We came upon this interesting article published in The Strad magazine – although written with string players in mind, much can be applied to practicing the piano…

7 mental techniques to boost your practice

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.

This article was first published in the September 2002 issue of The Strad. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial. To purchase single issues click here




The award was presented on September to the nationally recognized teacher, clinician, pianist, author and Professor of Piano and Coordinator of the Piano Department at Westminster Choir College by Westminster Dean Marshall Onofrio and Jacobs Music Senior Vice President Bob Rinaldi at the College’s Opening Fall Convocation on September 5, 2017. He explained that what inspired us to create the Al C. RINALDI LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD “is the legacy that my father left to my family and to all of us at Jacobs Music. Al Rinaldi was abandoned as a baby, raised in a tenement in Scranton, PA and had a very difficult upbringing. If that were not enough, from early adulthood he survived cancer more than a dozen times. The common theme in Al’s life is that music saved his life, figuratively and literally. As a very small child he sang in bars and passed a hat for money to buy food. He was a boy soprano in his church choir and a highlight of his young life was singing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. He played an instrument in his Navy base band…and he turned to music when my brother Michael was diagnosed with terminal cancer and through his own many battles with cancer. Once again, Music saved his life. My father’s motto was ‘a Life without Music is a life without meaning.” I think each one of us in this room will agree – a life without Music is a life without meaning.

In this spirit, it gave us great pleasure to have presented this first-ever Jacobs Music Al C. Rinaldi Lifetime Achievement Award to Ingrid Clarfield whose life is the subject of a documentary “TAKE A BOW,” released in 2011. It tells her inspirational life story and her tenacious fight back to teaching after a devastating 2007 stroke. The myriad recognition she has received from her peers in music education include being the first recipient of the New Jersey Music Teachers Association’s Teacher of the Year Award in 2009, being named “Teacher of the Year” by the Music Teachers National Association in 2012 and in 2015 receiving The Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy. Ms. Clarfield has also authored many collections for Alfred Publishing Company and maintains an independent studio in Princeton. Her students have performed concertos with several orchestras, were featured on NPR’s “From the Top,” have won top honors in state, national, and international competitions and have performed in such prestigious venues as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Kennedy Center, Merkin Concert Hall, Steinway Hall, and several concert halls in Beijing.

Bob Rinaldi concluded: “Sharing the love of music with our colleagues and future generations is a responsibility of us all. Some who do so must overcome giant obstacles, with great physical and mental duress way beyond expectation, yet they don’t complain, all for the love of music.” He continued: “These super human individuals show up each day with a great sense of duty, not for their own gain but for that of others. They have no knowledge that the rest of us are watching and that they provide us the inspiration to fight and fight hard for Music. I am here today because of those who have inspired me – beginning with my father by fighting and beating cancer over a dozen times and going back to work while still lying in his hospital bed and today especially because of one other very special individual, Professor Ingrid Clarfield. Ingrid has inspired me by overcoming the effects of her stroke and her recent surgery. Ingrid Clarfield comes to work every day in spite of the physical toll on herself, all for the love of music and for that of her students. Ingrid you are a very special person and all of us in this room and hundreds more who aren’t here today. THANK YOU for coming back to work in spite of the hurdles…To all of the young people in this room I say: keep an eye on Professor Clarfield. The life lessons that you will learn by watching her determination, grit and will are that which no class will ever teach.”

Ingrid Clarfield (2nd from left) shown with Jacobs Music's Norman Seldin (L), Gabrielle Kazze Rinaldi and Bob Rinaldi (R) after receiving the Jacobs Music Al C. Rinaldi Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ingrid Clarfield (2nd from left) shown with Jacobs Music’s Norman Seldin (L), Gabrielle Kazze Rinaldi and Bob Rinaldi (R) after receiving the Jacobs Music Al C. Rinaldi Lifetime Achievement Award.
Outside at Westminster Choir College of Rider University following the College's Fall Convocation 2017
Outside at Westminster Choir College of Rider University following the College’s Fall Convocation 2017

A very nice article in Strings Magazine on the remarkable Composer, Steinway Artist and Curtis Graduate George Walker…

He occupies more than one slot in the pantheon of American music. Along with breaking through the race barrier multiple times, as a piano virtuoso and as a composer, George Walker continues to sustain a creative life in his 90s that is of a very rare order—one reminiscent of Elliott Carter and Henri Dutilleux. Just before celebrating his 95th birthday in June, Walker shares his thoughts about a richly productive life.

