts for easy access, but in the meantime I thought I would give you a little glimpse of my blogging set-up this year. Instead of lugging around my bug laptop I decided to try blogging with my iPod Touch. It worked amazingly well from my perspective, but I would love feedback from anyone who followed along. Did you like the timing of the posts? Could you see the pictures and video clips? Were they helpful? Any questions or ideas for future conference blogging endeavors? Feel free to leave a comment below or email me with your thoughts!

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2012 MTNA Conference – Wrap-up – Taking Home $200

Between all the showcases that distribute complimentary materials and the many exhibitors that have specials and coupons for free books, you are guaranteed to make back almost all of your conference registration fee in the materials you take back to your studios!

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My stash added up to over $200! There are some wonderful favorites, plus a nice selection of new compositions to try and distribute to my students. It’s so exciting to take these things back to the studio and think through how to put them to use and how to implement the things I’ve learned at the conference.

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.

2012 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Afternoon – Frederick Harris Showcase – Chord Play: The Art of Arranging at the Piano with Forest Kinney

This showcase was the first one I put on my schedule! Ever since I attended Forrest and Akiko Kinney’s Pattern Play showcase at the 2010 MTNA Conference, my teaching has been transformed!

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Forest gave his workshop on piano arranging to a group 24 years ago. So, he’s been looking forward to this day for that many years. He is excited to have a course available now to offer to music educators.

He humorously suggested changing his name from “Forrest” to “Four Arts.” The arts used to include many different components, but has in recent years been reduced almost strictly to interpretation of existing art.

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In the same way that we can have conversations and arrange words and stories to share with others, we should be well-versed as pianists so that we can do the same. It’s great to be able to interpret and play the works of the masters, but we must also be comfortable carrying on musical conversations with others and creating new arrangements.

He expressed hope that all of us would “buy” his argument: “It is not talent that keeps all of us from experiencing the four arts. It’s only one thing – pedagogy.”

Forrest will be presenting both an old and a new pedagogy. Clara Schumann’s father taught her to arrange at the piano, and in fact it was a year before she learned how to read music. Forrest and his wife have developed a new pedagogy for teachers today through their Pattern Play series.

A volunteer from the audience was invited to come forward to try an improvisation with him. He taught her the Persian scale, placed a couple of pencils and a book on the strings inside the grand piano (another use for the Pattern Play books… :-)), and began playing an accompaniment pattern while she improvised on the scale.

We think that knowledge is so important, but she didn’t even know what she was doing. Her intuition kicked in and she was able to make beautiful, Persian-sounding music on the spot!

How did we all learn to speak? Our parents talked with us day after day after day until we could converse fluently. That’s why it’s so helpful to play the duet patterns with students until they feel comfortable stepping out on their own to improvise with both hands simultaneously. Each pattern also contains a trio and ensemble option so that students can play together and create beautiful music. Forest had a couple of volunteers take their seat at the piano to demonstrate this trio aspect of the materials.

After this quick overview of the Pattern Play philosophy, Forrest moved on to the new Chord Play series. Being able to arrange is an essential skill for a pianist. He has been invited to play 19 times at the home of Bill Gates. It’s because he is able to create engaging arrangements of old favorites, orchestral tunes, Broadway songs, and more.

What’s the most important song for every pianist to be able to play? He thinks there should be an acronym for pianists – HBPHD (a.k.a. Happy Birthday Public Humiliation Disorder). Ear training has largely been abandoned in our day. People who only play by eye are robbed of a certain intuitive faculty. Those who play only by ear and can’t read are impoverished; they tend to be enslaved to one style of playing.

He begins working with a student by asking, “Did you know that you can play Happy Birthday starting on any key?” Really? they may be surprised. Many students have no concept of well-tempered tuning. He plays a game with beginning students by playing the first notes of Happy Birthday starting on any key with a book covering his hands. Then the student has to try to find the starting key and play it.

The Pattern Play books are geared around little patterns called “explorations.” Chord Play introduces theory concepts and then immediately turns them into artistic expressions.

Forrest draws a humorous analogy: Knowing your chords is like having a head of hair. Once you have it, what do you do with it?

Once you have an idea of what you can do with chords from the ideas presented in the book, you learn to shift/substitute chords, then add 2nds to chords. He describes these as “flavor enhancers without the headaches” (in contrast to MSG). The last part of book one is about introductions, endings, and fills.

Just like Franz Liszt, once you learn these principles you can invite audience members to shout out themes and you can make up arrangements on the spot. A bag of fake books will go a long way!

Book One is kept to root position chords in order to cultivate the ear. Book Two begins with Canon in D. Ask the question, “Is there some way we can make that bass line more interesting?” You can invert the chords to create a descending pattern. The book keeps exploring inverted chords in relation to the principles introduced in Book One.

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Some chord substitution can be accomplished just by voicing the changing bass line created by using chord inversions. The book moves into a long discussion of arpeggios and then goes into right hand inversions.

The book goes into ragtime and then gospel style. Book Three explores seventh chords extensively so that by the end of the book students should have the knowledge and experience in their fingers to arrange any hymn, pop song, etc.

The final minutes of the showcase were reserved for an introduction to the newest Pattern Play Book 6. It uses keys with three sharps and three flats. Another attendee joined Forrest on the bench for a riveting improvisation on the pattern, Storm!

2012 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Morning – The Six French Suites: Bach’s Bon-Bons with Louis B. Nagel

This musically uplifting session began with Louis B. Nagel giving a lovely performance from the six Bach French Suites.

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I was a few minutes late, and it was so enriching to walk into a room with the glorious music of Bach wafting through the air!

