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Happy Year of the Dragon 2012

3 Jan Dragon mom vs. Tiger mom's hurt
Some of my quickie pen workAngela M. Kneale's Dragon penwork

The Year of the Dragon coming up for Chinese New Year....

Chihuahua: A piano that made me smile

10 Dec

Phone call, the doctor’s office;- the eye doctor. I got in just by 4:30pm through the thick Friday shopping traffic. So, then I deposited the very small amount of money I had left on me into my bank account this holiday season.  This will be my 3rd Christmas in Hawaii this year. And, nothing really has made me smile so much as trying the Ritmuller 4’11” today, at a Honolulu piano store and school.

The Ritmuller I tried out, as a possible purchase should I stay in Hawaii next year and succeed enough in the USA financially next year;- was impressive for such a tiny instrument. Brand new, it was tried after I went into the Used Steinway selection room full of “out of shape” Steinway sound;- aside from some Steinway Upright. The price tag on the 4’11” Ritmuller for the holiday was just under $12,000 + taxes (4%). Perfect for a small apartment or home. And, also highly responsive to execute Ritmuller’s “Euro Sound”.  I enjoyed the small thing immensely.

The “Ritmuller” piano that performed exponentially better than many of Hawaii’s pianos that I have tested. Beethoven, check hard. I found this very challenging compared to even a Steinway or Mason & Hamlin. The precision check needs to be nearly immaculate for the performing artist. Adjust my playing?, definitely. Chopin, discriminate pedal. Hypersensitive if you will. Voicing;- Ok this is the killer;- Topped the voicing of “Hawaii’s” voicing technicians on the Steinway. This is Hawaii. It is not New York or down the road  to Elephant Rd. Pennsylvania.

The Ritmuller 4’11” in Mahogany laminate grabbed my ear when I heard the lovely singing A5-C7 registers. It is quite satisfying for the size of the instrument and lacks the boxed sound of the Upright. I’m uncertain to say however that this is a piano for every learner;- though it should be in a sense.

Steinway is dead in Hawaii comparatively. Climate is #1. #2 is the lack of decent technican/  restorer who can independently, fully regulate a restoration job, or make the keys appear as if they are evenly spaced. Price tag;- will never fallow for Hawaii’s most elite.

So, for these reasons above, not to “unmention” the Steinway Chihuahua’s from Willow Grove ;-). I’d like a Ritmuller to practice on in Hawaii.  Thanks to Ritmuller for making me smile in Hawaii, for a brief bit, to remind me about the Art of being pianist. This “teacher” definitely approves.

Recording piano music

22 Nov Self Recording at the piano
Self Recording at the piano

Hoping to start recording. I need more than prayers. Photo- self.

Recording piano music is quite a life-long endeavor for me. It’s an achievement I hope to attain in my adult life with my thorough artistic education in Classical piano as an art-form. My alma mater Music school was so against my performing;- but they kept me in the Music college regardless of demolishing a potential career in my youth. My parents, both being in the graphic arts industry & tile & textile design, never seemed to value recordings much. They even tossed away my great-grandmother’s recordings from the 20’s-40’s, as they proudly announced one day. The irony, is that I am a musician. And, aside from teachers who recorded me;- my family never cared to make recordings of my playing even for competition. I don’t even want to comment about how thankful I am for simple software to use on computers and I-pods today. However, self-recording is still difficult. Hiring the tuner, bringing equipment, doing takes of passages and all these things are time-consuming for the Classical pianist. It’s not like being in a band and tossing together everything you’re going to record in the studio. Classical piano recordings should be practiced and performance ready before entering the studio.

My Current Technique

22 Nov

 

A glimpse of Angela M. Kneale's Piano techniques

 

 

Briefly on Technique

17 Nov

Technique for the lifelong pianist is something that one grows into from the time the young pianist is able to press her/his first key on the keyboard. This is much like any child who grows into becoming an all-star athlete in his/her chosen sport. And, I try to explain to students that playing with straight and un-curved finger is like trying to run a race with locked knees.

The mindful part of the developing pianist is within the inner-ear development and leads to a delicate/sensitive musicality which emphasises subtle tones to contrast the more bombastic elements of technical power. Lest we forget, the art is NOT to bang exclusively as a show of control of the instrument. Sometimes I have male student who see my small frame and try to outplay me. When, the focus and bigger show of maturity and refinement as a pianist is in the musical control of being able to play subtle and sometimes nerve-wracking slow passages perfectly.

Two Metronome Method differences

27 Oct

There are a few approaches when it comes to the perpetual ticking, tocking, beeping, and flashing that aggravates any piano cat to the point of metronomic annihilation.

The two approaches are:

1. Develop strong rhythm first and then later develop artistic technique.

The first way, is usually used with developing a good sight-reader and accompanist who won’t falter the tempo. These learners can become powerful sight-readers, and we see and hear them at auditions. However, many of them lack artistic sensitivity because they are literally just pounding out the notes without a significantly more skilled control of their voicing, crescendos, and rubato. They can make decent group players rather quickly, in band and other endeavors, however for some more picky ears;- they may not be a desired accompanist to perform with another inclined artist at a different instrument.

