Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year from the Collaborative Piano Blog

As I sit here sipping a festive glass of Polish bison grass vodka, I would like to wish every one of you all the best for the next stage of your musical journey. May you combine the richness of of genuine artistic discovery with the satisfaction of financial success. May you build on your strengths and recognize your weaknesses. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so I hope you have the courage to take that step, persevere, and reach your goals. Success takes many forms, and may yours bring new growth to the musical field as well as the realization of just how important you are to the musical community.

Best wishes for a safe, healthy, and profitable 2011 from the Collaborative Piano Blog!

Salvador Dali Piano Sculpture

lady piano legsThat Salvador Dali piano sculpture is sporting some serious pumps, and was spotted at the Time Warner Center in NYC by kiminnyc. For a better but non-embeddable look at the sculpture, take a look at these two photos by wallyg, who writes:
Surrealist Piano was first conceived in 1954 and cast in 1984. The mold was created and approved during Dali's lifetime. This 98-inch bronze casting was cast in 2000 at Perseo SA Foundry.
You can read more about the exhibition here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mangalesh Dabral's Accompanist Poem

Christmas tablaIn India, the art of the tabla accompanist is every bit as intricate and satisfying as that of the piano collaborator/accompanist in the European tradition. I can also imagine that tabla accompanists (collaborators!) have to deal with the same sidekick/flunky stereotypes that many of us in the European tradition are fighting to make a thing of the past. Accompanist by Hindi poet Mangalesh Dabral looks at the years of apprenticeship and traveling recollected in the act of performance. Here's an excerpt from the English translation:
Accompanying the main singer’s monolith-weighed voice
His own is beautiful delicate and quavering
He is the singer’s younger brother
Or his apprentice
Or a distant relative who travels on foot to learn
Under the main singer’s baritone
He matches his own echo since old times
You can read the whole poem here.

More accompanist poetry from previous posts on the Collaborative Piano Blog:

Dick Allen's The Accompanist
Ken Weisner's The Accompanist
Arni Ibsen's The Accompanist
Pauline Arnold's Dear Soloists
William Matthew's The Accompanist
Darren Morris' Accompanist for Florence Foster Jenkins

Carol Burnett: The Recital Skit

Carol Burnett's legendary nod to the art of vocal chamber music and the joy of mid-century elitist modern music that nobody gets...

(Via @violinscigars)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Speedlinking - 29 December 2010

The last week and a half has been a pleasant break from a busy semester, with lots of time for family, whether they be familiar faces, recent arrivals, or newly discovered relations.

But now it's back to the grindstone for most of us in a few days, so here are some links to get you back on track once 2011 rolls along:
  • Billie Whittaker continues to compile great lists - her latest ones are for Musical Directing and Music Copyists
  • More required reading for CP's (again, via Billie): Music Directing the School Musical from Peter Hilliard
  • Fellow Eastman grad Erica Sipes writes about the benefits of collaboration in The value and fun in being a sponge-like piano collaborator. About those long hours as a studio pianist:
    Most piano collaborators spend a high percentage of their time in the studios of music teachers and professors. Some lessons might be more interesting than others, but for the most part I think it's safe to say that if a pianist wants to, he or she can soak up a tremendous amount of information every time the situation involves a coach, teacher, or conductor. I've learned a lot of really interesting things in such situations, from the basic mechanics of playing many different instruments to musical concepts.
  • As music teachers, we teach not just an instrument but the entire culture of playing it. Piano teachers might be interested in ways to get their students to watch this 2-hour documentary about the 20th century's great pianists (Via Nathalie Wickham):

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Collaborative Piano Blog

Here's to a healthy, happy, and restful Christmas and New Year for everyone in the Collaborative Piano Blog community. Be sure to take advantage of your time off, as the busy season is right around the corner. Here are a few videos to get your Christmas break underway...

Heather Lundstedt with pianist Scott Douglas performing Jason Robert Brown's Christmas Lullaby from Songs from a New World:

Jimmy James doing an impersonation of Bette Davis singing Feliz Navidad:

And finally, a clip which shows that, even at this festive time of the year, there are still moments in which a keyboard player cannot ever, ever miss a note:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Impending Doom or Golden Opportunity?

In case you haven't heard, the classical music world is in a state of rapid change. Many of the institutions, gatekeepers, and paths to success that many of us have come to take for granted are transforming beyond recognition.

