Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pedagogical Tools for Score Reading

One of the most useful reading skills for working pianists can also be the most terrifying. Billie Whittaker in Good Company talks about the basics of score-reading and some pedagogical concepts behind it. She also references Brenda Wristen's Pedagogical tools for preparing and performing open scores and the large number of scores available on ChoralWiki. Billie's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Score Preparers is very useful for those starting out with the skill. Here they are in a paraphrased form:
  • identify unisons
  • write in functional or root/quality chord symbols
  • use arrows
  • write numbers between staves
  • group pitches in one hand on the score
  • use brackets to indicate similar repeated intervals or chords
  • identify voice crossings
In particular, I've found that writing functional or root/quality chord symbols is a simple but useful way of keeping your harmonic grounding in a sea of clefs.

Tackling the legendary Advanced Keyboard Skills class at Eastman was my first foray into score reading. The book that we used to learn the basics of the skill was Morris and Ferguson's Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading. The C clef exercises in particular were a game changer for us once we got the hang of the reading skills. For the course's final exam, we had to play the Exposition of Mozart's Magic Flute Overture from full score.

Little did I know just how useful the skill would be over the coming years, especially once I got into the new opera field. On many occasions during the workshop process, the only score available was the full one, which made score-reading skills absolutely essential.

How have you used score-reading superpowers in the profession? Leave a comment and tell us your stories!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Enhanced Repertoire Features are Coming to My Music Staff

Burlington, Ontario-based My Music Staff has been one of the primary tools in my teaching studio for several years. One of the features that I use the most is repertoire management, allowing you to select active repertoire for each student, which then shows up in both student and parent accounts, as well as in the lesson notes which get sent out at the conclusion of every lesson.

Yesterday MMS mentioned that major changes are in the works with the way repertoire is handled, including a dedicated repertoire menu, rich editing in repertoire notes, bulk assignment of repertoire (great for class situations), and auto-completion of multiple repertoire entries. Here's the video of the new features to be rolled out over the coming days:

Writing in depth about how I use My Music Staff to rock my students' studio experience (especially with lesson notes) is long overdue and something that I plan to do in the coming while.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Kevin Class on Musical Preparation for Pianists and Singers

When you're first starting out with opera productions, it's useful to have a template of what is expected, both regarding preparation before the production and how things operate during the rehearsal. Kevin Class' Opera Guidelines - A few helpful tips for opera pianists and singers is one of the best and most succinct guides I've seen. On the pianist's preparation before the first rehearsal:
With rehearsal time always at a minimum, the coaching or rehearsals are not the place for the pianist to be learning his/her score. When coaching singers individually, the pianist is solely responsible for progress in the rehearsal as there will usually be no conductor (or anyone else) present. The pianist’s job is correcting all pitches, rhythms, text and diction. Moreover, it is the pianist’s responsibility to make sure the singer has thoroughly studied the character and made strong musical decisions based on their decisions of character. Since the pianist will, in fact, lead the singer through all facets of preparation (technical, dramatic and musical), the pianist must have a complete knowledge of the score, the language, the libretto, the characters, the performance traditions AND be able to play the score and sing all parts with perfection BEFORE meeting for the very first rehearsal.
On the rehearsal process:
Since the pianist is expected to be able to follow a conductor, play the score with great security and virtuosity (sounding like the world’s greatest orchestra) and catch all mistakes the singers are making in pitch, rhythm, text and diction and be able to sing any missing vocal parts when necessary (while continuing to play), the pianist must then be the most prepared of anyone in the room.
Kevin's rundown of the learning process for singers learning operatic roles is first-rate, and he emphasizes the responsibility of the pianist/coach to guide them through it.

Kevin Class is the Director of the Collaborative Piano program and Music Director of the Opera Theatre at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. I knew Kevin for a short time when we studied at the Holland Music Sessions in the Netherlands back in the 90's. His performance of the Elliott Carter Piano Sonata that summer was highly memorable, and I still remember it after the passage of several decades.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

18 Blogs I Follow in 2018 (And They're Not All About Music)

The ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter have monopolized the attention of many of us, and that comes at a cost of discovery of the rich array of writing that can still be found on the internet. Many of the blogs on today's list have been around for a long time, and what they all share is that these are the writers whose work inspired me to return to the world of blogging after a lengthy hiatus. 

