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?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Audience participation? What?? We have to do something???

This is a fabulous post that I think should be read by everyone who attends concerts, art gallery openings, plays, and the like.  I agree with Ms. Saathoff's can be very deflating to give out all of your energy in a performance, walk off stage, and then have to just walk out of the concert hall alone, without any interaction from the audience.  It really makes you wonder if what you do makes any difference at all. 

Thanks for the consideration!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A link to an article with an interesting perspective on classical music

A few months ago, when I was began looking into what folks in the field were saying about classical music and it's future, I came across this article that was written back in December of 2007 by Anthony Tommasini for the New York Times.  Back when I read it, I found it very enlightening even though the observations Mr. Tommasini makes, in particular about the discrepancy of length between your typical classical work versus the typical popular song, seem like they should be obvious.  And now that I've spent several months reading articles on the internet, lurking around in twitterland, talking to musicians and non-musicians here and there, I find this article just as insightful as is was the first time I read it so here it is for you to enjoy...I look forward to hearing, or rather reading your comments on the article.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Words for a musician (or any artist) live by

Another twitter discovery today...a fellow twitterer pointed out this short but sweet blog post today that I want to print out and hand to every young musician I work with.  Great words to keep us in check as artists.

Link to fantastic website showing how a piano works

I discovered this great website today thanks to twitter.  The folks at Lindeblad Piano Restoration, located in Pine Brook, New Jersey, have put together this fantastic website showing the inner workings of a grand piano. 

Warning - this model reveals all, so if you are at all prone to fainting in the presence of anatomically realistic scenes, you may want to make sure you're sitting down for this.  Just kidding ;-)  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Link to a must-read interview with Anne Midgette, classical music critic for the Washington Post

NPR's website featured an interview, yesterday, with Anne Midgette, the Washington Post's classical music critic.  I discovered Ms. Midgette a few months ago when I began my foray into Twitterdom and became one of her followers.  I was impressed by her ability to clearly state issues facing the classical musical world in twitter's famous 140-word miniature canvas.  And from her twitter site I discovered her blog which is also fabulous.  She asks great questions that I think anyone interested in classical music would find interesting whether music is their profession or their passion, or both.  Needless to say, when I saw someone's tweet go by that there was an interview with Anne Midgette on the state of classical music, I immediately stopped my twittering and delved into the interview.  In my opinion, it is fantastic and should be read by all.  I especially love her concluding comments:
I hope we see a continuation of the kind of revitalization in terms of the venues and performances.  I would love to see classical music be able to break out of its box a little bit.  I think one of the biggest handicaps is still the traditional format -- the idea of getting dressed up and going to a place with red, plush seats.  It's something I love sometimes and many people love sometimes, but there are ways to appreciate this music without doing that.  And it's music that has the ability to speak to a lot of people who don't know they will like it because it's not put in a place where they want to go hear it.
In all of my recent brainstorming, this exact topic has been on my mind...trying to think up alternative venues and situations for offering music (I even dislike using the word "perform" sometimes - it sounds so highbrow).  I was brought up going to concerts all the time so getting dressed up, going to concert halls, sitting in the dark and having to be quiet, all that is natural to me but why should it be natural to the majority of my friends that I went to high school with that weren't musicians?  Why should they want to spend their free time and their hard-earned money going to classical music concerts?

So this is what reading Anne Midgette does to me...great, isn't it?  Well, if you're in the mood for some good discussion yourself, read the rest of the interview yourself.  And if you need some one to discuss it with, you know who's willing to talk ;-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Outside-the-Box Recital: "Poe-ism" at Virginia Tech

This weekend my husband and I attended a recital at Virginia Tech that was unusually refreshing in many ways and I want to share some thoughts about it with folks here with the hope that it might inspire others as well to think outside the box. 

