Extracts from piano students’ reviews of a concert on the theme of death
After the concert, I asked to be led to the back stage to meet the three musicians of the Morgenstern Trio from Germany. I remarked that the program was not one about “destiny” as the cellist indicated in his speech but one on “death.” I added that it was refreshing to hear serious music — one that was unamplified. Here on Maui, I explained, we hear a lot of “happy” music that’s always amplified. We get a lot of background music, too.
One review took my breath away. It’s not a typical review by any means but one written by a student who writes daily and aspires to write fiction. I’ve received his permission to publish his review in its entirety.
The Germany-based Morgenstern Trio performed at the McCoy Theatre of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center on Friday October 24, 2014. As usual, it was the ONLY classical concert with a piano in it that I knew of, back in August 2014 when the 16-week semester began. As such, I urged my piano students to save the date. Every semester, I require my students to attend an approved concert and write a review. At the end of the term, I extract the best bits, edit, and post a blog here.
One review stood apart from the rest. It’s not a typical review by any means but one written by a student who writes daily and aspires to write fiction. I’ve received his permission to publish his review in its entirety.
Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” is a ballad suitable for arpeggio accompaniment, in the key of E major.
Unlike “I’m Yours,” Jason Mraz‘s “I Won’t Give Up” is a ballad, requiring broken instead of block chords. Similar to “I’m Yours” the chord progressions repeat: A/E E | E | A/E E | A/E E | E | Bsus | B |
Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” is very suitable for piano ensemble. One group can play the melody. The other can play the reggae shuffle accompaniment. The same four-chord progression is repeated throughout, with a few interruptions of a fifth chord at predictable spots.
I discovered Jason Mraz one night watching “The X-Factor” and other talent contests on Youtube. His “I’m Yours” sounded very familiar, for the ukelele version that’s played in the Hawaiian Islands. Then I saw his face on the cover of the latest edition of “On Maui” magazine.
Dancing makes me feel alive and free. And it also brings back many fond memories.
In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC). In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.
The tall gentleman, who led me on my third waltz tonight, gently lifted my left hand from his shoulder and directed it to his shoulder joint. “There,” he said. “Isn’t that more comfortable?” On a previous occasion, an older gentleman kept saying,”Relax. Relax.” It’s been years since I last did ballroom dancing. I finally got the message when I was told, “You’re probably used to being around a lot of women. Please relax and let me lead.”
The regulars were polite and curious. Are you visiting? Where are you from?
I felt embarrassed when I replied that I lived close by and that I actually wanted to participate for quite some time. It was a chance encounter, while looking for my creative writing instructor in the English Lecturers Office, that I learned of “Advance Your Dance.” Verna, the secretary, said, “We meet every week. Several times a week. Are you on Facebook? You can find them there.” That was three months ago. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on a Saturday evening. The first time is always the hardest. Who dares go into a room full of strangers?
The men and women who come dance here are serious about dancing. They bring their dancing shoes and water bottles. From 6 pm, they can sign in and pay $5 per person to dance until 9:45 pm. From 7 to 8 pm, a particular kind of dance is taught. The rest of the evening is a mix of music for jitterbug also known as East Coast Swing, waltz, quick step, cha cha, tango, salsa, West Coast Swing, and other styles. Last Saturday, my first time, I lasted barely two hours after learning three kinds of line dances. Tonight, it was intermediate foxtrot. The hosts Frank and Sandy Hook are back from Connecticut. Apparently, they also give dancing classes on Monday and Wednesdays in Wailuku.
Dance music brings back fond memories. I recall organizing a latin dancing evening so that I could learn new latin dances from my friend Tim, who was leading a fourteen-member band in London. I rented the church hall on my street and charged five pounds at the door. My friend, the late Ayyub Malik, checked everyone in. All was perfect, except there were too many guys and not enough ladies. I learned a few things that night. Guys were fine going alone to a dance. Girls would not go alone. They’d go with another girl or a guy. A girl was okay dancing with another girl. Guys didn’t do that. Not latin, anyway. Being the responsible host, I made sure I danced with every guy so no one was left out. I even threw in a raffle draw to give away my personal things to make it worthwhile. In the end, we broke even. Everyone was happy, except I couldn’t walk for a few days.
Last Saturday, someone asked me if I had been dancing regularly. “No,” I answered, wishing I was able to say yes. “Not continuously. Just off and on.”
I did ballet when I was six. It morphed into Chinese Folk Dancing. In high school, I was voted “Dancing Queen” at age sixteen. In college, I took a social dancing course to satisfy half of the physical education requirement. My partner and I worked out cha cha moves to KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up.” During my junior year abroad in Montreal, the overseas Chinese crowd got me interested in ballroom dancing. With this minimal experience, I was invited to organize social dancing classes in my second job in Singapore. It became so popular that my colleagues asked if that was my real job at the bank. Seeing how it flattened the organizational hierarchy and made a community out of my colleagues, I proposed to start a social club to engage the single foreigners from forty different countries at the London offices of another employer. And that’s how I learned to salsa, lambada, and merengue.
