Chopsticks!

Chopsticks

Stephen Powers first thought of his grand piano as an impressive piece of furniture.

But he enjoyed listening to music so much when friends played at parties at his home in North Wilmington that he began taking lessons.

“I enjoy having a couple of songs under my belt,” says Powers, a 52-year-old banker. “I play Happy Birthday. I play Getting to Know You for my mom.”

Powers is part of a boomlet of adults who are studying piano. Many took lessons briefly as children and regret giving it up. Some simply enjoy music. Others gravitated toward the keyboard because studies suggest piano improves mental acuity while reducing the odds of dementia.

A Swedish study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that when a twin played a musical instrument later in life, he or she was 64 percent less likely to develop dementia than the twin who did not play.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 evaluated the impact of piano lessons on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in adults age 60 to 84.

The group that studied piano showed significant improvement in tests that measure executive function, controlling inhibitions and divided attention, as well as enhanced visual scanning and motor ability. Piano students also reported a better quality of life.

Some grownups simply relish a challenge.

In the United Kingdom, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, took to the keyboard at age 56. He chronicled the year he spent learning Chopin’s demanding No. Ballade 1 in G Minor in the book Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.

Richard Swarmer, 57, of Lewes, played the trumpet from grade school through college. He has sung in several choirs. This year, he began piano lessons.

Learning the piano isn’t easy even for someone with a musical background. Still, Swarmer appreciates that the creative thought process is different from the focus required by his job for a medical benefits company.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed taking piano lessons as an adult,” he says. “It provides a welcome respite from the demands of my job.”

Ethel Thirtel of North Wilmington is 71 and a student at the Music School of Delaware. She is also taking French lessons to help keep her intellect sharp.

“Both pursuits involve active studying and practice to master new skills,” she says.

To meet rising demand, the Music School of Delaware offers adults-only evening group classes to accommodate working people, says Matthew Smith, student and alumni relations officer. The school also provides instruction for adults 50 and older through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of Delaware.

“In addition to professionals, we are getting a lot more inquiries from older adults who are retired and have time on their hands,” he says.

Geri Smith, a Julliard-trained singer, musician and composer, has taught piano to children in public schools as well as private arts centers. Her adult students include a 59-year-old writer who took up piano after the death of her husband, a gifted musician.

“Teaching children is a different experience than teaching adults,” says Smith, of Unionville. “Kids pretty much do what you ask them to do but adults ask lots of questions. They want to know why things have to be done a certain way.”

An important part of learning piano is creating new pathways in the brain. A Harvard Medical School study examined the impact of practicing the piano on synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning.

Volunteers practiced two hours a day for five days, playing a five-finger exercise to the beat of a metronome. To learn how that impacted the neurons scientists used transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS), in which a wire coil sends magnetic impulses to the brain.

They discovered that after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to the finger exercises had expanded like crabgrass.

“Playing the piano creates new synapses,” Smith says. “Think of it as creating a conduit so your right hand can talk to your left hand.”

Meldene Gruber of Rehoboth Beach, who has taught piano for more than 40 years, has seen a surge in adult students in the past two years. Now, half her students are adults.

“A number of my adults say they think playing the piano will help with mental acuity,” she says. “Playing the piano forces you to use both sides of the brain, which is great for neuron firing.”

Most adults have specific goals in mind, such as learning to play Christmas carols or a few favorite pieces.

“You don’t get adults who are focused on becoming concert pianists,” Gruber says. “They come for the joy of playing, not because their mothers made them.”

via Chopstick therapy: how piano lessons could help us age better — NewsWorks.

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 10

 

It’s wedding season!  Today and tomorrow, we’ll be looking at, and listening to, the music most associated with weddings.

The “Bridal Chorus” from the 1850 opera Lohengrin by German composer Richard Wagner is a march played for the bride’s entrance at many formal weddings throughout the Western world.

The piece was made popular when it was used as the processional at the wedding of Victoria the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.

This piece is available in Keyboard Kickoff, Movement 2 and Piano Maestro.

