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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Italian quote

 One of Joe Dolce's Italian quotes that he has shared:
Chi pò, non vò; 
chi vò, non pò; 
chi sà, non fà; 
chi fà, non sà; 
e così, male il mondo va. 
- (Who can do, doesn't want to; 
who wants to, can't do; 
who knows how to do, won't do it; 
who does it, doesn't know how to; 
and, so, badly goes the world.)

Interesting project

Someone called Deanne decided to embark on a project of recording the entire Beatles white album, with a new track appearing every nine days. If you don't know why she did it every nine days, you need to brush up on your Lennonology.

It is great to have a project to work on and this one is a most interesting one. Her first effort, linked above, is very well done. If you like it, you might like to join my much less ambitious project, which is to listen to what she did, a track per day, over the next 29 days in which I have access to a computer. [I'll be taking a break during the school holidays to visit my Aunty Ruth for her hundredth birthday and to meet my new granddaughter, Hilary.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One afternoon in June

We had a lovely concert at Mitchell Conservatorium today.
Some of our students played for the tenth time, and some played for the very first time.
If my students give me permission, I'll post a few photos of the performance today.

The newest piece played, written this century,  was called The Wild Rest, and comes from the brand new P Plate Piano series of books.

The oldest piece played was a fugue by Telemann that was written over 250 years ago.

Several  of the students are preparing for exams (and playing for enjoyment), but others are not preparing for exams (and playing for enjoyment).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The greatest instrument?

I think the greatest instrument is unquestionably the human voice, but after that comes the piano.

No other acoustic instrument can match the piano's expressive range, and no electric instrument can match its mystery. [Kenneth Miller quote included in The Essential Piano]

The pianoforte is the most important of all musical instruments: its invention was to music what the invention of printing was to poetry. [Bernard Shaw]

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Should we use secular music in church?

As I see it, those who favour using contemporary secular music in church present their material in such a way that it looks like they are following what was done in the past, whereas those against it also slant their material to make it seem like it wasn't done previously.

As I understand it, Luther used only one secular song [which is the folk tune used in VOM HIMMEL HOCH]. In all that I've read, this one tune is the only one that Luther used which was being sung in a secular context, and when he discovered this, a new tune was substituted.

It seems to me that the popular myth that Luther used the bar tunes of his day is based on the misunderstanding that a bar tune is a tune sung in a bar, but actually it is a tune with an AAB structure, which is known as bar form, of which Luther, we are told [haven't checked], used many.

Those who want to say that Luther and the Wesleys used secular tunes don't usually cite any evidence, but simply make the assertion.

Having said this, I'm not against using pre-existing secular music in every case, but do see a problem with using a song which is currently played in a strip joint in church next week.

We sing hymns to folk tunes which Vaughan Williams set, we sing a Christmas song to Greensleeves [a song about a prostitute] and to The Tune from County Derry [which is popularly called The Londonderry Air or Danny Boy]. I don't think this is a problem if the tune doesn't make people think of prostitutes or give them maudlin thoughts of Ireland [in a song by a non-Irishman who never even visited Ireland!]

One Sunday many years ago when I was playing the organ in a church in Brisbane [in fact, the first Church of Christ in Australia], I played The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the conclusion of the service.

A little boy came out to the organ and sang in a loud voice
Little Peter Rabbit Had A Fly Upon His Nose
Little Peter Rabbit had a fly upon his nose
Little Peter Rabbit had a fly upon his nose
And he flipped it and he flopped it
And it flew right away
to my great embarrassment!

Another instructive experience, also in Queensland Churches of Christ, was in the opening convocation service for our college, held unusually in a large Presbyterian Church in Anne St, because there wasn't a Church of Christ big enough.

We weren't used to pipe organs in church, as we tended to have small electronic ones or pianos. As the organist played, I had warm spiritual feelings [whatever they are] as I listened to him play great classical organ music in his pre-service voluntaries.

A little boy from the country squealed "Oo! Sounds like a horror movie!"

Which shows that one man's Bach is another man's Boris Karloff!

David McKay

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Traditional or Contemporary Music?

In a discussion on the Yahoo Groups Theology List, a couple of people have argued that it is only acceptable to use Traditional Music and Traditional Instruments in church.

I don't think that this argument is sustainable. I don't think it allows for the diversity in cultures in the church today. I understand that there are now more Christians in China than in any other country. After that comes Africa.

Does God expect them to sing old-fashioned British and American hymns only?

There are many kinds of music that I enjoy and some which I don't enjoy. But I can't say that the music which I enjoy is godly but the music which I don't enjoy is ungodly.

And I think it is also dangerous to say that the music which makes me feel spiritual [whatever that is] is acceptable to God and the music which leaves me cold is unacceptable.

I am a Bach lover and have recordings of all his extant works [not to mention other music that has been attributed to Bach]. Bach's music makes me feel religious, especially the vocal music, but it leaves others cold. Also, the music of his secular cantatas is often very similar to the music in his sacred cantatas. Cantatas about hunting or drinking coffee include music that is similar to, or even the same as music that is in a cantata in praise of the Holy Trinity.

I think music has associations which we have made and so may make us feel happy or excited or sexy, but I'm not sure it is the music itself which does this. My wife just remarked that music might make her feel sexy if she was close to me, but we aren't sure it is inherent in the sounds! [Nice when your wife whom you have been married to for 36 years says that!]

