Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween Flaustenbach

A hungry crow feats on eyeballs on the way to the studio...

Igor warms up the piano...

Students await Flaustenbach's appearance...


Friday, October 30, 2009

Hiistoric Flaustenbach Recording Found!

A primitive recording has been found of Mildred Irene Tomsheck's playing of the theme of Heinrich Wilhelm Flaustenbach's "MIT Variations" which he wrote for her in the 19th century. Click on "MIT Variations" or on Mildred Irene Tomsheck to hear the recording.

Clearly Flaustenbach was a genius with electricity! See also: electrified piano mistake corrector.

What remains of Mildred...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insanity and Music

There is no doubt in my mind that Flaustenbach's brain worked differently from other musicians. Of course almost any pianist is a little crazy, but there are degrees!

Instruments of instruction on the piano - including the octopus light treatment - the different-colored arms of the lamp envelope the student, creating a warm, yet uncomfortable embrace. Correct posture is absolutely essential!

Igor, Flaustenbach's lab assistant, demonstrates the electric finger rats. Perfect for practicing Hanon and other composers of torturous, tedious hand exercises...!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Flaustenbach Story Continues

While Flaustenbach haunts my studio...strange things occur. One day sheet music began appearing on the walls.

Perhaps this is an explanation... from the "Wikipedia article" at ...

His father, Heinrich Johann Ludwig Flaustenbach (author of Harpsichords of Middle Europe – A Complete Taxonomy) was also a music educator and scholar, as well as an experimenter in the non-traditional use of musical scores. The elder Flaustenbach is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful early 19th-century attempts to use pages from oversized oratorio scores of German High Baroque composers as cheap wallpaper for the homes of lower-middle class German families.

It is believed that the imposition of reams and reams of musical wallpaper in Flaustenbach’s earliest environs may have had a significant formative impact on young Heinrich Wilhelm, and had a causal effect on some of the more remarkably unfortunate episodes that would mark his adult life.

And like all good dead musicians --- he's no longer decomposing! In the PianoSmith MadLab, Flaustenbach has started to write "The Bell Cantata". Does the bell toll for you?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flaustenbach's Mottoes

It is important to set the correct atmosphere for learning. Posters and signs in music studio have achieved this purpose for generations. Flaustenbach had adapted MadLab posters for his own unique purposes...

The fine print reads..."Children Should be Seen Practicing, Not Heard... Therefore, in this studio, only the works of SCHubert, SCHumann, SCHopin, and SCHaminade shall be played"

We all know that "acid" rock melts a pianists fingers!

The "electrified" piano was one of Flaustenbach's great "flashes" of inspiration. It also explains why his lab assistant is so twitchy.

One of Flaustenbach's more outlandish ideas was to force groups of students to practice all of their instruments in the same place, at the same time. According to the Wikipedia article on Flaustenbach, this had incendiary results:

One of his very few published papers, “On the Efficacy of Simultaneous Practicing of Various and Several Musical Instruments by Multiple Students” (1831) led to a vociferous debate (which nearly devolved into fisticuffs among the brawnier musicians in attendance) at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria, and is thought to be responsible for the strict isolation of students from one another while practicing on their instruments today...
And my personal favorite...

this simultaneous homage to Bach and Oppenheimer reflects one of Flaustenbach's experiments - which accidentally provided a century's worth of power for his future mad laboratory creations...!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dr. Flaustenbach Has Taken Over My Piano Studio

If you haven't heard of Heinrich Wilhelm Flaustenbach, the 19th Century German Music Pedagogue, I suggest you click on his name and read David Saslav's story about Flaustenbach now. Fascinating practice tips, such as "Practice Makes Permanent Scars" and other gems from a life experimenting with how to get the worst out of students.

For some reason, Flaustenbach has risen from his place of eternal (not so much) rest to HAUNT my studio....

At the entrance to the PianoSmith Mad Lab where Flaustenbach has taken up residence, is "Mildred Irene Tomsheck" Flaustenbach's beloved student for whom he wrote the "MIT Variations". She died while trying to perfect this most difficult work. Flaustenbach had her remains glittered to honor her dedication to his piano methods.

Flaustenbach developed potions to increase memory function, speed of fingers, and mental and physical stamina at the keyboard. Careful...drinking and piano playing may be fatal!

If you did not practice in Flaustenbach's would be labeled a "RECALCITRANT" student and put into a jar!

Flaustenbach will demonstrate many of teaching methods with his Lab Assistant on Saturday, October 31, 2009, 1-4 PM in San Francisco. Come if you dare...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Practice Tip Number Seven

Slow vs Fast Practice
Notes from Dr. Helen Marlais' Lecture at the MTAC Convention / July 2009

This is the piano version of what your trainer at the gym suggests you do while working out on the treadmill.

Play a passage three times slowly -- and really do play slowly, then once more, immediately, at full tempo.

If the piece is long, use this method for individual sections -- playing an entire movement of a Beethoven Sonata in this way could drive a person to really hate practicing, which would be counter-productive.

Since the ultimate goal is to play well and enjoy your repertoire, all of these tips will make your practice time very efficient and manageable. Tip number seven is also great for solving a tricky measure or any difficult passage in a longer piece.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Practice Tip Number 6

Practice Tip Number 6: EIGHT (8) Times to Perfection!

This one is a killer.

One measure - 8 times perfectly;
One passage - 8 times perfectly;
One phrase - 8 times perfectly;
One section- 8 times perfectly;
One page- 8 times perfectly;
One movement- 8 times perfectly; then
An entire piece - - 8 times perfectly!

Thanks to Dr. Helen Marlais for this practice gem.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dr. Marlais' Practice Tip Number Five

Impulse Practice

This is my "go to" practice method for almost every piece. I first learned this technique from Eliane Lust. This method moves you through difficult passages beat by beat.

Basically it works this way:

  • Start with a difficult passage (leaps, scale runs, tricky turns, etc.)
  • With the first note and/or chord of the first beat of the passage held down, think about what comes next in the beat, but don't move your hand or play it yet. Check carefully to make sure that the hand, arm, and fingers are in the exact right position to begin the passage.
  • As soon as you have thought out where to move next, play up to the next beat as quickly as possible, but not beyond.
  • If you miss notes - do the same transition again.
  • Sometimes you may only be able to play up to the half beat in one move, depending on the difficulty of the passage.
  • You may also need to do this work hands alone, then repeat the above impulse practice steps "hands together".

Repeat the above transition until one beat is perfect, then move to the next and repeat the above.

The next step is to put multiple beats together (from beat to beat to beat) until you have the entire passage up to tempo and mastered.

As you might have guessed, impulse practice is related to muscle memory practice; after practicing a passage with the impulse method, you most definitely have developed muscle memory for that passage.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Practice Tip Number 4

Practice Tip Number 4 from Dr. Helen Marlais' 2009 MTAC Conference Lecture

Develop Muscle Memory!

Practice slowly. The only way for the "muscles" to remember is to imprint the actions slowly.

Don't let you mind drift.

  • Think about how the keys feel as you depress them.
  • Look at where your arm is in relation to your wrist and fingers: are you moving across you body, are you moving in parallel or contrary motion: is every part in alignment - are you moving without pain, without twisting, is the hand and the arm moving as a unit, etc.?
  • In scale passages - activate each finger in the passage by trying to get exactly the same sound on each note.
  • Memorize the patterns (sequences, motives, themes, etc.)
  • Listen, listen, listen to the sounds you are making.
  • Think vertically and horizontally (melodically and harmonically)
Unit practice.

  • I wouldn't try to play the whole piece (unless it is under two minutes) this way.
  • Take one measure, one line, one phrase, one page and really concentrate.
  • This is difficult practice, but very efficient practice.
  • About five (5) minutes a day will garner results.

I worked this way on Chopin's Butterfly Etude and learned the piece in 28 days with only 10 minutes of practice a day. It works!

And don't forget this practice gem while developing muscle memory: PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT!

Oh and by the way, one of my teachers told me that "muscle memory" is the first to go with nerves when performing, so never rely on muscle memory as a memory trick. Grrrrrrrreat!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Practice Tip Number 3

Thanks to Dr. Helen Marlais for these tips!

Number 3: Phrasing

This seems like an obvious tip, but how often I forgot to think of the long line while immersed in the minutiae of each measure.

1. Find the phrases: if marked easy - if not, play through and number the measures until you find the beginning of each phrase. Always use pencil as sometimes mistakes are made or you change your mind about which measures make up the phrase. Then count of the number of measures in each phrase - some pieces will have phrases with an even number of measures (4 bars in each phrase for example) and others will have quite irregular numbers of measures (like Bach). Play the piece - thinking about how to shape each phrase so that the composer's intent is clear.

2. Once you hear the long line of the melody - then practice over the bar line to phrase correctly.

3. Look at phrases versus articulation - articulation happens at the end of the phrase, but also with the phrase.

4. This process is helpful to begin to see the structure of the piece. And,

5. For flow ---- seeing/hearing the big picture.

It might seem like this is something to do later in the practice regimen. I thought so, and I often practice impulse and other ways first, but I'm beginning to see the value of looking at phrasing early in the practice process. I always tell my students not to wait to put in the dynamics and articulation. I think it is so difficult to add later and expression is a vital part of any piece. I once had a teacher who said that if I played a note with the incorrect articulation or dynamic --- I played a wrong note. My finger had pressed down the right key, but in the wrong way. I think that when there is too much focus on the details and not any notice of the long line, then extra work is needed later to develop the long line. Not to mention the crucial smooth crossing of the bar lines so that the piece flows beautifully and expressively.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Practice Tip Number 2

The next tip is: Procrastination....KIDDING! (Just a little slow getting to the piano this morning)

Dr. Helen Marlias' Tip Number 2.

