Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ad for the "Real" Ragtime Music

What is "real" ragtime music?  Look no further than Scott Joplin's piano music.  John Stark knew what was good, real.  Joplin's is different that the rest.  The best way to find out is to play it for yourself.  It's easier than ever to get your hands on his classic piano style.  If you don't want to pay for it, visit your local library.  I bet they have a copy of the Dover edition sheet music.  Learn all of them that he wrote.  You wouldn't regret it!

The above ad was published in a January 1906 copy of the Etude that I found recently.  Stark had moved to New York City to try and compete with all the big sheet music businesses springing up in what was to become known as Tin Pan Alley.  Joplin followed him there.  Unfortunately they had a bit of a falling out.  I think they made amends before Joplin died though.  I don't think Stark stayed in New York too long after that, and went back to Missouri.  He couldn't really compete.

Doesn't that always seem to be the way?  The public just doesn't recognize true art, sincere art, "real" art when they see it.  They just want what is easy.  The public can't go deeper than surface level. 

That's okay though.  Music like Joplin's isn't really for the general public.  It isn't disposable.  It was never meant to be consumed, and then thrown away, like much other so called "ragtime" music after him.  His music is a medicine.  It heals.  It bridges disparities.  If you're having a bad day, find a way to hear his music.  Better yet, go play some of it yourself.  Just 4 bars of one of his tunes, and you'll be good for the rest of the week. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Inexpensive but Nice Music Journals from 5 Below!

In my teaching I strive to instill a love of learning.  I also strive to instill an independent learning ability in my students.  One way to do that is to have them journal.  Just to get them writing music down is good.  It can be on any staff paper, and you could even make your own by drawing out the 5 lines.  However, it is best to have it all in one concise place.  Printed staff paper can get expensive, and it is often in loose sheets.  Sometimes they have pre-punched holes to make it easier to put them into a 3 ring binder, which is helpful.  These usually are a standard 8.5 x 11 size.  Other staff paper booklets are small and don't leave much room for extra explanatory notes if needed.

At my local 5 Below retail store, they sell a music journal which I really like.  It is bound well.  The paper is bright, and it is neither too large nor too small.  There is an ample amount of sheets so the student won't run out of paper too soon.  The paper size is also 8.5 x 11, but it is landscape oriented (sideways) which I like better for a journaling application.  It is $5 (or less)!  It provides a very affordable tool to contribute to their learning of music.  I am amazed actually that 5 Below sells them.  It is cheap, but in this case you DON'T get what you pay for.  You get something affordable, helpful, and creative!

The company that makes these wonderful music journals is called Piccadilly.  Check them out at

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bush and Gerts Grandette Piano

William H. Bush, the founder of Bush and Gerts
 I recently acquired a new "old" piano.  It is a Bush and Gerts Grandette. 
I am very excited about this because it is a beautiful instrument, and I did not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to have it.  It may or may not be true that Steinway pianos are the best. 

Years ago my Mom bought an old upright.  It was big and heavy, and out of tune.  I thought she wasted her money.  It is a Bush and Gerts.  She had it tuned, and it has held up.  I did begin to like it more even though I still judged it by its cover.

Then one day I came across a used book in Indian Path Bookstore in Spring City, Pa.  The book's title is Pianos and Their Makers It was published in 1911.  In it, the author details information about Bush and Gerts.  Let me include that here:

