Piano Adventures!

This past week brought a nearly insurmountable challenge to help a 90-year old sell her 7-foot Baldwin grand piano. Sight unseen, I’d enlisted a volunteer effort while facing a built-in pressure cooker deadline of 30 days to sale. The owner’s move to Assisted Living could not include a lion’s size instrument.

With less than a trace of optimism, I packed a tripod with an iPhone mount and walked an easy 10 blocks to the location.

Greeted by a craggy, narrow, winding staircase to the first floor apartment, I instantly realized the difficulty of getting a huge grand DOWN to ground level. My hopes dwindled.

The piano, stored in a dark lit room, took up most of its space. And with the lid up, a cast iron plate laden with dust precluded a soundboard assessment, while the music rack had a glaringly missing bolt.

From my preliminary interview with the owner’s daughter, I discovered that the instrument, an SF-10 (1976-77), had resided for twenty-five years in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the least piano friendly areas of the country. Raw, often sub-zero winters alternated with sizzling hot, humid summers that were the norm during my years at the Oberlin Conservatory. (not far from Cleveland) Extreme seasonal fluctuations would normally have adversely affected the “Con pianos,” but for its instituted climate control measures.

I further learned from the owner, that the SF-10 had been moved to Berkeley in 2005, stacking up 13 years in a piano positive environment, though not ameliorating the damage of its previous housing.

Once I sampled the piano, I knew my work was cut out for me.

It was plainly obvious that the instrument needed re-stringing and a new set of hammers. Even with its big projecting sound and long chord decay, etc., I could not create a varied palette of dynamics. Regulation-wise, it was a bumpy ride over the 88s. Some notes glaringly popped out while others spoke barely in a whisper. Given this less than ideal condition, the only way to showcase it on video, was to dig into the keys at a forte (loud) level and exaggerate its projection. (In truth, however, the strings were shot, with an obviously “tubby” bass.)

Following a brief recording session, I committed myself to in-depth research of this model by first cruising you tube postings, Googling the model, and logging-in at Piano World.com, With a stroke of luck, I stumbled upon a thread encircling a Baldwin SF-10 (1986) that had been advertised for $64,000, but properly assessed by a technician at $14,000.

Deep into this thread, I noted the purchase of this piano, (SF-10, 1986) by “Allan” a PW member. Dead center in the thread, the new owner linked to his own you tube post, showcasing the piano. With original strings and hammers, the instrument soared to ecstatic heights in the hands of “Allan,” who chose not to have his head filmed, just his arms down to fingers.

As impressed as I was with his newly acquired 1986 model, I remained unconvinced that the 1976-77 Baldwin in Berkeley would sell, mostly due to its large size, ill-playing condition, and its emblem not having name recognition. While the old Baldwins were in the league of its towering competitors, the company suffered some notably shaky years.

Meanwhile as my research continued, I’d come upon Robert Estrin’s Living Pianos You Tube Channel which often featured Baldwins, including the SF-10, and the larger concert size SD-10. Estrin had boasted to viewers about owning an SF-10, swearing to its excellence.

Given the Baldwin spotlight, it made sense to connect up with Estrin and send off the video I’d uploaded to you tube. (Unlisted)

At this juncture, Living Pianos vied for the piano, while “Allan” did the same after seeing my Piano World post where I mentioned having played a Baldwin SF-10 housed in Berkeley that was up for sale. Ironically, Allan had a “friend” looking for this model and wanted to ascertain my opinion of the one I tried. His contact had a child prodigy daughter who needed a piano, and admired an SF-10 her teacher owned. Allan emphasized that the family’s budget was low.

To cut a long story short, Good Samaritan Allan became the intermediary in a potential sale of the Berkeley Baldwin, as he competed with Estrin (in Santa Ana) who seemed to want the piano in ratio to his escalated emailings to me, and to the seller.

Allan meant business when drove about 200 miles to Berkeley, sampled the piano and made an offer that factored in how much rebuilding was needed. At that point, Estrin, who knew the piano only from my you tube video, would not commit to a buy-out or consignment without a “14 day” on site evaluation. The piano might be sent back at the seller’s expense. (Later he reduced the waiting time.)

After much back and forth over just a few days, Allan upped his offer, and claimed the piano as the seller was under time pressure, and could not equivocate further.

To celebrate the sale, I met up with Allan in Berkeley right after he’d packed the Baldwin action into his van, bringing along two piano-loving pals.

Along with his two starstruck piano friends we four took a jaunt over to DC Pianos in Berkeley to test what was rumored to be a magnificent 9 foot Steinway concert grand, 1936, that had original strings, and hammers installed in the 1990’s.

