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#916002 - 06/07/03 09:00 PM Late starting Concert Pianists?
cool_breeze Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/05/03
Posts: 10
Loc: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Anyone know of any concert pianists who started their piano studies late in life. When I say late I am saying in their 20's. All of the Concert Pianists I have seen or heard of started very early. Before the age of 10 years old. I am a late starter and have no real desire to be a concert pianist--the amount of practice required seems incredible--but just wondered if anybody has risen to the ranks of concert pianist after a late start. Or does anyone think it is possible. Thank you in advance for your responses.

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#916003 - 06/07/03 09:14 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Palindrome Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 3914
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
Hans Richter-Haaser, a German active in the 60s/70s, comes to mind, but I may be mistaken.
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There is no end of learning. -Robert Schumann Rules for Young Musicians

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#916004 - 06/07/03 09:19 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
EHpianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/27/03
Posts: 1703
Loc: NY-Madrid-Newfoundland (rhymes...
_________________________
Schnabel's advie to Horowitz: "When a piece gets difficult, make faces."

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#916005 - 06/07/03 09:27 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
CrashTest Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/01
Posts: 4110
I think it is very possible, given the right talent. Elena, are you viewing it from a viewpoint that it will be too late to establish marketability? Sometimes, a late start may be slightly advantageous because one will have more maturity and a clear ambition. A pianist technique is not impossible to acquire after one is young, all it takes is the right balance of talent/effort and it is indeed possible. Perhaps difficult to occur, but possible.

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#916006 - 06/07/03 09:43 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13763
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I don't think Elena's answer is based on principle, I think it's based on observation.

My observation is the same.

A simple no.

Possible? Probably, but I've never met or heard of anyone who's pulled it off.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#916007 - 06/07/03 09:59 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
CrashTest Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/01
Posts: 4110
What age would you say is the limit to begin, and what is the particular reason that people who start later cannot achieve the samething as one who starts earlier?

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#916008 - 06/07/03 10:19 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21299
Loc: Oakland
Harold Bauer switched from violin to piano when he was about 20. He is usually cited as one of the great pianist among the oldest to start.
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#916009 - 06/07/03 10:25 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
mkesfahani Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/02
Posts: 836
Loc: Irvine, CA
The following concert pianists did not start at this age, but began taking piano more seriously which is nevertheless remarkable:

Paderewski was 22 or something, Richter was 27, Perahia was 15, and of course, Bauer was already mentioned. Don't quote me on those exact ages, but I know I'm close.

Mike

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#916010 - 06/07/03 11:26 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 902
Loc: Philly, PA
I believe that Arcadi Volodos didn't start getting serious until about 20(Little shaky on the age, but I think somewhere around there)
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#916011 - 06/07/03 11:30 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13763
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I "got serious" at around age 17. I'm no great concert pianist, but I've been good enough to appear at a few conferences this year. I'll be in Greensboro on the 19th playing a trio with some friends at the international double reed conference. Not exactly Carnegie Hall, but it's something...
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#916012 - 06/08/03 12:11 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Ted2 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/04/02
Posts: 790
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
No, come to think of it, playing in concerts only applies to about one in every half million people and you still have to be one out of the bag and fairly young to do any good anyway because of the physical aspect. On the other hand, I don't see why activities such as composition and improvisation couldn't be taken up at any age and developed over the course of a lifetime.
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#916013 - 06/08/03 12:42 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5483
i would venture to guess that late starters are less often great artists because they didn't have the advantages of childhood: they have to get a living, they don't have a nurturing environment, they aren't given great wads of time to develop their talents. these are very real limitations.

i no longer believe that the limitations are mental or physical. i grew up playing a few different instruments, but didn't get serious about the piano until quite late in life. i think my learning faculties are quite a bit sharper now than they were when i was a child. i certainly have more focus and discipline. and fortunately, i have not experienced any physical limitations.

theoretically, i believe, if one had unlimited time and didn't have to worry about earning a living, and was talented and motivated, beginning in one's late 20s shouldn't be an obstacle.

or rather, i think it should be just as possible to achieve one's full potential later in life.
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#916014 - 06/08/03 02:54 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
jeffylube Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/26/02
Posts: 716
Loc: Weatherford, Texas
 Quote:
Originally posted by PianoMuse:
I believe that Arcadi Volodos didn't start getting serious until about 20(Little shaky on the age, but I think somewhere around there)[/b]
I believe he was either 16 or 18, and some professional manager or someone similar said that in the span of about 6 years or so (I think until he was early to mid 20's) he developed his technique to the point it's at now...which is really good. And I'm assuming in this time he also got a chunck of his repertoire down so that he could tour.

