Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Robert Schumann, Part 1

Robert Schumann, one of the greatest Romantic composers, was born in Zwickau, a part of South Eastern Germany. However, Schumann did not start out as a composer. Much like other young men and women, he grudgingly followed the advice of his parents in schooling, in his case law school -- a practical pursuit according to many people. If you remember, G.F. Handel first started studied to become a lawyer as his dad asked him. While at law school, Schumann spent most of his time studying not law, but the piano. He was encouraged in his piano pursuits by Friedrich Wieck, Schumann's soon to be father-in-law. Wieck was a well known piano teacher and father of a gifted piano prodigy, Clara. Around this time, Clara, the future wife of Robert Schumann, was just starting her piano career when her father took Robert Schumann on as a student. Unfortunately, his dreams of becoming a concert pianist were shattered when he injured the muscles in his hand. Not to let this get him down, Robert channeled his energy into creating beautiful compositions for the world to enjoy. For Schumann, this was a period of prolific composition in piano pieces, which were published either at once or, in revised forms, later. Among them were the piano cycles Papillons and Carnaval (composed 1833–35) and the Études symphoniques (1834–37; Symphonic Studies), another work consisting of a set of variations.

In 1834, Schumann had become engaged to Ernestine von Fricken, but started falling in love with Clara Wieck. Clara liked him too, but obeyed her father when he ordered not to date Schumann. So for 16 months Schumann could not see Clara, so he composed more music. He wrote the great Fantasy in C Major for piano and edited the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), a periodical that he had helped to start in 1834. But Schumann did not stop liking Clara, so he got courageous in 1837 and formally asked Clara’s father for permission to marry her. Clara's dad, Wieck, did not say "no" but he also did not say "yes;" he evaded Schumann's request. Eventually, Robert and Clara were married in 1840.

Schumann spent many years composing many songs and pieces for different instruments, but especially the piano. Schumann wrote many songs to be sung (called Lieder) by one or a few singers, songs for the choir, pieces for the orchestra and concertos, and chamber music. Finally, Schumann became so sick that he stayed in a hospital until he died in 1854.  
By guest author: Matthew F.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 1

     Here is Robert Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 1, 1st movement, Op. 11. In this recording the sonata is performed by Klara Wurtz. The sonata is in F# minor

Robert Schumann is one of the greatest Romantic composers, writing numerous works for the piano. His pieces are usually very melodic and this piano sonata especially so having the main motif (musical phrase) a falling interval of a fifth. The piece is so melodic, in part, because Schumann based the slow movement on a song he wrote when he was eighteen years old. Schumannn starting composing this sonata at 23 years of age and published anonymously under the names Florestan and Eusebius. The sonata is in four movements: 1. Introduzione. Un poco Adagio - Allegro vivace 2. Aria 3. Scherzo e Intermezzo. Allegrissimo 4. Finale. Allegro un poco maestoso.

This sonata is the kind of piece that an aspiring pianist will study for years to really master it. And that is the point, isn't it? Pieces that inspire us, push us, make us reach further than we thought possible.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

16 Year Olds Can Do More

         Some times we forget that teenagers, even at 16, can do more than we think. Here is a young man playing his heart out in an international competition. We can expect less or more of the teens in our lives. I choose to expect and challenge my students, even if I make mistakes. Let's stop being scared of hurting the feelings of our students, let's take a chance.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Practice Tips for Waltz in Suzuki Book 2

      Almost half way through book 2, and we have been working on using the entire bow, playing at the tip, frog and then back at the middle. What will happen in Waltz by Johannes Brahms? Here are some practice tips as you work through it:

The Waltz is in the key of G Major, 1 sharp - F#. This means there is a low 2nd finger on the A and E string for most of the piece like #1, 3-4, but watch out for accidentals.

This piece is comprised of two sections, but I break it up in three parts. Part 1 is line 1 and 2. Part 2 is lines 3 and 4, ending with measure 15. Part 3 is line 4-5, starting with measure 16.

Counting Rhythm.
In Book 1 we encountered this combination of notes in Happy Farmer but with a hook bow. It is easy to rush the dotted-quarter note, so we need to count carefully that it is held for 1.5 beats. And since the notes are slurred, it is the left hand that will execute the rhythm, so we need to be firm and exact with our fingers.
This group of notes that repeats constantly throughout the piece is the following: dotted-quarter, eighth, eighth, eighth. The way that we count this group of notes is "1-2" for the dotted quarter,  "&-3-&" for the eighth notes.

Up until now we have had a few slurs crossing strings, but now we have it for the entire piece. Notice that for all the measure with slurs two notes are down-bow and two notes are up-bow, with the up-bow for less beats.

Ever since Book 1 we have been experimenting with playing piano, soft, and even in the Musette and Long, Long Ago we have some piano, but now the majority of the piece is played piano. The way to do this is to play at the middle of the bow and use a small amount of bow playing smoothly.

