Examinations & Festivals

Jump Ahead or Fake It

For the past couple of weeks, my students have heard me tell them to "jump ahead" or "fake it" (i.e., "make it up) when they do a run-through of their festival songs for me. Those are really a musician's two options on stage when we have a memory lapse. Asking for the book and running off the stage aren't acceptable options. And now, here we are. It's Music Festival Week. Basically, this is a warm-up for my students gearing up for piano exams in June - a chance to air out their repertoire, get valuable feedback and see where the kinks lie.

Things are at the stage where we have to stop psyching ourselves out at weak spots by making them stronger. As Irina Ginzburg, my former piano teacher, said to me many a time, "You have to get it right eleven times out of ten at home to get it right ten times out of ten on stage."

I should add that since perfection on stage is fleeting, delivering a convincing performance becomes more important. A friend of mine told me once that she "faked" the middle of one of her jury songs at university one semester. She knew the beginning and the end. Unfortunately, she caught the chicken pox shortly before her piano jury and was unable to properly learn the middle.She kept in the style of the song and lucked out by having an obscure piece that none of the jury members were familiar with. She delivered such a convincing performance that she garnered a "B".

Back to my students and I. We've been practicing (some harder than others) on our trouble spots and our memory by using the following techniques:

  • hands separately
  • analysing the chords and patterns
  • "eyes closed" practice
  • "eyes open but looking away from the piano" practice
  • playing with distractions
  • drilling beginnings and endings
  • drilling problem spots
  • coming to the piano in between other tasks and starting up partway through one of our songs
  • practicing at "nervous" tempo (for most, it's faster than normal)
  • practice performing
  • practice "faking it" at weak points

Hopefully our hard work will pay off over the next week-and-a-half.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Music Festival Time

The APTA Festival begins tomorrow. Visit their APTA Festival website for information and the performance program. The High River & District Lions Music Festival kicked off earlier this week. Information can be found at the Town of High River website

Audience members are welcome.

Here's an article on a talented pianist, Kandace Deacon. She's one I can say, "I knew her when she was this high." She was a little sprite when her sisters, my brother and I competed at the High River Festival. Now look at her - 18 and picking up awards left, right and centre. Story is here.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Sturm und drang - Second Movement

Perhaps the spirit of my former piano teacher Irina Ginzburg was hovering as I was filling out my own registration form for the APTA Festival. She would want me to challenge myself. Before I could stop myself, I registered for the Teacher Recital class, which means three songs. It's not too scary, at least, I hope it isn't. It's just that I now have to add two senior level pieces to my practice list (on top of students' songs and gig repertoire...to practice in the wee hours in the night).

I'm pretty happy with my selections. I've been meaning to learn Chopin's Nocturne in e minor, op. 72 #1 for years; ever since I heard it in the Hallmark TV production of The Secret Garden. It's only four pages - however, the return of the A theme is a doozy! I've sightread Bartok's Bagatelle, op. 6 #5 before and find the rhythms catchy. Hey, if I can sightread it - then it's do-able. Both songs are Gr. 10 level, which provides a bit of a challenge without taking too much time. The final selection is Houki Boshi (Comet). It's one of the theme songs from the Japanese show Bleach. I plan on embellishing and improvising a bit, something which I already do with it.

The question is whether or not I will memorize all the songs. I'll play that by ear.

So all in all, not too bad. It's still added sturm und drang though. When to practice?

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Sturm und Drang

"Sturm und drang" - "storm and stress" - these words not only apply to music, but to other aspects of life. Storm and Stress

It's amazing how much "sturm und drang" in one's personal life affects other areas. Things are settling down on the home front. One of my room-mates moved out earlier in the month. Let's just say that things really didn't work out. The house has regained its tranquil feel. I no longer have the urge to play the most dissonant music on the planet at triple fortissimo (although it was great stress relief). Maestro and my remaining room-mate have a spring to their step once again. I've been playing perky songs.

Most of my students are heading into festival/exam season in a pretty good position, with most of their repertoire and technical requirements memorized. Each year, we get better at timing. The main challenge now is to help the students take their music to the next level of musicianship and expression without them peaking too soon before performance day. There are a couple of students who could go either way. If they buckle down now, they will do fine on the exam. If they don't...the road will be very stormy and stressful indeed.

For the first time in APTA Festival history, the organizers are offering a Teacher performance class. I've been humming and hawing whether to learn something new or enter one of my senior student's songs, which I must practice anyway. I've got a few days to decide. With another busy year on the ARMTA Calgary Board ahead of me, I will most likely pick something that will provide enough of a challenge without undue stress.

Thankfully the Calgary Iaido Club has decided to host a seminar on Niten Ichi Ryu instead of both the seminar and the national Iaido Tournament. As exciting as the latter would have been to host, it would have been a challenge for us to make it work for this year.

All in all, life if back to a manageable level of sturm und drang.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Enter Troppo Crazy Season - #2

It's that time again - when students and teachers ride a six month non-stop roller coaster - with dreams of summer so far away. My new room-mates are seeing first-hand just how nutty my life is. It goes almost without saying that I won't be able to update my blog as much as I'd like to for the next little while.