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#916015 - 06/08/03 04:37 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
EHpianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/27/03
Posts: 1703
Loc: NY-Madrid-Newfoundland (rhymes...
 Quote:
Originally posted by mkesfahani:
Paderewski was 22 or something, Richter was 27, Perahia was 15, and of course, Bauer was already mentioned. Don't quote me on those exact ages, but I know I'm close.[/b]
This is misleading. Very few of us get "serious" at an early age. I started when I was 6, but didn't get serious till I was 16. Maybe I;ve never really gotten serious? ;\)

The point is you need to START early, ideally no later than 7. I wonder about the example of the violinist-turned pianist mentioned above. It is likely that he played both instruments from an early age and just focused on the violin later switching to piano. I will have to look that up.

I have met several people that have made efforts to become career classical pianists who started in their teens and though their work and dedication is admirable, the movement of their hands is significantly stiffer than the technique of those who started earlier (and learned it right). Murray Perahia himself said that there is a notable difference between people who start at the age of 4 and earlier and those who start between 5 and 7 saying that things tend to be a lot easier and more natural for those that started pre-5, the technique never goes away even if you don't practice, whereas the post-5 group loses technique very quickly if they don't practice. He is in the category of the pre-5, of course!

And I'm not saying this to make it seem like it's some sort of elite club of kiddie pianists, it's just that I have not seen anyone become a successful concert pianist who did not begin early.

Elena
http://www.concertpianist.com
_________________________
Schnabel's advie to Horowitz: "When a piece gets difficult, make faces."

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#916016 - 06/08/03 08:47 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
I started from scratch at the age of 15. I always felt that I had two strikes against me because I started late. No one said this to me, but that is how I felt about my playing.
What EHPianist said is true, and what Pique said about a nurturing environment for younger children is also true.

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#916017 - 06/08/03 12:00 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
kenny Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 7051
The rate of brain wiring, and the importance of it, is highest at the early stages of development.

That said, adults have other qualities that 4 year olds lack, like discipline and seriousness.

But by then all those trillions of synapses needed to perform things like music or languages at the very highest level of fluency are already spoken for.
The clay has hardened up.

Kind of like changing the location of, not just the walls, but the foundation of a building after it was built.
Possible, but a lot of work.

OTOH, unlike a 4 year old, an older person can recognize that even though a concert career is not in the cards, a precious world on beauty and self expression is possible through the pursuit of piano playing.

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#916018 - 06/08/03 12:55 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13763
Loc: Iowa City, IA
 Quote:
Originally posted by kenny:
OTOH, an older person can recognize that even though a concert career is not in the cards, a precious world on beauty and self expression is possible through the pursuit of piano playing.[/b]
A good quote on this subject from the jazz pianist Bill Evans:

"Music should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise. It's easy to rediscover part of yourself, but through art you can be shown part of yourself you never knew existed. That's the real mission of art. The artist has to find something within himself that's universal and which he can put into terms that are communicable to other people. The magic of it is that art can communicate to a person without his realizing it...enrichment, that's the function of music."
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#916019 - 06/08/03 04:53 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1503
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
The converse, of course, is not true. I started playing long before I went to school but played my own way and did nothing I was told, finishing with an entirely unsuitable technique. I think there has to be an element of discipline present from the start too.
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#916020 - 06/08/03 10:43 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
yok Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/01
Posts: 464
Loc: New Zealand
Volodos was training as a singer, I think, when he finally decided to concentrate on the piano. It is more common for people to become singers while after pursuing piano studies or careers, eg. Galli-Curci, Ferrier, Barbara Fritolli, Della Jones.

I don't think it's just a case of a certain age being too late to start, but also that the degree of aptitude required for a musical career is unlikely to go unrealised for so long.

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#916021 - 06/10/03 07:23 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by EHpianist:
...Murray Perahia himself said that there is a notable difference between people who start at the age of 4 and earlier and those who start between 5 and 7 saying that things tend to be a lot easier and more natural for those that started pre-5, the technique never goes away even if you don't practice, whereas the post-5 group loses technique very quickly if they don't practice. He is in the category of the pre-5, of course!...
I can almost imagine precocious 3-year-olds searching for weaknesses in and psyching out their rivals in competitions. (Almost--I've known such sophisticated 3-year-olds and could only come to a draw with one in a three-hour debate about ethics.) The concept of perceptible differences in these two so-very-young groups is utterly depressing...

I wonder if this early brain-wiring developmental impediment is less problematic for women generally than men? Studies indicate women's brains have many more neural connections (about 25% more) between the hemisphere's than men's and they are far more adept at multitasking in general as a result (definitely a plus for piano). Perhaps there's a broader window for a woman to start and still achieve a higher level?

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#916022 - 06/10/03 08:40 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by piqu:
theoretically, i believe, if one had unlimited time and didn't have to worry about earning a living, and was talented and motivated, beginning in one's late 20s shouldn't be an obstacle.

or rather, i think it should be just as possible to achieve one's full potential later in life.[/QB]
I'm persisting in trying to prove your theory correct (if I'm permitted to substitute merely a keen sense of pitch and a lot of hard work for talent).

Last Friday, I celebrated my one-year anniversary of jumping out of a 20-year job and just staying home and seriously, systematically, practicing on a good piano acquired the month I quit. I took up piano informally as only an occassional effort (but quite intensely for long periods as time and good-piano proximity permitted) around 20. But a very demanding job definitely interfered with my real ambition, as did a mediocre piano.

I have found in this year that some of the most complex passages I avoided in pieces way back then, I now tackle with a sharp focus and a patience I didn't have when I was much younger. I have been surprised at how quickly I often nail what used to look impossible and find those fast tricky patterns, keyboard-spanning arpeggios, and shifts of melody from right to left hand, and competing voices are actually quite fun and exhilarating instead of just potentially oppressive, but two pages of fast complex patterns can be physically tiring and my hands sometimes ache to get to a lull in the melody.

Being able to put the watch in a drawer and let the clocks wind down has been tremendously helpful at this stage of middle age. I don't have expectations of becoming a concert pianist from this point in life, but I wanted and bought myself this year now, rather than later, while I still have the energy and mental dexterity to apply to the task, just to find out if I could satisfy myself.

The freedom to focus has had a significant value. I've made more progress this year than I ever dreamed I could, inspite of my mindset of "it may well be too late". While I will never achieve the degree of perfection on as diverse and complete a repertoire as I'd like, I think I'm still capable of becoming very good at a significant number and variety of even very complex pieces.

I'm my own toughest critic and wouldn't pretend to entertain a paying audience (nor even make a non-paying audience suffer), but I've come along well enough that professional gigging/touring and recording musician friends have asked me to perform with them. (So far I've deferred on the offer to until I get another 20 years of practice. When senility sets in I won't remember I'm not perfect.)

Perhaps there's a level of confidence obtained in youth or a willingness to accept and learn from mistakes and an agility of getting around and minimizing them. My vanity couldn't live with a permanent record of a mistake. It's hard enough to accept one even when I'm alone, even when it's only one and only minor. (I am learning to put that in perspective and following a lot of good advice here and elsewhere to quit making those mistakes, though, and occassionally satisfying myself, along with the neighbors. When I get familiar enough with a piece to let myself rather make it "my own", without reservation, and really "sell" my interpretation.)

While it may be realistic and supported by scientific data to believe one must start young, belief in that theory in and of itself would likely deter all but the most irrationally-determined efforts to achieve one's ultimate potential. Where's the fun in that. If nothing else, it'd be nice to be the exception that proves the rule.

Any reason your theory is applied to late 20's--not 30's or 40's?

Adding (as if you can stand more): Studying action geometries, and learning to tune (various temperaments) and regulate has been beneficial this year. I have a much firmer mental grasp of control of voicing and tone, and repetition that I don't think I'd have developed otherwise and it has somehow made it to these old fingers pretty reliably.

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#916023 - 06/10/03 09:58 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by chickgrand:
[QUOTE] I can almost imagine precocious 3-year-olds searching for weaknesses in and psyching out their rivals in competitions. (Almost--I've known such sophisticated 3-year-olds and could only come to a draw with one in a three-hour debate about ethics.) The concept of perceptible differences in these two so-very-young groups is utterly depressing...

[/b]
I'm not positive, But I would bet that Perahia was not comparing 3-4 yr olds and 5-7 yr olds at that age. He was most likely comparing a universe of adult player who started at various ages, and observed a difference based on the age at which each player began taking piano lesons. I doubt that he was espousing the advantages of competitions involving prococious 3 yr olds. Some kids are precocious, and some are not. Some kids who are not precocious, and who begin piano at a very early age, develop into fine musicians. There is nothing at all depressing about that.

BTW, it's great that you can devote as much time as you can to the piano. I am not going to be a naysayer, and put limits on what you are able to accomplish. The sky's the limit.

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#916024 - 06/10/03 10:17 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Phlebas:
[QUOTE]I would bet that Perahia was not comparing 3-4 yr olds and 5-7 yr olds at that age. He was most likely comparing a universe of adult player who started at various ages, and observed a difference based on the age at which each player began taking piano lesons[/b]
I'm sure you are right to make this point with regard to his observations. (Just my wry humor about the toddler set. With a dash of seriousness about the actual level of intellectual sophistication of some of them these days.)

(My guess is my limit's well below the sky, but when a another big knot appears on top of the first big knot on the crown of my head, I'll take heed.)

