2013 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Early Morning – Schott Showcase

A sunny, but cool crisp morning made it easier to get up on this final full day of the conference. As in each of the previous two days, the morning began with a selection of showcases by various music publishers. Schott featured Hans-Gunter Heumann sharing about his new Classical Piano Method.

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The series features many arrangements of famous classical pieces of music at early levels, eventually advancing to include original classical works and instructions about how to practice effectively. A CD accompanies the book, with performances and play-along tracks for each piece.

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There is an accompanying Repertoire Collection and Duet Collection that correlate with the Method Book.

2013 MTNA Conference – Monday Afternoon – Creating Flow in Worship by Mark Hayes

One of the treats of this conference is having the prolific composer Mark Hayes here (his first time at the national convention) to present a workshop on creating transitions and flow in worship at the piano. He has over 1,000 published works! On a personal note, I grew up on Mark Hayes’ piano arrangements of hymns and praise songs. I still have my original, very tattered, books and treasure all that I learned because of how inspired I was to learn his music!

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Mark is a huge believer in the importance of classical music and reading music, but he thinks it’s very rewarding to be able to give students tools and ideas to play beyond the printed page. He got his experience learning to improvise in a church setting, so his primary goal is to create a worshipful atmosphere.

Music is inherently emotional. It comes into our minds and hearts in a way that words alone do not.

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The instruction began with a couple of examples of transitions that can be used to create fill music and move from one song to another.

1. Find a pattern that you can play in your left hand without having to think about it. This creates the foundation.

2. In the right hand you can play any note that is in the key signature and that sounds good to your ear. This helps develop a sense of taste.

3. An easy way to add color to a chord is by adding the 2 to the chord.

Mark demonstrated using a four-measure chord progression from the I-vi7-IV2-IV/V. In each case the first and fifth note of the scale are included in each chord. He had half of the audience sing “ah” on D and the other sing “ah” on A, then proceeded to improvise on this chord progression in the key of D.

The second half of the session dealt with playing modulations for congregational worship music. Often times the last thing musicians and bands think about is how to start and end when they are playing. This has the effect of sounding like a glorified jam session. He passed out a sheet of specific chord modulations that can be used to transition between songs. He is a big advocate for connecting music in a worship service.

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“Many times the only thing that limits our creativity is disbelief, doubt that we can actually do it.”

In a nutshell: thinking through the theory has to happen ahead of time during practice, but then you have to put in enough time working on these skills so that it becomes muscle memory.

[The handout from this session can be obtained by contacting Mark’s secretary at martha@markhayes.com.]

2013 MTNA Conference – Monday Early Afternoon – Hal Leonard Showcase

After a lovely al fresco lunch with some dear colleagues, I joined a packed house at the Hal Leonard Showcase.

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Composer/pianist Jeremy Siskind started off the session with an overview of Jazz Etude Inspirations, County Ragtime Festival, and Classical Pop.

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Editor and recording artist, William Westney joined the session via video to share about the beautiful complimentary edition each attendee received of Grieg: Selected Lyric Pieces.

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Longtime composer for Hal Leonard, Carol Klose, passed away several weeks ago. Shortly before her passing, she was asked what her favorite piece was. She said, “Candlelight Prelude.” In memory of her, Jennifer Linn played her piece while a brief slide show was shown:

Mona Rejino took over and gave an overview of her new Essential Elements Piano Theory series.The books are designed to incorporate practical, musical applications of each of the concepts as students are instructed to sight-read, transpose, and improvise at the piano. Each attendee received a complimentary copy of the Level Two theory book.

“Women Composers in History: 18 Intermediate to Late Intermediate Piano Pieces by 8 Composers” was presented by Gail Smith. The selections she played were lovely!

Next we watched an excerpt of Alexandre Dossin playing from and discussing the new Rachmaninoff: Preludes, Op. 3 and 23 by Schirmer Performance Editions. He has been working on the project for about a year and frequently receives questions about how to practice Rachnmaninoff. He said to practice until quantity becomes quality. He also talked about various other aspects of Rachmaninoff’s music.

Jeremy Siskind wrapped up the showcase with “The Magic of Standards,” his second published book. He considers these some of the greatest songs in the American repertoire. One of the favorite selections he played was an arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

2013 MTNA Conference – Monday Late Morning – Intermediate Masterclass with Ingrid Clarfield

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Ingrid Clarfield began by greeting the audience and, after asking for applause on her coordinating outfit, said that she really doesn’t like the term “masterclass.” Instead, she prefers to think of it as a 3-part sharing experience. First, the students are sharing their interpretation of the pieces. Second, she will be sharing her ideas about the pieces. Third, the audience will be asked to share input and feedback on the performance and ideas.

