Why are there some composers that we just don’t really like?
That’s a question that has reappeared in my thinking at regular intervals since I read a blog post on Norman Lebrecht’s site Slipped Disc way back in 2014 entitled 10 Works of Composers you never want to hear again.
All this time later, the comments section of that post is still receiving periodic additions as more music lovers choose to name and shame the music that particularly irritates them.
A Facebook group for classical music lovers has recently had popular threads asking such questions as:
- Which is your least favorite, most cringe evoking piece of classical music?
- Name your three least favorite composers.
- Which instrument most offends your ears?????
And in all three cases, these have attracted several hundred replies!
Some of course protest that it is unthinkable that a proper music lover could lower themselves to answering such questions, as if somehow those who do are traitors to the cause, or maybe just a little bit uncouth. But it’s interesting to note that some world-class performers have been among those quick to share their dislikes!
What we need to remember, though, is that our answers to such questions are entirely subjective.
Thankfully most people get this, and make little effort to justify their dislikes in objective terms. It is possible to objectively recognise a composer is great while not subjectively enjoying their music. It is when people forget this that they end up having pointless arguments with strangers online!
Continue reading Morning Sickness & Mahler
Building a Library
“Mindfulness” has become one of the buzzwords of the decade. We’ve no doubt all seen the regular articles about it in the popular press, exploring the possible benefits of mindfulness practice for our physical and mental health, productivity, learning, and general happiness.
But what of piano players – how can we benefit from mindfulness practice?
It’s a question for which we might hope to find answers in highly respected teacher, composer and pianist Mark Tanner’s hotly anticipated book and much lauded The Mindful Pianist, published by Faber Music this autumn.
According to the publishers:
“The Mindful Pianist presents amateurs and professionals with a fresh perspective on playing and performing. Applying the concept of mindfulness to the piano, this invaluable text explores the crucial connection between mind and body: how an alert, focussed mind fosters playing that is more compelling, more refined and ultimately more rewarding …
Improvisation in Action – A Video!
In this series, I have written many words and imparted knowledge from my experience. But merely in print form.
I have mentioned a few times though, that you need to dip your foot in the pool and go for it yourself. That got me thinking about videoing myself noodling around until I “found” something that constituted a tune.
I’ve never done this before, so it was quite interesting for me as well. I put my phone on a shoe box and started taping in my music room. I only did one take and had never consciously heard this tune before.
Continue reading Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 3
Advice for New Performers
As the pianist releases the final notes of the piece, the audience bursts into enthusiastic applause. The player stands and takes a bow…
It’s a code of conduct that we tend to take for granted – but one that should be taught and practised as part of performance preparation.
I try to cultivate a friendly, non-competitive, informal atmosphere at my student concerts, but it’s still important to teach new performers the importance of more formal “stagecraft”, etiquette, and the essential place of taking a bow to receive and acknowledge audience applause.
I often give students a “mock performance” experience in their lesson, including teaching them how to bow. Here is a quick summary that supports that practice.
Continue reading Take a Bow! How, When and Why…
Improvisation – Jump In!
Guest post by Simon Reich (pictured)
The amazing thing about improvisation, in my experience, is the fact that inspiration and output can come no matter how I am feeling.
In fact, some of the best tunes I have composed have been when I am feeling down and compromised. The flip side to this is that when I am happy, the creative juices still flow! So in essence, nothing need hold you back from a productive improvisation.
As mentioned in the previous article, armed with your skills of scale and chord understanding it’s always the right time to start noodling around the keyboard and find a gem waiting to be unearthed. Sometimes it starts with a chord progression, other times a melody.
When I was quite young, I remember hearing certain tunes and feeling a funny tingling sensation in my stomach. This became my yardstick for great chord progressions. If I could make myself feel those “butterflies in my tummy”, I’d done it!
You are your own best guide to what sound good, so trust your intuition.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” – Jack Canfield
Continue reading Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 2
Improvisation – Can it be learnt?
Guest post by Simon Reich (pictured)
People ask me, “can you learn to improvise”, and my answer is, “YES, the majority of musicians can be taught”.
If you have only ever played from printed scores, then surely at times you have heard music in your head? It’s just a matter of coaxing that out via the instrument.
Continue reading Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 1
At a recent piano recital, I started with the very beautiful Chaconne in F major by the early French Baroque composer Louis Couperin (1626-61), uncle of the far better known François Couperin “Le Grand” (1668-1731).
For most who were in the audience, it will have been their first encounter with the music of Louis Couperin, and even those with an interest in the early French Baroque will perhaps never have heard this music performed on a modern piano before – it was written for the harpsichord (or clavecin as the French knew it) and while later Baroque music (for example the keyboard works of J.S.Bach and Domenico Scarlatti) has found its way into the piano repertoire, earlier Baroque keyboard music is rarely heard outside of specialist “Early Music” circles.
Continue reading Louis Couperin … on the Piano?
Building a Library
Rami Bar-Niv is one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought-after pianists. He performs worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, and has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. He has made several well received recordings for CBS, several of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.
Though some UK readers may not have come across Rami, those who are active networking on Facebook will have seen, and no doubt benefitted, from his erudite, constructive and generous support of other pianists. In short, Rami has won many friends around the world with his warmth, charm, and passion for the piano.
The Art of Piano Fingering
The Art of Piano Fingering is essentially a large manual for piano playing, published as a 212 page book via CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Several readers have asked me about it, and my opinion can effectively be summed up in just two words: Buy it.
Books about piano technique are rarely page-turners, and the idea of a large book that just deals with the nitty-gritty of piano fingering may not immediately appear enticing, but don’t be put off. In this review I will explain why I believe this book is an essential purchase for anyone who plays or teaches the piano…
Continue reading The Art of Piano Fingering
Debate about the value of piano competitions continues to stir heated discussion in the classical music world.
Latest to weigh in with a rather controversial blog post is pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, a young Russian formerly awarded Prize Laureate at the Honens Competition of 2012. Kolesnikov goes so far as to name specific jurors who, he says, have voted for their own students in recent competitions, lifting the lid on a practice that he portrays as rife.
Continue reading The Competitions Controversy
Guest Author: Frances Wilson
Whenever we have a thought or physical sensation thousands of neurons are triggered and get together to form a neural network in the brain.
“Experience-dependent neuroplasticity” is the scientific term for this activity of continual creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains which takes place as a result of our personal life experiences. With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time, and neuroscientists and psychologists have found that the brain can be “trained” to build positive neural traits from positive mental states.
The trouble is, the brain tends towards the negative and is very bad at learning from good experiences and very good at learning from bad ones. This negativity bias was very important in keeping our ancestors alive during times of great hardship and danger, but in our 21st-century brains it can be a block that prevents positive experiences from becoming inner strengths which are built into our neural structure.
As musicians most of us are very familiar with “the inner critic”, that destructive voice within that can sabotage a practise session or performance and damage our self-esteem with negative self-talk.
Continue reading 10 Ways to turn “I can’t” into “I can”