Messiaen's Sunrise and Sunset
Who doesn't love a beautiful sunrise and sunset? Natural beauty that reminds us of the simple things in life.
How does a sunrise and a sunset sound in music? Olivier Messiaen, not just a lover of birds, also sought to show the sun rising and the sun setting in music in his piece that I'm preparing: La Rousserolle Effarvatte.
Here's the audioblog #2 to prime your listening!
Here's a post especially for my students!
I'm preparing a BIG piece for performance in a few weeks at the Toledo Museum of Art, part of a marathon concert of 10 pianists playing Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux. I'm playing the 7th of 13 pieces: La Rousserolle Effarvatte. Here's a link to the event
This is difficult music to listen to, especially if you've never listened to contemporary music! Even if you have, this piece jumps around a lot and it's hard to find a through-narrative. What should you listen for?
Yet, I think this piece is truly beautiful.
As a result, I decided to create a series of audio/video posts to aide in listening. Here's the first in the series where I discuss some general background to the composer and the piece (recorded with real live birds in the background!), and two specific bird calls that Messiaen uses:
Practicing according to Dr. Jeff
I go by "Dr. Jeff" with my young students. Though I don't derive any self-confidence from the title alone, I like using it: I am proud of the work I put in to earn the title, plus "Dr", being a little more formal than "Mr.", allows me to be more informal and go by "Jeff" instead of "Manchur". I like "Dr. Jeff" a lot more than "Mr. Manchur".
Perhaps I could use the title to defend their practice assignments: I'm "doctoring up" how you play the piano. A lot of my suggestions probably seem a little absurd. Isolating sections, blocking chords, playing differently than written. I'm not surprised if my students don't really 'get' what I'm after.
Well, believe it or not, I do use these same techniques myself! I've begun to collect videos of myself practicing (some annotated with in-video text, some referencing other blog posts here), as well as visual reminders of analogies I often make in teaching (the baby learning to walk perfectly demonstrates how learning is a process and making mistakes can be good), and good practice tips from other authors.
Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and this Playlist to get the latest videos as they're developed!
My wife and I bought a house almost a year ago, a home we absolutely love. It’s old, well maintained and full of character. We were ‘sold’ as soon as we saw it. One misgiving we had was the backyard-the garden area was very over grown with tall weeds, and piles of yard waste. So my Dad came out one weekend to help me clean it up. We forgot to take a ‘before’ picture, but here’s an ‘after’ picture of our beautification project:
I share this image because I think it is decidedly NOT beautiful! Grass has been torn up, we collected piles of wood, tomato plant cages, the garden boxes were rotting and falling apart, we found out our fence was not as steady as we’d thought, and the “garden” is still weedy and needs some good working-through before it will grow our preferred vegetation properly.
But it IS much more beautiful than it was. I think this is a great analogy for my general practicing philosophy. I’d bet many of my students don’t take to my practice suggestions easily, and I can see why. I often ask them to distort what is on the page. Whether it’s practicing in rhythms, blocking, changing dynamics or articulation, the fact remains: We have to make something ugly before it’s going to sound beautiful.
I’ve also used the analogy with my students of baking a cake. Batter is not the same thing as cake, its texture is off, the taste is not quite right; but we know that batter can become cake. We mix ingredients together but still have to bake it. We can never start with just cake.
In my practice philosophy, practicing is mixing notes, articulations, phrasing, dynamics and rubato together using different practice techniques to create something akin to batter. Our cognitive processes then bakes it to create something tasty for our ears.
Here’s a video of me learning a new piece: the Prelude in Bb major from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The first time around I utilize two techniques to reinforce the notes:
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act