Thursday, July 31, 2008

What is Classical Music?

Today's question arose out of a conversation that I had on the way back from Stratford with Ann La Plante, general manager of the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects regarding exactly what, in this postmodern age of culture- and style-hopping, constitutes the meaning of "classical music". Is it the body of music constituting the western classical tradition of the last few centuries? Did it come to an end with the birth of atonality over a century ago? Or is it a constantly developing and expanding umbrella of styles with rapidly disappearing boundaries? Although this may seem like a purely academic question, I assure you that there is a huge amount of arts funding that hinges on just where the boundaries of classical music lie.

Leave your comments below with your answers to the following question:

What is Classical Music?

Leave a comment

Previous questions:

What is your core repertoire?
What are your peak musical experiences?

How to participate in the forums

An Afternoon at Stratford City Hall

Earlier today it was off to the council chambers of City Hall in Stratford, Ontario to play at the annual Harry Somers Lecture as part of Stratford Summer Music. This year's speaker was Bob McGrath of Sesame Street, who talked about the value of music education and the efforts of Sesame Workshop to reach out to children and create culturally appropriate Sesame Street spinoffs in countries such as South Africa, Kosovo, India, and Bangladesh.

Prior to Bob's lecture, a short program was offered of works by Harry Somers, in whose memory the lecture series is dedicated. Leonard Gilbert played Somers' Three Sonnets for piano, followed by soprano Kristin Wilkes and I performing his Conversation Piece for voice and piano. Alas, there was no acoustic piano available in the City Hall council chambers, so we had to make do with a Yamaha P-140S, which filled the space quite well through the council PA system.

Sadly, this was only a day trip...I'll have to wait until another day in order to explore more of Stratford.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Collaborative Piano Studies at Arizona State University

The School of Music in the Herberger College of the Arts at Arizona State University offers several degrees in collaborative piano, including Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts programs. Arizona State University was one of the first universities to offer degrees in this field. From the ASU Collaborative Piano page:
Collaboration at the School of Music means having an impact in all performance areas, including duo recitals with instrumental and voice colleagues, performances of the great chamber music literature on our Showcase series, work as rehearsal and pit pianists for the Lyric Opera Theater, and concerts with the large ensembles and choirs.

Classes in Art Song and Chamber Music literature, along with seminar classes exploring a variety of advanced topics such as lyric diction, vocal chamber music, Baroque and Bel Canto ornamentation, and orchestration at the piano enhance the performance aspects of the curriculum.

In addition to the wide variety of performance opportunities on campus, the collaborative piano program is dedicated to making an impact in the community. The faculty and students of the program collaborate with virtually every important artistic organization in the greater Phoenix area, including the Phoenix Symphony, the Arizona Opera, the Phoenix Bach Choir, the Phoenix Boys Choir, the Phoenix Chamber Music society, the Phoenix Early Music Society and several community colleges.

For more information, contact the ASU School of Music.

This posting is part of a project to create links for all known Degree Programs in Collaborative Piano. If you know of a degree program that isn't on the main list, please email me info and web documentation and I would be glad to add it to the listings.

Another Insane Piano-flinging Trebuchet Video

A piano collector of a different sort...

See also: Piano-flinging Trebuchet at Burning Man 2007

Raisin Brahms - High in Intellectual Fibre

Never underestimate the power of the arts in learning--or, for that matter, the ramming power of a grand piano.

(Via Americans for the Arts)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Must....practice..........but how?

In case you're hitting the practice room this summer, you've already got through my 31 Days to Better Practicing series, and are looking for still more inspiration, run, don't walk, to Piano Guy - Everything about the piano... for Piano Practice Demystified, a series-in-progress that looks at various aspects of practicing in order to create more effective habits of musical preparation. Best of luck to Piano Guy as he writes what promises to be a very useful series for many of us, pianists or otherwise.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

I've disagreed with Norman Lebrecht's ideas many times, but these recent remarks on the purpose of music critics made me cheer:

That is why newspapers need critics - to protect readers from the routinely awful and the meretricious rubbish that masquerades as novelty, and to excite them with the blood-rush of the real thing. This is also why people read newspapers - to find a voice they can trust to lead them through the barren wilderness to a kind of promised land.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Collaborative Pianists: What Are Your Peak Musical Experiences?

