My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Giving young pianists a broader vision of what's possible

As we are approaching the end of 2009, I feel the need to get some thoughts off my mind and onto my blog.  Unfortunately I fear that what I'm about to write may land me in a bit of hot water, especially to those brave and wonderful souls that teach piano.  I am not a teacher myself and I am very quick to tell that to people when I they ask me if I will teach their children piano or cello.  Teaching intimidates me, no, terrifies me and it is largely because I haven't had much instruction in the art of teaching, especially beginners.  I prefer to say that I am a coach and that I will coach only those that have a primary teacher, in other words someone who will bear the primary responsibility.  I know, I am a bit of a wimp and I'm the first to admit it.  Anyway, this is not what I wanted to end the year saying.  So here goes.

I am concerned, as are many, about keeping classical music relevant and of interest to the younger generations.  Many discussions focus on the audience, but over the past fifteen years or so I have been making a lot of observations about young musicians as well and about pianists, in particular.  What I am noticing is that many young pianists have quite a narrow perspective about what they can actually do with their piano playing.  They have very little experience doing anything other than working on their solo repertoire for months at a time and them performing them at competitions and at recitals.  You ask them what they want to do with their music and they look as if you've asked a reduntant question because to them there's only one possible answer - a "pianist" which I think in their mind really means soloist.  I think this is really very sad, partly because there are so few spots for the type of soloist they have in their mind's eye.  And I also think it's sad because it's just so limiting, especially if that's what they have in their mind starting at an early age. 

There are so many other things a young pianist could become.  In my mind, one of the fantastic things about playing this instrument is the variety of jobs, performances, and experiences you can have, either as a professional or as an amateur: choral accompanying, ballet company pianist, chamber music pianist, church or temple pianist, opera coach/pianist, symphony pianist, collaborator/accompanist, restaurant entertainer...I know there are others that I'm forgetting.   And another wonderful thing about most of these jobs is that they involve making music with other people and at least for me, that is something that I feel is like nourishment.  I love to play music by myself but there is something magical about communicating with others through music and not with words.  It can create a sense of well-being that is really quite indescribable.  But here's what I'm concerned about...these young pianists will not be able to win those jobs listed above, or at least they won't be able to do them very well, if they aren't exposed to the skills that are needed for them now.  Sightreading, learning music quickly, accompanying, reading choral scores...I was fortunate to gain many of these skills through accompanying my high school choir, playing duets with my mother, playing chamber music with some neighborhood friends, and playing cello in orchestra.  None of it actually came from my private lessons.  I know it seems like it all takes too much time but isn't there a way to expose kids to these skills earlier on, to give them a taste of some of the fun that they can have with their talents? 

And that brings me to my last point.  At the beginning of this post I mentioned my concern about keeping young pianists interested in performing classical music...the world today is about building social networks and community - Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, texting, cellphones.  I can't imagine that being alone in a practice room for hours at a time can be easy for a young pianist in today's society so perhaps piano study needs to adapt a bit.  I am convinced that if young pianists were given the chance to accompany church choirs, accompany siblings in Suzuki recitals or in their brother or sister's recital, play in a chamber music group at school, we'd have a lot more young pianists fired up about music making again and I don't think that would hurt anything.  Do you?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New blog for our upcoming recital!

Tadd and I have just started a new blog in anticipation of our upcoming recital in January.  The blog is at and we will be updating it frequently.  Our desire is that it will be kind of like program notes, a pre-concert lecture, informal interviews, etc...all rolled into one and we're hoping that it will be of interest to lots of different people.  We'll even be putting up recordings and video of some of our rehearsals leading up to the recital which should be make our rehearsing more interesting, so please do stop by now and then and check it out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A follow-up thought about greeting the performer after performing

Back on November 29th, I posted a link to a blog post urging audience members to greet performers after their performances.  A reader recently posted a comment that got my gears turning and consequently led to yet another one of my crazy ideas.  Are you ready for it? 

Sugar Vendil states, "when you're big, obviously people want to go backstage! but if you're still new i think it really helps to take the initiative to go out and talk to people."  This reader has a very good point.  And when I really think about it, expecting the audience to go out of their way to find me and to pat me on the back seems a bit, well, ostentatious especially since I am not one of thos performers that fits into the "big" category.  And these days, since going backstage doesn't seem to fit into the 21st-century audience's culture, it is just downright depressing to expect and crave it.  There is nothing sadder than standing in a green room after a performance, pumped full of adrenaline, on a performance high, waiting for someone, anyone, to come by and offer any bit of praise. 

