VENUES: BOLSHOI THEATER

Article by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

Bolshoi Theater strikes us with its opulence and grandeur.  Today, with the help of the most professional teams in the world involved in its renovation, it looks more solid than ever, but its history is comprised of a serious of unfortunate events paired with perseverance to preserve this national monument that became a hallmark of Russian cultural life.

 

BOLSHOI THEN

Built by Price Peter Urusov (OBM), Bolshoi, or Petrovsky, Theater opened its doors on December 30th, 1780, with the help of theatrical entrepreneur Michael Maddox (OBM), whom Prince Urusov invited as a business partner. Its opening performance consisted of a solemn prologue The Wanderers by Alexander Ablesimov (OBM) and a big pantomime ballet The Magic School, produced by Leopold Paradis (OBM) to music by Joseph Starzer (OBM). Later on, the Theater repertoire consisted for the most part of Russian and Italian comic operas with ballet interludes, and separate ballets. (1)

Bolshoi Theater in Early 19th Century, painting by A. Arnu.

 

After becoming a sole owner of the theater and having taken too many loans from the government, Michael Maddox was forced to transfer the ownership of the Theater to the hands of the Government Loan Office.

In the fall of 1805 the Theater building burned down, and the Company had to perform in other private theaters. In 1808, it started to perform at the New Arbat Theater, designed by Carlo Rossi (2). During the 1812 war against Napoleon, this building burned down as well.

The new Petrovsky Theater was redesigned by Alexei Mikhailov (OBM) and Joseph Bove (OBM). On January 6th, 1825, the Theater, accommodating over 2,000 people, re-opened its doors.   As it was much bigger than the original theater, it was often referred to as the Big (Bolshoi) Petrovsky Theater. The opening night performance was so successful that it had to be repeated the next evening for the people who weren’t able to get in.

Thirty years later, on March 11th, 1853, the fire broke down in the Theater and continued for three days (3), destroying everything but its walls and columns. A renowned architect Alberto Cavos (OBM) won a privilege to re-design and rebuild the Theater.   On August 20th, 1856, Bolshoi Theater re-opened its doors to the public for the third time with a performance of Vincenzo Bellini (OBM) I Puritani.

Bolshoi Theater in 1883.

 

 In 1917, the Bolshevik government entertained the idea of clothing the Theater, but spared it later.  On 7 December 1919 the house was renamed the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre.  In 1921, after the Soviet Revolution, the government commission examining the condition of the Theater, found it to be catastrophic(4) and started emergency repairs under the supervision of the architect Ivan Rerberg. Beethoven Hall opened on February 18th, 1921.  In 1938, the stage was majorly reconstructed.   In August of 1941, the Theater was closed for complete reconstruction.

On October 22nd, 1941, a German bomb was dropped on the Bolshoi Theater building. Despite the wartime hardship and the severe cold, restoration work on the Theater was initiated in winter 1942 (5). In 1943, the Theater re-opened its doors to the public.

Forty-six years later, after yearly cosmetic repairs, in 1987, the Theater has undergone another major reconstruction to build a second stage that would open in 2002.   In 2005, its Historic Stage was shut down for reconstruction and refurbishment, which turned into a world-level project.

In 2010, the Lobby, the White Foyer, the Choral, Exhibition, Round and Beethoven halls were renovated. “Muscovites were able to admire the restored facades and the renovated symbol of the Bolshoi Theater – the famous Apollo quadriga, created by the sculptor Peter Klodt (OBM). (6)

 

BOLSHOI NOW

The modern version of Bolshoi Theater boasts not only its opulent look, but also its supreme acoustics and state of the art machinery.   The main stage consists of seven two-tier rising and descending platforms. The platforms can easily change their positions with the stage having an ability to become horizontal, raked or stepped. The depth of stage space can be achieved by connecting the stage and backstage areas.

 

 

 

State-of-the art lighting at Bolshoi Theater. Photo by D. Dubinsky, 2014.

 

New upper stage equipment, remotely controlled by  computer, makes it possible to derive maximum use from lighting, sound and visual effects. Cutting edge rigs have been installed for the deployment of lanterns, special effects apparatus and acoustics (7).

 

The orchestra pit seats up to 130 musicians and is one of the largest in the world.

The installation of state of the art stage equipment was a unique world-scale project. The reconstruction has doubled the Theatre’s total floor space. Thanks to the expansion of the Theatre’s existing underground spaces (under stage house) and to the construction of new underground space under Theatre Square, this has been achieved without any change to the Theatre’s external appearance.

Thus the Theatre has acquired badly needed new space, including an underground concert and rehearsal room, which has inherited its name from the Beethoven Hall, under the Theatre lobby.

Beethoven Hall of Bolshoi Theater

 

This hall is a multi-functional space, which can be used in different ways.  It consists of five main platforms: the central platform is the stage itself, two platforms to the right and left of it can be used either to increase the size of the stage or as audience space. The two remaining platforms form the main space of the auditorium. All of the platforms can be raised to foyer level to create a space for holding formal, receptions. Apart from this concert hall and its auxiliary premises, the rest of the underground space under Theatre Square accommodates a large number of technical, service and staff rooms.

 

Khomyakov House at Bolshoi Theater

 

The Bolshoi Theatre reconstruction project also included the renovation of the Khomyakov (OBM) House, a protected architectural monument of the first half of the nineteenth century situated immediately behind the Bolshoi, which has been transformed into a service wing. Due to numerous 20th century reconstructions, the historical interiors of the Khomyakov House have been totally lost.  While its main walls have been preserved, the interior layout has been redesigned to meet the Theatre’s present-day requirements. Thus the Khomaykov House, which is linked to the main Bolshoi Theater building by an underground tunnel, is a key element in the gigantic Bolshoi Theatre complex.

 

PIANO AT BOLSHOI

Although Bolshoi Theater was originally built to host opera and ballet performances, it also has a rich history of hosting piano concerts by such prominent pianists as Svyatoslav Richter (OBM), Emil Gilels (OBM), Dmitry Shostakovich (OBM), Alexander Goldenveizer (OBM), Maria Yudina (OBM), Lev Oborin (OBM), Grigory Ginsburg (OBM), and Yevgeniy Raikov (OBM).

Dmitry Shostakovich and the Bolshoi Quartet

 

Today the Beethoven Hall continues to host piano recitals and events.  It has become one of the main locations for the Vladimir Spivakov’s (MGBH) International Festival “Meet the Friends” as well as a series “Faces of the Bolshoi Theater” featuring collaborative piano performances.

 

References:

(1) http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/about/hist/history/

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

The Art of Piano Performance:
Oleg Pereverzev – From Kazakhstan with Music

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

When I found Oleg’s (MGBH) performance videos on such shows as Ukraine’s Got Talent, The Minute of Fame, and Britain’s Got Talent, I experienced mixed feelings.  The intellectual classical snob in me wanted to say, “Oh, no!”, but in my heart I truly rejoiced as I watched his performances.  I also thought to myself, especially after the comment of one of the judges who criticized him so harshly at The Minute of Fame, “Here we are, whispering in dark corners about the demise of classical music and how a young generation is not so interested in it so much as the older generations used to be, and here he is – this young, brilliant, creative musician who is offering at least a partial solution to this problem, and we are throwing stones at him.  A little hypocritical…”  All these thoughts inspired me to learn more about this pianist.  

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Dear Oleg, at some point, trying to do what you did you experienced criticism from the classical piano watch dogs.  They just didn’t understand what motivated you. And I am sure, some people are still raising their eyebrows and wrinkling their foreheads.  Is it hard to be different?
Oleg Pereverzev (OP): With my performances I wanted to show that music can also transfer information that can feed your heart and soul.  I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  There are many people doing this already.   I wanted to create an exciting show where the audience could feel my soul.  I wanted to affect the hearts of people not only through music, but also through special effects.  And I think I was able to achieve it.  I receive letters from many people around the world – some of them started listening to classical music, others started improvising.  The process of communicating with my audience and connecting to it is very important to me. I constantly work on it.

I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  I wanted to create a show….

PPM: Please, tell us about your family.  Who created an environment for you to study piano?
OP: My mother was a doctor, and my father was in the military.  I have a sister, who became a doctor just like our mother. Everyone in our family loves music, but no one, except for me has formal music education.  It was my mother who instilled love for classical music in me.  She would always buy music magazines and vinyl records.  Thus, I would always hear the sounds of classical piano in our house as I was growing up.  Once, when I was six, I attended a concert of the legendary Svyatoslav Richter (OBM). I remember the dark music hall, complete silence, and then… music…. As a child, it made an indelible impression on me.

PPM: Please, tell us about your classical piano background.
OP: I went through all the stages of formal classical music training: seven years of music school, four years of music college, five years at the Kazakh National Conservatory , and two years of post graduate training. Then I had my apprenticeship at the School of Music and Theater in Hannover, Germany with a piano duo “Genova and Dimitrov.” (MGBT)

I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: What was it like for you to be a piano student in a music school of a post-Soviet space?
OP: Those were still Soviet times – 1986 through 1993.  I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: How did you get an idea for your first creative performance?
OP: Do you mean the video where I play two pianos at the same time? Here is  the story.  I created a YouTube Channel, and to attract the attention of the audience, I started thinking of what I could do that no one else had done before.  That’s why I had to find a cat, had to drink coffee, and, finally, to play the most technically challenging piece “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” in Rachmaninoff’s (OBM) arrangement.  And the video became tremendously popular. That year – 2011- it got 460,000 views.

PPM: Please, tell us about that moment when you looked at your piano and decided – let me try to play backwards and see what happens.
OP: After the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” video I had to come up with something new.  And that was the video where I play piano backwards.  It was very challenging.  Both my arms and my back hurt.  It was very uncomfortable, but I managed to accomplish it.  Two weeks later I recorded the video where I played an excerpt from the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (OBM).

PPM: In one of your videos you play “Fur Elise” backwards – starting from the end and ending at the beginning, which turned out pretty good, by the way.  How and why did you get the idea to do that?
OP: There is a joke where a student brought his own composition to an exam in a conservatory.  When the student was asked whose composition it was, he answered, “I just copied the composition of my teacher backwards. That’s it.” When I was thinking of my next video, I thought of this joke, and it inspired me to take Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and play it backwards.

PPM: You did a commercial for BeeLine, a Russian cell phone company.  Is it hard playing piano in the air? What was your experience like filming it?
OP: We actually shot two versions. The second one, where I am in the air, turned out to be more successful and more visually appealing.  It was very scary to play piano in the air.  Since I didn’t have aerial training, I kept thinking, “Oh, no.  Something’s gonna happen now.”  So – yes – I was very frightened.

PPM: What is your dream as a musician and an artist?
OP: I wish that all people had an opportunity to be exposed to beautiful, high quality music.  Today there is a lot of bad music out there, and, somehow, people allow themselves to be exposed to it.  Of course, everyone has their own opinion and their own taste.  However, in general, there is a lot of garbage.

Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.

PPM: Is it hard to earn a living as a pianist living where you are?
OP: It’s hard to make money no matter which profession you choose.  I doubt that all pianists lead a luxury lifestyle.  Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.  Writing your own compositions also takes an enormous amount of effort.  There is a lot to accomplish.  That is why it is very hard for an artist to focus on making money.   A good example would be Rachmaninoff as a pianist.  While he made money as a pianist, but didn’t compose anything.