                                 (Excerpt from Pianos and Their Makers by Alfred Dolge)
            “Among the many remarkable men who have made their mark in the development of the piano industry of the west, William H. Bush stands out as one of those sturdy characters whom misfortune only spurs on to greater efforts.
            Coming from good old Holland stock, William Henry Bush was born in 1829 on a farm near Baltimore, Md.  One of the first railroads built in the United States ran through the Bush farm to the City of Baltimore, and we find William as a lad of 14, with remarkable enterprise, contracting for the use of the steam engine and the one freight car of which the railroad could boast to carry his vegetables to Baltimore, so as to be the first in the marketplace.  In 1854 he landed at Chicago and soon engaged in the lumber business, accumulating a fortune.  The great fire of 1871 burned up his lumber yard and reduced him again to the point where he had started 17 years before.  Success was his, and in 1886 he started in partnership with his son, William Lincoln Bush, and John Gerts, under the firm name of W. H. Bush and Company, for the manufacturing of pianos.
            William L. Bush, born in 1861, had served his apprenticeship with Geo. H. Woods & Company as an organ and piano maker, and from 1881 to 1883 as salesman for the W. W. Kimball Company.  John Gerts had learned piano making in Germany, thoroughly mastering all branches of the art.
            With W. H. Bush at the head as financier, the concern prospered from the very start, and was changed to a corporation in 1891 with a paid-up capital of $400,000.
            Philanthropically inclined, the elder Bush planned to create for Chicago an institution which should serve music and the arts, but before his well-conceived plans materialized he passed away in 1901 at the age of 74.
            The Bush Temple of Music was started in 1902 and completed in 1903, and stands as a monument to the enterprise, energy and liberality of the Maryland farmer boy, as one of Chicago’s landmarks.
The Conservatory of Music connected with the Bush Temple was founded by William Lincoln Bush in 1901, with Kenneth M. Bradley as Director and Mme. Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler at the head of the piano department, the position now being occupied by Mme. Julie Rive King.  Among the teachers of note who have given luster to this school, the great violinist, Ovide Musin, may be mentioned.
            William L. Bush, a talented musician himself, is very solicitous for the lasting success of the music school, which has achieved a far-reaching reputation.  He also established similar institutions at Dallas, Tex., and Memphis, Tenn., thus assisting in the propaganda for musical development not only as a manufacturer of excellent pianos, but also as a lover of the art for art’s sake.
            The Bush and Gerts Piano Company is known for its zeal in upholding and defending the ethics of the piano trade.  William L. Bush is using his forceful pen with telling results in the warfare against the illegitimate stencil and dishonest methods of selling, insisting that the maker’s name should be on every piano and fixed selling price established by the maker.”

I gained a new respect for the name of Bush and Gerts after reading this.  I had been looking, waiting, to find a grand piano that was of good quality, but that fit into my budget.  Last spring I decided to search on Craigslist for a Bush and Gerts piano.  I did not expect to find anything because they are not that easy to find really.  Also, the upright models are more available these days than the grands.  However, one popped up!  
On mother's day 2017, I went to check it out.  For its age, everything was there.  All of the keys looked good and worked for starters!  The middle sostenuto pedal functions as it should (holding up only one damper at a time).  The sound was even and round and full.  It was the opposite of my usual experiences of checking out an older piano.  

I decided to buy it, and the piano was moved to my house in August.  It has been a special, meaningful experience.  The seller grew up practicing on this piano, and it has been in her family for many years.  Her mother was the first in the family to own it, having acquired it with her own earnings when she was a teenager.  She had bought it second hand those many years ago, and became very good and even taught piano.  When the person who sold it to me was 8 years old, her mother passed away.  She said she remembers sitting under the piano as her Mom would play.  Remember, it was mother's day when I looked at it.  The next day was the seller's birthday, and my daughter's and I played/sang happy birthday to her on her Mom's piano on mother's day.  It was a special moment.  

After all of the waiting and looking for a grand piano, I couldn't have asked for one that is better than this.  I am very happy and grateful that it has come to me in this way. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Finger Movements by the Small Muscles

Click on this image to refer to the drawing of the tendon/muscle descriptions in the article.

I came across the book, The Riddle of the Pianist's Finger just within the past year or two.  The author, Arnold Schultz, had written the forward to a republication of Otto Ortman's book, The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique.  I was reading that one, and was curious about 'The Riddle.'  It took me some time to find it, but thanks to ebay, I did.  I read it, and it was enlightening for me, and has helped me with my playing.  I came across an article that Schultz wrote for 'The Etude' magazine, only a couple of years after his book was published.  I am going to put it here in full for you to enjoy.  Maybe it will be of help to you as well.  Enjoy!

