Happy Birthday, Victor Borge!
Thursday, January 3, 2019 by Mary O'Connor | pianists
Victor Borge was born in 1909 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was an entertainer and pianist - a deliciously funny performer. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, and in Vienna and Berlin.
He made his debut as a pianist in 1926, and as a revue actor in 1933. From 1940 until his death in 2000 he worked in the USA for radio, television, and theatre, and has performed with leading symphony orchestras on worldwide tours since 1956.
He was best known for his comedy sketches combining music and narrative. He used his classical training to skew serious music and performers.
From his obituary:
Pianist Victor Borge, died in his sleep Dec 23,
at his Greenwich, Connecticut home, was known as the unmelancholy Dane of international show business. He would have turned 92 on Jan. 3, 2001.
"The cause of death was heart failure," his daughter, Sanna Feirstein, told Reuters.
"He had just returned from a wonderfully successful trip to Copenhagen ... and it was really heartwarming to see the love he experienced in his home country," she said.
Borge was one of five performers selected for the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.
"He went to sleep, and they went to wake him up this morning, and he was gone," said his agent, Bernard Gurtman.
"He had so much on the table, and to the day he died he was creative, and practicing piano several hours a day," Gurtman told Reuters. "He was just a great inspiration."
Funeral services will be private, his daughter said.
Borge made a career of falling off piano stools, missing the keys with his hands and getting tangled up in the sheet music.
One of his inspirations was a pianist who played the first notes of the GriegA Minor Concerto and then fell on the keys dead.
He said that the only time he got nervous on stage was when he had to play seriously and adds that if it had not been for Adolf Hitler he probably would never have pursued a career as a concert-hall comedian.
Until he was forced to flee Denmark in 1940 he was a stage and screen idol in his native country.
But as a Jew who had lampooned Hitler, Borge -- his real name was Boerge Rosenbaum -- was in danger and fled first to Sweden and then to the United States, where he arrived penniless and unknown and by a fluke got booked on the Bing Crosby radio show. He was an instant success.
He became an American citizen in
but thought of himself as Danish. It was obvious from the numerous affectionate tributes and standing ovations at his 80th birthday concert in Copenhagen in 1989 that Danes felt the same way.
In the concert at Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens, Borge played variations on the theme of "Happy Birthday to You" in the styles of Mozart, Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven -- all executed with such wit that the orchestra was convulsed with laughter that a woman performing a piccolo solo was unable to draw breath to play.
"Playing music and making jokes are as natural to me as breathing," Borge told Reuters in an interview after that concert.
"That's why I've never thought of retiring because I do it all the time whether on the stage or off. I found that in a precarious situation, a smile is the shortest distance between people. When one needs to reach out for sympathy or a link with people, what better way is there?
"If I have to play something straight, without deviation in any respect, I still get very nervous. It's the fact that you want to do your best, but you are not at your best because you are nervous and knowing that makes you even more nervous."
His varied career included acting, composing for films and plays and writing but he was best known for his comic sketches based on musical quirks and oddities.
His routines were unpredictable, often improvised on stage as his quick wit responded to an unplanned event -- a noise, a latecomer in the audience -- or fixed on an unlikely prop -- a fly, a shaky piano stool.
Borge was born in Denmark on January 3, 1909, son of a violinist in the Danish Royal Orchestra.
His parents encouraged him to become a concert pianist, arranging his first public recital when he was 10. In 1927 he made his official debut at the Tivoli Gardens.
Borge's mischievous sense of humor was manifest from an early age. Asked as a child to play for his parent's friends he would announce "a piece by the 85-year-old Mozart" and improvise something himself.
When his mother was dying in Denmark during the occupation, Borge visited her, disguised as a sailor.
"Churchill and I were the only ones who saw what was happening," he said in later years. "He saved Europe and I saved myself."
From 1953 to 1956, he appeared in New York in his own production "Comedy in Music," a prelude to world tours that often took him to his native Scandinavia.
On radio and television, Borge developed the comedy techniques of the bungling pianist that won him worldwide fame.
Many of his skits were based on real-life events. One of his classics evolved from seeing a pianist playing a Tchaikovsky concerto fall off his seat.
Borge's dog joined the show after it wandered on stage while he was at the keyboard -- an entrance nobody would believe had been unplanned.
One incident could not be repeated. A large fly flew on to Borge's nose while he was playing. "How did you get that fly to come on at the right time?" people asked. "Well, we train them," Borge explained.
Borge's book, "My Favorite Intervals", published in 1974, detailed little-known facts of the private lives of composers describing Wagner's pink underwear and the time Borodin left home in full military regalia but forgot his trousers.
In 1975, Borge was honored in recognition of the 35th anniversary of his arrival in the United States and his work as
goodwill ambassador from Denmark to the United States. He celebrated his 75th birthday in 1984 with a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and in Copenhagen.
Borge received a host of honors from all four Scandinavian countries for his contributions to music, humor and worthy causes.
Borge, who had lived in Greenwich since 1964, is survived by five children, nine grandchildren, and one
. His wife of many years, Sanna, died earlier that year.
Anniversary of Borge's death
10 Pianos - 80 Fingers
Tuesday, October 9, 2018 by Mary O'Connor | pianists
From October 5, 2010
There will be $1.6 million worth of piano on stage at the City Recital Hall on Friday night. With their legs and lids removed for transport, eight Steinway grand pianos will be trucked to the venue.
There they will be reassembled on stage and tuned, ready for eight of Australia's finest classical pianists.
In The Steinway Spectacular 16 hands and 80 fingers will play some of classical music's greatest hits.
Conducted by Guy Noble, the pianists will work as an ensemble to perform works by composers such as Ravel, Saint-Saens and George Gershwin. ''It's a very large affair,'' says Noble. ''Logistically, it's a nightmare.'' The piano technician Ara Vartoukian will spend hours tuning the instruments.
For past concerts in Melbourne the process sometimes took all night. ''The pianos all, in essence, sound the same, so they have to be absolutely in tune with each other.''
Even after the most careful tuning, things can go awry.
The pianists - Anthony Halliday, Roger Heagney, Clemens Leske, Tamara Smolyar, Mikhail Solovei, Evgeny Ukhanov, Gerard Willems and Alexey Yemtsov - usually perform as soloists. Every now and again, Noble says, one of them ''goes rogue''.
''One will suddenly break out and play their own thing,'' he says. ''I have to herd them back into the pride, glaring at them with eyes of death. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to conduct. It's like herding cats.''
There is no repertoire for an ensemble of pianists, so Noble has created new arrangements.
His favourite is a rendition of the children's staple Chopsticks. ''That just goes wild,'' he says.
The segment titled So You Think You Can Play Scales is also a crowd pleaser. ''It's like Piano Idol. People get voted off if they go off the rails.''
Other pieces will feature the organist Calvin Bowman and the soprano Shu-Cheen Yu. Bowman, who usually plays above the stage in a loft, will join the other performers on stage on an electronic organ.
''It's a relief for him to be down on stage because he suffers terribly from vertigo,'' Noble says. ''He's been terrified in organ lofts all over Australia.''
More boisterous extravaganza than a recital for purists, the performance will appeal to an eclectic crowd.
''We get classical music lovers, as well as people who are just curious. It's pure fun and enjoyment.''
The Steinway Spectacular is at the City Recital Hall on Friday.
Monday, August 20, 2018 by Mary O'Connor | pianists
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.”
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
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
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.