By Thomas May

Photography by Frank Schramm

When he published his memoirs in 2009, George Theophilus Walker chose the title Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist. It was at the keyboard that he first formed his musical identity, starting when he was five. Precocious musically and intellectually, Walker graduated from high school at 14 and in the yearbook announced his intention to become a concert pianist—which is precisely what he proceeded to do, in characteristic Walker fashion. With unwavering determination, he initially focused on his career as a performer.

“I come from a family of pianists,” Walker points out during a recent conversation from his home in Montclair, New Jersey. Born in 1922, he grew up in an arts-loving household in Washington, DC. His father, a Jamaican immigrant, had arrived in the United States with just a few dollars but became a respected physician who taught himself piano for enjoyment; his highly musical mother watched over George’s first lessons. Frances Walker-Slocum, his sister (now 93), also became a professional pianist and a professor of the instrument at the Oberlin Conservatory, from which George graduated at the age of 18, having concentrated on piano and organ.

When Walker began studying composition in graduate school at the Curtis Institute, it wasn’t so much an end in itself as it was a secondary activity. “I had so much energy that I wanted to do something else after spending hours practicing at the keyboard!” Walker recalls. He also believed learning the secrets of composing would help hone his interpretive skills performing the classic repertoire.


Just two weeks after Walker’s debut at New York’s Town Hall in 1945, he appeared as the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. He was later signed to National Concert Artists, a dominant management company at the time. All of these were first-time achievements for an African-American instrumentalist. Walker’s musicianship earned positive reviews, and he undertook an extensive European tour in 1954, during which he continued to win more acclaim.

Yet coveted performance opportunities remained frustratingly scarce. In a 1982 interview with the New York Times just before the premiere of his Cello Concerto (a New York Philharmonic commission), Walker lamented that “those successes were meaningless, because without the sustained effect of follow-up concerts my career had no momentum. And because I was black, I couldn’t get either major or minor dates.” He noted that fellow white students at Curtis “were assured of 25 to 30 concerts a season, but I was lucky if I got seven. It was like being excommunicated from society. I was unwanted.’’

Eventually, despairing that his musical life was at a dead end, Walker found himself compelled to divert his extraordinary gifts from performance into the realm of teaching. And, little by little, into writing his own music. In the process, Walker gradually added a varied and challenging catalogue of work that has made him a genuine American cultural treasure. Now, at age 95, he additionally belongs to the rarefied ranks of composers who remain creatively active at an advanced age.

Though he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996 for Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra—a magnificent, densely textured setting of the poetry of Walt Whitman—much of Walker’s output remains unjustly neglected. A great place to start exploring his work is his array of compositions for strings. “I never played a string instrument, but somehow strings have always fascinated me,” remarks Walker. “I can’t explain why that is.”

That perspective may explain something of the originality of this composer’s extensive writing for strings. Among these works are solo, chamber, and orchestral scores (the concertante pieces have been commissioned by such first-class ensembles as the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra): Bleu for unaccompanied violin, two quartets, a pair of violin-piano sonatas, violin and cello concertos, Poeme for violin and orchestra, Dialogus for cello and orchestra, a viola sonata, and a cello sonata. “I always wanted to write something for each of the string instruments,” says Walker, though the double bass remains a challenge he has yet to cross off his bucket list: “I find the instrument is too easily covered by the orchestra.”

“In playing his Cello Sonata, you’re engulfed in a state of beauty and episodic turmoil,” observes Seth Parker Woods, a maverick American cellist and performance artist who is a rising star of the young generation. “One of the things I love is that its amazing melodic lines fit perfectly in the hand, as if they were molded all along for a cellist. It’s a brilliant work that I really would love to see more and more younger and older cellists performing. George Walker’s music is of monumental status and importance.” Woods is also a member of the UK-based Chineke! Orchestra, which is on the BBC Proms roster this summer with a program that will include Lyric for Strings, Walker’s most frequently performed work.

