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

We Planted Notes in September

We planted notes in September
So that in March, songs would bloom.

My student recital was held on March 1 at Calvary Presbyterian Church Chapel in San Francisco at 2:00 PM. Many students chose to play pieces with a "garden" theme (any song with a bug, vegetable, rain, flower, spring, garden, etc. in its title). Here are some pictures of the reception before the "locusts" (the reception food seems to always to demolished in record time) hit it...

The Garden Reception

Vegetable seeds for students to plant...chocolate caramel notes on tray to the right.

Beverages and more (Butterfly lollies, chocolate bugs, chocolate notes)

The "vegetable" cakes!

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Did It!

I did it! I performed Chopin's Butterfly Etude for my students, but I'm not going to post the recording. I had too many note mistakes in the middle section - where I lost focus. That aside several of my goals for this project were met.

1. I played the piece everyday for 10 minutes for a month (well really just 28 days, since the month I started the project was February)
2. I had a disciplined approach to learning the piece which I followed.
3. While performing the piece I did not rush, played musically and nailed the ending.

I really love this piece and will continue to work on it...I think for 10 minutes a day as part of my technical practice.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Peformance Today

Today is the Day! I'm going to play Chopin's Butterfly Etude after practicing for 10 minutes a day for the past month. I must confess that over the last few days...I've played the work for more than 10 minutes....nerves...

(STAR Branch...Handmade by Bee)...Today I will be a Star!

Some thoughts regarding the last few weeks of practicing. I haven't written about my process so much because I've been PRACTICING!

1. I noticed again that sleep does help with learning. (See my post on October 10, 2007 on Tempo. I note the science behind learning in your sleep).) In the Butterfly Etude there is a passage where the left hand chords only changed a little and when pared with the right hand melodic line created a great deal of dissonance. This passage gave me a great deal of difficulty. I paused every time I made it to that phrase. Tamara Loring told me to physically feel the the chords and the dissonances. That helped, but didn't solve the problem. So one morning before I was completely awake and was lucid dreaming, I saw that the pattern of the white and black keys in the chords were mirror images of each other. I saw clearly in my mind the chords:

First chord:
(white, white, black)
Second chord
(black, white, black),
Third chord
(black, white, black) and the
Final chord in the series
(black, white, white)

At my practice that day I played that section with great ease. Problem solved!

2. Also, the maxim that several teachers have tired to teach me EVERYTHING YOU NEED IS THE SCORE (paraphrased, but I hope you get the meaning) is true. The same passage above had one more element that I needed to never miss it (at least in practice) and that was to observe the accent marks in the right emphasising the dissonance as Chopin indicates, the ear and hand agree and mistakes are not possible.

3. I did enjoy listening to so many interpretations of the work. I had lots of artistic material to draw my own conclusions. My version at this date is lyrical, not too fast, with an emphasis on the horizontal melody line and dynamics.

So now I must play.