Monday, February 15, 2021

David Webb's Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

"Blokes don't talk about stuff." These words of David Webb are a launching-point for a Winterreise that is grounded in a concern for mental health. Webb's Winterreise features four singers instead of one, and is conceived as more of a conversation rather than a solitary journey.  

If you're interested in this project, consider giving to David Webb's JustgGiving page

Here's the full personnel for the recital:

David Webb, tenor Alessandro Fisher, tenor Rupert Charlesworth, tenor Benedict Nelson, baritone Iain Burnside, piano

(Image courtesy of Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash)

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

I Also Write Another Blog

Wendy Hatala Foley, New Day, 48'x40', acrylic on canvas

The cadence of articles on the Collaborative Piano Blog has alternated between periods of frenzied activity and long hiatus. It's a huge challenge to be a long-term blogger, and my interests and passions tend to change over time, not to mention the amount of work on my plate. 

For the last while I've been writing a second blog at Foley Music and Arts. While my articles here focus on collaborative piano and piano pedagogy, at FMA my articles have a much wider scope and talk about creativity, productivity, entrepreneurship, and navigating media. 

Wendy also showcases and sells her paintings on the site, which has grown greatly during the pandemic. You can read more about our story on Digital Main Street

Here are some of my articles on Foley Music and Arts from the last while:

But the important thing is I'm back to a regular blogging schedule. I'll be talking about how I got to this point in a future post. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Where to Find All the Level 9 and 10 Chord Progressions for RCM Piano Exams

One of the challenges of Level 9 and 10 piano in The Royal Conservatory's Piano Syllabus, 2015 Edition is learning to play the I - VI - IV - V6/4 - 8-7 - I chord progression in all the keys (C through F major/minor for Level 9, G flat/F# through B major/minor for Level 10). What makes things more challenging is that the chord progression is only ever written out in the Piano Syllabus at the bottom of page 105. If you use the comprehensive Piano Technique Book offered by the RCM, you can find the chord progression at the bottom right of page 54 under "Additional Exercises", although you'll have to change one note on the third chord in order to turn it into a subdominant chord.

But this is no big deal for most pianists learning the level. The Level 9 and 10 chord progressions were always intended as a keyboard skill, and learning how to transpose the progression into six major and minor keys is part of that skill. I've been teaching my students this way for years.

However, not every student can develop those transposition skills without the aid of reading the chords - sometimes they need the score to get these progressions into their fingers. Karen Rowell has created a series of two PDF files that have the chord progressions for each level written out in full. She also included a couple of alternate voicings. 

You can find both documents here:

Level 9 progressions

Level 10 progressions

Best of luck on your senior-level exams! If you have any other questions about preparing for RCM exams, feel free to leave a message in the comments. 

(Photo courtesy of Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash)

look inside Piano Repertoire 10 Celebration Series. From The Royal Conservatory Piano Syllabus, 2015 edition. Celebration Series. 172 pages. RCM Publishing.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Lied Society Presents Michelle Cann

Abe Hunter's latest episode of The Lied Society features Michelle Cann, pianist, teacher, community innovator, and the the Eleanor Sokoloff Chair in Piano Studies at Curtis Institute of Music. In her hour-long interview, Michelle talks about teaching at Curtis, balancing solo and collaborative work, and the importance of being well-rounded. Midway through the podcast is a lovely performance of Michelle playing the second movement of Florence Price's Piano Sonata in E minor - this is a first-rate American work that you really need to check out. 

Friday, February 05, 2021

Muzewest Concerts Presents Russian Winter with Alexander Malikov

Since the start of the pandemic, my professional student Jennifer West has grown Vancouver's Muzewest Concerts to become one of the city's most active concert series, with a regular lineup of concerts, workshops, masterclasses, and podcasts. 

Since all their events are now online and they can no longer fly artists into Vancouver, Muzewest are utilizing performance venues in other cities. Their recent Russian Winter event with Alexander Malikov was filmed at Toronto's Grace Church on-the-Hill. 

Here's Alexander Malikov's full recital - his program is the Scriabin's second piano sonata and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition:

Jennifer also invites younger viewers to participate in this learning activity and send in a submission for the chance to win a special prize.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Join and Watch CyberCollab, an Online Event for Collaborative Projects on February 12

CyberCollab is a project from Kimly Wang (studying at the New England Conservatory) and Yolanda Tapia (on staff at Western University in Ontario) to bring attention to the diversity of work happening in the collaborative piano community. 

The performance will be live on Zoom on Friday, February 12 at 8pm EST. Here's how you can participate:

We'd like to invite all collaborative pianists to participate in our event by submitting a 5-15 minute video of them performing duo repertoire with a partner. It could be one movement of a duo sonata, a group of songs, or a character piece...Due to the Covid situation, the video does not have to be recent. 

There is no age limit and no application fee!!! Selected performances will be presented at our Zoom Concert Event "live". The audience will be given the opportunity to vote for their favourite performance at the concert. The pianist who gets the most votes will win a Focusrite Scarlett Studio bundle to assist the pianist for future recording projects. The concert will be posted on CollaborativePianists social media platforms afterwards for all audience members to vote. The final votes will be cumulated from both the concert and the social media platforms. Concert attendance each has 10 votes, whereas social media users each has 1.  

The submission deadline is Feb 5th, 2021. 

