Buskin’ Bekkers with opera singer Reiche

Robert Bekkers arranges music from the great opera arias for classical guitar to accompany Dutch soprano Mirella Reiche for outdoor performance in central Utrecht, The Netherlands. It is preparation for his upcoming solo guitar concert in the Hague.

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“I am going to play on the streets of Utrecht,” Bekkers the Busker declared.

It’s not about how many coins he will collect in his guitar case.

It’s not what people think.

deh, Vieni, Non Tardar by Mozart, arranged by Robert Bekkers for guitar and voice
deh, Vieni, Non Tardar by Mozart, arranged by Robert Bekkers for guitar and voice

I recall reading articles on the economics of busking in an academic journal. After all the transaction costs of concertising in established concert venues, busking works out just as well.  An economist worked out the economics of busking in London. Here’s another one about busking in New York City. I remain skeptical how much money you can make from busking. But then, you don’t need to book a venue, do publicity, etc.

“I’m going to accompany Mirella Reiche. She has a license,” he added. Apparently you need a license to play in the streets of Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. “She will sing highlights from opera.”

Bekkers discovered that it was easier to arrange the guitar parts than to look for sheet music. “Most guitar arrangements,” he explained, “are written for guitar solo. I don’t have time to visit book stores or order online, if there are any at all. It’s faster for me to look at a piano accompaniment and arrange it for guitar.”

Ach, Ich Fuhl's by Mozart arranged for guitar and voice by Robert Bekkers
Ach, Ich Fuhl's by Mozart arranged for guitar and voice by Robert Bekkers

I have seen Mirella Reiche perform live on several occasions. She is very expressive when she sings. I can imagine her leading the crowd from joy to sorrow, from love to rage — all the emotions the great divas have expressed through the timeless arias of famous operas of Mozart, Puccini, and others.

Each day Robert Bekkers puts on his crisp white shirt and dark trousers and announces,”I’m going to town. I’ll be back in a few hours.” When he returns, he brings back coins which he throws into a big pickle jar. “By the end of the month,” he declares, “this jar will be full.”

Over coffee today I told a friend about Bekkers’ busking activities. “I think I heard someone sing yesterday. I was at the central library.” That’s where they were.

Bekkers (guitar) and Reiche (soprano) in central Utrecht, Netherlands 2 Aug 2011 photo: Iztok Klančar
Bekkers (guitar) and Reiche (soprano) in central Utrecht, Netherlands 2 Aug 2011 photo: Iztok Klančar

Tomorrow 3rd August 2011 at 2 pm Stadhuisbrug Utrecht (opposite the central public library) Robert Bekkers and soprano Mirella Reiche will perform the following opera arias:

Ach, Ich fühl’s
Meine lippen sie kussen so heiss
Mein Herr Marquis
Quando me vo
Mio Babbino Caro
Habanera
Dolente Imagine di fille mia (Bellini)
Tuute le Feste
Voi, Che Sapete
Deh, Vieni, Non Tardar
In Uomini, in Soldati
Je Veux Vivre

It’s the best training for a live performance, because it is a live performance in front of listeners who are free to come and go as they please and donate as they wish. In other words, a live performance is the best preparation for the next performance.

Robert Bekkers will give a solo guitar concert in the Grotekerk in the Hague (Den Haag) this Sunday 7th August 2011 at 2 pm. Free entry. Donations accepted. CDs for sale.

Many hands and pianists on one piano – Elizabeth Lauer

Elizabeth Lauer’s Pischna Polka is written for 5 pianists, one hand each. Five men tried it in San Francisco while 2-men, 2 women tried it in Utrecht only to find that a 5th person was needed. Lauer also sent two arrangements (Berlin & Gottschalk) for multi-hand piano duets that were sightread in Netherlands.

One of the most enthusiastic responses to my Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets came from composer Elizabeth Lauer. She responded to the multi-hands aspect of a duet.

“What about one piano, five pianists, one hand from each?  The one in the middle should be, preferably, a hipless wonder.”

I replied, “That’s exactly the sort of fun duets we’re looking for – playable, many hands, and fun!”