PPM: Are you planning to tour some time in the future?
OP: In the near future, I definitely plan to do tours. For now, I try to perform at least once a week.

PPM: Please, tell us about your CD albums.
OP: My first album is called “Classics For All.” In this album, I play the most famous pieces of Bach (OBM), Mozart (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Chopin (OBM), and Liszt, to name a few. There are 21 tracks in the album.
My second album called “Dudarai” is dedicated to Kazakhstan, where I was born, grew up, and received my education.  Here I play Kazakh folk songs in my own arrangements as well as five of my original compositions.
My third album is still in my head. That’s what I am working on at the moment.

Oleg Pereverzev’s Album “Dudarai” is available on Itunes: click the image above to see the album

 

PPM: Besides being a pianist, you are also a composer. Please, tell us more about writing your own music. What is the process like for you?
OP: When I was a student at the conservatory, I got familiar with the music of contemporary composers.  They would ask me to play their music. And I was very interested in it.  I started composing my own music back when I was a child, but then I stopped.  At the conservatory, I felt inspired to start composing again.  I would compose in the style of Chopin (OBM) and Rachmaninoff.  Today I compose in a neo-classical style.  One of my musical inspirations was Yiruma (MGBH), a Korean pianist and composer.

PPM:  Do you have a family of your own or is music taking all of your energy right now?
OP: I don’t have my own family yet, but I have my sister and my father, who both live Russia.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers – classical and contemporary?
OP: Oh, the list is quite long.  Every composer that I studied affected me in his own way.  Today I can listen to Shostakovich (OBM), tomorrow – to Badalamenti (OBM), and the next day – Morricone (MGBH).  I listen to a lot of music and love almost all composers.  I am not talking about avante garde here – this is absolutely not for me.

PPM: What made you choose a career of a professional pianist?
OP: It’s a hard question.  When I was thirteen, my father asked me – what are you going to do next? I answered him, “I will continue my piano studies.” And that’s how it went.

PPM: Where do you live and how often and where do you travel?
OP: I live in Alma Ati, Kazakhstan. I like it here very much out here – the nature is beautiful, the city is small.  Recently, I had a chance to live in Los Angeles, CA and see what life like is out there.  It was a very interesting experience.  I try to travel as much as I can. In the past, I have also visited Turkey, China, Germany, and Holland.

PPM:  Has a music piece ever made you cry? If so, which one?
OP: Music is a reflection of feelings.  One can start crying hearing Beethoven’s (OBM) Moonlight Sonata, for example.  It’s about what it’s in your heart.  And if the music touches your heart, it will make you cry.  I enjoy music videos.  If the visual component matches the music – it’s genius.

Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Why do you think young people are not so interested in classical music as the older generations?
OP: In my opinion, music was at its peak in the 19th and 20th century.  Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
OP: … from nature walks, travelling…. For a musician it is very important to travel.  Sometimes it happens that a melody comes to me in my dream.  I try to remember it and write it down afterwards.

PPM: Are you planning to perform in the US in the near future?
OP: Once I performed in Glendale, CA where I played my music as well as the music of other composers in my original arrangements.  I would definitely love to perform in many different cities and music halls.  I very much enjoy doing it and am open to invitations.

PPM: Tell us, please, about the piano duo “Vivat.”
OP: My friend and I decided to form a piano duo.  We started working and sent an application to the Taneyev (OBM) Chamber Music Competition in Moscow.  We got accepted and won 3rd prize among the piano duos.  This competition was very important to us – we worked very hard and, as a result, reaped the fruits of our labor.  During the same competition, one of my compositions “Kazakh Rhapsody” was awarded a Tchaikovsky prize.  My friend and I performed together a lot. I created many piano arrangements for our duo.

PPM: Do you have an agent or a manager?
OP: I have an administrator, who helps me handle all my performances.

PPM: What is your favorite Kazakh food?
OP: I love pilaf. There is a folk saying: How many kinds of pilaf are there? As many as there are towns in the Middle East.

PPM: What’s your plan for the next 5 years?
OP: To find new ways in wowing my audience.

PPM: Thank you, Oleg.  We are looking forward to be wowed!
OP: My pleasure.

THE PIANO BRAIN: Motivation and Piano Practice

Article by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

 

Motivation, from the Latin movere meaning to move, is the fuel that starts, stops, directs, and sustains human behavior. It creates a desire to persist beyond the boundaries of comfort, to overcome obstacles, and to achieve beyond our own, and others’, highest expectations. Motivation is the pre-cursor to music practice. Motivation gets results. It is, therefore, an overarching concern for pianists and teachers.

In general terms, motivation is categorized as either intrinsic or extrinsic. When we enjoy an activity for what it is and for the pleasure it brings, we are self-motivated, or intrinsically motivated. The reward for doing the activity comes from the activity itself. With extrinsic motivation, the reward is an external benefit from doing the activity. We observe intrinsic motivation when students engage in activities alone, when they choose to participate in activities without external pressure, and when they engage in activities in the absence of the promise of or opportunity for external reward. It is not only the choice to engage in activity that defines intrinsic motivation, but also the quality of that involvement. Does the student attend to difficult passages thoroughly or just go through the motions? Trying hard and spending extra time on a task are examples of intensity and persistence. These are hallmarks of an intrinsically motivated student.

External motivation tends to be transient in that students are likely to lose their motivation when the prospect of external reward disappears.

Extrinsic motivation is entrenched in systems of education. External rewards – including gold stars, stickers and grades – are both material and verbal and presented with the hope that students will be encouraged to learn. In his massive body of research, John Hattie (2009) found “praise, punishment and extrinsic rewards are the most ineffective forms of feedback for enhancing achievement.”  External motivation tends to be transient in that students are likely to lose their motivation when the prospect of external reward disappears.  Extrinsic performance goals and intrinsic learning goals are different. Getting an A in music is an extrinsically motivated performance goal, whereas becoming a better musician is a learning goal. This is one of the drawbacks of grading systems. Students are interested in achieving good grades, but become less interested in learning because of being graded. When students focus on grades they do the work that is necessary to get that grade, but rarely more. When told that work will be graded, students are less likely to enjoy the task and less likely to return to that material after the test. In comparison to learning goals, outcomes from performance goals are shallow and limited.

Intrinsic motivation is strongly linked with higher quality learning. Studies find that intrinsically motivated students are less easily distracted, take more initiative, and persist at tasks for longer.

Intrinsic interest sustains motivation. We are born curious, with a natural desire to seek out novelty and challenge, to exercise our abilities and to explore. Have you ever seen an infant who was not curious and self-directed?  However, extrinsic rewards can deliver short-term boosts.  They can serve as a last resort to kindle a desired behavior or as a symbol of competence and belonging, but the effect wears off and can reduce longer-term motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is strongly linked with higher quality learning. Studies find that intrinsically motivated students are less easily distracted, take more initiative, and persist at tasks for longer. Therefore, a central mission for piano teachers and parents is to influence how children motivate themselves. Only then will children freely apply the effort required to reach greater heights. To foster intrinsic motivation in the music studio requires attention to three innate human needs: the need to belong, the need to feel competent, and the need to direct one’s own actions.

Autonomy refers to actions chosen and endorsed by self. The key here is choice. Increasing students’ options and choices is more likely to foster intrinsic motivation and subsequent effort. As early and as often as possible, teachers should give students some control of their learning. Choice might be as simple as involving students in selecting repertoire, but teachers must discern when allowing choice is wise. Permitting a student to decide which music fits the requirements for their technical and aesthetic progression is not prudent, but a teacher-selected assortment of several pieces that fulfill the criteria allows students to then choose a piece they like. Choice can be offered in the context of tasks and task order (“which piece would you like to start with”) as well as learning goals (“would you like to aim to improve sight-reading, playing by ear or playing from memory?”).

Positive teacher–student relationships profoundly influence student motivation and learning. School attendance, attitude, emotional engagement, and general academic achievement – all improve when students perceive acceptance, support, and encouragement from teachers.

Positive teacher–student relationships profoundly influence student motivation and learning. School attendance, attitude, emotional engagement, and general academic achievement – all improve when students perceive acceptance, support, and encouragement from teachers. Students need to think that teachers like, respect, value, and care about them. When students connect with and respect their teacher, they are more likely to subscribe to the values and practices of that teacher. If the student does not like the teacher, very often they will not do well in that subject.

“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, ” (Theodore Roosevelt)

An increasing level of competence, or progress, is a great motivator. One must believe in his or her capacity to accomplish a task. Even if students have healthy self-esteem, are interested in the learning content, and believe it to be important, they will not fully engage if they believe the task is beyond them. Hence the number one reason people quit music? Lack of progress and lack of competence.

 

  • “I’m not getting any better.”
  • “I’m no good at this.”
  • “I just can’t do it.”

 

Children use words like “boring” to protect their self-image, ego, and lack of effort.

Students need the tools for making musical progress. A practice system that incorporates repetition, chunking and slow physical movement, when done on a regular basis over time, will deliver progress.

When students quit music, they give reasons like “it was boring, I can’t be bothered”, or “it’s stupid.”  The challenge to play music is not boring; if anything, there is too much for the mind to pay attention to when working through a musical challenge, not too little. Children use words like “boring” to protect their self-image, ego, and lack of effort. Devaluing an activity allows one to quit without the embarrassment of failing. Kristin Neff puts it well:

“One way to increase self-esteem is to value the things we are good at and devalue the things we are bad at. The problem here is that we may undercut the importance of learning valuable skills just because it makes us feel better about ourselves. In other words, our desire to achieve high self-esteem in the short term may harm our development in the long run.” (Neff 2011, p. 138)

 

The real reason for quitting is fragile competence beliefs. And this points to a lack of practice. Progress cultivates pride, enthusiasm, and perseverance.

References:

Hattie, J. 2009. Visible Learning for Teachers. New York & London: Routledge.

Neff, Kristin. 2011. Self-Compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

 

About the Author:

Michael Griffin is an educator, speaker, and pianist. He is the author of Learning Strategies for Musical Success.

Generation Z: Interview with Brandon Goldberg

Interview by Tanya Levy

He plays piano with utmost passion and excitement, and his smile is contagious to anyone who catches it.  Brandon Goldberg (MGBH), an 11-year-old Floridian, a gifted jazz piano player, has conquered the hearts of many, including mine.  Will he win yours, too?

PPM: Please, tell us about your participation in the TEDx. Did you have to practice your speech a lot? Did you have help writing it or did you do it yourself?
BG: My mom made me write the speech by myself. She said, “Just tell your story.”  So, I went to my room, and I wrote it down. Then, she helped me organize my thoughts and put it all together. The whole TEDxYouth@Miami experience was great – all the kids selected to participate would meet at the Cushman School every Saturday morning for several months to rehearse in front of each other.  Arvi Balseiro (MGBH), Principal of the Cushman School, and Lisa Herbert (MGBH) would give us feedback on our speech. They did it in such nice a way that it gave everyone the confidence to present in front of a big audience. At first, some of us were nervous, but at the end, everyone memorized their speeches. They helped us become better speakers and it was fun getting to know the other kids.  On the last practice day, they brought in the red circle that TED is famous for, and we all had to practice speaking and staying on the circle.  It was fun.

