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#2056439 - 03/29/13 07:13 PM Thoughts on "teaching composers"
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 71
Loc: North Carolina, USA
I have seen lots of recommendations on the forums for music by classical composers, such as Beethoven, Bach, etc. But I haven't seen much discussion of music by teaching composers, meaning living composers who write educational piano music apart from method books. Some examples would be Dennis Alexander, Melody Bober, William Gillock, etc.

So, teachers: do you use books by teaching composers with your students, or do you stick to the classics? Any favorite books or composers you enjoy teaching?
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#2056508 - 03/29/13 09:10 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Barb860 Offline
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Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1646
Loc: northern California
My students and I enjoy Melody Bober and Christopher Goldston, just to name these 2 right off hand. I use Goldston's Fantastic Fingers series for some students, which contain fun solos. Oh, and Nancy Faber, of course!

some favorite pieces:
Circus Tumblers by Goldston
Night Train by Goldston
Turbocharged by Goldston

Faber:
Home Run Harry
They'll be Back
There's nothing like a circus
(really all of Nancy's sheet music is good)

Bober:
all time favorite is March of the Clones but there are many others....

It's All Good!
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#2056546 - 03/29/13 10:23 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: pianopaws
I have seen lots of recommendations on the forums for music by classical composers, such as Beethoven, Bach, etc. But I haven't seen much discussion of music by teaching composers, meaning living composers who write educational piano music apart from method books. Some examples would be Dennis Alexander, Melody Bober, William Gillock, etc.

So, teachers: do you use books by teaching composers with your students, or do you stick to the classics? Any favorite books or composers you enjoy teaching?


Pretty sure William Gillock passed away a long time ago.

But to answer the question: I use a lot of music from living composers in my teaching. Melody Bober, Martha Mier, Martin Kutnowski, Andrey Komanetsky, Carolyn Miller, Nancy Telfer, Christopher Norton, Christos Tsitsaros are some that come to mind that my students have worked on recently.
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#2056553 - 03/29/13 10:35 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
ezpiano.org Offline
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Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1027
Loc: Irvine, CA
You mean "Living Composers" right?
I am a fans of living composers, I wish I can meet them all in person.
Started from Nancy Faber of course because I am fans of Piano Adventure Series, then Dennis Alexander, Christopher Norton, Melody Bober, Martha Mier, Christopher Goldston are my favorites!
Last month I had Christopher Norton visit my studio and I was able to get to know him in person, my husband and I both so excited...
I think piano teachers should support living composers as general!!
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#2056589 - 03/29/13 11:41 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5590
Loc: Orange County, CA
My students like Timothy Brown's works. A lot.

Lowell Liebermann wrote an excellent Album for the Young. I wish he would write more easy stuff, because most of his piano works are super difficult.

Emma Lou Diemer wrote some atonal works that are actually quite accessible.
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#2056613 - 03/30/13 12:43 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
Well... *ahem*.... there's my 'sketch music'.

But it's time for a little rant, if I may.

I took part in a small convention about musicians and music (in general) in Athens. One of the discussions was about teaching composition to little kids, by piano teachers. Ok, I see the point in all, but a piano teacher isn't exactly equipped to teach composition is (s)he?

In fact I would venture a bit too far and say that some recent piano educational works by living composers are... not interesting from a compositional point of view! Fabber, Hal Leonard, etc. It's all filled with 'redoings' of classical works, or easy tunes the children know.

This bothers me to the very core of who I am: Are we dumbing down our kids with that? Why not teach something outside this style and very strict style of music? Of course this applies mostly to method books that I've seen, because I've not seen much else (being in Greece and all), so I could be wrong with that...

But really, I think that it's a very rare show to grab a good piano teacher that's also a good composer... :-/
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#2056625 - 03/30/13 01:36 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Well... *ahem*.... there's my 'sketch music'.

But it's time for a little rant, if I may.

I took part in a small convention about musicians and music (in general) in Athens. One of the discussions was about teaching composition to little kids, by piano teachers. Ok, I see the point in all, but a piano teacher isn't exactly equipped to teach composition is (s)he?