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#916025 - 06/10/03 12:10 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
chickgrand,

Forgive me. I guess I'm not used to your sense of humor yet, but I'm a quick learner. \:\)

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#916026 - 06/12/03 12:35 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
daryl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/02
Posts: 49
Loc: new york
 Quote:
I have found in this year that some of the most complex passages I avoided in pieces way back then, I now tackle with a sharp focus and a patience I didn't have when I was much younger
Thats interesting chickgrand, our lives parallel eachothers, I lost my 18 year old day gig also and immediately dove into an intense but focused practice regimen of 4 to 6 hours a day and classical pieces that were well out of my grasp are becoming part of my repertoire.Practice, especially focused practice can take you to heights you can't imagine.I have a cousin who started piano at around 7 or 8, he's in his 30's now and his technical command of the piano is on another level but somehow I feel like I'm gaining ground.I've somehow managed to refine my technique to a place where I really see and hear a difference.I think if you can aquire a virtuoso technique, the rest is up for grabs.
_________________________
"Great talents ripen late;
"The highest notes are hard to hear"

Lao Tzu

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#916027 - 06/12/03 02:32 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Joe Townley Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/02
Posts: 182
Loc: Glendale
All you late achievers turn me green with envy. I agree with many of the posters that intense concentration in practice sessions can produce almost miraculous results, especially at a later age. I want to work so hard now and have the time and drive to do it but this &*^%$ finger of mine hampers me so much that just to play a scale properly with it requires such intense focus that it plain wears me out! I think I could make a reasonably good showing of some of the bigger pieces if my finger let me but (sigh) it just goes on strike after about 2 hours. Maybe I'll try cortisone shots or something. Any ideas?
http://www.JoeTownley \:\( (feeling a little blue right now, maybe a little sorry for myself too - forgive me.)
_________________________
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#916028 - 06/12/03 03:57 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by daryl:
[QUOTE]...our lives parallel eachothers, I lost my 18 year old day gig also and immediately dove into an intense but focused practice regimen of 4 to 6 hours a day...[/b]
My parents would probably pronounce you "insane" as well as they did me. (Not that I care what anyone, even them, thinks.)

It's nice to know I'm not alone in making piano the choice of how to use time after career change.

When I started the year, I made myself first get comfortable with the keyboard without looking and spent a good bit of time with theory books reading (theory books under the pillow). Spent a lot of time sight reading pieces to improve that skill, with a lot of thought on dynamics markings to begin to really see music as phrases rather than just a sequence of notes.

I think what has helped this year (aside from the freedom of time) is that I have broken playing down into little chunks of different skills. I collected my favorite sheet music and organized it by types of skills needed, and started in on regular practices, varying from 2 hours to 6 hours each day, broken down into sessions on a longer day.

I choose to practice a particular skill among many pieces wherever I found it, and only that part of anything. Quick arpeggio patterns repeating page-after-page, long keyboard spanning arpeggios, trills, voices in counterpoint, tricky fingering, difficult reaches, hand-over-hand etc. I may practice two or three pieces whole, either at warm up or at close, but I spend the bulk of the time on a particular objective skill until I get it consistently right (sometimes a few days). I periodically go back through the entire regime of skills I've tackled so far to review and assess my technique (leads to an enormously cluttered music desk). I use recording, too, to get a more objective listen. Other times, I play specifically just to look at my fingerings, which I don't do at any other time, to consciously evaluate efficiency or explore alternate fingerings to improve accents or reach. Each improved skill makes the next new piece easier.

My approach of taking complex pieces that I love and picking them apart into simpler chunks in whatever order (knowing that in the end I'll get through all of it eventually) keeps me inspired because I wholeheartedly love the pieces. I generally do the right-hand, left-hand breakdown and then work on both together slowly for accuracy, then build speed. Then I focus exclusively on the tougher passages refining them (often before the simpler stuff gets smoothed out). By breaking the things down into logical chunks of phrases, I find remembering them becomes easy. I eventually can totally ignore the sheets and just play with good note-accuracy and just focus on refining the voicing and interpretation.

I only play a few advanced pieces with consistently good results, but I know that I know them absolutely. They've become engrained in my soul in all their little phrase chunks. About the only error I ever make in these pieces now is a grazed adjacent key (annoying) during a once-through. And on a good day "in the zone" I know I can do as well as anything I've heard.

By rotating through a library of pieces working on logically-related chunks, I'm bringing some new pieces up to speed more quickly, but it's still a fair bit of work to find the fingering that works best for some pieces. (Fingering suggestions, when provided, aren't always best for one's own hands.) It will be a long time before "my repertoire" is anything I'd be proud of. I set aside Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (bought the day the big piano was delivered) as a "30-year project" (all those accidentals and reverts to naturals!), but I've been itching to start chunking away at it.

