Pianist Helped Nelson Mandela By Playing Beethoven 4th

December 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

harold-rubensHarold Rubens was a Welsh piano prodigy, shown here playing for George Bernard Shaw. When he got too old for the prodigy business he moved to South Africa, where he became active in anti-apartheid groups. Working with Nelson Mandela, his piano playing skills were in demand.

According to Norman Lebrecht, writing on Slipped Disc, resistance groups would meet in Rubens’ home, where he could play loudly to cover up the conversations and prevent their being picked up by the secret police.

Lebrecht quotes Albi Sachs: ‘We were meeting in the underground in their cottage in Newlands. We would hear him practising the fourth Beethoven piano concerto, going over it and over and over again while we were doing our secret planning in the room next door. Happily the music was very loud, and if there were any bugs, all the security police would hear would be Beethoven and not us planning resistance to apartheid. Beethoven would have been happy. Such complex and mixed-up feelings in this simple building.’

I wonder about that Beethoven being so very loud. I play that piece and it is impossible to get the right elegant effect if you are too heavy. I guess I won’t be invited to host any resistance meetings around here.

Rubens’ sister was the novelist Bernice Rubens who wrote the novel Madame Sousatska, based on Harold Rubens’ piano teacher in London. It was made into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine as one of my favorite movie piano teachers.

Best Music Video Ever!!!

November 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Why is it so hard to read music? One reason is that doing many things at once, like reading and interpreting symbols, listening to the sounds you’re making, operating complex machinery at a high speed (that’s the piano, folks), coordinating 2 hands and 2 feet, 2 eyes and 2 ears  in real time to a beat in your head, and trying to make sense of something you really care about, is genuinely HARD.

The other reason is that music itself is hard to WRITE. To simplify the process, lots of shortcuts have been made through the centuries. That leaves us with a system that is full of fancy repeats, symbols with multiple meanings, sporadic instructions (Key signatures? Accidentals?) and the things that try students’ patience and, fortunately,  keep music teachers employed.

If it sounds like a lousy bargain, speeding up the writing but slowing down the reading, you have never written music by hand. It is a fussy, demanding job. And, up until computers, preparing the plates for printing was a laborious craft. Each mark on the page had to be made by hand, on a steel plate, backwards, perfectly, for printing. Every note, every stem, every slur, every dot, every flat, every sharp, every everything had to be scribed on the steel by hand. There is no moveable type for music. Gutenberg’s revolution missed us musicians.

This video, by the music publishers G.Henle Verlag, show the process in precise detail. The camera looks over the shoulder of a craftsman as he puts in the staff, knocks in the note-heads, rules the bar lines, scrapes, etches and punches his way through a line of music. It even shows how he corrects mistakes.

I could hardly breathe while watching this the first time. I knew it was an exacting craft, but I had no idea it was as demanding as this. This is the best video ever because it shows one reason why music is so hard to read: it is really hard to write.

Musicians expected to work for free at London 2012 Olympics

July 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Modern copy of Myron's Discobolus in Universit...

Modern copy of Myron’s Discobolus in University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is the London 2012 Olympics exploiting musicians? 

I wonder what would happen if the athletes were told they needed to donate their labor. Seems like music and sports are roughly equivalent in terms of investment in training, personal dedication, expensive equipment needed, struggle and glory, etc. But we musicians get no help from sponsors.

Thirty years ago my husband got 400 bucks a month from Nike for being a low-tier runner in Eugene, OR.  I think I’m a better pianist than he was a runner, but I would settle for the same rate today.

Nike, where’s my sponsorship?

 

Listening to Music Aids in Stroke Recovery

June 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Vertical cross-section of the human cerebellum...

Vertical cross-section of the human cerebellum, showing folding pattern of the cortex, and interior structures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband Charles had a cerebellar stroke about 4 years ago. He become quite a celebrity in the local hospital. All the neurology students showed up to visit, along with an assortment of doctors, residents, nurses, etc. I guess things were slow  that week on the neurology ward and a guy sitting up in bed building Lego models was a big draw.

Charles is not normally the person you’d go to for a conversation. He’s a “Just the facts, ma’am ,” sort of guy.  But the medical types all wanted his opinion on the weather, the ball game, his lunch and the model he was building.  I’d never seen so much idle chatter in his vicinity. They didn’t care what he talked about, they just wanted  him to speak. Then, once someone got him going, they’d all watch him with keen attention, like they were dogs and he was eating a hamburger.

The talking never failed to please. The crowd would get noticeably cheerier after some remarks on the weather. Then they would move on to the next fascinating skill: Could he touch his nose with his finger? The entire crowd would watch as finger was applied to nose. Breath was held. Eyebrows were raised. Heads were shaken in astonishment.

My husband is a bright man.  He was also an AAU swimmer who swam his way to Stanford on a scholarship. Talking and touching his nose were not previously thought to be his best act. But somehow, having lost a good portion of his cerebellum, talking  and touching his nose became marvels of achievement. People missing what he was missing were not supposed to be doing what he was doing.

Somehow he missed a really terrible accident. Call me biased, but I think  a recently published article hints at why he suffered so few ill effects from his stroke. This article says that listening to music seems to help reorganize the brain after a stoke and repair the damage.

It seems to me that listening to piano music 4 or 5 hours a day must also have a protective effect or else someone near and dear to me would be a  basket case today. All those piano lessons and his wife’s practicing must have made him nearly invincible.

Four years later, he is not only fully recovered from the small effects of the stroke, but is functioning better than ever. I attribute it all to the concentrated doses of piano music he receives every day.

Ask your doctor if piano music is right for you.

Where, in the US, do they (we) buy the most classical records?

April 23, 2012 Comments Off on Where, in the US, do they (we) buy the most classical records?

Right here in River City, Stump Town, The Rose City, PDX, Puddle Town, Rip City.

Here is the full article, by Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc.  I would summarize it in some artful way but I have some practicing to do. You’ll have to read it yourself, if you’re done practicing for today.

Music and Memory

April 14, 2012 Comments Off on Music and Memory

Here’s a wonderful clip from a documentary on the Music and Memory non-profit project. It shows a man in a nursing home being brought back to life by listening to music.

Not Sold In Stores

March 25, 2012 Comments Off on Not Sold In Stores

187 full-length selections from the beloved 12-tone masters of the Second Viennese School.

I remember when playing Pierrot Lunaire on the lo-fi would make my mom pull her hair out in mock horror. Now Schoenberg provokes nostalgia for the lost days when these sounds were new. Groups play this 100-year-old music with real enthusiasm today, instead of the dreary earnestness of my youth. Is there nothing shocking in music anymore?

 

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the music category at Piano Connections: The Studio of Megan Hughes.

%d bloggers like this: