Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Going back to school tips – no.3

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

After learning 2-3 notes (I personally start with B,A and G), here’s a fun exercise that continues to work on basic fingering coordination through ear training.

First, I make them stand in front of me in a half circle. Then, I play for them a short easy sequence with these 2-3 notes, and make them repeat it as a group. If the repetition is terrible, like it often is in the first time, I play it again and make them repeat it again.

Then, I try the same thing, with the same sequence, but standing with my back to them, or behind a screen, if there’s one in the class. Most of them were looking on my fingers when I was playing in front of them instead of repeating what they heard. So this way I help them make the connection to their ears with the help of their memory. I do this exercise a few times – first in front of them, then with my back to them – until I feel it gets better. Alternatively, it’s quite possible to just cover your fingers with the other hand, in case your class is on the hyperactive side…

When they start doing it better, then comes the hard part – I play another sequence, but only with my back to them (or with my fingers covered). Meaning, this time they have to purely rely on their ears, which is very hard for most at first. I try to do this a few times and see how they manage. If they do terrible, I can try giving them a hint, like – “I’m starting with a B”.

As a bonus, and to make it more fun for them, every lesson I can choose one child which would take my place in the exercise. He\She will be playing the simple pattern that everybody has to repeat. Of course to make it work, you would have to be very clear on how many notes are allowed in a pattern, and that you don’t have patience for goofing around…

Have fun!!

Going back to school tips – no. 2

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I think we could all agree that keeping our students interested and motivated is not an easy task. And though I was not present at the time, I bet 40 years ago, when nobody had any play-stations, Nintendo or computer games, this task was much easier to accomplish.

Meaning, there’s no choice but to try and keep things interactive and super fun. So here’s an idea for a fun exercise for very beginners. I call it “the bird exercise”:

After teaching them B and basic tonguing, I teach them to play a basic pattern, like 3 quarters B, B, B or like B, B-B, B (quarter, 2 eight notes, quarter). Then I place everybody in a row and start having a question-answer sequence with each of them in his turn – I play a short melody and the student answers – B, B, B. I play a different melody and the next answers – B, B, B and on and on. The teacher’s  melody is always a short funny one. With me it usually sounds like birds (or at least that’s what the kids say), and that’s how it got its name.

I prefer to do the question answer sequence one by one with the kids, but many prefer to do it so that everybody answers together in the same time. Of course both are possible. I personally prefer the individual one by one option for 2 reasons – 1. because this way I can hear each student individually and see how he’s doing and his basic skill level. 2. because with this option, one exercises also listening to one another, which I think is one of the most important things music could and should teach us.

Have fun!

Going back to school tips – no. 1

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

As always, the summer is just about to be over and my time for searching new techniques and ideas to use with my students is ending with it. Soon the “madness” of my daily schedule is gonna start again.

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer talking to colleagues and friends about different ways to start a new year, and I thought I’d share it with you guys. If you have more ideas, please share them also with me!

I do wish to emphasize that some of the ideas I will bring are not originally my own, but came to me from friends and colleagues, namely Mrs. Ori Golan, and Ms. Nurit Blum, which happen to be both…

How to start a first lesson with first year beginners –

What I like to do, and of course it requires some preparation, is to start the lesson with a story. Of course, the story has to be interesting and funny, and should vary depending on the age and number of the student in your class. However, the more important thing I like to add is a soundtrack to the story. Meaning, in several strategic places in the story I start playing short little tunes which have some connection to the story. For instance, if I speak about battles, I play a typical trumpet fanfare, if I come to talk about dancing, I would start playing a baroque dance and very soon turn to play some typical children’s dance everybody would know. Even less obvious thing could have little tunes attached to them. For instance, when talking about the wind blowing against the reeds and making noise, I just play a short, soft and calm tune (a possibility could be the famous morning song from the “Peer Gynt” suite by Grieg).

The idea, in any case, is first of all to play something and let them hear and see how the instrument sounds and works. In addition, and also important, is already to attach different musical themes to different emotions and ideas, and let them hear how it could all be done with the recorder.

Though very important also, for me the historical knowledge gained from this exercise is only a bonus and not the main issue.

Have fun and let me know what you think!

A review on the Steinbock Toccata op. 94/B by Fulvio Caldini

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Some time ago, when I was looking for new contemporary material, I came across the Steinbock Toccata op.94/B by Fulvio Caldini, written in 2002. This piece, warmly recommended to me by my dear friend and mentor, Prof. Karel van Steenhoven from the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, had immensely surprised me.

Cladini, born in 1959 in Arezzo, Italy, has started as a pianist and organist. He has written hundreds of pieces for many different settings, and as far as I know, about 60 of them are for different recorder ensemble settings. Though many are basically the same piece arranged in different settings, this is still a figure that puts him, in my opinion, in the list of important recorder composers of the 20th century.

