Giving Thanks

 

 

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I’m thankful for my piano studio, my students, and my piano 🙂 This year, I’m especially thankful for the Internet!

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.

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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 Aragonaise 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 during my sophomore year and I was devastated.  There will be more about him in a post on January 26, 2021 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, recorders, a dulcimer 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 and the new ones I have found…on the internet.

Music for Halloween: Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath from Symphonie fantastique

berlioz-symphony-fantastique
The final movement is the best known part of the symphony, thanks to its use in the Julia Roberts movie, Sleeping With The Enemy. It features a four-part structure, which Hector Berlioz described in his own program notes from 1845 as follows:

“He sees himself at a witches’ Sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the Sabbath… Roar of delight at her arrival… She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.”

The Dies irae melody is one of the most-quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many diverse composers.

The traditional Gregorian melody has also been used as a theme or musical quotation in a number of  classical compositions, notable among them:

 

Free sheet music from IMSLP for the basic Dies irae

Free sheet music from IMSLP for the basic Symphonie fantastique (look under Arrangements and Transcriptions)

The basic Gregorian Chant

An animated version of the  Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath from Symphonie fantastique.  Can you hear the Dies irae in this?  It starts around 3:18.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the “Orchestre National de France” in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
5th Movement

Arranged for piano

 

A listening guide

 

Super Mario Bros Theme

super-mario

Pianist and composer Sonya Belousova celebrated 30 years of Super Mario Bros. with an epic piano medley on the world’s coolest piano.

YouTube channel Player Piano had Belousova play the tribute to the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata on a piano styled after a classic Nintendo Entertainment System. While the medley is good, it’s the amazingly detailed piano that stands out.

The bench looks like a Nintendo controller, while the piano itself is modeled after the console. It comes complete with power and reset buttons as well as connection cords. The flip top door can cover the keys, which Belousova appropriately takes the time to blow on at the end!

From http://www.dailydot.com/geek/nintendo-super-mario-bros-player-piano/

Think Playing the Piano is Hard?

Try to find an American Fotoplayer!

fotoplayer

The American Fotoplayer is a type of photoplayer developed by the American Fotoplayer Company between the years of 1912 and 1925. The Fotoplayer is a type of player piano specifically developed to provide music and sound effects for silent movies.

The appeal of the Fotoplayer to theatre owners was the fact that it took no musical skill to operate. The Fotoplayer would play the piano and pipe organ mechanically using an electric motor, an air pump, and piano rolls while the user of the Fotoplayer would follow the onscreen action while pulling cords, pushing buttons, and pressing pedals to produce relatable sounds to what was occurring onscreen. These actions could create sounds such as a steamboat whistle, a bird chirp, wind, thunder, a telephone bell, as well as many others. On Fotoplayers specifically, most effects were created using leather cords with wooden handles on the ends which the effects were directly connected to. For example, the steamboat whistle sound effect was created using a household bellows with a whistle at the end. Pulling the cord compressed the bellows, delivering a gust of air into the whistle. Creating a drum roll on the other hand was a bit more complicated. A clockwork device was needed to time the strikes of the drum which required constant winding.

Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_American_Fotoplayer

 

Lego Grand Piano

The Lego Ideas Grand Piano not only looks good on the shelf, it pairs with your phone to play back tunes.

Someone from CNET writes: “I got my hands on the hard-to-find Grand Piano set from the Lego Ideas collection and put it together just for you. Watch as I assemble over 3,000 pieces, and sync the model with my phone to make it play music.

 

Steinway Pianos

 

Steinway Place, Queens, New York, 11105. steinway.com or 718-721-2600.

It all begins with bare wood, rough and fragrant.

Skilled craftsmen then use muscle, fine motor skills and magic to transform simple planks into magnificent instruments. In the bridge-notching process, the “bellymen” use tools they’ve constructed themselves, the better to execute this highly skilled operation.

Alaskan Sitka Spruce becomes a soundboard, with ribs of Sugar Pine.

Eighty-eight keys, 88 hammers, more than 230 strings — all are carefully created, installed and tested in every piano.

All in all, it takes about 11 months to make a Steinway grand piano.