The Long Crescendo. 
In part 2 there is a poco crescendo, which starts from piano and grows all the way to forte. We learn to use more and more bow over the course of an entire line.

Grace Notes.
In book 1, Minuet No. 3 and the Gavotte we had grace notes to play. Now, we are going to play two grace notes in a row. These notes are played quickly before the 2nd beat in measures 3 and 18.

1. Practice the bow exercises with whole bow, tip and frog.

2. Practice the shifting exercises on page 29 with smooth slurs.

3. Count and clap the notes to work on the rhythm. Refer above for the counting on most of the measures. We want to have a steady tempo with notes that flow with the beat.

4. Play the piece with no slurs to be consistent in the rhythm, since it is easy to rush the eighth notes.

5. Next,  play all the slurs as hook bow, stopping between each note just like in Chorus from Judas Maccabeus and Hunter's Chorus. It is good to practice with gentle and soft hook bows so that we can already get used to the quiet and gentle feel of the piece.

6. Regarding the poco crescendo in the second line, one way for us to think about it is to use a little more bow every measure until we are using as much bow as possible for the forte.

7. In part 1, measure 3, there are two grace notes after the quarter note. These three notes are slurred followed by a two-note hook bow. Practice just the three-note slur, to get the grace to be quick flicks of the fingers. Next, play the three-note slur, then stop, prepare the two-note hook then play them. Do it this way at least 3 times every time you practice the piece.

8. Once the piece is comfortably played in 1st position we are ready to start adding 3rd position. Page 31 has some suggestions on where to add 3rd position. Get comfortable with these spots then expand and add more 3rd position.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Muzio Clementi, Part 2

In part one we saw how Clementi came on the scene before Beethoven, studied with a relative and then under the patronage of Sir Peter Beckford. It really pays to be excellent on your instrument, people take notice and will invest in you.

Coming Into His Prime
At 18, Muzio was freed from his duties to Sir Peter and moved to London. There he performed the harpsichord and conducted (from the keyboard) at King's Theatre in Haymarket, around London.

In 1780, he toured Europe. In Paris, he played for Queen Marie Antoinette. He went to Munich, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria. In Vienna, Austria, he agreed to compete with Mozart on the keyboard in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II. Guess who won? The emperor declared a tie, very nice guy.

Mozart doesn't seem to have liked young Signour Clementi. He wrote to his own father, "Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians. He marks a piece presto and plays only allegro." But Muzio was quite impressed with Mozart and, later on, Mozart came to respect Muzio. They influenced each others' style and borrowed from each others' music. In fact, Mozart used the opening motif of Muzio's B-flat Major Sonata in his overture for "The Magic Flute".

From 1783-1803, Muzio stayed in London and taught music. In 1798, he added more to his work by taking over a music publishing firm in London. Perhaps Jane Austen, the famous authoress of the Regency era, bought music from 'Clementi & Co' at their warehouse in Cheapside or Tottenham Court Road. At this time, Muzio also began a piano manufacturing buisness. Sadly, one of his manufacturing warehouses burnt down and he lost about 40,000 pounds.

After developing a relationship with Mozart, Muzio struck a deal with Ludwig van Beethoven and received the rights to print all of Beethoven's music. Muzio was criticised for "correcting" some of Beethoven's music - adjusting harmonies he thought were wrong, for example.

In 1810 Muzio stopped performing publicly so he could devote his time to composing and piano-making. Around this time, he and a group of other well-known musicians founded a music society that became the Royal Philharmonic Society. His piano-making buisness flourished, and he invented several improvements in piano construction, some of which are still used today.

At the end of 1816, Muzio made a trip to Europe, to present some of his new works in Paris and Frankfurt. Over the next eight years he made several trips throughout Europe. Perhaps he visited his family back in Italy. But he always came back to England.

Muzio's last public performance was at the opening concert of the Society he helped found. He retired form the Society in 1830 at seventy-eight years old.

He spent his final years in Evesham, a town in Worchester, England. On March 10, 1832, he doed after a short illness. He was eighty years old.

Muzio was buried at Westminster Abbey, attended by several of his students. He had been married three times and had five children. His gravestone reads:

"Muzio Clementi, called 'Faher of the Pianoforte'. His fame as a musician and composer, acknowleged throughout Europe, procured him the honour of a public interment in this cloister. Born at Rome, 1752; died at Evesham, 1812."

Muzio Clementi was the first to create keyboard works just for the pianoforte, or piano. He composed almost 110 piano sonatas, along with several symphonies and operas. His earlier, easier piano sonatas are called sonatinas. Later composers used his sonatas as models for keyboard compositions. Muzio's piano compositions are known for being delightful and, though difficult, good practice for young pianists.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Muzio Clementi: The Father of Pianoforte Playing

Historical Period: Classical - Romantic
Nationality: Italian
Born: January 23, 1752; Rome, Italy
Died: March 10, 1832; Evesham, England
Contemporaries: Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Franz Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Works:110 piano sonatas, operas, and symphonies

What's Happening in History?
The British colonies in America declare their independence from England in 1776 and Napoleon Bonaparte is rising to power in France as the country has gone through a revolution killing many innocent people. At the same time, Jane Austen has published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811.

Life and Education
Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clement (baptized Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius) was born in Rome, Italy on January 23, 1752. His father, Nicolo, was a well-known silversmith who married a Swiss woman named Madalena. Little Muzio was the first of seven children in the family, which makes it all the more incredible that his parents had time for him.

Muzio's father soon realized that his little boy had musical talent, and he arranged for a relative, Antonio Baroni, to give Muzio private music instruction. At seven years old, Muzio was learning figured bass, a system of music notation where numbers stand for chords. At eleven or twelve years he learned counterpoint, and at 13 he had already composed an oratorio and a mass. When he was just fourteen years old, Muzio became an organist at the local parish. In this way, Clementi followed in the footsteps of Bach and Handel.

In 1766, a wealthy Englishman named Sir Peter Beckford visited Rome. He was very impressed with Muzio's talent at the keyboard and asked Signour Clementi to let his son move to England with Sir Peter. Muzio's father agreed, and so off they went to Sir Peter's estate in Dorset, England. Muzio must have been heartbroken to leave his family for a country so far away, but as a young man he was probably very excited as well. We can already see the growing commitment from Clementi's family to invest in music as a career.

Sir Peter Beckford promised he would pay for lessons until Muzio was twenty-one. In return, Muzio would perform for Sir Peter and his guests. During this time, it is said that Muzio practised 8 hours a day at the harpsichord. He practised music of J. S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, George Frederic Handel, and others. In 1770, Muzio gave his first public performance on the organ.

Guest Author: Rachel

Monday, April 13, 2015

Symphony No.1 in C-major by Muzio Clementi

      Here's The Philharmonia conducted by Francesco d'Avalos in Clementi's Symphony No. 1 in C Major. Though Clementi is known for his piano works, I am really enjoying his symphony.

Clementi lived from 1752 until 1832, so he was around when Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were transoforming classical music. But right along with them, Clementi spent 50 years of his life as a performer, composer, publisher, teacher, arranger, and instrument maker. He is known as "the father of the pianoforte" because of his persistence on showcasing this new instrument at the time.

In this symphony you can already sense the stretching of the Classical style towards the Romantic style. There are stark contrasts, a variety in dynamics, all within rich harmonies and beautiful melodies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Practice Tips for Hunter's Chorus, Suzuki Book 2

     We have already said that one of the goals of Book 2 is to take bowing to the next level. Chorus from Judas Maccabeus introduced us to using whole bow while  Musette introduced playing near the upper half and tip of the bow. But we can't neglect playing at the frog can we? Hunter's Chorus is written by Carl Maria van Weber. Here are some things to keep in mind along with playing near the frog.

I have always struggled to know how to break up the piece. Here is the best I have right now: part 1, m. 1 – 8 first note; part 2, m. 8 last note – m. 20 first note; part 3 m. 20 last note – m. 22; part 4, m. 23 – 26; part 5, m. 27 – end.

After playing a piece with whole bow, we are challenged to play at the frog. There are many ways to play this piece with the bow, so I am not saying this is the only way to play it.

This word appears as ff, which gives us an idea already of what it means. If f  (forte) means loud, then ff means very loud. We see this word towards the end of the piece in measure 31, where we use the most bow possible no longer staying at the frog.

1st and 2nd Ending.
Composers have always sought ways to keep from writing out sections that repeat and this is one way. We notice that in m. 33-34 there is a bracket over the measures with a number 1 on the left side. This means that you play those measures then repeat from measure 23, where there is a repeat sign. On the repeat you do not play the first ending again, but jump directly to the last two measures which is the second ending.

1. Practice the bow exercises at the frog and then ff.

2. Clap and say the note names to work on the rhythm. Make sure to take your time so that you can really become comfortable with the notes and rhythms.

3. Just like in Chorus from Judas Macabeus play all the slurs as hook bow, stopping between each note. This will be especially helpful in seeking to get all four notes in 1 beat, since they are sixteenth notes. This is one of the strategies that Dr. Suzuki employed in learning the piece.

4. Practice m. 21-22 working with the open D strings, big and fast down bows.

5. Play m. 23-24 big bow on the accent and shorter stop-bow on the staccato, notice that it is similar to m. 21-22 in that we have long-short-short combinations.

6. Now, work on m. 25-26, 29-30 where we play two notes down bow smoothly, slurring them, then a short and light up bow on the staccato note. You can also lift the bow on the staccato up-bows for a more artistic flavor.

7. Lastly, m. 31-32 has ff, so we have to use whole bow with an emphasis on the first and last note of each measure.

8. Pick four songs from Book 1 per day to play at the frog.

9. Play all three songs back-to-back to continue to build your stamina. If you really want to challenge yourself, start back in book 1 with #8, Allegro and play all the way through Hunter's Chorus.

There's a lot more than can be done and that's where your private teacher will lead. Remember to give priority to your private teacher's directions as he or she knows you best.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bach's Unaccompanied Violin Partitas and Sonatas

     There are pieces that every violinist wants to master and play passionately, I know do. Which ones are at the top of my list? Bach's incredible Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas. Here is Nathan Milstein giving a masterful performance.

Bach's Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001–1006) are a set of six works rich with emotional variety and depth, complex harmonies, advanced technique and timeless melodies. Bach known as a prodigious organist and harpsichordist was also a violinist from a young age, which if these pieces are any indication, must have been quite the violinist. Some would say that this collection is the peak of polyphonic writing for a non-keyboard instrument and has taken violin technique to new heights as well. Though there were other solo pieces for the violin, Bach's collection was at a whole new level of technique. Those that were first to work on them were said to believe the pieces almost impossible to perform.

Bach started composing this collection in 1703 and finished them around 1720 when he was Kapellmeister in Köthen. Aside from his geographical area, the Western world was only really exposed to them in 1802 when Nikolaus Simrock published them in Bonn. The sonatas follow a four-movement pattern: slow-fast-slow-fast, which was not unusual for the Baroque period. The Partitas on the other hand are unorthodox dance-form movements in their structure, which works well with their improvisatory feel.

For violin students that are interested to start on the Sonatas, make sure that you are in Suzuki Book 6 or something comparable. Most of the pieces will still be very difficult, but some of them will be available to you to work on. Remember that these pieces are not meant to be worked on just once, but throughout your life. Don't give up and the rewards will be great!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

     The Münchener Bach-Orchester directed by Karl Richter in J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. J.S. Bach is known as a great composer and an organist virtuoso, who was a music leader (composer, conductor and accompanist) for the Lutheran church, an orchestra conductor and composer for the Duke of Weimer and for Prince Leopold. In 1721, during his employment for Prince Leopold, Bach wrote six string orchestra concertos called The Brandenburg Concertos dedicated to "His Royal Highness Monseigneur Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg."

It all started back in December of 1717 at the age of 32 when Bach was offered the job of Kapellmeister at the Court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt in Cöthen after a month of confinement by his previous employer, the Duke of Weimer. Bach left the Duke for Prince Leopold who loved music and was himself a violinist, harpsichordist and viola da gamba player. After four wonderful years, the prince got married to his cousin, the Princess of Anhalt-Bernburg. Bach and the princess did not like each other, so felt the urgency to seek employment with Christian Lugwig, whom met earlier. So Bach wrote the Margrave Ludwig a letter and sent these six concerti to display his abilities. As far we know, no answer ever came from the Margrave and the pieces were never performed at the Margrave's court.

The six Concerti are three movements each, except for the first concerto which is four movements. The instrumentation is based on the small orchestra that Bach led for Prince Leopold, which why there are some brass, some woodwinds, harpsichord and string orchestra. Each of the concertos has solos from the different sections along with the orchestral style, especially in the First, Third and Sixth Concerto.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bach's St. Matthew Passion

        Here is Bach's St. Matthew Passion with Philipp Herreweghe directing the Kölner Philharmonie and Coro y Orquesta del Collegium Vocale Gent.

If Bach is known as first, it would be that he dedicated most of his music to the Lutheran Church. Bach was born after the Protestant Reformation, but he felt the influence of Martin Luther throughout his life, since Bach was at Luther's church for part of his life. Martin Luther had a profound influence on Bach's views of music, since Luther composed songs for the church in the German language and it was Luther that translated the Bible in the German language.

The St. Matthew Passion, based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. This is not unusual as the church universal has celebrated the death of Jesus since its inception. The reason the church celebrates the death of Jesus is, of course, because it is through Jesus' personal and volitional sacrifice on the cross that the justice of God is satisfied. Thus, when a person puts their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it is His death that saves them from their sins to eternal life.

Bach undertook to compose this massive work in his time as the choirmaster to churches in Leipzig. The St. Matthew Passion was first heard in 1727 at the Good Friday afternoon service. The piece calls for two separate orchestras and choirs, which perform separately and together throughout the piece. One of the interesting aspects of the piece is that at certain points in the piece, Bach has moments of contemplation that is sung by soloists and the choirs.

Here is how David Gordon describes Bach's St. Matthew Passion: "The massive yet delicate work, with its multiple levels of theological and mystical symbolism, its powerful and dramatic biblical teachings, and its psychological insight, is one of the most challenging and ambitious musical compositions in the entire Western tradition."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Johann Sebastian Bach: A Passionate Life

     Every month, I talk with my private students about a composer in our lessons. One composer that I have put off until now has been J.S. Bach. He is such a great composer and has influenced my musical life. But this month I am going to introduce my students to Bach, especially since his music is all over the Suzuki books.

As part of my research on a composer I have started looking on Youtube for good biographies and I came upon this one. John Eliot Gardiner has already published a biography on Bach, "Bach-Music in the Castle of Heaven," so this documentary is very interesting.

I have enjoyed the background information on Bach and his family, the pictures of the countryside and all the great music along with it. Check out this great video!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rossini's Barber of Seville

I love outdoor performances. Here is the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada at the Sommernachtsgala Grafenegg in 2012. This is another piece that I am performing with the Louisville Philharmonia at our next concert. It is nice to see the up-close shots of the instrumentalists and the beautiful scenery of the countryside.

On the day after Christmas, December 26, 1813 Gioachino Rossini's opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) had its opening night and it was a fiasco. The opera is based on Beaumarchais’s play with the same title, which was already set as an opera a few times with a favorite already reigning for over 30 years. So, Rossini had originally titled the opera the title Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione, but everyone knew what he was doing and many were outraged that Rossini would directly compete with the favorite Paisiello version. But by it's second performance Rossini's version was already winning out; it is said that the crowd was coming after the performance to congratulate Rossini. It is said that it only took Rossini 13 days to compose the entire opera with the overture copied from two previous operas.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms

Here is the Wiener Philharmoniker in 1982 directed by Leonard Bernstein performing Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.

I am listening to it today to be motivated, refreshed with the way it goes, catch some tips on tempo, intonation, expressiveness, ensemble, and anything else that I can catch to get ready for the rehearsal Monday with the Louisville Philharmonia.

Brahms wrote his Second Symphony in D Major on his summer vacation of 1877 in the village of Portschach. just months after his celebrated First Symphony. On December 30, 1877 the Second Symphony was premiered by Hans Richter. Following in the footsteps of Beethoven, the symphony is about 40 minutes. Some call this the Pastoral Symphony in memory and comparison with Beethoven.

 You never get to old or too good to gain from others, especially master musicians. Bernstein is an especially good conductor so I am appreciate listening to this recording. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teaching Reflections: Indespensible Listening

    What are your teaching goals for 2015? All teachers need yearly goals to further their art and students. For 2015 one of my pedagogical goals is listening. The more I teach, the more convinced I am that a student, parent, teacher, and /or artist will gain immeasurably by listening to the pieces that he or she is working on. You are never too young, too old, too inexperienced, or too experienced to listen to great performances. Dr. Suzuki is correct on this point, listening is indispensable to progress!

“It is of utmost importance that parents and children understand the value of listening to recordings at home. Listening is central to the development of musical sensitivity.” ~Shinichi Suzuki

Maybe Not

 Just like in any field of study, professional music educators have differing positions, even when it comes to the role of listening to recordings in the training of the musician. Sometimes music teachers are very passionate about their perspective on how to teach. 
Here are two main reasons that are given often why musicians should not listen to recordings: 
  1. Creates Robots. There is the concern that listening to recordings will just turn a musician, especially a young student, into a little music robot, just copying what he hears. This leads to the ruin of a musician’s creativity.
  2. Illiterate Musicians. By listening to recordings of the pieces that they are learning, it will also lead the musician to ignore note reading and play what he has heard. So, listening to recordings prevent musicians from learning to read music proficiently, which is very important.

Maybe Yes

 It is important to take these concerns seriously, because every musician desires to be creative and most musicians, especially classical musicians, find note reading essential. With that in mind, here are some reasons why listening to recordings is indispensable, not harmful:
  1. It inspires. For many musicians hearing a great performer is what inspired them to learn an instrument or sing. Excellent performers move our emotions and excite us in ways other things cannot. After starting to study an instrument, great performances motivates the student to persevere when it seems like he will never improve. As the student progresses, great performances will inspire him to aim higher, to not be satisfied with his current level of playing. 
  2. The foundation. Starting from day one a student listens to his teacher demonstrate how to do things. Students that listen at home build their sense of intonation, rhythm, tone, phrasing, expression, etc. For young students this is not necessarily something they are aware of, to them it is just to get to know “how a song goes.” This is exactly what happens in the lesson with the teacher. The teacher demonstrates how to play notes in tune, with the correct rhythm, beautiful tone, expressiveness, etc. It makes the process of learning easier and more enjoyable. Students that I teach learn this way from me, but I also have them learn to read the notes and understand the connection of what the hear with what they see. This is why students are also challenged to sight read a piece in lessons. They get a few seconds to figure out the song with my assistance and then play it all the way through without stopping. The aural and the visual are both stimulated to grow. If done wisely, listening to recordings can boost note reading along with many other foundational skills.
  3. Gives possibilities. No teacher wants musical robots, so instead of giving up all the benefits of listening to great performers I talk to students about possibilities. After the notes and dynamics are learned, we are ready to make some real music. It is at this stage that the recordings are considered valid and good ways to perform the song. It is not the only way, but one good way of performing. Next, the student will try to imitate the master in the expressiveness of the piece. All of us imitate to learn; it happens in sports, public speaking, medicine, you name it, we all imitate, but we don’t stop there. After trying the way of one of these master musicians, I guide the student to try the piece in other ways. This is fun, not burdensome or dread. We enjoy trying things in different ways, that is why we have all kinds of cars, homes, clothes, and many other things. The same goes with music, we learn, imitate and then get personally creative with what we’ve done.