My piano performance PhD friends (I wish I'd taken that path) and touring professionals I know comment that "all your music is so complicated". I didn't choose it for that reason; just chose what I heard that I liked because life is too short for "Mary Had a Little Lamb" pieces at my age. I think of it as a variation on Jack Nicholson's "Five Easy Pieces"--instead, five great pieces. And then some more if time permits. Starting with complex pieces is certainly ass-backwards, but then I usually eat desert first.

I'm happy to hear, Daryl, that you are gaining ground against your cousin's command of the keyboard. Makes me think it may not be so irrational to try at a later age. I don't know the definition of virtuoso technique and how that differs from simple technique, but I have found myself that getting the harder stuff down first makes the rest so much easier now (emphasis on the "er" at the end of "easier".

I'm surrounded by piano PhDs (who later became lawyers or doctors professionally--huh!!??!!) and a few actual recording artists in my neighborhood who play a variety of instruments. It makes for some nice lawn parties on occasion. (And a bit of performance pressure during practice). They're under the illusion that I'm "good" and "great" and "f**king great". I know I'm not. Nor will I ever be. That would require familiarity with a larger repertoire than I will probably ever develop. You won't see "Variations on a Theme by _____" by me on your local CD shelf ever. But if you're walking your dog on my street, you might hear a whole-heartedly committed interpretation of Beethoven, DeBussy, Lecuona, Satie, or "Anonymous", along with a little more tentative improv. You may even someday see a stooped little wrinkled man in the back of the local symposium room taking notes as if life were long enough to do the degree in music thing. (I'm just the piano-parallel of "put a monkey in a room with a typewriter and eventually he may produce the great...")

Good luck with your progress and career path, Daryl. I'm considering my next paying activity myself and now it must have the prerequisite to not interfere with piano the way the last 20-year job did.

It was heartwarming to read Linda in PA's report elsewhere here about her recital last night and how it all "came together" for her, and on a Steinway D, no less. Those moments when it does all come together are worth all the work the rest of the time.

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#916029 - 06/12/03 04:23 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Joe Townley:
...this &*^%$ finger of mine hampers me so much that just to play a scale properly with it requires such intense focus that it plain wears me out![/b]
I can relate to that, too. 5, 4 & 3 on the left have become almost totally numb for two weeks now (accompanied only at first by a twitchy thumb). No rational cause. I'd been working on precise control of accent on difficult reaches of fast uniform arpeggios that repeated with few variations for two full pages. The problem I was having was kind of a hand exhaustion toward the middle of the second page. The effort to just will my hand to get through them (the idea being to strengthen them to the task) sometimes led to complete failure of some fingers to move. But not having seen a doctor to define the problem, I don't know that that's relevant. Full movement, but almost no tactile sensation, even of hot or cold. Very annoying. (And in the back of my mind, depressing and ominous given my whole life revolves around keyboards of one type or another.)

The only suggestion I can offer is the one I haven't taken myself--see a doctor (for one thing, medical insurance is one of the things I gave up to afford this year--you'd think I'd learn as last time I took time off for myself, I broke both knees day two). And ease up on practice (I have eased up a bit in practice, but probably not enough).

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#916030 - 06/12/03 11:53 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
chickgrand,

Your long post about how you practice is interesting. What pieces are you working on?

Also, in another post you said some fingers have been numb for two weeks. That is something you should take seriously if you are continuing to practice a lot. You should take a look at your technique at the piano, and read up on piano overuse injuries. They can be very painful, and debilitating. There is no such thing as "no pain no gain" in piano practice. Any pain shoudl be accompanied by alarm bells.

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#916031 - 06/12/03 06:33 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1503
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
Chick:

Your symptoms are very worrying. I would waste no time in investigating them. Playing the piano should be a joyous and liberating activity, a yoga of mind and body, not constant striving riddled with injury and trauma.
_________________________
"It is inadvisable to decline a dinner invitation from a plump woman." - Fred Hollows

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#916032 - 06/12/03 06:52 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
pianodevo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/02
Posts: 836
Fascinating thread...

While emotionally and intellectually I am on the side of those who do not let age interfere with their strivings, when you talk about attaining the level of a true concert pianist, it is still true that:

Virtually all great mathematics has been done by the young and the very young. Even truly world-class mathematicians often do little (if any) significant work after, say, forty.

The world level top chess grandmasters also tend to be young - again, virtually no one over 40 and most younger than 30.

Neither of these professions requires anything PHYSICAL such as piano does ... and yet it is difficult to give more than rare examples of great work done by those over 40.