Blocking - creating vertical harmony

This is one of my favorite tips. Finding chord patterns in music and then playing them as a block chord. Not only does it help to establish what the harmony is for a given passage, but puts the notes quickly into your fingers. It is also helpful for leaps. I practice this way all of the time and I also show my students how to block passages in their pieces. A most useful way to practice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Daily Practice Tip

I attended one of Dr. Helen Marlais' workshops at the MTAC conference this past summer. I thought instead of posting all of her tips in one email, I post them daily.

Tip Number 1:

Play - Prepare

For me this means to be aware of where you are in a piece and where you need to go...for the next note, phrase, theme, section, movement, next piece, etc. Dr. Marlais specifically mentioned this technique for practicing leaps. When I practice leaps, I

1. look at the keyboard for the shortest distance between the leaps (which interval is the smallest part of the leap);

2. stay on the first note of the leap for a long time until I've mentally prepared where on the keyboard I need to leap to - then I leap as fast as possible and try to land in the correct place. If I've mentally prepared and correctly visualized the key/chord/octave pattern in my head of the jump - I rarely miss; and

3. have fun by leaping to just get the gesture and to measure the distance of the leap.

For example, if I need to leap from a "C chord" in the middle of the piano to the lowest "C chord" on the piano...I'd play a five finger cluster in the middle of the keyboard and then leap as fast as possible to the bottom of the keyboard and play a finger cluster where eventually I have to play a chord. As soon as that is easy...I'd play the chord in the middle of the piano and then a cluster at the bottom of the keyboard. Then once that was easy...I'd play the chord in the middle of the piano and the chord at the bottom of the keyboard. Success!

All of the pieces I'm playing this Sunday - have really challenging leaps. Believe me, I've been using all of these techniques over the past several weeks.

Also for my concert preparation this Sunday - I'm using the play-prepare tip for pacing myself to play for 45 minutes in one stretch. Flexing my mental muscles--- as I have the technical, expressive and imaginative aspects of the works in place --- in order to pace myself to have enough energy for the demands of each piece. I'm "leaping" from one piece/one mood to another piece/mood. Just as challenging as leaping from note to note.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Moon Music

The Moon is now making music! : Moon Music

You may have to be a little patient for this to load in:

But notice how the satellite carves out an orbit, and the music is composed based on the surface height being passed over at that moment! Also try "Free Scratch" which allows you to play a single note (click the mouse) or an elongated sweeping melody (click-drag over the moon's surface). How cool is that? The music is eerie and yet kind of self-consistent in a mid-20th century kind of way!

Monday, August 10, 2009

R.I.P. Piano

The Piano has had some distressing press of late...

In June the Los Angeles Times reported that the piano has lost its status in US homes replaced by the guitar (this news was also reported with great sadness at the recent Music Teacher's of California conference in Santa Clara) - read the entire article below:

The piano's status in U.S. living rooms is declining - Los Angeles Times

The July 2009 BBC Music Magazine published a story "Hammer Horrors! It shouldn't happen to a piano...Fifteen tear-inducing examples of utterly beastly keyboard maltreatment" with some of my favorite examples such as:

14: the MIT students dropping a piano off Baker House to prove the gravity works (great video of the first piano drop on You Tube)
10: being eaten by your piano (in the Japanese horror film "Hausu" Melody is munched by her grand piano fingers first) --- I don't really blame the piano - what piano wouldn't want to eat a "melody"?
9 and 13: La Monte Young (I've the pleasure of working with La Monte) says to feed and water the piano in performance or try to push it through a wall.

and many, many more very funny or horrifying examples. To see the examples from the magazine go to:

So, I guess it is rather serendipitous that I'd see the piano here on a recent trip to Texas...

Photos from a Tyler, Texas cemetery.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Love Trail-Mix

I've been asked to be an alpha tester for a new file organizing and sharing software program created by Brennan Gaunce called Trail-Mix. It has changed my life on-line! For example: my blog posts are now so much easier to create. Every time I have a topic or idea I want to blog about, I file it in a Trail-Mix Activity Folder under notes, web links, files or pictures. Then when I want to blog about that topic, I simply open the Activity Folder and drag the content to Blogger's New Post window. So simple! I love this product. All bloggers - check it out. It runs as a Firefox plug-in.