I began the winter term with an ARMTA Calgary Executive Board meeting. We have some exciting projects on the go. Our neighbourhood Chamber Chats, which launched in September, have been a hit. Calgary has grown so quickly that it is becoming more challenging to bring teachers together. We divided the city into six regions and created regional groups in the hopes that the teachers within the groups could network and support each other with joint recitals, master classes and mock exams. We have another round of Chamber Chats scheduled for the coming week.

Also on tap this month is our Honours' Recital, which I'm chairing. Students of member teachers who attained high marks on their 2006 music exams will be honoured at the end of the month for their hard work. I've been busy fanagling scholarship money. I know, I seem to recall saying that I'd never fundraise again after the CFMTA Peak Performance Conference & Celebration, but I just can't seem to get out of it.

My student recital is next weekend. Thankfully, my parents have been taking care of the post-recital "Snack & Chat". However, it's up to me to remind everyone to bring a plate of goodies to share and get the "recital box" ready. I also have to do up the recital program. Keep your fingers crossed that my students don't change their songs at the last minute. I was trying to prepare a new song for the recital. Reluctantly, I had to admit that it would not be up to performance standard for next week. I pulled out my old ARCT repertoire to dust off an old song. I was delighted to see that in next to no time, I had Danza del viejo boyero back under my fingers in a night.

The entry deadline for the High River & District Music Festival is next week, so I had to get all the forms ready for the six students who can enter. Talk about detail oriented work.

No luck finding a successor for the Advertising Coordinator position for ARMTA Calgary. Those of us on the Nominating Committee will have to sort that out before the AGM. I'm torn, a part of me hopes that our current President decides to stay on an extra year to push through some of these new initiatives we've launched. However, part of me looks forward to the day my commitment on the board will be over. If she completes her term and hands the mantle to me, then we're both done sooner. Hard to say which would be the better path. Whatever happens determines whether it's just easier for me to hold onto the Advertising Coordinator role since I've done it for about three years.

It's a good thing that those of us on the Website Maintenance committee for ARMTA just have regular updates to do. As one of my colleagues and I maintain our own websites, it's not a big deal to add some of the info from our site onto ARMTA's.

It was a relief to come out Saturday's Calgary Iaido Club Tournament meeting with only two tasks, as opposed to the 15+ that each committee member on the ARMTA Board winds up with. Taking minutes and filling out grant applications - I can handle that - especially with proofers to double-check my work.

All I can say is that I'm glad my room-mates and I launched our little "adventure club" for family and friends. Maestro and I will need a healthy dose of fun and adventure to survive this term's roller coaster.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Performing to Expectations

We're into high performance season for musicians. Some of my students have already begun their stint at the APTA Festival. I was delighted today to see the comments one of my students received. We're definitely on the right track. Just a few tiny things to improve on but nothing this student can't handle. I can only hope that the rest of my students do as well. Some students have recently memorized their exam and/or festival pieces so there may be some wobbly performances. As my brother once told me, "They'll perform as well as expected."

I can't wait to see how my students found the Technique Games and the Music is More than You See Workshop on embellishing. I especially can't wait to find out how two of my students will do in the pop class, where they are strongly encouraged to improvise and/or embellish. One is a good improvisor and should play well. The other? We'll see.

It's the same deal with next week's theory examinations. One student is postponing her exam, while the other four should perform as expected. I hope one squeaks by with a passing grade, but following instructions has been a challenge for this student. Writing a music theory exam is like taking an accounting test: If you get one step wrong, it will drastically affect the rest of your answer. Not following directions will adversely affect your grade. The other three will pass, if past performance is any indication.

This week, I'm asking my students to decide what they will perform at the studio recital at the end of the month. I suppose I should do the same. I know that I should perform by memory, but I don't know if I'll have time to memorize. Jeez, I can't even decide what to play, let alone whether I'll use the book. (c) 2006, Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Calgary Youth Sparkle at Calgary Concerto Competition

On Sunday, a friend and I attended the Calgary Civic Symphony's concert, featuring the winners from this year's Calgary Concerto Competition. We were simply amazed at the musical maturity these youngsters displayed. At the tender age of 11, Jan Lisieki demonstrated that he could interpret the tender cantabile melodies in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 with sensitivity and maturity. It is no wonder that he has won the Calgary Music Competition three times.

Thirteen year-old TieDan Yao is always a delight to watch. His face reflects the sheer joy he feels about playing. He sparkled with the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1. I enjoyed this performance even more than his playing at the CFMTA National Piano Competition this past summer.

Willem Stam provided a wonderful break from the piano with his interpretation of Dvorak's Concerto for Violncello and Orchestra in B minor. The seventeen year-old proved that he can infuse the melodies with sufficient angst and passion.

Fifteen year-old Eric Kim closed the program with Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra. In her introduction, Maestra Rosemary Thompson, mentioned that Eric plays trombone in his school jazz band. His feel for the jazz idiom was evident in his performance.

It was an inspiring concert, the type that inspires other musicians to try harder. Most of us aren't cut out for the concert stage, but we can always improve.

Copyright 2006, Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.