She e-mailed. “Well, I cannot find the Pischna Polka anywhere, but I’ve sent out e-mails to anyone who might have the score.  The basis of the piece is one of the Pischna piano exercises, which roams around the five hands, while whoever is NOT playing this is participating in a rather atonal polka.  It’s fast and about 2.5 minutes long. ”

While she was looking for the polka, Elizabeth Lauer sent me her 8-hands on 2 piano arrangement of Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle, the first 10 pages of which I sightread with three pianists last Sunday in Utrecht, Netherlands. It’s the subject of another blog post — how we started with two pianists on one piano, three on one, 4 on one, and moved eventually to two pianos on a rainy day in July in Holland. The Gottschalk was a lot of fun, stopped by my hesitation to print the remaining 53 pages from a home printer that was starved of paper and toner.

Lauer also sent me her arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” for 4 pianists on one piano in which some had to recite “I love a piano.” We tried that arrangement here in Holland and discovered that pianists can play but not necessarily recite.

At the Sightreading Workshop and Piano Soiree in San Francisco, five men stood in front of a grand piano and sightread the “Pischna Polka.” When I tried it with the three pianists (seated) here in Holland, I discovered that you really need five pianists (one hand each).

The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer: Five men on one piano in San Francisco, May 2011
The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer: Five men on one piano in San Francisco, May 2011

From Lauer’s programme notes on “The Pischna Polka” written in 1978 and refined in 1998 and dedicated to Walter Hautzig.

My original intent was to compose a piece (using one of the Pischna exercises throughout, wandering up and down the piano, with a spiky polka in — how shall I say? — counterpoint) for piano duet. There was such clamoring for participation that I had to change that cast of characters to five pianists, one hand apiece (with the middle person being a hipless wonder). I ventually gave up my position as player, and did the page-turning for the (then) hand-written score.

The 11-page polka moves along quite fast at quarter note = 68. The challenge is getting all the 16th note scales in sync. Imagine getting all five pianists to play together — with one hand each!

Extract from The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer
Extract from The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer

Peter Cottontail sheet music piano, guitar, lyrics

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo’s own arrangement from Gene Autry’s version of Peter Cottontail song is now available.

In the quest for sheet music for “Here comes Peter Cottontail,” the song made famous by Gene Autry in 1950, I discovered I could not download the plug-in successfully to a computer attached to a printer. Thus I could not order the sheet music for the Easter Sunday lunch concert tomorrow.

That version is not the one I heard on youtube.

A Dutch oboeist friend commented on my Facebook status that a Dutch French horn player friend had the wind quintet version of “Peter Cottontail.” This led me to suspect that wind instruments were used in the original version.

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers captured that in his transcription from the Gene Autry (1950) version of this popular song.

Click on the image below to get page 1 of the 3-page arrangement in PDF. This is a result of a cross-world collaboration through Facebook, phone, email, Sibelius notation software, Adobe PDF-maker, …. Utrecht — 12 hour time zone difference — Hawaii.

Peter Cottontail arranged by Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku (April 2011)
Peter Cottontail arranged by Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku (April 2011)

If you would like the remaining 2 pages of the above piano arrangement with guitar chords and lyrics, simply order a CD from us via CDBABY, and I will be happy to email you a copy of the PDF for free.

Essential shortcuts in Sibelius

I have always used Sibelius to input notes, transpose and arrange music, make changes, and compose. …I knew the shortcuts by heart. Since graduating in 2008, I’ve been busy not composing. As a result, I’ve forgotten how essential it is to know the shortcuts.

The Sibelius music notation software is one of several tools that arrangers and composers use nowadays. I had the pleasure of visiting the global IT department of Sibelius in London and meeting its director several years ago. There is a big divide between users of Sibelius and its immediate rival Finale. Users of one software stick to it. Rarely are there users of both. Some attribute this tendency to the steep learning curve and its various intricacies.

I have always used Sibelius to input notes, transpose and arrange music, make changes, and compose. When I was actively using it during my four years at conservatory, I knew the shortcuts by heart. Since graduating in 2008, I’ve been busy not composing. As a result, I’ve forgotten how essential it is to know the shortcuts.

