Friday, March 16, 2018

3 Ways to Memorize Music When Nothing Else Works

Lydia wrote an interesting comment on my 2007 article about memorizing music:
I notice that many of your tips for memorization include the word memorize in them. "Run the piece from memory, mistakes and all, keeping track of all the slips." In other words, memorize where you messed up. "Memorize, the articulation, memorize the dynamics, memorize the work away from the piano." These are all suggestions I've heard from my teachers for years, but my question is always HOW? HOW do i memorize the dynamics, HOW do i memorize the form, HOW do you expect me to remember where I messed up after playing a piece? These are not suggestions for people who have difficulty memorizing. These are variety exercises for people who are already decent at memorizing. Do you have tips for people whose brains simply refuse to remember these things?
What an awesome comment! Lydia asks some completely valid questions here. There are indeed times when absolutely nothing works. In the 11 years since originally writing that article, I've found this to be the case with myself, especially as I age and tend to think a little differently.

The situations that Lydia describes are places where thinking laterally can work. Rather than a full frontal memory practice assault, consider working in different ways. Here are some ideas:

1. "How do I memorize the dynamics?" Dynamics aren’t just a volume dial, but a way into playing with different tonal colors, textures, shades, and moods. All of these colors can be accessed through varieties of touch, and you can commit them to memory by remembering what the touch feels like. Practice with the music, not just reading and listening for the dynamics, but feeling the speed of attack and quality of touch. This is something that the body can remember. And if the body remembers it, the senses and emotions are never far behind. How does a piano feel? What about pianissimo? Fortissimo? Dolce? Mezzo forte? What about crescendo and diminuendo? Being aware of the slight changes in touch and pressure with these dynamics in practice can unlock a way to perform with them as well.

2. "How do I memorize the form?" Get out a blank piece of paper and draw the form. Take what you know about the basics of the form that you’re playing, whether it be binary, ternary, Sonata, Rondo, or whatever. Draw the main divisions. Write the bar numbers, phrase lengths, cadential points, and key centres on the page. Then try to play from the piece of paper. Still confused? Write in as much information as you need. Your written-out form can serve as a cheat sheet.

3. ”How do you expect me to remember where I messed up after playing a piece?” Record yourself. It has been said that there is no more effective, blunt, or honest teacher than observing yourself play on video. If you’ve got the guts to watch yourself having memory bloopers in a run-through of whatever work you're preparing, you can go a step further and figure out exactly when, where, how, and why the mistakes happened. Then figure out how to fix them. Then record/watch again and look for progress.

But to be completely honest, sometimes memory is simply not happening. Unless you’re in a situation where playing from memory is absolutely compulsory, consider using the music. There’s no pride lost in using the score in order to bring a work to life and feel confident in performance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pulp Fiction for Cello and Piano

A brilliantly filmed reimagining of Dick Dale's Misirlou for cello and piano:


Celloproject are cellist Eckart Runge and pianist Jacques Ammon, who have a website devoted to their continuing collaboration.

Carnegie Mellon's Instrumental Collaborative Piano Festival Runs June 24-29 in Pittsburgh

For those interested in instrumental collaboration, Carnegie Mellon will be offering an Instrumental Collaborative Piano Festival at its School of Music in the last week of June. From the festival's About page:
The Instrumental Collaborative Piano Festival (ICPF), a unique and essential festival, is the first festival with the instrumental collaborative pianist in mind. 
Designed to give both established and new collaborative pianists the opportunity to work with renowned faculty and musicians, the ICPF will present masterclasses, lessons, lectures and workshops exclusively for the exciting world of instrumental collaborative piano. 
The Instrumental Collaborative Piano Festival will explore the numerous settings in which collaborative pianists are needed, as well as provide a variety of tools to succeed in the professional setting. 
Boasting an international faculty of outstanding caliber, the ICPF is dedicated to promoting the study of Instrumental Collaborative Piano and refining the skills of the established collaborative pianist through masterclasses, lectures, workshops and private lessons. 
Applicants can choose between a masterclass performance track or a lesson track and will have the opportunity to compete in the Festival Competition, in which one winner will have the opportunity to perform on the faculty recital.
Faculty include Luz Manriquez, Vincent de Vries, Alison Gagnon, Kyoko Hashimoto, Sung-Im Kim, Pilar Leyva, Rodrigo Ojeda, and Peter Stumpf. You can apply online or contact an administrator if you're interested.