“In playing his Cello Sonata, you’re engulfed in a state of beauty and episodic turmoil.”

—Seth Parker Woods, cellist

In fact, Lyric originates from a string quartet. Walker wrote it as a very young man, in 1946—when he still identified above all as a pianist, and before he had begun to remake himself as a composer. It began as the brief, profoundly moving second movement (Molto Adagio) of his String Quartet No. 1. Walker made this into an independent piece for string orchestra, à la Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, who had also been taught at the Curtis Institute by the violinist-composer Rosario Scalero, one of Walker’s most formative mentors.

As a student of piano and composition at Curtis, Walker took lessons from Rudolf Serkin, violist William Primrose, and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Scalero in particular imprinted on him a work ethic and a sense of rigor and discipline that have guided him ever since. “Composers today don’t have teachers who believe in the same way in the importance of studying counterpoint and the elements of skill. But I think you need to absorb and understand what other composers have done in the past before you can set about changing and creating something new. What will represent your own voice will come out.” He emphasizes his advice to young composers: “Listen to lots of music.” He’s an unabashed advocated of the “canon,” of “pieces that have achieved a certain status such that you don’t have to question their quality, so the task becomes to understand what it is that makes up that quality.”

As his graduation piece, Walker wrote a sonata for violin and piano he decided to disown—even though the hard-to-please Scalero had liked it. Then, soon after his Town Hall debut that year (in 1945), “for some reason, in my early 20s, I was determined to write a string quartet. I had just written the first movement and was starting the second when I learned that my grandmother had died,” Walker recalls. The string orchestra version of the Adagio, dedicated to her memory, received its premiere via radio broadcast, under the title Lament.

Family connections have played a crucial role in Walker’s creative work throughout his career. He dedicated his 1991 Poeme—the revised version of an earlier violin concerto that is “by no means a tranquil piece”—to his mother, and his Violin Concerto (2008) is a late-period masterpiece whose impetus was a father’s love and admiration for his son. With his former wife, the music historian Helen Walker-Hill (1936–2013), Walker had two sons who both became artists. Ian Walker is a playwright, actor, and director based in San Francisco (he authored Dutch, about the famous art forger Han van Meegeren); older brother Gregory Walker followed more directly in his father’s footsteps and pursued a career as a musician, but chose the violin in lieu of the family tradition of piano.

“Gregory really had no aptitude for the piano, but then he discovered the violin and became fascinated,” Walker remembers. After studying with Yuval Yaron, a pupil of Heifetz, Gregory Walker went on to become concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra. He teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder (where Walker was a visiting professor in 1968) and has also become involved in the realm of electronic music and video art as well. Walker composed the Violin Concerto “in secret” to present as a gift, hoping to give his son’s career a major boost.

A loan from the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation enabled Gregory Walker to unveil his father’s concerto playing the 1718 Strad on which Zoltán Székely gave the first performance of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto in 1939. After the premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Neemi Järvi in 2009—64 years after his father had broken through the race barrier to play Rachmaninoff’s Third with the same ensemble—Gregory took it on tour to Europe and recorded it (with Ian Hobson conducting the Sinfonia Varsovia).

In 2010 Gregory Walker recounted the story of his living with the Violin Concerto for Strings, where he pithily but aptly summed up the character of his father’s music as well known “for its craftsmanship, intensity, and complexity. It’s not easy listening, but dad believes if the music is perfect, it will speak for itself.” Along with providing a musical gift for his son, George Walker wanted to create a work “that would be totally different from the standard repertoire, using the orchestra in a different way.” He mentions such features as a full-on fugue in the final movement’s exposition.

Walker wrote a sort of addendum for his son in 2011 with the solo violin piece Bleu—extremely difficult music in a complex, painstakingly crafted idiom. “I thought it would be nice to write an encore for Gregory to use in recitals,” the composer explains with a sly note in his voice (fully aware of how technically fiendish the piece is). Last year violinist and conductor William Harvey completed a project in which he performed for one week in each of the 50 states in the United States; he played Bleu in all of his concerts.