The 10 Reasons Why I Love Trail-Mix!

1. I love saying the name: "Trail-Mix!"
2. Trail-Mix and
Firefox make for speedy web searches
3. Sharing trip information with my family: all the details are in one place, in a Trail-Mix Activity Folder
4. The Trail-Mix features: notes, files, pictures, web links all filed under a specific Activity Folder
5. I love "squirreling away" little nuggets of information in Activity Folders
6. Three words: click and drag
7. No more searching around the Internet for pages to hyperlink (In what AOL folder did I put that "favorite" link?)
8. Blogging is greatly simplified - ideas for posts are stored in one place
9. I can drag from Trail-Mix directly to Blogger, skipping the tiresome old way of copying and pasting links, files, text, pictures
10. I think that Trail-Mix makes my PC think it's a Mac!

PS: I also use this application when I'm creating itineraries for travel --- especially my "ArtTrek" itineraries which are extremely detailed. For example: the "ArtTrek" to Chicago last May was created using Trail Mix. The Trail-Mix application saved me so much time that I didn't need to rush my packing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Steinway Art Cases

1908 Steinway Piano / Model A

One of the things I love about my 1908 Steinway is its beautiful art case. (More photos of my piano in my 9/30/08 post.)

While searching for digital piano recommendations yesterday, I happened upon Steinway's site with some of their art case options. All were beautiful, but here are a few of my favorites.

By Dale Chihuly
Model D

In keeping with Mr. Chihuly's reputation for avant-garde glass artistry, Olympia - Steinway by Chihuly breaks dramatic new ground in the long history of Steinway art case pianos. Olympia - Steinway by Chihuly, unveiled at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, reflects the abstract expression of wintery mountain forests juxtaposed with the bright Promethean colors idealized by the fire of the Olympic spirit. The piano's many extraordinary features include a clear glass piano desk, and a translucent glass top, the first ever designed for a Steinway piano.

Now, wouldn't Chihuly's piano fit in beautifully at Ashley Lake? (Future site of the piano studio at Ashley Lake, 13 miles West of Kalispell, Montana. Architect Jeff Sheldon)

By Steinway Master Craftsmen
Model B
This remarkable instrument is an identical re-creation of the piano Cole Porter played in his Waldorf Astoria residence, and on which he wrote many of his best loved songs. Skillfully re-created by Steinway master craftsmen in figured mahogany, the design features double Empire-style legs, intricate hand-carvings and decorative paintings to beautifully embody the passion and creative spirit of this great American composer. Mr. Porter's original Steinway was created in 1907, and today distinguishes the lobby of the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
I've sat at Cole Porter's Piano at the Waldorf. They won't let you play it --- there is only one woman in all of NYC who is allowed to play it. She managed to get her name in Porter's will as the caretaker of the instrument. At least that is what the bellman told us.

By Joseph Sidorowicz

The design of the newest Steinway art-case piano Grove Park pays tribute to the Arts & Crafts Movement.

There is a delicate and deliberate balance of both architectural and furniture design elements that are incorporated into the overall theme of Grove Park. The striking figure of American Quarter sawn White Oak veneers is used throughout this unique design. The lid of the piano has a fine ebonized stringing inlaid around its perimeter as well as a geometric quadrant of inlaid Malachite, a natural stone material with a greenish hue, at the front corners of the lid. This same Malachite motif is repeated at the upper portion of each leg and once again on the bench. All of the hardware is finished in an antique bronze, which contrasts with the mellow golden oak.

The handcraftsmanship of the various components such as the legs, lyre, music desk, and bench all utilize classic mortise and tenon joinery. The centerpiece of Grove Park is the music desk which features a leaded glass panel depicting a majestic oak tree with outstretched limbs reaching across the horizon with the sunset in the background peaking through between its branches. The bench is designed in a duet configuration. It has a low back design and a repetition of vertical spindles and is capped by a horizontal top rail in the spirit of the classic Morris chair design. There are two leather upholstered bench cushions that are inset into the bench top.

This piano would look great in a Maybeck house in California or in a Frank Lloyd Wright! The Robie House (below / view of the front of the house from the street) in Chicago will do.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an accomplished pianist and always had a piano in his home. His designs were influenced by the Arts and Craft movement - especially the Roycroft Community in New York. I think he would approve of Joseph Sidorowicz's art case.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Piano Envy

Innocently enough, some of my students contacted me today about upgrading their digital piano and wanted some advice. How were they to know it would unleash the beast within known as PIANO ENVY! I've found the most amazing pianos (not all are digital.) My lottery ticket numbers are: 16, 18, 30, 36, 37 and the MEGA Number is: 3. Keep your fingers crossed!

