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Should musicians have to play from memory alone?

Another article by Susan Tomes, a follow-up to her previous piece "All in the mind". Published in The Guardian, 4/24/07:
"I don't think we should confuse good musicianship with the ability to memorise. Yes, there are some musicians who memorise easily and who relish the experience of performing without the score, free as a bird. To hear someone playing by heart with supreme confidence is a thrilling experience. But there are also plenty of intelligent, sensitive people whose musical gifts are actually inhibited by the strain of being made to play without the music."
Read the rest of this article here.

All In the Mind

By concert pianist Susan Tomes, published in The Guardian, 4/20/07:
"I recently went to a party where our host regaled us with a compilation of concert recordings in which famous pianists had suffered from horrible memory lapses. Everyone fell about with laughter at the sound of celebrities going hideously off the rails, but, as a pianist, I found it an uncomfortable experience. The struggles of Curzon, Richter and Rubinstein with memorisation had become a spectator sport.
Playing from memory in public is a fairly recent fashion. Before the late 19th century, playing without the score was often considered a sign of casualness, even of arrogance. The custom of playing from memory developed along with the growth of a body of classics that everyone agreed were worth preserving exactly as their composers had intended. Teachers encouraged students to memorise them. Many young players memorise easily, but it gets harder as time goes on. As the pianist Charles Rosen put it: 'With adva…

Closing Out Year 2009

Today marks the close of my teaching studio for year 2009. This was the 7th full year of my teaching, and growth continues.
For me, this was a year of change:
In May, I set up my own website to promote my teaching and help make communication with students and parents easier. Soon after that, I set up this blog for another means of cataloguing my thoughts and ideas. In October, my wife and I bought a house in Castro Valley. This has brought great joy and learning for me/us, as well as challenges. We're finally beginning to feel settled.This year my colleague Jason and I jointly organized an inaugural summer recital for our students, with great success. We plan to continue presenting two yearly recitals going forward -- one in early December, and one at the end of the school year in June.I began teaching the art of music composition to a select group of students. This has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope those students were enriched as well. I am always interested in hearing from…

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

"Note by Note" will make you want to own a Steinway piano. This world-renowned company certainly are skilled at promoting their brand! This is a fascinating peek inside the Steinway piano factory, showcasing the "family" of laborers who construct these intricate machines. Insights from several top performing pianists (all Steinway-endorsed, mind you) provide additional, unique insights. 

This is fascinating viewing for anyone with an interest in pianos and piano playing. I have already recommended this film to many people, and all who have since viewed it have thanked me.






As a postlude to my review above, here are some thoughts on the documentary from a fellow Netflix viewer named JSkyer:

"As a piano technician I appreciate this documentary for what it really is: An extended promotional piece for Steinway. And with the exception of the dramatic opening scene where a team of big burly men use all their strength to force layers of lamination around a mold to form t…

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

I'm confident that about 97% of the people I have encountered in life would hate the music Scott Walker currently makes. The man was a teen idol in 1960's Britain with the Walker Brothers, but since then he has taken many an artistic detour. The music he strives after these days is decidedly non-populist. The documentary film "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" presents Mr. Walker and his work candidly, and with unprecedented access to this publicity-shy man. The film was produced by David Bowie. I can't say that I'm convinced by Scott Walker's recent work. It is extremely experimental, intentionally difficult, and devoid of "anchors" for listeners. Perhaps it's just not for me. But before you shut the man out of a space in your collective psyche, witness these glowing quotes from two outstanding musical minds (excerpted from their interviews for the film): "[Scott Walker is] like an intrepid explorer, or something. Somebody who goes to a part o…

Thoughts on the 12/6 Recital

A few days have passed, and I've had some time to reflect on the latest Piano/Guitar recital. I thought the event was very smooth this time around. The quality of performances was good throughout, and everyone seemed encouraged.
There are a few thoughts I want to record:
- Can we speed up the set-up time for guitarists & bassists?
- The Group 2 program was too long! We need a more even balance of lengths next time.
- We need more collaborations between guitar & piano students in the future. (These require a lot more lead time - plan months in advance!)
- Certificate of Awesomeness?
------------------------------------------------------------------- Do you have any thoughts as to what we can improve for future performances? Please email me and let me know: jessemicek@yahoo.com
The next recital date is (tentatively) Sunday, June 6. The goal for these performances remains the same: make each one better than the last.
Jesse

7 Surprising Benefits of Music Education

From NJFamily.com, August 2009:
1) Music activities boost brainpower 2) Music leads to literacy skills 3) Music adds to children’s understanding of math 4) Music helps children live in harmony with others 5) Music is active 6) Singing helps children stay strong 7) Music supports self-expression
Read the full article here.

Selecting Your Last Piano First

From Grebepiano.com, 2008:
"Your new piano will be a valued, lifelong companion if you choose wisely. Do not be swayed by a fast-talking salesman, lowest price, or trendy looks. A piano should be chosen just as you would a valued friend.
A piano is a musical instrument first, and a fine piece of furniture, second. All fine pianos will have certain characteristics with them. This is a discussion of what to look for."
To read the rest of this article, click here.

