Anne Ku arranges Mozart’s famous Eine Kleine Nacht Musik for easy piano for four different levels, for solo or ensemble playing.
Mozart’s “Little Night Music” was originally written for string ensemble, consisting of string quartet plus an optional bass. I played the quatre-mains version with my classmate Jeff Beaudry one summer at New College, Oxford for a talent contest. We won a bottle of champagne which we shared with the other team at our next bridge game.
College students who attend classical music concerts for the first time give impressions of the concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).
Every semester I require all my music students to attend an approved concert and write a review. The review must demonstrate they actually attended the concert. They can write about the concert-going experience, their impressions, feelings, thoughts, and anything else that resonated with them and for which they wanted to share. I then select the most relevant passages from their written reviews and write a so-called “Review of reviews” on this blog.
Maui College Choir prepares for spring concerts entitled Earth Songs.
First I met the conductor, Celia Canty. Then I saw the college choir perform. Next I wrote reviews.
Now I accompany the singers, arrange for them to perform, and blog about their upcoming performances.
I asked Celia about her choice of songs for the Spring 2012 concert. “They all have to do with the earth,” she replied in a recent interview. “The songs are from all over the world, and the choir sings them in original language. But ‘earth’ also has another meaning, too — as in planting trees, jasmine flower, etc.”
In the beginning, the choir was a collection of individuals with separate voices and universes. After weeks of rehearsing, they blend into one single sound. It requires hearing oneself and hearing others. Celia Canty, who has perfect pitch, can hear if someone sings out of tune. She says it’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to hear absolute pitch, as it’s sometimes called.
When we arranged to have the college cable TV crew film the singers, it was intended as a concert performance with no audience. I would have preferred a video of a rehearsal, for that’s far more interesting than a concert. At a rehearsal, one gets to learn. One gets to see how the raw material becomes refined into something beautiful. See the video below of a rehearsal of the popular Chinese folk song — Jasmine Flower, which Puccini used in the opera Turandot and which I once arranged for harp (PDF) because I loved it so much and wanted to play it.
Free concerts don’t always get full-house. Publicity is what it takes. And a lot of eager students on standby.
Search for “classical concert etiquette” and you will get guides like this one and numerous others. These articles are well-written. It would be superfluous to write more about this subject. In thinking about advice for first-time concert goers, I recall how I became an avid concert goer. It began with the word FREE.
Anne Ku’s new group piano class is more than piano playing.
I described what I’m doing in my evening piano class to the husband of a colleague, both music aficionados.
“I teach my students to play the chromatic scale one hand at a time. The right hand goes up using the thumb and third finger. The left hand goes down. At the next lecture, I demonstrate the application with Flight of the Bumble Bee.”
“I tell them about pentatonic scales and exotic scales. I give them the formula for major scales: whole step, whole step, half-step, whole, whole, whole, half-step. I also have them listen to major vs non-major scales as I play them on the piano. I play the last movement of Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons and I ask them to count the scales.”
“I plan to teach them the Circle of Fifths with respect to Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That’s also useful to demonstrate descending bass line. ”
My colleague’s husband responded with awe. “And you say this is a beginning piano class? Seems to me you are teaching them music!”
I replied, “Yes, I guess you are right. By the end of the semester, they will have not only learned how to play piano but how to look at music differently. I want them to overcome stage fright, build self-confidence, learn to conduct, learn to play and work with each other, appreciate different kinds of music, listen, analyse as in identifying patterns before they start to read the music to play, and so much more.”
Definition of piano orchestra = many players on many pianos making orchestral sound, a rare event.
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.
Singer / guitarist Jimi Canha and keyboard-player Gilbert Emata visit Maui College with their music. Karyn Sarring invites Anne Ku to hear them in her piano and voice classes.
“You’re the third accountant I know who has become a full-time professional musician,” I said to singer/guitarist Jimi Canha over lunch this afternoon.