2. Develop a personal rhythm and artistic approach to the piano and then impose the metronome.

The second way is the reason why some students attend auditions and are given comments that say they have a nice musicality about them, but have a weak rhythm that needs work. However, the artistic process is long and to develop students to masterful maturity can sometimes take years. This type of playing is where they have developed their own sense of rhythm and musicality and phrasing that is pleasing to a well-trained artistic teacher’s ears, and then that tone and touch is put into the metronome beats. Even today, online, there are pianists who display their videos and have still not reached maturity with this process. That is to have a desire to play like a master with the Composers intended tempo, and not at a tempo that is convenient for themselves. It’s important for parents to understand and support this process at the Piano.

The difficulties and the “lost” art of musical artistry

Unfortunately, there is much teasing and ridicule that befalls students of both categories of metronome and rhythm learning. The students who are avid sight-reader early on make fun of the artists who are concerned about the shading of each note and “lack rhythm”. And the artists, who have musical control, usually remain silent for a long time, detest the hoards of sight-readers who lack a decent sense of rubato and musical phrasing to make sense of a contemporary period modern piece. The battle goes on until the second category artist catches up in sight-reading ability (that many mistakenly neglect for their lesson assignments).  The first category is full of learners who usually have a more solid attitude to secure work with the public and impress people with the quantity of music that they can make. This is because masses of people  in the USA can be easily impressed with a large quantity of piano music rather than the quality. However, many of these players are not going to be winning prizes for interpretation. But, as the piano industry changes and the art of creating musical control and tone becomes “lost”, due to a high number of electric keyboard players, more of the sight-reader (I expect) will win because they have more money to spend in their industry. Maybe in time, that will make them better artists. It’s difficult to say. I can only hope, as an instructor who was held to a high artistic standard, that the art isn’t completely lost among the American masses that are so abrasive and not understanding when it comes to these things. Yes, developing your own sense of rhythm, touch, and control at the piano way of learning is an art and tradition that is ultimately expensive in numerous ways. You must afford the time, humility in practice, and such until one day you emerge like a hard-pressed diamond who doesn’t expect any reward.

My Piano Syllabus & Method

22 Oct

20 years of my teaching & creating successful students. Yesterday, I spoke briefly with someone in my family who works for Czerny, a music publisher, about my publishing my piano method. I will most likely self publish, though securing library matters is necessary for future consideration. I have been teaching mostly and successfully producing quality students without following any particular method book;- though I have delved into several beginning method books. My focus in my teaching has not been financial. My syllabus simply is an outline of the Method and how I have successfully taught hundreds of children and adults. It is a complete method with all elements of pianistic skill for Classical & Jazz that include: Rhythm, Theory, Sightreading, Fingering, Artistic development, Memorization, Performance, Quality Recording level, Composition & Arranging.  Though I have used portions of this method for children as young as 3 years old, the age level may vary greatly for each student as well as the depth and immediacy of understanding concepts.

My Method book title is: “A Performer’s Piano;- Learn a Virtuoso’s Perspective.” for ages 3-adult

It is meant for a 2-3 year course of piano study that should be conducted by a well-trained pianist. This is not meant to be taught by piano teachers who still cannot clearly voice or play the works of Chopin.

Though the onset of my method is very accesible to nearly everyone, the method is for those who truly desire to play piano well in a non-competitive forum. This isn’t a method where one is going to learn to play… and then somehow fail to meet the Classical Literature that is performed by virtuosos. There are select pieces from the Great Masters for the student to choose from. Younger students will spend more time in Bach, Bartok, & Mozart. The adult student will learn from Bach, Bartok, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart & Shostakovich. And, the study of these pieces and my Stamina & Technique excercises that include Performer’s theory should aid beginning pianists of all ages in understanding the piano virtuoso a little more. That is aside from developing skills from the first months of lessons that can last and be useful into a concert performing career should one desire a more serious course of piano study.

Please write to on Facebook if you have any interest.

 

My practice pianos/ keys

18 Oct

 

My first piano: I started playing on an Original Knabe factory 5’6 baby grand piano (Heirloom)- It was a birth gift from my great-grandmom Eva (Kelly) Kneale who built her residence 7 miles from the old Rodgers and Hammerstein home in rural Dublin, PA. The Kneale side of my family immigrated from the Isle of Mann through Wales to the United States and lived in Ohio as Chewing gum makers @1900. Eva (Kelly) Kneale lived to see me start playing on the piano.

My second piano: C7 Yamaha that Duke Ellington performed on at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Was purchased after my grandmother Kneale’s death. (photo of me going to my senior prom technically stag- next to piano)

My Rhodes:  Rhodes was a piece my brother had played on and used for his Drum & Bass DJ playing. I decided after his death in 2005, when I had opportunity, to leave on a small Island in Canada at the residence of an artist (from Detroit) known for his watercolor paintings. It rode on trailer behind  a snowmobile. The Island is in Rainbow Isle, where the Canadian 7 painted. My brother and I both had played in Canada as kids. It seemed a happier place for the instrument.

