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?
- Let them take turns at the piano, one at a time. Give a lecture to the rest of the class. Swap.
- Put two students on each keyboard and have them play duets.
- 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:
- Most students of piano learn to play solo piano works. They advance to become soloists.
- Some learn to accompany choir or other instruments or voice.
- Others move on to become organists.
- Whether you’re an accompanist or organist, you serve the choir or congregation. You’re not equal.
- But when you play in an orchestra, ensemble, or chamber music group, it’s totally different.
- String players know this. Wind players, too. Brass players. Singers in choirs.
- 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!}