The Sounds and Music of Open Space
Monday, May 10, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Berlin, Germany
During my (too) many years as a starving doctorate student at the University of Washington, I splurged on subscriptions to the Seattle Opera (http://www.seattleopera.org/index.aspx).
Seattle Opera mounts gargantuan productions like the whole Ring of the Nibelungen by Wagner as well as non-standard repertoire as the Dialogue of the Carmelites by Poulenc and Florencia en Amazonas by Daniel Catan.
John and Ruth Briehl, two friends of mine, attended the same performances as I did. We would meet at intermission to discuss the tenor’s acting capabilities, the soprano’s vocal clarity, how wonderful the contralto aria was, the scenery effectiveness, and, when lucky, the inevitable operatic ‘accident’.
We actually witnessed a real ‘wardrobe malfunction’ as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw continued her high B flat, arms up in the air and one breast exposed. Three thousand people gasped. She chose not to compromise the music. She waited until the end of the aria to get herself back into the dress. Covering the whole stage with the train of her red velvet dress was a powerful but impractical symbol of blood. What an unforgettable moment: dramatic music, red blood velvet, an exposed breast.
Since those glorious years with the Seattle Opera, Ruth Briehl and I have seen Zeffirelli’s production of Tosca with Aprile Millo at the Met (http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/) to celebrate her 80th birthday; Cosi fan Tutte at the historical Nurenberg Opera (http://www.staatstheater-nuernberg.de/inhalte/index.php?menu=100) and in a month, we will see our first opera together in Berlin.
Berlin has four government subsidized Opera Houses. As a result, the repertoire and production style can be unconventional: they do not dependent on monetary support from ticket sales. The Staatsoper Oper is the most traditional. It is closed until the end of the summer for renovation. The Deutsche Oper is the grander, the Komische Oper is often the most innovative and the Neukollner Oper is ‘l’enfant terrible’.
On the specific weekend that we would like to see an opera, the Komische Oper presents Abduction from the Seraglio (Mozart) and Fidelio (Beethoven), the Neukollner Oper presents Leben ohne Chris (Bohmer) and the Deutsche Oper presents Nabucco (Verdi) and Turandot (Puccini). If I am going to pay seventy euros for a ticket,I want Puccini to make me cry so I am tempted to lobby for Turandot.
I have seen Zefirelli’s gigantic production of Turandot for the Met with Eva Marton and Placido Domingo as well as Seattle Opera’s production with Jane Eaglen (http://www.janeeaglen.com/), whom I had accompanied a couple of weeks earlier....long story. These two grand, but traditional productions, are imprinted in my mind.
The Deutsche Oper’s production of Turandot is contemporary. In the famous “Riddle Scene” the Chinese princess Turandot wears a glitzy evening dress and the disguised prince Calaf wears a dark gray suit seated by an Ikea table while being watched by China’s emperor from a high Tribune that looks like a watch tower along the Berlin Wall (http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/?page=spielplandetail&id_event_date=4612228).
The opera world now is filled with stars like Anna Netrebko, recently featured in Playboy magazine’s list of the “Sexiest Babes of Classical Music” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Netrebko). The poster for Haydn’s Orpheus and Eurydice at the Bode Museum (as if Berlin did not have enough Opera houses - http://www.orpheusimbode.de/konzept.html) could be mistakenly taken as soft porn. Operatic pornography.
The advertisement poster for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour shows her wearing a metal globe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monster_Ball_Tour) while the Deutsche Oper poster for Othello (Verdi) features the ‘blackened’ Barbara Schoneberger wearing a blonde wig and caressing an equally ‘blackened’ horse (http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/index.php?page=spielplandetail&id_event_date=4606129). Both posters are strangely sexy.
So my initial question “Should the fat ladies wear Galiano or only Chanel?” does not apply to the singers but to opera itself. Should opera productions remain traditional like a Chanel suit or can these productions be like a wild John Galliano dress (http://www.johngalliano.com/)? Interestingly, the Tosca production by Zefirelli on the MET, that I saw in 2006, was on the news last year when a new production was booed at opening night (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2009/10/05/091005crmu_music_ross).
Again we face the same question, should opera lock itself in time?