So the barrier (if such there be) might not be in trying to develop the hands when one is 20 or 30 or ....

I don't have any answers. But these three - mathematics, music and chess - are the only activities where prodigies are known, and they all to me seem to require prodigious abilities at formal symbol manipulations as part of the mandatory 'technique', before one can approach the good parts (the 'meaning'). By comparison, prodigies are unknown as far as writing great literature, which typically seems to require decades of human experience and a certain breadth and maturity.
_________________________
pianodevo

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#916033 - 06/13/03 12:11 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Phlebas:
chickgrand,

Your long post about how you practice is interesting. What pieces are you working on?[/b]
Warm up is always Satie's 3 Gnossiennes and 3 Gymnopedies (where I picked up playing afther the 20 year lapse), followed by the ubiquitous urtext version of Beethoven Opus 27, No. 2 (could do 1st movement in my sleep, polishing the second), usually followed by Lecuona's original arrangement of his Andalusian Suite including the favorite, "Maleguena", which I used as my first "learn to play" piece about 30 years ago on a nice Steinway (absurd for a starter, but at the time I thought "if I'm only going to learn one piece..."--I'm fairly adept at it now, after the long lapse and resuming--first thing with which I surprised myself some months ago on getting through all of it for the first time at tempo on a very focused day and reliably with some finesse with some practice after).

By then I'm either warmed up in "the zone" and at my best for having at the new stuff, or I'm just not going to get there that day (not focused or hands tired). Right now, I'm working into my rotation very complex arrangements of "Besame Mucho" (40-odd pages) (with variations--both classical and jazzed), another of "Histoire d'un Amour" (32 pages) (love old Latin virtuoso piano music) as my current, fairly-evolved additions nearly committed to mental and muscle-memory, exploring a tough-reach but exciting, very-Klezmer version of "Bei Mir Bistduschon", just starting out with DeBussy's "Reverie", while polishing Claire de Lune (want to explore the whole Suite Bergmanesque soon). I rotate the new stuff to include some Vangelis compositions, jazz standards by Hoagy Carmichael, along with my own arrangements of "Nature Boy", "The very Thought of You", and "My Funny Valentine" (think Carmen Cavallero's virtuoso "show-stopper" version ca. 1956) which I permit myself to improvise on. And stuff like "Never on a Sunday" just for fun with that picnic-in-the-park sort of fun with rhythm with fingerings reminiscent of Bach, but less staid.

Basically, I throw in everything but the kitchen sink when I'm practicing a particular "skill chunk", so there are lots of other pieces I'm rotating through by parts on any given day, but not necessarily contemplating at the moment to the point for a finished performance level. Some Liszt (the "Bugs Bunny Song"), a little Chopin (some of the preludes). (I have more mountains of sheet music than I'll ever conquer.)

After listening last night to Joanna MacGregor's amazing interpretation of "Libertango" after Jazzyd's reference to it in another thread, I'm now itchy to find her arrangement (or create my own) to tackle it myself. Just loved what she did with that bass line. Actually reminded me of the energy and passion found in Beethoven's "Appassionata". I've had ideas for years about similar classical approaches to other contemporary pieces, so I really got into what she's done.

I like very passionate pieces and very lyrical pieces, and pieces that border on barely controlled chaos of passion. Not too much into some of the modern dissonant pieces yet, but it's in the back of my mind to explore eventually.

I seriously looked through the Warner's edition of "Rhapsody in Blue" last night. It looks less ominous than it did the day I bought it. But life's too short to get all that I want done and becoming satisfied with all that I've mentioned may take many years (if my fingers hold out).

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#916034 - 06/13/03 12:47 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianodevo:
Fascinating thread...

...the barrier (if such there be) might not be in trying to develop the hands when one is 20 or 30 or ....

...these three - mathematics, music and chess - are the only activities where prodigies are known, and they all to me seem to require prodigious abilities at formal symbol manipulations as part of the mandatory 'technique', before one can approach the good parts (the 'meaning'). By comparison, prodigies are unknown as far as writing great literature, which typically seems to require decades of human experience and a certain breadth and maturity.[/b]
I agree with your perspective in your well stated post. I've begun to believe that any natural talent for dealing with symbols is nessessary for "prodigy" and that that must go hand in hand with physical development while one is fit enough (usually much younger). With chess or math, if one has the intellectual talent, one might start later.

Einstein formulated his general theory of relatively in his own mind as an abstract concept many years before he had acquired the math skills to express it to the larger scientific community. The talent, or insight, was already there, but he had to learn the language to express it. He did that with some considerable difficulty.

