Sunday, August 31, 2014

Student Post: Sergei Rachmaninoff - The Forgotten Composer

Historical Period: Late Romantic-Early Contemporary
Nationality: Russian
Born: April 1, 1873
Died: March 28, 1943
Contemporaries: Bela Bartok, Antonin Dvorak Vladimir Horowitz, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Prokofiev, Arnold Schonberg, Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinski, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Works: Aleko, Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Second Piano Concerto, Spring, Vocalise, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, The Isle of the Dead

What's Happening in History?

In America, the Civil War (1860-1865) has been over for more than eight years. The Russian Revolution (1917) is going to begin in several years and World War I (1914-1918) is beginning in Europe.


Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff was born to Vasily Arkadyevich and his wife Lyubov Petrovna Butakova, on their estate in Oneg, near the Novgorod district in Russia. Sergei's mother taught him a bit of piano when he was four, but his grandfather hired a teacher for him the next year. But she left when he was nine - Sergei's family moved to St. Petersburg, because his father was irresponsible and lost his estate. Young Sergei began taking preparatory classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, but when he was twelve, he transferred to the conservatory in Moscow. It was a hard life in the Moscow Conservatory. The students got up at 6:00 AM every morning, and they worked sixteen hours every day. They took language lessons and wore uniforms, because the school was in part seeking to train the students to be gentlemen. Sergei studied there with a group of well-known musicians, one of which also went on to be important in the music world was Alexander Scriabin. Alexander and Sergei became good friends. (When Alexander died, Sergei gave a piano recital in his honor. Alexander's students hated the way Sergei played Alexander's pieces. Sergei was offended, naturally.)

Sergei was still a student when he composed several pieces of music for the piano. One of those pieces was his First Piano Concerto. Now, at the Moscow Conservatory at that time, the conductor, Safonov, could change the students' pieces however he wanted to for a recital. But 18-year-old Sergei would not agree to the changes made to his piece. One of his fellow students, Mikhail Bukinik, said this about Sergei:

        "...Rachmaninoff's talent as a composer was so obvious, and his      
          quiet self-assurance made such an impression on all, that even 
          the omnipotent Safonov had to yield."

Guest Writer: Rachel Holbrook

Monday, August 25, 2014

Practice Tips for Little River in Faber Lesson Book 1

    Now that you have been learning Firefly you are ready to start Little River. This two-line melody is an exercise to get you comfortable with legato (playing smoothly).  Here are some tips and focus points that will help you master this piece:
  • Prepare your hands: Put your hands in the C position just like Firefly.
  • Who Goes First? The right hand starts, as you can see the notes in the Treble Clef staff is for the right hand. The left hand plays the bottom staff with the Bass Clef.
  • The Slur: Practice the right hand by itself 3-4 times, then do the same with the left hand. After you get comfortable with the notes, start trying to play the notes as smooth as possible. Do not worry if you cannot play very smoothly at first, it will take time.
  • Both Hands: Though it is not written this way, it will be helpful to play through with both hands playing as smooth as possible. Try the song in different positions and different speeds.
What tips do you have for Little River

Friday, August 22, 2014

Student Post: Johannes Brahms, Part 2

     Last time we looked at Brahms early years (first post here), now we are ready to see what happened later in his life and the effect Brahms had on people's lives and music.

                                                                     Years Later.....

