Prokofiev in a Train Station

August 20, 2016 Comments Off on Prokofiev in a Train Station

Prokofiev has been dead for some time now, and, unlike Elvis, has stayed away from public appearances since then. But here’s the lovely second movement of the 7th Sonata, alive and well and appearing in a train station in Delft.

Another reason to learn to play the piano: you can bring the dead to life.

Why Learn to Play The Piano?

December 28, 2015 Comments Off on Why Learn to Play The Piano?

“What are piano lessons FOR? ” This question from a parent of a talented student once stumped me. It’s in the category of If You Have To Ask You Won’t Understand The Answer. But I’ve been looking for answers to it anyway, ever since.

Here’s an excellent one: If you are in a French train station with time on your hands, you can start improvising on the station piano. Some stranger who also knows something about the piano might show up and play along.

You can make music together. That sentence is loaded with metaphorical meanings old and new. The literal meaning is rich enough, however, to warrant learning to play the piano.

Why learn to play the piano? You can make music with a complete stranger in a French train station.

 

 

What do pianists do when they aren’t practicing?

November 4, 2013 Comments Off on What do pianists do when they aren’t practicing?

About the same time she started taking piano lessons from me, Sherry Green took up fencing. This October she was a member of the USA Veterans team and fenced in the World Championships in Varna, Bulgaria.

The team took the gold.

The USA Veterans' Team, after their win.

The USA Veterans’ Team, after their win.

This is the fourth time she has been a member of the USA Veterans team. In 2005 she came in fifth in the World Championships. In 2006 she was the top-ranked female sabre fencer in the 60+ category.

In 2007,  she was on the USA team that went to Sydney, Australia for the World Championships but was unable to compete. The night before the first match, while in line outside the famous Sidney Opera House, she tripped on a messed-up bit of sidewalk and broke her knee. Mad doesn’t even begin to describe her state of mind, as she had to forgo not just the fencing championships, but the opera as well.

Alllez, Sherrie!

 

Brain Waves Stay Tuned to Early Lessons – NYTimes.com

September 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Brain Waves Stay Tuned to Early Lessons – NYTimes.com.

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.

YouTube’s top pianist invites you to her Royal Albert Hall rehearsals

June 4, 2012 Comments Off on YouTube’s top pianist invites you to her Royal Albert Hall rehearsals

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Live streaming via webcam of Valentina Lisitsa’s practice for an upcoming recital. A true piano geek’s entertainment.

A Piano Teacher’s Guide To Fooling Around At The Piano

February 26, 2012 § 12 Comments


If you are a parent who thinks music should always be soothing and children should only play their assignments, this guide is not for you. But if you want to help your child feel so at home on the piano that he will think and feel and move and dream like the piano is part of him, read on.

What does a small child do with a pencil? Does she sit down and make a perfectly nuanced drawing of a bowl of fruit? Of course not! She spends weeks, months and years making dots and lines and scribbles and ugly stuff and beautiful stuff and confusing stuff and junk and trash and funny people and trees not found in nature. She goes through reams of paper. She uses markers, crayons, pencils, paint, mud, gravy and fruit juice. And we parents treasure each mark and can’t bear to throw it out.

I have boxes of this stuff that my kids made. There is a whole corner of the basement given over to the archives of my kids’ work with pencil and paper. My brothers and I have been going through my late parents’ stuff and they saved boxes of our works on paper, from the Eisenhower era. There is even a box from my mother’s childhood, in the 1920’s. That was during the Warren G. Harding administration. Remember him? Well, I can report that little Winifred Wilson did pretty much the same thing with a pencil and a crayon back then as every other kid has done during every presidential term of office since.

This kind of fooling around with pencil and paper is normal in  human development. We all go through the same stages and do pretty much the same kind of things. If you look into the research on literacy, you find that lots of preliminary fooling around is considered essential for kids to learn to read and write. Most parents would be horrified if you suggested their kids should only use a pencil and paper when they wanted to write sentences or sketch landscapes. Even when school starts, everyone expects that kids will still be making tons of wild and creative and useless marks on paper.

Why, then, do we all insist that kids “only make nice sounds” at the piano? Or, “stop fooling around and do your lesson”? Or, “If you can’t play it right, don’t play it at all”?

The piano, my beloved piano, is in many ways the least musical of instruments. What I mean is that its action is at a remove from our bodies. A cello you embrace with both arms. A drum booms or snaps according to how you strike it with your hands. A flute plays on your breath, and the voice is nothing more than the self made into music. For better or for worse, the other instruments reveal immediately the person and the body playing them.

But our piano has a layer of machinery between us and the sounding strings. The connection between player and instrument is subtle. It is easily ignored. The connection is often never made at all. It is possible to play Beethoven or Gershwin on the piano and follow all the directions correctly and  sound just like a machine and nothing like a live human. And nothing like a particular live human, right here, right now.

One of the things this piano teacher does every afternoon is try to get young pianists hooked up to their instrument so that their playing sounds like They Are Playing. Not someone else. And I try to get it to be play, real play, with the joy and concentration and seriousness that play really is.

Sometimes I have to give them permission to fool around. Often, some parent with a headache has cautioned them against making loud or ugly sounds. They are afraid that the instrument might be harmed by banging, or that meaningless repetition is a waste of time.

Then I have to speak to the parents and explain how important it is to know your instrument, know what it can do for you and what you can do with it. Usually I say, “Half of the time fooling around, half of the time doing your lesson”. But I hate saying that, because it is a lie. The fooling around is also the lesson and it is the part that makes the other part, the part that is hard work for both the student and the piano teacher, easier and worth doing. When I meet a new student who has spent hours or months or years messing around with the piano, I know I am going to have an easy time. He has already done the work of discovering what he and the piano can do together and is ready to build from there.

I want to propose The Piano Students’ Manifesto:

  • We demand the right to be treated at least as indulgently as young writers and artists.
  • We demand the right be loud and ugly, tedious, un-melodic, repetitious, and irritating.
  • We demand the right to play outside of the book.
  • We shall use the pedals, all three of them, all the time.
  • We will play every note on the keyboard going up and then every note going down, many times over and we will do it again tomorrow. Then we will play each note twice, going up and back down.
  • We will play glissandi, we will play forte and piano, we will play presto and adagio, and don’t bother us with the vocabulary.
  • We will discover something wonderful that just happened by accident and play it until it is absorbed into the paint on the walls.
  • We will play with one finger and one hand, or two hands and two elbows, while lying on the bench, while standing and while chewing, while singing, humming or making that weird clicking sound with our tongue.
  • We will play one note that makes a funny buzzing noise  4,000 times.
  • We will lie under the piano and operate the pedals with our hands.
  • We will look into the piano any way we can and see what is going on in there while we play that one note 4,000 times.
  • We will lean on the keyboard with both forearms, especially on the low notes.
  • We will do all of this and much more. Much, much more.

We only ask that the grownups get out of the way.

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