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.