Friday, October 9, 2015

Handel's Concerto Grossi





      Handel is known for his oratorios, but they were not at first that popular.  In 1739, to get the public to come to his operas, Handel started having special instrumental pieces in the intermission. This led Handel to start composing Concerti Grossi. Handel was inspired and wished to compose at the level of Corelli's Concerti Grossi and these are a part of the high point of Baroque orchestral literature.

These pieces are very exciting to listen to as Handel has the soloists going back and forth with the orchestra. You can hear great fugues, aria-like, dance, mournful, and vigorous movements keeps the joy coming as you listen.

Here is the Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 5, HWV 323 performed by Il Giardino Armonico conducted by Giovanni Antonini.

Practice Tips for Bouree in Suzuki Book 2



            Congratulations on getting half way through book 2. Here we have the second piece in the book by G.F. Handel.  This piece brings together bow technique that we have been learning since the first piece in Book 2.

Here are some practice tips as you work through Bouree and prepare for your half Book 2 recital:

Key.
Bouree is in the key of G Major, which means that it has 1 sharp - F#. For violinists it means that we play a low 2nd finger on the A and E string. Did you notice that numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5 all have one sharp in the key signature?    

Structure. 
This piece is comprised of three main sections, having an ABA1 form. A is line 1 and 2,  B is lines 3 and 4 and A1 starts with a pick up into line 4 going all the way to the end of the piece.

Skills/Terms. 
Bouree.
Until now we have played the Minuet, Gavotte, and Waltz. The Bouree is a lively French dance in an even time signature from the Baroque period. Below we will discuss how knowing this will impact our playing of the piece.

The Grand Detache.
One of the reasons that Bouree is the sixth piece in Book 2 is to practice what some people call the "Grand Detache." There are probably other names for this bow stroke, so do not be surprised when you encounter them. In the second line of the piece, there is a gradual crescendo from piano to about a forte. 

Listen to the great Suzuki teacher, William Starr, as he describes what we need to do: "Suzuki asks the student to lengthen the bow strokes gradually, raising the elbow as the bow moves to the frog on the up-bows" (To Learn with Love, p. 110).

So, the Grand Detache is the bow technique of playing with lots of bow quickly, in this case eighth notes (Check below for tips on how to practice this technique).

Very Soft. In Hunter's Chorus, we encountered ff (very loud) where we strived to play with as much bow as possible. Now, we have the opportunity to play pp (very soft) and crescendo up to forte. Remember that playing very quietly means to use small bow but still keeping the bow pressing into the string.

Long Crescendos
In part 1 and part 3 there is a big crescendo, giving us the opportunity to learn to use more and more bow over the course of an entire line. More specifically, pick-up to measure 21 starts with a pp then a gradual crescendo all the way to forte in measure 23. This is by far the biggest crescendo that we have worked on.

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

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

3. Learn and play Finger Exercise No. 5A 7 times every you practice, to get comfortable sliding your first finger back for a low first finger.

4. Listen to the c.d. or a YouTube video of the piece as you follow the notes. Listen to how the dynamics and bowing are performed.

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

6. For the big crescendo in part 1 and part 3 practice playing on all the open strings 4 notes 4 times. Play the first 4 notes quiet, louder the next 4 notes, and so on. Now, do the same thing for measures 5-7 and 21 - 23. Each group of four notes should get more bow so that the crescendo is clearer. You can use the same strategy for the measures with decrescendo.

7. Study what the Bouree dance was all about so that you can start understanding the style of the piece. One aspect of playing a baroque dance is to keep the song lively and not aggressive. We want people to dance to the piece.

8. You are ready for the Half Book 2 recital. Get your teacher, family and some friends together to perform for them 1-6. The more you perform the better you will be able to play the pieces.

More tips on Bouree here

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Orlando de Lassus: The Boy With the Beautiful Voice



Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality: Belgium
Born: c. 1532
Died: June 14, 1594
Major Works: Resonet in Laudibus, Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales, 530 motets, more than 60 masses

What's Happening in History?

In the 1500s England was a powerful country. Henry VIII, who was the king, has divorced his wife and taken over control of the church of England. The big change for England to not be a part of the Catholic Church any longer was a part of a big movement in Europe call "The Reformation." Reformers like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and Menno Simons are spreading new ideas about the gospel through Europe. On the political side of things, Machiavelli is writing "The Prince", discussing the possibility of utopia, a perfect world. On the side of music there were some very creative man that composed extraordinary music for the churches and the courts. 

Overview

In every period of history there always men and women that "stand out." Orlando de Lassus (or Roland de Lassus) is one of the "big three" Renaissance composers, along with William Byrd and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.  

Orlando de Lassus, born in the Habsburg Netherlands, is one of the major composers of this time period to use the polyphonic (Latin for "many voices") style, which consists of many voices singing together in harmony. Some people consider Lassus as one of the most versatile and prolific composers of his time. He wrote many masses for the Catholic church in this style, as well as secular madrigals, French chansons, and German lieder. He was a specialist in taking popular songs or works by other composers and putting them into his own music. His masses and other music for the church are hauntingly beautiful. Keep in mind that at this time it was dangerous to be Catholic in certain parts of Europe with the Reformation taking place, but di Lasso remained Catholic through all the religious tumult.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Schumann's 1st Love Song for a Girl





     Schumann wrote the Abegg Variations shortly after his twentieth birthday based on the name of the girl, Meta Abegg, that he met at a ball. Schumann was paying tribute to the French center of piano virtuosity.

The Abegg Variations first appeared in November 1831. Schumann was writing in the Romantic period where it was all about unrequited love and getting all dramatic. It was a period in history where people lost the understanding of love, but people knew what a girl or a boy was.

The entire piece is based out of a five-note motif from the letters ABEGG, unlike the tradition of the time to base the theme on a melody off of another famous composer's work. Schumann develops this motif in the variations from slow and expressive to fast and flashy.

Here is Linnéa Benson playing the "Abegg variations" by Robert Schumann.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Always Seeking Inspiration





     As a professional music artist and teacher I recognize my need to constantly be inspired. Here is Beethoven 9 performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Riccardo Muti.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What are you listening to?



     What do you listen to when you are reading, studying, or writing? This is a great time to listen to music that you are learning or inspires your playing. Always seek to grow, don't put it off, or think you "have arrived." Musicians that stop listening to the great masters stagnate and also are less likely to take criticism from others well. Stay humble and keep on growing!

J.S. Bach always astounds me. The more I listen the more I get out of it. Incredible! Here is J.S. Bach's Partita Nr.  3 in E Dur performed by Gidon Kremer.

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

Teaching is a Small Business




     Most private music teachers in the United States of America do not think of their teaching as a business. Some teachers would say it is wrong, it goes against their calling as teachers to see their teaching as business. And I do not blame them, we have all had teachers that just taught for the money. These teachers do not care about their students, just the paycheck. But as teachers, we do not have to fall into that trap as we seek to make the business aspect of our studio successful.

But as private music teachers we need to develop our understanding of business, since a good portion of it is selling our product to people. This does not mean that we should neglect the other important aspects of our teaching, such as our pedagogical skills, musical skills, understanding of child psychology, how to work with parents. So the question for us today is, "how much time do I spend on the business aspect of my studio?"

If you are not sure where to start, Dave Ramsey is one of the men that can help you build the business side of your studio. Ramsey has built his business from zero to a multi-million dollar business. Alongside that, Ramsey will teach you to build a lasting business founded on good ethics and practices. Enjoy this short video and there are more in the series!

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:

Key.
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.


Structure.
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.

Skills/Terms.
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.

Slurs.
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.

Softness.
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.

Strategies.
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."

Music
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.

Structure.
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.

Skills/Terms.
Frog.
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.

Fortissimo.
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.

Strategies.
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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Practice Tips for Chorus from Judas Macabeus, Suzuki Book 2



     Welcome to Book 2! This book will continue to help us develop a beautiful tone and also explore playing at the tip, frog and even whole bow.  Speaking about using whole bow, the very first piece is a theme from George Friedrich Handel's opera, Judas Maccabeus, which is the first opportunity to play everything whole bow. Here are some things to keep in mind along the way.

Structure.
This piece is comprised of two main parts. Part 1 (section A) is lines 1 and 2. Part 2 (section B) is lines 3 and 4. Part 1 (section A) is lines 5-6.


Skills/Terms.
Whole Bow.
As we progressed through book 1, the pieces called for more and more bow. Now in Book 2, we are going to focus on playing notes, slurs, and hook bows with the whole bow. One of our goals with this piece is to play all the way to the end with the whole bow. This will take time so do not get discouraged if it does not happen in the first month of working on book 2.

Hook Bow.
We have played hook bow with staccato dots on top or underneath the notes in Minuet No. 1, Minuet No. 2, Minuet No. 3, Happy Farmer, and Gavotte in Book 1. Now we have the tenuto dashes, which indicate to sustain each note. This means that as you play these hook bows use half of the bow for each note.

Dotted-Quarter-Eighth-Note Slur.
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.


Rallentando. 
This word, rallentando (rall.) pops up at the end of the song. Rall. conveys the same idea as ritardando, slow down. We can start slowing and broadening the note where the rall. is placed or even earlier in the line, it is a matter of artistic expression.

Strategies.
1. Practice the bow exercises with whole bow. 
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. Play all the slurs as hook bow, stopping between each note. This will help you make sure that each note gets enough bow. It's all about bow distribution here, we do not want to give too much of the bow to the first 2 notes.
4. Practice each line 3-4 times stopping between each note, slur or hook bow making sure you used the whole bow.
5. Practice the D2 (F#) at the end of the 3rd line getting to the A4 (E) and High 3 (D#) by stopping to prepare each note.
6. Play the last line and slow down in different spots at the end to learn flexibility to the rallentando. 

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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tips for Gavotte by Gossec, No. 17 Suzuki Violin Book 1


    You have made it to the last song of Suzuki Book 1. Yes! You are finally here after all that hard work; congratulations on persevering! Book 1 has makes sure to build a good foundation for the violinist. That is, establishing a solid playing position, bow hand, and grounding in tone. Moreover, you have learned to play in the key of A, D and G major. Lastly, you are now able to perform the basic detache (regular bow), staccato, bow retakes, hook bow and slurs. There are a few more skills that you have picked but these are the primary skills you have begun to establish. Majority of the skills come together in the last piece of Book 1. The Gavotte by Fracois-Joseph Gossec is in the key of G Major and is an entire page, the longest piece in the book. 

Enjoy these tips to help you finish the book strong:
  
Structure.  

You can think of the piece in four parts: part 1, lines 1 & 2; part 2, lines 3 & 4; part 3, lines 5 & 6; and part 4, lines 7 & 8. Lastly, there is a D.C. al Fine. 

Skills.  

The Big Lift. 
In the first two lines there are notes that have a grace with it, which even come back a little later in the piece.The first lift is in the 2nd measure on the 2nd quarter note with an up bow. Come off the string with a big lift and then place the bow down to prepare the next note. Beware of crashing the bow down on the string after the lift, making some unwanted noise (watch the video above for a demonstration).

4-Note Slurs.

We have slurred two and three notes, now we are introduced to 4-note slurs in the latter half of the song. There are 8 groups of 4-note slurs in the piece. These 4-note slurs challenge us to use majority of the bow fitting all the notes evenly and quickly, since it is easy to use a lot of the bow on the first two notes.
 

Sixteenth Notes.  
The only other piece in the book with sixteenth notes has been the Twinkle Variation E at the beginning of the book. Sixteenth notes are worth half of an eighth note, 4 of them fit into 1 quarter note, which is worth 1 beat in this piece. It is easy to rush sixteenth notes so try to play them a little slower then what we feel like doing. Another way to think about the notes is to say "pepperoni" for each 4-note slur. A more advanced of thinking through these sixteenth notes is to count them "2-e-and-a" in measures 25, 27, 29-31.

Pizzicato. 

This term means to pluck the string with the bow hand. Keeping a good bow hand, use the pointer finger over the fingerboard to pluck the last two notes at the bottom of the page. This is the way that Dr. Suzuki taught it to students. We can also practice the plucking the string after taking the bow in your hand, pretty much making a fist.

D.C. al Fine.

This phrase is found the bottom of the page after the last notes. D.C. is short for Da Capo, which means to go back to the beginning. After the last two notes go back to the beginning and play until the end of the 4th line where is written Fine, meaning "finish."

Artistry. 

Like the Minuet, the Gavotte is also a dance. Dances in the Baroque and Classical Period tended to be played with a nice flow and lightly. There is no aggressive sound, so we do not want to stomp on the notes. The staccato eighth notes sound nice around the middle of the bow. Once you can play the piece well and it's memorized you are ready to bounce near the frog, which I call brush stroke, all the staccato eighth notes. This may mean after learning a few of the songs in Book 2 to get comfortable with bouncing the bow. Some teachers introduce bouncing of the bow in book 3.

Strategies.
1.Warm-up with the bow exercises, try to play everything faster and faster while still having a nice resonant tone.

2. Go to page 44 in the book and practice through the exercises that are printed.

3. Measure 20 is probably the toughest measure in the piece. The exercise found on page 44 is very helpful. First play the notes separately making sure to have a high 2nd finger in the first group of the 4-note slur and a low 2nd finger in the second 4-note slur. Practice playing the first 4-note slur all notes detache, then pause and prepare the low 2nd finger, and then play the 2nd group. Next, play the slurs as hook bow, take your time to play each note clearly. Do this a few times making sure to take time to prepare the fingers. Third, play the notes with slurs stopping between each group to make sure that you are ready for the low 2nd finger and a big up bow. Practice this way at different speeds and then play the slurs without the stopping to prepare.

4. Play only the 4-note slurs all as hook bow, stopping between each note making sure that you use an equal amount of bow for each note.

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 all the 4-note slurs with hook bow making sure to evenly distribute the bow. Once you can do that comfortably, you will want to add the note before and after the slur.

7. Play through the piece all regular bow - no staccato, hook bows or slurs.

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

9. Play a book recital, all the pieces in the book, for your family and friends. Playing a longer recital will grow your stamina, concentration, and ability to keep going when you make mistakes.

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

http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~rfrey/images/166/Gregorio_Allegri.jpg
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:
   
Structure. 
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.

Skills. 
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.

Strategies.
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.