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Cross Cultural Understanding

28 Dec

repost: Cross-Cultural- Understanding from Piano_Noir  

First published Dec. 28, 2012

Aloha…is from a land of Hawaiian Ukulele music.  Ukelele music is popular among the local Hawaiian families and is frequently used at weddings and celebrations. Aloha land is 4920 miles away from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the East Coast of the United States where traditional Christian weddings are plentiful. Philadelphia, PA where Rachmaninoff hisself conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, where the legendary piano instructors Gary Graffman & the Sokoloffs reigned for over 50 years as the best piano instructors on the planet through the 2000 millenium. Though I was adventurous as a prior student of a Hungarian piano instructor who was a collegue of Zoltan Kodaly where local folk music was embraced, the Hawaiian attitude is anything except harsh.

I was in a condusive traditional Classical piano environment and learned piano in a very strong Christian based community. One where every church has at least one grand piano, if not two or more grand pianos and electric organ or common pipe organ. I grew up with the general knowledge that Bach and many of the great keyboard Composers were supported by the Church and wrote sacred as well as secular music, with a pethora of churches and institutions where I could perform on a variety of period instruments frequently.  In diminished comparison, Hawaii barely houses an electric keyboard at any church, let alone 1 studio upright or pipe organ.

In the current 21st century economy many Hawaii churches have “gotten rid of” their keyboard instruments due to maintenance costs and vandalism from an obtrusive population. Before moving to Hawaii, I took my east coast musical environment for granted and wished the general population was understanding of my Japanese heritage. However, most of the Christian community included everyone in the USA who has traditionally hated the Japanese;- including newly formed Korean specific churches. So I continually befell physical attacks, verbal criticism, and blatant discrimination on the East coast for most of my 30 some years of life.

So, I move to Hawaii and am inundated with a severe local attitude that is against piano.  They say I have  “too high makamaka”  think I’m better than them. I worked at piano because I loved it and my talent put me through college with a scholarship.

The other day, a local parent mentioned to me that his child was learning a popular “Traditional Christian wedding piece” on their keyboard on her own. This is the first time that I have gotten to explain that these are normal pieces, that many children on the mainland learn to play at their family weddings. It’s difficult for me to believe that the culture in Hawaii is so vastly different from the East Coast USA that these things are so “foreign” to local Hawaii. Especially since I see the religious rosary with crosses dangling from many rear view mirrors, and other Christian car markings. Just as most mainland people could not explain the differences and nuances of Hawaiian musical performances because they don’t know the Hawaiian traditional song repertoire;- most Hawaiian Islander natives could not begin to explain the subtleties of any Classical piano repertoire performance.

edited: Nov. 23, 2016

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.

My Hawaii Studio Recital & My Birthday

22 Nov
Gifts of Hawaiian Lei & Koko-Pele

Gift & Music from students for my first Studio recital in HawaiiFlowers for the Instructor

I arrived with a batch of recording equipment. One of my adult students  immediately “lei’d” me with a beautiful and soft fragrant lei. The lei smelled soft, light and fruit-like and really changed the aura around me to being immediately pleasant.  It was only my 2nd lei made of flowers that I have received since being in Hawaii. So, it is something very special to me.  Three beginning students of mine committed to performing that day for about a half hour. My prior studio recitals were 20-25 beginners playing short works of 1 min. a piece over 30 minutes.  So, this felt more like a recital should to me. Two of the composers prepared original works for they day. We had performances of a Christian based song called “An Angel is Born” by a Hapa-American composer that I accompanied on piano in the style of Pebble Hill Inter-faith Church, and a piano piece entitled “CY7” by a young Japanese-American composer.

Others adult students bailed out on performing, days before, or had business trips and other things planned. The Studio recital this year went well. Held on the 20th of Nov. 2011. Some of my adult students were able to perform, and in the aftermath of APEC that greatly affected the island and our schedules. And, on a weekend before the Holiday season “officially begins” with Thanksgiving day in 4 days.