PPM: How did you first start composing music?
BG: I first started composing music when I had an idea and I wanted to develop it.  I really wanted to express my thoughts.  I asked my parents for some manuscript paper and then I just went from there.  Soon enough I started using Sibelius and Finale, and eventually I started using Logic Pro X to record.

PPM: Did/do you study classical piano with a teacher?
BG: Yes, I currently study classical piano with Paul Posnak (MGBH), a retired professor from University of Miami Frost School of Music.  He is a good fit for me, because he can teach classical and also appreciates other genres of music.  He’s best known for his note-for-note transcriptions of Fats Waller and George Gershwin (OBM) Improvisations.

PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
BG: Well, my first unofficial piano teacher was a Russian lady, Ina (MGBH), who lived around the corner.  I think I was three or four, but I was too young to stay focused. Then I worked with, Rosa Rabinovich (MGBH), a teacher at our elementary school for a little while. Eventually, I switched over to Mila Vaserstein (MGBH), when I was five years old. I studied with Mila for about three years.
My first Jazz teacher was Markus Gottschlich (MGBH). He taught me a lot and introduced me to Wendy Oxenhorn (MGBH) at the Jazz Foundation of America. I’ll always be grateful to him.

PPM: Does anyone in your family play piano?
BG: Not really.  My mother took piano lessons when she was younger for about 5 years, but she she stopped playing.

PPM: Do you have any siblings? If so, do they play an instrument?
BG: Yes, I have a younger sister, Aubrey (MGBH).  She’s more into sports, especially gymnastics.  She’s really good at gymnastics and dance.

PPM: You speak eloquently in from the audiences.  How is speaking in front of people different from performing?
BG: Thank you.  Speaking in front of people is different because I use words to share my experiences and my story.  I try to choose my words carefully to make sure I get the right message across.  With performing, it’s more fluid and spontaneous.  I really try to inspire people through my music.

My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house.  I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…

PPM: Who introduced you to jazz and what was the first jazz song that you learned?
BG: My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house.  I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…how they carried themselves, what they wore.  Then I started watching old concert videos of Frank Sinatra (OBM) with Tony Bennett (MGBH), Ella Fitzgerald (OBM), and many other singers from the Great American Songbook era.  There was one Frank Sinatra concert with Oscar Peterson (OBM) on the piano and that was it – I just loved the sound of jazz, and it excited me.  From there, I listened to the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans (OBM) collaborations with Tony Bennett and just kept listening. I would probably say the first standard I learned was “Fly Me to the Moon”.

PPM: Tell us about meeting Tony Bennett and Joshua Bell (MGBH). What was special about meeting those men and what did you speak to them about?
BG: I’ve been lucky enough to see Tony Bennett in concert four times – and I’ve been able to meet him after each show.  There’s always a long line of people to meet Mr. Bennett, so we don’t really have time to talk.  I wish I could really spend some time with him and play the piano for him.  It would be a dream come true to accompany him.
I got to meet Tony Bennett’s whole band once.  They were really nice, and each band member autographed the set list for me. That was really special.
I met Joshua Bell briefly after his performance at Tanglewood.  He encouraged me to keep playing. My parents also met Joshua Bell at a YoungArts event in Miami (I wasn’t there).  He told them the story of how, when he was little, he used to put rubber bands on the knobs of his dresser drawers to create different sounds.  My mom shared that story with me, and I even put that into my TEDx speech.  It inspired my theme…everyone has their own instrument; you just need to take the time to find it.

People always tell me I’m an old soul.

PPM: Do you feel your age or do you sometimes feel older? Do you have older friends? Do you have a preference of having friends your age or older?
BG: People always tell me I’m an old soul.  It’s hard to know what an older person feels like, but sometimes it is easier to connect with older kids and adults, especially if we can talk about music.  I have friends my age and a few older friends that I play music with.  To me age is only a number, but I am only 11 so I may need some more life experience.

PPM: Do you go to school or are you home schooled?
BG: I go to a regular school. Next year, I’ll be going to a performing arts middle school.

PPM: What are your favorite subjects to learn?
BG: I like Math because the numbers and equations relate to music.
PPM: What are some of your most memorable performances?
BG: I have a few… Definitely the time Monty Alexander, one of my heroes, surprised me for my 10th birthday and invited me onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center to play “Fly Me to the Moon” with his band. That was awesome.  I also got to play at the famous Apollo Theatre at the Jazz Foundation of America’s A Great Night in Harlem.  I was invited there to honor McCoy Tyner (MGBH) as he received his lifetime achievement award.  That was really cool.  There were a lot of amazing musicians performing that night – Dr. John (MFBH), John Batiste (MFBH), John Mayer (MFBH), just to name a few.
Recently, I played at another Jazz Foundation of America event in Los Angeles at Herb Alpert’s club – Vibrato Grill.  I got to meet Patti Austin (MGBH) and the amazing Merry Clayton (MGBH), who sang “You Are So Beautiful to Me” while I accompanied her on the piano.  That was impromptu and really fun! I also met the one and only –  Mr. Quincy Jones (MGBH). That was cool.
Harry Connick Jr. (MGBH) was also pretty great.  It was nice talking to him – I feel like he understood me and it was really fun to jam with him on the piano. His band was really great, too!

I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.

PPM: Why do you like Frank Sinatra (OBM)?
BG: I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.  I always like the arrangements that he sang that were done by Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle (OBM).

PPM: Do you have other kids pianist friends?
BG: Not really, but I do have a good friend that plays guitar really well.  I also have some friends that are in high school that I like to jam with.

PPM: Does your family take road trips? If so, where do you go?
BG: Sometimes we drive to Disney World or Universal Studios, since we live in Florida. We like go to the Berkshires in the summer for our family vacations and we’ve gone skiing the last few winters, but we fly to those places.

PPM: Do you have pets at home?
BG: No, but I would love a dog. My sister and I have been begging for a dog.

PPM: What are your responsibilities at home?
BG: I make my bed, keep my room clean, do well in school, and practice piano.  I work on composing and playing in my Dad’s office at home, so he is always telling me to clean up all my wires, instruments, and cases.

PPM: What do you do on weekends?
BG: I have my classical piano lessons on Saturdays, and we’re usually busy with events or performances.   I usually have homework to do on the weekends, but if we have free time, I like to swim or just hang out at home, compose music, and play on my Fender Rhodes vintage keyboard.  If there is a jazz concert or a show in town, we try to go to that.

PPM: What is your biggest dream?
BG: I want a successful career playing and making music.  I want to record and play my own compositions along with the top artists in Jazz.

My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.”  My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.

PPM: What books do you like to read?
BG: My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.”  My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
I got to meet Herbie Hancock after a concert he did in Miami. He was so kind and inspiring.  We talked about music, and he autographed my book and album covers.  He wrote some really nice messages to me.  He’s amazing, and I really look up to him.

PPM: Do you speak any foreign languages?
BG: I can understand Russian and speak it a little. My mother was born in the Ukraine.

PPM: Have you travelled outside the US? If so, what was the trip you enjoyed the most?
BG: The only time I’ve been out of the US was on a cruise to the Caribbean we took with my family.

PPM: Do you like to be funny and make people laugh?
BG: I like to make people laugh, but that seems to mostly happen unintentionally.

PPM: Do you have any recorded CDs?
BG: Not yet, that is my goal in the next year or so.

 

AND ALL THAT JAZZ: Christian Tamburr

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

When it comes to the business of piano performance, Christian Tamburr (MGBH) seems to have it all figured out.  A talented entrepreneur as well as a gifted musician, he has paved his road to success (not without divine providence, of course) by using his outstanding interpersonal skills and a solid business sense.  With vibraphone as his secondary instrument, he has performed in dozens of prestigious venues, produced his own albums, collaborated with many outstanding musicians, and even created a successful corporate leadership program.   Here is an up close and personal with Christian Tamburr.  Prepare to take notes.

American Council of Piano Performers

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PPM: Would you, please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself? Your family, your childhood…..
CT: I grew up as an only child.  My mother and father always had music playing in the house. My father played guitar. Some of my first memories were sitting on his lap strumming along. When I was 6 years old, I visited my great aunt in New Jersey whom I had never really met, however she had a beautiful baby grand in the living room.  My parents told me not to touch and, of course, once I was out of sight of them, went and started to play the instrument. Apparently, I had a certain sensibility on the instrument and much to the shock of my parents, my aunt seemed to enjoy seeing me play this forbidden piece of furniture. A few years later, my great aunt passed away and her entire estate was auctioned off.

Approximately a month after the estate sale, a moving truck arrived to our home in Florida with a delivery for “Christian Tamburr” (which I was 7 years old at the time).

Approximately a month after the estate sale, a moving truck arrived to our home in Florida with a delivery for “Christian Tamburr” (which I was 7 years old at the time). It turned out my aunt only left one thing to one person and that one thing was her Wurlitzer baby grand piano to me. I really fell in love with the piano and, although with limited understanding of the functionality, used my ear to navigate playing along with my father as he played the guitar. This early developmental step in learning to play by ear was a critical step in my ability to understand harmony, melody, and improvisation.

 

PPM: Where did you get your music education and who was your first piano teacher?
CT: My first piano teacher was Mrs. Rowe. I took approximately 6 months of lessons when I was in 4th grade. I wasn’t exactly the best student.  I realized my ear was much better then my sight-reading, and I would have my teacher tape the exercises and etudes. I would go home, play the tape and learn it all perfectly by ear. That for me was the fastest way to get the “required material” learned and move on to making up my own music.  Mrs. Rowe could have hampered that approach, however she fostered it.  She continued to bring in harder material both classical and popular music, and her approach was to maintain good technique over sight-reading.  I paid a bit for this when I first got into band in Jr. High but I eventually got it all together. In all honesty, I’m still not the strongest sight-reader, however I can hold my own in a professional setting and after one pass I generally have it, both by reading and also using my ear!

After completing High School I went to the University of North Florida and studied jazz performance on piano and vibraphone. I left after two years and moved to Las Vegas, which is pretty typical, so people tell me. With regards to education, my “real world experience” has led to various teaching opportunities including teaching as an adjunct faculty member at UNLV when I was 21 years old, to most recently as Artist in Residence at Florida Institute of Technology.  I spend a great deal of time traveling to schools of all levels with the opportunity of inspiring young musicians to pursue their dreams in music.

I spend a great deal of time traveling to schools of all levels with the opportunity of inspiring young musicians to pursue their dreams in music.

 

PPM: What was your first piano project/job?
CT: My first major “job” as a musician was playing for vocalist Michael Andrew (MGBH) out of Orlando, Florida. He had produced a show called “Mickey Swingerhead and the Earthgirls.”  I played piano, vibraphone, and percussion in the show, and it was truly my first paying “gig” at age 14.  We continued to work together for many years, which included performances all over the US with his touring band Swingerhead, headlining at venues such as Windows on the World on the 114th floor of the World Trade Center, Merv Griffin’s (OBM) Coconut Room, and The Rainbow Room.  Michael was a huge supporter of my talent and as a friend in the industry.  His mentorship as a bandleader taught me from the start of my career how to treat other musicians and tour around the world. We continue to work together and maintain a great friendship.