Maybe we can learn something from how non-classical artists are operating these days.

A few weeks ago I went to see a show by the rockabilly quartet The Millwinders, whose frontman James Henry happens to be our next-door neighbour. I can't say that I'm a frequenter of indie bands, but a number of things I don't notice at classical gigs were apparent right away:
  • there were t-shirts available for sale, as well as a promotion for that evening where anyone who bought a t-shirt would also receive a custom Millwinders business card, featuring cartoon portraits of band members on pop-out guitar picks
  • Numerous people in the audience recorded video and photo footage (being a polite classical musician, I asked before taking photos, but realized afterwards that they really, really wanted people to take photos during the gig)
  • drunk people can be very supportive fans
  • they used the built-up excitement of the show to promote their upcoming CD release
All this was for an unsigned but brilliant band playing for less than 100 people, without a record on the market (yet) and a targeted web presence consisting of only Facebook and MySpace Pages as well as fan-taken photos and videos. Since they know how to find and engage with their audience in the cult genre of rockabilly, they are able to develop a dedicated following and busy performing schedule, which they then leverage in order to promote next actions, such as the opportunity to buy t-shirts, see future shows, and eventually purchase their upcoming album. 

So why aren't classical musicians making a bigger effort to play in bars or clubs, as Toronto fashion designer Rosemarie Umetsu remarked a few days ago (see tweet at left)? Why are so few classical musicians encouraging people to take photos and videos of their shows? Are there interesting and unique products that classical musicians could make and sell in order to better monetize their engagements? 

Classical music, like rockabilly, is basically a cult genre consisting of a large number of cultish works and sub-genres that in large part evoke the music and instruments of the past. If approached using the right tools and methods, this field and the educational system that fuels it could be leveraged to find and tap an entirely new generation of fans. Fortunately, classical music entrepreneurship is on the rise in a big way, and I'm glad to see that more and more schools are offering courses on the art of self-promotion. 

In the coming year, look for a much larger amount of posts about new artists, approaches, and opportunities. Rather than focusing on how the sky is falling, I would like to look at ways that artists are overcoming these challenges.

In the meantime, here's a reading list recent articles that show just how rapid and acute these changes are happening and a few hints on how to succeed in the current climate.

Dan Feyer is the World's Fastest Crossword Solver and a Collaborative Pianist

Every year as the fall season winds down in December, I have a compulsion to spend my newly found free time doing crossword puzzles. According to a NY Times article earlier this month, that type of brain activity is exactly what one needs in order to develop an open minded, playful approach to problem solving.
“What we think is happening,” said Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist who conducted the study with Karuna Subramaniam, a graduate student, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.

This and other recent research suggest that the appeal of puzzles goes far deeper than the dopamine-reward rush of finding a solution. The very idea of doing a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle typically shifts the brain into an open, playful state that is itself a pleasing escape, captivating to people as different as Bill Clinton, a puzzle addict, and the famous amnesiac Henry Molaison, or H.M., whose damaged brain craved crosswords.
But that's not all. CPB readers might be interested to know that the current American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion Dan Feyer is a collaborative pianist and musical director in New York. From the Times article on Dan:
“Music directors teach actors the music, accompany them in rehearsals and conduct the band,” Mr. Feyer said. “On Broadway, the music director is the guy with the baton in the pit. Off Broadway, it’s the guy sitting at a piano conducting with his head.”

So how does that guy become a puzzle ace? Besides training like an athlete, Mr. Feyer said, it helps to have “underlying brain power and a head for trivia.” He always had high grades and test scores, he said. He excelled at math as well as music, abilities that he thinks go together with crossword solving.

What they all have in common, he said, is pattern recognition — as he begins filling in a puzzle grid, he starts recognizing what the words are likely to be, even without looking at the clues, based on just a few letters.

“A lot of the time, crossword people are musicians,” he said, noting that Jon Delfin, who has won the tournament seven times, is a pianist and music director. “Mathematicians and computer scientists are also constructors.”

That makes for only slightly less cold comfort, since I have difficulty solving a Times crossword past the Wednesday level.

Here's Dan solving Saturday puzzle in under 5'30":

Monday, December 20, 2010

The New York Times Knowledge Network's Classical Music Primer

My latest article for the Music Teacher's Helper blog looks at a new online course that the New York Times Knowledge Network will be offering in early 2011: How to Listen to Classical Music, to be taught by the Times' Daniel J. Wakin. This will be interesting for students and classical music novices, and at a fraction of what this type of course usually costs when given through a music school.

