While only the finest tuner will do for our most important asset, we are not above using child labor when our second most important tool is in need of repair.
For a piano teacher, there are few happier sights than...
Clinical studies have shown it is impossible to teach without a well sharpened pencil in hand. Nor is it possible to practice without a pencil at the ready at the fall board. Students are encouraged to write their own fingerings and reminders, both at the lesson and at home and of course I am quick on the Number Twos with my own practice. A popular adage here at the WT Studio is "the unscribbled upon score is not worth playing."
But all too often, in the heat of a moment spent passionately refingering a troublesome passage . . .
But why assault our delicate sensibilities more than needs be? And why forego the chance for a truly meta experience?
Some of your more philisophically astute students might argue that to be supremely meta, one needs sharpen one's pencil with a pencil shaped sharpener, but these are the same students who are always sticking things like ping pong balls and Japanese erasers into the sound board... just to see.
Which brings us to last Tuesday at Evan's lesson when perhaps we too vehemently underlined the words, Two Beats!! in a rhythmic transition of He's a Pirate and then only moments later drew an almost page tearing # in front of an F, thereby fatally compromising the point of the pencil.
Evan, perhaps glad at this point for a distraction, reached for the Piano Sharpener, only to find that it would not engage with the pencil. He tried several turns before realizing that there was a glitch in the mechanism. Luckily, Evan, just the fellow for the job did not blanche at the challenge.
Never one to forego a pedagogical opportunity I asked Evan what would have happened if he hadn't taken apart the sharpener. He astutely answered that the lead would still be caught in the blade and the pencil would not be any sharper.
"Even if you kept turning the pencil?" I asked.
"Yes" he responded with alacrity.
"Even if you turned it as fast as you could for a dozen or two dozen turns"?
"Even if," he sighed resignedly sensing the trap being laid....
"Hmmm..." I mused and directed his attention to the troublesome measure in Pirate.
'If I were to play an F natural here would it ever be right?
"No," he conceded.
"Even if I played it fast, so fast that I might not even hold it for the two beats it requires? "
"No"-- just a whisper.
"In fact, Wouldn't cheating a beat even compound the mistake?"
"Yes."-- barely audible.
Since the WT studio is nothing but kind-hearted and to prevent further shameful self recognition I reminded Evan of his great expertise in repair.
"But you fixed the sharpener! "
"Yes I did" he beamed
"And it works good as new!"
And so we tinkered with the passage, figured out why fingers were not cooperating with ears, blew off the sawdust and carefully reattached it to the piece's mainframe.
A few careful turns and we had a freshly sharpened addition to Evan's repertoire.
That would be Clara Schumann Bunny on holiday pictured at right.
Not this Clara Schumann pictured below as a young girl.
From what we know of Clara Wieck Schumann
there was very little time for light hearted hols under the grueling schedule set by papa Weick when promoting her as the prodigy she was (and number one advertisement for the Friedrich Wieck School of Hard Core- Bordering- on- Abusive Piano Pedagogy). Nor later under the yoke of husband Robert where she tried to remain (her greater Performance skills and Q-rating would out) subservient to his composing career. Nor after Robert's descent into madness and subsequent death leaving her as sole provider for herself and their 8 children when she was only 36 years old.
Of course she did travel extensively on tour throughout Europe and even to Russia, but our Clara was first and foremost a working girl and probably did not have much chance to stretch and bask under a lime tree in the morning sunshine as did CS Bunny on vacation with Luka and Anya while the Well Tempered Studio was on hiatus last week.
Luka and Anya did not take their responsibility for caring for studio bunny lightly. Here Anya and Luka are being instructed as to the proper care and feeding thereof as well as in administration of Banana Chip treats for bunny behavior Above and Beyond. Anya takes possession and chain of custody is established.
And here Clara prepares for the new adventure wrapped in her Official Holiday Towel.
And finally a postcard of the holiday maker herself basking under aforementioned lime tree.
Have we mentioned Clara is the World's Softest Bunny!
Invariably, the very newest students here at the Well Tempered Gymnasium, those who have not yet achieved the goal, nor even begun up the ladder who's highest rung is reserved for politeness and philosophical astuteness, learn a valuable lesson.
Their fingers will want to go where their fingers want to go. Or as that famous dedicated amateur clarinetist, Woody Allen once said: "The heart wants what the heart wants."