     Though he made attempts and had failures in marriage, Brahms remained a bachelor. But, that did not make him any less marvelous. He was a pleasant man who was nice to children and loved the outdoors, taking many long strolls through the woods. Brahms remained in Vienna for the rest of his life but, did travel for concerts, tours and more (yes, they had those back then). He either conducted or played his individual pieces in his performances. In the 1880’s-90’s, he created many famous pieces such as “Double Concerto in A Minor”, “Piano Trio No.3 in C Minor”, “Violin Sonata in D Minor”, “String Quintet in F Major” and lastly, "String Quintet in G Major.” Brahms later teamed up with Richard Mühlfeld to create a musical classic called “Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano” plus the “Quintet for Clarinet and Strings.” Brahms was very generous, often too generous at times, when he would give money to friends or family. This generosity though, would sometimes make Brahms pay the price. Brahms always wanted to be perfect (talk about picky) but for Brahms (and his wallet), this was a good thing. He was such a perfectionist that once he destroyed 20 string quartets and in 1890, almost gave up composing. But, Brahms soon started up again and he was composing faster than you can say the word "music." Brahms’s last years included a piece called “Vier ernste Gesange,” a sad composition but a very famous one too. Brahms died May 20, 1896 because of liver problems and cancer. His last concert was March 1897 in Vienna. 

   Because of Brahms

     Brahms had inspired many, many people in his lifetime. He was a one hit wonder and in his day probably better then Taylor Swift. But no matter where he was he was always remembered and loved. Johannes, Brahms, old dude playing the piano, whatever you call him, he was the life of the romantic era and brought glory to the world. His music brought interest to life and beauty to the piano. I bet even instruments thought he was wonderful. So, let us give a round of applause to the wonderful, marvelous, phenomenal, perfectionist, musician, Johannes Brahms.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bow Exercises Suzuki Violin Book 1

Here is a partial list of the bow exercises I take students through to learn the bow skills in Suzuki Violin Book 1. I teach them one exercise at a time, then we play through them in lessons every week. When the list gets longer we choose a few of the exercises to master and take weeks off to do scales. The point is to make it enjoyable and beneficial, not to just get through it.

  1. Rockets: make a nice bowhand; go up and down like a rocket slowly 4x.
  2. Windshield Wipers: go back and forth turning your wrist and forearm like a wiper on a car 4x.
  3. Cereal Bowls: make big circles like you are mixing a big bowl of your favorite cereal 4x.
  4. Bow Taps: keep a relaxed bowhand, tap each finger 4x.
  5. Regular (detache): play every string 4x keeping the bow straight.
  6. Staccato (stop-bow): play every string 4x keeping the bow straight and stop between each bow stroke.
  7. Bow Circles down bow: play every string 4x keeping the bow straight all down bow coming off the string and going back towards the frog.
  8. Bow Circles up bow: Now, play every string 4x keeping the bow straight all up bow.
  9. Crescendo: play each string 4x starting with small bow and then more and more each one.
  10. Descrescendo: now play each string 4x starting with big bow and get smaller and smaller.

What are some exercises that you have been doing to learn the basics on the violin? Let me know if you have any questions about my list.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Student Post: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Part 2

In the first post we learned about what was happening in the world when Mozart was alive and about his early years.

Mozart spent most of 1770-1773 in Italy. People liked him very much there, and several of his operas were produced in Milan. The pope even awarded him the Order of the Golden Spur! Between 1773 and 1781, Mozart spent most of his time in Salzburg. He was frustrated because he did not have many opportunities and because no one appreciated him, but he kept writing music. It was around this time that he became friends with Haydn.

The Middle Years

Now Mozart was 21, and he wanted to travel alone. But his father who always went with him, insisted that Mozart's mother go with him because he wasn't able to leave his work. Mozart and his mother left Salzburg in 1777, heading for Paris. They stopped in Mannheim, Germany, where Mozart met Christian Cannabich, a famous orchestra conductor at the time. Also in Mannheim, Mozart met and fell in love with Aloysia Weber. He wanted to stay in Mannheim with Aloysia, but Mozart's father urged him to go on to Paris, so Mozart and his mother left Mannheim. I'm sure Mozart was glad afterwards that he got to spend that time traveling with his mother, because she died in Paris in July 1778. Mozart soon returned to Salzburg, stopping in Munich on the way to visit the Webers (they had moved to Munich). He discovered that Aloysia was no longer interested in him. Mozart came back to Salzburg, very depressed over his mother's death, his disappointment in love, and his unfulfilled musical goals, but that however did not keep him from writing more music.