In Music School: I attended Ithaca College and there were some 99 practice rooms there, most housing at least a studio upright and then there were grand piano rooms. The Grand pianos that I normally used varied from Kawai, Steinway, to Mason & Hamlin & Yamaha. I found the Mason & Hamlin in one of the repertory class rooms to be my favorite at the school. The Stage pianos were Steinway B & C grands and Bosendorfer. The “lessons” were normally on some Steinway B in one of the professor studios.

The Old Historic Mansion in Doylestown, PA- I practiced here out of convenience when the Community Conservatory was still renting the place. However, there was a great spiritual energy of some demon that frequently demands space. And was why the previous faculty had left with all of the school’s students. There was a new artistic director there who, armed with purifying sage, cleansed the building regularly.  I was practicing Kabalevsky one night when the demon looked at me from the brass on the piano lamp. I went upstairs because I felt someone’s presence and the room at the top of the stairs felt almost humid. The frequency of the room was extraordinary, without a physical person, it was a concentrated dose of hate and anger, so pure it was amazing. So, I found some other places to practice;- see below in Lehigh Valley area.

Other times as an adult I would practice until 2 or 4 AM in the Lehigh Valley at a Chuch where an Organist/ piano colleague let me in, or at the College practice rooms, the college where I heard Marelyne Dosse and Anne Petite perform. Once in a while I could stay and practice at Lehigh Uni. until late. It was a 20 min. drive for me to practice before doors closed, and then I would eat vending machine Pringles.

I hopped back to Ithaca and practiced a little while trying to save some money to leave for a Japanese friendly community on the west coast or Hawaii. I got a plane ticket $500 to Honolulu on Priceline and didn’t return. My nothing special Korg controller K-61p survived the trip unwrapped in my large duffel bag. Thankfully it has no action, so– no broken parts.

My 1st Hawaii Piano:  Older Handmade Mahogany Baldwin Hamilton Studio piano (with leather on the action).  My 2nd or  3rd month in Hawaii, I needed a piano. I found this one on Craigslist at a reasonable cost. Most used studio uprights were still going for $3000 on Honolulu at the time, so I was happy to find this piano. The woman who advertised it told me she wanted to sell it to someone who could play. Someone in NY moving to Hawaii had written to her about purchasing the instrument, so I purchased it immediately.

My stage piano:  The Yamaha 88 key piano got wrecked by UPS. They still haven’t reconciled the damage despite $600 in shipping and insurance.

I need a new piano though. The humidity is hard on

How to sit at the piano

13 Oct

New parents who are serious about helping their child learn the piano, and adult learners should find a way to sit at the piano that is comfortable. There are many techniques that stem from first seating oneself on the piano bench. Any excellent teacher will be able to correct how a specific student sits at the piano to achieve a different performance effect, technique, sound, etc. To sit at the piano is studied and reworked when an advanced student is exploring sound production and reworking inferior techniques.

Annually, many inexperienced students who audition run up to pianos, bow, and plop themselves down on the bench and begin playing. They should demonstrate careful consideration of how they sit, individually, to the judges. There is no “universal” playing position simply (on the bench) that is where the bench was placed at the beginning of the auditions for ALL of the performers. This shows a seriousness about classical sound production and artistry, and that their instructor has taught this very basic and important component of good or excellent piano technique. Many students today, from Pennsylvania, NewYork to Hawaii neglect this most important part of their artistry when going before judges. And, some students then wonder why, the judges didn’t hear them play at all, or only heard a measure or so of one piece before hearing “Thankyou, that will be all” from the back of the audition room.

COMMON TIPS FOR BASIC SITTING POSITION

Distance from keys:  Sit on the bench an arm’s length from the fallboard (where the brand name of the piano is displayed above middle c). Then, sit on the bench so that your navel is at the center of the keys and extend your arms as far as possible (the entire distance of the keyboard) Small children will need to learn to balance or move themselves to reach the highest and lowest pitches.

Height for the bench:  Let arms hang naturally and rest hands on the piano with bent elbows. This is a good bench height for smaller adults as well. Taller adults and children can sit this way or lower their elbows to being almost parallel to the keytops.

*Support the back by keeping footstools nearby for small children. Adults should place feet on the floor near the pedals.

IMPROVED BASIC SITTING POSITION – variation 1

Distance from keys:  Small children to adults can sit closer than arms length (up to half the distance) to the piano. This is sometimes difficult to do at an upright since there is no space around the pedals, so it is more ideal for children at an upright rather than adults at an upright. This works best when seated at a grand piano.

Height for the bench:   The relaxed shoulder and arm should hang loosely and let the hands rest on the piano with bent elbows. The elbows should be at a 40 to 45 degree angle above the keytops.

 

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