I'm so in love with this little gem. When my 1908 Steinway goes to Montana to reside at Ashley Lake...I think this would be the perfect replacement. It's a Yamaha Modus digital piano.

and in yellow - so adorable! I'm reconsidering my master plan...maybe the Steinway stays in California and this goes to the lake...

This is Yamaha's AdvantGrand Piano - such an awesome name. The speakers are in the top of the piano, so the sound reverberates on the lid like an acoustic piano wood. Sub woofers are used for the bast notes.

I love the red interior.

And for more red...there is Elton John's Red piano also by Yamaha.

A few years ago I saw a 9' clear Lucite art case for a Yamaha digital grand...I can't find it now, but I'm looking. I think it was around $35K.

And this is the most amazing of all....(not digital, but WHO CARES!)

Schimmel's K 208 Pegasus Oval piano. OMG! It is only $200K. Lenny Kravitz has one. (Hmmmm so I just need one hit single to get one...KIDDING! I know that I would have to co-write, co-produce, play multiple instruments, etc. to be like Lenny!)

More later...I have the Steinway Art Case series to explore.

Monday, June 15, 2009

8 Hands

Anne, Jeremy, John and I gathered at John and Juli's place in Napa to play music arranged for Eight Hands (many editions by John Poole). We read through works by Haydn, Schubert, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven...

some of the scores...

John gets a note, Jeremy gets a rest...

I get the notes, Anne gets to rest...

John and Jeremy

Anne and me at the piano

Jasmine takes a nap. Must be a "slow and quiet" movement...

Thanks Juli for taking the photos!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Playing Bach to Lose Weight

I often complain that I spend hours practicing and it is such hard physical work, yet I never lose an ounce of weight. Now I see, courtesy, of You Tube that if I had this piano, I'd be oh so trim and still be able to play Bach!

Monday, June 1, 2009

I'm on You Tube...

...just an excerpt of our piece - 12 Downloadable Ringtones - for piano and cell phone.... We performed at the Walden Alum Composer's Forum on Saturday, May 30 at the San Francisco Girl's Chorus rehearsal room. Our clip on the YouTube video excerpt is about halfway through this compendium:

Photos from the rehearsal...

David giving me the cue to start with the cell phone...

you can barely see the cell phone in David's hand, but it is there!

If you'd like to have our compositions on your cell phone...visit Renditions Music to download a ringtone for your phone.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New Century Chamber Orchestra

Thanks to our generous friend, violinist - Dawn Harms, last night we went to the Shadows and Light concert of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in Palo Alto. The concert was wonderful and we met Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (David's childhood crush) backstage after the show. David's father (Isidor Saslav) when he was the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony first performed with Nadia when she was 13! Her passion and drive add even more sparkle to a Bay Area organization brimming with youthful energy and enthusiasm no matter how old the players.

Links to the evening pictures...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mother's Day Concerts

Besides sending our Mother's greetings on Sunday, May 10, David and I performed seperately in the evening.

My concert was a lovely tribute to women composers. I played NGC 2997 by Ann Callaway. My favorite comment about my playing was from Violinist Carol Braves. She said I "owned that piece". I'm pleased that I played NGC 2997 pretty well, as Ann was in the audience! Carol and Dr. Allen George Biester (the organizer, organist and pianist) played "Sonatine for Violin and Piano" by Germaine Tailleferre (the only female composer of the famous French group Les Six). Their performance was delightful and brought out all of the charm of Tailleferre's lovely work.

David sang at the tribute concert for the poet Bernie Weiner. Works were written by several Bay Area composers (including the poet's sons); David sang works by our dear friend Ed Dierauf as well as two works of another local composer, Randy Craig.

Brief Bio for Bernie: Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright, has written numerous fantasias about the Bush Administration ( ). A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Khetri's Sweet 16

For my niece's birthday, sweet sixteen on May 12, I made her a recording of Bella's Lullaby from her favorite movie - Twilight. The movie is based on the books by Stephenie Meyer.

Listen to Bella's Lullaby...

I also made a banner. Sweet 16 on one side...

and Khetri on the other side.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bach's Blessings

As the great cellist Pablo Casals said, "Playing Bach everyday is a blessing on your house".

I was greatly blessed on May 2nd to play two works by Bach from the French Suite, No. 6 in E Major at Tamara Loring's master class. I played the Allemande and the Sarabande and it was some of my best playing. For once, I was relaxed and focused.

In preparation for the class, here is my "rendition" of the Allemande (click on Allemande to hear the music) recorded April 29, 2009.

And for fun a "rendition" of the Allemande from April 2008.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nelson Freire

Last Saturday night I had the privilege of hearing Nelson Freire live at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. WOW - what a pianist! What technique! There is a lot of information about him on his official site. And I also found the Decca site to be very interesting. As to the performance on Saturday night...