Louis’ primary focus for today is on contrasts. He began with one of the allemandes. An allemande is defined as a moderate dance in flowing form. Bach didn’t use tempo markings in his dances. He was giving the performer full range to express how he felt about the music. Each of the allemandes is very different.

In contrast to the allemande we have the courante. Some of them are written more in the style of a courantee with its French influence rather than the others which are primarily in an Italian style. Louis wonders whether it was perhaps the inclusion of these French style courantees in the suites that prompted someone to call the set “French Suites.” He said he has no scholarship behind that speculation, but it just makes him wonder since the other dances are so clearly in an Italian style.

Louis played another of the dances and ad libbed the ornaments on the spot. He doesn’t think the repeats should be played identically to the first time through. Pedagogically, he added that he has heard students play Bach in such a way that the ornaments overtook that which was being ornamented. It should not be so planned and contrived as to not allow the performer the freedom to play it as desired in the ornament. Ornaments must be played without sacrificing the structure.

He continued to play some of the individual dances, making a variety of remarks about each one.

The most important thing about the dances is the contrast. He is “hop, skipping, and jumping through them to demonstrate those contrasts.”

Articulations are so very important. Bach doesn’t write dynamics. The expressive device of the period (the harpsichord) differentiated between articulations but not dynamics. The articulations illuminate the line of music so music more effectively even than the dynamics. We can’t – and shouldn’t – deny dynamics with our present instrument.

He talked briefly about the pedal and some people’s insistence that it not be used in Bach’s music. “Please don’t do that!” he begged. “Bach did have pedal.” Louis went on to demonstrate some finger pedaling. Don’t deny yourselves or your students the beauty that can be created through the use of the pedal…as long as the lines remain clear. Bach’s music has to beautiful at the piano in our language today.

2012 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Morning – Piano and Chamber Music Master Class with Menahem Pressler

MTNA President Benjamin Caton introduced today’s masterclass teacher by saying, “I feel like I’m on hallowed ground with the master behind me.” The comment was followed by a hearty applause.

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The first order of business was to present Menahem Pressler with the MTNA Achievement Award for 2012.

A very small excerpt of the first performance: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann, performed by Jiaxin Tian.

Menahem Pressler began by saying, “Beautiful playing, well taught, but…” Everyone laughed. He commented that she was too sensitive, like a new mother who loves her baby so much that she almost strangled it.

The first theme sounded like a variation. He was left listening the whole time for the next nuance. He had her start over by playing just the theme. They worked for a while on a more piano sound and a connected legato line. In particular, he had her listen to make sure that the second and third notes of the melody were not louder than the first. She could hear it, but had trouble getting the dynamic he wanted.

Mr. Pressler turned to the audience, “In my class we would not go on until she got it. But I don’t want you to have to hear that. She will struggle to get it at home.”

At the end of the theme is a crescendo. Why? Schumann is opening the door for the first variation. The final cadence creates a question mark.

When Jiaxin started the first variation, Mr. Pressler pointed out that the tempo change was marked un poco. He tapped her two tempi and asked, “Is that a little bit?” When she shook her head, he responded, “No. It’s very much bit.” The second Etude should be more intense, but not that much faster.

In the next one, he said what was wrong is that her sixteenth notes were uneven. She was instructed to try to control it. As the theme came in in the bass line, he encouraged her to play it more meaningfully, voicing every note.

At one point he asked her what could be more beautiful about her playing. Then he asked if she owned silk gloves and had her approach the keys as though she was wearing silk gloves. His primary focus continued to be on the voicing of each phrase so that no note sounded out of place in the line.

When she incorporated a ritardando that wasn’t in the music, he asked her why and then said, “you know if yous top like that when you are in a car, you’ll go right through the window.”

After congratulating her on a job well done, Jiaxin left the stage. Then Mr. Pressler turned to the audience and said that just for us he took it easy on her. In his studio the students have to work very hard. Then he added, “You never give up and you never give in.”


An excerpt from the beginning of the second masterclass student: 8 Pieces Vol. 1, Op. 76 Nos. 1, 3, and 8 by Johannes Brahms, performed by Reed Tetzloff.

“There are many nice things that you are doing. Very good piano playing…in principle. But… – and it’s a big but – the markings of Brahms don’t seem to play a big part in what you are doing.” Mr. Pressler went on to address the tempo marking of allegretto and the evenness and coordination between the hands of the accelerando at the beginning. After he incorporated the suggestions: “Fine. I think I can live with your tempo. It’s not a good life, but…” The audience laughed!

The un poco agitato should not be overdone. It’s more like it’s churning. Mr. Pressler used lots of vocalization of the rhythms to help Reed hear how to achieve the desired tempo and rhythmic flow. Being able to hear the melody in the 6/8 pulse was essential to maintaining the desired consistency.

To create the more intense feel, it was important to feel the emphasis more on the offbeat, bringing out the Hungarian influence. “Mr. Brahms says, ‘WashingTON’, not ‘WASHington’.”

The art of playing Brahms is in hearing and voicing the counterpoint. While the lyrical melody is singing in the right hand, the left hand counterpoint should be a short lively sound.


Piano Trio in B-flat Major “Archduke,” Op. 97, 1st Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Sohyun Ahn (piano), Mikyung Kim (violin), and Yoni Etzion (cello).

Just to give you a little better taste of Mr. Pressler’s style, here’s a clip from his initial comments after the trio finished:

He went on to work individually with each of the musicians to help them understand the appropriate dynamic elements and rhythmic flow, very similarly to his work with the two previous pianists.

Their music was definitely much more alive by the end of his time working with them!