Throughout his lengthy career, Walker has never been content to rest on laurels. He is a mindful, consummate craftsman who believes music has something serious and ennobling to convey. His works in recent years do not follow the pattern of radical simplicity and paring down associated with some composers’ “late-period” style. Indeed, there has been an intensifying complexity of the harmonic language and polyphony. In his latest large-scale project, the still-unheard Sinfonia No. 5, Walker addresses the 2015 Charleston church massacre by incorporating a brief, poetic text he wrote, which is shared by five narrators. He also weaves in musical references to a spiritual, a hymn, and Americana.

Walker here has devised a technique of combining musical fragments that he likens to the situation of the Tower of Babel. “No one can understand each other, no matter how hard they try. Musically, each presentation of the quoted material preserves its distinctiveness, but this is all entwined in a rigorous recurrence of the principal idea. I’ve never done that before, where the principal idea recurs in various guises so consistently.”

“This late-in-life drive in his music is really quite remarkable,” says Pierre Ruhe, the Alabama Symphony’s director of artistic administration and former classical critic of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You hear this enormous capacity and need to communicate.” Ruhe believes that Walker’s music will make its breakthrough to wider recognition “when a major conductor champions his music and does so consistently.” 

In the meantime, Walker continues to follow where his musical instinct takes him. “More and more, I realize the power of music—the power of the interval, of rhythm, of being exact in what I put down as what I meant to hear.”

We’re very pleased to share this article on KIDS ON KEYS, which appeared in centraljersey.com on August 4th…

On the air with music’s future: A new radio show gives young musicians a chance to share their talents
  • By Rich Fisher
  •  0
Jed Distler is the host of “Kids on Keys,” which airs monthly on WWFM.

As artist-in-residence for WWFM the Classical Network of Mercer County Community College, Jed Distler realizes that a power play is not going to entice young people to enjoy classical music. It must be gently immersed into their souls, so that it seems like it’s their own idea to enjoy and appreciate it.

“The worst thing you can do is preach, or have a patronizing attitude,” said Distler, a pianist, composer and critic who has been lauded in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker. “Just expose people to the music, maybe give a little bit of contextual information. It’s important not to overdo it, nor to dumb anything down. When school systems invest the time and resources into music education in the right way, the results can be revelatory, particularly when young or emerging artists get involved with extended community residencies.”

WWFM and Jacobs Music Center in Lawrenceville have come up with a way to get youngsters involved with the community and beyond. It is called “Kids on Keys,” a new monthly broadcast series hosted by Distler and streamed on wwfm.org the first Saturday of each month. It spotlights some of the best young piano talent in the radio station’s immediate broadcast region of central and southern New Jersey.

The next program will be Aug. 5 at 1 p.m., and features piano recordings by eight area youths from ages 6 and older, who were chosen by Distler for this month’s show. They include the following pianists, along with the pieces they perform:

West Windsor’s Taksh Gupta: Ernst Toch’s Der Jongleur; Evelyn Liu: Dennis Alexander’s Les Nuits Mystiques; Joshua Baw: Beethoven’s Finale from Piano Sonata No. 2 in C Major Op. 2 No. 3; Belle Meade’s Evan Lin: Haydn’s Allegro Moderato from Sonata in F Major; Anastasia Kudin: Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat D. 899 No. 2; West Windsor’s Catherine Chu: Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in F-sharp Minor Op. 28, 1st Movement; West Windsor’s Jack Fan: Ginastera’s Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes; Crystal Su: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp Minor.

“The range of talent among these young pianists impresses me as much as their obvious love for music, their dedication to the piano, and their capacity for hard work,” said Distler, who has been WWFM’s artist in residence for 2 and a half years. “Each deserves to be heard, and, to that end, ‘Kids on Keys’ showcases their artistry and their future potential.”

The idea was put into action by Jacobs Music, which has had a longstanding relationship MCCC and Classical Network program director David Osenberg. Bob Rinaldi, a senior vice president with Jacobs, said Osenberg and Distler were inspirations for the program.