The life of a collaborative pianist is never easy, with constant deadlines, the expectations and insecurities of others, a frequent lack of respect, too many unfriendly pianos, and that money thing that always needs to be worked out.

Forum question #2 deals with those moments that make everything worthwhile, when we transcend all the other stuff in the joy of music-making with others:

What are your peak musical experiences?

Feel free to talk about those elusive moments, fleeting but life-changing, that you either experienced in the past or happen on a continual basis, either by yourself or with others, which make the collaborative enterprise a choice unlike any other.

Leave a comment

Previous question: What is your core repertoire?

How to participate in the forums

Bathroom Divas Season 2 Reruns Begin on Bravo!Canada Tonight

Starting Friday, July 25, Bravo!Canada will once again be showing Season 2 of Bathroom Divas at 10pm EDT. On piano, Season 2 features Nicole Bellamy, Susan Black, and myself. Catch the action one more time with Laura, Elaine, Robyn, Paul, Phil, and Donna vying to be the one that hears these words from Tom Diamond:

You.....are the chosen one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Leon Fleisher is 80 Today

Fondest birthday wishes to legendary pianist, teacher, and RCM faculty member Leon Fleisher, who turned 80 today.

NPR Music article, with a list of his finest recordings
Baltimore Sun article
Wikipedia article
Sony BMG's 4-part podcast series on Fleisher
Bio from the Kennedy Center

Here he is playing the first 9 1/2 minutes of the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand:

Piano as a Second Language

Over the last year at the Royal Conservatory, I've begun teaching piano to many people who already play other instruments or sing but also wish to learn the piano. Many of them feel as if the process of learning the piano answers a lot of questions posed by playing other instruments.

Why is this?

Matt Rushton at Live Musician Central writes about the importance of learning piano as a logical starting point for understanding the elements of music:

I started to figure out how to play the individual guitar chords on the piano and that’s when the musical revelations started to happen. I saw how when I played the C, F and G chords how I only used white keys on the piano. I finally figured out this was the I-IV-V chord progression for the key of C. From there, the chordal world opened up to me as I could see how the chords fit in with each each key having learned all the major scales during my piano studies. Once I began to use the piano and guitar together the world of both instruments opened up to me. The revelations always seemed to come from the piano.

What Matt discovered is that theoretical concepts of chordal playing on guitar were actually visible from the layout of the piano keys. There is something about the layout of the notes that most of us completely miss unless coming to the piano from a different instrument:

For one thing it is laid out in a very logical manner. Think of the keys all in a row from left to right, low note to high note in a 12-note western scale repeating pattern. It’s easy to learn and memorize. Contrast that with a guitar whose strings are tuned in 5ths, except for the 2nd string which is tuned to a 4th. The guitar has the lowest string at the top and the highest at the bottom. You have to learn the guitar vertically as well as horizontally. I always struggle teaching beginning students their way around the guitar. Not so with the piano.
Which is something so absolutely basic that experienced pianists often fail to realize how important the piano's visual patterns are in learning concepts such as pitch, contour, intervals, and chords. In addition, the piano allows us to play and create music with not just one melodic or chordal line, but to combine voices, textures, registers, rhythmic patterns, create both melody and harmony, foreground and background.

Nevertheless, the piano is essentially a percussion instrument (Hint: look inside one) and not without its drawbacks. Singers, wind and brass players utilize the breath to create phrases (singers also have language at their disposal to create musical meaning), string players can control nearly every aspect of a sound with the bow, guitarists can easily be mobile when playing, and percussionists have a huge family of different instruments at their disposal.

But only the piano provides the graph paper to allow you to see the musical landscape.