First there was a change to the program. Freire was scheduled to play Mozart's Sonata in A Major K 331 (the piece he incidentally made his debut with at age 5!). However, he played Schumann's Opus 2, Papillons instead, and paired it with Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor (Opus 2 No. 2). I've studied Papillons (as recently as January 2009) and I found Freire's Schumann playing to be brilliant and charming. I felt that he perfectly captured the mood of each little miniature. I so wish I had his octave speed (see my former posts in February on my struggles with octaves), not to mention his dexterity and clarity.

The Brahms was a revelation - strong, passionate playing. I could imagine the young Brahms playing this work for Clara and Robert Schumann, and how they must have swooned upon first hearing it. I could also imagine that if Brahms had matured differently, he would have been a serious rival to Liszt and his school of pyrotechnic piano pieces. All that aside, there was something missing for me in Freire's performance. At certain places where an interpreter could pause for reflection (without changing the rhythm) to create more suspense and drama, it just didn't happen. It was all bravura playing and when required, quiet sensitive lyric playing, but it seemed almost soulless to me. Freire is certainly too good of a musician to "phone in" a performance -- and yet it almost seemed that way to me, as the playing seemed to lack emotional depth.

And this feeling was magnified in his Chopin selections. Freire is famous for his interpretation of the Barcarolle in F#-sharp minor, Opus 60. Really? Not for me. I love this piece, so I'm pretty picky about what I want to hear in an interpretation. The piece didn't breathe. It was as though someone were showing me pictures from their vacation, but instead of lingering over a few choice postcards accompanied by charming anecdotes, they just rushed through the pictures in a perfunctory way. Again, Freire is too good of a musician to not phrase perfectly, hit all of the notes, show a range of dynamics, and so on; however, I kept getting the sense that he's played these works by Chopin so many times that he's almost on autopilot. It's as if he has played these melodies so many times, there is no longer any novelty in the playing.

The Debussy was a delight. Every mood was captured in the selections from the Preludes, Book 1 (he played #4, #5 and #12) and since they were fleeting, charming pieces...they were perfect. I think he is brilliant at miniatures and being able to change moods quickly...but to my ear, there is not a lot of depth to his playing.

Andrew Clements of London's The Guardian, (Friday 23 January 2009) said the following about Freire's Debussy playing:
..."This is Debussy's tonal palette reimagined in much bolder, primary colours; even a study in greys such as the prelude Des Pas sur la Neige seems sharper focused and brighter toned than usual. At his best, though, Freire is totally convincing and his accounts of Le Vent dans la Plaine, La Sérénade Interrompue and especially La Cathédrale Engloutie are unqualifed successes..."

Not surprisingly, Freire's interpretations of fellow Brazillian Villa-Lobos were spectacular. He played Alma Brasileira and Danca do Indio Branco. I especially loved Alma because of the moody and disharmonious opening and closing statements. After the Debussy and the Villa Lobos, I found myself thinking that I'd want to hear Freire play twentieth-century works exclusively (even though I really loved his Papillons).

The audience loved him and brought him back for three encores. I didn't know any of the encores (thanks to my spotty musical education), and he didn't announce what they were, either. Freire is a brilliant pianist and one of the giants of our time. I'm so lucky to have heard him live, but I don't think I'll need to hear him again. In many ways I agree with Andrew Clements (paraphrased) "Freire is more a pianist to be admired than to be loved..."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

50 Ways to Spend Your Birthday

A dear friend turned 50 on April 18 and we gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate. Although Vegas is far from my favorite place, I just couldn't miss this celebration. David and I wrote a parody song to commemorate the occasion.

50 Ways to Do Your Birthday
Lyrics: Melissa Smith and David Saslav
(with apologies to the great Paul Simon)

We know the angst you feel ‘bout reachin’ 50 years
You know it’s really not all bad… just think of all the beers!
We're gonna help you to reduce those tears and fears, with
50 ways to do your birthday

There really is no need for you to envy us, just ‘cuz you’ve –
Reached this milestone age, so far ahead of us,
So, Kim, we'll help you celebrate without much fuss,
There must be 50 ways to do your birthday
50 ways right here in Vegas!

Just take in a show, Bo
Drink some more gin, Wynn
Go Swim in da pool, fool
Forget your age!

Go lay down a flush, Rush
and drink like a big lush
Drop a couple o’ grand, Stan
Forget 5-0!

Get ripped on the Strip, Chip
Sleep at the Mirage, Rog
Forget your age!

Go soak in a tub, Bub
Get loose with a MASSeuse
Find someone to marry, Harry
Forget 5-0!