Hence this blog — so I won’t forget the shortcuts next time I get distracted by the buzz of practising the piano for hours on end or get overwhelmed by audience development in the concerts I produce. The following shortcuts work on Apple Mac computers. I can’t remember if they are the same on PC’s.

Single letter shortcuts:

<H>: draws a crescendo sign from the beginning to the end of the highlighted passage or just a small crescendo from the cursor if nothing is highlated

<shift><H>: draws a diminuendo sign (as above)

<I>: adds or deletes instruments in the staves

<K>: changes key signature

<L>: opens the LINE menu where you can choose horizontal lines such as trill, 8va, 8vb, etc across the highlighted passage or vertical lines such as arpeggio

<Q>: change clef

<R>: repeat whatever is highlighted. This is extremely useful, for you can repeat the previous note, chord, or passage.

<S>: slur on the highlighted notes, or the highlighted single note and the next note or chord.

<T>: change time signature

<X>: flip the highlighted slur or passage (in which case the stem gets inverted)

Non-letter or combined keystrokes:

<spacebar>: plays the music from the cursor onwards

<alt> and then click: copy whatever’s highlighted onto the area pointed/clicked at.

<apple command> and then <R>: enters a rehearsal mark on the barline highlighted (apple command is the key on the immediate left of the space bar)

<apple command> and then <up arrow>: moves the highlighted note up one octave

<apple command> and then <down arrow>: moves the highlighted note down one octave

I shall return to this blog entry to add more shortcuts and tips.

Arranging Carmen for piano and guitar

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit. What shall I call my arrangement? How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, photo credit: Serge van Empelen, Amsterdam

I borrowed the Dover edition of the orchestral version for Bizet’s Carmen opera months ago. The full score looked intimidating, a reminder of the arduous score reading exercises I had to do during my years at conservatory. And so the hard-back book laid on my piano unopened until I found free sheet music of piano solo and duet transcriptions on the Internet.

Eureka! I found a short cut.

It is possible to reduce orchestral music to piano and fewer instruments. It requires a lot more imagination the other way around.

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit.

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers stopped me when he saw that I was giving the exciting parts to the piano. It reminded me of my own protests when he had given himself the interesting, virtuoso passages in his arrangements of Bach’s Badinerie, Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and the Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba for our duo.

“I can do that!” he pointed to a chromatic run. “I love scales. Better, let us do it together!”

Now that’s a challenge — to play the fast notes completely in sync with each other! We do that quite a bit in Vivaldi’s Summer from his Four Seasons. I can have the guitar play exactly what I play in the same register or an octave apart. Or we can play a third apart.

“Give me big powerful chords,” he said. He wants to show off, but so do I. We’ll just have to take turns, I decided.

Robert also gave me advice. “To be safe, don’t give the guitar more than two voices at a time.”

Bizet’s opera was set in Seville, Spain where we had visited in April 2009 for a gypsy flamenco project. I remember the flamenco rhythms and the percussive nature of such exotic music. Arranging Carmen brought back memories of that week as well as my visit to the Netherlands Opera production of Carmen at the end of the Holland Festival in Amsterdam.

Technically speaking, the piano and the guitar can replace 16 single-note instruments: 10 fingers on the piano plus 6 strings of the guitar. If we add our feet and elbows, then we can do even more. I love sound of the guitar being used as a percussive instrument. Can I do the same on the piano? Or would I need drumsticks?

What shall I call my arrangement? There are numerous Carmen Suites and Carmen Fantasies on Naxos CD Online and youtube. Mine is not a suite or a fantasy. A suite is structured — mine is a medley of various sticky tunes, and yet it’s more than a medley. A fantasy would require a lot more imagination, dedication, and virtuosity. I want it to be fun and interesting, not like some of the 19th century arrangements of popular opera themes for guitar and piano.

How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar? Coincidentally when I google “Carmen Potpourri” I find our piano guitar duo website and this blog. Maybe that’s what it should be called: Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar.