The Sounds and Music of Open Space
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!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist based in Berlin, Germany
I will move to Berlin this summer.
So I began the hunt for the large, well situated, extremely comfortable, well designed, charming, impressive, and of course, reasonably priced apartment.
The real estate market in Berlin is very different than what one would expect in such a large city. I have heard horror stories from colleagues and friends living in Manhattan. They have shared that to get the perfect apartment at a reasonable (…) price one must be smart and aggressive beyond any measure.
Germany has strong laws to protect renters and only a few empty apartments come up for sale. One would expect that they would sell quickly. Quite on the contrary, they linger forever on the German version of realtor.com (www.immobilienscout24.de).
I believe that in large cities, many people able to buy an apartment often remain renters because there is no risk and sacrifice in their comfortable but unprofitable renter experience. My blog is not about housing politics so I will move on to the housing needs of our friend musicians.
Listening to a concert or a recital in a theater is a very different experience compared to listening to your neighbor practicing, no matter how accomplished the musician is. Serious musicians practice for hours, with systematic and repetitive techniques that can bring the worst out of pleasant neighbors. The acoustic guitar, the harp and early keyboard instruments luckily can play on, undetected by irate disturbed neighbors.
For their sound to blossom, all instruments need a certain amount of air volume. If you play the Tuba or have a large grand piano, it would be better to move straight into a theater! Colleagues that own houses sometimes have carved, through many creative artifices, the perfect place to practice undisturbed from neighbors and family.
I was only once accosted in the elevator by a furious neighbor regarding my long hours practicing a Prokofiev Piano Concerto. I was young and had the stamina to go on for hours banging away on the keys. The concerto that I played so well, to the delight of so many, made my neighbor hate the day in which Prokofiev (or I) was born! Today, luckily, I can learn music faster than my neighbors can get annoyed. However, that takes a lot of planning!
In large cities, where most musicians live in apartments, the situation is worse. Musicians need to consider carefully the architectural and psychological elements of their prospective nests. Is there a way of having nobody living underneath me? Are the walls thick enough? Is there a baby living one floor above me? Can I practice at school? Musicians that do not pay attention to these aspects can pay a high price. A colleague of mine in Berlin is being sued by her neighbor and this summer will go through an extensive renovation in order to isolate her piano room acoustically.
Piano Shaped Object (PSO) and Patience
Like many colleagues I have at home a keyboard with weighted keys. Sometimes I use it late night or in the early stages of learning a piece. However, this robs me of the sensual experience of discovering a new piece as it was supposed to be, free and unashamed of its powers. New melodies, surprising harmonies and powerful climaxes do not sound the same on a plastic PSO (piano shaped object) and headphones cannot duplicate the acoustical experience of an instrument speaking freely where its sound can bloom.
Most painters do not work with the rarefied white light that fed old masters in Holland. Most musicians cannot afford the perfect space for the sound of their instruments to bloom.
So I plead with everybody that once enjoyed any type of music: be patient with your neighbor musician while she or he practices. Their future audiences will thank you!