Friday, July 11, 2014

NO Piano Lessons Monday July 14!

The studio is just about cleared out and most things moved to the center of the room so that the painters can start painting Tuesday morning.

I had planned on teaching Monday, but with everything moved, it is far too difficult (but not impossible!) to get to the piano.

Painting is supposed to take only two days so it should be done on Wednesday (or Thursday) and completely dry before lessons on July 21.

Thanks for your understanding and keep practicing! Next lesson, the studio will be a pretty blue color :)

Please let me know you got this!

Mary O'Connor

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Van Cliburn, American classical pianist, dies

cdcovers/tchaikovsky/concerto no 1 van cliburn.jpg
cdcovers/tchaikovsky/concerto no 1 van cliburn.jpg (Photo credit: exquisitur)
Van Cliburn was just a pianist much the way Neil Armstrong was merely an astronaut. Simply put, the tall Texan's musical talent and successes were out of this world.

Cliburn, who died Wednesday February 27, 2013 at age 78 at his Fort Worth home due to complications from bone cancer, was 23 when he strode into Moscow for the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition, created to showcase Soviet cultural superiority.

Playing with unerring precision and sublime emotion, he took the top prize and was given a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, the first and last time a pianist won such an honor.

"Imagine galvanizing the attention of the entire world in the pre-Internet, pre-global TV year of 1958," says Howard Reich, who got to know the Texas-based pianist while researching his 1993 biography, Van Cliburn. "As a Texan, he was so emblematic of the United States. But the Russians fell in love with his romanticism."

In many ways, however, that seminal performance both made his name and sealed his fate.
The pieces that won him the competition — Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 — sold countless records (his Tchaikovsky No. 1 was the first classical record to sell more than a million copies) and became required concert staples.

"Playing on that treadmill for the next 20 years led him to burn out, and by 1978 he looked terrible and bowed out of public life," says Reich. "He was a gentle soul, and that harsh public spotlight had a negative effect on him."
It would be nine years before Cliburn performed again, at the White House for Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Although he made occasional appearances in the following decades, he spent most of his time overseeing his foundation and a quadrennial competition that bears his name.

"I can't think of anyone who has done more to help promote the instrument and young performers than Van," says Cliburn's friend Yoheved Kaplinsky, chairman of the piano department at New York's Juilliard School of Music, which Cliburn attended. "He was an icon in Fort Worth, and a person of great humility."

Born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. in Shreveport, La., Cliburn started piano lessons at age 3 and immediately showed prowess under the watchful eye of his mother, who had trained on the instrument under a teacher who had studied with Franz Liszt.

After moving to Texas, Cliburn played with Houston's symphony at age 12, and at 17 entered Juilliard. At 20, he performed with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, setting the stage for his triumphant coup in Russia.
No one can imagine a ticker-tape parade for a pianist in this era, but in Cliburn's heyday he was as much an inevitable cultural icon as he was a reluctant political figure. In the late '50s, the Cold War was raging, the Beatles were still practicing and classical music still held sway.

But what truly made Cliburn unique was the humble ease with which he went about seducing the alleged enemy.
"Van marched in full of the musical values of the Old World, full of tremendous sincerity and with a remarkable ability to connect with audiences," says Kaplinsky. "He may have transcended the boundaries of the art world and breached into the political world, but foremost Van was a consummate artist."

That artistry is on display in various YouTube clips of Cliburn reprising his competition-winning form in Moscow in 1962. The pianist's eyes are often closed as massive hands fly across the length of the keyboard. Utterly lost in the music, Cliburn seems almost oblivious to his audience.

"He had more of everything," says Reich. "More height, more smiles, more sweep on the piano."

In his later years, Cliburn collected the usual array of awards accorded cultural heroes. A Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2001, a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, and in 2004 Russia's equivalent, the Russian Order of Friendship. In 2004, there was a predictable Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1994 a less-expected guest appearance as himself in the TV cartoon Iron Man.

