We had a wonderful day at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 15th where outstanding students from ages 6 – 17 were recorded in the Kimmel Center’s SEI Innovation Studio. Their performances will be submitted to WWFM – The Classical Network radio and many will be selected for inclusion on KIDS ON KEYS, the monthly show hosted by Steinway Artist and winner of the prestigious 2017 ASCAP Deems/Taylor Award for Broadcasting, Jed Distler. KIDS ON KEYS is proudly sponsored by Jacobs Music and airs on the first Saturday of each month at 1:00 p.m. Tune in and enjoy this remarkable young talent!
It was a great day at Jacobs Music of Ephrata yesterday when Steinway Artist and Assistant Professor of Piano and Jazz Studies at West Chester University, Terry Klinefelter treated us to a wonderful afternoon of music from a diverse group of composers including Scarlatti, Mompou, Albéniz, Jelly Roll Morton, Eddie Gomez, Cedar Walton, Consuelo Velázquez, and Chick Corea. Joining her on several selections was her husband, the respected bassist Paul Klinefelter. We thank these outstanding performers and all of our guests for joining us in Ephrata!
Lang Lang, the internationally acclaimed pianist, knew he had to get pianos into Philadelphia classrooms.
The children sat at state-of-the-art keyboards in the school’s brand-new piano lab, made possible by a grant from the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. The Chinese musician has invested nearly $1 million in six Philadelphia schools, equipping them with not just the pianos but funds to support them for three years.
“I felt pretty sad,” said Lang. “Music and art should be part of the regular system.”
Lang listened — and played along, enthusiastically — to a group of second graders, who only began to learn piano a few weeks ago. He clapped and cheered for their version of the first few measures of “Ode to Joy.”
“I am really happy to see our kids already playing some Beethoven stuff,” he said, giving thumbs ups and high-fives to the children.
Along with Holme, Muñoz-Marin and Francis Scott Key Schools won foundation grants this year. Fox Chase, Southwark and Steel Schools received the grants last year, for a total investment of $780,000 in city schools.
Lang’s gift is a boon at Holme, a K-6 school in the Northeast that already had a rich art and music program, even including dance.
It would never have been able otherwise to afford keyboards, headphones, Lang’s piano curriculum, and other accoutrements, said Crystle Roye-Gill, the school’s principal.
“This donation is taking us to another level,” Roye-Gill said.
The $30,000 check Holme will receive annually for three years will allow the school to begin an after-school piano program for students and parents, and also provide funding for research into just how its arts push is affecting students academically and socially.
“They’re just getting a more well-rounded education,” Roye-Gill said of her 605 students.
Music teacher Nicholas Petit said Lang’s investment helps keep Holme an attractive neighborhood option in an area where families often choose other schools.
“We’re not a magnet, we’re not a charter, but we have some of those top-flight things that magnets and charters offer,” Petit said.
The students took full advantage of having a celebrity in their midst.
They peppered him with questions — how old were you when you started playing (2½), is there any piano player in the world better than you (Maybe you someday, if you practice a lot).
And they listened raptly as Lang performed two duets with Maxim Lando, 14, a Lang protege. (Lang, whose left arm is injured, played with Lando on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.)
Lang had a grand piano shipped in pieces and assembled on Holme’s modest stage early Friday.
It was, 7-year-old Daniel Cheeseman said, maybe the best day of his life.
Daniel is a brand-new piano student, and was the boy with enough courage to ask Lang if he was the best pianist in the world. Lang was nice and funny, Daniel said.
“I think he was great,” Daniel said. “He is so cool.”
Sound, expression, study: New pianos expand creative possibilities on campus
In June, Princeton graduate student Andrew Or and Nico Toy of the Class of 2018 traveled to the Steinway & Sons factory in Queens, New York, with music lecturers Margaret Kampmeier and Jennifer Tao to select the last of 48 new pianos that have been purchased for the University’s new Lewis Arts complex.
Henry Valoris, production manager for the Department of Music at Princeton, said the task of buying so many pianos — the largest piano purchase for Princeton in recent history — began in 2015, with trips to the Steinway factory and to their representatives at Jacobs Music in Philadelphia and locally in Lawrenceville.
“Over the course of two years, we probably played over 200 pianos to select the 48 pianos,” Valoris said.
On the tour of the Steinway & Sons factory, among the clatter of tools and compressed air sounds, the students and faculty could see the entire process of piano-making, from raw materials to the finished product.
“I thought it was interesting how much of the process is entirely handmade versus put into machines,” Or said.
The process for building grand pianos begins with the frame. Layers of conditioned wood are glued together in one continuous length and are bent into the iconic piano shape. The process from start to finish takes about a year, and about five finished pianos emerge per day.