December 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- I will not be teaching during the last 2 weeks of December. A regular teaching schedule will resume on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. Enjoy the Christmas break!
- On Dec. 14, 15, and 17 I have to leave teaching early for rehearsals. I will be rescheduling any students I normally see at 7pm or later to earlier times for that week only. I hope to be able to accommodate everyone without too much difficulty.
-- The latest Piano/Guitar recital is happening this Sunday, Dec. 6 in the recital hall of the music building at CSUEB. Group 1 starts at 1pm. Group 2 starts at 2:30pm. Admission is $5 for adults without a ticket. Kids' admission (18 & under) is free. Be there or be square, etc.
-- I am performing with the Moreau Catholic High School choirs at their winter concert on the evening of Friday, Dec. 4. All pertinent information can be found here.
-- Lastly, I am also performing with the Douglas Morrison Theatre Community Chorus for their weekend of concerts on 12/18, 12/19, and 12/20. All pe…

December 6 Recital Fee

Regarding the December 6 recital:
There is a $10 recital fee required from all performing students. This fee will give admission to 2 adults per every student. Additional adult guests will be charged $5 admission. Kids' admission is free.
Why the fees, you ask?
- The CSUEB recital hall is rather expensive to rent, and the collected fees from each student help cover our incurred costs. - Jason & I spend a lot of extra time preparing these events, and much of our invested time is without compensation. - Not every music teacher offers recital performance opportunities to their students. This is a service we provide for our students. The December 6 recital is not for us as teachers, to puff ourselves up! Instead, this event is for our students -- to aid in their musical development. Performing regularly in front of an audience is essential for growth as a musician.
Thanks for your support, Jesse

November 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule will be uninterrupted during the month of November, save on Thanksgiving day. I will be teaching Monday (11/23) and Tuesday (11/24) of that week, but will not be teaching on the holiday: Thursday, 11/26.
-- For students/parents who will be participating in the 2009-10 cycle of Certificate of Merit: the C.M. fees are due with your payment for November lessons. I am required to complete online registration prior to November 15 and also submit student fees at that time. Thanks for your help in making this a smooth process.
-- Lastly, there will be another joint Piano/Guitar recital on the afternoon of Sunday, December 6, to be held once again in the recital hall of the music building at CSUEB. Watch this space for all the pertinent details -- they will be posted around mid-November. Students: be practicing diligently! ...(as always)
In abundant solidarity, Jesse

Susan Clark's benefits of Music Education

Excerpted from a speech by Susan Clark, flute teacher and new MTAC president:
- It has been proven that studying music at a young improves a child's (and adult's) math skills. Fractions translate directly to Rhythm; Sets and Intersecting Sets are nothing more than musical keys and related keys. Private music study, and the practice required to learn the music, makes musicians excellent project managers, able to plan ahead toward individual or group goals. Musicians are able to manage time wisely and able to handle multiple projects at once, taking responsibility for each outcome.
- Much of musical training has to do with identifying and mastering patterns in everything from compositional structure to technical passages. Musicians can apply that ability to working environments, including computer technology. Those with musical aptitude and training have the closest match to persons with the personality and skills to be successful in today's technical world.
- Musicians…

Susan Clark, new MTAC President

Susan Clark is a flute teacher and the newly inaugurated MTAC President. Her July 6, 2009 acceptance speech is published in the Fall 2009 issue of the MTAC publication "The California Music Teacher". It contains many passages that I find inspiring. Here are some excerpts:

"So ... we are all music teachers. We all go through the same grind of scheduling the students who have chosen us as a teacher, teaching them the basics and the intricacies of the instrument they have chosen to play and we have chosen to teach, and then collecting our due payment for instruction. We coddle the slow-learners and revel in the joy of teaching those who catch on quickly... We keep our distance from stuffy noses and coughs... We deal with late arrivals, and those who hang around after lessons when we wish they would leave. We juggle our own lives to allow time for teaching and end up juggling the students' lives as well, as they try to find a balance between school and sports and music a…

What's going on

I "moved" to a new home in Castro Valley on Oct. 1, but the truth is my wife and I have been in a state of limbo, sleeping at my parents house and working on refurbishing our *new* home in the meantime. The previous tenant left all kinds of rubbish and general disrepair for us to tend to. What a kind woman! (<-----that is cynicism) It has been two weeks of near-constant graft and labor.
Finally, last night we were able to finish enough of our interior work to sleep in our new house. I am hopeful that stability will return to my life as we continue settling in over the coming weeks.
This period of my life has been challenging, but also encouraging. We have the opportunity to shape a home in the way that we would like (assuming we're willing to put in the work!).
Just thought I'd drop a note to let anyone interested know what's been going on lately. This move is like starting over.
Jesse

October 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule will be uninterrupted during the month of October.
-- I am in the process of moving into a new home in Castro Valley, and thus may be a bit slower in responding to communications (especially email). Bear with me - I should be settled in from mid-month onwards.
Have a happy day, Jesse