This time I was privileged to hear Allan play this treasure in person with his head attached to his body, though I filmed him from his arms down in respect for his “camera shy” wishes.

The incredible-sounding Steinway grand piano priced at $35,000 will undergo rebuilding, hopefully preserving its original character.

Finally, amidst this past week’s piano adventures, I’m greatly relieved that the Baldwin SF-10 will be going to a family who will properly maintain it after rebuilding.

For my part, I’m gratified that the deadline to sale was met, and the piano will enjoy a new lease on life.
P.S. Allan will keep me updated on the SF-10 rebuilding process. He promises to send a video when the piano work is completed. It will be fascinating to compare the Before and After.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)


Session Notes: Creative Approaches to Technology in the Teaching Studio

Greetings to all the participants from The Royal Conservatory’s Summer Summit 2018 in Toronto! Thank you for coming to Creative Approaches to Technology in the Teaching Studio and below are the links that I referenced during my presentation. If you weren’t able to come out to my Summer Summit presentation, stay tuned for future dates for this presentation.


The Royal Conservatory of Music home page
– The Silicon Valley “education is broken and only technology can fix it” narrative: a view for (by Mark Zuckerberg) and against (by Valerie Strauss)

Using technology for areas of studio management which are traditionally a challenge for teachers

Town of Oakville 2017 Annual Report (take a look at pages 17-19 for a look at suburban digital engagement)

My Music Staff
Music Teacher’s Helper
Helen Hou-Sandí, lead developer at WordPress (Helen also redesigned the Collaborative Piano Blog several years ago!)
– The Collaborative Piano Blog (you’re already here)
My teaching site
– My free ebook 31 Days to Better Practicing
– Structuring your website in a way that speaks to your target market: Shannon Coates: The Vocal Instrument 101
Setting up online registration with My Music Staff
QuickBooks Online

Pedagogically driven use of technology

Her Voice in Black by Carla Chambers (watch on YouTube)
– The Royal Conservatory’s Digital Learning: Music History Level 9 Online

– The Royal Conservatory’s music theory apps for Levels 1-4  and online courses and apps for Levels 5-8
Piano Adventures Player by Faber Piano Adventures

Thank you for attending Creative Approaches to Technology in the Teaching Studio! I hope to present this workshop in the future, so stay tuned!

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Playing with Imagination!

Lately, I’ve been imbuing lessons with the word “imagination” particularly as it has applied to short pictorial works by Enrique Granados. Yet, drawing on the imagination crosses historical periods of musical composition, not limited to 19th Century “expressive” Romanticism and well beyond.

In this vein, J.S. Bach Preludes, Fugues, movements from the French and English Suites, etc. possess an “emotional” dimension that cannot be overlooked. In Bach’s Sarabande in D minor, French Suite No. 1, BWV 812, a profound sadness permeates a 24-bar movement that ends with a gorgeous Picardy third. Imagination in this context, encompasses tone color changes, or a delay in entering an “unexpected” Parallel MAJOR cadence, so it becomes a “surprise” for the player, and listener alike. (The player and listener, are one and the same in the cosmos of a layered learning process, so being “inside” and “outside” the music bears relevance when analysis is factored in.) The cognitive part of learning synthesizes with affective and kinesthetic dimensions of absorption.

Within the D Minor Sarabande, there are poignant sequences that fill an Imaginative repository. They require voicing, weaving, interrelated responses, and an awareness of how harmonic flow is embellished with contrapuntal lines. (The B section opens with a restatement of the opening theme in the bass where a “cello” perhaps is “singing.”) I often draw on the chamber music universe to fuel the imagination and influence tone production.

Recording helps a student to perceive his/her playing without the encumbrance of too much physical preoccupation so that a form of ear attentive objectivity can expand and deepen the “interior” or “subjective” dimension of expressive playing.

A student might ask, “What could I have done differently to create better phrasing that has meaning, expression, and shape?” (The answer might encompass a less percussive approach–or one that is tempered by a supple wrist—part of the imagined “sound” or tonal ideal.) Naturally, a pupil can examine more than one area of necessary improvement.

“Imagination” by itself has little value if unwedded to a thorough understanding of a composition’s structure, harmonic rhythm and development–including what modulations transpire, and how secondary dominants, or deceptive cadences, sequences, etc. “color” musical expression. And then there’s the importance of Present and Past in the unfolding of a piece: “How many times has the theme been repeated, and how can I render it differently and more poignantly each time–or might it need a “veil” in the final iteration?”