Pianist, Know Your Fingers!
A New Approach to Piano Technique
By: Arnold Schultz

            Whatever the touch form employed at the piano; whether it be a finger, a hand, a forearm, or an arm touch; whether the movement be caused by “weight and relaxation” or by levered force; whether it starts from the surface of the keys or from a distance above them; the depression of the key itself must always involve muscular activity of the fingers.  They are the final points of contact with the keyboard, the antennae by which the pianist feels out his way to tone.
                        Despite this importance of the fingers, however, theorists have tended to neglect the facts of their physiological structure, placing the stress almost without exception upon their position during key-depression rather than upon the muscles which actually impel their movement.  Yet the facts are of such supreme importance that, once they have been examined, it appears almost impossible for piano teaching to bring about the higher degrees of technical skill unless it takes them into serious account.
            It is our purpose in the present article to sketch certain anatomical features of the four fingers (without reference to the thumb) and to make a number of somewhat desultory notes on the differences these features may make to piano technic.  Lack of space prohibits a complete account of the coordinative possibilities, let alone the pedagogy, by which they may be realized in actual playing; nor can we attempt to refer to the various touch forms as they are determined by purely mechanical differences in joint action.  But even a partial account will make it clear that finger coordination is at the very heart of the technical problem, that our teaching must either make of it a prime consideration or labor beside the chief technical issues.
Anatomy of the Fingers and Hand
            In the accompanying, highly schematic diagram (at head of article) JK represents the forearm; GH, the hand from wrist-joint to hand-knuckle (technically known as the metacarpus); EF, the first phalanx of the finger; CD, the second; and AB, the third.
            XY, the tendon of the extensor digitorum communis, takes its origin in a muscle located in the forearm, just below the elbow, passes over the wrist-joint, the hand-knuckle, and the mid- and nail-joints, and is inserted into the second and third phalanges.  It serves to extend, or from the point of view of the hand in playing position, to lift the finger.
            A’B’, the tendon of the flexor digitorum profundus, takes its origin in a muscle again located in the forearm, passes over the wrist joint, the hand-knuckle, and the mid- and nail-joints, and is inserted into the third phalanx, which it serves to flex (bend).
            C’D’, the tendon of the flexor digitorum sublimis, also originates in a muscle of the forearm, and passes parallel with the flexor profundus to the second phalanx, which it flexes.
            E’F’, a small muscle known as the lumbricalis, takes its origin at the base of the metacarpus, and passes to the inner side of the first phalanx up to what is called the tendinous expansion of the extensor communis, where it is inserted.  It flexes the first phalanx and, because of its connection with the extensor, gives a slight lift to the second and third phalanges, this lift taking place, of course, without contraction of the extensor muscle proper, located in the forearm.  Two other sets of muscles, known as the palmar and dorsal interossei, although they are chiefly involved in lateral movements of the first phalanges, assist the lumbricales in the flexion of the first phalanges.  The diagram does not indicate the interossei, but since they lie entirely within the hand, the line E’F’ may be taken to indicate their downward pull as well as that of the lumbricalis. 