“We were talking out loud one day, thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have local kids featured on the radio?'” Rinaldi said. “Everybody thought that would be a great idea.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to raise music in the community. One of the things I look at, in athletics there’s so many opportunities where it becomes the focal point of the week. My daughter is a soccer player, she has two practices per week, 20 games per season and tournaments on top of that. But in the music world, maybe two recitals a year and a couple of guild auditions. There’s an unending supply of things to do to focus on athletics, but not as many in the music world. Maybe two recitals a year and a couple guild auditions. So we wanted to create an opportunity for something very exciting for kids to participate in and showcase the talent of the finest kids from New Jersey, Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.”

The first program aired on July 1. Rinaldi said the feedback “was very positive, and the teachers were very positive about it.”

The process starts with newsletters sent to area piano teachers, asking if they have radio-worthy students. Those chosen are brought together at Jacobs Music Center, or another venue, for a live performance that is recorded by a sound engineer.

“It could be somewhere around 20 kids and we’ll develop four hours of content at a time,” Rinaldi said. “Jed takes a collection of all these performances and based on his artistic approach — maybe one week it’s a Beethoven program, maybe the next one it’s French music — he will pull from these different inventories of performances to create the program.”

Those four hours are whittled down to a one-hour selection by Distler, who may save some pieces to use for a future date.

If ever there was the right ear for choosing each piece of music, it is Distler. He serves as artistic director of ComposersCollaborative, Inc., a New York-based organization responsible for 30 years’ worth of innovative programs and new music events. His work is available on the Bridge, Nonesuch, New World, Point, Decca and Musical Concepts labels. As a Steinway artist, Distler has been recording a wide range of repertoire for the Steinway Spirio High Definition Player Piano.

This is his first experience working with a concept such as Kids On Keys, and he puts every ounce of his musical knowledge and ability into producing the finest show possible.

“The challenge in putting this together is how to get the most contrast out of the material,” Distler said. “I have about four hours’ worth of live performances available to me that features works of various lengths and styles. It’s a matter of mixing and matching. While the majority of the works performed tend to be on the short side, there have been several good performances of larger-scaled works too. These I use either as a program centerpiece or as a big concluding selection.”

To give some variety and a historical context, at a certain point of the program, Distler includes a recording by a well-known pianist from when they were a child. He feels it’s a way to put the performances into context and hopefully provide inspiration to the young artists.

“Did you ever hear Daniel Barenboim at age 13, for example?” he asked. “Right then and there, you could tell that this was a major talent and I used him in our first show. On the upcoming show I play a 1985 recording with the 16-year-old Hélène Grimaud performing Rachmaninov.

“But the main point is to showcase these talented youngsters from central and southern New Jersey. You might not know where their talents eventually will lead them, of course, but if they’re making good music and enjoying the experience of sharing this good music with audiences, then why not do this on the scale of a radio show with international outreach?”

One thing is certain. When a student’s piece makes the cut, it’s a big deal. Take 10-year-old Marlton resident Anastasia Kudin, for example.

“I am very excited,” she said. “In fact I am so excited that I almost jumped out of the car window on my way home. It’s not every day you get a privilege to be on the radio.”

Anastasia’s Schubert selection was chosen by her piano teacher, Professor Veda Zuponcic of Rowan University.

“When I heard the piece for the first time, I instantly fell in love with its fast rhythm, ongoing scales, and its intricate way on changing feelings,” said Kudin, who has been playing since age 4. Her love of classical music was instilled as a child, when her mom would play baby Mozart music for her. As she grew older, Anastasia’s dad introduced her to his favorites — Chopin and Beethoven. As she enters her first year at Montessori Seeds Of Education, Kudin has a zest for sharing her gift.

“I enjoy preforming for the public, making people smile after a long day” she said. “But I’m not so sure what the future will be.”

It is a background like Anastasia’s that Distler feels is important in getting youngsters to appreciate classical music before they are immediately sucked into the popular modern music vacuum of their generation.

“What I think is missing from today’s culture is the lack of musical culture at home,” Distler said. “My parents weren’t musicians, but they could noodle a tiny bit on the piano, and we’d have relatives who’d come over and play orchestra pieces arranged for one piano, four hands. So either the piano was going full tilt, or my mom was playing classical LPs in the background after I came home from kindergarten.”