In fact I would venture a bit too far and say that some recent piano educational works by living composers are... not interesting from a compositional point of view! Fabber, Hal Leonard, etc. It's all filled with 'redoings' of classical works, or easy tunes the children know.

This bothers me to the very core of who I am: Are we dumbing down our kids with that? Why not teach something outside this style and very strict style of music? Of course this applies mostly to method books that I've seen, because I've not seen much else (being in Greece and all), so I could be wrong with that...

But really, I think that it's a very rare show to grab a good piano teacher that's also a good composer... :-/


I agree about dumbed down classical works. I don't use those. I think those things have always been around, however. Probably nothing new.

As for piano teachers teaching composition, well there's another whole thread I'd happily participate in. I do teach my students some composition. Is a piano teacher equiped to teach composition? Probably more than any other teacher/person in the student's life. So if we don't do it, who will?
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#2056628 - 03/30/13 01:42 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: musicpassion]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
As for piano teachers teaching composition, well there's another whole thread I'd happily participate in. I do teach my students some composition. Is a piano teacher equiped to teach composition? Probably more than any other teacher/person in the student's life. So if we don't do it, who will?
In a sense to troll a bit: Using the same idea I could say that a composer could teach piano (or even more the violin), since the's more equipped than any other teacher/person in the student's life! wink

To make things clear: I do think that creativity comes in many forms and in all honesty I do think that any piano teacher could teach the idea of creativity, form, etc. So for younger students 'doodling' (without meaning anything wrong with the word) with composition I'm very much in favour!

But if things get to a deeper path, then... :-/
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#2056654 - 03/30/13 03:21 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
As for piano teachers teaching composition, well there's another whole thread I'd happily participate in. I do teach my students some composition. Is a piano teacher equiped to teach composition? Probably more than any other teacher/person in the student's life. So if we don't do it, who will?
In a sense to troll a bit: Using the same idea I could say that a composer could teach piano (or even more the violin), since the's more equipped than any other teacher/person in the student's life! wink

To make things clear: I do think that creativity comes in many forms and in all honesty I do think that any piano teacher could teach the idea of creativity, form, etc. So for younger students 'doodling' (without meaning anything wrong with the word) with composition I'm very much in favour!

But if things get to a deeper path, then... :-/

Too tired to contribute. Nikolas, I share your concerns.

But I would also like to mention, briefly, that many composers do not know SPIT about how to compose for children or people who are not already superb players. I've mentioned Bartok's "music for children" before. Wonderful music, but you really have to be a fine player to do them justice.

To be dedicated to teaching - not just writing material for students without actually being in the trenches, truly teaching, day after day, year after year, is a kind of dabbling.

Yet being a fine teacher in other ways but being put in the position of having to teach composition is not going to work either.

So we are back to the problem of finding someone who is a fine teacher and also extremely creative.

And that is a RARE thing.
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#2056657 - 03/30/13 03:35 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5590
Loc: Orange County, CA
You know what Kabalevsky said about writing music for children...

Seriously, I could write better stuff than some of these pedagogical compositions. In the literary world, the best analogy I can draw is "slick fiction" or "genre fiction" (or even "fan fiction") aimed at profit and not art. It's the difference between _To Kill a Mockingbird_ and _Twilight_.

I don't want to offend any living composers by naming names, but I know there are several composers whose works I would not touch with a ten-foot pole.
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#2056670 - 03/30/13 04:26 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
Gary: Very much so, and I've said the same thing. You need to be both in order to compose for kids... I'm not entirely sure I fit the bill, myself, but I'm trying really hard to be creative (at least! :P).

AZN: Yup! I also know composers, of very big range, and with extremely difficult works, not only for educational material, whose works I do not enjoy AT ALL! :-/ It's the nature of the beast I think...
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#2056697 - 03/30/13 06:41 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 71
Loc: North Carolina, USA
Thank you everyone for your comments. There seems to be a big divide between "art music" by living composers and "educational music." I agree that there is a wide range of quality in music for elementary to intermediate level students.