The Finger as Three Phalanges
            It is everyone’s tendency to regard the finger as a unit capable of taking on different “shapes” during piano playing.  Only rarely is it regarded as a collection of three separate levers, each of them having as much claim to separate attention as that given, for instance, the hand, the forearm, or the upper arm.  It is true that there is a marked interdependence among certain muscular exertions of the phalanges; but for that matter, there is a marked interdependence between exertions of the phalanges and exertions of the hand in the wrist joint (a fact made clear later).  Under any circumstances, a study of the interdependence in general yields, as will presently become clear, important clues to a new, direct means of gaining velocity and key control.  The following notes on the muscular system of the finger (and they by no means give a complete account) will indicate some of these clues, and will also reveal, rather amusingly, I think, how little understanding either the pianist or the non-pianist has of the tools he uses almost constantly during his daily life.
            1.  When XY, the extensor, is contracted, it applies upward force to all three of the phalanges.  It is impossible to lift the third phalanx without also lifting the second, and upward movement of the first can be prevented only by the contraction of the small flexor muscles, the lumbricalis and the interossei.  The contraction of the latter can be seen or felt in the tissue between the thumb and the second finger, if the second and third phalanges of the second finger are vigorously extended without movement of the first phalanx.  In other words, a downward acting muscle must contract to keep the first phalanx from moving upward.  A fully extended, perfectly flat finger, accordingly, sometimes advised by pedagogs for rapid passage work, involves a stiffened hand-knuckle even before movement into the key begins; that is, muscles on either side of the joint are contracted.
2.  When the finger extensors are contracted, they apply upward force to the hand.  Movement of the hand can be prevented only by contraction of the hand flexors.  The contraction of one of the hand flexor tendons can be felt, if all the fingers are lifted vigorously at once, through the under surface of the forearm just above the wrist-joint, little finger side.  (The diagram does not indicate this tendon, but it is a prominent one and easily found by a little experiment; so, too, with the hand extensor tendon mentioned in the following paragraphs).  Spread chord positions, which necessitate extremely flat fingers, therefore, also necessitate a stiffened wrist-muscles on either side of the joint are contracted.     
The interdependence of the hand and finger muscles is nicely shown in still another experiment.  If the hand be lifted as high as possible in the wrist-joint, the finger hanging loose, a strong contraction of one of the extensor tendons of the hand may be felt through the upper surface of the wrist joint, thumb side.  Now if the fingers are also raised, the hand tendon will immediately relax: the work of lifting the hand has been taken over, at least in large part, by the finger muscles.
3.  It is normally impossible for the flexor profundus, A’B’, to bend the third phalanx, unless the second is also bent.  The flexor sublimis, however, may bend the second phalanx while the third remains relaxed.  It is this latter coordination which causes the familiar “breaking-in” of the nail-joint during key depression, a movement which is often misinterpreted physiologically, but which is generally, and rightly, condemned.  It is apparent, therefore, that any attempt to separate the actions of the two long flexors is impracticable.
4.  The contractions of the long flexors, since the tendons pass over the wrist-joint, apply downward force to the hand.  The hand extensor tendons may be felt to contract if the metacarpus is kept quiet during vigorous flexion of the fingers.
5.  As the extensor tendons of the four fingers pass over the back of the hand they are connected, one with the other, by bands of tissue called vinculae.  If the extensor muscle, located in the forearm, contracts to pull upon one of the tendons, these bands transmit part of the force to the other tendons, the amount of the force being proportionate to the nearness of the tendons.
An experiment will make the meaning clearer.  If the right arm be laid along the thigh, all muscles relaxed, the extensor tendon of the second finger may be pulled to one side by the thumb of the other hand.  The tendon is found just above the hand-knuckle; and, when relaxed, it may be displaced from a quarter to half an inch.  If the third finger then be raised, the tendon of the second finger will immediately become tight and snap out from under the thumb.  The lift of the fourth finger is felt rather later, and that of the fifth only after the extension has become extreme.
The question arises, then, if the extensor tendon of the second finger tightens when the third finger is lifted, why is not the second finger also lifted?  The answer is that the flexor tendons of the second finger contract, and the swell of their tension can be felt under the finger in the palm.  (Further comment on this sell is contained in Note 6.)  The second finger, in other words, is stiffened-perhaps only slightly, but nevertheless stiffened- while the third finger is being raised.  There is no other way of raising the third finger without also raising the second.
6.  When the long flexors contract, the tendons AB and CD tend to form, of course, a straight line between the points of their origin and insertion.  Because the tendons are bound up only loosely in the tissues of the hand, this tendency is partially realized.  If the second finger of the right hand is pressed hard upon a table while the second finger of the left hand is placed on the right palm immediately below its hand-knuckle, the tendons will be felt to sell and bulge, sagging from a quarter to half an inch.  This distance is extremely significant, for the depth of key descent itself is only three-eighths of an inch.  The sagging means that the muscles lose time in applying their force to the second and third phalanges; it means that the muscles contract through a greater distance than the three-eighths of an inch of key descent requires; it means that the long flexors are at a great disadvantage for velocity.
7.  If the long flexors and the extensors of the fingers are simultaneously contracted; that is, if the fingers are stiffened, also the wrist-joint, over which the tendons pass, must be stiffened.  Proof of this fact can be secured by allowing the forearm to rest upon the knee, the hand and fingers dangling relaxed in space.  If the hand be struck a blow, it will swing back and forth in the wrist joint, its movement entirely free and uninhibited.  If, however, the fingers are stiffened while the hand muscles proper are kept relaxed, the hand will show no movement in response to the blow.  The wrist joint has become fixed by the finger muscles.
8.  In contrast to the long flexors and the extensors, the small muscles apply their force to the first phalanx directly, without an intervening sag.  Moreover, they all have their origins within the metacarpus, and their contractions can have, therefore, no effect upon movements in the wrist joint.