He went on to note his paternal grandparents loved playing violin duets and Fritz Kreisler 78 records while his maternal grandfather adored Italian opera and sang it constantly for his own pleasure. His favorite was Mario Lanza, and Distler still cries to Lanza’s soundtrack in “The Great Caruso.”

“In a way, the piano was our home entertainment center, just as it was for millions of other families,” he said.

He hopes that this latest endeavor can help provide the love for classical music that he gained as a youth.

“For me, the goal of Kids on Keys is to provide a forum where young pianists can be showcased alongside their peers to a large, international audience,” Distler said. “Can this show promote classical music among younger Americans? I hope so, and I welcome any feedback on how to do this, as long as the main goal is to spread music’s good word.”

Something that Kids on Keys could well be on the way to doing.


As the summer nears its end, it is nice to reflect on some of the highlights of the past few months. In that spirit, we are pleased to share some memories of the wonderful collaboration between the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Music Therapy Department, Immaculata University and Jacobs Music on June 9 -12 of this year. All events took place on the beautiful campus of Immaculata University, an All-Steinway School since 2012.

The photograph shown above was taken at a wonderful concert featuring Steinway Artist and Chair of the Music Department at Immaculata University Dr. William Carr (center) and members of Immaculata University’s applied music faculty Steve Campitelli (2nd from left) and Gregory DiBona (2nd from right) who are shown above with Amy Troyano, Manager for the Creative Arts Therapy program and music therapist at CHOP and Bob Rinaldi, Senior Vice President of Jacobs Music.

The following evening showcased the “Friends of CHOP.” In performance were music therapists, doctors, nurses, volunteers, administrators, former patients and their siblings.








Throughout the weekend there were “children helping children” Perform-a-thons where young musicians and their teachers raised funds for both the Music Therapy Department and the Friedreich’s Ataxia Fund at CHOP totaling over $5,000 with more coming in long after the event’s completion.

We at Jacobs Music are grateful to our many partners in this effort and so happy to have participated in support of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We will seek more and more opportunities to do so!


Congratulations to Steinway Spirio Recording Artist and Jacobs Music Artist in Residence Andy Kahn on this wonderful article in the Jewish Exponent!

Man of Many Métiers Shares His Melodic Passion

Andy Kahn was introduced to music and theater at a young age: At 9, he started acting and, at 14, he took on piano full time — and got his first gig.

He played regularly at the Saloon Restaurant in South Philly after he unofficially auditioned and got a gig on the spot for Monday and Tuesday nights.

Andy Kahn | Photo by Kathy Poole

For a couple years until Kahn got his driver’s license, his father would drive him into the city for four-hour sets and come back to pick him up.

By 1968, when he was 16, he formed his first — and only — professional trio, The All-Star Jazz Trio, including the same drummer, Bruce Klauber, he plays with today.

By 20, Kahn started a recording studio with his brother Walter, Queen Village Recording Studios — occupying an old paint warehouse from the family’s business — which became a popular place, as well-known performers stopped by, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Grace Kelly.

He managed to score a hit gold record in 1978 with “Hot Shot” by Philly singer Karen Young topping the disco charts. Later on, Kahn often played piano at benefit concerts for ActionAIDS to help raise money.

But Kahn took a “long break” from the industry — 25 years — to work for the family business.

He bought the family’s paint distribution and decorating business, Southwark Decorating, from his father in 1985. Kahn’s grandfather opened the storefront in 1918 on Fabric Row.

Like many others on Fourth Street, the store closed in 2010, but it still operates a window treatment business, which was added to the company in the late ’80s.

“It’s a tribute to both my father and grandfather — who kept that business going — not because it makes so much money but because I just wanted to make the 100-year mark,” the 65-year-old Kahn laughed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do after next year.”

Kahn descended from a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, like many who occupied Fabric Row.

“It was all pushcarts and delicatessens — and a paint store,” he noted proudly.

Kahn’s father grew up above the storefront and became a Bar Mitzvah in the home in 1933.

“They expected about 12 people to show up, and the whole neighborhood ended up coming,” he said. “They had to take all the [wooden] crates that the paint came in … and take the paint cans out to create seats for people to sit.”

Kahn and his partner, Bruce Cahan, 73, took over the business together.

The couple met in 1979 at what is now Voyeur nightclub, which Kahn called the “Studio 54 of Philadelphia back in the day.”