This piece, the Steinbock Toccata op. 94/B, is a piece many would categorize as a “minimalistic” piece, using very few elements of expression to transmit it’s musical idea, and very often repeating rhythmical and melodical patterns over and over again. The beauty of a “minimalistic” piece lies consequently very much in its structure, being a main element of the “story telling” in this style of composing. In that aspect, the Steinbock Toccata is wonderfully composed – having a clear and interesting structure that really tells a story. And it goes as follows:

The piece opens with a 7 measure theme, repeating itself again and again. However, at some point between the repetitions, a foreign element is introduced. This element, starting as a short 2 measure element, grows longer and longer every time it appears, until it starts “eating up” the first theme. Meaning, the first theme starts loosing bars and becomes shorter and shorter while the foreign element gains bars and gradually turns into a second theme. This process comes to an end in bar 114 when the first theme loses it’s last bar and the second theme appears “victorious” in its full 12 measure version. However, at this point, when the second theme starts repeating itself, again, another foreign element is introduced between the repetitions. Like before, this element grows longer with every repetition while the main (second) theme grows shorter and shorter. In bar 253, this new element overthrows the second theme and claims the thrown as third main theme, 9 measures long. As it starts to repeat itself this time, like the main themes from before, it starts “eating” itself up, becoming shorter and shorter every time. Finally, in bar 297, after the third theme shrinks to a single bar, the first main theme appears again in its full version, followed by the 2 other main themes bringing this short piece to a happy end.

When I perform this piece, I really try to emphasize this structure as much as I can. I do everything in my power to differentiate between a main theme and a foreign element. I try to show the turning points, when an element turns from a secondary element to a main theme. And then, in the ending, I really like to show the point where the 3 themes come together one after the other as a moment of great joy. You can see a live performance I had with this piece in Germany in -

Being fast and rhythmical, and having such a clear and interesting structure, I believe this piece to be a great “ice-breaking” piece in a program, and even a very cool and effective anchor. I hope you enjoy it as I did!

How to build a concert program

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

This is a question I’ve been thinking about extensively over the years. I’ve heard many opinions and ideas about it, and personally tried many different formulas. Of course it could vary between different circumstances, and needless to say – nothing could substitute the effect of pieces prepared in the highest of qualities. However, I do feel that there is a few main principals that can make a program more effective to the listener, as well as more attractive.

First of all, choosing the repertoire.

From my experience, there are 2 main ways of building a program. The first and most common would be to focus on one topic and build the program around it. This could be one composer, a certain period of time (Italian early baroque, for instance), a certain place (for example, music written in Dresden) or any other topic you could think of. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen were topics that dealt with relations between 2 places, 2 composers, 2 places and so forth. The other way of building a program is to focus on variety, on different styles, different sound colors. This way tries to avoid a situation where your audience is somehow getting used to your sound. It will try to stay fresh in every single fragment of the program. In this way one would search for pieces from different styles, different composers, different places and different times. I’ve seen many musician even go outside the boundaries of western classical music in order to stay fresh and interesting. I think it’s great, though I’ve never really done it myself. I personally prefer focusing on the things I really know. Besides, there are tons of things to work with in our own western classical music country.

Both of these ways have advantages and disadvantages, as you can imagine (or else they probably wouldn’t both exist). The first one establishes a thread of thought that runs through the pieces of the program and connects them together. It very often sounds much better, making it much easier to market. I mean, how many classical CD’s do you know that don’t have a topic like – “Venetian music”, “Bach and Berio”, “Mozart woodwind concertos” ect. The problem is that these good sounding programs could sometimes be quite heavy (if not even boring in extreme cases). Classical musicians often forget that their audience includes in most cases mostly normal people who haven’t studied classical music like they did. The second way holds the potential to be more interesting, and keep the audience “on its toes”, if executed wisely. Of course, it is, from my experience, much harder to market.

I’m not sure how it is in the US, but in Europe, and mainly in Germany, it is quite common that the final exams of a MA degree includes 2 recitals – an “Abchlußrezital”- a whole free recital, and a “Repertoirenachweis”- a recital in which one must play many different styles in order to show he masters them all. I think this is very clever, making the MA student experience and handle both ways of building a program.

After we chose our pieces, we need to think about the program order.

Regarding this, I have developed my own way of thinking over the years. I don’t know if it is the best one, but I’m sure it can help even if you don’t agree with everything written here.

The first thing I do is to think about the first and last piece. These pieces, as I see them, have a crucial part in creating the general impression from a concert. The first piece gives the first impression. Sometimes it gives the general “tone” of the whole concert. That’s why I would choose a very impressive piece, or a piece that it’s impact suits me as a first impression for this program. The last piece is the one most people would “take home with”, the one that would put a point, question mark or exclamation mark to your program. I would choose here something not too heavy, not too long if it’s possible and very important – that would have a strong and effective ending. A nice example I can give for an ending pieces is the York Bowen sonatina op. 121 which has a funny and exciting last movement (you can see a live performance I had with it in Germany in – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClctxDZBUnc.

After we’ve established the beginning and end, we already know where we’re starting and where we’re going, and we can start giving the program a shape. Very heavy pieces would be placed rather sooner in the program and balanced with lighter ones near them. If one chooses to have a pause in the middle, my advice is to balance the 2 halves in terms of length and heaviness. If you can’t, it’s better to have the first half a bit longer and heavier than vice versa. Another option to having a break is taking a 1-2 minute pause between every piece. This can give time to rebuild the stage if needed and to gather one’s thoughts for the next piece.

A wonderful way to make a program more effective is simply to moderate a little bit. Moderation, though not always appropriate, is a wonderful way to give the audience interesting information about a piece, to share some thoughts and ideas about it and break the distance between the performer and the audience. If the situation is right, I would always prefer to say a few words, and believe me – people love it! They feel closer to you as a person, closer to the music they now know a little bit better and have a bit of information to clung on to as they are listening. It takes some practice, but moderating can sometimes really make a difference.

Good luck with your programing!