First, she made the students promise not to be perfect, and then told them to have fun and enjoy playing.

After the first student played the Waltz in C sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2 by Chopin, Ingrid started with the things she loved about the performance:
* Tempo
* Pedaling
* Wonderful Control

She asked how many waltzes were played? She thinks of this as three waltzes. As a side note, she said that Chopin was not as good of a businessman as Schubert. Schubert would have sold this as Waltz 1, Waltz 2, and Waltz 3. Chopin combined them and sold them all as one waltz. For this reason, there needs to be more difference between each of the parts, and even between the first several measures.

The opening theme character was brought out by singing, “OY VEY! I want to dance, I want to dance.”

She worked on a circular arm motion during the B section for a better tone and more fluid technique. Then she had the student work on what she called “McDonald’s arches” for the transitions to release into the new section with a richer tone and a better sense of timing.

An audience member asked about the pedaling of the A section. Ingrid said that “we all know that Chopin’s pedalings are wrong.” They worked for his piano, but they don’t work for us. We have to ignore his markings and play with a longer pedal.

The next student played Arabesque No. 1 by Debussy. After addressing the bow (in the above video), Ingrid emphasized the importance of approaching the very first note. She said to put your head down, breathe, and gracefully lift your hands before playing the keys. Then everyone will think you’re an amazing pianist and you haven’t even played a note yet. Then she primarily worked on pacing, helping the student make gradual changes in dynamics so that each peak in the music gets a little bigger, but not too much too soon.

The final selection for the masterclass was “The Circus” Op. 68: Clowns by Joaquin Turina. Ingrid worked with the student on creating more drama, getting more sound out of the bass notes and a little more emphasis on the treble melodies.

Ingrid ended by teaching her “tush chord,” explaining that the student should “lift your butt off the bench” before hitting the big chord to give it more sound. 🙂

In a nutshell: Tell the student what you want to achieve right off the bat so that they understand the end objective of your teaching and instruction.

2013 MTNA Conference – Monday Morning – Keynote Presentation by Rick Beyer

Rick Beyer, author of The Greatest Music Stories Never Told, took the stage and had the audience laughing right away at his self-deprecating comments regarding his own musical prowess.

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He continued by regaling the audience with the story of Heinrich Steinway and his surprising childhood and path into adulthood.

Ivan Vaughan may be the most important person in the history of Rock ‘n Roll. What Ivan did on July 6, 1957, a Saturday afternoon, in a church basement, has forever changed the history of music in America.

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He introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon.

“Everything that ever happened almost didn’t. History happens in the present, not in the past.”

[There were several other stories here, but they got lost in the posting. Sorry about that!]

Here’s a picture of an early recording studio:

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The earliest recording star? George Washington Johnson, an African American who became famous for his whistling songs and his ability to laugh in tune.

“The Menace of Mechanical Music” by John Phillip Sousa was a diatribe against the recorded music of the day that people were flocking to by the thousands. People would even go to concert halls to listen to phonograph recordings!

Rick went on to talk about the history of Benjamin Franklin’s glass armonica. Although it quickly became popular, it also had a darker side and was said to be “an apt method for slow annihilation.” Next was a story of President Tyler and the Providential sparing of his life when he stayed below deck to listen to his son-in-law sing a song when a cannon misfired above deck, killing other members of his cabinet.

Music is powerful. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the most chaotic years in music – 1913. A concert breaks into a riot during the premier of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Today this work is hailed as a masterpiece. A Suess-like criticism of the piece reads,

“Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring? What right had he to write this thing? Against our helpless ears to fling, Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?”

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1913 also marks the controversial introduction of the Tango to the American culture. This and other contemporary dance styles were labeled “a threat to our national way of life.”

Rick concluded with a history of several classic American songs, ending with the heart-tugging story of “Save the Last Dance for Me” by Doc Pomus.

2013 MTNA Conference – Early Monday Morning – Frederick Harris Showcase

In 1839 Franz Liszt did something for the very first time. He played a solo piano recital. It was almost unheard of at the time because up until then people played music together.

What did he play on his solo recital?
* His own arrangement of the William Tell Overture
* Improvisations on a Bellini Opera
* Some of his own compositions
* Improvised on themes given by the audience

Bach’s French Suite wasn’t written to be performed as a solo on a stage. It was written as a guide for those who wanted to improvise music for dance.

Forrest Kinney’s desire and life work is to revive these 19th Century musical arts.

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Improvising is basically speaking. Arranging is like telling a story or joke in your own way. Many people confuse the two. Although there may or may not be significant difference in the sound, cognitively, the approach is very different. Arranging requires a great deal of theoretical understanding; improvising flows from a musically intuitive state of mind.

Forrest had a member of the audience join him at the piano to improvise on the pattern, “Storm,” from Pattern Play Book 6. He then went on to introduce and explain the Chord Play series.

Chord Play is based on the same approach that Bach used by teaching figured bass and then learning to improvise on the harmonic progression. Forrest created Chord Play because he felt that a lot of the materials on the market were not very pianistic. He specifically referred to downloadable internet pieces (ITDs=Internet Transmitted Diseases).

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Drawing on the analogy of how a hair stylist can change the style of someone’s hair, Forrest said that there are three fundamental ways you can “re-style” a chord:
* Change the style: use the same three notes in different ways.
* Change the color: add a note to the chord.
* Replace the hair (put on a wig): substitute a different chord for the one typically used.

The Chord Play series walks you through ways to do each of the above: change the style, change the color, and substitute chords.

Forrest shared several examples of changing the style of the chord, creating different accompaniments for “Happy Birthday.” Then he gave examples of adding notes to change the color of the chord. He specifically added a 2nd and said that it has the effect of making a minor chord more minor and a major chord more major. Finally, he demonstrated using substitute chords to create a much richer sound.

Chord Play Book 1 remains in root position throughout to help students develop their ear. Book 2 is all about styles and new sounds that can be created. The second half of the book introduces right hand chord inversions. When beginning a new teenage student, Forrest often starts by teaching them the chord pattern for “Let it Be” from book 2. Book 3 gets into coloring chords with 7th chords. These are much more complex.

When and why does an arranger use a 7th chord? Sometimes you want a minor chord that’s not so minor, so you overlap it with a major chord, thus creating the minor 7th. Conversely, you can make a major chord less major by overlapping it with the minor on top, thus creating the major 7th chord.

You can leave the 5th out of the chord, add the seventh, and re-style the chord:

Book 4 deals with “chromatic connecting chords” and secondary dominants to give arrangements a more powerful sound. Forrest played a couple of examples, illustrating the use of secondary dominants in Amazing Grace and briefly even on the chord progression for Heart and Soul. He then moved onto augmented chords and demonstrated how they tend to “lift you” when you hear or play them.

Book 5 (available at the end of April) is all about adding color. There are twelve new chords explained by building on what the pianist has already learned from the previous books. These can be simply understood by just changing notes of chords that are already known.

Forrest concluded the session by playing several arrangements using the added colors of ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords to give attendees an idea of how these chords can impact the sound of a piece of music.

2013 MTNA Conference – Sunday Afternoon – Ten Steps to Parnassus: The Keyboard Works of Johann Sebastian Bach

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A panel of three presenters gave this session on the music and contributions of J.S. Bach: Erin Bennett, NCTM, Siok Lian Tan, NCTM, and Richard VanDyke, NCTM.

What is Parnassus? in Greek mythology, a mountain in central Greece where the Muses lived; known as the mythological home of music and poetry.

After the Method Books
How do you teach Baroque style playing?
Gradual progressive steps toward more advanced works:
1. Minuets and short dances
2. Little preludes
3. Inventions
4. Preludes and Fugues

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How does the 10 Steps to Parnassus (defined as The Goldberg Variations) work?
* Technical development coincides with advancing repertoire.
* Step-by-step progression.
* Stylistic considerations that promote musical growth.
* Independence of hands increases proportionally.

Richard went on to share technical recommendations for preparing to begin this journey through Bach’s music. Then he shared detailed notes on the Prelude in D Major, an early level Bach piece that is included in many pedagogical collections. He addressed articulations and technical challenges.

Erin Bennett assumed the podium to discuss the Bach Inventions. She was particularly excited about being a part of this project because of her “horror story” with a transfer student who was still in method books, but had been handed the first Bach Invention and told, “see what you can do with this.”

She went over each point on the handout and said that those who arrived after they ran out of handouts could contact her via e-mail to be sent a copy: e.bennett@unf.edu

The Two-Part Inventions were written in 1723, but not published until 1801. Technical and Musical Considerations:

* Counterpoint: Independence of hands
* Coordination
* Voicing – two equal partners in dialogue
* Articulation – not marked in score
* Touch – cantabile manner of playing
*Dynamics – not marked in score
-Terraced, according to Baroque style
* Tempi – not marked in score
* Ornaments! both notated and improvised

Erin went on to discuss the specific difficulties of Invention No. 8 in F Major (as a representative of the first group of Inventions according to difficulty), but asserted that it is still a great first Two-Part Invention for students. She also discussed Invention No. 4 in D minor (as a representative of the second group of more difficult Inventions) and Invention No. 12 in A Major (as a representative of the third group of the most difficult Inventions). Teachers teaching the third group should be especially well-versed in Baroque ornamentation. If students can handle this level of complexity, they are ready to advance into the Sinfonias. Next was an extensive overview of the Sinfonia in B Minor.

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The final presenter, Siok Lian Tan, walked attendees through the Well-Tempered Clavier. Since Bach didn’t make interpretive markings in the score, we, as teachers, need to help our students make informed decisions when playing them.

She discussed the Prelude and Fugue in A Major, BWV 862. Throughout the session, the presenters played numerous audio and excerpts to point out various elements of interpretation. Even very contrasting interpretations can all be effective depending on the character the performer wants to convey. Siok Lian Tan also shared a detailed list of suggested steps for learning a fugue.

A note about ornaments: the execution of the ornament should be determined by the mood and character of the piece. Wilhelm Friedmann Bach has a helpful table of ornamentation.

2013 MTNA Conference – Sunday Early Afternoon – Alfred Showcase

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The showcase, Make Every Student a Winner: New Music from Alfred, began with a breathtaking performance of Greg Anderson’s new arrangement of Ballet from Orphee et Eurydice. The performers were the guest conference artists, the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo.

This selection was taken from the new series by Alfred: Anderson & Roe Duos & Duets.

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Gayle Kowalchyk continued with an overview of the Premier Piano Course Technique Book 4, the complimentary book given to each showcase attendee. The book is comprised of Technique Tools, Exercises, and Artistic Etudes that incorporate the various technique tools.

In the “From the Heart” etude, students are encouraged to identify the “heart note” which marks the heart of the phrase. I thought this was a really creative way of referring to the climax of the musical phrase!

Next up was an overview of the Belwin Contest Winners series. These are compilations of timeless pieces of sheet music by 20th Century composers organized into books by level. Gayle wanted to share biographical sketches about the various composers, but unfortunately much of their history has been lost. Their music, however, carries on their legacy so that generations today can benefit from their imaginative pieces.

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The selections Gayle played were all wonderful and would be favorites for many students! One audience favorite was “The Viking” from book 3. Gayle wrote words to go with the left hand melody and right hand staccato chords to create a song between the “vikings” and “vikettes.” (I’m home! [he’s home] I’m home! [he’s home] I’m home and want some food! [some food] etc.)

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The next portion of the workshop was Ingrid Clarfield and Phyllis Lehrer sharing the final 40 pieces of the 100 pieces that every student should know (they introduced the first 60 at last year’s MTNA Conference in NYC). These are the pieces that make up their series, “Classics for the Developing Pianist.” Ingrid shared several things that set their series apart from other similar classical anthologies:
1. alternative fingers
2. balanced dynamic markings
3. additional pedaling
4. tempo range (rather than one specific tempo)
5. articulation and realized ornamentation

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Melody Bober continued the showcase with samples of her new series, “Grand One-Hand Solos” for Piano. Each book has eight pieces – four for the right hand and four for the left. The books get progressively difficult, with exploration of different keys. The pieces are amazing sonorous for being only one-handed!

After a couple selections from the Grand Trios for Piano series, Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe took the stage again to share several more selections from their new series.

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It was fun to watch Anderson and Roe demonstrate elements of each of their ensembles, including the very acrobatic Tambourin Chinois (Chinese Drum), that has much overlapping of parts and weaving in and out of each others’ arms! They confess that their arrangements aren’t easy, but they are highly artistic.

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Their piano duo arrangement of the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach was hauntingly beautiful! The gave the audience a glimpse of the Three Waltzes for Two Pianos – A Medley of Waltzes Made Famous in Disney Films. But since the premier of the piece is Tuesday evening at their recital, we only got to hear a portion of the super fun-sounding duo. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing in a couple of days!