In Praise of Studio Class

I love seeing my students interact with each other as peers and musicians, hearing them develop the skills of critical listening, and marveling at the connections that they are able to draw. And this is why studio class with my SFCM Pre-College students has been such a joy for me this year.

We were a small group last Sunday—only four students were able to make it on account of pre-Thanksgiving travels and such, but everyone had pieces ready to play. I try to put together at least a loose structure for the 2-hour block of time, based on the music being presented that day. With a somewhat random assortment of repertoire, it is fascinating to see where the discussion will lead and what threads will bind the whole experience together. We started by hearing a performance of the Grieg waltz from the Opus 12 Lyric Pieces followed by Tchaikovsky’s Song of the Lark from the Album for the Young. With both pieces, I asked my kiddos to listen for form. The “A B A Coda” was very clear in the Grieg, but took a little longer to notice in the Tchaikovsky. Realizing that the similarity of thematic material obscured the contrast between the A and B sections, my helpful students gave suggestions to the performer on ways to emphasize the structure using timing and tonal color. A performance of Christopher Norton’s “Play It Again” led us into a discussion on what makes a piece sound “jazzy”. Cue the clapping of syncopated rhythms and writing out of blues scales. Another student played the Bartok Rumanian Dances and Robert Starer’s “Pink” from Sketches in Color. I had found some of Bartok’s field recordings from the Hungarian countryside (thanks YouTube!) so we listened to those and tried to pinpoint the stylistic qualities that give this music its special flavor.

Oh, and how could we talk about Bartok without hearing some of the Concerto for Orchestra (2nd movement)? With its “presentation of pairs” it is a perfect piece for identifying orchestral instruments!

Having started with a discussion of form, we came back to it with a performance of the first movement of Diabelli’s Sonatina in F, Op. 168 No. 1.  All of the students in attendance already had some experience with sonata form, but class was a great chance to get a better understanding of this ubiquitous structure and connect it with the simpler ternary forms we heard earlier. After the Diabelli, I let Leonard Bernstein do the talking. We watched excerpts from one of the marvelous Young People’s Concerts, in which he effortlessly explains sonata form using Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the Beatles and finally Mozart’s K. 545 (Video 2 of 4 is below–this is the one with the priceless rendition of “And I Love Her”). We then heard the Diabelli again—with totally different ears!

Ultimately, studio class is about conversation and community, a space in which my students can learn to trust their musical instincts and develop curiosity and independence. And it is really fun (especially for me.)

Can’t wait for our next class in January!

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She Tweets Again!

I’ve been on Twitter for a while now, and enjoy following all sorts of lovely, hilarious, brilliant people and various illustrious organizations. However, as with many forms of social media, it feels so diffuse. I have non-musician followers, who likely don’t care about which Bach Sinfonia I am practicing. And then the music folk who likely don’t care about what I am cooking and/or knitting. I’m all for a healthy mix of everything in my own Twitter feed, but I rarely ever tweet myself since it seems that the great internet void is hardly interested in the disparate minutiae of my life. So, in an attempt to create order out of chaos, I’ve decided to start a separate twitter account that will just be music related.

@MissLubaMusic

Come follow me! No knitting or food photos. Really. (I’ll be keeping all of those fun tidbits over at @MissLuba). Just tweets about what I’m practicing, what I’m listening to, and the really funny things my students say!

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A little pre-exam cheer…

It is that time of year…I keep reminding my students as they go into recitals and exams to trust their preparation and to remember that playing the piano is something that they love to do! (See this great post on the subject)

And here’s a little something that made me smile…Anne Crosby Gaudet made this a few years ago, but I just came across it now and it makes me happy. Watch how he bops his foot along to the beat!

 

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Studio News: Congratulations!

A big round of applause for Jason, Diana, Picabo, Jack and Rebecca!

These young pianists received top scores in California on the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program exams in 2012 and have been invited to perform at the CAPMT Conference in Glendale later this month. All of these students received scores above 90 and were among the top three scores in California for the their grade level. What a fantastic achievement! Bravo!

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Jeremy Denk on NPR’s Fresh Air

 

Ok, internet. Fess up. Am I the last person in the world to discover Jeremy Denk’s blog? How have you kept this from me? Even in this amazing age of technology I still manage to find out everything on NPR.

So, in the car the other day, I happened to catch part of Terry Gross’ interview with pianist Jeremy Denk. Luckily, the internet and good ol’ fashioned radio do team up, and it is possible to hear the entire interview here. Denk’s latest album pairs the Ligeti etudes and Beethoven’s final sonata. He discusses the four week, 7-hour-a-day process of learning the Ligeti etudes (dear piano students, go back and re-read those numbers!), the vagaries of the recording process, and the commonalities of late Beethoven’s “vast infinity, and Ligeti’s bite-sized bits of infinity.” Oh, and he throws around charming phrases like “circling down the drain of tonality.”

Then it slips out in this interview that Denk has a blog- Think Denk. Just a few posts in, I adore his somewhat hyperactive writing, and now intend to waste lots and lots of time going back and reading through the archives. Thanks radio, and yeah, you too internet…

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