You won't find any clickbait titles on this list, nor will you find all that much in the way of Facebook-worthy material. What you will find is personal experience, honesty, and the pull of authentic writing that keeps you coming back for more, day after day. This is the really good stuff on the internet. Enjoy!
  1. CJ Chilvers - CJ is a writer and photographer from Chicago who crafts useful, well-grounded articles on intelligent and sane ways to utilize technology. And he likes Van Halen.
  2. Cultural Offering - Kurt Harden's whimsical look at life, humour, music, politics, and family. 
  3. Daring Fireball - Nerds among us will know John Gruber as the inventor of Markdown syntax. He also blogs elegantly about tech, culture, and politics. 
  4. Execupundit - Michael Wade's wit and wisdom show that you don't have to write long articles in order to become one of the top bloggers in the world. Great ideas for business and life can be found here. 
  5. Kottke - Jason Kottke has been blogging longer than almost anyone else, starting his site in 1998. The sheer variety of the stuff from around the internet is worth multiple visits. 
  6. Marginal Revolution - If you subscribe to only one blog from this list, it should be Marginal Revolution. The scope of Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen's interest is immense, and MR is one of the few political blogs that is genuinely open-minded. 
  7. Melanie Spanswick - Melanie brings a deep musical understanding to all her work, with loads of useful practice tips, book/product profiles, and guest authors. 
  8. Nicholas Bate - Who ever said that great blogging needed to be verbose? Nicholas's articles go straight to the point and offer some of the best advice on leadership and life that you can find. 
  9. Patrick Rhone - The latest incarnation of Patrick's long blogging career is a short-form blog, but you have a difficult time finding a more honest and down-to-earth blogger. 
  10. Penelope Trunk Careers - Hilarious and often wildly inappropriate, Penelope shows that being professional and being authentic are often two different things. Whenever I talk to people about the tone they should adopt when writing for the web, I always point people towards Penelope's blog. If readers see your true self with all its imperfections, they will love you, they will come back for more, and they will buy what you're selling. 
  11. Pete Denison - Pete writes about fountain pens and coffee. How can you go wrong with that? His reviews are thorough, and many of the top pens in my collection are ones that Pete has reviewed favorably. 
  12. Sandow - Classical music is facing a future that is not at all certain. If it is to survive, we should all be following the ideas and direction put forward by Greg in this magnificent and long-running blog. 
  13. Schmopera - A few days ago I asked my class at The Glenn Gould School about their favourite classical music blogs. Every one of them mentioned Schmopera. Jenna Simeonov's writing and interviewing skill comes from a place of immense experience and love of the lyric stage, and a deep dive into her archives is well worth your time.
  14. Study Hacks - We spend too much time on our electronic devices, and it comes at a cost to our  cognitive ability. Cal Newport's ongoing project is a way for us to reclaim that innate focus so that we can have the time and focus to create awesome things. 
  15. Susan Eichhorn Young - Building a musician isn't just about accomplishment and excellence, it's about building the whole person. Susan's philosophy emphasizes craft and authenticity, and is a welcome antidote for many of us facing overwhelm in the profession. 
  16. The Cramped - Patrick Rhone's second offering on the list, and with good reason. A celebration of all things pens and stationery, and the hidden advantages of writing by hand. 
  17. The Pen Addict - Brad Dowdy's blog is in large part the reason that fountain pens have made such a major comeback in the last few years. Unlike our ubiquitous digital devices, pens are personal, have no expiry date, and help us to organize our complex lives in ways that are much more in tune with our brains. Definitely worth a jump down the rabbit hole, even if it blows your budget. 
  18. The Rest Is Noise - This list would not be complete without Alex Ross' long-running blog. The Rest Is Noise and its enormous influence is one of the reasons that I got into blogging in the first place way back in 2005. 

It was quite tough putting this list together, and it might become an annual event in the coming years. If you have any blogs you would like to share, leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Gavin Bryars - The North Shore

It's been just over 10 years since the closure of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, but their recorded legacy lives on. Here's Nicolò Eugelmi playing Gavin Bryar's The North Shore with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, conducted by Owen Underhill:

Monday, April 30, 2018

Christopher Goldsack's Mélodie Treasury

Art song and language resources are a useful addition to anyone's coaching arsenal, and I was glad to make the acquaintance of Christopher Goldsack's Mélodie Treasury. It would be well worth your time to spend a few hours looking through these resources, including a sizeable index of art song translations, a concise and well worded guide to singing in French, and Christopher's own publications for sale.

On French as a legato language:
One of the big differences between French and English – and German and Italian for that matter – is how stresses are handled in French. In English the rhythm of the language takes you from one stressed syllable to the next, and this rhythm is called a metre. In French stresses are generally created by lengthening a syllable without extra weight. This results in a far greater fluidity in the spoken language. There is an imperative when singing in French above all other languages, which is to create a legato line.
Christopher's quick rundown on the vowels of French:

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Aurora Piano Quartet Plays Fauré

Some music to start off your weekend - the Geneva-based Aurora Piano Quartet plays Gabriel Fauré's Second Piano Quartet in G minor Op. 45. The Aurora Piano Quartet are:
  • Tomás Alegre, piano 
  • Amia Janicki, violin 
  • Natanael Ferreira, viola 
  • Gabriel Esteban, cello
Last month they announced on their Facebook page their upcoming residency at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium, and this will be an excellent opportunity for them to check out the local chocolate scene.