What happens BEFORE affects what is to happen AFTER in musical flow. And I personally think three-fold: The BEFORE, the HERE and NOW, and the FUTURE, all bundled into a composition. (Future is where the music is heading based on what preceded.) In the Bach Sarabande, pianists decorate both sections on repeats with ornaments or varying passagework that require a sense of what was initially stated with less adornment. Sequences, as well need responses so they have inter-relationship. (Dynamics can be varied as echoes, and Harmonic surprises allow for individualized expression.)

Finally, while a piano teacher can prompt a student to play a piece such as Burgmuller’s L’Orage, with “stormy” imagery as an emotion-driven springboard (no pun intended), the association cannot “shape lines,” or create a palette of dynamics through “waves” of measures. Deeper analytic probing tied to the composer’s “programmatic” framing makes more sense. And here’s where imagined “tone” color imbues the playing at various junctures with an awareness of “choreography.” (“How do I realize what I want to hear?” in a fusion of the musical and physical.)

In the video below, I explore the expressive (imaginative) contours of Enrique Granados Sensitiva No. 7 from Apariciones with a play-through and follow-up tutorial.

Through the opening measures, a prevalence of agogic notes in the treble, (those tied over) affect the “entry” into them, and the departure from them as they decay, and “connect” to notes following in scale-wise descent. (I flesh out “traction” at the inception, with relaxation in the sequence.) Key transitions are of particular relevance in the response zone of playing in this short piece, especially when they are unexpected.

And many thematic repetitions that flow into first and second endings with a Da Capo al fine, require variations in dynamics and a sense of interpretive freedom or rubato that fuel “imaginative” playing.


from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Degree Programs: Sallie Pollack on the University of Central Oklahoma’s Master of Music in Collaborative Piano

A big thanks goes to Sallie Pollack, Piano Division Head at the University of Central Oklahoma, for today’s guest post!


The University of Central Oklahoma is the only university in Oklahoma that offers a MM in Collaborative Piano. UCO is located in the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City and offers collaborative piano students many opportunities to learn, grow, and share in a wealth of performance opportunities available at the the university, city and state levels. 

Collaborative piano students serve the UCO School of Music by partnering with others in vocal and instrumental applied lessons, large and small ensembles, and opera, music theatre and ballet productions. Students connect with a dynamic faculty in all areas of music making and get a chance to network with other students and professionals in a blossoming metropolitan environment. 

The UCO masters collaborative piano curriculum offers a well-rounded program that allows for intensive one-on-one work with actively performing professors, instrumental and vocal coaching training, growth in diction expertise and immersion in the vast instrumental and vocal collaborative literature. Teaching assistantships and tuition waiver awards are available. 

Contact Sallie Pollack at Spollack@uco.edu or at salliepollack.org for more information. Please visit http://sites.uco.edu/cfad/ for a detailed description of the fine arts programs at the University of Central Oklahoma. 

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

What you Learn by Teaching Piano

I was inspired by the sagacious words of Peter Takacs, Oberlin Conservatory piano faculty member, in response to a query by Zsolt Bognar. (Living the Classical Life interview)

Zsolt: “Should a pianist teach?” (I was a bit surprised by a question that sowed doubt about the endeavor of mentoring–as if it proliferated the weak cliche that those who don’t perform are left with the lesser option of teaching.)

Bognar fine-tuned his inquiry, If “not of necessity,” should “pianists” teach?

Takacs deftly navigated through bumpy terrain by providing a glowing set of reasons why teaching is central to a musician’s total development. He referenced Schnabel and Fleisher as paragons of mentorship, quelling stereotypical cultural bias that a real performer has no need spend precious time developing the skills and artistry of pupils.

“Everyone should teach–not just out of necessity,” he reiterated. (Takacs was a “student” of Leon Fleisher, and underscored the value of what the maestro imparted.)


“You learn huge amounts by teaching.

“You have to diagnose problems.

“You have to think of solutions.

“You have to think of expressing things that would make sense to someone else.

“You have to become verbal.

“It’s a learning experience for everybody.”

(Perhaps the inference is that the learning journey is reciprocal between mentor and student.)


All points embraced by Takacs pose “challenges” that he articulated in his well-outlined reply.

They offer a springboard to specific examples that those of us in the teaching profession share among ourselves and through posts on Pedagogy cyber-forums.

From my perspective, each pupil, no matter what level of achievement, presents with individual problems that must have custom-designed solutions.

As mentors, we carefully “diagnose” what might be impeding the shape and flow of phrases, and then address solutions with multi-tiered remedies. It’s not as simple as the wrist is too stiff, or thumb shifts are burdened with hand twists.

The student needs to have the “shape” of a musical line internalized, if not externalized through a vocal model, where possible. In this effort, the teacher can “sing” and nudge along “contouring,” with the assistance of a pupil in a duo vocal undertaking. (Not all teachers and students, however, have great voices, but ebb and flow are what count–as well as awareness of the “breath” in creating beautifully spun phrases.)