It really grieves us all to see you in such pain
We wish there was something we could do to make you young again….
We so appreciated you, oh way back when,
so we'll explain again about the 50 ways...

It seems like none of us will get much sleep tonight…
…but in the morning you'll begin to see the light
We'll wish for you so many blessings on this night
There must be 50 ways to do your Birthday
50 ways right here in Vegas!

Go find a pole and shimmy, Kimmie
Find all of your bliss, Liss
Start ridin’ the wave, Dave
Forget your age

Just head to a spa, Ma
Dress up all fancy, Nancy
Drink one more shot, Scott
Forget 5-0!

Get lost in the mob, Bob
That sure would be swell, Michelle
Get caught with a john, Bon
Forget your age

Shake it and shimmy, Kimmie
Wearin’ somethin’ flimsy
Disturb the peace, Denise
Forget 5-0!

And to hear this masterpiece...arranged and sung by David Saslav

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Piano Blogs

Today (procrastinating...) I fell prey to the 21st century phenomenon of GOOGLING myself. Good news, my blog appeared first on the list when I googled: Diary of a Pianist! for some other blogs I discovered today...ENJOY!

A blog by a pianist in Oregon. I love the pansies on the piano keys! I've been so impressed with the piano community in Oregon. It is thriving with blogs, performances, the International Piano Festival in Portland, workshops and classes for teachers and pianists throughout the year...I could go unlike the rather moribund piano culture in San Francisco.

An interesting post regarding why music is no longer taught in US public schools (except in RARE cases). As he (Piano Man - not Billy Joel) mentions, he does not flesh out his idea in his blog post, but his thesis is similar to mine about the importance of music and art in society.

This is a lovely journal about playing the piano and music examples are written out! (I have to take the time to learn how to do this for my blog posts!)

This link is not for a piano blog, but I include it because my husband is related to William Kapell. I love Kapell's playing --- his bravura playing never lacks lyricism nor soulfulness.

I think I've posted blog entries like this! (I love the "bad pianist practice diary" title. I thought about naming my blog: Diary of a Mad Pianist, but thought that was to derivative and maybe could become a self fulfilling prophesy!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring!

Spring has arrived by date, but not by weather. It may look sunny and lovely in San Francisco, however, the view is deceiving. The wind is COLD! Time to stay indoors and practice. I'm working on Ann Callaway's NGC 2997 to play for my Piano Salon group on March 22 and then to play for the composer on March 27. About NGC 2997:

NGC 2997, in the constellation Antlia, is a spiral galaxy 1,500 light years distant from Earth. Ann Callaway’s 1994 depiction of this amazing galactic apparition lasts over seven minutes, and uses pianistic effects such as rolling arpeggios and crossing of hands to evoke NGC 2997’s luster. - David Saslav, 2005 Program Note

I've performed this piece many times over the past decade. I'll be playing the 2009 revised edition on May 10 at a concert in Oakland, California on a program of works by women, performed by women. I'll post a sound clip soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life Lessons at the Piano

I heard today that the Baltimore Opera is filing for bankruptcy (Oh Obama, where is their bailout money?) and the hue and cry commenced regarding that the arts are just not important...we must have jobs, etc! Of course I agree that jobs and the economy are important, but an opera company employs many people...highly skilled people who have dedicated many years to their craft and are at the top of their profession. Their livelihoods are just as important as a CEO, stockbroker, or bank manger. No one ever seems to cry over lost jobs in the arts. That's sad especially when to my knowledge I don't know of any opera singer who ever defrauded the public of millions of dollars...unlike a CEO, stockbroker or bank manager...This brings me to what I really wanted to say about my life working in the arts as pianist, teacher and arts administrator.

Music has always been a part of my life, even when for a decade after college I wasn't earning a living as a pianist and teacher. Through my studies at the piano, I've learned to:

pay attention to details no matter how small;
move forward no matter what happens;
recover from mistakes;
exhibit grace under pressure;
be fully in the present while looking towards the future;
value hard work and tenacity;
respect the past;
recognize genius; and to
see beauty in all forms.

I may have learned these lessons in life some other way, but I'm sure that the study of music ingrained these lessons into the fabric of my being. Once an interviewer asked me what were the rewards of a life dedicated to the piano. I answered that anytime I want to, I can go to the piano and play a Beethoven Sonata. What I was trying to say is that to be able to bring to life a great masterwork of the piano literature is to reach the top level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs ("Self-Actualization needs - realising personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.") I continue every day to seek out self-fulfillment in every aspect of my life --- music has taught me the value of this endeavor.