  

I began my career with Julio Iglesias in September of 2006, and the opportunity came about in a rather strange way

 

PPM: Can you tell our readers about your experience of working with Julio Iglesias (MGBH)? How did this project come about and what were the most valuable experiences you took with you moving forward?
 CT: I began my career with Julio Iglesias in September of 2006, and the opportunity came about in a rather strange way, which harps back to the “ya never know who you are talking to” mention from above. I was touring my quintet in St. Petersburg, Russia as a part of a jazz cruise we were performing on. While on an excursion with passengers of the ship, a man approached me and commented on how much he enjoyed my playing and band. I thanked him, and he went on to say he was a drummer. In that split moment, I put on the professional hat and commented on his kindness towards our music and asked a bit about his musical experience. As it turned out, he was the touring drummer for Julio amongst many other major touring artists. Of course, I’m so glad I approached his “hey I’m a drummer” comment with positivity as his connection led to a direct call with Julio who was looking for a pianist. After some very exciting phone calls and negotiations with Julio and his road manager, I took the position as 2nd keyboardist.  We rehearsed for weeks in Miami learning all music “by ear” as there was no music, and the music that did exist was old and didn’t match the updated show. I spent time with recordings that were given to me and created my own lead sheets, which I used as basic road maps but ultimately I had to use my ear to get through the rehearsals. Once into the touring show it took months but I slowly integrated real piano into the somewhat synth heavy sonic landscape.  We were in Paraguay, and I started a song, usually on electric keyboard, on piano, and Julio turned right around and looked at me… smiled and made a hand gesture for more.  Over time I started to integrate my love for the acoustic piano into the show, and by 2008 I had moved my sound into his music and was leading the band as musical director.  From a technical stand point, Julio expected to hear his accompaniment exactly the same every night. There was little to no improvisation or variation on harmony or melody in the piano chair, which for me was actually quite hard.  As my experience was always based in jazz, which thrives on variation, learning to play the part (which technically never existed) exactly the same each night was incredibly difficult, but valuable.

 

I reached out to Clint (MGBH) as I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to spend quality time together, make a lot of music and really get the chance to show him all sides of my musical diversity… from performer to arranger to band leader.

 

PPM: How did you start working with Clint Holmes (MGBH)?
CT: I met Clint Holmes when I first moved to Las Vegas in 2001. I saw him performing at Harrah’s and remember thinking to myself just how amazing he and his band were. He acknowledged the musicians and really let them play, and for all intensive purposes seemed to be having a great time musically on stage.  In 2013, met up with Clint again at a jam session in San Francisco. We shared the stage and really hit it off.  A month later I was presented with the opportunity to feature a jazz septet on a jazz cruise where I could bring 6 internationally recognized musicians with me. I reached out to Clint as I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to spend quality time together, make a lot of music and really get the chance to show him all sides of my musical diversity… from performer to arranger to band leader.  We did that tour and have been working together ever since.  In March of 2015, I started working as an arranger/musical director for him at his residency at the Smith Center here in Las Vegas. In January 2016 I became his full-time Musical Director and Arranger for our new headline show “Clint Holmes – Between the Lines” at the Palazzo Hotel here in Las Vegas. The show features a stunning 8 piece band and original arrangements on music ranging from Stevie Wonder (MGBH) to John Mayer (MGBH) to Bruno Mars (MGBH), to Ed Sheeran (MGBH), to Gershwin (OBM).

 

PPM: What is Sonic Leadership and where are you with this project now being so busy with your current engagement with Chris Holmes?
CT: I developed Sonic Leadership in 2009. I was asked to put together a brief 15-minute keynote speech for a leadership seminar. I focused the speech on attributes of leadership musician’s use when we walk on stage to execute a high level performance and translated it into content that business executives could understand and learn from. Since then, we average about one or two Sonic Leadership presentations a month, and as they often are onsite at companies around the world, they fall in the middle of the work week, which works well with my long weekend performance schedule.  To date we have presented this musically inspired program on leadership to companies such as Google, Cisco Systems, St Regis, and Starwood Hotels amongst many others.  The program is scalable and the presentations range in length from 45 minute to 90 minutes using a live five-piece band, myself as lead presenter and a whole lot of interaction with our attendees. I love it as it combines my love of music, the business behind making it all happen and of course talking!

 

 

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers a little bit about ShowHive?
 CT: ShowHive is a production company based out of Los Angeles and New York City. It’s co-owned by two brilliant friends of mine Garrett Cain (MGBH) and Emmett Murphy (MGBH). This company focuses on the creation from the ground up to final execution of live production shows. As head arranger and composer, I work with the creative team to produce original new music and original new arrangements of popular music for these production shows. We just finished a huge project creating 8 brand new production shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines, which are being performed nightly around the world.

 

I don’t care if you have 6 Grammys or if you just walked out of your senior recital from college, if you are a nice human being, I’d love to work with you.

 

 PPM: As a Jazz Cruise producer, what do you look for in selecting talent for your projects?
 CT: A person must be a true artist on his or her instrument. Must be passionate about their music and the value it brings to those around them. Must be a professional. This sounds obvious, but this entails everything from showing up on time, dressing appropriately, having the material learned and ready to play to being respectful of me, other musicians and crew. Being a nice human being. I don’t care if you have 6 Grammys or if you just walked out of your senior recital from college, if you are a nice human being, I’d love to work with you.

 

PPM: What is your dream as a jazz piano performer?
 CT: My dream as a performer is to have the blessing to be able to continue to make a living doing what I love to do.  I have had the great fortune of only playing music as a career for the past 20 years and at 36 years of age I still have a lot of playing and living to do. Getting to travel around the world and share great music with appreciative listeners is so special.

 

PPM: Your have travelled over 65 countries. What are some of the most unforgettable experiences for you on a personal level?
CT: With over 65 countries visited, and I think 66 since my bio was last updated, it’s a whole other article worth of some of the great stories… but here are a few highlights.

Sitting at the piano with basketball legend Michael Jordan playing together “How do you keep the Music Playing” in Charlotte NC.

Renting a Ferrari for a day to drive the Monte Carlo race course while in town at the Monte Casino with Julio Iglesias.

Rolling a marimba down the streets of Abu Dhabi preparing for an outdoor performance in 114-degree heat.

Throwing snowballs in June in Siberia while on tour with my quartet.

Performing on top of Windows of the World on the 114th floor of the World Trade Center – NYC.

African Safari with band while on tour in Cape Town – South Africa.

Crossing a rushing river with 27 person Julio Iglesias crew on board a barge from Argentina to Paraguay.

Surprising actress Julia Roberts (MGBH) for he 40th birthday with a special private performance in NYC.

Performing inside Japanese Buddhist Temples throughout Japan.

Opening my first main stage headline Las Vegas show as co-producer arranger/band leader for Clint Holmes ‘Between the Lines.”

 

PPM: How did you pick the members of your quintet? Is there a story with each player?
CT: I pick musicians to be in my band that I enjoy spending time with. Considering we only spend about 90 minutes on stage, the other 22 hours or so in a day has got to be filled with good times and good people. Over the years, my band members have changed, but there are a few long time members.

My bassist, Billy Thornton (MGBH), is from Tifton GA, and we met my first year of College. He and I have toured all over the world together, and he is one of my favorite people on this earth. He is an amazing bassist, and I look forward to his energy and smile each time we walk on stage. My Trumpet Player, Dominick Facinacci (MGBH), is from Cleveland Ohio. We met in 2009 after knowing of each other for years through mutual mentor Ira Sullivan (MGBH). There are few people that can make me laugh as much as he can, and his playing is truly superb! Each “kat” as we call them in the jazz world has their story and I’m grateful to share the stage with them anywhere and anytime we can.

When I was 22 years old, I was living in Las Vegas and had just finished a short residency performing at the Bellagio with a great band called the Noel Freidline Quintet. The ever-changing landscape of live performance venues in Vegas has meant you really need to keep on your toes. By chance, magician Penn (MGBH) from Penn & Teller had learned of my playing, and we became friends. One day he asked me to come see the show and comment on the opening act called “the magic box,” which featured Penn playing upright bass and Teller playing a spinet piano. In the green room after I mentioned that although Teller playing the piano at the end is impressive, its not a very powerful moment as the small box piano didn’t sound all that great, and he was seated, which didn’t look all that great. I suggested he should consider playing the simple melody on Vibraphone (my other primary instrument). Penn loved the idea, and in the next 24 hours I was tasked with composing the music for Teller to play and installing it into their multi-million dollar production show at the Rio.

 

I tell students all the time, when the phone rings, the more opportunities for you to say “yes, I can do that” is just one more opportunity for you to keep moving forward in this business.

 

I mention this story, because as a performer, I found myself in a unique situation to expand my ability to make a living. Composing and directing was something I did all the time, but had never thought to capitalize on it. This opportunity really brought me out of my shell for the commercial composition side of the business and opened my eyes to a ton of opportunity. I tell students all the time, when the phone rings, the more opportunities for you to say “yes, I can do that” is just one more opportunity for you to keep moving forward in this business. I spend about 50% of my time in the studio composing and arranging and the other 50% of the time performing. I compose and arrange in all styles and genres, and love being challenged with new projects.

 

PPM: What are the biggest challenges of a professional musician today, in your opinion?
CT: As professional musicians we have a lot to go up against. So much has changed even in the time that I have been playing music – from the record industry, to live music to social media. We now more then ever have the ability to connect with our audience. We can share our travels, our performances and our personal life with a click of a button. Where I don’t believe EVERYTHING should be shared I do believe in a fast moving technology driven society, we must find a way to use these tools for the good of our career. I spend a great deal of time on LinkedIn, which connects me to professionals in all areas of music, production, booking, film, TV, and touring. I spend about 70% of my time focused on my professional career and the other 30% of the time playing music. If that seems off to anyone, then you’re probably not making a living playing music. When you achieve a certain level of professionalism and accreditation on your instrument the assumption is “that’s good enough” and now I’ll just sit back and wait for the opportunities to come along. The truth is, I’ve never wanted to wait. I prefer to be the one making the phone calls verse waiting for them.

 

I remember a clinician in college telling my jazz combo, “They see you before they hear you”. He was referencing the importance of how one carries oneself both on stage and off, from how you dress as a professional to how you speak to people. You never know who you’re talking to, and in many cases people will form an opinion of you before they even hear you play your instrument.

 

PPM: Can we discuss your CD “People Talk”? What was the inspiration for it and what was it like working on this project?
CT: My newest album “people talk” – released January 2016 is my first “concept album”. I generally release pretty typical “band” configuration albums, but I wanted to try something different with just piano, vibraphone, and percussion. The two other artists on the album are Takana Miyamoto (pn) (MGBH), and Keita Ogawa (pc) (MGBH) are both from Japan and are both fantastic. The music I wrote has influences of Asian, South American, and American music. The music was specifically written for this ensemble, and it’s a joy to play. The City Suite is a three-piece movement that takes my impression of the sound track to three of my favorite cities – Tokyo, New York City, and Paris.  I loved exploring my memories of those cities and writing that suite. It’s my favorite music on the album.

 

PPM: From reading your bio, what struck me the most was not only your professionalism, but also the fact that you were able to build a career by successfully collaborating with so many other musicians, creating and maintaining professional relationships. It seems that you know how to talk to people, how to get them inspired, and, most importantly, you inspire them for meaningful collaborations.
CT: I’ve always been a “people person.” Growing up in a home without other children made it that I was interacting with adults more then I was other kids.  I remember a clinician in college telling my jazz combo, “They see you before they hear you”. He was referencing the importance of how one carries oneself both on stage and off, from how you dress as a professional to how you speak to people. You never know who you’re talking to, and in many cases people will form an opinion of you before they even hear you play your instrument. In this industry, we need all the help we can get so the importance of being comfortable talking and interacting with your audience is as important if not more important then how you play on stage. When people meet you and get to know you, they start to learn about where your passion comes from, what drives you to pursue your dreams. They hear your personal triumphs and also your struggles. When someone can relate with you be it a doctor, or a lawyer, a football coach, they can relate with how you play your music and the connection becomes that much stronger. I try to be myself, smile, bring a sense of humor to the stage (which is who I am) and that spirit fills the music and fills the ears and minds of the audience.

 

I spend about 70% of my time focused on my professional career and the other 30% of the time playing music. If that seems off to anyone, then you’re probably not making a living playing music.

 

PPM: Thank you for sharing your story and your insights with the readers, Christian. May your dreams come true, and may you be always full of energy and enthusiasm towards your work and people in general.

 

 

 

THE PIANO BRAIN: MUSIC AND MINDSET

by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

“Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am through my own efforts.
There have been thousands of princes and will be thousands more, but there is only one Beethoven
!”
-Ludwig van Beethoven

 

Ludwig van Beethoven (OBM) showed scant respect for those who generated their sense of worth through birthright alone. In his view, achievement and success were the result of effort and perseverance. But most people see it differently. The majority – even 75% of music educators – subscribe to a theory that superior achievement in music is part of a genetic endowment. Most will put that it must also include hard work, opportunities, parental encouragement and so forth, but ultimately, one must have the X factor, the natural, unbidden genetic talent, to really achieve. Logically, knowledge and ability can only derive from genetic endowment or living experience, so it must be one or the other, or the combination theory. The problem with gene theory is that researchers are yet to find gene systems among the 25 000 or so genes with which we are born that result in special musical ability. If musical talent or any other talent is innate then there must be a gene for it. Where is the evidence of genes for complex and multi-faceted behaviours? This is the challenge for talent theorists. Talent genes may well be discovered in the future but if they do not exist, then where does musicality emanate? Can something come from nothing? Is talent a gift from G-d? Homer (OBM) seemed to think so. From the Ancient World through the Renaissance, artistic skill was viewed as an intuitive gift rather than the result of effort. To this day, musical ability is more often considered innately derived than any other ability or human faculty. This is the elephant in the music education classroom.  Ignorance is not a point of view. We must get to the truth of this because of the seismic impact of the implications. According to talent theory, some lucky individuals win the genetic lottery. They are born with musical talent and fortunate circumstances allow them to find opportunities to nurture this gift early in their lives.  So-called evidence for this is anecdotal and stories of exceptional prodigies abound. How, for example, could Mozart’s (OBM) precocity be explained in any other way?

To this day, musical ability is more often considered innately derived than any other ability or human faculty. This is the elephant in the music education classroom.

Actually, Mozart’s musical feats can be explained rationally. The biographies of all great composers reveal substantial and sustained early training, supported by family and tutors. Mozart was no different. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction 230 years after the event, but several factors do help account for his accomplishments. Mozart was immersed in a concentrated musical environment from his earliest days. His father, Leopold (OBM), was an excellent music educator and took every opportunity to earnestly promote his son’s musical ability. Stories such as that of two-year-old Wolfgang identifying the sound of pig squeals as G-sharp should be taken with a grain of salt, as they were most likely spawned by his father, who was not always honest in relation to his son where music was concerned. As Camille Saint-Saens (OBM) says, “History is made up of what probably happened; mythology of what probably did not happen. There are myths in history and history in myths .” Leopold was known to subtract a year from the ages of his children, Wolfgang and Nannerl, when advertising their performances. Leopold was a smart operator. He knew that lowering his children’s ages would augment their appeal and perhaps enhance his own reputation as a teacher; it is not unusual for parents to embellish facts to help their children get ahead. A closer inspection of Mozart’s childhood compositions indicates assistance from his father as well as thematic material borrowed from other composers, notably Johann Christian Bach (OBM), with whom Mozart collaborated in London at the age of nine. If we accept that these are normal processes that lead to achievement, even extraordinary achievement, then none of this is an issue. Imitation is a natural part of the learning process, and lying about a child’s age does not detract from the skills exhibited. However, it does skew the picture. The possibility that Mozart’s great desire to make music was rooted in pre-birth fortune cannot be ruled out, but his early musical environment was encouraging and inspiring. Having a great passion for music—and a supportive even if overbearing, micro-managing and opportunistic father—led him to take advantage of his opportunities and to practice for several hours a day from the age of two.  Estimates have Mozart reaching an accumulated practice figure of 10, 000 hours by the age of eight.

Even if you take the position that a child is born with genetic potential, this potential can only become skill and ability through work. As John Maxwell (MGBH) implies in the title of his book Talent Is Never Enough, major achievement requires preparation and persistence on top of any natural potential. This is most true as we progress in our skills. The assumed natural talent that differentiates children becomes less evident as they age, as dedication and sheer hard work play greater roles in achievement. Malcolm Gladwell says, “The further a career develops, the less important the role of assumed innate ability in comparison with preparation or practice”. Quality and quantity of practice develop expertise.

 

She plays so well because she has talent. How do I know she has talent? That’s obvious, she plays so well!

 

In every case, identifying talent is retrospective, and the emergence of prodigious skill follows rather than precedes unique opportunity and substantial work. In the investigation of superior achievement, precocity is the result of early childhood experiences, parental support, a young starting age, training, practice hours, habits, metacognitive skills, and opportunity. What distinguishes prodigies is the fact that they are constantly compared with children their own age, rather than with others who have accrued similar quantities of practice hours, similar opportunities, and family support. Take Tiffany Poon (MGBH) for example. Born in Hong Kong in 1997, this girl has experienced a meteoric rise as a concert pianist and has been lauded far and wide for her giftedness and substantial accomplishments. No doubt it is rare to find a child her age who has achieved so much and who plays the piano so well. At the age of eight, Tiffany accepted the opportunity of a scholarship at The Juilliard School in New York City, and flourished. As is usually the case with young achievers, testimonials on her website make age comparisons.

“Tiffany Poon possessed skills of a kind that I had never observed in such a young musician. She displays a sense of musical maturity that goes well beyond her current age.” – Gary McPherson (MGBH), Ormond Chair of Music, Head of the School of Music, University of Melbourne.

“Tiffany Poon plays with technical skills well beyond her years.” – the Columbus Dispatch.

Tiffany’s biography states that she started playing on a toy piano at the age of two and when she began formal lessons at age four-and-a-half she practiced four hours a day for the next two years. If we assume Tiffany had a rest day and practiced six days per week, this totals 1,248 hours of practice. This is substantial for one so young and is many times the practice hours of other children of that age. Assuming that fifteen minutes is about the average daily practice time for this age group, we have a 1,600 percent differential in practice time. Professor John Sloboda (MGBH) says, “There is no evidence of a fast track for high achievers,” which suggests that in terms of time expenditure, the pathway to progress is basically the same for everyone. To achieve you must put in the hours and do the work. In one study Sloboda found that predominantly it takes individuals about 1,200 practice hours to reach a formal music examination level of Grade Five, and 3,300 practice hours to reach Grade Eight. Accumulation of practice hours is not the only factor in musical achievement, but it is the predominant one.

We owe it to Tiffany to give her the credit for having achieved excellence. As an infant she had an intense curiosity for music and quickly developed the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Note also that the testimonial from the Columbus Dispatch refers to “technical” skills. Fields such as music, chess, and mathematics are suited to young achievement because the precocity is almost always derived from algorithmic study. In later life real musicianship requires much more than technical prowess. Adult musicians with technical skills alone are not special.  Tiffany’s parental support also has significantly influenced her achievement.  Not only did the family relocate from Hong Kong for the express purpose of gaining a better music education for Tiffany, but Tiffany’s parents also instilled in her the critical learning strategies we call deliberate practice. From the earliest stages of Tiffany’s musical development her mother challenged her to play through passages several times correctly in succession. This game taught Tiffany the power of repetition. Contrast this with how most children practice music. One study found that more than 90 percent of children’s practice time was spent playing pieces from beginning to end only once and without stopping to correct any errors. In their coaching, Tiffany’s parents showed great astuteness, especially considering neither of them had any formal musical training.

Fields such as music, chess, and mathematics are suited to young achievement because the precocity is almost always derived from algorithmic study. In later life real musicianship requires much more than technical prowess. Adult musicians with technical skills alone are not special.

Carol Dweck (MGBH) predicts developmental problems for students praised for innate talent rather than effort. Dweck’s research, as documented in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success presents a strong case that a focus on genetic gift can lead to a poor work ethic. Children with this fixed-intelligence mindset get the impression that they do not need to work as hard as “average” children do. Natural ability should not need to make an effort. People labelled as ‘naturally talented’ or ‘gifted’ can be ruthlessly protective of their labels and therefore avoid challenges or risks that might lead to their making mistakes. This desire to look smart and prove their intelligence, at the expense of improving it, must be preserved at all costs. This mindset is more likely to hide rather than correct mistakes, and following a setback, is less persistent when compared with growth-mindset individuals. Hence the typical combination – gifted and lazy. On the other hand, people who believe their intelligence is a potential to be developed through effort are less worried about short-term mistakes, difficulties, and failures. They view these events as an essential part of the learning process. People with this growth-intelligence mindset tend to reach higher levels of achievement and enjoy the learning challenges inherent in the process. The advantage of the growth-mindset is not just about learning how to succeed but about learning how to persevere when one does not succeed.

Dweck’s research, as documented in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success presents a strong case that a focus on genetic gift can lead to a poor work ethic. Children with this fixed-intelligence mindset get the impression that they do not need to work as hard as “average” children do…. People with this growth-intelligence mindset tend to reach higher levels of achievement and enjoy the learning challenges inherent in the process.

To prove or improve my intelligence; that is the mindset question!

Research into the effects of mindset on achievement is of particular interest to music educators. Susan O’Neill (MGBH) found noticeable differences in the practice efficiency among children exhibiting different mindset. For one, fixed-intelligence-mindset children practiced roughly twice as much as growth-intelligence-mindset children to reach the same level of moderate performance achievement. Fixed-intelligence-mindset students use their time less efficiently. They are more likely to avoid practicing pieces or passages that pose particular difficulties. These children probably spend more time on what they already can play well, which might be enjoyable but will hardly improve performance. Growth-intelligence-mindset children are more likely to embrace the challenges that lead to mastery. It is not easy to teach learning strategies to fixed-intelligence-mindset students who have deep-set beliefs about their potential. Unless this mindset is reformed, they emerge as adults with stifling doubts about their capacity to learn. In his book Effortless Mastery, Kenny Werner (MBGH0 refers to “the menacing voices from childhood” – the struggle to learn is very often a result of being told that the task is really difficult, or you have not the talent for it. The word difficult can be discouraging. I like Werner’s suggestion to explain task complexity in terms of “unfamiliar” and “familiar” rather than “difficult” and “easy.” By attributing failure to lack of effort or poor practice strategies, rather than natural ability, teachers and parents can help transform mindset.

The word difficult can be discouraging. I like Werner’s suggestion to explain task complexity in terms of “unfamiliar” and “familiar” rather than “difficult” and “easy.”

 

 

An excerpt from “Learning Strategies for Musical Success” by Michael Griffin.

