Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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 advancing age, memory becomes doubly uncertain; above all, what begins to fail is confidence in one's memory, the assurance that the next note will follow with no conscious effort.'"

Read the rest of this article here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

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 parents, students, or any random reader of this blog. Your thoughts are vital to me. I continue to "seek to excel" in my profession.

Thank you to everyone who graciously presented me with Christmas gifts and cards this week. Your thoughtfulness is not lost on me. I wish you all a holiday time filled with peace and joy.

I resume my regular teaching schedule on Monday, January 4.

Jesse

Friday, December 11, 2009

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.




Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037Note By Note


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 the piano's rim, that’s pretty much all it is. Steinway, Yamaha, Bosendorfer, Fazioli, Bluthner, any piano manufacturer that has a high end, hand built line is going to have a devoted team of craftspeople that have spent years, if not decades, honing their skills. Steinway is no different, they are just better at self promotion and branding, hence this “documentary”. When push comes to shove, if you are in the market for a high end hand built piano forget about the name on the fallboard and buy the one that gives you the sound you want and provides the touch that works for you while falling within your budget. Unless you have an ego that demands that your friends see you with a Steinway, NO other parameters matter."

Wise thoughts, indeed. Regardless of his critique(s) it's a great film worth seeing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

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 of the world that nobody has ever been to before. Now, that part of the world may be very inhospitable, and full of dangerous animals, or whatever. You wouldn't particularly want to live there yourself, but you have to admire somebody who is willing to follow the path there and stick the flag down, and say, 'Look... this is where you can go.'"
"He really should be -- as far as I'm concerned -- recognized as one of our great composers. But not only that; as one of our great poets as well. His lyrics are absolutely peerless. And it's very surprising to me that he's still largely regarded as a slightly marginal figure. Alright: he isn't very prolific, but the quality of the work he's done is so extraordinary."
Don't you want to buy a Scott Walker LP now? These quotes are compelling! For a look into this musical mind, you can watch the trailer here.
FYI: This film will not compel the average 12 year old (or 50 year old, for that matter...).

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

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.

5 Reasons to Play a Musical Instrument

1. Playing A Musical Instrument Makes You Smarter
2. It Teaches Discipline
3. Playing A Musical Instrument Relieves Stress
4. Sense of Achievement
5. Playing A Musical Instrument is Fun

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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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 pertinent information can be found at the bottom of this page.

Longer than normal, I know... December is always a busy month.

Jesse