I was very happy with everyone’s efforts. Before the performances I gave everyone performing a copy of Ruth Laredo’s book for advice and to aid them in their first performance. And, very proud of an adult student who had to play and carry most of the music time in this beginning recital with more lengthy and intermediate classical & jazz works.
 At the end, I was given a Hawaiian Koko-Pele necklace (aka as Kokopelli) with the spirit of the music muse. And, for the first time in my 20th year of teaching;- I gave out awards. Awards are something that I usually reserved for students who were in my studio in excess of 2 years or in the rare case of exceptionalism. This time was quite different. My youngest student and only child student has studied with me since August, barely making the 3 month mark. Another student who was on-again/ off-again and never having much time for learning piano and practicing pulled through with lengthy song lyrics and a melody that I helped to arrange.  What a wonderful day! All ended with another

Asian Lillies- fragrant
Flowers for the Instructor

bouquet of Asian lillies and requests to hear me play, despite my attempts to clear the hall for recording. I realized that I normally make and evaluate self-recordings before performing as part of my artistic process.

It was nice to see happy faces. Thanks to everyone for making it a wonderful day.
Later, I got to cash in my Starbucks Birthday coffee card for a Venti Peppermint Soy Mocha. Then, I was able to get some extra hall time to try out the piano and recording in this hall (a new place for me). Afterwards, I was taken to dinner at PF Chang’s for some Vegetarian spicy eggplant and yes, a Chopin Dirty Martini- Shaken not stirred.
(reminiscent of a small group of male tweens in my  piano studio, years ago who performed the James Bond theme, and one made the Philadelphia Inquirer re: his serenades)

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.

Differences of Adult piano/music lessons

27 Oct

Live without piano lesson regrets.

Piano teachers everywhere have heard parents talk about their own experiences with piano, and with some hint of regret that they didn’t stay with the piano. Adulthood is a wonderful time to learn the piano as a safe and enriching hobby that can be done easily in one’s home or office.

Why piano?

There is something, as an instructor, that makes me giggle when I hear colleagues who made the life commitment to teach stringed instruments. It usually occurs sometime when I’m walking down the hallway and I can’t help contain my laughter. I’m happy as a piano instructor that I don’t have to focus on getting a student to improve the sound quality of a squeaky tune. However, that’s probably the only laughter I get to have as a piano instructor. The things that I focus on improving as an instructor with pedagogical technique/method are far more serious in producing quality and quantity of piano music.

The Focus and differences of Adult piano/ music lessons

1. Training hands that are accustomed to other movements & using fine motor skills that are previously untapped.

2. Ear training in tonalities;-  the Adult ear has a musical awareness the new child learner is only forming.

3. Memory work that can, for some time at the beginning, be inconsistent from week to week. One week it’s easy for an adult to remember something and the next week the focus isn’t there. We adults simply have more pressing matters on our mind than most children. And, we have to mentally prepare ourselves to block out those thoughts and keep the cel phone turned off for the time that we are practicing, if possible.

Memory and focus for adults is one of the biggest trials for me as a piano instructor. And, I can also relate in adulthood. Adults simply have more things going on in life. And, unlike a life threatening rock climb, piano doesn’t require complete focus to stay alive, as an enriching hobby. For this reason, it’s important for adult learners of all ages to treat their time at the piano as a musical meditation time. When one begins to equate learning slow finger movements to a slow walking meditation, we have begun to enter a more focused mindframe. This level of awareness is needed in the first months of adult lessons so that performance frustrations don’t overwhelm the chance of success at the piano.

4. Performance self-conciousness for adult piano learners is usually higher than for children (who accept that performing is another kid thing they’re supposed to do, and all kids understand this). It’s important for beginning adults to perform in a peer friendly environment. Everyone has different amounts of time to give to their piano study in adulthood in order to maintain their adult responsibilities. And, this time is everchanging in our adult lives. We must be patient with ourselves and our life circumstance, breathe, and accept where we are at the instrument. It’s more important to embrace our piano study as a gift to ourselves, and accept any performance opportunity as a step in our progression at piano learning.

