Tag Archives: sightreading

Playing music you love by reading notes

Besides playing the music on CD, via youtube, via iTunes, on iPod, on radio, on record player, you can enjoy it even more if you can play it on a musical instrument. Of course, you can always sing it acapella.

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Filed under arrangement, composition, piano, research, sheet music, sight reading, video

How to find free sheet music

My piano students are all excited that they get to play a piece of their choice for their final recital. I said, “I will show you how to find free sheet music. I believe that we can always tailor a piece to your level of playing. This means you can literally play anything you want!”

Just over 10 years ago, an editor of an online magazine that I wrote for asked me,”Is it true that you can find free sheet music online?”

Nowadays, that’s an understatement.

Not only can you find sheet music easily online, you can also download them for free.

What’s the secret?

There are pianists eager to figure out how to play music they want to play, and if they also want to share, that’s the bonus.

There are youtube tutorials of how to play a piece, step by step.

There are file share sites where you offer your version of a particular music score, in exchange for music you want.

I participated in such a site. It was literally seconds before I got the score I wanted.

The secret is how to formulate the keywords to find the sheet music you want.

There are also avid music lovers who scan music they bought or got from the library or elsewhere.

There’s also the famous IMSLP project. I tell my students: there’s a world-wide phenomenon of scanning and sharing sheet music of works of composers who have been dead for seventy years, for after that period, they and their relatives and heirs lose the copyright.

Sheet music will soon be ubiquitous.

…. but only for those that can read music notation.

And that’s where I come in.

I teach people how to read music!

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Sheet music for sale

Books on bookshelf for sale

Books on bookshelf for sale

When Robert told me a few weeks ago that he had packed my sheet music into 12 moving boxes, I mentally switched off. What he really meant was, “What are we going to do about your 12 boxes of sheet music?”

These books and scores were stacked in 3 huge Ikea book cases. Every time he mentioned my music, I fell silent. Already I had to let go of 400 CDs. sheet music was even more precious. I was not ready to decide.

To make space to photograph the house for sale, he declared that he’d move the boxes into the bicycle shed. Out of sight, out of mind.

I have nowhere to put those 12 boxes in Maui. I don’t want to pay for shipping. I simply don’t want to deal with it. Why not?

I had gone through my music in London before I decided to pack them into boxes and move them to the Netherlands in 2003 and 2004. Thereafter I continued my curious hobby of visiting music bookstores and music libraries to select sheet music to buy or copy. This unusual pastime of a person who loves to sightread started a long time ago. It accompanied my travels. Every time I visited a city that had a music book store, I would treat myself to buying sheet music.

Houston. New York. London. Amsterdam. Paris. Milan. Prague. Taipei.

I began by collecting music for piano solo. When I discovered the joy of piano duets with my piano teacher at Duke University, I started collecting music for 4-hand, 1 piano and then 4-hand, 2-piano. When I discovered the joy of chamber music, I started seeking scores for piano and other instruments whose players I befriended: clarinet, flute, bassoon, oboe, French horn, violin, viola, cello, harp, guitar, recorder. I bought the music so that I could play them by myself or with others.

Once at conservatory, I reasoned that it was important to learn about different instruments so that I could compose for them. While pursuing my teaching diploma in piano, I began collecting piano pedagogy, methods, techniques, and other related books. Collecting sheet music was no longer merely to feed my insatiable thirst for sightreading. It was necessary for teaching piano, my composition degree, and performance. I discovered the buzz of performing long before composing and teaching. In the Netherlands, the world of getting paid to perform with guitar, French horn, cello, and voice opened up — as did the need to expand my chamber music repertoire.

I knew that I was the most loyal client of second-hand sheet music stores. There were two I visited on a regular basis: one in London and the other in Amsterdam. I also knew that the owners regularly scanned the obituary column in local newspapers, looking for famous musicians that had died. They knew that they could get their sheet music for next to nothing. They’d get them in bulk and price each piece individually.

Second-hand sheet music are typically cheaper than newly printed scores. However, often second-hand sheet music is no longer in print and thus no longer available. As a graduate student in London, I’d go after second-hand sheet music. As a full-time magazine editor traveling between London and New York, I’d go for first-hand music books and collections. Over time, I built a sizable library of sheet music that included composers from A to Z.

With less than 2 weeks before Robert’s return to Boston, I finally gave in. “Let’s take a look at those boxes,” I said.

There were now 15 boxes stacked in the garden house bicycle shed.

The first box took half an hour to go through. The second box a little less than half an hour. By the 3rd box, we had gained momentum and criteria. Say good-bye to anything that can be found on the Internet, too hard to play, boring, old, falling apart, or duplicated. Keep the really interesting pieces that I can’t get anywhere else, including out-of-print editions and those I paid dearly for.