The Later Years

The prince-archbishop of Vienna summoned Mozart, so he moved to Vienna and lived with the Webers who also lived in Vienna at the time. Soon, he fell in love with Aloysia's sister, Constanze, whom he married in 1782. In the next nine years, some terrible things happened to Mozart: serious money troubles, the death of four of his children, the death of his father in 1787, and his wife's ill health. Out of all of this tragedy he wrote some of his best music.
One of the greatest influences in Mozart's life at this time was his friendship with Haydn. He and Haydn respected each other, and they studied together, which was a help to both of them.

Another great influence was Mozart's discovery of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which helped him in his increasing use of counterpoint (counterpoint is combining different melodies in a piece of music).
Mozart continued to travel around. He traveled to Linz, Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, and, in 1790, he went to Frankfurt to perform at the coronation of Emperor Leopold II. (In order to go to Frankfurt, Mozart had to pawn some of his possessions.)

In the autumn of 1791, Mozart became sicker, more depressed, and thought about death often. But he kept on writing. He was trying to finish the Requiem and he thought it would be for himself. Mozart never finished the Requiem. He died on December 5, 1791, at age 35, and he was buried in a pauper's grave.
The Works 

     Mozart wrote hundreds of compositions in his 35 years. He, along with Haydn, transformed the light rococo style of music into the grand classical style of symphony, opera, and concerto. In some of his music, there is a foreshadowing of Romantic music, which came several years later.
I suppose one of the things we can learn from Mozart's life is that even if hard things are going on in your life, keep loving, playing, and composing music. You will play even better if you put those emotions into your music.
Also, if the girl you love isn't interested in you any more, take courage. You just might get to marry her sister.~

Guest writer: Rachel Holbrook

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pre-Twinkle Violin Camp August 25-29

Are you wondering if the violin is the way to go or if your child is ready to take some music lessons? Start right away with hands on playing by learning the parts of the violin, holding the violin, basic rhythms and songs, all through games. This class is good for students that just started or that have never played. This is why we are calling it the Pre-Twinkle Violin Camp, because it is for those that have never played and are interested, and because we will be using some of the Suzuki principles.

You will have a chance to make some friends, learn about composers and play in a concert at the end of the week. Parents are welcome to be involved in the class and learn right along with their child. This is a great way to get ready for private lessons in the fall!

Pre-Twinkle Violin Camp - One Week
All Ages
Dates: August 25-29, 

Time: 6-7:30pm
Cost: $95
Instructor: Mircea Ionescu

Address: 7105 Floydsburg Rd, Crestwood, KY 40014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Practice Tips for Twinkles in Suzuki Book 1

You have learned how to get into a proper playing position and can play the finger concerto with all the Twinkle rhythms. Now it is time to use the rhythms with the Twinkle, Twinkle song. Here are some tips as you learn the Twinkles on the violin, viola, cello or piano:

  • Playing Position: Place the violin on the shoulder, left thumb by the first tape, wrist relaxed. Next, put curved fingers on the bow and put the bow at the middle between the bridge and the fingerboard. Do that every time you play.
  • Structure: Part 1 starts with A string, Part 2 starts with E string. The order of the song is Part 1, Part 2, Part 2, Part 1.
  • Stop and Prepare: To make it easy to learn Part 1 play the first note with the rhythm, stop, then prepare the next note, play that note, stop, and so on just like with the Finger Concertos
  • Rhythms: Variation A is pepperoni-pizza, Variation B is popcorn-pause-and, Variation C is run-pony-run-pony, Variation D is blueberry-strawberry, Variation E is grandma-on-the-motorcycle and then the Theme.
  • Learn to play the song really well with one rhythm before going to the next rhythm.
  • Play along with the videos below to get an idea on how they go then try it faster

Variation A


Variation B

Variation C

Variation D

Variation E


What tips have helped you with the Twinkles? Any questions?