Steinway & Sons has been located in the same spot in the Astoria section of Queens since the early 1870s. Founded in 1853 in a loft on Varick Street in Manhattan, the company’s reputation grew quickly, and the company needed space to expand their operations.

Factory tours are offered from September through the end of June. (Factory tours are not available in July and August.) Tours are scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, for a maximum of 15 people.

Needless to say, tours fill up quickly and must be booked in advance. Steinway currently has no openings for the rest of 2017 and is not yet taking reservations for 2018. Plan way ahead, and check for updates by emailing tours@steinway.com or by calling 718-721-2600.

Adapted from http://www.app.com/story/entertainment/events/2017/08/18/factory-tours-made-usa/530543001/

Mary and Michael playing in the original Steinway Hall

What Gives a Piano its Voice?

 

 

Picture a seven-foot grand piano in a studio. The lid’s missing, so you can see all the strings. Researchers suspend a rod embedded with 32 microphones over the piano’s body.

“We played this middle C at a very soft level, a medium level, and a very loud level,” says Agnieszka Roginska, a professor in NYU’s music technology program. She says using a pianist to play middle C over and over wouldn’t be scientific. So they’re using a disklavier, a fancy player piano triggered by electronics. “So we could hit the same note, with the same velocity, thousands of times,” she says.

They’d record the piano in one spot. Then move the microphones eight inches. Record the note. Move the mics again. Record the note. Over and over and over, until they reach the back of the piano. At the end, they get “what is basically a very dense acoustical scan of the radiation pattern of the grand piano,” Roginska says.

Read the entire article here: http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-08-10/science-tries-understand-what-gives-piano-its-voice

Music and Mathematics: The Fibonacci sequence

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Life very often throws some curious coincidences my way. Just as I was preparing a presentation for architecture students at the Goa College of Architecture on ‘Architecture and Music’ and looking at the relationship of the Fibonacci sequence to music, what should appear in my newsfeed but the announcement of the famed piano firm Steinway and Sons unveiling its 600,000th piano, incorporating the iconic Fibonacci spiral in its design.

The veneer of the “Fibonacci” piano features the eponymous spiral made from six individual logs of Macassar Ebony, “creating a fluid design that represents the geometric harmony found in nature.”

In the words of designer Frank Pollaro, who spent over 6000 work-hours over four years in its creation: “Designing Steinway & Sons’ 600,000th piano was an honour and a challenge.  To me, knowing that this piano would become part of history meant that it had to be more than just a beautiful design, but also needed to visually convey a deeper message…as I considered the number 600,000, the Fibonacci spiral came to mind.  The way in which it continues to grow but stay true to its form is very much like Steinway and Sons over these many years. Combining the universal languages of music and mathematics suddenly made perfect sense.”

Mind you, 600,000 is not a number in the Fibonacci sequence; I checked. 600,000 is between the 29th and 30th numbers in the Fibonacci series, which are 514,229 and 832,040 respectively. But Pollaro was nevertheless highlighting an interesting relationship between music and mathematics.

Named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci (c. 1170- c. 1250) who brought the Indian-Arabic numeral system to Europe, the Fibonacci series appear in nature and in music, and finds application in architecture and in instrument design, much before the Fibonacci Steinway.

The basic ideas of the Fibonacci progression are contained in the writings of Indian scholar Pingala (300-200 BC) in his treatise on Sanskrit prosody.

The Fibonacci numbers have the following integer sequence:  0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 and onward. Each added number is the sum of two previous numbers before it.

In nature, the Fibonacci sequence underpins phyllotaxis (arrangement of leaves on a stem), branching in trees, fruit sprouts of a pineapple among many other examples, and even the shape of the human external ear, and the cochlear apparatus of the inner ear.

It can be applied to the western musical scale as well, with the caveat that the  starting note one makes the measurement from (or the ‘root’ note) is designated as 1 and not 0. By this token, there are 13 notes in a scale through its octave. There are 8 notes in a diatonic scale (hence the top note is called an ‘oct’ave).  The 5th and 3rd notes create the basic foundation of musical chords. All these are Fibonacci numbers.