Help Your Students Discover How to Listen to Classical Music with the New York Times Knowledge Network

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Visit The Collaborative Piano Blog On Your Mobile Device

Many of you now begun to migrate from your desktop or laptop computers to mobile devices for your daily web surfing. Thanks to a new feature just announced by Blogger in Draft, you can now visit the Collaborative Piano Blo via a dedicated mobile template which kicks in as soon as your device is detected. One useful way to read CPB posts on the go is to sign up for a free email subscription, which will arrive in your inbox before 9am EST whenever at least one post has been published in the previous 24 hours.

Stay tuned...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rosanne Philippens & Yuri van Nieuwkerk Play Ravel

I really like the visually engaging camera work on the Dutch television show Vrije Geluiden (click here for a memorable past performance) in this clip of violinist Rosanne Philippens and pianist Yuri van Nieuwkerk playing the second movement of Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano. I only wish the microphone was a bit closer to Rosanne, as some of her softer sounds seem to get lost alongside a much more brightly recorded piano.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winterreise at the Gerschwin

For those who weren't able to see Operamission's recent Winterreise (featuring stunning performances by tenor Adam Klein and pianist Jennifer Peterson) at the Gershwin Hotel in New York, you can watch the entire cycle on five YouTube videos below.  It might be useful to refer to the text and translations if you haven't already got them memorized.

Bingo for Collaborative Pianists

My goodness, this has been a busy December so far. In case you've played one too many of the 24 Italian Songs and Arias at juries and feel like you're going off the deep end, Billie Whittaker has a solution: Backstage Bingo!

Here are the cards that Billie created:

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe Play The Cat's Fugue

I really like visual representations of works on YouTube. This Anderson and Roe video uses a unique style to graph both the pitch and compositional structure of Greg's Cat Fugue arrangement. Such representations are par for the course with Pro Tools-using trance artists (such as 7 Skies), and more classical artists should consider using such a visually engaging way to make the form of a complex work both accessible and attractive.

The Gerschwin Piano Quartet Plays Stefan Wirth's Tango-Fugue on a Theme by Astor Piazzolla

There should be doubling fees all around in this video of the Gerschwin Piano Quartet playing Tango-Fugue on a Theme by Astor Piazzolla by Stefan Wirth. The Gerschwin Piano Quartet (who are also accomplished woodblock players) are Mischa Cheung, André Desponds, Benjamin Engeli, and Stefan Wirth.

Sometimes People Just Don't Get It Redux

Øyvind Jo Heimdal Eik sends along the following AdSense WIN via an RSS feed ad placement for Saturday's post:

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sometimes People Just Don't Get It

I've seen a good number of Xtranormal videos popping up in the last few days (these are text-to-movie cartoons made out of self-written dialogue). Among the arts-related videos, two of them stand out for singers and pianists. Many of us playing musical theater auditions have been put in this position:

You Should Take Voice Lessons sums it up for all those over-educated, under-utilized singers performing at a world-class level and having to put up with morons on a daily basis who haven't got the faintest clue how much work goes into the development of a professional opera singer:

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Top 20 Classical Music Blogs for December 2010

Here are the top 20 classical music blogs for the month of December, as ranked by the folks at Wikio:

2Clef Notes
4Nico Muhly
5Opera Chic
7The Collaborative Piano Blog
8The Opera Tattler
9Musical Assumptions
11Proper Discord
12A Beast in a Jungle
15The Stark Raving Cello Blog
16Michael Huebner's Blog & Column -
17Opera Today
19Andrew Patner: The View from Here
20Lynn Harrell
Ranking made by Wikio

Examining in Huntsville

I always enjoy being on the road, even for a few days - this weekend I'm hearing voice and piano exams in Huntsville, Alabama for the National Music Certificate Program, the American arm of RCM Examinations. Being a lover of fine cuisine, I'm always on the lookout for memorable restaurants. By the way, the main course I had earlier this evening (see image) followed an amuse-bouche of deep-fried grits with horseradish sauce. I finished the meal with a slice of red velvet cake. If you have any suggestions for more fine Huntsville eateries, I still have one evening before I head back to Toronto...