The recital was called "Poe-ism" and was comprised of chamber music based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe written for various combinations of soprano, piano, and cello.  The musicians were Ariana Wyatt, soprano, Benjamin Wyatt, cello, and Tracy Cowden, on piano.  They were joined for a couple of the works, by Patty Raun, who performed dramatic readings of several of the works on the program.  The works on the program were Henry Leslie's "Annabelle Lee," Charles Loeffler's "To Helen", Arthur Reginald Little's "Ulalume," Deodat de Severac's, "Un Reve," Daron Hagen's "A Dream Within a Dream," George Crumb's "The Sleeper," Beverly Martin's, "Edgar Allan Poe Songs," and then the world premiere of a work that was commissioned for this event, "Spirits of the Dead," a set of 5 songs, by Gregory J. Hutter.  Now I must admit that I have never been a big Poe fan so I wasn't quite sure how an entire recital of Poe-based pieces was going to work.  But from the beginning of the recital, I could sense the performers committment so I stuck with a positive attitude.  Then, early on in the program, they took the time to explain to the audience a bit of the history behind the recital and the process they went through in order to put it together which helped make me realize their complete investment at which point I was completely sold.  Smart musicians, at least in my mind.

So some other things that I thought are important to note...the program notes were fantastic; they were well-written, easy to ready, and interesting.  They also included the texts to all of the songs and readings even though most were in English anyway.  I appreciate having the text there because I like to read the words several times to really mull over their meaning while I'm listening to the music.  Also in the notes were a handful of images that had been procured from Virginia Tech's special collection's department.  It was a nice touch and I know how much extra time those extra touches can take to make happen. 

The audience turnout for this program was excellent, especially considering the unusually warm weather on Saturday night.  It was interesting to see that the audience spanned several different communities in the Blacksburg area that don't typically mingle and that is thanks to the fact that the musical artists themselves decided to collaborate in spite of the divisions that seem to plague this small Virginian town.  It just goes to show that music doesn't understand those types of boundaries.  I think that it was also clever to base a recital on a literary figure because that in itself might help draw a few more people into the hall who might not usually attend a classical music concert.  And having a faculty member from the drama department do dramatic readings would draw yet another crowd.  Brilliant! 

Well, I suppose that's all I can think of now to say about this recital, but congratulations to these colleagues for a wonderful night of music-making and more.  It's the "more" that for me, is the important part.  They created something unique on Saturday night that left me wanting more and for that I am very thankful.

For a link to the press release for this event, please click here

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another link to a a fantastic article questioning the relevance of classical music

A while ago I came across this fantastic article on Terry Blackburn's webpage.  I don't personally know this man, but I find many ideas in this article thought-provoking.

My initial reaction upon hearing the question, "Is classical music relevant?," is to equate relevance with popularity and popularity with a larger, more enthusiastic audience.  But after reading this article, I began to see that perhaps such a focus is misguided.  It is good to be reminded that most of the music that has lived on in the classical music world has lived on not because of individuals but simply because the music itself seems to transcend time, culture, and trends.  So even though it may at times appear the audiences are dwindling in number and perhaps enthusiasm, I think it is important to take heart, stay encouraged, and continue on, reveling in the knowledge that what we do might not be popular, but really is relevant, at least to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A must-read blog article that encourages me to press-on as an artist

Please take the time to read this incredible story about the famous pianist, Andre Watts, and his touching interaction with a fan of his.  It's worth reading the comments that readers have added at the end of the post.  There are even some links to some youtube clips of the Mr. Rogers episode that Mr. Watts was in. 


Accompanists as emissaries

After writing yesterday's post on the use of the terms "accompanist" and "collaborator," I couldn't stop feeling like I had not gone quite far enough in expressing how I important I feel my role is, whether I'm playing the Twinkle theme with a student or I'm playing a movement from a Vivaldi cello sonata. 

I grew up steeped in classical music because my parents loved it and thrived on it.  They weren't professional musicians themselves, but I believe that if they could have gone down that path, they would have.  But I don't think that the majority of young people today are in the same boat; classical music is not the default musical setting in most families' households.  And of course classical music is just not as present in society as a whole, especially not in the younger generations, in school, in movies, on television, in culture in general.  So when a child is learning an instrument, that is usually their only exposure to the music that I happen to love and understand.  That is why when I accompany them, I feel that if I want classical music to have any chance of making a mark on the child, I need to become an emissary of the music; I need to play in a way that helps the student feel as if this music has a point and a purpose.  Otherwise, what's the alternative?  Well, I've been on the other side.  On bad days, when I'm not in the mood, I've played the part of the grumpy accompanist who sits there and plays like a bored pianist banging out one Suzuki accompaniment after another.  And I don't think music has much of a point when played like this.  When music is presented like this, how can we expect little ones to want to keep playing if that's what they get up on stage?  And how can we to expect these same kids to be curious enough about classical music to want to go to a concert when they are a bit older? 