The beauty of these operatic masterpieces will always speak to the public so why not break the barriers of tradition and present opera as edgy and sexy as pop music? I often do not get amused by fancy video clips where the music repeatedly goes over the same three chord sequence so I think that Ruth and I should see a wild production of Turandot by Puccini. I am sure that I will cry with Liu’s aria, even though in the picture she looks like a college student gone backpacking! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB_GSbufVI4&feature=related)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Berlin, Germany
Last month a former student of mine at Ithaca College, Justine Popik, visited me for a weekend in Nuremberg. She told me that her classmates would take note of my (in) famous catchy phrases about music. I have been known to use any means possible to get students to remember certain concepts.
In one class, I asserted that the fourth degree in a scale can be harmonized with either the subdominant or dominant seventh chord--a bisexual scale degree. I am sure that the students in that class still remember the sexual inclinations of the fourth degree of a scale.
Justine mentioned to me that one of her favorite phrases that she heard from me was: “You thought that you came here to learn the A flat minor scale but I will teach you the art of seduction”. I do not recall how I came to such a statement . It might be related to the fact that every scale had its ‘dance’ so that students would remember the fingering patterns. There is a video on YouTube of my students dancing the B flat minor scale Dance on the Commons, in downtown Ithaca.
Today’s blog is about how to practice the piano. These rules can be used with any other instrument and somehow they can sublimate themselves into important life lessons. I present them as life lessons but fell free to interpret them as your own ‘art of seduction’ lessons!
1.For every task there is an appropriate tool! Paul Fritts, an internationally known Pipe Organ builder (http://www.frittsorgan.com/) once told me: ‘The right tool can make any task easier’. The ‘right tool’ in music is ‘knowing how to practice’. It can make learning a piece a more simple, efficient and enjoyable process. However, the right tool willl not work without the basic materials. The building blocks of every instrument are scales, chords, arpeggios, etc. The music will suffer when these technical aspects are not appropriately under control. It is a good idea to warm up by playing basic technical exercises in the key of the piece to be studied.
2. Drink five glasses of water every day as opposed to five gallons every Friday! In order to learn well and efficiently, we need to understand how our brain works. It is impossible to learn a piece of music in one session. Focused daily practice with repeated patterns is needed in order to allow the brain to create a stable protein chain and thus remember the music. One hour everyday adds up to much more than seven hours once a week.
3. Measure it twice, cut it once. It is imperative to learn the music correctly from the beginning. The brain ‘records’ everything that we play so when we play a passage five times incorrectly and then finally once correctly, the brain has recorded all six versions and under pressure, during a performance, might deliver the incorrect version of that passage.
4. Do not drive like a maniac! Nobody learns to drive at 80 miles per hour on a freeway in Los Angeles. We teach our brains new movements by repeating them several times, slowly. Learning an instrument requires that same discipline. The brain can understand and remember the correct sequence of movements in order to produce the right sounds SLOWLY.
5. Do not covet your neighbors Beethoven Sonata. Compete only with yourself; too many instrumentalists stop playing because they cannot play according to the highest standards. Each person has a story to tell. Every honest, worked out message through music deserves to be heard.
6. If you don’t have something nice to say, do not say anything! This is for mature players only. Young players should be exposed to all types of music and learn the beauty of each style, period, and composer. Good programming is half the battle won. Do not play repertoire which you do not believe in. Loads of beautiful music is out there waiting to be played. Do not waste your time with pieces through which you have nothing to say. An audience can forgive wrong notes but never a musical lie.|
7. Just do it! Many times, it is difficult for me to get to the piano bench. But once I start to practice, time flies. I am totally absorbed by this enthralling activity. I advise my students to set practice times. In the same way that a student has a fixed time for Math or English classes, there should also be a set time for practice.
8. Do not take the easy route. Students often spend too much time going through easy passages. They do not dedicate enough enough attention to problematic ones. I recommend my students to start learning a piece by working on the difficult spots first. This means not only the technically but also the musically difficult passages.
I hope that these rules will help you through the methodical and yet magical process of learning an instrument.
However, there is much to be learned about life (and seduction) through how we learn music. Enjoy it!