The pianist has the added difficult dimension of translating that perhaps facile intuition of the symbols into physical expression. The limits of age and injury to the body are certainly determining factors for the level of success one may achieve, entirely regardless of that native talent for the musical language of rhythm and pitch and notation symbology. Because of that, I don't expect to see late beginners at the absolute pinnacle of excellence. But maybe a few just close enough to see that lofty peak closely enough to recognize what it would have taken to get there had they the facility of youth on their side.

That said, even the greats who started early usually display observable deterioration of performance level sometimes with advancing age. Often as not, style and expressiveness carry some of those later performances when technical perfection does not. Some of those later, though not perfect, performances are among my favorite because the clarity of understanding still shows like no other, even muted by age.

If piano were an Olympic sport, for the young, like the rest, I've no doubt it would only be the young on the podium.

I can be both a realist and embrace something I love irrationally at the same time. \:\) I'm only competing with myself, and age, on the piano for my own pleasure. It improves my appreciation for music (yes, even Bach) and sharpens my mind and dulls the pains of growing older with a sense of challenging adventure and discovery reminiscent of my youth. That's enough to ask of it for me.

As for trying to steer skills to income, I'll stick to painting and writing, as I'm not inclined to play piano on a street corner with the hat out. I've starved before. I don't like it.

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#916035 - 06/13/03 05:36 PM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
pianodevo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/02
Posts: 836
chickgrand,

So you're a writer!? Evidently from your last post, a professional? That's interesting ... as far as I knew before your post, this board only had two professional writers, pique and myself.

And *curiously*, we both have Grotrian grands, and may be the only Grotrianers on the board too.

So I'm curious what you're playing on
_________________________
pianodevo

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#916036 - 06/14/03 12:27 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
ChickGrand Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 3202
Loc: Midwest U.S.
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianodevo:
chickgrand,

So you're a writer!? Evidently from your last post, a professional? That's interesting ... as far as I knew before your post, this board only had two professional writers, pique and myself.

And *curiously*, we both have Grotrian grands, and may be the only Grotrianers on the board too.

So I'm curious what you're playing on [/b]
Like the flippantly-picked moniker chosen on signup implies (should have done GrandChick and portrayed myself with an alter ego as a large woman): a Chickering concert grand, 1885, ebony, 9 ft.; early, now "classic", simple "modern" design; early entry of the currently typical modern action (all orginal, save the Renner hammers, felts, etc.). Most heavily built piano I've ever encountered; spade legs taper from 12 inches, to 9, then down to 5; 4-inch thick inner rim; massive brace beams; incredible thickness on an edge-to-edge full harp, etc. (1960 pounds--compare to weights of anything made today--only the 10'2" Fazzioli comes even slightly close). My friends are always saying "my girlfriend" needs to go on a diet. All around built like a tank.

Sings diminuitively like a svelt nordic siren with a light touch, but can belt it out like the proverbial fat lady wearing the Viking horns with a slight provocation. (As with his Bose's, Liszt also could not break his two Chickerings currently in the Liszt Museum in Budapest). I'm not trying to see if I can the way he probably did. My ears probably couldn't take it. The final long crescendo on Lecuona's Malaguena is awesome, though, in a way I only ever daydreamed it could be. (Bye-bye other pianos there and then.)

I do still have some more "other" pianos, though, but I might as well not have them as I don't touch them now. Kept a digital for those 4 a.m. impulses for when you just can't get an idea out of your head unless you get up and try it but want to keep peace with the neighbors. Also I keep a massive old 1896 Kimball I've had for 25 years at another home just because its tone is too wonderful to part with. (Yes, there WERE actually great Chicago Kimballs once upon a time, inspite of the recent thread about those awful 50's-80's jobs.)

So, anyway, we're not three-for-three on pianos, and writing. We might have been,if there'd been a Grotian anywhere in my shopping radius. I've read a lot of good things about Grotian. I tend to like the "European sounding" pianos myself and was looking at older, more affordable Bosendorfers (rare), Bechsteins, and Bluthners, with an eye open for a (emphasis on:) reasonably--priced Steinway. Quite accidentally, I found I liked a couple of vintage Chickerings and started seriously leaning that way. Then I found this particular one whose overall voice (especially after I regulated it) better suited my demanding ears than any piano I've ever played (many, usually badly, too).

The Beast is incredibly clear throughout its entire range with no hint of any transition in the string scaling. While the sound has a richness of overtones that seem lacking (to me) in some Steinways, they are taughtly controlled to a distinctly narrow roundness so that there is no muddiness, but neither is there excessive brightness (unless you absolutely pound the last two octaves). The treble and upper tenor shimmer like some of the old Steinway D's, but the bass is clear (even when called to thunder (easy)--hence the itch to do MacGregor's "Libertango" arrangement with that great lefthand). Sealing the deal, it has the best sustain, even in the highest octaves, of any piano I've ever played. Sometimes I very nearly finish a whole cigarette while I listen to a final damper-open sustained chord as it very linearly resolves to what seems will never become full silence unless I finally let off the damper. It's easy to pick out the notes of long 12-note arpeggio sustained. After tone and sustain, the touch is critical and I'm happier with my ease of control of all tonal shades from soft to loud that emerges with varied attack (after my own thorough regulation, with rulers, weights, and all).