What revelations about learning music have you experienced from the piano? What revelations about learning music have you experienced from non-keyboard instruments?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tal & Groethuysen Duo Live at WGBH on July 23

Tomorrow morning at 11am EDT, duo pianists Tal & Groethuysen will be appearing live in WGBH's Fraser Performance Studio in Boston in a performance of piano duet and duo music for the Classics in the Morning program. On the program are Schubert's Fantasia in f minor as well as Victor Babin's Six Etudes for Two Pianos.

You'll get two chances to hear this concert tomorrow: the first (with the live piano duet/duo action) at 11am on WGBH 89.7, the second at 6pm on WGBH All-Classical. Both feeds are available via the WGBH website.

(Thanks, Edgar!)

Southern Illinois Launches Collaborative Piano Program

In the fall of 2009, the School of Music at Southern Illinois University will be offering a Master of Music degree in Collaborative Piano. From an article in today's issue of The Southern:
Paul Transue, assistant professor and a music coach in the School of Music, said the new concentration allows SIUC to help students focus on specific career goals in performance music.

“The new concentration in Collaborative Piano allows us to train pianists for work in opera houses as coaches and accompanists, as vocal coaches for singers, and as performers and accompanists in chamber and instrumental music settings,” he said.

Having such a concentration at the graduate level also helps undergraduate students, he said, because they can access more and more highly trained collaborative pianists to help with their own performances.

Monday, July 21, 2008

YouTube Moonlight Sonata Comments....Dramatized

This is totally nuts but I love it....
Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe dramatize ACTUAL text comments posted on YouTube in response to performances by Horowitz, Rubinstein, Kissin, Kempff, Argerich, and other legendary pianists.

(Thanks, Patti!)

David DQ Lee Sings Caccini's Ave Maria on Korean TV

Last month I posted a video of Korean-Canadian countertenor David DQ Lee singing Handel's Va Tacito at the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Here's David with his unique voice singing Caccini's Ave Maria for the Korean television show "Yoon Do-Hyun's Love Letter".

What Is Your Core Repertoire?

In the course of studies, work, teaching, and performances, collaborative pianists are known for being able to play an incredibly diverse amount of music. However, many pianists have a tendency to return to and become known for working with specific instruments, voices, genres, and composers.

Whether you end up playing violin concertos, bel canto arias, French opera, musical theater, cello sonatas, Schubert lieder, trombone works, or new work, specialization can bring a focus to your work and help you to develop a niche for yourself in the profession. Today's question deals with the repertoire that you specialize in, either as a result of your own interest and abilities, or having fallen into it:

What is your core repertoire?

Your comments are welcome, and remember that there are a number of ways to leave a comment, either using your own name, using an alias, or writing anonymously!

Leave a comment here

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Season 2 Episode 4 Bathroom Divas Clip

Ovation TV has posted a fair number of promotional Bathroom Divas clips on YouTube since they began carrying both seasons of the show in the US. As the pianist who logged the largest number of on-camera hours in both seasons, I was naturally curious to see if I showed up in any of them. Sure enough, the Season 2 Episode 4 clip is one where I'm playing for the coaching sessions. The first part shows Paul and Laura coaching the Boheme Act I duet with Mary Lou Fallis, and the second part shows Phil and Elaine sorting out their differences in a rehearsal of the Merry Widow duet.

On television, what's hard to get a sense of was just how resonant the living room sounded in the house used for the show (located in the Bridle Path neighborhood of North Toronto). The living room's ceiling goes up two stories and the Steinway D brought in for the duration of the show was not out of place in that room...

Also be sure to check out the Season 2 Episode 4 recap I wrote when the show first aired in 2007.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How To Participate in the Collaborative Piano Forums 08

On Monday, July 21 and running until the end of August, I'll be posting several discussion topics about issues important to collaborative pianists and open to everyone to participate in (Hint: there will be several questions for non-pianists...) Each posting will be a springboard for conversations in which you can participate. Feel free to comment whenever you feel the need to chime in and take part in the discussion in the comments section of each blog posting.

In case you've never posted a comment on a blog before, there are a number of ways you can do this, either using your name, an alias, or anonymously. The Collaborative Piano Blog uses the Blogger platform, which gives you a number of options to both read and add comments.

Leaving Comments

1. Getting Started. Find the link that reads "Post a comment" or "[x] comments". Click on it and it will take you to the comment page, where you can write your comment and determine your sign in method to submit it. After leaving your comment, scroll down to the section that reads "Choose an identity". You can now use one of the following sign-in methods.

2. Google/Blogger Accounts. If you have a Gmail address, Google account, or Blogger account, you can sign in with that identity to leave your comment. These accounts will not be completely anonymous, but will show the name of your account. After clicking on this option, you can also click a box that will enable you to have follow-up comments emailed to you.

3. Open ID Accounts. If you have an OpenID, LiveJournal, WordPress, TypePad, or AIM account, you can sign in here. If you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, skip to #4.

4. Name/URL. Many people feel very strongly about their privacy on the internet. For those who have no wish to divulge their real names, this is an excellent option. Just choose a name (either your own or a nom de plume) and away you go. For those who would like to list both their name and a link to their website, you can also do it here.

5. Anonymous. The most frequent commenter on the Collaborative Piano Blog. This setting will completely anonymize your comment, although readers won't be able to tell it apart from those of other anonymous commenters. If you're engaged in a conversation, it might be a better to think of a clever nom de plume and use #4 instead so you can assume the same identity from conversation to conversation.

Keeping Up With Comments

Now that you've left a comment, it's worthwhile to check back from time to time to see what others have said on the same subject. Here are some ways you can do that.

1. Bookmark the Collaborative Piano Blog. Using either your browser or a bookmark service such as or Ma.gnolia, create a bookmark so you can come back and check out the latest comments.

2. Bookmark the Collaborative Piano Forums 08 Page. This page will show all postings in the CPF08 series with the most recent ones at the top of the page and the older ones below.

3. Subscribe to the Collaborative Piano Blog. You don't actually need to visit this site in order to keep up to date with what's going on with new postings. One great way to have updates delivered to you is via either a subscription in a feed reader or an email subscription. Many feed readers also list the number of comments after every posting in order to find the conversations. in a blog. Subscriptions are free and a huge time-saver for those of you who like to keep up with the web but don't have that much time to surf from site to site. (Not sure what RSS feeds are? Here's an excellent site that explains what they are and how to use them.)

4. Subscribe to Comments. This is a subscription that will have the comments from a specific Collaborative Piano Blog article sent to you as they are submitted. Unlike the main site feed (which is administrated by FeedBurner), a comments feed requires you to subscribe from a feed reader. At the very bottom of the individual posting page, look for the line that reads "Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)", click on the link, cut and paste the url into your feed reader, and wait for the next comment. You can also subscribe to all comments from the Collaborative Piano Blog, which you can find here.

To give you an example of a fascinating and rather raucous comments thread from a previous posting, take a look at Should Accompanists Charge Clients For Practice Time? The 21 comments on that posting from last month give you a good idea of where a conversation can go in a blog.

In case you're not sure where the conversations are, I'll be posting a navigation picture at the top of the right-hand sidebar so you can go to the CPF08 series from any page on the blog.

See you Monday morning for the first topic!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Natalie Dessay Sings the 2nd Queen of the Night Aria

Here's a 2001 video of Natalie Dessay in the ultimate Mozartean ear-pulling, guilt-tripping tirade, singing Der Hölle Rache from Die Zauberflöte:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vote For Jonathan Deveau in Canada's Hockey Anthem Challenge

With a great deal of pride and admiration, this shameless promotion is on behalf of Jonathan Deveau, one of my piano students at the Royal Conservatory. Jonathan is entered in Canada's Hockey Anthem Challenge, the competition to determine the theme song for CBC Sports' Hockey Night in Canada. Here is his submission:

To help Jonathan win, you can vote on this page on the Hockey Anthem site, as well as check out Jonathan's Facebook group.

Collaborative Piano Studies at the University of Arizona

The University of Arizona School of Music in Tucson, Arizona offers two degrees in the collaborative field, consisting of a Master of Music in Accompanying and a Master of Music in Dance Accompanying. Course information for both Master's level degrees can be found on page 11 of the Grad Handbook. From the School of Music website:
The University of Arizona has offered instruction in music since the late 1800's. Today, its School of Music ranks among the country's foremost institutions of higher education in music. A nationally and internationally recognized faculty of sixty-one artists and scholars provides instruction, inspiration, and guidance to the School's approximately 485 music majors. School of Music graduates hold significant teaching, performing, and administrative positions throughout the country and abroad. In the years ahead, The University of Arizona School of Music will continue to play an important role in the training of performing artists, teachers, and scholars.
Application information
Faculty listings

Return to the full Degree Programs list

Are Estonia Grands the Piano World's Best-kept Secret?

When the first Estonia pianos made their way to Vancouver in the mid-90's, I was immediately struck by the unique quality of tone on the pianos that I tried. An article in Sunday's Columbus Dispatch looks at the story of these Talinn-made instruments, sold for a fraction of the price of their Steinway competitors.

Does anyone have any experience with owning an Estonia over time? Your comments are welcome as to how these instruments grow and change through the years. One of the important things about purchasing pianos is not only how they sound in the showroom but how the instrument's mechanism stands up to years of playing.

On YouTube, there are a few clips of pianists playing Estonias. Here's one of them--Andy Quin taking a 9-footer for a test drive at the Talinn factory:

Estonia pianos home page
Wikipedia entry on the Estonia Piano Factory

(Image via the Suzuki-Orff School of Music's photostream on Flickr)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vocal Accompanist Position Available at Scripps College

Ursula Kleinecke at Scripps College (near Los Angeles) recently asked me to publicize the following job posting for a Vocal Accompanist Position beginning in September. The deadline for the position was officially July 2, but my understanding is that Scripps is still seeking applicants at this time.

Here is the complete job listing:

Staff Position: VOCAL ACCOMPANIST #670

Scripps College, the women's college of The Claremont Colleges, invites applications for the position of Vocal Accompanist in the Music Department. This is a part-time position (15 hrs/wk) during the 2008-2009 academic year (approximately 30 weeks) commencing in September 2008.


Accompanist for group voice classes, private voice lessons and substitute for choral rehearsals.


A bachelor's degree or equivalent experience. Must have knowledge of vocal repertoire, experience accompanying vocal and choral literature at the college level, and sight-reading competency.


To apply, send a cover letter, resume with three professional references relevant to this position (please include names, addresses and phone numbers), and a CD recording that demonstrates accompanying skills to: Ursula Kleinecke, Music Department, Scripps College, 1030 Columbia Street, Claremont, CA 91711.


July 2, or until filled.

Scripps College is one of the seven members of The Claremont Colleges cluster located 35 miles east of Los Angeles. In a continuing effort to enrich its academic environment and provide equal educational and employment opportunities, Scripps College actively encourages applications from women and members of historically underrepresented groups.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


That's the ranking of the Collaborative Piano Blog in the latest edition of Scott Spiegelberg's classical music blog rankings based on Technorati authority, which measures the number of inbound blog links--a measure of blog popularity, although not without controversy, as the comments show on Scott's posting.

And what have I been up to in the last few weeks? After an intense but pleasurable week examining in Hamilton for RCME, Wendy and I travelled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for (nearly) two weeks in the sun. Our stay at the Riu Palace Punta Cana was mostly uneventful, except for a few unexpected adventures related to airline delays, a relentless campaign to get a room with working AC upon our arrival, and a white-knuckle taxi ride through Bavaro to the airport on the last day. Other than that, we spent most of our time at the pool, getting getting baked in the Caribbean sun, reading, and exploring the art of the tropical cocktail. All in all, it was a great way to unwind after a busy but successful year.

A great gadget that Wendy got me for my 40th birthday (June 28th), was an iPod Touch, which allowed me to keep up with email and Facebook for two weeks through the hotel's wifi. Now that we're back, it's business as usual at the Collaborative Piano Blog, and in the coming weeks look for updates to the Degree Programs listings, more additions to the Core Repertoire project, as well as the launching of the Collaborative Piano Forums 08 on July 21.