Excessive Use of the Long Flexors
            The sixth of the foregoing notes states that the long flexors show a marked dis-advantage for velocity.  As the part they play in the depression of the finger increases, the velocity disadvantage also increases.  Unfortunately, a coordination one encounters very frequently among piano students involves particularly strong tensions of the long flexors.  I refer to it as the stiff-finger coordination.  If the long flexors and the extensor contract to fix (stiffen) the finger, and if then the flexors contract in excess of the fixation, the finger will swing downward as a unit.  The first phalanx is caught between the opposing contractions; and its own muscles, accordingly, need contribute nothing to the descent.  (The interossei contract, to be sure, to give a lateral (sideways) fixation to the first phalanx as the long tendons provide a vertical fixation- it is impossible to will the one fixation without the other.  They need not, however, contribute to the downward movement.)  The long flexors are strongly contracted; they must contract to a given degree, to provide the fixation, and then a still higher degree to depress the finger.
            The reader may be certain that this stiffened finger is not part of his approach to the keyboard, but the frequency with which the coordination appears can be judged by a simple experiment.  Bring the tip of the relaxed second finger in contact with the edge of a table while the other fingers hang loosely under the hand.  Move the extensor of the second finger to one side, as in one of the foregoing experiments.  Now press the finger tip upon the table.  In a number of trials the probability is strong that the extensor will tighten and snap out from under the finger which holds it.  Some experimenters cannot at first execute the movement otherwise.  With extreme pressures, as a matter of fact, the tightening cannot be avoided.  Very loud playing, accordingly, always involves stiffened fingers.  The use of the lifting muscle during a downward action is explained by the coordinative picture just sketched.
            The coordination is employed, no doubt, because it is easier to lock the three phalanges into a unit than it is to apply individual pulls to each of them; and also because it puts no strain upon the small muscles, the weakest in the playing organism.  It is highly disadvantageous, however, for velocity; it is insensitive to key-resistance and therefore incapable of fine dynamic control (the downward acting muscles are not working directly against the key but are pulling against upward acting muscles); and it interferes seriously, when employed for support, with the velocity and control of hand movements.

The Small Muscles as Determinants of Technical Skill
            The discussion so far no doubt has already implied the overwhelmingly important role which the small muscles must play in expert piano technic.  The three chief aspects of technical skill which they promote are: 1. Dynamic Control.  If instead of the stiff finger coordination, the small muscles pull upon the first phalanx while the long flexors are exerted against the second and third, the force of all these muscles is expended directly against the felt resistance of the key.  Sensitiveness to key resistance, as I have already indicated, is the major factor in control over tonal volume.  This sensitiveness, moreover, is further heightened when the small muscles do most of the work of finger depression, for the muscles are relatively weak and a relatively large number of sensory nerves are stimulated during a given force effect.  The key under these circumstances, feels very heavy, and the finger like a small and delicate tool.  2. Velocity.  As the small muscles dominate in the movement of the finger, the contractions of the long flexors with their impeding effects upon velocity may decrease.  The highest degree of velocity is reached when the small muscles are entirely unassisted by the long flexors.  3. The Control and Velocity of Hand Touches.  When the fingers are used to support hand movements originating in the wrist joint, a dominant use of the small muscles affords the most advantageous coordination.  Contractions of the long finger tendons create a congestion in the wrist joint, which hampers the freedom, the control, and the velocity of the movement.