The biggest Chickerings were never built in large numbers, by the original Boston company. While many of the smaller ones turned out in large numbers by the original company and by the later company (after the American Piano Co. buyout, which itself folded in 1986) were also quite good, they really aren't in the same class as the big hand-made beasts produced during father and sons' absolute hands-on,innovative, it's-my-name-on-it ownership of the original company. Their pianos were regarded by many as among the finest in the world, topping international competitions with some of their great designs. Great artists, like Liszt, owned them alongside their Bosendorfers.

I feel quite fortunate to have found a very remarkable one of this vintage in great condition for a price that almost makes me ashamed, as an almost thief who traded a slight stack of cold crisp green for a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Whenever I speak to the very kind former owner, he always jokes that since I like it so well, perhaps I should give him "some more money". (He had his chance. I'd have gone much higher for this one if he'd rejected my fist offer--actually, I gave him $750 more than he'd agreed to to ease my conscience). The only other one I've seen like this one, also in great condition, sold the first day it was listed for 16 times what I paid a year ago (way more than I could have swung).

After all that admiration for Chickering above, I must say I had absolutely hated the ancient poorly maintained (if at all) Chickerings in my college practice rooms many years ago (as an amateur intruding lurker). Among the dozen or so new Steinways, I couldn't find a bad one (great tech, still at it today, who made them all sound and feel exactly alike--wonderful--can be done!). So overcoming this old bias and finding myself loving a Chickering, of all things, was a total surprise to me. It made me rethink my bias about other makes and want to learn a lot more about a lot of other forgotten pianos as well.

There used to be 1000's of makers and a variety of wonderful voices among them, I'm sure, bearing names all but forgotten. Or worse still, once-famous names that are now stenciled on Asian and American junk, the likes of which does a great disservice to the distiguished heritage built by exacting standards and hard work, the very "heritage" the companies now trade on with mere frail illusion. Most are mere posers like VW bugs with Rolls Royce grills--they don't fool anybody. Chickerings and Webers, indeed.

(Sorry, I'm off on a rant here. I just prefer to call things what they really are, and while I'm perfectly willing to respect things for what they are actually intended to be, I will only do so if they do not pretend to be what they are not. The mere name just doesn't mean a thing. The quality of materials, purity of design, and caliber of craftsmanship are everything.)

Yep, writing is my primary thing and has been for about 30 years. Everything from investigative, in-depth full-page newspaper, to radio news and TV, to pure fiction, 1 produced play (directed it too--learned why Hitchcock called actors cows), 1 produced film script, and on into heavily technical engineering journal writing, with a lot of contract P.R. writing and graphics design and photo journalism thrown in (to keep it interesting and passably profitable). Just got back from a meeting with a new client this evening for a contract to do a full P.R. genesis for an innovative chemical engineering firm that offers some exciting opportunities to get really creative, especially graphically. (Like most writers, I have the proverbial 1000-page "novel" in a firesafe waiting for a rewrite. (That's actually how I planned to spend this year, but I immediately went piano shopping and, well--so much for that.)

Sorry to go on so long. I do occassionally do short posts, really. My shortest ever (elsewhere) was one well chosen word. (I like how Jackie Collins perks a character along blissfully ignorant of the fact she's killing them off in the same paragraph. I need to learn to do that). If I spent this much time on the novel, it'd be rewritten now.

What type of writing do you and pique do? The last major project I did was the film script, with a team of writers (I started as script editor, but it was so bad I insisted we start over) (the play was a better partnership). It was a fun learning experience, but I have too much vanity to let my real name go on something with as many compromises as were required for what I hated and laughed uncontrollably at in the end. Not quite "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Not nearly so good. It's bad enough that friends and family can identify it (as the worst at the last Sundance) by the fact small portions were filmed at my home!

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#916037 - 06/14/03 02:38 AM Re: Late starting Concert Pianists?
The D's Pianist Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/01
Posts: 624
Loc: Southwestern Oregon
That was a great and interesting post, chickgrand -- I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

Fascinating, by the way, everything about the Chickerings.
_________________________
Musically,
Benjamin Francis
http://www.myspace.com/benjaminfrancis
(I just changed my sig., so no grief, yeah?)
----------
Sofia Gilmson regarding Bach:
"Bach didn't write the subject; he wrote the fugue."

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