Using great performances this way is not easy, it takes patience, explaining, guiding, being comfortable to try new things and a love for the excellent. There is no need for a musician to forgo all the benefits of listening due to feeling he is cheating or feeling like he is taking the easy way out. Keep listening, it’s indispensable!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Thomas Tallis: Fading into History II

Work and Music

Thomas Tallis is often called "the Father of English church music" because he was the first well-known composer to write substantially for the Anglican church.

The earliest works we have by Tallis are songs to the Virgin Mary, a very important figure in Roman Catholicism.  When England became more of a Protestant country, Tallis' style changed - he wrote most of his music set to the liturgy, which is basically a church service written down. Through this phase in his life, Tallis was among the first church musicians to write anthems set to English words, even though Latin continued to be used as the primary language. Then, when the Catholic monarch Queen Mary rose to the throne, so Tallis switched his style back to the Roman Catholic way. After that, Queen Elizabeth I came to power, starting a more Protestant puritanical mood and so Tallis went back to writing in the Protestant style.

Through the years Tallis did a lot of work with William Byrd, one of his students. Queen Elizabeth granted them a patent to print and publish music and exclusive rights to print any music in any language, if it was for the church. But since they were both strong Roman Catholics in a Protestant country, thier music didn't sell very well. However, Tallis kept the respect of others through the religious upheaval.

Tallis didn't like the more modern style of his young students like William Byrd. Tallis was content to write music just for the liturgy of the church. He composed during a difficult time of struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, and his music often shows that struggle.

Thomas Tallis died in 1585 in Greenwich, England and was buried in the parish of St. Alfege Church.Though little is know about him, Thomas Tallis is still considered by many as one of the greatest composers of English sacred music! Spem in Alium and If Ye Love Me are two of his most famous pieces that are well known and still sung today. This is a little poem about Thomas Tallis that has been found:

 “Entered here doth ly a worthy wyght,
Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell:
His name to shew, was THOMAS TALLYS hyght,
In honest virtuous lyff he dyd excell.

“He serv’d long tyme in chappel with grete prayse
Fower sovereygnes reygnes (a thing not often seen);
I meane Kyng Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth oure Quene.

“He mary’d was, though children he had none,
And lyv’d in love full thre and thirty yeres
Wyth loyal spowse, whose name yclypt was JONE,
Who here entomb’d him company now beares.

“As he dyd lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet sort (O happy man!)
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let deth do what he can.”

*Written by Rachel, Suzuki book 3 student

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Practice Tips for Minuet No. 2 by J.S. Bach

    Now that we have grown more familiar with Johann Sebastian Bach's music through Minuet No. 1, we are ready for the 2nd of the 3 Minuets by J.S. Bach! Here are some tips to help you on the Bach journey:
The piece is organized in two main sections: section 1, lines 1-4 and section two, lines 5-10. It will be easier to think of the song in 4 parts, here’s what I mean: part 1, line 1-2; part 2, line 3-4; part 3, line 5-6; part 4, line 7-8; and part 2, line 9-10.

Hook Bows. In Minuet No. 1 we learned that hook bows are played up-up and indicated by a curved line over or under two notes with dots above or below them. In Minuet No. 1 the notes that are hooked are the same, but now in Minuet No. 2 we will not only play hook bows on the same note but also two different notes. We see this in measure 15, 22, 23, and 39.
Slurs. You have played two-note hook bows, not we are ready to play three notes in one bow smoothly. That is the main difference between hook bow and a slur, hook bows have stops between the notes while the notes in a slur are smoothly connected. The slur appears in measure 15, 23, 29, 30 and 39.

Tenuto. The first measure, which repeats a few times in the piece, has notes with dashes. This is the first we see these kind of notes in the book. The tenuto indicates that we use long, strong bows on these notes. The idea is to not allow the notes to be weak, but sustained.

Dotted-Half Note Decrescendo. At the end of part 2, both in the 1st section and the 2nd section, there is a decrescendo under the dotted-half note. So far we have done decrescendo over a few notes, but now we do it on one note. One way to make the decrescendo is by starting with fast bow and then slow down during the 3 beats.

High Three. Along with getting used to the low 2nd finger, now we are ready to try out the high third finger. To play a high third finger we need to stretch it a little further so that when you place the fourth finger they are next to each other (half step apart).

Finger Hopping. There is a hop from E 2nd finger to A 3rd finger in measure 5 into measure 6, then A 3rd finger to E 2nd finger measure 6, then E 2nd finger to A 2nd finger measure 6 into measure 7.