Example of Small Muscle Dominance
            These three aspects of technic constitute, the reader will agree, almost a definition of technic.  The theoretical exposition is, of course, very incomplete, and no practical instruction in the use of the small muscles has been given.
            In closing, however, we will describe the appearance of a finger-stroke in which the small muscles dominate.  Let the fingers of the right hand be placed on the keyboard in a moderately flat position- the position they take when the arm hangs completely relaxed at the side of the body.  Then depress the finger so that the mid-joint breaks deeply, the nail-joint giving to the movement.  Take care that the break of the mid-joint does not result either from an extension of the finger or from a downward-backward movement of the hand.  Often considerable experiment is necessary before the student has success in producing the stroke.  He can see what is wanted, however, by making the stroke artificially, that is, by pushing down the first phalanx of the playing finger with the fingers of the other hand.  When the movement is made by the finger’s own muscular force, the break in the mid-joint signifies that the small muscles are working harder than the long flexors.
            The objection no doubt will be made that considerable force is lost in the joint movement, and the objection is reasonable, as far as it goes.  The disadvantage, however, is compensated by other advantages, impossible to argue more fully here.  Suffice it to say that the coordination can be observed in the playing of our great pianists and that it constitutes one of the most valuable of the finger touches.  It is curious that no work on piano technic, so far as I know, has ever described the stroke nor analyzed it into its physiological factors.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Anniversary of the Death of Paderewski

I came across this announcement last night while I was reading one of my 'Etude' magazines.  Today (June 29th), happens to be the anniversary of when a great pianist passed away.  The announcement explains where and when, and gives a few details about who Paderewski was.

He made quite a stir in the United States as a pianist.  Many cartoons have been drawn about his hair, which in his younger days was apparently like a lion's mane.  I think he was given a nickname of that sort, the Lion of the piano or something like that.  Of course there was swooning involved by all the women wherever he went.  I don't recall ever reading about what the men thought of his hair.  Maybe jealous?

Leschetizky/Paderewski, Paderewski/Leschetizky.... apparently these two names went together at some point.  Here is a quote from the October 1919 'Etude' in a brief response to a question in The Teacher's Roundtable section of the magazine:  "Although proving himself a great teacher, yet Leschitizky did not begin to be so universally sought after, the world over until Paderewski began to cause the musical world to ring with his own achievements." 

I wish I could have attended a concert of his.  It is difficult to imagine  how it really might have been just from reading statements and articles about it.  There are recordings, and he was a composer, and that's as close as we can get at this point. He did perform in a movie at some point, and I've seen the clip, but that's not a solo concert.

After reading the above, I was wondering if he was buried in New York like many other great musical artists of that era.  I learned something interesting, which is that he was buried initially in the U.S., in Arlington, Va.  However, his body was removed and reburied in Poland in the 1990's.  Even more, his heart has remained in the U.S. due to a Polish tradition.  It currently is in Doylestown, Pa, which is only about an hour from where I live.  I don't think I will go visit his heart, but who knows.  There are very nice music concerts there throughout the year.  Here is a link to a New York Times article about all of that.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Happy Birthday to... Theodor Leschetizky!

