Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anderson and Roe take on the Moonlight Sonata

This video "gets me" every time I see it.  Talented piano duo Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe do a "dramatic" performance of the all-too-familiar first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.  The skits are dramatic presentations of actual comments posted on YouTube videos of this piece by noted artists such as Kissin, Kempff, Horowitz, and Argerich.

Their website  (thanks, Chase!) is at - guess I was typing .com, but thought I was trying to access it from a search result.  Oh well, it's fixed now.  They have a CD out as well; I have it and it is fantastic.  It is available as a download from iTunes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ravel's Jeux d'eau: a "newer" look at an old favorite

Anyone here considering playing Ravel’s Jeux d’eau in the near future? This piece has been an obsession for me, staying in the back of my mind for some time. I have played the Sonatine many times, and still have it under my fingers to a degree. I actually got Jeux d’eau to the point about ten years ago where I could "cover the notes" at a slow speed – then dropped it and moved on.  (The reader will soon learn that I have something I call "musical ADHD".)

On my last trip to Atlanta (and Hutchins and Rea Music) I decided to pick up a new copy and think about taking the piece back up. Even though I have the Alfred, Schirmer (edited by Rafael Joseffy), and a reprint of the original Demets edition at home (and probably a few others), I wanted to see if the new Peters Urtext (ed. Roger Nichols) had anything new to offer in the way of fingerings, etc. The Alfred edition is edited and fingered by Maurice Hinson, NOT Nancy Bricard who worked sheer miracles with Gaspard, Miroirs, and Le Tombeau de Couperin. Alfred ought to commission her to edit the entire Ravel oeuvre.

Alas, the Peters/Nichols Jeux d’eau was NOT fingered. Which to me was odd because my Sonatine in the same edition is.

They had a Masters Music Publications edition in the files, and I was curious to see which edition they bootlegged this time – Schirmer? Demets? I presume you all are familiar with their editions – usually reprints of public-domain editions of the standards, similar to what Kalmus (later handled by Belwin-Mills) sold for years. Actually, the piano-score division of Edwin Kalmus evolved into Masters.  I have a Masters edition of Le Tombeau de Couperin, and it is a reprint of the original Durand.

No reprint here. This is a new edition, edited and fingered by Richard Dowling. There are two pages of "program notes" and the music is NEWLY ENGRAVED, (appears to be done with a computer music-notation program) with generous fingering and some of the most ingenious hand redistributions that one can imagine! Page turns are convenient, the score is clear and easy to read, and his suggestions make the piece so much easier to play.

I am considering committing myself to finally finish what I started with this piece, and encourage anyone out there who wants to add this to their repertoire to check out this edition, no matter how many other ones you own.  This edition, as it stands, is a master lesson on the piece.

Maurice Ravel: Jeux d’eau
Edited by Richard Dowling
Masters Music Publications M3783

Although this was originally posted to the Yahoo! group ThePiano in 2006, I had the urge to share it here, as I feel that this edition is useful for teacher and performer alike, and merits attention.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pre-Beginning Beginnings

I never claimed to be a prodigy at the piano, or any other instrument I played. But here is the photographic evidence that I at least mastered ONE thing at a very early age. Yes, I had a record collection that early. And by three and a half I could read at a functional level, having learned from my mother. She taught me to read by using the titles and artists on record labels. Seriously.

      We believe that both of these pictures were taken around 1962, with the top picture being earlier. The picture is not very clear, but my portable record player is on the couch. As I got bigger, I could reach over and into the larger "console model" in the living room.


Because a blog has to start SOMEWHERE, and I will introduce myself slowly over time, I take you, dear reader, to the very beginning, when I first placed my then-skinny self upon a piano bench.

     In the fifth grade or so, my mother decided that I needed something to occupy my time. It was decided that I would take piano lessons. I don't think that I ever asked for lessons, it just seemed the thing to do.

     My first piano teacher was a colorful woman by the name of Myra French (pictured above, circa 1974, with yours truly - sardine shoulders and all.) Her husband Ray was my third cousin. She could talk the ears off of Prince Charles. I loved her. I think Mama paid $2.50 for a 30-minute lesson.

     For some odd reason Myra dispensed with the modern, up-to-date (at the time) David Carr Glover method she was using with the other students, and put me in a little oblong-shaped red book entitled "Teaching Little Fingers to Play". It was a letdown for a ten-year-old, and a mentally gifted ten-year-old at that. But Myra had her reasons. That was my first contact with the John Thompson Piano Course.

     I guess I progressed rapidly, but not at at an alarming rate. I have taught students who seemed to have progressed faster than I did. I never really thought of myself as musically gifted; I was just doing something I enjoyed.

     In my first recital in spring of 1971 I played two pieces - "Our School Band" by David Carr Glover, and an original composition - my first - "The Happy Homework Hum". It was in an A major five-finger position and used only two chords - I and V7.

     Over the years I remember a few other recital performances, nothing out of the ordinary. The Frenches had moved from Roanoke to Fayette, Alabama in 1972, and I did not study piano during my seventh-grade year.

     I had continued working on my own in those John Thompson Second and Third Grade Books, reveling in such fine literature as the Burgmueller Ballade (my first big classical warhorse; I thought I was something when I could play that) and the Barcarolle from Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann". I played the Barcarolle in a school talent show; I think it was a success. It was the first time that my teachers knew that I "could play".

     The French family returned to Roanoke the following year and I resumed study with Myra. By then I was playing a little Bach - the ubiquitous Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and some of the pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook.

     I recall playing that Bach prelude at a recital in a local nursing home, along with - get this - "Tubular Bells - Theme from 'The Exorcist'"! (hey, it was a cool piece for a fourteen-year-old). In my last recital with Myra (the above photo is from that recital) I played the John Thompson arrangement of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2, and the John Schaum arrangement of the Grieg Piano Concerto. I have a cassette recording of this performance somewhere, and it's really embarrassing. Instead of using printed programs, we announced our pieces before we played. From the sound of the tape recording, I think my voice changed sometime during that evening.

     Myra Keeble French Williamson died early in the morning of June 20, 2010, of an apparent heart attack. I had the honor of giving a brief eulogy at her funeral, and her former students Sanford Watson and myself performed. I played the Chopin Etude in C sharp minor, op. 25 no. 7. Myra gave so much to our community, in ways that reached beyond music. For I am white, and Sanford is black. Myra was the first piano teacher in our town to accept black students. Sanford went on to study with me, then attended Jacksonville (Alabama) State University on a piano scholarship, where he received a bachelor of education degree with a major in music. He is now the band director at Handley Middle School in Roanoke, Alabama, still a close friend, and a role model to the children he teaches.
      To the memory of Myra, and to small-town piano teachers everywhere, I dedicate this blog, and welcome your comments and suggestions.