On March 28 of that year — Kahn still remembers, as that was also the night that the nuclear meltdown known as the Three Mile Island accident occurred near Harrisburg, so “something was bound to happen that night” — they got together for a dinner date. They’ve been together ever since.

The couple married in 2015 with a small ceremony at Dante & Luigi’s, officiated by family friend and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

Kahn returned to music about 10 years ago after remixing “Hot Shot” and putting it back on the charts; it sat in Billboard’s top 10 for five weeks.

The trio became active again, too. Along with bass player Bruce Kaminsky — and often veteran vocalist Peggy King — the trio still plays regularly at Chris’ Jazz Cafe and other local joints.

Every Wednesday, the trio occupies the second floor of Chinese restaurant Square on Square. About four years ago, Kahn and his partner were eating dinner there when he asked the owner out of curiosity, “What’s upstairs?”

He responded sarcastically, “The second floor.”

Kahn took a closer look and immediately envisioned something like the Village Vanguard in New York. He asked the owner if he and the trio could play there and, to his surprise, he gave them carte blanche.

“We redecorated the entire restaurant, first and second floor. We turned the place into a really swinging place,” he said. “It’s turned into a real hangout. … We’ve really developed quite a following there.”

As a jazz musician and stylizer of the Great American Songbook, Kahn noted that many of the composers of the first half of the 20th century he admires are Jewish: “The Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Jerome Kern.”

“These were amazing composers of a whole era of music that came from the libraries of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, for everything,” he said. Kahn has since taught these legacies and musical stylings at a few local schools and out of his Center City apartment, and also serves as the artist-in-residence for Jacobs Music Co. and represents Steinway & Sons on their Spirio grand piano.

The jazz trio recently released a 10-track CD of a live performance from Chris’ Jazz Cafe, but Kahn is also working on a Great American Songbook-inspired solo album.

“I’m a big promoter of the composers, not the songs — the stories behind the songs, the way they got written, stories behind the composers themselves and their careers. It’s a fascinating thing — and the majority of them are all Jewish,” he said. “They just seem to have gotten into that genre.”

Kahn developed his skills on the keys effortlessly.

“I have a picture of me at 7-and-a-half months old sitting at the family grand piano playing with both hands, sitting there upright, smiling for the camera,” he remembered.

Although he recently discovered a new passion for teaching, that wasn’t always the case.

Once vehemently against taking piano lessons, Kahn didn’t learn how to read music until he was 18. His tutor wanted him to play a particular song for a recital, but instead Kahn played two tunes from My Fair Lady.

“The teacher turned green and she absolutely had a heart attack over it, and I got my first standing ovation at the age of 8,” he laughed. He told his parents after, “You see, I don’t need lessons.”

He’s since come around to the idea of passing his passion on to the next generation.

“[Teaching] is really my biggest passion right now, and it’s what I see as my opportunity to give back on a career that has spanned over 50 years,” he added.

Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737

Congratulations to Steinway Spirio Recording Artist and Jacobs Music of Lawrenceville’s Assistant Store Manager Norman Seldin on this great article which was published today in New Jersey Stage!

Stormin’ Norman Seldin Joins Fellow S.O.A.P. Legends In Nashville For Recording Session
Stormin’ Norman Seldin Joins Fellow S.O.A.P. Legends In Nashville For Recording SessionWhen Doc Holiday, an award winning producer and Sound of Asbury Park (S.O.A.P) originator, called Norman Seldin to do a new original track at SONY Studios on Music Row in Nashville, Seldin knew it would be special because for the first time, three originators would be in the studio together – Hall of Fame bass man Garry Tallent, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, and Doc Holiday.News soon came that the recording session would also include the “A Team” of Nashville: saxophonist Jim Horn (Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan), Grand Ole Oprey’s member and house arranger/guitarist/pedal steel man Pat Severs, Members from The Pirates of The Mississippi, Ron Kazinski, Nashville’s top arranger and guitarist Dale Herr, Sandy Tippen, The Deb Thomas Singers, and at the sound board, Bobby Bradley whose legendary father was Owen Bradley who produced to name a few Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, KD Lang, Brenda Lee.  The session will take place on August 30 and 31st.