5. Musical awareness is a bigger difference with adults taking piano/music lessons. Adults simply have heard more, seen more, and experienced more in life than a child. Because of these factors and the life long experiential depth that has developed a full range of emotion;- adult learners who take their time at developing tonal/muscular control of sound will have more to express than many adept child performers. In part, as performers, we call this practicing the aura or emotional maturity of a piece rather than just practicing getting the keys and basic rhythm.

I hope that this helps adults who are looking into taking piano lessons. The most important thing though is to have fun with playing the piano and performing. For adults who want to begin on their own, I suggest checking out Alfred’s Adult Piano Course level one with CD. The CD is a bit “fast”, but work through the book at your own pace. Find a teacher to correct your written work in the book (which may be a good review if you’ve had prior lessons), and maybe if you feel ready;- assign some pieces.

I have my own 2-3 year syllabus that has 14 pieces selected from the Classical Repertoire for children or adults to learn from, and to expand their understanding of the Classical piano performance and dialogue. The pieces range from simple Bartok to Mozart and Bach, and then Mostly the Great Romantics – Beethoven & Chopin followed with Debussy and Shostakovich.

Aside from the above mentioned syllabus, I primarily teach adults how to work on anything that they want to play.

Black notes create imaginative rainbows

26 Oct

Black notes created dark Gregorian chant  music scores.

Black notes created sacred Baroque period music scores.

Black notes created noble Classical period music scores.

Black notes created passionate Romantic period music scores.

Black notes created the colorful Impressionistic period music scores.

Black notes created revolutionary Contemporary period music scores.

Black notes create our now Modern period music scores.

Children and adults alike are to imagine the colorful, articulated sounds that breathe life into the music. It doesn’t matter what color one prints the notes on the score, there are more techniques to learn than ever. Black notes have worked for over  since 6 BC. And, coloring those notes various colors does not necessarily make one a more articulate player on the modern piano.  However, the common modern tactic to keeping interest at the piano is to make it a more interesting experience to sit at the piano. Black notes, rewrote and written for over 2000 years of the human experience…now in color.

Big Studio, Small Studio- Recital Differences

25 Oct

30+ students in recitals or >10 students in a recital what’s the difference?

When parents are selecting a piano instructor, the recital size can make a difference.

On the positive side of the bigger studio recitals:

  1. Students & parents will hear the same repertoire performed and can begin to assess performance differences. The bigger recitals will generate a new dialogue for the entire studio to talk about piano performances. This dialogue will mature as more outside piano concerts and recitals are attended.
  2. Beginning student performers have safety and comfort of only being on stage for a piece or two (1 min – 3 min avg. ) in case of a memory slip or anxiety. It’s quickly over with.
  3.  30-45+ min recitals to listen to. Some of the larger recitals are at the local conservatory or music school and are combined with other studios and students can perform representing their instructor’s studio.
  4. Instructors can disperse a “smaller recital fee” among more students for the piano, tuning, etc.

On the positive side of small studio recitals:

  1. Students & parents will hear different repertoire performed. Usually, smaller piano studios have parents who are more frequent concert goers or had a pianist in the family and are already more educated about Classical piano performances. The conversation about the performances will have a more mature depth to them.
  2. Beginning student performers have safety and comfort of being with people who they are more familiar with and will perform longer with 3-4+ pieces (1.5 min – 10+ min on average). If there is a memory slip or anxiety, the audience will usually be more understanding and supportive. *this is typical to do with students preparing for auditions in any studio size.
  3. 20 – 30 min recital to listen to with the possibility of hearing the instructor perform on the same day/ recital.
  4. Instructors can arrange these recitals more frequently, as students are ready, giving students more performance opportunities.
  5. The audience can be more critical and smaller, more like an audition.
  6. There is extra time for students to “re-record” a performance on video/audio if they are unhappy with the initial performance.