I also feel like there is a divide between current music that is in a contemporary style and that which is not. Like current music that is diatonic can't possibly be "art music" because it is not modern enough. What makes a piece of educational music (meaning intermediate level or lower) transcend to "art music" status? Is that even possible?
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#2056752 - 03/30/13 09:42 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
There's a division between academia and 'real life music'. Academia tries to push the envelope (since it has to stay in touch with current trends), while 'real life music' escapes such issues...

I think both are useful, but I'd like to think that not all diatonic music can't be "art music", since quite a bit of my music is quasi-diatonic, and as such I'd like to think of it as art! grin

The balance that me, Gary and AZN talk about it revolves around the ability to compose some unique and interesting music, while at the same time sticking to the same educational material that you have to teach: I mean you HAVE to teach about arpegges in the left hand (for example). There's already tons of etudes for that, so how do you go about it?

And we need to remember that what we're talking about here goes up to level 5 (to whatever grading system really, since all go up to 8-10-12 or something). So midways. After that there's such a wealth of material (thank gawd for that) that you don't need any more method books and the students' and teachers' choice is vast! You can dive in to Prokofiev, Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, even some Schnittke, etc... There's still lots to learn, but if you can play some Prokofiev, or Shostakovich (ok a stretch here... I don't know many easy works from Shostakovich for piano, while I do know a few from Prokofiev) then you can play many other things...

______________________

so the question is: How to make interesting music, for people who actually don't play the piano well. for those who have 2 years of experience or so... And not only do that, but find ways to teach them what needs to be taught next!!!!

And here lies the problem:

I was taking a look at the grading systems of a couple of global organizations... CM, ABSRM, etc... even in sheetmusicplus.com! laugh Each one has a description of what they mean in each case. And NONE was covering any ground from what I have in my own works and in my mind. So if the teacher is not required to teach it according to the curriculum, then any educational works I put out are... useless! (reply: true or false?)
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#2056781 - 03/30/13 10:41 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
pianopaws Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 71
Loc: North Carolina, USA
Yes, it is a catch-22. If you write something too "derivative" for lack of a better word, it doesn't have anything new to say that hasn't already been said many times. However, if you write something too "new," it faces the challenge of not finding an audience because it is too challenging to the ears of the students, and many teachers don't know how to teach it!

I would say contemporary teaching pieces are certainly not useless! It will just take time for the grading systems to catch up to the techniques in contemporary music. Give it 50 years! grin
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#2056785 - 03/30/13 10:52 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
I'll be 85 in 50 years... Can we make it 5 years please? grin

Really though... I will update you all about this soon. I hope to have EMF stuff reviewed by Trinity college and ABRSM for their curriculum, which is going to be... fun! hehe!
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#2056865 - 03/30/13 01:26 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5590
Loc: Orange County, CA
I think part of the problem is educating the teachers. Teachers tend to be "safe" creatures who prefer to do the same things, pull the same routine, for the next 50 years.

That's why, year after year, when I go evaluating CM, the following things happen:

1) For levels 3-5, in which students can omit one historical period, most students end up omitting the 20th Century. Most teachers loathe modern music to begin with, so if they can omit a period, Contemporary it is!

2) If students don't omit 20th Century, they will most likely be playing Kabalevsky, and, more specifically, "The Clown" from Op. 39 and "Toccatina" from Op. 27. I have the problem spots in those two pieces memorized by measure numbers.

3) For levels 6-7, where all four periods are required, the usual suspects for 20th Century are "Dance" and "Toccata" from Kabalevsky's Op. 60.

4) For good measure: if students go beyond level 8, then they'll most definitely be playing Kabalevsky's A-minor Prelude from Op. 38.


Kabalevsky seems to have the imagination of the piano teachers cornered.
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#2057264 - 03/31/13 08:59 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: AZNpiano]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 71
Loc: North Carolina, USA
I have been guilty of falling into the trap of teaching the pieces I know and am comfortable with. I have been trying to assign my students pieces I have never taught before, just to keep it interesting for all of us.