To select pianos, the faculty and students played each piano in two acoustically different rooms at the factory and were listening for which piano had the best sound for its intended use.
“The qualities that we are looking for would be the pianos that have a wide range of expression,” Tao said.
The pianos selected by Tao and others are now dispersed throughout the Lewis Arts complex. The New Music Building adds 17 individual practice rooms and five teaching studios, complementing the department’s facilities in the Woolworth Center of Musical Studies. In addition, the building offers new faculty and staff office space and direct access to Lewis Center for the Arts colleagues from the other disciplines, such as dance and theater, who are also in the three-building complex. The structures are joined together on the lower level via the 8,000-square-foot community space called the Forum. This proximity allows for new opportunities for collaboration.
“We are here all in the same complex,” said Michael Pratt, director of the Program in Musical Performance and conductor of the Princeton University Orchestra. “We belong together and we can communicate with each other.”
Opening of the Lewis Arts complex
Princeton University will celebrate the opening of the Lewis Center for the Arts complex with a Festival of the Arts Oct. 5-8 on the Princeton campus. The festival, which is open to the public, will feature dozens of concerts, plays, readings, dance performances, art exhibitions, screenings and more at venues across campus, most of which will be free.
Given executives’ temperaments, it’s never a surprise to hear that they competed in sports. But Kathleen O’Reilly, who manages 10,000 employees from New England to West Virginia as senior managing director of Accenture’s Northeast U.S. region, competed on a different front.
Why One Millennial Musician Is Working To Save Music Education
As kids are just about wrapping up their first month of school across the United States, one millennial, Stanford Thompson is continuing to make his mark through music. In 2010, Thompson founded Play On, Philly! (POP) to inspire children and adults across the United States to appreciate the power of music and orchestras. “I believe that art is a powerful tool that can solve society’s most compelling problems and that artists can be a powerful driver of the measurable differences that society and our communities need,” said Thompson.
One study out of the University of California at Los Angeles found that students who reported consistent high-levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years showed significantly higher levels of proficiency in math than their counterparts. The findings were consistent across socioeconomic status. “Students in our programs score higher on standardized tests in English and math. They also have better study skills and demonstrate better executive functioning skills like determination and focus,” said Thompson. The results prove that music education can make a quantifiable difference in a child’s life.
Thompson started playing the trumpet at the age of 8 and was studying with members of the Georgia State University Faculty and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. His parents were both music educators and he attended The Curtis Institute of Music, the most selective music conservatory in the world. “Not only am I the product of what I preach, I grew up in a family of music educators and professional musicians that have helped thousands of people realize their potential through music. As I see more and more music programs eliminated from our schools and arts organizations cease operations due to the lack of support, I have dedicated my career and life to be on the front lines of making change in this field so that millions of people can benefit from art in the future,” Thompson shared.
The organization Thompson leads runs tuition-free programs for over 300 students ages five through eighteen each weekday afterschool and a six-week summer program. According to Thompson, music education is about much more than exposure to the arts. He approaches his work in a data-driven way with a focus on figuring out how music can change the life of a person. He believes music can provide us with the strategies we need to take society’s biggest challenges and turn them into an opportunity for success.
We enjoyed hosting another of our “Saturday Mornings at Jacobs Music” this past weekend at our Ephrata location where guests attended “What Makes a Piano Sing,” with Jacobs Music Service Department Manager Greg Cheng, RPT.
Greg shared what makes a piano sing, how it works, and what actually connects the artist to his or her artistry. He demonstrated how the delicate and intricate mechanism connects to the keys to sound and discussed the case structure of the piano and how it all fits together to make something amazing and beautiful. In addition to the piano’s parts and their functions he touched on care and maintenance, as well as why a piano goes out of tune.
Thank you, Greg Cheng, for a very interesting and enjoyable Saturday morning!
Effective practice without the frustration and drudgery? Piet Koornhot looks at ways to direct your imagination.
We all know the joke about the lost tourist who asks a passer-by in New York, ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall?’ and gets the reply, ‘Practise, practise!’
Many musicians have resigned themselves to the drudgery of practice that occupies the best part of every day for a lifetime. They have accepted that there are no shortcuts to achieving virtuosity and they pay the price with fatigue, injury and even burn-out. And yet there are those who seem able to learn notes and develop playing skills so much faster and better. How do they do it? It is safe to assume that the difference is the result of what experts do in their heads and that detecting the structure of such ‘software’ in the brain could allow others to do the same.
1. Set well-formed outcomes for each practice session
The more specific our goals are as we represent them to ourselves, the more of a road-map our nervous system has for getting to them.