In case you thought that the august Well Tempered Society to which I am proud to be a member, proffers its privileges and responsibilities to any Tom, Dick, or Sally, I offer strong evidence to the contrary with my own Well Tempered piano teacher, P. The moral fortitude and sense of All that is Just and Right and the determination to follow through at short notice and literally "run the extra mile" find no more extraordinary embodiment than in him.
This morning I took my as usual enlightening and enjoyable lesson with P. And when I note he lives exactly one mile away from me, I say that to not just hint back to the previous paragraph, like the reentry of an introductory theme in the largo of a Ballade, but as an intimation of more wonders to behold.
After the lesson I placed, underneath his enameled wooden pen cradle, the exact same cash my own adult student M. had paid me previously this week.
Or SO I thought....
This afternoon after I taught the polite, philosophically astute, and shall we say, a tad exuberant siblings, A and L, I realized there was an envelope near my own tuition reliquary, I had not seen previously.
The enclosed was mixed in
with the fee. Didn't want you to
leave for New York without
I hastily opened the envelope and found, very curiously....
and inside that....
Earlier this year at the Well Tempered Conservatory we were presented with a dilemma that again required tact and discretion, as well as gentle guidance and a judicious use of extrinsic motivation: to wit, cake.
A pair of particularly polite and philosophically astute siblings were reluctant to participate in the spring recital.One felt embarrassed as he had begun lessons at a later age than most. His sister felt that if the brother didn't perform, it would be unfair to require her to do so.
Both of course had to be shown the fallacies behind their faulty reasoning. In the brother's case, it is true he started lessons later, but because of his diligent practice and hard work and his more mature learning skills and fine motor coordination, he had advanced far beyond the usual first year student. Also, it is not the technical difficulty of the piece that signifies, but the musicality of the performance for which I offered the pedagogial illustration of Arthur Schnabel.
Schnabel, whose performances of Beethoven and Schubert have been hailed as the model of interpretive penetration spent much of his life perfecting his performance of Traumerei- one of Robert Schumann's Kinderszenen, (Scenes of Childhood) that in most instances would be categorized as an intermediate level piece. (Schnabel also once famously divided his audience into two groups: coughing and not coughing- but that is a subject for future musings). As Edward Krankshaw notes in his preface to Arthur Schnabel: My Life and Music, "..it was simply that this extraordinary genius could not play to his liking a little fragment one learns in the nursery and then never thinks about again."
Legend has is that one morning, late in his life and just before lunch, Schnabel again was practing Traumeri, and this time there was a shriek from the back of his house. "Arthur ---you've got it! Twice more he played it through. That was Therese, his wife, who had been the most celebrated singer of Lieder in Germany before anyone had heard of Arthur Schnabel.
"What do you mean, I've got it?"
"You've been playing it wrong for 40 years.!"
From time to time, we here at the Offices of All Things Well Tempered (OATWTC) receive an inquiry regarding a particularly delicate matter. Either by direct request, or through a third party intermediary, it is suggested that we might be "interested" in some old sheet music. Although, of course our daily bread and butter lies in the piano education of polite and philosophically astute children (of all ages), we like to consider ourselves nothing, if not full service.
In some cases, a client is going through a process of mindful deacquisition. The sheet music has been a goal, and a noble goal it is. The years go by, however and the Hammerklavier Sonata or Lieberstraume Nocturne No. 3 remains unlearned. Troubling rumbles of guilt waft from the piano bench upsetting the client's karmic equilibrium.
For these matters, an agent from the OATWTC will be dispatched to the client's home and the unsettling reminders of dreams deferred will be quickly and efficiently sorted, packed up and carted away, with assurances that the greater good will be served by its donation either to our studio or other worthy institution. No questions asked, no judgements made. After all, who are we to cast stones with those copies of The Satanic Verses and A Brief History of time glaring at us accusingly from the drawing room bookshelf.
This is our basic no frills package and priced in keeping with industry standards.
In some instances however, the music offered is from a parent or grandmother or friend who has either moved from the family home and piano or else is no longer. And the client is left with music he himself can't use. And he is hoping that someone can use it, because there is something so potent and sacred about the written score that to think of it as relegated to the same blue recycling bin as yesterday's newspaper is tragic.