My local piano teachers organization has a wonderful festival each year where students are adjudicated on two pieces, one of which must be by a current American composer. The festival list is updated every other year with fresh music. It has really helped to push me to try new pieces that I would not have otherwise been aware of!
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#2057270 - 03/31/13 09:12 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
AZN: Kabalevsky is even more tonal than Prokofiev (for example) and Prokofiev has been called the 'enfant terrible of Russia' when he was young, so...

But, personally (as a composer more than a piano teacher), I feel bored very often with what I have to teach and I continuously try to come up with new works to teach my students. My own pieces, or from other composers it doesn't make a difference! wink
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#2057452 - 03/31/13 04:34 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Minniemay Offline
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Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
There is also the idea of the entertainment mentality. Many teachers seem to think that students will stick with piano only if the music is "fun."

This is where the main problem is -- we limit ourselves to fun and forget about true personal expression. For instance, I get really tired of people labeling major "happy" and minor "sad." The human experience is so much more than that.

What about grief, anger, joy, excitement, humor, serene? Are our vocabularies so limited?

I think we need to help students recognize a much larger world of expression and help them learn how music can help them express themselves on many different levels.
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#2057456 - 03/31/13 04:45 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Minniemay]
keystring Offline
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
For instance, I get really tired of people labeling major "happy" and minor "sad." The human experience is so much more than that.

I understand that for being musically expressive. But how would you go about teaching both major and minor keys and major and minor chords, if you want the difference to be heard rather than just intellectualized? (You can have in intellectual understanding that minor chords have m3 and major chords have M3 in the middle in root position.) How much is hearing a part of piano teaching, period? It isn't something I would have asked before coming into piano forums.

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#2057502 - 03/31/13 06:59 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Minniemay]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5590
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
I think we need to help students recognize a much larger world of expression and help them learn how music can help them express themselves on many different levels.

At the risk of going slightly off-topic, I think another problem is with students whose lives are so sheltered, they don't have any life experiences to draw upon. They've never experienced grief, nostalgia, anxiety (maybe except for their piano lessons), fright, or envy. I've seriously worked with some kids who don't know what envy means, because they have been provided with everything, and then some, that the idea of "need vs. want" completely eludes them.
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#2057508 - 03/31/13 07:31 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Minniemay Offline
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Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
Much depends on the age of the student. A 6 yr old is not likely to have experienced great loss, but perhaps loss on a smaller scale -- say losing a favorite toy or a friend moving away. Their idea of joy may be having a really great birthday party or spending a day at Disneyland.

I try very hard to connect with students where they are. I get to know them, I get to know their families. I try to remember that they are people first, piano students second.

In choosing supplementary music for students, I look to educational composers fairly often, but I'm highly selective. There is only a small percentage of music written by these current mainstream composers that serves the educational purpose and is still quality music.
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#2057591 - 03/31/13 11:45 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: keystring]
Peter K. Mose Offline
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Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1382
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Originally Posted By: keystring
How much is hearing a part of piano teaching, period?


I think each piano teacher might answer this question differently, keystring. I hope it's a large part of my teaching.

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#2057611 - 04/01/13 01:06 AM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Peter K. Mose]
keystring Offline
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Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11848
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
Originally Posted By: keystring
How much is hearing a part of piano teaching, period?


I think each piano teacher might answer this question differently, keystring. I hope it's a large part of my teaching.

That is why I am asking. It would be interesting to see some (different) answers or ideas here.

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#2057761 - 04/01/13 12:09 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Peter K. Mose]
keystring Offline
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Going back to this:
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
Originally Posted By: keystring
How much is hearing a part of piano teaching, period?

I think each piano teacher might answer this question differently, keystring. I hope it's a large part of my teaching.

What I had written was in response to MinnieMay
Originally Posted By: MM
For instance, I get really tired of people labeling major "happy" and minor "sad." The human experience is so much more than that.


There are two different concepts here. The main idea MM is talking about is expressing feeling in music. That is why the discussion moves in to how much life experience a child has to draw on, as opposed to an adult. However, in this quote MM talks about major and minor (keys). I'm not sure that stating that major and minor keys or chords are happy and sad actually deals with emotion in the music. I think that this part deals with being able to hear the difference between major and minor - this is a concept.

So we have emotion, and we have concept.