The very notes in the scale are based on natural harmonics created by ratios of frequencies. Ratios found in the first seven numbers of the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8) are related to key frequencies of musical notes. Thus if we take an arbitrary frequency of 440 Hz, the root note has a ratio of 1/1, but the octave above it has a frequency of 880 Hz (2/1 of 440); a fifth above has a frequency of 660 Hz (3/2 of 440), and so on for other notes in the scale.

In last Sunday’s article, I had mentioned the ‘golden proportion’ or phi, which underpins the proportions of the Parthenon temple in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.  This ‘golden ratio’ (also called the ‘golden section’, ‘golden mean’ or the ‘divine proportion’) of 1:1618 or 0.618 has influenced composition in painting and photography, prompting the notion of dividing a canvas into thirds vertically and horizontally, and to position a subject of interest ‘about one-third’ of the way across instead of in the centre.

This ‘golden ratio’ can be obtained by dividing a Fibonacci number (in the higher reaches, not the first few) by its immediate predecessor. The quotient approximates phi (φ). Thus 987/610= 1.61803, and its inverse is 0.618.

The climax or high point of many songs and other compositions is often found at the ‘phi’ (φ) point (61.8 per cent) of the work. We have seen this to be true in the first movement of

S. Bach’s G minor sonata for solo violin.

In many compositions in sonata form, the addition of a coda causes the recapitulation (the return of the original idea that started the work) to begin at the 61.8 per cent point.

The legendary violin maker Antonio Stradivari seemed to be aware of the ‘golden section’ and used it in the placement of the f-holes on his violins. The proportions of the violin conform to the ratios of ‘phi’ (φ). The spiral of a violin scroll also obeys the Fibonacci progression.

Isn’t it amazing, how the visual and aural world, indeed nature itself can all be unified by the same mathematical sequence?[NT]

From http://www.goacom.com/entertainment/28277-music-and-mathematics-the-fibonacci-sequence

Piano Puzzlers!

puzzlers

 

The Piano Puzzlers book is available in the O’Connor Music Studio library if you’d like to give any a try.  Piano Puzzlers as heard on American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” Includes 32 tunes with songs by Gershwin, Berlin, Arlen, Porter, Rodgers, Fats Waller, Lennon & McCartney, and others disguised in the styles of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Janacek, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, and Copland.

Includes an introduction by Fred Child, host of “Performance Today” as well as background info by Bruce Adolphe. “Bruce Adolphe has taken a common musician’s party game and elevated it to high art and truly funny musical slapsticks. The Piano Puzzlers are a unique combination of extraordinary insight into the styles of many composers subtle, expert workmanship and great, great fun!”

 

From http://jasonmorris.blogsome.com/2008/08/08/piano-puzzlers/

If you’re a music geek (like me), I have a program for you. Now, let me be clear, to fully qualify as a music geek…you must have a fond appreciation for classical music (no, Poison, Quiet Riot, and Zepplin do not count as classical music). So, if you’re a “music geek” without an appreciation for classical music…well, I hate to burst your bubble…but, you’re not truly a music geek. Instead, you’re a music appreciator, but not a geek. So, if you just listen to indie music and scowl at anything on a label larger than Matador…don’t bother following the link I’ll provide…the fun will be lost on you…And, you probably won’t have a chance.

 

Every Wednesday night, on my way home from WNL, I turn on my local NPR station to listen to Piano Puzzlers on Performance Today. It’s absolutely incredible. A pianist/composer (Bruce Adolphe) takes a familiar folk or pop tune and sets it inside a classical masterpiece (or in the style of a particular composer). Sometimes it’s easy…sometimes it’s ridiculously difficult. There are days when I say, “got it” on the first pass. Then there are days when I say, “what the heck?” And, more often than not, I’m able to get either the popular/folk tune or the composer.

 

This is sad to admit, but there are nights when I’ll slow down on the drive home or sit in the car in the driveway to finish an episode. In fact, I get a little worked up if someone stops me after WNL…as I might miss the beginning of Piano Puzzlers (it usually hits around 8:20pm on our local station).

 

Take a listen to some of the archives and see if you can figure it out! It’s really cool…but probably only appreciated by music geeks (the kind of people that listen to NPR for their musical programs and not just the snipets of cool indie rock between segments on All Things Considered…which is a great show too).

 

Play Piano Puzzlers HERE!