In order to have a compelling and rich internal representation of our outcome, we need to focus on what it is we want, rather than on what we don’t want. Thinking of what you dislike in your vibrato is different from thinking of what kind of vibrato you like; these are two alternative sets of information. Focusing on what you don’t want is like trying to side-step yourself in a mirror – what you are trying to avoid keeps following you around.
Make a positive formulation of what you want to achieve. Then imagine in great sensory detail what your evidence would be for having achieved it completely. What images, sounds and physical sensations would be the signs of a perfect outcome? Be the Steven Spielberg of your own internal movies: watch and hear yourself performing like a true expert. Then imagine stepping into your own skin and feeling from the inside what it’s like to do it perfectly.
2. Systematically increase your awareness through all your senses: experience excellent examples
We need examples or models: listen to and watch the experts. Absorb as many images and sounds as possible of great examples of what you want to achieve. By doing this we learn unconsciously as well as consciously. Our unconscious minds are vast storehouses of information, absorbing images, sounds and sensations that are the raw material from which our nervous system eventually constructs our skills.
3. Increase your cognitive understanding: analyse structures, look for patterns, work out strategies, plot logistics
We need a cognitive frame of reference when developing playing skills: when we understand something, we have a structure for learning to do it. One such frame of reference is the analysis of the logistics of playing actions, which might include creating an imaginary grid of fingerboard locations, exploring finger patterns, using familiar locations as stepping stones for accessing unfamiliar ones, using differences in pressure to differentiate fingers or relating actions with those preceding and following.
When we recognise such patterns (musical as well as technical) and develop strategies for executing playing actions, our brains can send very precise messages to our muscles.
4. Search for solutions
A theory known as the Law of Requisite Variety also known as Ashby’s Law, basically states the necessity for variation and flexibility within a system. The amount of flexibility of a member of a system must be proportional to the variety encountered within the system as a whole. The implication for learning is that we must have as much variability of means as is required for outcome achievement. When practising, this means that we should keep on trying different ways until we find what works. As Delay used to say, ‘there always is a solution – it is only a matter of finding it.’
The brain is always learning and even if a new way of doing things is not in itself useful, it changes the way in which the familiar is experienced. In the light of new experiences, older ones can never be quite as they were. Practise a troublesome passage with different rhythms, dynamic levels, colours or inflections. Stand on a chair – your balance will alter; turn your bow around – the weight distribution and balance will feel different; play in the dark – you will hear in a new way, undistracted by visual stimuli. Variety adds perspectives to the nervous system’s understanding, increasing in the process the complexity of playing skills.
5. Play softer and lighter
Expertise is the ability to make fine distinctions: the musical performer who can detect and manipulate the finest musical and technical subtleties will be the most skilful. A useful principle to keep in mind is what is known as the Weber-Fechner Law in psychoacoustics. It states that the smaller the sensory stimulus experienced, the finer are the distinctions which the brain can make. Conversely, the greater the sensory stimulus experienced, the greater differences must be for the brain to perceive them at all. For example, the difference between the light of 100 candles (high stimulus) and 101 is not noticeable, while that between a single candle (low stimulus) and two is clear.
The same principle applies to all the senses. A first step when learning to make finer distinctions is to lower the stimuli that you are producing. When you want to make finer auditory distinctions, play softer; when you want to make finer kinesthetic distinctions, apply less pressure or tension.
6. Play slowly and practise short sections
Making fine distinctions also depends on the size and the tempo of the information. If too much happens too fast, the brain cannot notice small differences. It is like a speedy train blurring through our field of vision, making it impossible to see the individual faces of passengers. Learning needs to happen in manageable chunks, and slowly enough for the brain to notice critical bits of information. The greater the detail that can be noticed, the richer the feedback loop of learning. If we cannot manage the learning process, it is simply because we have bitten off more than we can chew. By working one step at a time, slowly enough, we ensure a successful process of achieving outcomes.
7. Make small movements to stimulate your kinesthetic discrimination
Movement and awareness go hand in hand. In order to be able to sense, we have to move. For example, we can only see because our eyes are constantly making quick micro-movements imperceptible to the normal glance. An eye that is perfectly still cannot see. Similarly, in order to have any tactile sensation, our fingers must move, however minutely. That is because our brains need to register differences between stimuli in order to have any information at all. Information is the news of difference.
In order to become aware of kinesthetic sensations that serve as feedback, we need to introduce movement as a way of enhancing sensory awareness. For example: to become acutely aware of your bow grip it helps to make small movements with your fingers on the bow; to sense tension in a shoulder, it helps to move the shoulder slightly in different directions. The quality of our practice is determined by the state of mind we bring to it as well as our understanding. Experts who practise well typically put themselves into resourceful states for learning and then bring useful frames of reference to their actions. They have effectively taught themselves how best to learn and to enjoy the process.