Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Classic Looney Tunes Piano Gag

No matter how many times you've seen this one, it never loses its appeal...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Using a Tablet as a Whiteboard

One of the most useful ways to use a tablet in the studio is as a portable whiteboard for explaining concepts and processes. The sketches below were drawn on the S-Note app on my new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 this morning in order to demonstrate the bass motion of cadences to an RCM Grade 10 student working on ear training. If you have an iPad, there are lots of apps that can provide this kind of functionality as long as you don't mind using a thicker capacitive pen.

Then again, using technology in the studio isn't all about bells and whistles. Take a look at my recent Clavier Companion article about the real reason you should be using technology in the studio

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Piano Tombstone

What a fascinating way to be remembered. I only hope that Ms. Brazier is buried underneath rather than inside that piano carving.

Piano Tombstone
Photo by NatalieMaynor on Flickr

Readers' Comments on Audition Best Practices

Parliament PianoIt seems like pianists and singers alike have a lot to say about a recent post on audition pianists. Here are a few highlights.

Anonymous writes:
Unless one has perfect sight reading skills, AND an uncanny ability to read minds, it is important to know when to say "No." Especially for obscure arias, if you don't know it/don't have the time to prepare it, let the singer to find a coach who HAS played it and can relay the sensitivity and technical execution needed. There will inevitably be a time and place in the future - with ample amounts of prep time - to revisit and accompany that particular aria in an audition. 
 Furthermore, it is important for the singer to know when "NOT" to audition. If they are not musically ready, it is a nightmare for the pianist, and the best interests of the singer is at the hands of their own anxiety. Never leave the first (or first two or three) auditions as your "trial runs" of the season. Always go in readily prepared - coaches and teachers alike are out there to help singers reach that level. Your first impression might be THE ONLY impression!

CS noted the significant change in rep between music school and performing career:
There's a strange thing about collaborative piano in a university environment: when you are in school playing for singers, you play mostly repertoire that student singers are learning. For opera, that means a lot of Mozart and light lyric soprano arias. When you transition to the professional world, you are suddenly faced with MUCH different repertoire--the larger Verdi rep, Strauss, Wagner, and tons of obscure French pieces. Since it is unlikely that you ever encountered this repertoire in school, there are only two ways to learn it: 1). Personal study: listening to recordings, sitting down with scores, running surtitles, practicing. 2). Take every gig and opportunity that comes your way, pretend you know what you are doing, do your best, and learn through experience.
CS goes on to say:
It seems selfish to use auditions as a learning opportunity at the singers' expense, but I cannot think of a better way for a young pianist to gain experience. All those little things--like when to follow a singer into a new tempo, and when to keep a steady tempo while the singer does his/her thing, with the confidence that the two of you will end up beautifully together at the end of the phrase--are things you cannot possibly learn through solitary practice. Also, I'm not doing the singers any favors by turning down the gig, as there is no guarantee that whoever they end up getting will be any better than I am.

And as far as preparation goes, preparing to play vocal auditions is a little like preparing to visit a foreign country by buying a language book the week before your trip. If you don't already know SOMETHING, it is unlikely to be useful, and even if you do already know something, its usefulness is still limited. Even, for instance, if you ask for the rep sheets ahead of time. Say you are playing 20 auditions, and each singer has 5 potential arias ready to go. Of those arias, there are 20 that you have never even heard of. There are another 20 that you are familiar with, but need to review. There are any number of singers who don't send their rep lists at all, or who send it at the last minute when you don't have time to get to it. There are conductors who ask for things that aren't on the "official" rep list, but that the singer knows and is prepared to sing. Basically, there is no way to learn all this music unless you have a Time-Turner like Hermione in the 3rd Harry Potter book.

So you go in there and do your best. When I don't know an aria, I try to be honest about it, and ask the singer for the tempo. I look through for any tempo changes I should anticipate. Then I do my best to play with as much rhythmic clarity as possible and to provide at least a harmonic framework (even if I'm not playing all the notes). It is always easier if the singer has marked cuts and tempo changes clearly. I especially like it when they mark all those little rubatos that are so common in the Verdi and bel canto rep. If you haven't played or listened to a particular aria in awhile, you might forget they are coming up and it's nice to have the reminder.

To respond to Susan Eichhorn's question "who is that pianist in the room?" the answer is: someone like me. You know all those "marvelous, exceptional and brilliant pianists out there" the ones that you wish were playing your auditions? Yeah, well those highly trained and experienced pianists would not exist today if some conductor or artistic administrator had not taken a chance and asked THEM to play auditions, back when THEY were young and just learning the repertoire. No small number of those "marvelous, exceptional and brilliant" pianists are now sitting on the other side of the audition table as conductors, giving the same opportunities and encouragement and mentoring to young pianists that they received when they were at that early stage in their careers.
Finally, an anonymous singer talks about his/her best practices:
I always bring my scores folded, marked and with all the things that I think important while studying it clearly written, and then I also ask my coach if he/she understands all the marks or would he/she put it differently… so I think my work is, generally, well done. 
When the audition times arrives we are nervous and lots of things can go wrong everything depends on that very minute that you get to show how good you are and that you are their best choice…. Ehem! No pressure at all… but we also know that a great deal depends on how the pianists plays and how he/she follows what you are doing and I think that’s what makes the difference. 
In my experience the best pianists which have helped me in an audition are the ones that follows the singer. I have played, lots of times, music that the pianist has never played or seen before but they where there trying their best to help me and even at the cost of an nice performance for them. Sorry but I really appreciate that because those 10 minutes are mine!
The worst auditions pianists that I ever have encountered where playing alone, the audition was theirs and they never looked or listened at what I was doing, tempo? Their own, cadenza (even noted)? No thanks!..