Theodor Leschetizky- June 22nd, 1830-Nov. 14th, 1915

I have been becoming more and more interested in learning more and more about this well known piano pedagogue.  I have recently come across a couple of Century edition pieces that he wrote.  I have also been reading articles in the Etude magazines I have found that talk about him, and one is even by him!  I'll have to post about that later.  I think it is an article in which he was interviewed.  The interviewer states at the beginning that the reader better take note of all that is said, because these could be Leschetizky's last words due to the state of his health.  He didn't put it that way though.  I'll post the direct quote later when I have the article with me.  (Actually, here is on the Etude website!)

I also have a record of Leschetizky playing.  At some point he was recorded on the Welte reproducing keyboard, and that was turned into a record for posterity.  Of course it is not the same as actually hearing him in person.  Also, we can never again hear him play any other pieces except those recorded.  Still, it is better than nothing I suppose.  We can glean something of what his playing was like, and still be inspired by it.

He was a student of Czerny, who was a student of Beethoven.  The closer we can get to Leschetizky, the closer we can get to the past in regards to piano.

From what I've gathered so far, he knew how to draw out a student's individual qualities and harness them toward their best efforts at the piano.  He helped them find their own artistic voices, and to be courageous enough to let them speak.  He focused also on a person's weakness, in order to strengthen them to make them more into a complete artist.  He wouldn't always do this in nice or polite ways apparently.  He would try to create an environment (sometimes hostile I guess) in which that person could have a true experience in which they had to overcome a difficulty.  However, he was also self-sacrificing and giving often.

If he was still alive today, he would be 187 years old.  How am I going to learn from a 187 year old man?!  I'll be honest.  I only realized today is his birthday after just doing a search an hour or so ago for a biography that Annette Hullah wrote about him.  It is availabe as a free ebook on  It was a neat realization to notice that it's his birthday today.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Meet Mr. Keys

Say "hello" to my little friend, Mr. Keys!  Can you guess how old he is?  That's right!  He is 88 years old.  How did you know?  He is black and white, just like the piano keyboard.  Even though he has no fingers nor a mouth, he is very helpful during piano lessons with younger students.  (Older students like him too though.)

He is full of important information about playing piano and music in general.  He knows how to explain the use of the fingers on the keys.  He can play the piano, at least two notes at a time.  He can play three (a full chord!) using his nose when he is feeling really energetic.  Mozart even said to use your nose if that's what you have to do!  (Did he really say that?  Look into it.)  He knows the notes on the staff and which key they go with!  He knows his scales.  Even though his ears are small, he can hear the slightest gradations in dynamic, pitch, tone, smoothness, etc....  He can explain music theory and harmony relationships.  He's read all the great books on piano technique.  He has read all the old treatises on keyboard music and how to play it.  He is here to help, and he cares about his students.  He wants them to succeed at piano, even though it can be hard sometimes.  Mr. Matteo might make you cry (not really, I hope), but Mr. Keys will brighten your day! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spotlight on Scott Joplin

One Hundred years ago, today, Scott Joplin passed away.  In honor of that, I want to acknowledge him and his music.  His music brings us much joy when we hear it, even if we don't know that it is his.  I don't feel that Scott Joplin is exactly a household name, even though many people have heard of him by now.  People may hear one of his classic piano rags, but not be able to put a name to a tune that rings so familiar to them.  Or, maybe some people hear a tune they might attribute to him, but is in fact not one of his classic piano rags.  That might be because like Marian Klamkin stated in her book, Old Sheet Music: A Pictorial History, "The beat as written by Joplin and his contemporaries would influence all popular American music that was written after it."

Scott Joplin was born in 1868 in Texarkana, Texas.  He spent most of his life in the Midwest visiting St. Louis and Chicago, before following his publisher, John Stark, to New York City.  It was in Sedalia, Missouri though (1899) that Stark published Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, which was a great success (and still is)!  Joplin wrote the tune in 1897, and it is named after the Maple Leaf Club where he played music at the time.  It was his first published music that gave him the royalties he deserved, and much more followed after that.  He and Stark had a long friendship (not always happy), but I think they ended on good terms ultimately.