After my student recital on March 1st, one of my students wanted to quit taking lessons. I was surprised as this student played very well on the recital and performed a piece that was challenging and above her piano "grade" level. When talking with her about why she was unhappy with lessons, she said that younger students were in the same grade books as she was and some younger students were even ahead of her. She found this to be upsetting. I so understand where she was coming from, it is so hard not to compare ourselves to others, especially when they appear more successful.

I reassured her that no one knows what level of lesson books she is currently studying as her piece was not in any "lesson" books, but from a book of piano solos by contemporary composers writing pieces to be performed in concerts. I also said that the "level" she is currently working on isn't important to anyone except herself and the goals that she and I have set for her piano study. I also told her that isn't it interesting that we acknowledge our peers who are ahead of us and appear to be better. All throughout our lives so many people will be more accomplished, smarter, better and faster no matter what field we are in. When I'm striving ahead I only see how far I have to go and I forget to look at where I've been and how much I've accomplished. I told my student that this is a hard, but valuable lesson to learn. I said that no one else walks in her shoes and only she knows how much she has accomplished and now much more she will want to accomplish. Learning to value her own journey, acknowledging and respecting her own unique gifts and talents, and being at peace with her choices (in my student's case, she practices only the minimum required and I pointed out that the students who are ahead of her practice a great deal more than she does!) will go a long way towards creating a healthy, happy life. Not to say that she shouldn't strive to be a better pianist as that is why we work together. My student has decided to continue taking lessons.

In my former life as an arts administrator, I worked hard to bring art to the public. It was always an uphill battle. Raising money was the main part of my job no matter what position I held (board member, executive or development director, secretary, or assistant.) To say that raising money was gruelling and often demoralizing is beside the point (it was!) The difficulty of the task only strengthened my desire to show that arts make a difference.

Sometimes they make the biggest difference by their absence. During the 80s to the mid 90s, we fund raisers were always trying to show that the arts have economic value by enhancing other businesses such as tourism, restaurants, or neighborhood revitalization; or that students would demonstrate greater learning ability though higher test scores if art was part of the curriculum; or that somehow art was going to change your life if only you'd just come to the performance or museum and just experience it. I don't ever remember trying to sell the public or private sector on what an absence of art in our communities would be like. Now scientists are discovering that there may be an evolutionary reason for music, social theorists are suggesting that "ugly" environments lead to nihilistic and violent behaviors, and that the stories we tell ourselves as a culture (theatre, art in museums) determine our successful survival (Jared Diamond makes an excellent case for this theory in his book Collapse). In other words, art is vital! So to borrow a phrase from my fund raising more than ever, a strong case should be made for what happens if we don't have art, music, theatre, and beautiful public spaces in our communities.

Why Music from the
Is music the most important thing we ever did ? Music, development and evolution
Northern Ill. University: Was the Killer Crazy, or the Campus Hopeless?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Derailed by a Page Turner

Last night I performed with the Fortnightly Club of Palo Alto a work by Nancy Bloomer Deussen. The piece, The Message, written for choir and small ensemble, was arranged for piano and choir for this performance. I was very excited to perform this piece and worked very hard to play it to the best of my ability. The page turns in the piece were difficult. I had cut and pasted my part to minimize the page turns, but there was great concern that I would turn too many pages or have some problem with the page turns. A turner was found for me at the last minute. I was uncomfortable with using a turner, but decided that it would be best to have one so I could look at the conductor (my music was interfering a little with my sight lines).

ONCE AGAIN I LEARNED ---- TRUST YOUR GUT! The page turner was a disaster. He made three incorrect page turns and the first wrong turn during my solo introduction. I, personally, am never more nervous than when I have to turn pages for a performance (including my own). Publishers and typesetters of music should really take the turns into account and then rarely do...also I can't wait for the day that pages are turned electronically so there will be no more human errors (just like computers have eliminated humor errors!)

I must put aside my anger and disappointment as the "message" in Nancy's piece was about love. So I forgive my page turner, I forgive myself for not trusting that I could turn the pages myself and I forgive the typesetter for creating the page turning issues in the first place.

It just wasn't the night for page turning. The duo pianists who played before us were turning their own pages and had a horrible page turning problem which caused them to have to stop the piece. It just goes to show that anything can happen in a performance and you have to just roll with it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Student Recital

A photo of the invitation to the recital on Crane stationary (note the bees on the background)

I made this collage for the front cover of the program. The notes for the Butterfly Etude are in the "vegetable beds" and soon will be "harvested".

And this was the back page...we are promoting turning front yards, back yards, vacant lots, etc. into gardens, but the best garden of all would be one on the White House Lawn. Check out: to find out more about this campaign. My students received actual vegetable seeds as party favors to help with this effort.

The Main Reception Table with fresh strawberries, carrot cakes in the shape of cabbages, carrots and radishes with chocolate bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.

This recital was a production of PianoSmith/MadLabs 2009