So I don’t care if the pianist who plays in my audition is the best sight reader over the entire world, if he plays alone It doesn’t work for us! The one that leaves some notes unplayed but try to help you and is there listening and changing as necessary is the good one! Sorry guys but we are musicians so make music!

A huge thank you goes to all the pianists who singers who took so much time to write such detailed insight into the art of auditioning from both sides of the piano. Your comments are valued by the entire Collaborative Piano Blog community.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Make Your Own Meme Contest: Win Two Tickets to Thin Edge Collective's Concert This Thursday in Toronto

One of Toronto's newest and hottest contemporary music ensembles is Thin Edge New Music Collective, featuring pianist Cheryl Duvall, violinist Ilana Waniuk, percusionist Olaf Szester, and flutist Sarah Yunji Moon. Before they embark on a busy touring season, you can catch them 8pm Thursday at Gallery 345 in Free Form Constructs, a program of works with saxophonist and composer Jason Sharp looking at "the relationship of form, structure, and improvisation in contemporary Canadian music."

Tickets for this program of works by Jason Sharp, Fjola Evans, Anna Hostman, and Claude Vivier will be $20 and $15 for arts workers, students and seniors.

Unless you happen to be the lucky winner of the latest Collaborative Piano Blog free ticket contest.....

Yes, Thin Edge's own Cheryl Duvall will be judging entries in order to award a prize of two free tickets to Thursday night's concert.

Here's how to enter:

1. Submit a jpeg of your favorite music-themed meme. Think piano, classical music, new music, composers, or weird/awkward situations in the music world. Think Socially Awkward Penguin, Bad Luck Brian, Good Guy Greg, Scumbag Steve, or Sudden Clarity Clarence. Once you have your meme figured out, use Quickmeme or Photoshop to insert text onto your favorite traditional or unique meme picture.
2. Send your completed meme to collaborative piano [at] gmail dot com.
3. Only one entry per person will be allowed.
4. Entries will close at 12pm on Wednesday, November 21.
5. I'll send the entries off to Cheryl, who will notify me of the winning entry by Wednesday late afternoon. After that I'll notify the winner, who will receive two free tickets when they show up at the door of Gallery 345 on Thursday evening.

All entries will be posted in the coming weeks! Good luck everyone!

Here's Cheryl playing the last few minutes of Gordon Monahan's Piano Mechanics at Nuit Blanche earlier this fall:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bus Station Sonata

How do you liven up an ordinary day in Newcastle? Play the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata in a bus station, and get commuters to play the single melodic lines. Many of the contributors had never played, and added their single-note contributions through the power of editing. The professional pianist in the video is Andy Jackson.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cheryl Pauls Becomes President of CMU

Warmest congratulations go out to Cheryl Pauls, who has just taken up duties as President of the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Cheryl is a fine solo and collaborative pianist who received her DMA from the University of British Columbia. In honor of the occasion, the Career Options in Collaborative Piano posting has been updated to include the job title "University President".

On Pianists at Auditions

Having an exceptional and committed pianist is so important to the perception that a singer will bring to an audition. Yet why do so many pianists not take this kind of work seriously? Susan Eichhorn's latest take on auditioning is worth a look, especially for the care and commitment she asks for which needs to come from both singer and pianist:
If you call yourself an audition pianist then you need to know the repertoire.  Period.  You need to be an excellent not competent, sight reader.  You need a fantastic sense of time and rhythmic pocket.  You need to know how to re-organize the repertoire - what to play and what to leave out - to support that singer.  You are not auditioning - the singer is.  You need to support that singer.  They are nervous.  You need to given respect,  AND GIVE IT BACK.  Your attitude needs to be checked... 
...Singers - BE PREPARED.  It is up to you to be so prepared for that audition, that even if things de-rail you can make it work!  Again,  singers who are under-prepared will often play the blame-game.  Stop it.  Prepare!  Don't think by learning that cut the day before will allow you to nail it.  It won't.  If the first thing you do is blame the pianist and not look at your own preparation,  you need to really rethink what you are doing.  Again,  if the attitude is larger than the talent, the craft or the preparation, perhaps it's time to sit down and have a reality check.
Of course, the number of pianists who don't take audition playing seriously is often matched by the number of singers who don't do their preparation and recon work prior to auditioning. I've noticed that singers who take the time to either rehearse with me or discuss relevant cuts, marking them in their painstakingly organized scores, often sing at a higher level of preparation and artistry on audition day than the ones who haphazardly toss me messy photocopies as we walk into the room.

Singers and pianists: what are your best practices for auditions?