On the personal front, Cliburn was a devout Baptist but also quietly gay; in the late '90s, his longtime partner, Thomas Zaremba, unsuccessfully sued the pianist over compensation claims.

Ultimately, Cliburn will be remembered not just as a performer of startling skill, but also as a global cultural sensation in the age of shortwave radio.

"He did something that no one could have ever imagined back then," says Reich. "He was ubiquitous."

Adapted from USA Today

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Music, 2013

Since I've become the webmaster for my church, I decided to write a series for 31 days of Christmas/holiday music. Find that here:

Friday, March 30, 2012

You're Never Too Old


My 88 year young Mom and my 80 year young duet partner play piano duets today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

So true...


This picture was shared on Facebook but I'm not sure where the original site is to give appropriate credit.

It's too good not to share, though! Many thanks to the artist and the author.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mozart's Fantasia in d minor, K. 397

I have always really enjoyed playing Mozart's Fantasia in d minor and when I was asked to play for the new piano dedication service at my church I knew what I would "dust off" to perform.

The Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians defines the genre of musical fantasia as “a piece of instrumental music owning no restriction of formal construction, but the direct product of the composer’s impulse.”

The Fantasia in d minor has somewhat unusual rhythm, constantly changing tempo (seven different tempi occur throughout the piece), three cadenzas and its apparent lack of any recognizable musical form (as indicated by the "Fantasy" title). Although it begins in d minor, the final section is in D Major.

Mozart composed this, his third and final, Fantasia in 1782 and it was unfinished at the time of his death in 1791.  Even Mozart's sister, "Nannerl", who came across the work in 1807, was astounded to have discovered a previously unknown composition of such quality.

In its original form this Fantasia was probability only a fragment of what was to be a larger work. The closing bars which are most frequently performed today originated from an unauthorized prin  believed to have been composed in 1806 by August Eberhard Müller, one of Mozart's admirers.

Because it was unfinished, many of the dynamic and pedal markings are nonexistant and left for the performer to choose.

As you can see from these videos, there is a wide range of tempi and interpretation from Frederich Gulda's 4 minute, 36 second rendition

to Glenn Gould's version which lasts for 8 minutes, 22 seconds

Both these performers have added their own ornamentation to Mozart's original work.

I will be playing from a G. Henley Verlag urtext edition instead of one of the many edited versions available.  I prefer to make my own musical decisions wherever possible.

The version below is originally from,_K.397/385g_(Mozart,_Wolfgang_Amadeus)  I had printed it out as another source to compare with mine, since this one has different dynamic and other interpretive markings.  This version also has 3 notes which differ from the urtext edition.

Mozart-fantasia-d-minor.pdf Download this file

I also used 3 other sources before I finally decided how I would shape my performance and choose my fingerings.
Some sites that I consulted as part of the learning process:
I've played this for just about everyone I know and on 4 different pianos and I think it's ready for Sunday night!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Piano lessons not just for kids


When Paula Fay started taking piano lessons for the first time in her late fifties, it fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“I always wanted to learn how to play as a child, but my parents couldn’t afford it,” she said.


Today, four years later, Paula can play some of her favorite tunes. And she’s loving every minute of it.

Some adults may groan at childhood memories of lesson after lesson, practice after practice and a lot of teacher nagging, but many wish those days were back.


And more and more, these adults are turning wishful thinking into reality. According to the National Piano Foundation, adults ages 25-55 are the fastest-growing segment of people learning piano.


When Ruth Ann Laye started teaching an adult piano class at Mandarin’s Keyboard Connection, there was only one weekday class. Now, she’s up to seven classes. And of her own private practice of 28, 11 are adults.


One of her students is Belinda May from St. Augustine, who is in her 60s and in her second year of piano lessons.


