Thursday, October 28, 2010

Young @ Heart


While viewing this, I was struck by how rare it is to see seniors depicted in a motion picture, en masse. They are generally the "avoided generation" in films. You will be thankful that director Stephen Walker invested the time to document the Young@Heart chorus. This beloved Massachusetts choir is comprised of members 70 years old and above. Every member has stories to tell. The film is more of a meditation on old age, death, and the passage of time than a simple music documentary. It is truly heartbreaking to witness members of the chorus struggling with the challenges of older age. But their resilient spirit is undeniable -- an inspiration. If only more of us could greet each new dawn with the grace and enthusiasm they radiate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Should You Buy a New or Used Piano?

The Piano Book: Buying & Owning a New or Used Piano
Here's an excellent (though slightly dated) article on this subject by noted piano teacher Martha Beth Lewis. 
If you don't have time to read it, then just remember her closing thought: 
"In the end, you should buy the best piano you can stretch to afford, whether it's new or used. And have a [piano] technician check it out before you sign the check."

Six Ways to Enjoy Detailed Practice

Practice suggestions from musician and author Gerald Klickstein:
Six ways to enjoy detailed practice
1.  Bring meaning to every gesture. You might be working on a scale or a masterpiece, but, regardless, shoot sparks of imagination through every sound you make.
2.  Isolate problem spots in context. When you tackle troublesome passages, sense the dramatic framework from which they’re extracted. For example, if a string player practices a 3-note segment with a tricky left-hand shift, she should still express the emotional energy of the larger phrase.
3.  Take pleasure in excellence. In my book The Musician’s Way, I highlight seven Habits of Excellence: ease, expressiveness, accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positive attitude (p. 20-23). To be meticulous in practice, we have to enjoy embodying these qualities. So choose accessible music, set high standards for yourself, and revel in meeting your standards.
4.  Listen deeply. As you play or sing, listen intently, and compare what you hear to what you ideally want. Periodically record yourself, too, and listen back. As you listen, be open to whatever transpires, and treat errors with wonder. When a passage needs work, isolate it, and then dive into the problem-solving process, mindful that unraveling difficulties boosts your competence.
5.  Seek variety. When we tune in to fine distinctions in our music making, we continuously adjust our sound, and then our phrases shimmer with life. We also ignite our enthusiasm for practice because things remain fresh. With that in mind, ceaselessly search out ways to enliven your sound: toy with articulation and accent, tint your tone, and so on (see “Essentials of Artistic Interpretation” on p. 23-34 of The Musician’s Way).
6.  Shift perspectives. To help generate allure in your sound, frequently alter your perspective in practice. For example, as you refine a phrase, you might give more attention to easefulness for a minute and then explore possibilities for adding crispness to your rhythm. Mix in regular breaks, as well, to recharge your mind and muscles. On top of that, ask fellow musicians to listen to you and share their thoughts. No matter how musically advanced we become, there are always new insights for us to discover.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pianist Arlette Felberg on Practicing

"Do not dissipate your formative years. Deal with problems and solutions NOW. Do not take shortcuts. Be scrupulous in your learning of details, especially fingering and phrasing. Listen to yourself and others. Practice creatively, with joy and expectation and the fullest brain activity. Be open and flexible. Learn to focus and concentrate. Build a reliable technique. Do not merely recreate the music, experience it! Form stylistic understanding by listening to the operas of Mozart, the string quartets of Beethoven, the symphonies of Brahms, the Schubert lieder, the Brandenburg Concerti of Bach, etc. It will give you greater insight into their piano works."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nadia Boulanger: Mademoiselle

Nadia Boulanger - MademoiselleThis is a worthwhile documentary for any serious musician or music teacher. Nadia Boulanger - the teacher of so many giants of 20th century music - is shown to possess a vast, sharp intellect even at the ripe age of 90. She expresses multitudinous gems of musical and philosophical wisdom in this short documentary feature. I would liked to have learned more about her youth and how she came to possess such a rapacious musical mind - the film scarcely touches on her younger years - but still this is fascinating viewing for those who are intellectually curious and interested in discussions about the way artists think.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Official...

The Ear Power song for October 2010 - "Bulletproof" by La Roux - is not beloved. Not one of my students has expressed an interest in learning the song this month. Red-haired children the world over are silently shedding single tears down their pale, pale faces.
I didn't nominate this song... one of my students did. Then it received votes in favor of it from a number of other students, to the extent that it ranked 3rd in popularity on my most recent "Ear Power" song list. 
Maybe students are getting burnt out. I don't know, but I'm not going to cease the Ear Power endeavor. I believe it is eminently worthwhile. Perhaps I just need to stay patient in waiting for younger students' musical tastes to mature. Not that I love "Bulletproof" much - I don't! But I do prefer it to any of the songs we've worked on previously. Never mind, there are always plenty of other things to work on in the meantime.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage [2 DVD]

I have never cared for Rush's music, but this is a solid documentary profile of the long-standing Canadian power trio. I knew Neil Peart was a peerless drummer, but I learned from this film that he also pens most (all?) of the band's song lyrics. The band members come across as normal guys who possess a strong work ethic and a passion for making music and challenging themselves. It was a fun movie to watch and perhaps someday I'll even become a fan of their work (I'm still not persuaded).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Winter Recital 2010

Mark your calendars: the next Piano/Guitar recital will be held Sunday, December 12 between noon-4pm. The event will be held in the Recital Hall of the Music Department at CSUEB, as usual. More details are forthcoming.