Saturday, February 22, 2014

Piano Duet Partners, Sight Unseen

Ottawa-based pianist and teacher Kathleen Prochnau recently tried out an innovative way of introducing collaborative skills to her group class: give everyone a duet assignment without knowledge of their partner's identity, work on the individual parts at everyone's lessons for an upcoming group session, then have everyone play with their mystery partner without rehearsal. In other words, create a fun and positive ensemble experience first, and deal with rehearsal details later. Here's what she did:
About a month ahead of the group class date I partnered all my students together and chose repertoire for each duo. Except, I didn’t tell them who their partner would be! I gave out one part of each duet to every student, and asked them to learn the music with the correct rhythm and the ability to play while counting aloud. I rehearsed with each student at their private lessons... 
...We talked about the process of preparing a duet: solo practice, first rehearsal with your partner, continued solo and duo rehearsals, duo rehearsals with the teacher, and finally performance. Each duo had a chance to come to the piano and try out the first run-through with their secret partner. We discussed tempo, page turns, and pedalling choices, and adapted to reading duet score. [The page layout is slightly different than solo piano score, and it's easy to get lost after a page turn.] Everyone learned how to sync up to a steady beat with another musician. Most importantly, we had a fun afternoon of making music together.
Kathleen's method of introducing the fun of ensemble playing couldn't have been better: play videos of the Piano Guys, Victor Borge, and Anderson & Roe.

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