Though her brothers played piano, she was more athletically inclined than musical. Then after years of “picking” at the pianos in her house, she recently resolved to start taking lessons. A beginner when she started, “now I’m playing Christmas carols,” she said.


“It tells me that you’re never too old to learn something new.”


Maureen Rhodes, a piano teacher on the Southside, would likely agree. She has more adults in her practice than she did 20 years ago.


“I think baby boomers are looking for ways to stay active,” she said. “Sometimes, kids come to me for lessons and then when they grow up and leave, their mother starts to take lessons,” says Rhodes. “Other adults have a specific goal in mind, like they want to play in church or accompany their grandson.”


Sandra Stewart, outgoing president of the Jacksonville Music Teachers Association and adjunct professor teaching a non-degree adult piano course at Florida State College, believes technology is a big part of the reason for the greater interest in piano among adults.


“Keyboards are more affordable, and that’s made all the difference,” she says.


But the piano is not always a succession of high notes for the adult student. Says Stewart: “Adults can have problems with finger dexterity. If they never played before, this can be frustrating. People who use computer a lot have an advantage. But if they don’t have this experience, they have to get over that hurdle.”


And some adults expect to transform into Mozart overnight.


“They may be symphony patrons or just love classical music and want to play instantly and do it like the pros,” Rhodes says. “But they have to develop the skills first, and it takes a lot of patience.”


But for adults committed to learning, it can be very satisfying for student and teacher alike.


“Adults are there for their own pleasure,” said Marc Hebda, president of the Florida State Music Teachers Association. “They have wonderful enthusiasm; it’s fun to see them get excited. It’s also interesting that with the economic downturn, they are not cutting back on lessons or buying instruments. Piano is a constant source of entertainment and personal development.”


The key to any student learning well, whether that student is an adult or child, is finding the right teacher. Hebda stresses the importance of taking lessons from a teacher with a music degree.


“Some people who took piano figure it’s easy to teach. But credentials are very important. You wouldn’t go to a doctor without certification or a lawyer who didn’t pass the bar. All our teachers have a music degree or demonstrate teaching ability.”


Hebda also notes that rapport between teacher and student is important.


“The student should interview the teacher, because not all students and teachers are a good match.”


For those who want to fast-track the learning process, there are alternatives. “The Piano Guy,” Scott Houston, has been teaching piano using a non-traditional method through his shows on public station WJCT.


“It seemed like there was a single path to the world of piano: this long process of taking lessons,” he said. “But people want to play the tunes they know.”


So Houston came up with a simple way for adults to learn quickly, based on the concept behind “lead sheets,” which are used by professional musicians. Houston’s technique is to teach adults a single line of notes on the treble clef with their right hand and chords with their left.


“My goal is not to teach adults to be the greatest players but to be able to play the tunes they want to play,” Houston says.


His approach has clearly struck a chord, as his book has sold 300,000 copies and he has taught many adults through his workshops in Indiana and master class “piano camp” from his beach home in Fort Myers.

There’s also a new trend gaining traction called “recreational music making” — RMM — which like Houston’s approach focuses on a simplified method to teaching music. The goal is not for a student to become accomplished at the piano and perform, but rather to just have fun making music. It is often taught to adults in group settings, such as music stores, churches and senior centers.


“Research has found that RMM is very helpful for seniors, promotes hand/eye coordination and keeps the brain working,” said Erin Bennett, assistant professor of piano and pedagogy at the University of North Florida. “Its asset is the ability to reach more people; it’s more inclusive and easier for the non-experienced.”

Whether learning piano through traditional or nontraditional means, its many benefits include boosting self-confidence.


“When I first started, I didn’t think I could do it,” Fay said. “And my friends and family were in disbelief that I was taking lessons. Then they wanted to hear a concert. In another year, I might just do it.”


She gets some measure of satisfaction in surprising those around her.


“Society puts restrictions on us as we get older that we stop learning,” she says. “But we are wiser, more patience and accept our limitations.”