I concur as well with Takacs about being “verbal.” We all have our personal “prompts” that assist students along. For me, “destinations” in phrase outpourings, allied to notation and “harmonic rhythm” can imbue music with needed “direction” and “nuance.” I also emphasize “floating” arms, and “horizontal” movement.

The keyboard is not hard turf but a bed of “density” for deep layer immersion. (“weight transfer” is the attendant partner of a gorgeous singing tone that requires “supple wrists” and relaxed arms) “Voicing and balance” are synthesized with so many basic elements of musical understanding that include “spacing” and “framing pulse,” not to mention the vital ingredients of “structural/harmonic” analyses.


In technical warm-ups, I use syllables, to encompass various rhythmic approaches to weak parts of scales and arpeggios. The turnarounds for example are often “squeezed,” with flow or circulation cut off. For this issue, I might suggest a “rounded” corner at the top instead of an angular one–with “Rotation” becoming central to realizing this desired shape in “circular,” counter-clockwise motions.

For example, this past week, I worked with a student, (NOT over Skype or Face Time) who needed extra clarification in physical and verbal terms about the outflow of C Major 4-note (double root) arpeggios through inversions. While the footage below was edited for teacher demonstrations, it speaks to the “challenges” of communicating clearly how to create more effortless, smoothly rendered broken chords. By the end of this lesson, the student was on her way to “unlock” the tension embedded in her playing. (We enlisted Rhythms, “swinging” modes, blocking for fingering, sense of “feel,” “pantomiming” inverted blocks with circular arm/hand “motions,” etc.)

When I review lesson-in-progress videos, I continue to fine tune my own playing and teaching, nurturing along personal growth and development while my students do the same.

It’s a two-way give-and-take learning opportunity that’s worth the effort, commitment, and challenge.


Living the Classical Life interview with Peter Takacs

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

The Royal College’s Piano Accompaniment Programs Have Been Renamed as Collaborative Piano Programs

Starting this summer, the Royal College of Music’s Piano Accompaniment Programs will be renamed as collaborative piano, the first program in Britain to use this term for a graduate program. The change to the collaborative piano nomenclature is already up on the keyboard department website.

From a recent press release on the name change:

Students on the RCM’s robust Masters in Collaborative Piano course receive two years of training, developing a broad knowledge of the instrumental duo, chamber and song repertoire as well as being introduced to the skills needed to become a répetiteur, ballet pianist, continuo player, orchestral pianist or vocal coach.

Kudos go to Simon Lepper and the Royal College for making this name change. It will be interesting to see if other programs across Britain follow suit.  If you’re interested in more information about the Royal College’s collaborative piano programs, email Simon Lepper at simon dot lepper [at] rcm dot ac dot uk.

(Thanks Simon!)

Photo by Grace Kang on Unsplash

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

This week’s ear-catcher: “Stay Loose and Keep Moving!”

There were a pile-up of competing events to fill a blog feature, but only one stole the show:

Amidst a sweltering East Coast heat wave, harpsichordist friend, Elaine Comparone, messaged a BBC link to an astounding display of age-defying virtuosity.

At her piano in Paris, 103-year old, French pianist, “Colette,” played mellifluous Debussy, “moving” gracefully across the keyboard with supple wrists through the composer’s Reflets Dans L’eau. It was a bountiful sharing of immaculate artistry wedded to the pianist’s philosophy-framed musings about the piano, and its inalterable “faithfulness.” With her keen mind and whimsical personality, she juxtaposed men as unreliable while affirming a life of soaring soul and spirit emanating from the keyboard.

Recently Colette released her fourth album dedicated to Claude Debussy on the occasion of the centenary of his death, while also offering performances by Federico Mompou, Astor Piazzolla and Alberto Ginastera.


Biography (WIKI)
“Colette Maze was born June 16, 1914 in Paris, to a family of the upper middle class; she played piano from 5 years old. At the age of 15, she entered the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where she studied with Alfred Cortot and Nadia Boulanger.

“She became a piano teacher, a profession she practiced all her life.

“At 103, she still plays the piano, to maintain her memory she says.”

More astounding samples of Colette’s pianism.

There are no English subtitles for Maze’s narrative in the first video below, but her playing speaks for itself– characterized by an effusion of floating arms and relaxed “movement.” In Colette’s own words, “Stay loose and keep moving.”

A “dance-like” relationship to the piano with imbued tonal nuance draw out beautifully choreographed lines.

Flexibility is at the core of Colette’s technique with a natural unfolding of phrases. She lets the music and its direction guide the ears, hands, supple wrists, and arms in seamless unity.

Debussy Ondine

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)