Send in your stuff, people! You can find more information at the CyberCollab page at

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Choral Collaboration: Be Inspired to Inspire

Today's post is by Jaime Namminga, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Collaborative Piano Area at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago, Jaime contacted me about the possibility of writing a short article about choral collaboration. 

Jaime and I acknowledge the very difficult time that those in the choral community are facing. Whether you're in a green zone where the COVID-19 virus is not prevalent or one of the most hard-hit places in the United States, the short-term future of choral singing will be very challenging indeed. No matter where the solution lies, now is the perfect time to learn the pianistic skills that will enable you to become a valued collaborator with any choir once the situation improves and we can once again sing together in harmony.


In reference to collaborative piano assignments, I have heard students say things like “this one is JUST a choral piece…easy stuff.” If pianists consider musical collaborations as opportunities to both inspire and be inspired, as I do, a choral collaboration comprises a lot of people, which means a lot of inspiration and a large responsibility from all involved. How does a pianist approach the art of choral accompanying? Whether you are a veteran to choral accompanying and are looking for some new teaching tips or are a pianist new to the choral scene yourself, I invite you to consider my insight of the following choral accompanying components: working with a conductor, reading an open score, playing a choral score with piano writing, and playing an orchestral reduction.

Working with a Conductor
  • Establish a trusting relationship – you want them to know you are reliable to both be at rehearsal in a timely fashion and to be an asset at the piano.
  • Ask yourself, what logistical expectations does the conductor have of you? Will you play warm-ups? Lead sectionals? Is your vocal input welcomed? 
  • Be observant – get to know their conducting style very well and what they prioritize – high expectations? Immediate note and rhythm picker on the first couple read-throughs? Or are they going for a broad understanding according to the overall musical map? 
  • Become a mind-reader – predict and anticipate rehearsal spots by detecting errors. Then you are ready to give starting pitches before being told a page and measure number. It helps to be a step ahead whenever possible. 

Reading an Open Score 

  • Look at the overall map – what form is the piece? Is there repetition? 
  • You cannot play everything. “Fake it til you make it.” 
  • Know the bass!!! This is the harmonic foundation, and you playing out the bass line will encourage the basses to sing out, thus aiding the rest of the choir in their parts. 
  • Be a music theory nerd – according to the bass line, look at the chord progressions to see how vertically, the parts line up – even if you can’t play every note as written, you can at least help singers to hear how their note fits into the chord. 
  • Beyond the bass, recognize what parts need help. i.e. If sopranos are golden, no need to play every note of their part while the poor tenors are suffering (no offense to tenors, only an example 😉). 
  • Be prepared to play any combination of parts, but…recognize the relationship between parts. i.e. If there are sections where bass and alto are in unison and tenor and soprano are in unison, there is a high possibility the conductor will rehearse those parts together. 
  • The tenor part is in treble clef but down the octave. 
  • Give starting pitches mp – make sure you’re heard but no need to pound. 
  • Recognize who has the melody when. 
  • Use 2 hands to play parts, even if they are close in register – no need to come up with fancy fingerings when you have enough challenge before you playing the parts correctly. 
  • Play out – you are there to help singers learn their parts, so make sure everyone can hear you. Don’t be shy! 
  • Demonstrate the vocal phrasing that the conductor desires, in the way you play it. Singers look to both the conductor and the pianist for help with the musicality! 
  • Never stop – the singers will keep singing, so you must keep playing. There is no time to be a perfectionist in this situation. If you start to fumble, hold on to something and get back on. 

Playing a Choral Score With Piano Writing

  • Map out the music – what is the form? Strophic? Through-composed? 
  • Know the character of the piece. 
  • Focus practice time on the tricky spots – efficient practicing. 
  • Relationship between vocal and piano parts – may be motives to bring out. 
  • Breaths – how do these affect pacing of the phrases and how do you work with the conductor to set these up successfully? 
  • Intros, interludes, postludes, short piano solos within phrases – take every opportunity to be musical and inspiring! Singers should do what the conductor shows, but no amount of gesture will achieve the desired sound if the pianist is boring. 
  • When learning the score, sing the melody line while playing your own part to know the piece more intimately. 
  • Look for text painting opportunities. 
  • Have one eye in your music and the other eye on the conductor at all times – be ready for anything and assume nothing!! Ritardandos, Accelerandos, Decrescendos, Crescendos…..
  • Gauge your dynamics by an awareness of the choir’s size – may have to keep piano lid on half stick for sake of audience seeing the choir, so you adjust your volume accordingly. 
Playing an Orchestral Reduction 
  • This changes our physical approach to the keys, articulations, and pedaling. 
  • Where is your role more percussive and where is it more lyrical? 
  • Know what instruments you are imitating and do it to the best of your ability. 
  • You likely cannot play everything or do not want to, depending on how true the reduction is to the full score – what’s most important? 
    • Bass support and harmonic foundation are first and foremost – write in chord analysis.
    • Be very articulate so the pulse is clear and bring out the rhythms. 
    • Correct style according to the time period/composer, e.g. if you are playing a Mozart mass, you won’t be using blurry pedaling and rubato. The purpose of your pedal usage is to give depth of sound to the “double basses” and maybe some connectivity of line. 
    • If it causes the tempo to slow, leave it out! No one cares that you cleanly finished your Hanon exercise if you’re a mile behind. 
Have fun and show some pride – after all, you are one pianist representing an entire orchestra! 😊