On the flip side of big studio recitals

  1. Parents often complain about the same repertoire being performed each year by numerous beginners.
  2. Children can make blatantly cruel comments about their peers rather than being supportive, before leaving the recital hall.
  3. Adult beginners are usually outnumbered by children 99,5% & are  extremely self-conscious about performing with 7 year olds or 12 year olds and try to make light of it when they reach the stage with a talk, rather than performing as a student should.
  4. Some recitals scheduled run over 45 minutes. Younger children start crying and become irritated easily.
  5. Students don’t hear the instructor/faculty perform that day due to a number of Student recitals. A separate time/day is arranged for a faculty performance that students may not be able to attend.
  6. More difficult to “re-record” a performance because of the volume of people present and moving after the recital.

On the flip side of small studio recitals

  1. These are more difficult for the instructor to publicize in the community since fewer community members are involved in the performance.
  2. The audience is smaller by about 50% or more.
  3. If recital costs are assigned, they are higher for each student performer
  4. The student becomes too comfortable in the performing hall
  5. The student has more anxiety because the audience is more educated, or there is no way out until the last piece has been played.
  6. An unusual rotation of the performers after each piece, rather than sitting through and playing all pieces.

Though this is just a short list of important things off the top of my head, it is something a parent/student should ask the instructor about when interviewing for lessons. It’s important to define the type of piano experience you are seeking for your young pianist. I have simultaneously taught in both of these situations and am happy to answer questions that you leave in the comments section.

Asian Women in Classical Music

17 Oct

My lunchtime thoughts were too intense…Today I decided to have lunch at Thai Village and I ordered a vegetarian green curry dish. $9.79 and I calculated the 20% tip of $1.87 despite wanting to leave more. On the walk home;- I found a $1 folded and laying on the sidewalk. definitely one of my smaller money laying on the sidewalk finds. It wasn’t some drunken gambler who dropped his bound 12″ stack of Franklins who possibly just left a hidden gambling room. Then, I didn’t have to hand this dollar back to anyone, I gave it to my cat to play with.

I sat below an antique cloth sculpture with tarnishing metal sequins, river polished moon stones and other embroidery articulations. On the adjacent wall, there is a Western style painting of a Village scene at the foot of a mountain in Thailand. In the water are energized water lilies/ lotus floating by a bridge. Since I’m from the East Coast and have spent most of my years on the planet regularly between New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore my mind has grown weary of the superficial life in Hawaii. It’s difficult to have a conversation with someone about what college/ university you went to. Instead, people get very excited over those who went to the main private high schools on the Island. There is little to no appreciation for anything that isn’t difficult for them to get and expensive to pay for. Then, especially if you are a female;- there is a very nasty side that translates to “sex trade” and someone else capitalizing off of your efforts to stay alive. And the worst part, is that the Island of Oahu is small enough so that people can find you easily if you don’t do what they want or ask of you. There is no big city anonymity or luck by chance of running into the right person through hard work.

So finally time for me to mention, Yuja Wang, pianist, this past August at the Hollywood Bowl.  She wears dresses on stage that are shorter than the traditional cocktail dress. I myself, think that her taste in dress is demeaning to a lot of women. Her club clothes that seem more appropriate for an American strip club or Hawaiian hostess bar.  Though, I’ve seen some of the women coming out of Hostess bars at night to eat at local restaurants in Honolulu and they wear longer dresses & high fashion shoes.