So what can we do?  This is where my crazy idea sets in so watch out!  At the end of the performance, why do we performers have to walk off the stage?  Do we really have to do that?  What do we do have to do off-stage that is really so important?  Maybe we could give that up and instead, take our final bow and then graciously step into the audience, greet them, and thank them for coming.  After all, without them, there would be no reason for our music-making.  I suppose this might make some people a little uncomfortable, both performers and audience members alike but that's true with anything so I say what the heck,  what do we have to lose? 

Hmmm...I think I like this idea.  Now I have to just convince someone to try it with me.  Any volunteers?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An inspiring video of conductor Benjamin Zander discussing future of classical music

I hope you enjoy this video.  I hadn't heard of Maestro Benjamin Zander before but he is definitely a man who seizes optimism at every corner.  He has an interesting website at that is definitely worth a visit as well. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

A NY Times Article about an Innovative Presentation of Schubert Song Cycle

I just discovered an article on twitter today about a fascinating presentation of Schubert's song cycle, "Winterreise," that is is going to be presented in New York City this week.  Reading it gave me chills because this type of presentation, that definitely falls outside the box of accepted performance practice for lieder recital, incorporates elements that Tadd and I have been tossing around ourselves in discussing our own upcoming song recitals.  It seems to me that song recitals pose an even bigger challenge than do instrumental performances in today's multi-tasking world of instant gratification.  I happen to love vocal music and poetry yet I still sometimes find it tiring and distracting to read along with a translation during a performance.  I can understand why others, and surely those who insist on multi-tasking during a performance as do so many in a college setting, have a difficult time connecting to the music being sung.  My husband and I have started using supertitles in addition to providing the traditional translations for our recitals which I think may help, but I realize the issue of language can still be a barrier. 

This article states that the musicians performed the cycle already in London and that it wasn't necessarily received very well, at least not by the audience attending or by the critic from The Times that happened to be there.  Well, I don't know if that really means much.  Perhaps it actually is a good thing.  I wish this performance the best of luck and for those of you that can make it into NYC to see this, please do and let me know what you think - I'm most curious!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A profound example, in my mind, of honest performing

Over Thanksgiving break, my husband and I found ourselves with about 15 minutes to ourselves thanks to Tadd's parents, who were busy entertaining our four-year old.   Not knowing quite what to do with the time, we ended up watching music videos on youtube and in that time came across this clip of Nigel Kennedy, a British violinist who is quite well known for some of the more controversial aspects of his career.  (That's a topic for another post.)  I was moved by many aspects of this performance.  First of all, I find it interesting that Kennedy chose to perform from a keyboard work, Bach's Inventions.  And add to that, they were really intended as studies for keyboard students.  Of course Bach is Bach and we all love Bach, or most of us do, as Kennedy says in his introduction to the audience.  And this leads me to a second observation...

Nigel Kennedy speaks to the audience as if he is right in your living room and as if he is your neighbor.  He doesn't give some diatribe on the history of the Bach Inventions, he doesn't give a theoretical analysis...he simply talks.  And that is so refreshing and at times, quite funny because he happens to have a pretty good sense of humor.  He also doesn't find it necessary to talk about his selections all at once before performing them in order to avoid dreaded applause in between each movement.  Instead he seems to plan on introducing each gem indivually.  There is no disdain when the audience claps at the end of each short invention; Kennedy and Welchman smile, acknowledge one another and the audience, and they, dare I say it, look like they are truly enjoying the moment.

A third point...the third invention they perform, the Invention #10, I believe, they take at a very fast, impressive clip which of course causes quite a reaction from the audience, as well it should!  Many musicians, I think, might choose to end this part of the program right here, when they've got the audience clearly impressed and stirred up.  But what I love, really love, is that they don't end with fireworks, they end with a much more elusive, but in my mind sensual, intimate one that ends this portion of the concert with the audience literally in the palm of their hand.

Which leads me to my last point...

I think it is important to note here that they are making beautiful, exquisite music out of notes that some musicians might deem as too simple, as too academic.  Just about any decent piece of music has the power to elicit an emotional reaction from an audience when offered in an honest, enthusiastic way.  And watching Kennedy's interaction with the audience and with Juliet Welchman, the cellist, proved to me yet again that body language and words can do wonders for breaking down the walls between the audience and the performer. 

Anyone want a sledgehammer and some Bach Inventions?