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic.  Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself to turn such a simple job into a life-transforming one.  But you know what?  I think I'll go ahead and take that risk.  Because what I do know is that in the past couple years of working with these young kids in this way, with a lot of heart, care, and passion, I have witnessed a lot of moments that have brought me to tears.  I see little kids, every week, moved by classical music and that, to me, is hopeful.  And that drives me on. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Am I a collaborator or an accompanist?

A few decades ago, a pianist that provided accompaniment for instumentalists and/or singers was called an "accompanist".  These days, the term "collaborator" is sometimes used.  So which term do I prefer?  Sometimes it seems like such a loaded question but I wish it didn't have to be that way.  In my mind, I don't think that there is anything wrong with being "just" an accompanist and for many of the jobs I do, I actually prefer to see myself in that way.  I just looked up "to accompany" in good old Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary and in addition to the obvious definition, "to perform an accompaniment to or for," it also says, "to go with as an associate or companion."  I especially like that second definition.  When I accompany younger musicians or people just starting out on an instrument, I feel that it is just as important to serve as a musical companion to the student as it is to play the right notes.  It is partly my job to help the student to get a sense of the thrill that performing and music-making can bring.   So when I accompany them, even if the piece is the most simple Suzuki tune, my goal is to support them in every way that I can and to also serve as that companion, always on the path to a more musical experience.  And the best thing about my job as an accompanist is that every so often, I get to experience a performance with a young musician where he or she reaches beyond the notes and journeys into the exciting world of music-making, full of heart-pumping excitement, passion-filled phrases, the give and take between instruments...When this happens, the experience always blows me away.  It it just as thrilling to collaborate with a young musician at a time like that as it is to collaborate with a colleague. 

So am I a collaborator or an accompanist?  I am proud to say - both!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Concert etiquette or die?!

Last weekend I had the honor of accompanying one of my husband's voice students in his senior recital.  Since I had accompanied this young man the previous year in his junior recital, I already knew that he has a very supportive family which meant that his entire family would most likely be attending this most important performance.  That also meant that there would be several toddlers in attendance in addition to at least one baby.  I know, I know...I can hear your groans, grumbles, sighs, and lamentations now...but please, hold them for just one moment...I have, perhaps, an interesting perspective to share with you.  Let me tell you how the recital went from my viewpoint.

I have to admit that there definitely were more distractions than usual, especially at the beginning of the recital.  I was very aware of toddlers moving around, of talking, flashes of a camera going off...and I did have to work hard to concentrate, especially at the softer moments.  But there were two things that helped me stay focused...first of all, this young singer, who really is not all that experienced, just remarkably passionate about performing and who has an innate sense for being on the stage, was able to hold it together and remain focused in spite of the distractions.  Second of all, I knew that although I might not be playing specifically for those younger individuals and their parents, he was.  He wanted those people there and it meant the world for him to be able to share his music and this step of his musical journey with his family.  As soon as I keyed into those thoughts, I was back on track and in all honesty, I have no idea whether or not those kids even stayed in the hall -  I don't remember hearing them in the rest of the recital. 

In the past, I have always joined in the chorus when performers and audience members have bemoaned unsophisticated audiences.  And don't get me wrong.  I still think it's good to educate folks, especially young children, on concert etiquette.  What I found so interesting this weekend, however, is that it is possible to overcome distractions as a performer and that perhaps we need to be a bit more careful to think about how often we want to exclude unsophisticated audiences from performances.  It's a tricky topic because I realize it's not just the performers we need to keep in's also the other audience members that should be kept in consideration.'s all so tricky.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Not leaving page-turns up to chance