There has been a conversation going on for some time about “changing the Classical piano performance”.  The thing that really really gets to me though;- is that my colleagues and performers who I read about (like Yuja) who I think Gary Graffman mentioned to me back around 2001;- is that the change isn’t clothing. The change in the Classical piano world is the publicizing of “ethnic” people of non-caucasian background. Try telling someone from Guam or Japan or China they are “ethnic” in Hawaii like I did when I moved here from my Philadelphia and NY life. I was met with a shocking comment from them;- That I am not ETHNIC and am part of the MAJORITY (that is, over here in the middle of the Pacific), and neither are they. They have little to no awareness of how badly women of Asian descent can be and are treated on the East coast because those women (and men) are considered “Ethnic” to mainstream America.

I could probably write more than a dissertation to unpack the problems of minority women (not just women) in the United States with regards to classical music and other professional fields that are predominantly Caucasian male run. Instead, below are some statistics from the book, “Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream” by Robert I. Simon, MD; 2008, American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

  • 33-35% of men fantasize about raping a woman, and say they would if they knew they wouldn’t get caught (pg. 64-65)
  • “51% of rapists are white, 42% black, 6% have other racial backgrounds” note percentages are based on reported rapes. (pg. 61)
  • “The National Women’s Study estimated that 683,000 adult women are raped each year.” (pg. 61)
  • “Power is the major motivation for rape”(pg. 61)
  • 14% of single rape victims are 12-15 years old.(pg. 61)
  • “The group at the highest risk is between the ages of 16 & 24.”(pg. 61)

My thoughts on Yuja Wang’s short dress that belongs in an age 21 and over club, where there are only adults and possibly alcohol.  I think Yuja should have stayed with a nicer image that doesn’t advertise cockpit hemlines. I know I’m not thinking about the music, I’m thinking about the continued exploitation of Asian women by the United States. I have heard at least 3 generations of sad tales from Asian women coast to coast and in Hawaii, of those who speak english well. I and my friends have lived through a lot, and there is a horrifying reality that this attitude will only become worse in the USA. Mostly because of the economy. And, when there is a lack of wealth;- women are some of the first to be exploited without financial compensation. Even in Hawaii, domestic violence cases are being ignored by HPD. The more stable women are hurting more already. When I was in my college years, because of a lack of family in the USA, I stayed and interned for leading Feminist and rights groups around Washington D.C. That was how I stayed safe for some short times I was in need of help. If I could say something.Please Yuja, keep it graceful. Your face & your musical performance and interpretation is the change in the piano performance world. Your short dress, doesn’t distinguish you from the rest of the Asian sex trade.

To be edited….

Plan a Beginner Recital

16 Oct

During my time, especially at a Community Conservatory, I had to plan programs for student recitals every 9 weeks, to 18 weeks.

Obviously most parents expected a half hour round of Twinkle twinkle little star. However, many of them thanked me for my programming. That, wasn’t easy but made the 4 Saturday beginning recitals more enjoyable.

When it comes to recital time, we refer to the classical music that our children and students perform for solo piano as:

  1. Repertoire
  2. Literature
  3. Pieces

Repertoire or pieces for beginners no matter what “acclaimed method” you are using should stem from the Classical Piano tradition.  There are many method books that present very nice collections of piano repertoire. So, sometimes one would see my students performing repertoire from multiple method books;- levels 1-3.

These piano method books are: the

  1. RCM Celebrate Piano series
  2. Summy Birchard’s Contemporary Piano Literature
  3. Suzuki Method
  4. Summy Birchard’s Piano Literature of the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries

This keeps the private library cost low in the beginning. There are 3 lines of books that are my favorites and publish nice collections of piano and other Repertoire for students who do not have a music library.  My own teaching style contributes greatly to their success at the instrument. I refer to these books as repertoire books. And, for Jazz;- I add a little in when it is requested. Though, usually we are working on improvisation at the lesson before “formally” getting into some Jazz method book and repertoire.

When I have a large number of beginning students;- I divide the repertoire/pieces/ so that there are few, if any repetitions of the same piece during a recital. And, it keeps sibling rivalry lower and the home music varied for families who have more than one child enrolled in piano study. And, for the very interested student, it gives them more to delve into and read (rather than less).

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