Artistry. We have already learned that the Minuet is a dance in 3/4 time, which means that we need to emphasize the first note of every measure with more bow. Now we are ready to make a difference between the mood of the 1st line and 2nd line. The 1st line is a little more aggressive, while line 2 play more legato and gentle. Then we can make this difference between lines 3 and 4.

1. Warm-up with the bow exercises, now with an emphasis on decrescendos on long notes.

2. Play the finger concerto with high 2nd and high 3rd finger with regular bows, hook bow, and try also slurs. 

3. Laying the bow aside for a minute, hop fingers E 2nd finger to A 3rd,
A 3rd finger to E 2nd, E 2nd finger to A 2nd finger each 5 times. Now do it playing with the bow. This will help your fingers used to the hops.

4. Play through the piece with no hook bows or slurs, just focusing on the fingering and rhythm.

5. Work on all the hook bow measures playing each one 3 times preparing the bow so there is no squeak or crunch. Do not be in a hurry because it will not sound nice, your arms need time to get ready. After you work on all the measures with the hook bows on their own it will be much easier to get the song to flow.

6.Play along with the Youtube video above and other recordings.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Spem in Alium - Thomas Tallis' 40-Voice Motet

Thomas Tallis is renowned for his wonderful choral pieces. Spem in Alium is a polyphonic motet written for 40 voices in an 85-part choir. We are not sure why Tallis decided to write this huge piece for 40 voices or even why he chose specifically 40 voices, but it is a beautifully splendid piece. Let's keep in mind that this was pop of his time and most of the music was written for church services, as most people in Europe at the time were professing Christians.

The words are from a church service and they talk about God's gracious character to deal with man's sins, since man cannot fix the wrongs that he has done. So this entire motet is a personal prayer asking God for forgiveness. In the Catholic church, their services were in Latin, since it was the predominant language for a while when all of Europe was a part of the Roman empire. Here they are translated in English :

I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Thomas Tallis: Fading into History


Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality: English
Born: c. 1505
Died: November 23, 1585
Contemporaries: William Byrd, Giovanni Pierluigi de Palastrina, Orlande de Lassus, Andrea Gabrielli, Robert White

Work: Puer Natus Est Nobis, Lutheren chants, Mass for Four Voices
What's Happening in History:
Henry VIII is the king in England, Martin Luther posts his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church in Germany, Copernicus publishes his theory that the earth orbits the sun.


     Much of Thomas Tallis' early life is hidden from us, but he was one of the greatest composers of his time. Thomas Tallis was born circa (around) 1505 toward the end of the reign of Henry VII. It is thought that Tallis was part of the Chapel Royal St. James' Palace, because he joined it later as a man. The first place music took him was in 1532 when he became an organist of a Benedictine priory called Dover Priory in Kent, England. Tallis then went to London to an Augustinian monastery in Essex, England. 

When the monastery broke up in 1540, Tallis went to Canterbury Cathedral, and then to the English royal Court, where he composed and performed for the monarchs Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. As the monarchs changed, the country was torn between Catholic and Protestant monarchs seeking to force their religion on the rest of the nation while persecuting those on the other side. Tallis avoided the mess, even though both he and his friend/student William Byrd were ardent Roman Catholics. In these tumultuous years Tallis was able to switch his music style to fit the different monarchs' demands, showing his creativity and brilliance. 
Tallis was not only a composer, but as many musicians of his time, he was a music teacher as well. Two of his most renowned students include William Byrd, who was a composer, and Elway Bevin, who was an organist.

Amidst all his work, Tallis married Joan around 1552, who outlived him by four years. Unfortunately, Thomas and Joan were never able to have any children, so they did not experience the joys of parenthood. But this sadness did free Tallis up to focus on his music.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hector Berlioz: France's Romantic Composer - Part 4

Final Years and Legacy

http://www.samuelhuet.com/graisivaudan/berlioz/img01.jpg     After his extensive travels throughout Europe, Berlioz  returned to Paris incapacitated by illness and saddened by many deaths. His first wife died in 1854; his second wife, Maria Recio, who had been his companion for many years and whom he had married when he became a widower, died suddenly in 1862. His son, Louis,  on whom Berlioz concentrated the affection of his declining years, died at the age of 33 of yellow fever.

 These dramatic events did not stop Berlioz from composing more music and traveling. In 1861 Berlioz produced his work Beatrice et Benedict, and in 1863 Les Troyens.  In 1866 Berlioz journeyed to Vienna and Russia where his music was accepted with great enthusiasm.

Following those tours, a lonely Berlioz returned to Paris where he died on March 8, 1869.  He left behind him many innovative compositions that had set the tone for the romantic period. He was a great inspiration to composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Although some of his work was not well received during his life, his popularity increased after his death. Richard Wanger once said of Berlioz: “The reckless boldness and severe precision…took me by storm and impetuously fanned the flames of my personal feeling for music and poetry.”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hector Berlioz:France's Romantic Composer - Part 3

Time of Productivity

           Hector Berlioz is now at the peak of his musical career in Paris. In 1830, Berlioz began and finished his Symphony Fantastique, which brought him  much fame and notoriety. Even today, many people think of this piece when they think of Berlioz. Berlioz was greatly inspired after he attended The Tempest by Shakespeare so much that he even composed an overture dedicated to Shakespeare which he called La Tempete. Berlioz also had the privilege of meeting Franz List, which resulted in the formation of a long and lasting friendship between the great composers.