The original from the opera

A piano version (this book is available for loan, if interested)

Handbells (rehearsal)

On accordion

And pipe organ

A very different wedding entrance in Denmark

 

 

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 9

 

This is a more advanced piece but I really like it.  Some students may have heard this since it’s an alarm tone on my phone. My dog, Mimi, recognizes this music as her signal to go out for a walk!

 

confrey-you

I just love Zez Confrey’s music.  It’s not overplayed like some of Scott Joplin’s works but it’s just as much fun.

This is a piece I have often played in recitals and just for fun.

If any of my students are interested in tackling this piece, just let me know and we’ll start learning!

In 1921 Confrey wrote his novelty piano solo “Kitten on the Keys”, inspired by hearing his grandmother’s cat walk on the keyboard of her piano. It became a hit, and he went on to compose many other pieces in the genre.

Considered to be one of the fastest and most challenging of all “novelty” piano solos, “Dizzy Fingers” was composed in 1923. and was Confrey’s other biggest seller.

He left behind more than a hundred piano works, songs and miniature operas, and numerous piano rolls, music publications and sound recordings.

Not surprisingly, this piece is not available on Piano Maestro!

One of the books in my studio is Zez Confrey at the Piano: Piano Solos.

confrey-book“This collection represents a cross-section of Confrey’s works and encompasses the broad range of his styles. Besides his famous 1920s novelty works (including Kitten on the Keys), there are many wonderful, lesser-known gems of remarkable quality included here from later in his career. Appearing for the first time in print are transcriptions of one of his disc recordings (Poor Buttermilk) and two of his player piano roll arrangements (My Pet and Humorestless). Many of Confrey’s later works have long been out of print and are included here for the first time in decades.”

Don’t Give Up Because You Miss a Note!

FaeriesAireandDeathWaltz1

I have a copy of this music (Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz) if anyone is interested in playing it!

The music above has been played:

The drive you need to accomplish whatever you’re attempting—big or small—needs fuel. Instead of letting slip-ups set you back, psychologist and author John Norcross recommends you make them the fuel:

If you are learning to play the piano, you don’t give up because you miss a note. It’s not whether you slip, it’s how you respond to the slip.

Cut yourself some slack and remember that things take time and hard work. Listen to the sound of your “missed note” and let that push you forward. You missed that note yesterday, but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss it today.

via “If You’re Learning Piano, You Don’t Give Up Because You Miss a Note”.

Giving Thanks

Adapted from a post at http://www.maryo.co/giving-thanks-day-2/

 

ocms-logo

 

I’m thankful for my piano studio, my students, and my piano 🙂

When I was growing up, my dad was a minister, meaning we lived in whatever parsonage the church chose to let us live in.  The one we had in Pawcatuck, CT had an upright piano that someone had put out in the sunroom.  Not the best place for a piano, but I digress.

Since we had the piano already, someone – probably my mom – decided that I would take lessons.  We had the organist from the Baptist church just across the river in Westerly, RI

Apparently, Clara Pashley was fondly remembered at the church (now Central Baptist Church) since she was mentioned in an article from 2010.

screenshot-2016-11-04-10-04-33
25-centsMiss Pashley walked to our house each week and taught me (and my mom who was always listening in) piano for the grand sum of 25 cents.

I started with Ada Richter’s classic Teaching Little Fingers to Play, which has now been morphed into the John Thompson library.

From there, it was the Michael Aaron series, and some sheet music.

There was no music store in our town, so I have no idea where any of this music came from – but I still have it all.

My parents did very well for their quarter a week investment, especially since my mom paid good attention and was able to beef up lessons she’d had as a child.  Later on, she played well enough that she was church organist for a local Roman Catholic Church.

But I digress…

In those days, kids couldn’t do a whole lot of activities, so in 6th grade, I decided I wanted to be a Girl Scout.  Bye, bye Clara.