What is so fun about dancing? It makes me feel alive and free. It also brings back fond memories, such as the night I crashed a London Business School Annual Ball with a friend who was in town on business. According to Facebook, he is now a serious ballroom dancer.
My next mission? Bring guys so that the ladies don’t have to wait.
The best quotes from student reviews of concerts on Maui from October to December 2013: Anderson & Roe, Dan Tepfer, Maui Holiday Pops. Ukelele Festival, and Harps and Horns.
One important assignment I require of my students is to attend an approved concert and write a review during the 16-week semester. It’s always refreshing to read their impressions afterwards. Below are some of the highlights from their reviews.
“There was not a moment of pause or boredom as they introduced and linked each work to the next.” — Concertblog, Dec 9, 2013
“These artists are known for their intense and not-so-traditional ways as a duet. Anderson & Roe will take you on a vertical joyride. As soon as they began to play the Animal Suite, I took that vertical joyride and was sitting at a bar and this cool cat comes walking in, looks at me, takes off his hat, and takes a seat with his jazzy swag. Then we move into the elegance of the swan and the next thing you know, I’m in this electrifying swarm of bumblebees racing.” Mauro C.
“The ability to have such skillfulness of control over volume, speed, intensity. As an adult beginner piano student, I know the effort it takes to have even a bit control! How much they must have put in, to develop the seeming ease — to make what sounds they desire to express actually come out of the piano. With grace and speed and sheer elegance!” Jessica V.
“This being my first piano concert, I thought it would be like sitting in a room in front of a ‘Bose’ stereo system, listening to a piano CD, but it was far from it. At times it was like watching a magic show, I sat there wondering how can she cross over, under and around and still play in sync.” Clement A.
“All too soon the concert was coming to a close but not before the audience gave the pianist a standing ovation urging them with words of ‘Hana hou!’ and whistling so loud I was sure someone’s ear drum was going to burst.” Tenajah T.
“When the duo returned after intermission, Elizabeth Roe had changed her dress. She was now wearing something that looked like a beautiful silk aloha-type dress.The duo received standing ovations from the crowd on at least three different occasions that night.” Daniel G.
“They added humor in the way they shared the stories of the pieces. I liked the variety of music they played. It makes me want to continue playing the piano.” Debbie F.
“Studying piano has many benefits. When I sit down to play, it is like not having any trouble things in my mind. Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe are duo pianists on a mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.” Shuang X.
“At times it was hard to isolate who was playing what part. it sounded as if they were one pianist.” Stephanie R.
“They were all over the place and never seemed to get tired. I was very impressed with their communication style, the way they looked at each other and knew what to do.” John d.
“I think they made the order of the show according to mood and tempo which was nice to have a flow to the music rather than bouncing through ups and downs. They had wonderful chemistry, and I kept watching them both. It was very mesmerizing. What made me go to this concert as opposed to the others was that everyone else was going to this one.” Brandi K.
“Their enthusiasm and joy of music was so evident that it was contagious. They shared with the audience and you couldn’t help but like and have a raport with them. The variety of pieces, moving between pianos and seamless switching for introductions and descriptions of the pieces were marvelous.” Cindee B.
“They had a finely dressed narrator, who was accompanied by a local comedian who also helped with the narration and the translation of the well-dressed man’s fancy words into pidgin. This made the time in between the songs much more enjoyable than expected.” Steven C.
“Not only was the music beautiful but it never grew tiresome as you couldn’t predict what key, dynamic, or tempo would come next. Being able to witness and hear such creations was such a privilege and has left me wanting to attend more and more live performances.” Geena G.
“Dan Tepfer did not speak a word. What he did was talk with melodies. Dan’s music also reminded me that finding what you really can become serious about is how you make your life truly yours.” Hidenori S.
“The concert was at Seabury Hall which I thought was a bit too open.” John P.
“Tepfer did not interact with the audience at all during his performance. He did not have to, in my opinion, because his talent did all the talking. If I had to guess, I would say that he played every single key that was on the piano in one performance.” James I.
“Though I felt that if the whole 60 compositions were cut down into maybe ten, he could have used the rest of his time to explore other composers and other reinterpretations. I felt that the performance became too repetitious, and I would have cared for some variety.” Paolo P.
“The improvisations and style Tepfer showed with his variations of the classics was without question a passage from the olden time period to new times.” William M.
“He used his everything to play the music. Not only his fingers and foots, but also he was using his soul.” Misako F.
“The setting was great for the event, with the evening cold breeze, the dark path that made it easy to notice the clear starry sky. I am used to loud concerts and everybody dancing around so to sit in my seat for an hour and a half was a little uncomfortable. The animation that Dan displayed while playing was entertaining.” Josh R.
“I had a difficult time finding the building. … I was interested in the way he played. His hand movements, his facial expressions, the way he danced with the music, and he actually hummed to the music.” Melody R.