Seems like a silly topic, perhaps, but I have seen so many good auditions and performances interrupted by musicians having page-turn mishaps.  I'm sure you've all had one at some point: you think you have enough time but you don't at this one crucial performance and you find yourself late for the next entrance, you turn one too many pages and you're suddenly in the wrong movement, you turn a little too vigorously because you don't have very much time so your music falls off the music stand, and so on.  What is sad about these incidents is that they are usually preventable with a bit of foresight and perhaps, gasp, some spare change.  Why do so many musicians, many of them students, resist copying pages to reduce page-turning mishaps?  Is it an image issue?  Does it make one look like less of a musician with photocopies displayed on the music stand, as if anybody in the audience even cares?  I find myself chuckling somewhat sardonically at performers who are living on the edge, having perfected the art of turning their pages while continuing to play their instrument at the same time.  It can be quite a marvel to witness such acrobatics but mostly I find it unsettling and a bit distracting.  I imagine that most of the time, when performers don't come with prepared page-turns, it's simply because they didn't take the time to get it done.  As a busy person myself, I can sort of understand that.  But at the same time, why not take the extra few minutes, the extra quarter it may take, to make your performance a little less risky.  It may even make your performance a little less angst-filled.  You'd be surprised how much time you spend thinking about those difficult page turns while you really should be thinking about the music you're playing. 

There are some more varations I could write on this theme, but I think I'll save them for another day.  Stay tuned...if you dare, that is.

Inspiring and clever video of Handel Passacaglia

Enjoy this video of the Handel Passacaglia in which both parts are apparently performed by the same performer, American cellist Wells Cunningham.  What a clever thing to do, in my opinion.  It's a bit on the "pull a rabbit out of a hat" side of things, but sometimes that isn't such a bad thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Link to a sweet article about the slow movement of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto

The slow "moment" from Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto

Learning and practicing the slow movement of Beethoven's third piano concerto has become therapeutic to me and yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany about it all.  Well, at least it felt like an epiphany to me.  What I realized is that music such as this slow movement is so earth-shatteringly exquisite because it brings us all to a place that we rarely find ourselves these days - a place where time is not rushed, where there is no agenda staring us in the face, where motion is not surrounding us.  This movement, at least to me, brings us to another world where we are finally permitted to stop the clock for a few minutes.  Perhaps we should not even call it the second "movement" but just a "moment".  And what also struck me is that in our time, in our culture especially, understanding such a concept of stillness, of quietness, can be very difficult; we are not used to slamming on the brakes and shutting out all time constraints.  So how am I supposed to achieve this monumental task?  How am I supposed to achieve this zen-like state?  I'm not quite sure that I'm up to this task, at least not in this lifetime.  I've always secretly wished that I lived in the time of Jane Eyre, sitting around in parlors doing needlework and playing clavichords, taking walks in the countryside without a schedule pressing in on would come in handy at times like this...when I need to perform the second movement of Beethoven's otherworldly third piano concerto.

I'm currently reading a novel, A Fine Balance, written by Rohinton Mistry,, that takes place in India in which two of the main characters, young untouchables from a village travel into the city to take up apprenticeships at a tailor's shop, which is unheard of.  They have never been in a city before and they spend two days sitting on the stairs in front of the tailor's shop in absolute shock.  They have no way to comprehend the life that is whirling on around them.  While I was practicing yesterday, I remembered this passage and it occurred to me that if Beethoven were to step into our world today, he too might react in a way similar to how the two apprentices reacted.  But he isn't here, and the world he lived in was very different from how our lives are now.  I feel that in order to do justice to this incredible musical moment, I am going to have to be the one to do the time travelling.  I am going to need to step back in time and forget about hurrying and worrying for a few minutes.  I am going to need to just slow down and share a few moments of heaven with my friends...

I think I can do that...with practice, of course.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The quest for technical perfectionism in young musicians - can it go too far?

Recently I have noticed an increasing number of young musicians, and when I say young, I mean between the ages of 10 and 16, who are consistently dissatisfied with their "imperfect" abilities at their instruments.  Usually these imperfections are technical ones...they miss a shift here, have an intonation problem there, miss that scale going up...and sometimes, but not usually, they are frustrated by musical imperfections.  It is this quest for technical perfection that concerns me most because I do think that this quest for the perfect performance can go too far and I also think it is unrealistic, at least for most of us mere mortals.  Don't get me wrong.  I am all for working hard, working slowly, learning things carefully from the moment you start a new piece, paying careful attention to the score, and building up fast pieces slowly, but I also believe that once you've built your foundation and then built a strong, stable structure, you should feel free to let go a bit, and enjoy what you have created.

So why all this desire for note-perfectness?  Why does everything have to be exactly like it was in the practice room?  Perhaps some of this has to do with the fact that many recordings that kids listen to today come from recording studios where things appear to be note perfect, sound perfect, intonation perfect, you-name-it-perfect.  Personally, I don't care for those recordings and I don't tend to listen them very often.  When I do listen to recordings, they are usually of live performances because I need to hear the breathing, the little (or not so little) mistakes here and there, the thrill of the cheers and the me that's all part of the music making.  Perhaps if our young musical friends today only listened to live performances of the repertoire they were playing, they would be more forgiving of themselves and begin to focus on something more important than nailing every note.

You might ask, is this really that important?  And I answer with a resounding, "YES!"  If we want audiences to be excited by classical music, if young people want their peers to be intrigued by what they are doing, their passion for music and for performing needs to be infectious when they perform.  I could be wrong, and please correct me if you disagree, but I don't think audiences really go to performances to hear a perfect performance - they go for an experience of hearing great music, of being if they go and instead see a young person simply disappointed in themselves, that can be a terrible downer.  Not a great concert experience, that's for sure.

So young musicians out there, it's fine to be a perfectionist in the practice room.  Go ahead...shake your head, stomp your feet, sigh, grimace, scream, pull out your hair, do what it takes to get it right...

but then be an actor and an artist the minute you step on, create, listen, and love what you do!

Enough of my lecture :-)  Now go and practice, just take it easy on those studio recordings.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A discovery about Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto and Clara Schumann

Thanks to a dear friend of mine, Linda Plaut, (thanks, Linda!), I discovered that Clara Schumann first performed Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto when she was 49 years old.  It was for this performance that she also wrote her own cadenza for the first movement.  In her diary, on November 3, 1868, Clara wrote, "I played Beethoven's C minor Concerto for the first time (almost unbelievable) with real delight.  I composed a cadenza for it and I believe it is not bad".  On May 1st, I will have the honor of performing this same concerto with the New River Valley Symphony and a few months ago, before discovering this diary entry, I had decided to use Clara's cadenza because personally, I find it far more intriguing, compelling, and interesting than Beethoven's own cadenza.  Now that I know that I have learned of Clara's mature age when she first performed this work, it makes me feel like this is all meant to be.  For me, this performance marks a turning point in my life.  Since graduating from Eastman, I haven't felt like I've really been putting my training to good use - I've just been dabbling in life, which is understandable and all fine and good.  I got married, worked in non-musical jobs, did some freelance music work here and there, had a baby which really put life on hold...Now I feel like my musical life is truly starting and for me it is an extraordinarily thrilling moment.  I am playing music all of the time and practicing all the time.  I'm exhausted, but it's all ok by me.  Bring it on!  So like Clara, I imagine that my experience on May 1st, will be an "unbelievable" one and one filled with "real delight".  And I will have Clara to thank for that, partly, but also all of my friends, family, and colleagues that have encouraged me through the years!  Thank you!!!!   Oh, and if you happen to be in the Blacksburg area on May 1st, come hear the concert :-)  I'd love to see you there.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I was fortunate to have growing up (as a musician)...

Of course I could go on and on about how fortunate I have been in every which way, at every point in my life but what I have been thinking about most this past week and that I want to talk about here is what I feel helped contribute to who I am as a musician today; things that go beyond the standard good teachers, good instruments, supportive parents, opportunities to go to music camps, competitions, festivals, concerts...I was incredibly fortunate to have all of those things too.  But I was also blessed to have even more, believe it or not.  And it was the "more" that pushed me over the edge, that I believe made it virtually impossible for me to not be passionate about music making, to not go crazy without it, to not feel like it was in my blood. 

The neighborhood I grew up in, in San Francisco, was, I believe, an unusual neighborhood.  There were many families with kids that were involved in classical music and one mother that was a pianist and piano teacher herself.  For many years we regularly got together to play and perform chamber music, often times having the opportunity to play with the mother that was a professional musician.  We were steeped in chamber music and we were used to playing with a professional. 

