Thursday, May 26, 2016

Canon in D: Piano Chords

Folks have been requesting this so I decided to assist my students by getting a tutorial video up.

This is just the chord progression, which lays the groundwork for the entire song, however you

interpret it.  Just play this over and over and have someone else take the melody on a different instrument!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I'm bored with music

Can I just say this?  

I'm bored with new music these days.  

I listen to what's new for piano on Pandora, on Youtube, and elsewhere, and I'm just -- not impressed. Over-patterned, monotonous spa music that lacks melody. Yanni and Enya copycats. New age crap that is just -- too pretty. Harmonies that are maintained for half a minute before changing. Where is the grit; the risk-taking? Where is the struggle and loss you hear in Beethoven and Chopin? Is the well-sculpted phrase a relic of a bygone era? Is it too risky to penetrate a listener's soul; to have an angry alter-ego in the C section? I find so-called artists hunkered under the label of minimalism, which -- let's be honest, is often an excuse for shoddy creative skills.  And can we please have some composers take on the challenge of blending classical and jazz a little better? (Hiromi and video game composers like Koji Kondo are onto this, I think). I'm all for an "inter-racial" marriage of styles. My take on the situation?  

We need an artistic revival; a sharpening of the craft of high art, specifically, music.  

I don't know exactly what that means, but Japanese female pianist-composer Hiromi inspires me much more than say, Phillip Glass or George Winston. Don't think this is a feminazi manifesto, either. I also love what Jarrod Radnich is doing to bring back virtuosity to piano arranging, and he's clearly a GUY; a guy who's talent is off-the-charts (though sometimes heavy on the trills). Kyle Landry is another guy with excellent arranging skills. His very nuanced and emotional arrangements require some skill to play, though I don't see him on yet (look him up on Youtube...he's quite prolific and covers all the popular stuff kids love).

But back to the origin of this boredom. Today I took a little joy ride through classics (the masters are the best example of superior craft, after all, and I make all my students study them). I was sight-reading through this classical book, mainly piano transcriptions of symphonies (Brahms, Beethoven, etc) and...

I got SO bored.  

Not bored with the core musical intentions of the composer, but bored with the arranger's interpretation. Now. This is a popular "Classics" book that I see on the shelves of every music store. (Sigh...) While my little journey reminded me of the yearning build in the first movement of Brahm's fourth symphony, I felt cheated with these stripped-down versions. They were unimaginative and unchallenging. I wanted to add a thousand notes and details that weren't written. I guess that's why I've gone almost exclusively to playing from lead sheets over the years, with the exception of solo piano works. There's no limit to how I interpret the piece. I can add more color to the chords, dress up the melody, shake up the rhythm, and add drama and suspense. I can make it as difficult or as simple as I want. My right brain is on fire the entire time I'm playing spontaneous arrangements. Arrangements or accompaniments that are scripted and spelled out have become -- a prison for me. Forcing myself into that classical mold is like planting a moisture-hungry fern in a desert. I discovered that lead sheets and composing were my sweet spots in the past five years, and I've tried to be more truthful to my authentic musical self.

So, obviously, this evolution of self influenced my teaching. I have been teaching creative lead sheet interpretation for about eight years. Frankly, that rigid classical approach just doesn't work for everyone. And I have found that -- some kids THRIVE on this. These kids would otherwise fall through the cracks in a more traditional, classical curriculum. That's not to disqualify classics as critical to piano study; I make these same students apply classical techniques to their artistic interpretations. Beethoven, Bach, and Copland...they were both creatives and piano teachers. I'm sure they would approve of my approach. And hopefully I am planting a seed that will germinate and blossom into future composers and arrangers.