          In 1832 Berlioz meets Harriet Smithson and marries her a year later, however he did not treasure their marriage and separated from his wife 10 years later. During these years he wrote some of his most popular works such as the symphony Harold en Italie (1834) and the choral work Requiem, also known as the Grande messe des morts (1837). During this same time, one of his operas, Benvenuto Cellini (1838) flopped and was never played again during his lifetime. This caused a great setback in his career. During this period he often had to resort to his job as a music critic to earn a steady income. There were bright spots during this time as well. In 1838, Niccolo Paganini hears Berlioz's Harold en Italie gives him a large financial gift which enabled him to write the choral symphony Romeo et Juliet (1839), dedicated to Paganini.

          Throughout the 1840’s Berlioz traveled throughout Europe working as a conductor to pay for his travels. When his choral work La Damnation de Faust became a financial sinkhole touring came to the rescue. Finally, Berlioz found his financial footing in 1850’s, when his L’Enfance du Christ (1854) was a success and he was elected to the Institute de France allowing him to receive another stipend!  During this time he also wrote 2 more operas which both had successful debuts.

Check out Part 4 Next week!
Guest Contributer: Piano Book 1 Student

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hector Berlioz: France's Romantic Composer - Part 2

Life as a Student

http://www.hberlioz.com/Photos/hb6.jpg          In Part 1 of this biography, we looked at the early life and musical experience of Hector Berlioz. Hector was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a physician, however his passion for music took Berlioz in a different direction.

The Early Years
          In 1823, Hector Berlioz worked as a critic for the journal Le Corsaire in Paris and also composed his first big works, many of which are lost or destroyed by Berlioz himself. The Messe Solennelle (1824), Les Francs-Juges (1826), and the Waverley Overture (1827) are a few of his early compositions he failed to destroy so we can enjoy. His early works were not widely accepted at the time and ended in him failing to win the coveted Prix de Rome, a scholarship for arts students; though he tried again and again, submitting a new cantata each year. All of Berlioz's new works resulted in bad performances, but even with losing and failing so many times, Berlioz was still persistent and pushed himself to work hard. And in 1828, on his fourth attempt, Berlioz won second place in the Prix de Rome! This prize included a five year pension, which was badly needed for the struggling composer. 

          Berlioz was a lover and a learner, which was never so apparent then during these early years. During his long apprenticeship in Paris, Berlioz had exposure to great composers, like Ludwig van Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber, and great poets like William Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Seeing the plays of Shakespeare motivated Berlioz to learn English, so he could read Shakespeare in the original. But Berlioz did not stop there. In 1827, Berlioz started singing in the chorus at Theatre des Nouveautes to grow his income. He was a great lover of the opera, which led Berlioz to begin writing musical criticism. This job helped him earn more money and support himself, while pursuing his passion for music and the arts.

Check out Part 3 Next week!

Guest Contributer: Piano Book 1 Student

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hector Berlioz - France's Romantic Composer

"Love cannot express the idea of music, while music may give an idea of love." - Hector Berlioz

Historical Period: Romantic Era
Nationality: French
Born: December 11, 1803, La Côte Saint-André, France
Died: March 8,1869, Paris, France
Contemporaries: Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, Fromental Halévy,  Giacomo Meyerbeer, Gaspare Spontini

Early Life

Hector Berlioz was born in 1803 in a comfortable home in a villa north of Grenoble in France. His father was a respected physician and scholar. Because many schools were shutting down in the area, Hector received most of his education from his father at home. He showed interest in music at an early age, and despite being destined to become a physician like his father, he was encouraged to develop his musical skill. In 1816 he began to learn the flute and guitar and even began to compose many pieces which he saved and reused in later compositions. His earliest know composition is called the Pot-pourri, which is said to be lost. He also wrote a song for the voice and guitar which he would later use in his famous Symphonie Fantastique

In 1821 his father sent him to Paris to finish his medical studies. While he was there Berlioz also studied under Professor Jean-François Lesueur, who taught him Parisian music. It was also in Paris that Berlioz was exposed to opera and after being encouraged by his friend Jean-François Lesueur, Berlioz decided to fully give himself to music. After submitting to his father and attending medical school for a year Berlioz went home and declared his wish to pursue music full time. That was not good news to them, his parents were very upset. After failing to force him to abandon his passion for music, Berlioz broke away from his father and mother. That was very painful for Berlioz's parents, so they decided to remove all financial support for Berlioz.

Come back next week for Part 2!

 *Written by Book 1 Piano Student.