When I was about 10 years old, I was invited to play piano with a professional chamber music group, the Chamber Soloists of San Francisco, at their opening concert.  I played piano in a Haydn Piano Trio and when I think back on it it seems slightly surreal.  I can't believe that they gave me that opportunity.  It was a fantastic experience for me to actually rehearse with "real" musicians and have to make "real" musical decisions at that age.  I don't really recall if I made any of the decisions - probably not.  But I do remember the thrill I felt during that performance, that first "professional" gig.

I also got to perform with professionals when I played cello in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.  Once a year, the orchestra performed, side by side, with members of the San Francisco Symphony.  I'm not exactly sure if the experience was as thrilling for the adults, but for me, it was absolutely unbelievable - nerve wracking, yes, but such an adrenaline rush.  To play next to musicians that played with such ease, with such musicality, but that also, gasp, made mistakes!  And it was also good to see the realistic side of orchestras.  There were the "grumpy old men (and women)" of the orchestra there too alongside of us and although it was a little deflating to be exposed to that, it was something for me to think about. 

Later on, after I went to college and after I started focusing more on accompanying, I had the great joy of working with several cello professors at various institutions that I've studied and worked at.  That, too, has been a great inspiration to me.  I guess what I'm trying to say in all of this is this...

If you are a professional musician and you find yourself working with a young child, a young man or a woman who you feel possesses some talent, please don't shy away from giving him or her the opportunity to play music alongside of you.  And I don't just mean in a lesson situation.  That is fine and can be good.  But what I mean is give them the chance to perform with you, even if it's just in a small situation.  Your musical passion, your musical ability can be infectious and there's no better way for them to "get it" than to get swept away in a powerful performance situation, nerves and all.  I think if more professionals took young musicians under their wings like this, then classical music might get a nice shot of needed adrenaline.  It certainly worked for me.

Just a thought.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Enroll Yourself in the Genius Factory

This is a really interesting clip about a book that is just out that examines whether or not talent is really the key to someone excelling in music, sports, confirms a lot of my ideas about practicing.  There are also some good tips for coaches and teachers.  It's well worth 7 minutes of your time to watch it whether you're a parent, teacher, coach, student, or just someone curious.

Enroll Yourself in the Genius Factory

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What do I love to do?

So what makes me tick as a musician, as a person?  They are one and the same, really.  Here goes.

I love playing music, mostly with other people.  And I don't need to be playing with other "experienced" musicians.  Sure it can be exhilirating to be reading music or performing with colleagues but it can also be thrilling for me to be playing music with young people and with amateurs.  I am a shy person in general so for me, music making is a "safer" way to get to really know people.  It's thrilling, challenging, fun.  I just love it.

I love helping people learn how to practice more efficiently.  I love to watch all of the "aha" moments that appear once a student starts to see how effective it can be to actually plan out practice sessions, to be thoughtful about all aspects of music making.  And what's fun for me is to see how young a person can be for the techniques to start working.  Confidence-building is an awesome activity to be a part of.

I love it, love it.  And I love to share my excitement for music with my audiences.  I love to be up on stage and feel the energy from the audience.  Who needs drugs when you can get a rush like that.  It is the best thing in the world and kind of addictive, I must admit.

I love fancy, beautiful dresses.  There, I said it.  I am lamenting the fact that it seems that fancy dress may be going by the wayside and that it may not have much of a place in modern day performing.  I'm grappling with that right now.  I don't want classical music performances to seem elitist, out-of-reach, stuck-up...but at the same time, I feel so good in beautiful clothes and love performing in them...sigh...something I need to figure out, I suppose.

Those are my thoughts for now.  I good way to start off this blog.  More later.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Michelle Obama tells international audience why the arts matter | Culture Monster | Los Angeles Times

I was thrilled to read this article in the Los Angeles Times about the First Lady's address about the arts.  The government has so much on its plate right now but I am encouraged to know that they feel that the arts play an important role in society.

Michelle Obama tells international audience why the arts matter | Culture Monster | Los Angeles Times

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