 

About the Author:

Michael Griffin is an educator, speaker, author and pianist. His core topics are practice, mindset, metacognition, and intrinsic motivation. His latest book is “Learning Strategies for Musical Success.”

 

AND ALL THAT JAZZ: JOEY ALEXANDER

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

The name of Joey Alexander (MGBH), a 13 year-old jazz pianist and a native of Bali, has become known in the US after Wynton Marsalis (MGBH) invited him to play at the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2014 Gala, while Joey was only 11 years old.  After that in February 2016, Alexander became a runner-up through his nomination for the Grammy Awards Best Jazz Instrumental Album (for My Favorite Things, 2015) and Best Improvised Jazz Solo (for Giant Steps). He performed live at the Premiere Ceremony, the pre-telecast ceremony at the Grammy Awards.
In-between Joey’s rehearsals and recital schedule, got a hold of Joey in Sausalito, CA to ask him a few questions.

Joey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey Alexander

THE HINER METHOD

Friendly spiders, Mr. Oops, colorful butterflies, cute mice drinking tea at Princess Tonic’s palace. All this is a magnet for toddlers whose eager parents are on a quest to raise XXI century Mozarts.
Based on the Hiner method, this computerized piano learning system consists of 6 (six) games and a music repertoire curriculum. Its name reflect the target result – SoftMozart.
Add to it an international community of excited parents who share performance videos of their styles, with Hellenistic Hiner herself awarding butterflies for top performance, and you will get a perfect environment for learning piano at home on a budget.
Intrigued with the idea of SoftMozart, we met with Dr. Hiner (MGBH), a renowned musicologist and pedagogue, to learn more.

PP: Dear Hellene, please, tell our reads how you became interested in teaching music and why.
HH: It happened in May of 1976 after my graduation recital in music school. I received A+ for my performance first time in 7 years of study piano. For years I struggled learning how to play piano and read music, but became a prodigy a year before graduation. My enthusiasm to learn why so many beginners fail music education and what should be done in order to change the situation became my passionate priority in life.

PP: What is the philosophy behind your method? And what is the core of your teaching method?
HH: We all know how important music education is for young children. In this regard, I share the same philosophy with majority of my colleagues that every individual should have music education. All children are gifted, and our goal is to ignite their best potential with music. However, we are all humans and our perceptions and physiology has its limits and restrictions. For example, our eye is built in a specific manner, and we first learn how to focus on one object at a time and only after that are capable of shifting focus among the lines.

For this exact reason, all written languages on Earth are linear. Music notation is completely different. First, it is multi-linear; second, spaces are not just ‘breaks’ between the lines. They are tracks of information too. It is quite difficult for beginners to follow up with all these tracks. Add to this equation time measurement and duration, and we have a problem: we have to use theory and a lot of cramming.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of XX century we had almost the same struggles with teaching beginners to read books using Bible or Psalter. I found this fascinating. When alphabet with pictures was invented, everything turned around towards successful learning. Placing a picture next to abstract note became the game changer!

I created the same approach for music literacy: we offer different formats of music text from elementary to original and let our students use the most comfortable for their visual perception. We have formats similar to picture books, chapter books, and novels. It gives teachers and students flexibility and ability to maneuver. We do not adjust a student’s eye to a rigid text format.

Eye Focus

Instead, we transform text format to the student’s visual perception and gradually develop his vision to read music notation like a professional. Visually the piano keys, lines, and spaces of the Grand Staff are the same unit. It is so bold and simple that every child can intuitively follow as ‘monkey see – monkey do’. If we start teaching like this, every child should learn how to play piano and read music from the Grand Staff as starting point of his/her music education. By active involvement in music making through sight-reading, children develop their musical talents and later in life can apply their music literacy to different music instruments and activities. If we can make it happen, we will raise a new generation of people who will be smarter, more balanced, and make music literacy global.

PP: What is the earliest age, in your opinion, for kids so start taking piano lessons?
HH: 24 months and up. Some of my trainees showed amazing results even with younger ages, but 24 month is about average age for piano lessons. Children of this age already craving activities that involve their fine motor skills and music production. They can control each finger and coordinate both hands. There are billions of neurons in their brains that had better be used then lost forever. Pediatricians suggest working with small objects – with play dough, for example. I think, playing piano is the best activity for the most effective fine motor skills booster of early learners. They develop their minds, learn to use all fingers, develop hand-eye coordination, both hands coordination, music ear, voice, music memory. We kill way too many birds with one stone by starting with my method early in life.

PP: What came first: your method or software idea? Is it possible to teach with Hiner method without software?
HH: The method came first.  I came up with the games, exercises, and vertical sheet music long before the software was incorporated into my teaching system.  Software added more interactivity to what was initially developed. Interaction is the most important component of successful learning.

The Hiner Method Book

For example, Leopold Mozart (OBM) was 24/7 interaction for Mozart (OBM). When one learns something new, one feels better and develops faster if one receives immediate feedback. Materials that I created gave learners such information, but was not 100 % intuitive as they are now. In some countries my method is being used without software for financial reasons. Now computers and digital pianos are less expensive, and people prefer to teach with software. I suggest using software for the most effective results.

PP: Does one need a teacher in order to work with your method or is it possible to learn piano on his/her own?
HH: You will find the best answer to this question in our history of learning how to read. Does a child need a teacher to learn letters of the alphabet? Many do, many manage on their own. However, we all go to school to improve our reading skills. After that, some become writers, some readers, some actors. For that we need special training. The same applies to learning piano. I have homeschooling families that couldn’t afford piano teachers. They learn by following my lesson plans and interact online with other teachers. The more they achieve, the more they need private instructions. Of course, it would be ideal to start my method with a certified piano teacher. This is the best combination possible! We have winners of piano competitions in Spain, Ukraine, and Israel. All the winners started SoftMozart with certified teachers.

PP: What was your goal/objective in creating the software?
HH: My method is about active learning, hands on experience, building concrete applicable skills. Objectively, computer + piano is the most effective training tool for gradual skills development. Piano keys are like buttons of a spaceship. It requires many different complex skills to navigate them with ease. We have special software – flight simulators – that teach pilots to fly. This software was built with similar intention.

PP: How can a piano teacher work with your software? What is its benefit vs. Traditional lessons? Does a teacher require training in your method or is it enough to read the book?
HH: Working with the software is simple. Piano teachers can find regular repertoire that they use for their lessons. The fun starts when they can give their students additional options to play the pieces with different font sizes, with or without colorful prompts. They will be able to offer different options to make music reading and memorization the most enjoyable and fun experience.

We have some animated characters that provide learners with intuitive hints about everything: how long to hold a note, how to develop legato, is the note right or wrong, how to fix a mistake, what the time delay in playing piece is, etc. Students and their parents will be pleased to feel in control of homework progress. With my method, teachers are no longer ‘mistakes registrars’. Computer is doing this job. Instead, teachers utilize their lesson time for professional work: helping with mastering the technique and art of performance.

Teachers love SoftMozart, too, as it frees up their expensive time from the tedious technical work and allows them to focus teaching the art of playing piano.

PP: Can one learn to play piano using only acoustic piano with your method?
HH: Yes, but they won’t be as successful as those who also use the interactive component that a digital piano or keyboard with a computer provides. Our students perform and polish their artistic performances on acoustic instruments, but learn to play pieces with the software. It saves a lot of time and energy. It is similar as use of computer for typing the interview VS writing it on paper with a pen. Of course, writing with a pen came first, but spell check, ability to correct mistakes, change formats, etc. make computer typing more fun and enjoyable.

PP: Where is your SoftMozart mainly used?
HH: SoftMozart is used everywhere where we teach music: in private piano studios, in public schools, at homes, in group and individual lessons, in day care centers, and in homes. We currently offer the software method in English, Russian, Spanish, and Kazakh languages. Getting ready to translate it to German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and French.

PP: What issues, in your opinion, does your software solve?
HH: The method and software can completely solve the sourest problems of music education in America.  First of all, it gives the opportunity to start music education from 24 months on the mass level. Imagine, how many educated listeners, smart students will come to elementary schools? By the age of 6 they will know what instrument they prefer to play. In fact, piano is just a starting point for music education in this regard. The cost of such education will be affordable for each family. Moreover, such classes can be provided in day care centers. Piano labs can easily replace lessons about music. After graduation, students will have applicable skills. Classical music will become popular in society again, and recitals and contests will involve more people. Creating music is an excellent alternative for playing computer games and surfing the Web. It is a wonderful social tool that children love to have especially when they becoming teenagers. It means also that they will use their energy in a creative, positive way. And by spreading music literacy overall, we can bring more prodigies to our professional teachers. In addition, we create millions of educated listeners that will appreciate the talents of the prodigies. Finally, the music education will start shining and make everyone happy. Today, due to the high cost of the piano lessons, we teach only those who can afford them. For the same reasons, we unable to teach many subjects that a well-rounded music education requires: solfeggio, ear training, chords, music dictations, transposition, music theory, etc. My method and software solve many (if not all) of these problems. The curriculum gives students well-rounded and affordable education.

PP: What are your plans for SoftMozart for the next five years?
HH: I plan to complete an online training course for music and piano teachers (currently I have to train teachers 1 on 1, and it is time consuming and very expensive). This will drastically decrease the cost of training and certification. Piano teachers today are not appreciated enough.  We have to do everything to help them expand their businesses and to make their hard work highly recognized by society. I think, with my method we can achieve this goal and give piano teachers plenty of new opportunities and students. Of course, my goal also is to create more tools for educators to make their experience most enjoyable. There are new features and games, more piano pieces and duets, better technology and lesson plans in line. I have a goal to collaborate with educators in order to bring the system to the public schools and colleges, planning to approach day care centers and special needs children facilities to spread the system anywhere possible. I is the win-win situation for all to have it. Of course, we will expand the relationship with homeschooling community and continue working with current trainees from different countries.

PP: On your SoftMozart.com website I saw a “community” tab. What is it all about?
HH: We have an online community of teachers/parents, where we share our experience, find help and support, provide different contests, recitals, progress diaries. My method is very young, it is still in development stage and we – members of the community – have a unique opportunity to be pioneers and see how children and adults learn with it, what they achieve, and how they do it. It is so much fun, when you watch videos of a 3 year-old-girl playing something elementary and in couple of years see the same girl performing Rachmaninoff (OBM) in front of the audience. You may go and watch all the milestones of her development and better understand the dynamic of her development.

PP: Does SoftMozart award scholarships? If so, on what basis?
HH: Yes.  Our dedicated learners do not pay full price for their education. We have families on full scholarships. The only criteria is DEDICATION. We want to see disciplined, serious learners that follow lesson plans, learn, and participate in Academy and recitals. We provide recitals through YouTube twice a year: Winter Butterfly Ball (Dec15Jan15) and Graduation (May 15 – June 15). Butterfly Ball is about quantity.   I send all the participants as many butterflies as pieces played. This recital is planned to combat perfectionism and spread love for music making. Graduation recital is more formal and our goal is quality of performance. Children gets diplomas and gifts. Internet society helps us keep motivation going. Children are happy to perform, interested to see other performers, communicate, and receive gifts from Texas. I think, it works like a charm for creating music education awareness.

PP: How many hours a day/days a week do you recommend that students study?
HH: It depends on a student, his/her goal, and level of involvement. I usually recommend to work on piano the same healthy way as we take meals: very often, but in small portions.