“I was still in shock to hear Doc Holiday had all of these monster players set along with Garry Tallent and myself!” said Seldin.

Stormin’ Norman Seldin is one of the originators of the Sound Of Asbury Park (SOAP) and is seen under Bruce Springsteen on the beautiful monument outside of Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ and also the youngest member to ever join the American Federation of Musicians at the age of 13. Stormin’ Norman has performed at almost every major venue or live performance location for over forty years. People look forward to his authentic New Orleans stride piano style and Mississippi Delta Blues piano also along with a voice that knows no fear! Trained as a classical pianist with studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York which started with formal lessons at the age of 3, Norman is well known for his vocals and multi-voiced styles of Randy Newman, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Fats Domino, plus his unique lead vocals on his original material.

This has been a whirlwind year for Seldin who became an official Steinway & Sons “Spirio” recording artist for their newest and most amazing all American hand crafted piano.  In addition, Seldin returns to their studio in New York City in August to record six new songs. Meanwhile, private appearances have included great crowds for his “Where The Piano is the Main Attraction” show in the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University and for his “Dueling Pianos” shows with Vance Villastrigo.  Future shows include a special “Light of Day” performance with a ten-piece “Monster Band” created for a one-time only show.

In other news, Jacobs Music Company out of Philadelphia has sponsored all of the 9′ Steinway & Sons Model D grands for Seldin’s performances when he is not in the Lawrenceville, NJ location and Reverbnation has kept Selding at the top of the charts for Red Bank artists for over three months.

Seldin has a piano/vocal demo “The Monkey & The Baboon” streaming at www.storminnormanseldin.com and his double CD “Asbury Park Then & Now” continues to sell at www.cdbaby.com



originally published: 2017-08-11 00:00:00


We invite you to enjoy the August 5th broadcast of Kids on Keys!


If you missed the second broadcast of KIDS ON KEYS, which aired on WWFM – The Classical Network on August 5, we invite you to click the link below and enjoy the webcast of this wonderful new program, proudly sponsored by Jacobs Music Company.

This monthly broadcast series spotlighting some of the best young piano talent in The Classical Network’s immediate broadcast region of Central and Southern New Jersey is hosted by pianist, composer, critic and author Jed Distler, The Classical Network’s Artist-in-Residence. The program airs on the first Saturday of each month at 1 pm. Each Kids on Keys program features performances given by young artists in recital at the Lawrenceville location of Jacobs Music Company and other regional venues.

The outstanding performers at the Steinway this month were: Taksh Gupta, Evelyn Liu, Joshua Baw, Evan Lin, Anastasia Kudin, Catherine Cho, Jack Fan, and Crystal Su.

Happy listening!

WWFM Kids on Keys host Jed Distler

WWFM Kids on Keys host Jed Distler


An Evening With the Immortals

We hosted a wonderful “Evening with the Immortals” at our Jacobs Music Lawrenceville location with a Concert Starring the Steinway & Sons Spirio Re-Performance Piano with the World’s Greatest Pianists, Past and Present. The Steinway Spirio reveals the subtlety and passion of an artist’s original performance, connecting listener and artist as only the world’s best piano can.

Our guests enjoyed the live performances of immortal Steinway artists, including Vladimir Horowitz, George Gershwin, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Van Cliburn, and Glenn Gould, as well as contemporary performers such as Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Olga Kern, and Bill Charlap. There was even a special guest performance by Steinway Spirio Artist Stormin’ Norman Seldin appearing live.



We enjoyed hosting a workshop for piano teachers and piano enthusiasts at our Ephrata, PA location on July 26th with Dr. Patricia Powell as the presenter. Dr. Powell discussed novel ways to help students make the most out of their practice time, both at home and in the lesson by applying proven strategies that raise students’ awareness and their ability to focus – important qualities at the piano, in school and in life. Congratulations Dr. Powell on an excellent presentation!


Patricia Powell, D.M.A., is an Associate Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at West Chester University.  Her approach to teaching pedagogy and performance aims for the same arrival point:  to instill a deep understanding in our students of how the power of music can connect us to others in profound ways, and that both musical expression and creativity are at the root of that understanding.