And sad it is, but not tragic. For we are there to commiserate with the donee and his musical legacy. We rummage through the pile. We talk about the Ballads or Sonatas or Fantasies or Tin Pan Alley or Top Ten and any memories the donee might have of performance. Sometimes photos are taken. We consider what still might have some value, either for a student, collector, library or school. In some cases, the best disposition might be to an artist who's medium is collage or even to a preschool's arts and craft area.
And we remind the donee and ourselves, that no matter what fate these scraps of paper might face, the music that Beethoven or Liszt, or Gershwin, or Duke Ellington or Billy Joel or Tory Amos composed lives on. The music that endures will always be news, and as long as well tempered studios for polite and philosophically astute children endure, more of it will always be written.
This service is priceless.
At least they do, early and often here in the Well Tempered studio. Both by students and by staff. And it is a good thing.
Here, Daphne is descending from a G sharp melodic minor. Note she is keeping her head up and her back straight. Though her front claws are curved a bit inward, we are giving her some extra snaps because she worked long and hard to correct her flat finger technique.. The arch in the left hind leg is dead on, however and will surely earn her extra crickets during the award ceremony.
Even the human students perform scales, and we start preparing from day one with 5 finger patterns. Once they learn the 5 finger patterns for the first 5 scales in the circle of fifths, or what we here at the WT Yeshiva refer to as the Pentateuch, we move to one octave and then two. I know there is some controversy in pedagogical circles about starting scales too early and at the risk of a shunning by my brethren I will list my reasons for incorporating scales at each lesson.
1. It's a nice neutral way to begin a lesson. It's predictable-- kids like that. I like that. They know they will always start with scales. I tell them I expect them to work on them at home, but I know that many don't. But at least they will with me-- once a week, for about 35 weeks a year... I would like to think that if they learn nothing else, they know how to play a two octave scale with each hand for at least C, G, D, A and E major. They've trained their little thumb mice to go through the four finger tunnel. They know that finger 3 is the boss.
2. They learn how a major scale is supposed to sound. They might not remember whole step, whole step, half step, whole, whole half... but their ears learn very quickly when they've made a mistake.
3. It's a nice way to teach dynamics- and how to shape a phrase. We work on getting the scale to "go someplace" and to get there musically. Yes, even scales should be musical.
4. Its a great way to honor each note. Each one is important. Each finger is important. Both individually and as a team.
5. It's a good way to practice different rhythms: Play them in whole notes, half notes, triplets, sixteenths. Let Mr. Metronome join in the fun. Its a nice way to introduce him.
6. It's a proud feeling when the student realizes that he understands the key signature of a new piece from the scale he already knows how to play! It opens the dialogue for a theoretical analysis of the piece.
7. It's fun to play Ultimate scales! Start from the bottom of the keyboard and go all the way up!
Then go all the way down. Wheee!
To those nay sayers who say that the child's hand is not ready play scales, I say, blah, blah, blah.
If Daphne can master them....
Perhaps, we were a little flip yesterday in the Well Tempered escritoire. We did not mean to be dismissive in parenthesizing the Notturno as being a nocturne with an Italian accent. Indeed, there is a good reason Fanny named it such and it has much to do with Italy although it would be a few years after its composition in 1838 that she would actually visit that country. Brother Felix had been there and as we know, these two were thick as thieves and Felix had written many descriptive letters during his sojourn there and had even painted pictures. Larry Todd, in his 2010 book Fanny Hensel, The Other Mendelssohn, refers to the Notturno as a "presentiment of Venice." Fanny "begins with alluding with bacarole-like rhythms and doubled melodic thirds to Felix's
Venezianisches Gondellied in G Minor, op 19, no. 6, but then expands into a substantial, intense composition that easily dwarfs the miniature dimensions of its fraternal antecedent."
Ha! Take that, baby brother.
On a somewhat related note, I took a field trip today to observe a Master Class given as part of the Music at Menlo festival. The Master Teacher today, Jorja Fleezanis , is a violinist on the faculty of Indiana University. In working with a group of young musicians performing Brahams String Sextet in B-flat major, she chided the second cello for his sloppy eighth notes. "Cook the noodles a little longer," she urged. "Strive for al dente!"
I will take this to heart with my left hand on Saturday. The gondola must sail on an even keel.