Girl Scouts didn’t last long but I did play piano in a talent show.  I remember, I carefully cut Burgmüller’s Ballade out of my Michael Aaron book and made a nice construction paper cover.  (I still have this, too)

balladeburgmuller

I doubt that I played this well but here’s what it was supposed to sound like:

A few years intervened and moved to Springfield, MA.  The parsonage piano there was in terrible shape and in the dark, never-used basement.  But I decided to make it mine and cleared up the area around it and started “practicing”.

My Junior or Senior year of High School I decided I wanted to major in music in college.  I decided to learn, on my own, a piano arrangement of Aragonnaise by Jules Massenet.  I have no idea why or where that sheet music came from but I started working furiously on this piece.

aragonnaise

Hopefully, at some point, it should have sounded like this:

I started pedaling (no pun intended!) my music to the Universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts and ended up at UMass Amherst since we were state residents.

Early morning gym classes (usually swimming), then wet hair traipsing across campus to music theory in winter 5 days a week.  AARRGGH!

But I stuck it out.

My wonderful piano teacher, Howard Lebow, was killed in a car accident my sophomore year and I was devastated.  There will be more about him in a post on January 26, 2017 here on https://oconnormusicstudio.com

I took yet another break from piano lessons – but I kept playing.

After DH graduated, we moved to Milwaukee, WI for his graduate school.  Besides working 2 jobs, I found time to commandeer the practice rooms at the University of Wisconsin.  I also found a teacher at the Schaum School of Music.  She was amazed that I had no piano at home to practice on.

When we later moved to Alexandria, VA my DH gave me a choice of new car or piano. So, I found a used piano.  The owner had acquired it in a divorce and wanted it gone.  Yesterday.  She even paid to move it out of her apartment.

The new-to-me piano took up half our living room.  When my parents came to visit, their feet we under my piano as I slept.

I found yet another new piano teacher and she is still my best friend to this day.

That piano moved to several locations before I bought a brand new Yamaha grand piano.  The movers accidently brought in the wrong one and I made them return it.  The people who lived in an apartment were probably unhappy when they had to return my piano and take their own new baby grand back.

I started teaching as a traveling piano teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland.  I continued that in Wilmington, DE.

When we got to Fairfax, VA I decided no more traveling.  Students would come to me.  And so they have since 1973.

What is supposed to be our living room is filled with music books, electric keyboards, the grand piano, 2 organs, 2 violins, 2 clarinets and other musical “stuff”.

Piano playing has gotten me through the worst times of my life.  Teaching has been a lifeline for me, as well.

I am so thankful for the students who have stayed with me over the years.

Want to Learn a Christmas Duet?

sleigh-ride

I have loved this version of Sleigh Ride since I first saw it on YouTube:

When I found out it was available in sheet music, I rushed to amazon to buy several copies for myself, my son, my friend, basically, everyone I thought could play it.

Lots of fun to play and to hear.

Amazon says:

Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” is a holiday favorite, and this setting for advanced piano duet gives it a fresh twist. It begins with Anderson’s jingling melody and some musical “banter” between the Primo and Secondo players, and then it launches into a series of variations which take the listener on a journey through a variety of styles—from gently swirling, impressionistic arpeggios to a triumphant coda with brilliant, virtuosic passagework. Audiences will enjoy a number of other musical surprises along the way.

If you want to borrow it, let me know early because someone at the studio may already be playing it!

maryOpianoplayer

Getting Ready for Halloween: In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

hall-mountain

 

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” is a piece of orchestral music composed for the sixth scene of act 2 in Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play Peer Gynt. It was originally part of Opus 23 but was later extracted as the final piece of Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, Op. 46. Its easily recognizable theme has helped it attain iconic status in popular culture, where it has been arranged by many artists, including for the piano.

Borrow a copy of the sheet music from the O’Connor Music Studio.  I have this arranged for piano, duet, 2-piano, simplified…

 

8 part vocal orchestra (plus a tiny pair of cymbals)

 

Pianist Paul Barton

 

Solo piano sheet music – Video Score

 

Orchestral version