Scott Joplin was well known in his day.  But after he died, I guess the waves of novelty music and Tin Pan Alley kind of washed him away.  There was a bit of a revival in the 50's of the classic piano rag, but for you and I, the really big thing that brought it back into our sphere was the movie, 'The Sting,' starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  This was back in the 1970's.  Marvin Hamlisch did the music, and decided to use tunes by Scott Joplin.  The music wasn't exactly time period specific, but it worked quite well as a backdrop for the scenes of 1930's Chicago.

It worked so well that it catapulted Joplin's "The Entertainer" into posterity forever.  Even today, every piano student wants to learn it!  They may not have a clue who wrote it, but they've heard it somewhere (or at least the first 6 notes), and by jove, they are going to learn it whether their piano teacher wants them to or not!

Scott Joplin died in New York City April 1st, 1917.  He is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery, which isn't far from the Steinway factory.  He has more fans than ever, and I look forward to continuing to learn his music, and teaching it to others.  It is such a joy not only to listen to, but to play as well.  It feels good to the ears and soul, and if feels good to the fingers too! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Auditorium Building Chicago (Where I went to School)

The Chicago College of Performing Arts, where I earned my Master's degree, is housed in the Auditorium Building in Chicago.  I took the picture above in the stairwell on one of my visits back after I graduated.  I think this is the seventh floor, though I forget exactly.

It was a joy to get to attend classes in such a building.  Artistic inspiration was all around me.  Getting to perform in Ganz hall (with its unique chandeliers) on a 9 foot Steinway piano was a highlight of my school experience.  Rudolph Ganz (who the hall is named for) is a well known historical figure in the musical history of this country.  He was originally from Switzerland, but became established here at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (the Chicago Musical College back then).  My teacher's studio, which had been his studio, had walls filled with pictures of all the great pianists and musicians of the past.  I can imagine all of the stories those pictures have attached to them.

The building was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.  It was completed in 1889, and was designated a Chicago Landmark in September of 1976, about one month before I was born.  A young Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in a bit of the interior design.  I'll spare you a rehashed wikipedia article about it, and send you off to this website... Auditorium Building.  It is a well done article with many more beautiful images of the inside.  Enjoy! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Practicing Tips for Children

It's a fact.  Getting children to practice can be a challenge.  I know.  I've been there.

But sometimes I come up with something that helps my kids to practice, and lessens my burden.  One of those ideas is to use a sand timer.  The one in the picture above lasts for 5 minutes.  I found it at a place called Ken's Educational Joys in a town not too far from me here in Pennsylvania.  I set it on the piano, and say something like, "Please practice such and such a piece for at least 3 turns of this timer."  Then I leave them on their own, trusting them to follow through.  I don't try to correct anything during this time.  They need to learn to regulate their own time, and they need to see that I'm trusting them to do that.

Another idea is to summons them to their instrument.  They have fun with this one.  At a random point, I will ring the bell.  Since I have two children, I use two different sounding bells.   They know which sound is theirs.  I will ring one or the other, and they are supposed to come into the music room to the instrument, and play a piece of my choosing from their "memorized" list.  This provides a good gauge on where they truly stand with the memorization, and can help focus the next true practice effort.

So, just a couple of ideas that help the kids learn to take responsibility for their own practicing, but also to provide a little bit of fun for all involved. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Is my Four Year Old too Young?

I was imagining the other day how I might answer that common question, "Is my 4 year old too young to start piano lessons?"  A different thought came to my mind this time.  In my head, my answer to this hypothetical parent was, "What if you were to take some lessons with me, and while you do that, teach your child yourself?  Then bring them to me for more formal lessons later."
Well, I really do think that it is a viable option.  A parent is who the child looks up to most, feels most comfortable with, and trusts most at that young age.  The parent would gain skills and confidence in a new skill that they could feel good about.  They might even be redeeming a lost love, having regrettably quit piano too soon.  Certainly, it would help to create beautiful memories with your child that nobody could ever take away from them (and you).