Digital Pianos

Nothing matches the sound, touch and feel of a real piano. But there are occasions where a pianist does not have a real piano at his or her disposal. On these occasions, the common substitute instrument is a digital piano. These vary drastically in quality, just as real pianos do.
Now and again I'll post entries here on my blog promoting the most outstanding models I've recently played. I hope this proves especially useful to readers who are in the market for a digital piano.
Yamaha YDP-223 On 8/30/09 I played for a wedding at St. Victor's church in San Jose. The keyboard instrument at the church, a Yamaha YDP-223, was surprisingly excellent. The touch and response were great and the piano sound was truly outstanding. I didn't check out any of the other sounds and functions of the keyboard -- I was strictly interested in the piano sound for the music I performed that day. The Yamaha YDP-223's current list price is $1,600.
Yamaha CLP-123 From August-October '09 I hav…

2009-10 Certificate of Merit Dates

Important dates for the upcoming 2009-2010 Certificate of Merit cycle:
2009 September 15 C.M. Registration Opens November 15 C.M. Registration Closes
2010 January 2 Student Evaluation info - online forms open January 20 Student Evaluation info - online forms close
March 6-7 North Region C.M. Performance Exams March 13-14 North Region C.M. Performance Exams, Theory Exams at Chabot College

MTAC General Meeting in Castro Valley

This morning I attended the MTAC general meeting, held at the Castro Valley Center for the Performing Arts. All kinds of recriminations are threatened against active members who do not attend this meeting. Well, I made it to the meeting. My name is scrawled on the attendance sheet. Some 75 active MTAC members didn't show their faces. I guess they're gluttons for punishment.
This will be my 3rd year as a member of the Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC). Every meeting is awkward for me. I'm not great at casual banter. Usually I find a chair at the end of a row and keep quiet. My gender is poorly represented in my Southern Alameda branch. The ratio of females to males is literally 20 to 1. I do not exaggerate. Every time I step into one of these meetings I ask myself if I've taken a wrong turn at the Career Expo!
The assembled mass of teachers was talked at by various heads for about an hour and a half this morning. There are a few new rules related to the Cert…

September 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- Monday, September 7 is Labor Day holiday. I will not be teaching that day.
-- I am performing in the orchestra pit for the Douglas Morrison Theatre production "Sullivan & Gilbert". The performances run from September 25 through October 11. Also, there are dress rehearsals every evening the week of September 21, leading up to opening night. As a result of my involvement in these rehearsals, I will be ending my teaching early - at 6:30pm - on the evenings of 9/21, 9/22, and 9/24.
This is post #50 on my blog. Hooray for productivity!
Thanks,Jesse

Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 Studio happenings

Dear Students & Parents:

Here’s a note about some of the things that will be happening in my teaching studio from Fall 2009 through Spring 2010.

1) Music history -- listening and quizzes
I am preparing a program of study that will take interested students through the different periods of music history, teaching them about the famous composers and music from each period. The months of September and October will be spent learning about the Baroque Period (1600-1750). The following two months will focus on the Classical Period (1750-1825), and so on.
Listening examples will be available from September 1st via links on the front page of my website -- www.micekmusic.com -- along with composer biographies and other helpful material. At the end of October, I will present a listening test to participating students.
(*If you prefer not to download the audio online, you can purchase a compilation CD of all the listening examples from me for $10)

2) July 2009 Recital DVDs
Copies of the July 20…

The Baroque Period

The Baroque Period (1600-1760) The term Baroque is used to describe the style of music written from approximately 1600 to 1750. This title was originally used to describe a style of art and architecture of highly decorative and extravagant design in the 17th and 18th centuries. The elaborate detail of design during the Baroque period can also be seen in the furniture of the era. It was a time when people wore lavish clothes and ornamented themselves with ruffles, jewels, and powdered wigs. Most Baroque musicians worked as servants of a royal court, church, or town. Their music reflected their occupations. Court musicians wrote dances and music for concerts and royal ceremonies. Church musicians wrote instrumental and vocal music for church services and oratorios and masses for special occasions. Some musicians were supported by patrons who expected the composer to write music for them. Most Baroque musicians were composers, performers, conductors, and also teachers. You can imagine how …

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach
Lived: 1685-1750 Country: Germany Most Famous Works: Too many to list!
Listening Links: Toccata & Fugue in D MinorPrelude & Fugue in C Major (from The Well-Tempered Clavier)Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (from Cantata 147)Suite for Cello Solo No. 1 in G
Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer, organist, singer and violinist. He was a master of counterpoint, and is particularly renowned for his church music, including the famous St. John Passion and Mass in B Minor. Bach's music was "rediscovered" in the 19th century care of the "Bach revival" promoted by Felix Mendelssohn. J.S. Bach is now universally acclaimed as the unequaled giant of Baroque music, and one of the greatest musicians to ever live.Early Life of Johann Sebastian BachJ.S. Bach, was born in Eisenach, Germany on 21 March 1685. Orphaned at age 10, he went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph who gave him musical instruction on the clavichord.Bach came from a dis…