Friday, March 28, 2014

All the guff on music notation

Here is a terrific webpage, giving us the good oil on musical notation. It includes this wonderful graphic:
Would I be churlish if I said that, much as I like the picture and the article, it is a bit like a road sign, which makes a lot more sense to people who already know where they're going.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bach's Biggest Hit?

A trivia question for you:
Who wrote Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor?
If that sounds silly, you may not have encountered the earnest discussion about this piece, which has been taking place since the 1960s. The current Wikipedia article points out that this piece of music was not published until 1833, during the revival of interest in Bach's music, fostered by Felix Mendelssohn and others.
Bach wrote over 2000 pieces of music, of which we have about 1080. Probably many of the ones that are lost are recyclings of existing works. Bach recycled his music like I recycle jokes! A true Eighteenth Century greenie!
But only twelve of his works were published in his lifetime, and he had to pay for half of those to be engraved!
Many scholars think that this piece of music is not in the style of the great master's other organ works and sounds like it was created later than Bach's lifetime by an anonymous composer. Others say it is a transcription, maybe by Bach, of a lost solo violin piece.
But distinguished Bach scholar Christoph Wolff is happy to ascribe it to Bach, but in his early days.
It would be disappointing if one of the few universally known pieces by Bach was in fact written by someone else!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Discovering Bach

I think my original impetus to study Bach  came from singing his Jesu, meine Freude motet and the B minor mass at Newcastle Conservatorium, under Michael Dudman's expert direction. 
After that,  I mainly only experienced the great instrumental works, like his keyboard preludes and fugues and the Brandenburg Concertos.
In 2002, I bit the bullet and bought the Teldec Bach 2000 set, which was discounted from $2200 to $1500 and includes all 1080 of Bach's extant works.
I listened to every single CD and nearly drove my wife mad with the 71 CDs of cantatas, because Harnoncourt's boy sopranos are out of tune in at least six of the CDs and they are not appealing performances.
In 2007, I had the opportunity of participating in ABC TV's Einstein Factor on the subject of J S Bach. I went down the gurgler on the second episode and only won the first one by one question. But i learnt a lot more about Bach during my preparation!
But when I discovered John Eliot Gardiner's Pilgrimage series, I began collecting them, and at a very attractive price. His Monteverdi Choir's performances are invariably beautiful. They make exploring the cantatas a very pleasant task.
These days you can do it all so cheaply! The Teldec set has been reissued for $300, but without the terrific booklets [though I believe they are online].
Gardiner's stuff is all freely available on Spotify and there is a wonderful abundance of first rate recordings of Bach's music on Youtube.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Piano Teaching In Four Sentences

I'm sure I posted this before, but I can't find where.

This is a combination of Déjà vu and amnesia, I suppose, because I'm sure I remember forgetting it before:

Jules Massenet said that piano teaching involves knowing four sentences:

1. Bonjour, Mademoiselle

2. Not so fast/slow

3. Less pedal, please

4. Give my regards to your mother

Simple, eh!

Thursday, September 02, 2010


I may not post much here any more, because I'm writing for Mitchell Conservatorium at the address in the link at the top.

Mitchell Conservatorium is the place where I have worked over the past ten years.

I am enjoying writing about the musical opportunities offered by our regional conservatorium and also about Music generally.

And getting paid a small amount to do it.

So come on over!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alexander Tsiboulski

Enjoyed seeing a whole page article about Alexander Tsiboulski, terrific new face in Australian classical guitar, in August's edition of Limelight magazine.

You can hear his playing at his Myspace page.

Alexander's All-Australian Naxos CD features more of the music he has sampled for us on his Myspace page.

I love the performance of the Granados Spanish dance he also has up there. Those dances, originally written for piano, sound superb when played by a sensitive guitarist.

In the Limelight article, Alexander made a great comment about one of the benefits of teaching, when he said that Teaching is a fantastic medium for developing one's own thinking and communication skills.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Effort Brings Success

The motto of Blaxland High School, the last place where I engaged in crowd control [which some people call high school music teaching] is Effort Earns Success. It used to bug me. Success seems to come easily to some people, whereas others try hard and fail.

ABC Lateline interviewer, Leigh Sales asked Matthew Syed, journalist and former table tennis champion What weight do you give innate talent versus hard work and opportunity?

Syed replied that he gives innate talent almost no weight at all. He would agree with Tennyson that
The heights by great men, reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept
Toiled upward in the night.

He says that great athletes and musicians are made, not born. Some, like Ian Thorpe, may have all the right equipment, but what made him a world champion swimmer was hard work and the drive to keep at it.

When Mozart travelled Europe at the age of about six, wowing everybody with his amazing talent, he had already put in about 3000 hours of practice, according to a recent biographer. Talent was of some importance, but the work that he did is what made him one of the greatest composers the world has so far seen.

Syed points out that this is good news! It doesn't mean we can all write stunning piano concertos or win gold medals at the Olympic Games, but it does mean that it is Effort that Earns Success.

In 1965, my friend Ian and I were at another friend's house. This bloke used to always boast that success came easily to him. If he came top of the class, he would say "Imagine how much better I'd have done if I'd studied."

Up until that day, we swallowed it, but when this genius left his bedroom, we raided his desk drawer and discovered a study timetable and detailed, comprehensive handwritten study notes. He was clever, but he achieved success because he also worked hard.

I have seen seemingly less talented piano students go further than the naturally gifted through sheer hard work.

In 2008, my wife and I attended Angela Hewitt's performances of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2. On a Thursday in October she played the entire Book 1 from memory. That's 24 preludes and 24 fugues. (The fugues are fiendishly difficult and usually include 3 or 4 independent lines of music played simultaneously.) Then on the following Saturday, she played the more difficult second book of 24 preludes and 24 fugues. This time she had the sheet music in front of her, but did not ever seem to refer to it.

Of course Angela is talented, but the reason she was able to play these 96 mostly difficult pieces of music was her hours and hours of hard work. Both at the piano and also studying the music away from the piano. She couldn't have done it without her wonderful musical gifts, but the key thing was surely the months and years of solid work which she put in.

Thanks Matthew and Leigh. Great story.