We are now half way through my music. I’m letting go of all chamber music except for piano & guitar duos that we’ve yet to try but want to. I’m parting with that collection of Dutch composers, piano duets, piano methodology and technique books, easy piano for students, and countless binders full of photocopied sheet music — which Robert said is illegal to sell.

Out of 15 boxes, I expect to extract enough for just 3 boxes to ship over.

That’s a lot of music to say good-bye to. A lot of music I won’t be playing. A lot of time spent choosing and acquiring the music.

I just hope what I don’t keep will find a home very soon.

FOR SALE:
400 CDs and sheet music for piano, duets, piano methods, piano technique, chamber music with piano, dictionaries, travel guidebooks, and more!!

Saturday 1 September 2012 from 1 to 4 pm
Keulsekade 25, 3531 JX Utrecht
or by appointment (REPLY BELOW)

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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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Introducing new piano solos

As a sightreader, I am always looking for new challenges, that is, to play new music I have not seen before.  Before I entered the world of composers, I would search for published music of dead composers.

In my musical journey, I discover that the new music (of living composers) is just as interesting if not more. These days, if I come across music of a composer I like, whether it’s ensemble music or piano guitar duo, I’d ask if he or she had written anything for piano solo or piano duet. Similarly — vice versa.

Below is a catalogue of the piano solo works I have reviewed and introduced on Concertblog. I will continue to add to this list, arranged alphabetically by the composer’s last name.


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Prelude and Fuga in d minor by H. Verleur

Before I left the Netherlands, I recorded a CD of three piano duets with Carol Ruiz Gandia for my Call for Scores project followed by several solo pieces that were easy to sightread. Three of the solos came from my collection of music by the Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur.

What a joy it was to find Verleur’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor on my bookshelf! Sightreading the set brought back memories of my first concert in Bussum, Netherlands in March 2002. Back then, I was still working full-time as an energy magazine editor, shuffling between London where I was based to the New York head office and various conference locations. Music was a pastime, a favourite hobby, and an insatiable passion.

If you visit our Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo website, you’ll see that the very first concert is listed in 2002, a year after I met Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers. That “afternoon of diversity” concert in a Lutheran church in the town of Bussum (east of Amsterdam) featured the music of Heleen Verleur for piano solo and piano and violin as well as that of Astor Piazzolla. In preparing for that concert, I wrote of my expectations of that event where the guest of honour was my childhood friend Leslie from Seattle.

More than 10 years after I met Robert Bekkers and Heleen Verleur in Amsterdam, I would like to share my interpretation of the prelude and fugue, recorded on 4th August 2011 on my 1909 New York Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur

Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur

Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur

Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur

When I searched for “Verleur” on my e-mail programme, I discovered several e-mails of mp3 and concert announcements from Heleen. Now that I have more time in Hawaii, I hope to listen to this backlog of gifts of music, including CDs I received from various composers and performers. You could say that forthcoming entries in this Concertblog will introduce the music I have been collecting during the last 10 years of concertizing and arts management in the Netherlands.

Heleen Verleur official website: http://www.heleenverleur.nl

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Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets

This was an experimental project to get living composers to submit interesting duets for pianists to play and to get feedback from the pianists on readability, playability, and more.

The first round of sightreading took place in Maui: over 3 separate sessions, Karyn Sarring and Anne Ku sightread the 42 duets accepted. This set was short-listed and some sent to Chong Kee Tan, organiser of the mid-May event in San Francisco to get interest. As a result of feedback, it was decided not to have a sightreading competition but a sightreading workshop with piano soiree instead. The event was not publicised to composers because some pianists expressed reservation in sightreading new works in front of them. In spite of this, two Bay Area composers attended.

To get more pianists to play, Anne Ku took the printed PDF sheet music to the Netherlands to interest pianists to try the music with her. The following pianists (by first name only) in chronological order attempted the duets: Tom, Thera, Brendan, Ahti, Huub, Liesbeth, Carol, and Bart. Anne Ku recorded several extracts of sightreading with Texas-based Brendan Kinsella in early July and 3 studied pieces with Utrecht-based Carol Ruiz Gandia in early August 2011.

Chronology from 31st January 2011 onwards:

REVIEWS OF SELECTED DUETS ## = sample score ** = mp3 or video recording

Steinway Grand used in recordings of multi-hand piano duets

Steinway Grand Model A 188 (1909 New York) at the Monument House, Utrecht, Netherlands used in recording of multi-hand piano duets

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