To his gig partner, Gilbert Emata who started taking lessons on the organ and piano from age 6 and who grew up in the Filipino equivalent of the Jackson Five, I said, “I took piano lessons from a music academy run by Filipino teachers on Okinawa. They’re the best musicians in Singapore I later discovered when I worked there.”
But I had more things in common than the accountant and Filipino teacher connection. Gilbert Emata and Jimi Canha are a duo — a keyboard and guitar/voice duo who plays regularly on Maui. On Thursday evenings, they play at the Grand Wailea. More recently they were flown to the island of Kauai to play for a Google convention.
Today they appeared in three consecutive music classes at the University of Hawaii Maui College as professional musicians and guest lecturers. I walked into the second class (a piano class) around 10:50 am. The performance was in full swing. It was as if they had brought their gig from a five star hotel into a class room. The front was set up with two amplified speakers and cables connecting keyboards, synthesizers, microphone, and other equipment.
In between their songs, Karyn Sarring, who teaches the piano and voice classes at the college, interviewed the musicians.
Jimi Canha told the story of how he learned music by ear and very quickly too. If a guest requested a song he didn’t know, he’d learn it overnight to play it the next day. At college he took a slack key guitar class but otherwise he was mostly self-taught — on the guitar, trumpet, drums, and keyboards. He worked as an accountant for some 20 years before turning his part-time hobby into a full-time profession.
Between his guitar and his microphone sat a small and nearly invisible iPad on a small stand. Jimi Canha showed the class that the iPad stored just the lyrics of songs he sang. No chords. No notes. Just lyrics. When asked which key he sang in, he replied, “It depends on the mood. I choose a low key if I want to be mellow. For a full band sound, I choose a higher key. This morning I started in A. After I’ve warmed up, I might move to B.”
Gilbert Emata elaborated. “By the time we finish our gig at the Grand Wailea, it’s 9 pm. We pack up and drive home. It’s 10 or 10:30 pm. I shower and eat, and it’s already 11:30.” Jimi Canha added, “This is the earliest we’ve had to get up to perform. We were here at, what? – 9 am?”
Once the original keyboard player for Ekolu, Gilbert brought the synthesizer to the group. When he left, Ekolu replaced him with two horn players. Since then he has played with various groups. His recording credits include Uncle Willie K’s red Christmas CD and also a forthcoming blues CD. As he introduced his bass keyboard, main keyboard, synthesizer, drum kit, and speakers that altogether gave him a full band sound, he played riffs that I recognised immediately: the Hammond organ and a familiar rock and roll sound. The grand piano and a nostalgic melody. The bass and drum kit producing a rhythm that made you dance. Here was a musician with an obviously huge repertoire and an ability to follow and accompany anything and everything.
An exchange student asked,”How do you get gigs?”
It’s the typical and most asked question of any musician who wants to perform. Jimi replied,”You start by playing for free. Play for your church. Play at family gatherings.” In other words, don’t expect to be paid when you first start out.
Gilbert added,”We had a guy from the Big Island come to our gigs. He watched us. Then he asked if he could sit in with us. We heard him. Now he plays four nights a week.” In other words, you have to be heard. Show up. This was an informal audition.
In a nutshell, the music scene is small on Maui. Everybody knows everybody (who is a musician). Jimi describes good musicians as those you can “see their heart through their music.” He played the Tahitian drums with a fire knife dancer during Uncle Willie K’s 15-minute performance in the Oakland Raiders football game. It was a great opportunity to share the aloha spirit — the essence of Hawaiian music.
It was 3 pm. Lunch was over. Gilbert and Jimi had given most of their Wednesday to eager students and two teachers. Karyn had another class to get back to. I was grateful to be invited to hear two local musicians share a sample of their vast repertoire, from reggae to jazz, from pop to rock. Until my own piano guitar duo returns, I am rejuvenated by the musicianship in theirs.