Chopsticks!

Monday, August 20, 2018 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

Chopsticks


Stephen Powers first thought of his grand piano as an impressive piece of furniture.

But he enjoyed listening to music so much when friends played at parties at his home in North Wilmington that he began taking lessons.

“I enjoy having a couple of songs under my belt,” says Powers, a 52-year-old banker. “I play Happy Birthday. I play Getting to Know You for my mom.”

Powers is part of a boomlet of adults who are studying piano. Many took lessons briefly as children and regret giving it up. Some simply enjoy music. Others gravitated toward the keyboard because studies suggest piano improves mental acuity while reducing the odds of dementia.

A Swedish study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that when a twin played a musical instrument later in life, he or she was 64 percent less likely to develop dementia than the twin who did not play.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 evaluated the impact of piano lessons on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in adults age 60 to 84.

The group that studied piano showed significant improvement in tests that measure executive function, controlling inhibitions and divided attention, as well as enhanced visual scanning and motor ability. Piano students also reported a better quality of life.

Some grownups simply relish a challenge.

In the United Kingdom, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, took to the keyboard at age 56. He chronicled the year he spent learning Chopin’s demanding No. Ballade 1 in G Minor in the book Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.

Richard Swarmer, 57, of Lewes, played the trumpet from grade school through college. He has sung in several choirs. This year, he began piano lessons.

Learning the piano isn’t easy even for someone with a musical background. Still, Swarmer appreciates that the creative thought process is different from the focus required by his job for a medical benefits company.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed taking piano lessons as an adult,” he says. “It provides a welcome respite from the demands of my job.”

Ethel Thirtel of North Wilmington is 71 and a student at the Music School of Delaware. She is also taking French lessons to help keep her intellect sharp.

“Both pursuits involve active studying and practice to master new skills,” she says.

To meet rising demand, the Music School of Delaware offers adults-only evening group classes to accommodate working people, says Matthew Smith, student and alumni relations officer. The school also provides instruction for adults 50 and older through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of Delaware.

“In addition to professionals, we are getting a lot more inquiries from older adults who are retired and have time on their hands,” he says.

Geri Smith, a Julliard-trained singer, musician and composer, has taught piano to children in public schools as well as private arts centers. Her adult students include a 59-year-old writer who took up piano after the death of her husband, a gifted musician.

“Teaching children is a different experience than teaching adults,” says Smith, of Unionville. “Kids pretty much do what you ask them to do but adults ask lots of questions. They want to know why things have to be done a certain way.”

An important part of learning piano is creating new pathways in the brain. A Harvard Medical School study examined the impact of practicing the piano on synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning.

Volunteers practiced two hours a day for five days, playing a five-finger exercise to the beat of a metronome. To learn how that impacted the neurons scientists used transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS), in which a wire coil sends magnetic impulses to the brain.

They discovered that after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to the finger exercises had expanded like crabgrass.

“Playing the piano creates new synapses,” Smith says. “Think of it as creating a conduit so your right hand can talk to your left hand.”

Meldene Gruber of Rehoboth Beach, who has taught piano for more than 40 years, has seen a surge in adult students in the past two years. Now, half her students are adults.

“A number of my adults say they think playing the piano will help with mental acuity,” she says. “Playing the piano forces you to use both sides of the brain, which is great for neuron firing.”

Most adults have specific goals in mind, such as learning to play Christmas carols or a few favorite pieces.

“You don’t get adults who are focused on becoming concert pianists,” Gruber says. “They come for the joy of playing, not because their mothers made them.”

via Chopstick therapy: how piano lessons could help us age better — NewsWorks.



Ornaments, Not Just For Christmas

Friday, August 10, 2018 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

The following ornament table is a transcription of the one appearing in the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, written by Johann Sebastian Bach for the keyboard instruction of his eldest son.

A scan of the original manuscript appears at Dave's J.S. Bach Page.

The German title translates as "Explanation of various signs, showing how to play certain ornaments correctly."{1} Bach gives the sign for each ornament on the upper of the paired staves, while the lower shows its execution directly beneath.

(This blog has) simply modernized the clefs in my transcription, since Bach's manuscript uses soprano clefs, as several composers continued to do throughout the 18th century in place of the treble clef now used in all keyboard music.

After the transcription graphic showing the table, there appear clickable buttons which are keyed to AU sound files; you can click on any of the ornaments and hear a sound file play its execution.

ornaments

Read the original blog post with the ornament table and listening files at J.S. Bach's Ornament Table.



Seymour: An Introduction

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

sbernstein

Seymour Bernstein might have ranked alongside such classical pianists as Alfred Brendel and Van Cliburn. His recitals were glowingly reviewed and he had a highly supportive patron. Yet, at the significant age of 50, he voluntarily withdrew from the world of public performance to concentrate on teaching.

When it comes to piano technique and music theory, he clearly has much to offer. But he also has insight into how one best pursues an artistic career in general, or at least that is what one future Oscar nominee thought when he happened to meet Bernstein at a dinner party. The music teacher gets a low-key but satisfying ovation in Ethan Hawke’s documentary profile, “Seymour: An Introduction.”

Evidently, Hawke found in Bernstein an empathetic counselor-guru who could well understand his bouts of stage fright and the general career uncertainty that was plaguing him. Perhaps he was also frustrated about that film he had spent over 10 years on, but had yet to come out. Regardless, Bernstein had a knack for saying reassuring things.

In a variety of master classes and private lessons, we observe Bernstein at work. He is indeed a calm and constructive instructor, but also firm and specific. If you have the talent, he will refine it. Should you doubt it, several of his former students, including pianists Joseph Smith and Kimball Gallagher, offer their reminiscences and insights into Bernstein’s lasting influence on their careers.

For his documentary directorial debut, Hawke was not out to rake any muck. While not exactly hagiography, his “Introduction” is unflaggingly nice and polite. Fortunately, Bernstein is a New Yorker (albeit a really pleasant one), whose experienced, down-to-earth personality keeps it all real and grounded.

Anyone who knows pianos will not be surprised to see the prime placement for American Steinway in “Seymour.” As always, their concert models look and sound lovely. It is also cool to see that they still consider Bernstein a Steinway artist 30-some years after his last public performance. Fittingly, Hawke coaxes Bernstein into a return performance in the Steinway Rotunda on 57th Street, which naturally serves as the closing sequence for the film. Obviously, he still has his touch.

“Seymour: An Introduction” has surely received considerably more attention because of Hawke’s involvement than it otherwise would have, but that is a fine way for him to spend some of his accrued “Boyhood” and “Before Midnight” capital in a way that will generate further good will. It is a very refined and civilized film that will probably have a number of viewers checking out YouTube for Bernstein’s original compositions. (He has a number of them posted, including “The Hawke.”)

Respectfully recommended for classical connoisseurs, Hawke fans, and Steinway admirers, the Salingerishly titled “Seymour: An Introduction” opened  Friday, March 13, 2015 in New York at the IFC Center.



From 'Seymour': Ethan Hawke Makes an Introduction.