Texting During my Performances? What?!

February 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

YES! I encourage texting during my performances!! (As long as it doesn't disturb your neighbor. I personally don't mind.) I/we (Jenny and I) have recently begun handing out these half slips of paper at my/our performances in an attempt to engage our audience on a whole new level -- especially the younger generation of concert-goers who have smartphones.  The results have been really cool!  Any performance is a two-way street, and I feel it's important for audience members to get to know the performers on stage (me/us).  The following were the rest of the questions that also deserve answers!

Are there other genres of music you listen to in your free time? If so, which?

I listen to a really wide variety of things: Jazz (Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett are my favorites), Indie (Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, Kings of Convenience), Orishas, Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto, Bebel Gilberto, Feist, Radiohead, Dixie Chicks...really, throw at me anything under the sun and I'll give it a go. All music is great! In fact, I rarely listen to classical music while driving or washing dishes. I feel that listening to other genres and styles helps me to understand and hear classical music better when I do get back to the piano. Recently, I've really gotten into NPR Podcasts; Invisibilia is one of their newer shows on which I'm now completely hooked! (Not really a music genre, I guess, but still crucial in helping to understanding the human psyche, which in turn helps me understand music better.)

Are there any types of music that you play or composers that only one of you likes and the other suffers through?

Great question -- though I must say that neither of us suffer. :) Jenny and I like all sorts of music, and I guess we're lucky that we see eye-to-eye on nearly everything in terms of musical style and composers. We both of us always try to come up with balanced programs that aim to please all audiences: die-hard classical aficionados, newcomers, younger ears, etc.  We also try to challenge our audiences by exposing them to something newly-written, rare, or unusual. Music is in an ever-changing and dynamic, evolutionary flux, and I feel that it's important to do whatever we can to help perpetuate that.  But, to go back to your question: Jenny tends to suggest music in which the piano part is super difficult (think Strauss' Sonata for Violin and Piano, or the Franck Sonata) (both of which are completely awesome and were so worth learning), so sometimes I lovingly give her a hard time about making me learn that kind of stuff. :)

Do you think the Fugue at the end of the Hammerklavier Sonata is an homage to Bach's contrapuntal writing?

Absolutely. Beethoven's mastery of counterpoint throughout his career is without question, but things really took off in his late period. Listen to his late Sonatas and his late String Quartets (the Grosse Fuga comes to mind). All the contrapuntal tools in Bach's kitchen sink were utilized and even expanded upon by Beethoven. The last movement of the Hammerklavier is an especially remarkable example; the freedom by which Beethoven treats the fugal genre is simply unparalleled. Did you know that the whole gist of the Hammerklavier Sonata, from beginning to end, is that of the interval of a third yearning to be a fourth? Message me and I'll tell you how!

What is your favorite piece on the program and why?

This is a difficult question to answer, because all of these pieces are among my favorites! Even if I program a piece that doesn't happen to be a favorite at the time (whether it's to challenge myself, or to dip my toes in the water, or whatever), it almost always inevitably becomes a favorite through the process of learning and refining it. For example, a number of years ago, I dared myself to learn John Corigliano's Etude Fantasy, because it was a striking and difficult piece -- the sort of which I had never really played before. I admit that, at the time, it wasn't one of my favorites; I was more enamored with the prospect of conquering such a beast, than I was enamored with the beast itself. However, once I came around to performing it, I absolutely fell in love with its raw power and haunting beauty. The Etude Fantasy remains one of the dearest pieces in my repertoire.

Do you know of a connection between the first Debussy etude you played and his first piece from the Children's Corner that also kind of makes fun of finger exercises? Was this a thing for Debussy?

Both the first Etude and Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum from Children's Corner are parodies, and Debussy loved parodizing!  Indeed, both pieces make fun of the dryness of the "typical", boring technical exercises of Czerny (the first Etude) and Clementi (Doctor Gradus). Other examples of Debussy's parodies: Golliwogg's Cakewalk pokes fun at Wagner's Prelude from Tristan und Isolde; La plus que lente (Valse) parodies the sentimental "slow waltz" genre of the time (hence, the title in English, The Even Slower Waltz); Hommage a S. Pickwick, P.P.M.P.C. (from Preludes, Book 2) parodizes the opening refrain from "God Saves the Queen"; and Feux d'artifice (also from Preludes, Book 2) distantly quotes the French National Anthem, "La Marseillaise".  There are more, and I'll probably remember the others later!

Can you talk about performance anxiety and how you handle your nerves onstage as well as how you encourage your students to overcome this?

My approach to this is multi-faceted, and my strategies depend somewhat on the unique needs of the individual student. Generally, however, I have found that the most helpful tactic is to find ways to mimic situations that engender anxiety, and to acclimate to them. Having other ears in the room often guarantees a different chemical reaction in the brain, the process of which gives rise to tension; when one is tense, the muscle filaments in your body -- especially your hands and arms -- work differently than when one was relaxedly and solitarily practicing in the practice room; from this arise mistakes, wrong notes, and memory lapses (which -- to me, at least -- perhaps arise more from not being in the moment and from not breathing, which effectively asphyxiates one's brain). Playing through your programs for others as much as possible is one of the best antidotes. Perpetual dress rehearsals, in other words. Do so on different instruments and in different acoustic environments with the intention of having the foreignness of it throw you off; learn to quickly and flexibly adapt to these uncomfortable situations. Not all my students know this, but when I practice at school, I often find a student practice room to work in. Bad pianos are good for me; in fact, I look for rooms with uprights. If I can produce good sound and sing bel canto on an upright piano, I will more readily and easily do so on a nine-foot Steinway. I've been inspired by Glenn Gould and Keith Jarrett in their "humming along" during their performances (sometimes they do more than just hum, but I digress!).  There's an amazing, sometime inexplicable connection between the voice, the ear, and the fingers; oftentimes when I find myself worrying about an upcoming passage during a performance, I hum along, and things miraculously turn out fine. I think that humming also forces me to breathe, which, again, is crucial; humming also forces me to be in the moment, which effectively eradicates worries about past wrong notes and upcoming difficult passages. All this combined with off-keyboard score study, meditation, and sometimes medication (but only in severe clinical cases!) usually does the trick.

How are the kids? Are you doing anything to further their musicality?

Other than being sick almost all the time this cold season, my kids are doing very well! Thanks for asking! My son (almost four years old) is taking piano lessons (not from me!), and is doing pretty well, especially considering how poorly he usually practices. :) My daughter is not quite two yet, so she just has fun banging on the piano keyboard from time-to-time!

How do you two manage to do all you do?

Good question...sometimes I feel I don't know the answer to this! I'd like to call it Controlled Chaos. :) We yearn to live a richly creative and fulfilling life, which includes everything -- performing, teaching, photography, raising children, arts administration -- because, even as much work as it may be, it makes us happy and gives us meaning and purpose. Life on earth is short, and there is just simply too much beautiful music to share. Our quest to share our gifts and help others with our skills absolutely keeps us going.

Is this a fake phone number? I mean, it's not really your cell number, right?

Right on. :) But texts to this number definitely reach me!


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