Some of what people say about music borders on racism, I think.

For many of us, it would be extremely difficult to praise God in the ancient music of Israel or in the music of other cultures.

I think it is legitimate to say that music which makes us focus on the sounds and forget the message can be inappropriate. Unfortunately, for many people this would include a lot of the supposedly kosher spiritual music, because it makes many people focus on the sounds, on their emotions and not truly on our God and Saviour.

For many people Handel's Messiah is a lovely concert and doesn't make them feel remotely like worshipping the God whom it tells us about. But when I am at a performance of this wonderful work which has been performed every year since its creation over 250 years ago, I stand up in the Hallelujah Chorus, not because an English king decided to stretch his legs while it was being sung: I'm standing up for the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" the magnificent anthem is written about.

Loud music which drowns out the message must be inappropriate, but this is not at all to say that we can't enjoying shouting to the Lord in joyful song.

I'm interested to know what is meant by Contemporary Christian Music. Would you include the wonderful songs of Stuart Townend? His music is actually "wordly", because it is based on Celtic folk music to some degree, but I don't believe that rules it out from being used in praise of God, because the words are terrific.

David McKay
Theologically trained music teacher.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The pedal is the soul of the piano

I think many pianists would agree with this quote. But who said it? If you google it, you'll find it attributed to Arthur Rubinstein by several sources. But Stephen Hough says that it was Anton, not Arthur who made this comment.

The Wikipedia page about Anton Rubinstein is fascinating.

I couldn't resist adding Hough's citation of this aphorism to that page.

I particularly enjoyed the opening of the article, which sets you up for Rubinstein's comment about himself:
Rubinstein was born to Jewish parents in the village of Vikhvatinets in the district of Podolsk, Russia, (now known as Ofatinţi in Transnistria, Republic of Moldova), on the Dniestr River, about 150 kilometers northwest of Odessa. Before he was 5 years old, his paternal grandfather ordered all members of the Rubinstein family to convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodoxy.

Rubinstein, brought up as a Christian at least in name, lived in a household where three languages were spoken—Yiddish, Russian and German. Much later, when his musical "Russianness" was called into question by musical nationalist Mily Balakirev and others in The Five, Rubinstein might have been thinking of this part of his childhood, among other things, when he wrote in his notebooks,

“Russians call me German, Germans call me Russian, Jews call me a Christian, Christians a Jew. Pianists call me a composer, composers call me a pianist. The classicists think me a futurist, and the futurists call me a reactionary. My conclusion is that I am neither fish nor fowl – a pitiful individual”

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I love playing the piano!

OK, boys and girls, let's imagine an ideal world where every kid thinks like this:
This is my version of Helping Kids to Enjoy Playing which I call I love playing the piano!

I love playing the piano!


1. Mum and Dad love hearing me play.

2. I can play any time I want.

3. Mum comes and listens when I do my practice.

4. Dad asks me to play his favourites.

5. They never tell me to stop because they’re watching TV.

6. My piano sounds great. Dad gets it tuned every year.

7. Mum and Dad don’t nag me about how much time I spend practising.

8. I can play lots of stuff.

9. I have a great teacher and we have fun piano lessons.

10. I think the piano is the best instrument!

11. It is fun to tinker and make up my own stuff.

12. Sometimes I can work out how to play songs I heard on TV

13. I have a great practice room. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.

14. My school teacher asks me to play in class concerts

15. I have fun things to play in our school band

16. I got a Highly Commended award at last year’s eisteddfod

17. The music examiner wrote an encouraging report for my last exam

David McKay


Friday, February 19, 2010

Love Reconciled

We are enjoying The Marais Project's latest recording of works by Marin Marais and other 17th and 18th century composers. The cd is beautifully packaged and includes comprehensive information about the composers, works, performers and even the instruments used to perform the music.

The group have included one contemporary work - Stephen Yates' Love Reconciled or The Rewards of Evil, which is a world premiere recording.

But as good as the cd is, the best way to hear the music is to attend one of the group's concerts, because live performance gives so much more than can be captured in an audio recording.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Good Vibrations from Celia Sheen

Couldn't resist the reference to Brian Wilson's iconic song, which also uses the theremin.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

... who danced with the Prince of Wales

You know the song?
I've danced with a man who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.

I sometimes hear people talking about their piano teachers and their piano teacher's teachers, so I looked up the teacher of my teacher and discovered that my musical great-grandfather is Alexander Glazunov, because my piano teacher Neta Maughan's teacher, Alexander Svergensky was one of his pupils.

Doesn't change much, but.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Deja vu all over again ...

I miss our old 5-CD changer. It gave us good service for maybe 8 years, but then began misbehaving.

I used to enjoy putting in several CDs and then clicking the random button and having my own private radio station.

It worked well for the double CD Daydreams set by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, which has combined his recordings of arrangements of Bill Evans and Duke Ellington tunes.

The second CD [the Edward Kennedy Ellington set] has plenty of variety and is fine to listen to on its own, but while the individual tracks on the first CD are all wonderful, they don't work as a set, as the mood rarely varies, and is mostly subdued.

But randomise the set, perhaps by adding another jazz pianist, and Bob's your uncle.

I must have bought this set about 7 or so years ago, but I have exactly the same reaction now as I had back then. Hence, as Justin would say, hence the title.