Emotion: Music expresses emotion through a number of things. You have your major and minor chords, and then diminished chords, dissonances etc. There is also tempo - we say "fast and furious" for a reason. There is rhythm: a lilting skipping rhythm, sombre even rhythm etc. A piece can be in a minor key and yet come across as gay and happy.

Concept: A student has to know what a minor key and a minor chord is. When MM talks about people saying that a minor key is "sad" and a major one is "happy", I think this has less to do with deciding what emotion to put into the piece when interpreting it - that it has to do with how to convey the concept of major and minor.

I see a lot of explanations of major and minor being done through discussion of intervals, and intervals too are described by distance between keys, half steps etc. But they are also sound, and they also evoke something like feelings. A dim7 has a "feeling" or "character" that we can hear, which is different from a major chord.

So supposing that you want to teach someone about minor keys, or scales, or chords, what might you do besides using happy/sad?

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#2057778 - 04/01/13 01:02 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
In a sense to troll a bit: Using the same idea I could say that a composer could teach piano (or even more the violin), since the's more equipped than any other teacher/person in the student's life! wink

If the composer has years of training on piano, and no other teacher can be found... then yes I think they could provide benefit to the student.

Composition training is a required part of our education as musicians (at least it was for me. Hopefully it is for everyone). So it's not like we would be teaching something outside of our experience. For me and most pianists composition was not the area where I specialized. So, yes, if I had a compositionally gifted student, for sure I would want to find a composition specialist for them to study with. The problem with that is there are very, very few.

Additionaly, the style that some composition experts favor might not be compatible with what a student wants to learn. Many composers - espicially educated ones - have hung onto the 1960s. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't resonate with most of my students.
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#2057780 - 04/01/13 01:13 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: pianopaws]
Minniemay Offline
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Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
I disagree, Keystring. I think it has everything to do with emotion. I never use those terms when learning the concept. I try to engage the student in the expression of the music.
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#2057782 - 04/01/13 01:13 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: AZNpiano]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
I think part of the problem is educating the teachers. Teachers tend to be "safe" creatures who prefer to do the same things, pull the same routine, for the next 50 years.

Wow. That sounds like a dreadful career. I love the adventure of life too much. Artists are "safe" creatures? Art should be daring.

Quote:
That's why, year after year, when I go evaluating CM, the following things happen:

1) For levels 3-5, in which students can omit one historical period, most students end up omitting the 20th Century. Most teachers loathe modern music to begin with, so if they can omit a period, Contemporary it is!

2) If students don't omit 20th Century, they will most likely be playing Kabalevsky, and, more specifically, "The Clown" from Op. 39 and "Toccatina" from Op. 27. I have the problem spots in those two pieces memorized by measure numbers.

3) For levels 6-7, where all four periods are required, the usual suspects for 20th Century are "Dance" and "Toccata" from Kabalevsky's Op. 60.

4) For good measure: if students go beyond level 8, then they'll most definitely be playing Kabalevsky's A-minor Prelude from Op. 38.


Are there really teachers that do this? This doesn't match my experience. In my branch our recitals have a huge variety of music. Often I'll hear a new piece I've never heard before at our Branch recitals.

Quote:
Kabalevsky seems to have the imagination of the piano teachers cornered.

Let's not miss the fact that Kabalevsky was a wonderful, gifted composer. True, anything can be overdone. But he has a sizeable body of work. Right now one of my students is working on his opus 91. When was the last time we've heard that one performed?
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#2057785 - 04/01/13 01:16 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
AZN: Kabalevsky is even more tonal than Prokofiev (for example) and Prokofiev has been called the 'enfant terrible of Russia' when he was young, so...


So... are you saying tonal music is a bad thing?
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#2057789 - 04/01/13 01:21 PM Re: Thoughts on "teaching composers" [Re: Nikolas]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1153
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
So if the teacher is not required to teach it according to the curriculum, then any educational works I put out are... useless! (reply: true or false?)

False. I normally use pieces outside the limited listings in the CM syllabus. There are some requirements if you want the students to use them for examinations, but they don't have to be listed in the syllabus.
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