Monthly Archives: January 2012

Piano orchestra

What do you do with 22 students in a classroom of just 15 electric pianos (2 of which do not sound) and one portable synthesizer for 3 hours?

  1. Let them take turns at the piano, one at a time. Give a lecture to the rest of the class. Swap.
  2. Put two students on each keyboard and have them play duets.
  3. Put two students on each keyboard and conduct them like an orchestra.

When I googled “piano orchestra” I found a variety of piano concertos and questions about the role of piano in the orchestra.

Truth is, it is rare to see so many pianos in one room, unless they are all for sale, in which case you can’t play on them as you wish.

On day one, I asked my students to play just the black keys. I split them into several section. One section played successive quarter notes. Another joined with half notes. The third joined with whole notes. I then improvised on high treble.

My father used to play Chinese songs just on black keys. Pentatonic music (using just the 5 notes of the 5 black keys) blend well in any order in any octave.

Now is my chance to deconstruct my favourite works, be they classical concertos or pop songs. Assign the parts to the various pianists. This way, everyone gets to play. Doubling up is fine. The string section does it all the time.

What I want to get across is simple:

  1. Most students of piano learn to play solo piano works. They advance to become soloists.
  2. Some learn to accompany choir or other instruments or voice.
  3. Others move on to become organists.
  4. Whether you’re an accompanist or organist, you serve the choir or congregation. You’re not equal.
  5. But when you play in an orchestra, ensemble, or chamber music group, it’s totally different.
  6. String players know this. Wind players, too. Brass players. Singers in choirs.
  7. But pianists in a piano orchestra? That’s nearly unheard of.

It’s hard to find pianos you can play in one place. It’s hard to move pianos into one place. It’s hard to find pieces written for many pianos.

But ah! such joy to play together! The full polyphonic sound of a piano orchestra!

[Note: this is my first blog post on an iPad!}

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Solo piano sheet music: arrangements and improvisations

I would like to end 2011 with a welcome to 2012 by touching upon piano solo music that is interesting to play.

A few years ago I arranged “Ding Dong Merrily On High” for piano, guitar, and violin. While it was an assignment at conservatory, I nevertheless enjoyed the experience and hoped to see such Christmas arrangements elsewhere. I never got the chance to fully research this.

This Christmas, I needed music. So I began my search.

Borsendorfer, Utrecht Conservatory, Netherlands Photo credit: Olaf Hornes

Borsendorfer, Utrecht Conservatory, Netherlands Photo credit: Olaf Hornes 2007

In preparation for the 2 hour caroling session on the new (old) grand piano at Roselani Place, I looked for Christmas carol arrangements that were atypical of the traditional SATB but interesting and pleasant to play. A good improviser only needs the melody and the chords to produce something fitting of the occasion. Christmas carol from church hymnals are one source for improvisers but not for those who like to read and play something different.

I googled and found Sally DeFord who has made her arrangements freely downloadable from her website at http://www.defordmusic.com She specifically wrote “making copies for non-commercial use is permitted.”

From the university library, I found an album of piano solo arrangements by Jim Brickman. He wrote “The Gift,” which a soprano from the Maui College choir sang to my accompaniment at Roselani Place. I played it again on Christmas Day as a postlude. The congregation at the Christian Science Church where I substituted as pianist for 3 services gave wonderful feedback about my selection. It was Christmas with a new age feel. Certainly, I enjoyed playing carols with a twist.

Daniel Ho, George Kahumoku, Tia Carrere, 15 Dec 2011 Maui

Daniel Ho, George Kahumoku, Tia Carrere, 15 Dec 2011 Maui

On 15th December 2011 at the McCoy Theatre at the Maui Arts & Cultural Centre, I watched the multi-talented Daniel Ho play guitar, ukelele, piano, and sing. He improvised while accompanying Tia Carrere and George Kahumoku, Jr. Or had he memorised his own arrangements? I couldn’t wait to meet him in person during the intermission. I asked if his improvisations were written down arrangements or actual improvisations he performed. The answer came in the form of an e-mail with a zipped folder of his published works for piano solo, piano with other instruments, ukelele, and slack key guitar.

Now that the Christmas festivities are over, I look forward to studying the arrangements and compositions of Daniel Ho. His book “E Kahe Malie: Hawaiian Piano Instrumentals” contains piano versions of 11 songs spanning 42 pages. His “Colorful Sounds” book presents his own harmonic method he uses in his compositions, arrangements, and performances. It will be the beginning of my quest for arrangements of traditional melodies (in this case, Hawaiian) in different styles.

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