Confessions of a piano student.

Regular guest author Simon Reich (pictured above as a little boy) has a confession to make… 

“I’d let down my piano teacher, my parents and ultimately myself, by not being able to read music better than my grades suggested”. This was the unfortunate soundtrack playing inside my head, each time I went to piano lessons.

But deep inside me a sleeping talent was about to emerge – and I didn’t yet know it!

Continue reading Confessions of a piano student.

My First Schumann

Sheet Music Review

Schott Music, the revered German publishers founded back in 1770, are maintaining an impressive commitment to new piano music publishing projects, including a wide range of resources and publications for players of all levels.

Of particular interest to intermediate players (and their teachers) will be there ongoing “My First …” series. The first two issues (Bach and Mozart – see below) have recently been joined by “My First Schumann”, which I am delighted to review here.

Continue reading My First Schumann

I got a nice new chair today

Sunday Sounds

This week has been a bit of a struggle, with rather a lot on my plate. On the plus side, I bought a new office chair to replace my broken one. And it’s good to celebrate small victories!

I sat down at the piano late yesterday evening and a little improvisation emerged from my fingers.

At the encouragement of my family I hit the record button, and here’s my second attempt at playing around with this simple tune. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow: Andrew Eales on SoundCloud

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Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)

Sheet Music Review

Edition HH is a publishing house founded by Norwegian musician Per Hartmann, and based in Oxfordshire, UK. Their eclectic and ever-expanding catalogue embraces contemporary scores and scholarly performing editions of rarer items in the musical repertoire, from the Renaissance to the Romantic periods.

‘Animal Jazz’ is a recent addition, a selection of 15 brand new original short pieces for piano solo composed by London-based musician Barbara Snow.

Continue reading Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)

“Shifting” Michael McDonald

Sunday Sounds

Michael McDonald grew up in North Carolina, USA, but has for the last 15 years lived in Helsinki, Finland, where he is the music teacher in an english-language school.

A gifted pianist, Michael enjoys exploring the sound-world of different and unusual pianos, which has drawn him to many of the more recent sample libraries from Native Instruments such as ‘The Maverick’, and ‘Una Corda’ (a prepared piano about which I will be writing more here soon!), as well as Spitfire Audio’s “Gwilym Simcock Felt Piano”, which is heard in this beautiful piece ‘Shifting’.

Michael says of this track:

“I work on music in my 6-year-old daughter’s room. My speakers are surrounded by a huge pile of stuffed animals. My daughter often asks me to ‘play her to sleep’ at night, so I work on these quiet piano pieces, mostly improvising around some simple idea, and later realize she’s fallen asleep.
I love the work of Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds and hope to include some small facet of their work in my own.”

Michael’s SoundCloud page contains a lot more tracks, many of them evocative experiments with the sounds of the latest new instruments he has acquired, and it is well worth exploring his work there:

Follow: Michael McDonald on SoundCloud

‘Magic Beans’ (Ben Crosland)

Sheet Music Review

‘Magic Beans’ is the latest collection of easy piano pieces by Ben Crosland, and will be published on Saturday 5th March 2016. Having received an advance copy from publisher Editions Musica Ferrum, I am delighted to offer this first in-depth review of the book…

Continue reading ‘Magic Beans’ (Ben Crosland)

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

The Fermata Series

Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.

I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.

I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely. What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.

Fermata-Series

“Piano Misterioso” – Barbara Arens

Sheet Music Review

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.”
A. Einstein: The World as I see it

In my review of Barbara Arens’ ’21 Amazingly Easy Pieces’ last month I concluded:

“The partnership between composer and publisher has clearly worked brilliantly here, and the resulting book is quite simply a delight. Let’s hope for more to come!”

I’m therefore particularly happy to be reviewing the follow up ‘Piano Misterioso’, especially as all the praise offered in my previous review equally applies here. It is clear that publishers Breitkopf & Härtel have again given their full professional attention to editorial detail, beautifully presenting Barbara’s latest pieces with class and distinction.

Continue reading “Piano Misterioso” – Barbara Arens

Encouraging Music

Guest post by Simon Reich.

Before recording became a viable option to most home based musicians, I would improvise and compose tunes at my piano each day, as a way of winding down after work. Sometimes I would forget them completely by the next day, but that didn’t concern me, as I had felt something quite deep and cathartic during the creation of these musical adventures.

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“Practice Starters” – Pick a Card!

New from Paul Harris and Faber Music, and launched at Music Education Expo in London today, “Practice Starters” is a pack of cards which aims to kick start and refresh your practice sessions. And it’s a lot of fun!..

Continue reading “Practice Starters” – Pick a Card!