With the intuitive aspect central to the method where kids learn through play, gaining knowledge and skill becomes its effortless byproduct.

PP: What other aspects besides piano performance does your software teach?
HH: Sight-reading, sight-singing, transposing, harmony, music dictations, music appreciation and music history, theory in form of interactive theory and Puppet theory (where different characters and their stories used as concrete explanations of  abstract concepts. For example, Tonic is a Queen of music and her husband is a King Dominant. He is absent-minded and always asks questions. Tonic answers those questions.  After watching such a story, students play D-T in different keys through my software. After that we give them explanation what different tonalities – Tonic and Dominant – are.

PP: What equipment does one need to use SoftMozart?
HH: Technically Soft Mozart doesn’t require much: any computer – Mac or Windows and any digital piano or keyboard. Keyboard should have at least 61 keys.

PP: Thank you, Hellene, for the interview. We hope many piano teachers as well as piano students will benefit from your method.

 

SINGING MUSIC THEORY

Article by Chai L. Chien (MGBH)

Music theory makes the music world go round.

This is the motto I like to say at the start of my piano lesson. I find that kids may or may not know what music theory really is. However, if it is explained in their terms such as “chords are like transformers that change into different entities” or “arpeggios are like a skipping song” where I show a demonstration skipping a step or stairs as I sing “ar-pe-ggio,” they eat it up like a delicious cupcake.

But when an older student learns theory, it becomes a daily chore in a sense. They have to use their brains and think about music as a concept, mentally combining note functions rather than what is written on paper. Therefore, theory needs to be explained visually (written on paper)  or sung.

Throughout years of teaching, I have been pondering the following: if teaching music theory supposed to be musical, then why are we not teaching in a sing-a-song fashion?

I found that utilizing this principle positively transforms theory learning experience for my students.  I often take a familiar song such as “Heart and Soul” or use the “I, vi, IV, V” chords and sing “How many sharps does A major have?” In turn, my students respond in a singing fashion: “Three sharps, three sharps”. Thus, I engage them in a familiar tune where they get to learn theory at the same time. As time goes by, the tune gets stuck in their heads and they just sing the entire song – all 12 major keys.

Here are some of the topics and explanations I like to use when explaining music theory.

Scales: What goes up must come down

Chords: Transformers in disguise

Inversions: Bottom, Middle, and Top

Intervals: I am Here and You are There

Major vs. Minor: Happy vs. Sad Baseball teams

Arpeggios: Skipping song or flying over fingers

Sharps: Ouch, it’s sharp!

Flat: Flat tire on a bicycle

Number of sharps and flats: Drawing of the letters for visualization

“Any questions so far?” I ask my students after a brief visualization of a concept. But silence takes over as theory is sinking into their minds. Hopefully, they are thinking about mathematics rather than what they will be eating for dinner that night. In this case silence is golden because it is the time used to absorb what was just explained.

And then, the epic question pops up: why should one learn all that theory if playing a song is just about coordinating hands? Well… It sure does make a teacher’s life a little easier in trying to explain how to play a passage. Instead of showing every time “this is how it’s played,” the teacher can communicate the answer through a theoretical concept.  Once a student is able to grasp concepts  and learns to think “general to specific”, he/she is on the way of truly understanding the mystical structures of music theory. And as a pedagogue, you will, finally, be free to focus on teaching what you love  – the art of playing music.

 

About the Author:

Chai L. Chien (MGBH) is a piano and ukulele instructor in Hollywood, FL.  She obtained her undergraduate Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Michigan.  Mrs. Chien is the President of Music Club of Hollywood (FL), which focuses on supporting music students financially through grants and concerts.  Besides being a talented performer, teacher, and singer, she is an avid golfer, loves cooking and reading about neuroscience.

PIANO ARCHITECTURE: The Schimmel Experience

Browsing the Internet for interesting piano photos, I stumbled upon Schimmel Pegasus, which left me speechless and star-struck. Its futuristic design as well as its sound made me want to find one and play it.  I got in touch with Robert Slayman (may G-d bless him), the VP of Schimmel Pianos in North America who told me the Schimmel story and the company behind it.

PP: Dear Robert, can you, please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself? How did you get into piano distribution? Do you have a background in piano performance?
RS: I was a late bloomer as a pianist, buying my first piano and taking my first lessons at age 19. I entered college a couple years later as a piano student but had a lot of catching up to do. While I was a student, I stopped by a piano store one day to inquire about part time work to help pay my ay through school. I ended up taking a full-time position in piano sales and a few years later opened my own piano store with two partners. When our lease expired we didn’t renew but went on to other careers. I became involved as a manufacturer’s representative and have been with Schimmel for 16 years, now as their North American vice president and director of marketing and sales. (By the way, I did finish my piano degree!)

PP: Please, tell us about the Schimmel Piano makers and what makes the company different from others.
RS: Schimmel was founded by Wilhelm Schimmel (OBM) in 1885.  They have always been a family-managed piano builder whose motto from the very beginning was, “Quality will prevail.”  Wilhelm’s son, Wilhelm Arno Schimmel eventually took over the company and he unexpectedly passed away in 1961 leaving his son Nikolaus Schimmel (MGBT) to take over. Nikolaus oversaw much growth in the company and began exporting pianos around the world. He is also responsible for many of the innovations including the art pianos Pegasus, Plexiglas, and the Otmar Alt. He is retired now but still very active. The company is now managed by the fourth generation family members Hannes Schimmel-Vogel and Viola Schimmel (MGBT). So, the name on the piano isn’t just a name, it is a direct reflection on the Schimmel family. For this reason, they strive to build the best instruments possible in each of the three market segments they cover. Such care is taken that Schimmel allows certain periods of “rest” as their pianos are being built so they become very stable over time. It takes a full year for Schimmel to build a grand piano.  A recent exciting innovation that makes Schimmel pianos unique is that the Konzert Series grands all have the same key length and action as the 9’2 concert grand. So there are six models all the way down to 5’9″ with the same “engine” inside. This means that a student can now practice on a piano with the same feel and response that he/she will have on the concert piano on stage.

LUIGI COLANI
Luigi Colani (MGBH), designer of Schimmel Pegasus Pianos.

PP: Please, tell us a little bit about the Schimmel Pegasus model. It looks amazing: the ultimate futuristic model of pianos. What inspired the owners of the company to create such an unusual design? Who was the designer?
RS: At first it was just a daring idea on the part of the eccentric German designer Prof. Luigi Colani (MGBH) and the German piano manufacturer Nikolaus W. Schimmel (MGBH). It was their vision to free the grand piano, the most expressive of traditional acoustic musical instruments, from its form, which had hardly changed in the past 150 years, as well as to impart a future-oriented design. It takes a full year for Schimmel to build a grand piano.

PP: Who are some of the famous piano performers that played Schimmel Pegasus and/or own one? What about institutions?
RS: Lenny Kravits (MGBH) purchased both a Pegasus and a Plexiglas Schimmel. Prince (OBM) purchased a Pegasus.  A jazz pianist Joey Calderazzo (MGBH) has owned two Schimmel grands. Some of the institutions that have purchased or performed with Schimmel are NPR Studio in D.C., Royal Academy of Music, London, Boston Ballet, Toronto Symphony, Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, L’Opera de Marseille, English national Ballet, ASU in Tempe Arizona, and Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris.

PP: How is the Pegasus model made? Is the keyboard different from a regular one? What materials are used in the manufacturing process?
RS: The Pegasus is made as one continuous fiberglass piece without seams except for the clear plexiglass stand that supports the tail. Even the pianist’s bench is part of the one-piece design.

The inside of the instrument is otherwise the same as the Schimmel top line Konzert Series with spruce keys and solid spruce soundboard.

PP: How much does a piano like this cost?
RS: The Pegasus is priced at $300,000 and is made by special order. Schimmel is able to make two per year and it typically takes 6 months to a year to get one.

PP: What is the price range for other (traditional) models and where can piano lovers can find these pieces?
RS: Schimmel MSRP prices start at $15,000 for a Wilhelm Schimmel vertical piano and go up from there. Schimmel pianos are displayed by a network of about 25 dealers in the U.S. and Canada, mostly in the larger cities. Especially good selections of many Schimmel models can be seen in Toronto, Seattle, Portland OR, Houston, Dallas, Raleigh, San Diego, San Jose, Phoenix, and Paramus NJ.

The keyboard of the Pegasus model is uniquely ergonomic in that it has a slight curvature rather than being in a straight line.

PP: Have Schimmel pianos been in any movies?
RS: Yes. The clear Schimmel Plexiglas was in the new Annie movie in 2014 with Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, and Quvenzhané Wallis (MGBT).

PP: Can an organization rent a Schimmel piano for an event? If so, how and where?
RS: Yes, depending on the market and availability. You would contact the local dealer in the market, or myself.

PP: I saw a photo of a red Schimmel Ferrari piano. Who does it belong to? Was there only one made?
RS: This instrument was sold to an individual who owned a car-racing track in Texas. I think it was sold several years later to someone in L.A. There were a couple other red Pegasus models sold in the world to private individuals.

PP: Can we talk a little bit about a Schimmel Silent Piano? Was there only one made? Or is it available for sale?
RS: The silent system for Schimmel is called Twin Tone and is made by Yamaha. “Silent” is a trademark of Yamaha Corporation. It can be added to most any instrument at the factory while the instrument is being built, as a special order.

PP: What is for Schimmel in the nearest future?
RS: Schimmel has sponsored a couple of piano competition in the U.S. and does much more of this in Germany. Schimmel just entered into a strategic alliance with the largest piano make in the world, Pearl River. With the added resources, Schimmel should soon be in a position to do more in this area.

FEATURED ARTICLE: Benjamin Grosvenor – The British Romantic

One of the top pianists of today, Benjamin Grosvenor (MGBH) amazes audience with his sensibility and distinct character. The youngest all-time double winner of Gramophone awards, Benjamin has toured half the world performing with the best orchestras. During his visit to the US, we contacted him for an interview.

PP: Dear Ben, welcome to the US. How has your tour been so far? Do you have any unusual stories?
BG: I suppose the most unusual thing to happen on this tour was in Raleigh with the North Carolina Symphony. I was playing the Mozart (OBM) D minor concerto,  and, in the last movement, one of the bass players (MGBH) fainted.  There were two loud thumps: one as he hit the ground and one as his instrument hit the ground. We continued for a bar or two before those of us at front of the stage realised what had happened. It was all very concerning at first and a shock for everyone. Doctors were called from the house (there were a few in attendance). The bass player and his instrument were fortunately OK.  He had fainted after an extremely active day with golf and a 20 km bike ride. We took an early intermission and agreed to play the last movement afterwards.  Certainly this was a first for me.

PP: I have read that your mother (MGBH) was your first piano teacher. How is your mother’s teaching style different from your other piano teachers?
BG: My mother was able to act as an advisor throughout my early career, traveling with me to my concerts.  I am very grateful for the help and advice she was able to give. It was invaluable to have her ears in rehearsals and concerts.  When I began at age 9 with Hilary Coates (MGBH), and soon after with Christopher Elton (MGBH),  she was able to help me consolidate and build on what I had learned between lessons.  The other influence during my studies was Daniel-Ben Pienaar (MGBH), with whom I learned a great deal in our lessons, when we would discuss music and listen to recordings.