(Thanks Luz!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Collaborative Piano Institute Is Accepting Applications for its Second Season

The Collaborative Piano Institute at Shattuck St. Mary's in Faribault, Minnesota is off to its second year, after a highly successful inaugural season. Led by Artistic Director Ana Maria Otamendi, the institute has an exciting lineup for 2018 with a residency by none other than Martin Katz(!) as well as a partnership with the Bravo Summer Music Academy in the second and third weeks of the festival.

The Collaborative Piano Summer Institute runs from June 3rd to 23rd, and you can apply online. The application deadline is March 15, after which there will be a late application fee. Those interested in a scholarship should definitely apply before the March 15 deadline. If you would like more information, feel free to contact the festival at any time.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Valerie Capers Solo on 1981 Dizzy Gillespie/Ray Brown Birks' Works

Although this is a Dizzy Gillespie/Ray Brown fronted lineup, the Valerie Capers piano solo is one of the highlights on this 1981 Birks' Works. Go to 3:50 to skip right to the piano solo:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Farewell Talisker Players

Some sad news from Toronto - Musical Toronto reports that Talisker Players will be ceasing operations at the end of the concert season. For 17 seasons, Talisker Players has been a leading proponent of vocal chamber music, and has commissioned 30 works since 1999. From the Musical Toronto article:
“With an organization like this, they do have a lifespan… and eventually you feel as though you’ve done what you’ve wanted to do,” said Talisker Players Artistic Director Mary McGeer in a phone interview. “The close of our season in May 2017 seems like the right moment to move on, to explore new horizons, and to embrace new projects.” 
McGeer clarified that the decision was not related to any financial difficulty, and the Talisker Players were proud to end operations with “an unbroken record of balanced budgets.”

A few videos that show the kind of material that Talisker excels at: a magnificently bearded Doug MacNaughton is joined by James McLennan in Flanders & Swann's The Hippopotamus Song:

Tenor James McLennan, clarinetist Peter Stoll, and pianist Peter Longworth perform Leslie Uyeda's Radishes, with words by Lorna Crozier:

Talisker's final show will be A Mixture of Madness on May 16 and 17 at Trinity St. Paul's Centre at 427 Bloor Street West.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Should You Be Dressing Down?

In many of the schools of music that I've visited in the last while, there's a lot of dressing down going on. Has anyone else noticed this?

Tyler Cowan (of the highly influential Marginal Revolution) writes in Business Insider about the practice of marking status through countersignaling:
Countersignaling is when you go out of your way to show you don’t need to go out of your way. The boss doesn’t have to wear a tie or even dress up. 
If he did, that would suggest he had something to prove, which would be a negative rather than a positive impression 
The next step is that the vice presidents also don’t have to dress up, and soon enough most of the company doesn’t have to dress up.
This is all very groovy, but what do you do if you're a recent graduate working in the music profession and you want to get ahead? It's not so simple. Tyler continues:
If you’re 24 years old and looking to get ahead, it can be tougher.   
There isn’t such a simple way to visually demonstrate you are determined to join the ranks of the upwardly mobile. Looking smart on “casual Friday” may get you a better date, but the boss will not sit up and take notice. In other words, a culture of the casual is a culture of people who already have achieved something and who already can prove it. It is a culture of the static and the settled, the opposite of Tocqueville’s restless Americans....
...The young and ambitious really can set themselves apart from the slackers, even if doing so looks conformist and stifling when multiplied and observed on a larger scale. Societies of upward mobility, when based on large and growing business enterprises, look and feel somewhat oppressive. Much as many of us might not want to admit it, the casual and the egalitarian are closer to enemies than to allies.
But I suppose it never hurts to slightly overdress for a professional occasion, even if it marks you as being one of the over-ambitious ones.