Welcome to the February 2018 Newsletter! In this issue:

Schedule
Studio Recital
Upcoming performances
Taubman workshop in Montréal
Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium in Portland, Oregon
Why memorize?
Recommended concerts

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Schedule
The Studio will be closed this month on the following days: Thursday and Friday, 8 and 9 February; and Saturday, 17 February. Students are encouraged, though not obligated, to schedule makeup lessons for the days I will be away.

Studio Recital
There will be a Studio Recital given at the Ottawa Steinway Gallery, 1481 Innes Road, on Saturday,12 May 2018, from 6:30pm –– 8:30pm. Students are encouraged to prepare a piece or part of one for the recital. It does not have to be a finished product, or even a complete piece, but unless you’re in the throes of retraining, you are strongly encouraged to play something. Even if you are not playing, please come support your fellow students. Refreshments will be served afterward.

Upcoming performances
On Thursday this week I will be performing Debussy’s suite Pour le piano in a group concert at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. The concert is part of a series called The Lives of the Piano and is curated by Associate Dean Lisa Yui. I played in this series last year and I’m honored to have been asked to return.

I’m very pleased to announce that I have been asked to perform at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on Saturday, 7 April. I’ll be playing the complete Préludes of Claude Debussy.

There are more performances coming up but as the dates have not been set at this writing, I’ll let you know about them in future Newsletters.

Taubman workshop in Montréal
There will be a one-day workshop on the Taubman Approach given at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal. Hosted by my friend, colleague, and Conservatoire Professor Mariko Sato, it will feature talks and masterclasses by Golandsky Institute co-founder Mary Moran, and Certified Instructors Mariko and Audrey Marshall. Students interested in attending may go to https://www.golandskyinstitute.org/workshops/montreal-workshop-2018 for details on how to register. Also, I have space available in my car! and I’ll be returning to Ottawa immediately after the workshop to attend Maestro David Jalbert’s performance of Brahms’ D Minor Piano Concerto that evening (see “Recommended Concerts”).

Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium in Portland, Oregon
I’m happy to announce that this year’s Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium is proceeding as scheduled, but at a new venue: Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon. The dates are 29 July – 4 August. I will be going, and it would be great to see you there too! Register at https://form.jotform.com/80105776505960.

Why memorize?
Although I don’t insist that students memorize music, it’s something I always encourage them to do. I don’t have any moral objections whatsoever to artists who choose to play from the music. It’s something that is happening with increasing frequency in concert halls these days. Certainly a lot of contemporary music can be extremely complicated and I bow to those who endeavor to play it, much less memorize it:

 

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(Yes, this is a real piece!)

For the rest of us mere mortals, however, memorization should not be looked upon as a burden, but rather as a liberation from the stimulus and response required to navigate between the music desk and the keyboard. Of course it requires more time and effort to memorize, but there are additional payoffs. Music that is memorized is also internalized, and gives one a further sense of ownership and control over the piece. It allows for greater aural-tactile response (the ability to listen to what’s being produced and respond to it physically) because one can better focus on line, sound production, colour, etc., without the interruption of having to glance back and forth, turning pages (whether one does it oneself (never advisable) or uses a page-turner), worrying about losing one’s place on the score, and the like. Yes, it’s a bit like walking the high-wire without a net, but I have some strategies that will help you feel more comfortable playing from memory in front of an audience:

Analyze the piece you’re playing. Even if you aren’t skilled in theory, harmony, form and counterpoint, you can look at a piece and figure out what it’s doing and where it’s going. You can do this with the music away from the keyboard. What are the themes? When do they appear? How does the piece begin and end? Dividing it up into obvious sections can help you “structuralize” a piece so that it feels like one thing that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You have the sense that you are moving through a familiar space. Of course, having theory, harmony, form and counterpoint skills can be very helpful when learning music, because they give you external reference points that can be used mnemonically as you traverse through the piece.

Memorize small sections. This is an extension of an oft-harangued theme of my teaching: small is better. Look at your piece and imagine how much of it you could play without looking at the music. One measure? Half a measure? Two notes? It doesn’t matter. Whatever the group is, look at it on the page, then watch your hands play it. If it’s too much, make it a smaller group. Try to play that group seven times in a row without a mistake. When that can be done, go on to the next group and do the same thing. Then try to play those two groups together without looking at the music. While it’s not necessary to only apply this method when learning a piece, it’s great to have it in the mix.

Visualize yourself playing the piece. This can be challenging at first, but it’s very effective. I’m not talking about having a dreamy, gauzy impression of yourself playing beautifully (though you no doubt can), I’m talking about imagining each note and seeing yourself playing it in detail. With the correct fingering. Not so easy. But enormously effective for memorization.

In the process of memorizing a piece, if you get stuck, don’t immediately refer back to the music. Rather, spend a couple of minutes trying to recall the notes. Can you remember some part of it? What the left hand does? What the right hand does? Can you hear it in your mind’s ear? Could you try to recreate that on the keyboard? Stretching yourself cognitively in this manner can really help.

Play for people. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of your friends and family. Ask if you can play the piece you’re trying to memorize for them. The added adrenaline is great for highlighting any parts that aren’t yet thoroughly learned. If you have to stop, that’s okay. Try to remember where that spot was, then devote extra attention to it in your next practice session.

Let me know if you have your own particular memorizing strategy, I would love to know about it!

Recommended concerts
Is there anything Roland Graham cannot do? This Wednesday at noon, the conductor/music director/pianist/organist/curator trains his talent toward the harpsichord in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in the series he curates, Doors Open for Music at Southminster. Also on the program is Handel’s Gloria, featuring soprano Isabelle Lacroix. Doors Open for Music at Southminster is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year.

University of Ottawa Professor David Jalbert will be playing Brahms’ PIano Concerto in D Minor with the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra on Saturday, 17 February 2018, 8:00pm, at Centrepoint Theatres. Tickets can be purchased here. If you have not yet heard Maestro Jalbert, you owe it to yourself to go to this concert. He is an incredible pianist and we are very fortunate indeed to have him in our midst. Incidentally, the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 25th anniversary! They deserve your support.

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As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments on the Newsletter. Thanks for reading and happy practicing!

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