PP: You have played quite a lot of Gershwin (OBM). Why does his music attract you?
BG: I have always been attracted to this musical idiom since playing a number of pieces by the English composer Billy Mayerl (OBM) as a child. I appreciated the rhythmic exuberance if jazz and the uplifting nature of this music.  I would very much like to learn the piano concerto at some point in the near future.

PP: Why do you play? What inspires you in your piano performance?
BG: I play because I love music,  and because I love the act of communicating (or trying to communicate) the essence of that music to an audience.

PP: If you weren’t a pianist, what career would be your second choice?
BG: I’m not sure.  I decided that this is what I would like to do at quite a young age (10) and have been on that path since then. I suppose at times I thought I might like to go on to study English or Science,  but where it would have gone from there I do not know.

PP: What are your hobbies?
BG: I enjoy reading very much,  which encompasses a lot of things (I am currently reading Bleak House).  I enjoy acquiring knowledge on a variety of subjects and take a moderate interest in politics and current affairs.  I enjoy movies and comedy and have been trying to learn German,  though my progress in this moves in fits and starts as I find the time and inclination.

PP: Do you still practice scales every time before you warm up? What warm up exercises do you use?
BG: I actually don’t do much in way of exercises.  I will make sure not to jump straight in with something too demanding (as with anything else that is physically demanding a warm up is a good idea) but will usually use an appropriate passage from a piece I am playing.

PP: Is there a day in a week when you don’t practice and just rest?
BG: I met a conductor recently who takes a day off a week from music,  quite consistently,  and this does seem like a good idea in some respects.  I haven’t attempted it consciously myself, but life can become busy so that there are invariably days on which you find you cannot practice as much and when, on tour for example,  you might not be able to access a piano for very long.  What is important is managing time efficiently and working when you need to, so that you don’t have to so much at other times! I aim to have two blocks of about 4-5 weeks free from concerts a year when I learn new repertoire,  but also during one of these periods I try to have an extended period of time free from touching a piano. A vacation,  if you will..!

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PP: What other pianists inspire you?
BG: I admire a great number of pianists.  Firstly, a number of pianist-composers through their writing, and I take a strong interest in historical recordings. It is fascinating to be able to hear people like Rosenthal play (OBM) – a towering figure who had direct contact with someone such as Liszt (OBM).  It is a kind of playing that is very different to that which we may be used to, but interesting to consider that this is playing much nearer in time and lineage to people like Liszt and Chopin (OBM) than we are now. I love Cortot (OBM),  Moiseiwitsch (OBM),  Hofmann (OBM),  Horowitz (OBM),  Schnabel (OBM), to name a few.  Some in certain repertoire more than others and some in certain works in particular.  They were all astounding artists with their own distinctive voice at the keyboard and then own strong personality.

PP: What qualities in a person do you find most essential?
BG: I like people who treat others in the way in which they themselves would like to be treated.

PP: What was the first music piece that you remember connecting emotionally to?
BG: I remember playing a piece when I was 6 called the Stegasaurus Stomp, which I very much enjoyed since I was going through a huge dinosaur phase! But on a deeper level,  I suppose it was perhaps the first piece of Chopin I played – a waltz – which had a mournful quality that I could feel but perhaps did not fully understand.

PP: Do you compose your own music?
BG: I tried this a little when I was younger,  but haven’t attempted for a while. I didn’t think I had any particular gift or talent for it.  I haven’t tried in a number of years,  so perhaps there will be a time soon when I can start afresh and see if my suspicions are reconfirmed.

I like people who treat others in the way in which they themselves would like to be treated.

PP: How did you feel when you first performed with an orchestra? How old were you?
BG: I first performed a Mozart concerto with a student orchestra when I was 11, but later that year I performed Ravel (OBM) with the BBC Scottish Symphony.  It is an exhilarating and exciting experience to have the body of an orchestra behind you and to be able to become immersed in that wonderful variety of colour and sound.

PP: How many hours a day did you practice when you first started piano vs. now?
BG: I’m sure when I first started it was very little indeed, less than half an hour a day.  It increased gradually over the years.  This is probably the question I get asked most frequently after performances.  I suppose the answer I usually give is six hours a day,  to which the response is often one of shock or surprise at that level of commitment.  It’s worth pointing out though that most people work for that amount of time a day and longer!  It is sometimes more than this however,  and sometimes less, and my advice would be not to focus on the quantity of practice.  It is the quality that is important.  One should practice intelligently.

PP: Does your wardrobe effect your performance? Do you prefer a suit or t-shirt and jeans?
BG: I do not think my wardrobe has an effect on my performance –  though when I was very young I had a ‘lucky blue shirt! I used to wear various coloured shirts for performances,  but now stick with a blue suit.  I enjoy wearing a suit for performances, and see them as special events that call for that kind of dress, but I have never worn tails.

PP: Do you have dreams about music?
BG: I dream about many things,  and occasionally music comes into them.  There have been times when I feel I have heard passages of what seems like original music in my dreams,  only to wake and find myself struggling to remember them after a few seconds.

PP: Do you meditate/pray before your performances?
BG: I try to clear my head before a performance,  but I don’t think if it counts as meditation.  At one time,  I used a technique where I pictured in as much detail as I could a particular country scene I remembered in my head,  which at the time I found helpful. I don’t find myself needing to do this any more, but think correct breathing is important and try to take deep breaths before going on stage.

PP: What feelings do you experience when you are on stage after a performance?
BG: I suppose it depends on the performance and how I feel it went!  Ideally, some degree of satisfaction at having done something that is extremely difficult to a standard at which I am at that moment contented and a sense of privilege in having it (seemingly)  appreciated by the
public. Of course, sometimes, exhaustion, but that usually comes after a short while.

PP: Do you do special exercises to be in a better shape to play piano?
BG: I try to swim or run when I can.  As pianists we can sit for a long time, so stretching is advisable.  I am very interested in taking up yoga and intend to have some regular lessons next time I have a stretch of time free from touring.

PP: Do you have pets?
BG: I have recently acquired a number of goldfish,  left behind by the previous owners of my house. Other than various goldfish and a stick insect (called ‘Sticky’) my family never had any pets as my Dad (MGBH) has allergies.

PP: What is the hardest music piece you ever played?
BG: That’s a difficult question,  as obviously different pieces are hard for different reasons.  I suppose, for a solo work one that comes to mind is perhaps the Liszt sonata,  for the immense physical and intellectual challenge of it.

PP: What are your Sundays like?
BG: Often not hugely different from any other day,  but with the bonus of not having respond to emails..!

It is an exhilarating and exciting experience to have the body of an orchestra behind you and to be able to become immersed in that wonderful variety of colour and sound.

PP: What is your favorite place to travel to?
BG: I enjoy visiting places for the first time of course,  but it is great to return to places where you may have met people and formed connections. For example,  I recently returned to Miami for the fourth time where I now know a few lovely people. Minneapolis/St. Paul and Singapore come to mind as examples for the same reasons – they are places a long way away, but where I have visited repeatedly over the years.  There are also cities I love to visit for the unique vibe of the themselves like Hong Kong,  New York,  San Francisco, etc.  I often enjoy visiting small towns as much as large cities  and am very fond of the countryside,  particularly, in my home country of England. I have had some wonderful experiences playing in churches and other small venues in villages up and down the country.

PP: Could you share some of your insights with our readers about the most valuable lessons that you have learned so far by being a piano performer?
BG: A lot of things I have learned have been too specific to me to be of use to anyone else. I think as a generalization relating to performance,  that when you go on stage,  you have to be fearless and give everything that you have.  It takes a great deal of courage to be able to do that.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Code Word – Ivory Keys

Article by Esther Basha (MGBH)

For centuries, the one of the main components of a piano – its keys – have been made out of elephant tusks. While many were obtained as the legacy from the elephants who died of natural causes, others were bought from elephant hunters who would cut off tusks from the elephants they hunted leaving them on the ground to die a slow, painful death.

And for centuries, seemingly sensitive people (because isn’t music aimed to teach sensitivity?) never thought of how the energy of these keys affects the spiritual quality of sound and souls of those playing the instrument as well as those listening to its music.

One may say that piano is not the only instrument that was made out of animal parts. Shofar, an old instrument in the Bible, was made out of a ram horn. Drums and bagpipes were made out of animal skins. Violin strings are still often made out of horsehair. Even today, some piano manufacturers use hooves, horns, and bones of a variety of animals to made piano keys. And guitar strings are sometimes made out of gut strings of sheep, kangaroo, cattle, and water buffalo (1).

This argument, however, may have little to no validity, as all the above-mentioned animals either died of natural causes or were slaughtered primarily for the purpose of satisfying the man’s primary need – the need to eat, in order to survive. And the byproducts of those animals were used to make music instruments.  Elephants, however, have been repeatedly hunted and stripped of their tusks while being alive (2) (another prohibition in the Bible) and left to die in pain, only to satisfy an auxiliary, artificially created need – the need to obtain an essential component for a musical instrument.

Today, in the XXI century America, ivory keys have been outlawed, and elephants have one less thing to worry about. But how did this initiative start?

Interestingly enough, the use of synthetic keys was not spurred by a heartfelt desire to save elephants and relieve them from unnecessary suffering.

There is an old saying – follow the money. And it applies in this situation as well.

During the Great Depression, piano manufacturers were looking to cut costs and decided to use plastic keys instead of ivory (3). Thus, fast-forward till now, today have excellent quality synthetic replacement for ivory.

We have a precious opportunity to teach our audience and students values through piano performance.

However, the question remains:  if music develops such qualities as compassion and sensitivity, why has the Christian society at large (whose creed is to promote love and kindness for all) not vigorously objected the use of ivory in pianos?

The answer is rather Kabbalistic.   Music, just like many activities, is just a tool. Human beings have free will to use it for Light or for Darkness; for selfless or selfish purposes, which are sometimes intertwined.

I believe, today, in the ultimate age of free choice, we have more opportunities than even to think about these concepts and find reasons to use music for Light. A piano career does not have to be about competition with other performers, but about collaboration for the sake of receiving joy and bringing joy to others.  Many musicians claim to receive inspiration from a higher source and play to celebrate and become one with that source.

By the same token, piano teachers can tremendously benefit by sharing their methods and experience with each other instead of falling into the hole of “high brow” attitudes. Yes, piano performance has been notorious for its elitist approach for centuries, but we don’t have to take this attitude to the new millennium.

Instead, we can connect, learn from each other, and help each other. It will come naturally if we choose to replace the mindset of scarcity with that of abundance. Spiritual disciplines teach us that every person is born with resources allocated to him/her. He or she brings sustenance to the world and no one can take it away. What we must do is look with a magnifying glass on what we have and be exceedingly grateful for it. And this is the secret to getting more of what we have. The law of attraction, if you will.

And once that mindset permeates our community, we will be able to feel truly connected and feel tremendous bliss in this oneness.   We will start using music as a tool that helps develop sensitivity towards all living creatures on Earth, just like our Creator commanded us.   And when we forget and veer off the way, we can play the code word – ivory keys – to remind us.

 

 

REFERENCES:

(1) http://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/do-musical-instruments-utilize-animal-products/

(2) https://www.thedodo.com/community/Elegirl/the-truth-about-tusks-648225506.html

(3) https://anamazingmachine.wordpress.com/piano-resources/