Friday, April 23, 2010

Music Festival in Walkerton - 2010

Thank you, Mrs. Lear, for all the time you invest in our lives!

Christopher, Tiana and Linda competed in the 29th Annual Walkerton Festival of Music today.

Here's Critter waiting, and waiting, and waiting...

Christopher was first in his class. He was very nervous, he told me, but he got up and played really well.

Dr. Donald Cook was the adjudicator. His remarks to the children were full of analogies to help the children learn the principles he was teaching.

Here we have five different pieces by 5 different people, he said. We all have some problems in common when we start out playing piano. Just like riding a bike, we wobble a bit when we begin. I'll bet you don't even think about riding a bike now, do you? But you still have to look out for things.

The first thing to learn about piano is the technical stuff - hands and fingers. I look for tension in the fingers. What does the hand look like on the keyboard? Is it like a bird's foot? That means trouble!

When I was a young boy there was a janitor in my school who kept the floors clean with a huge mop. If we came in with dirt on our boots, we knew what the mop felt like on our behinds! The mop wasn't like those mops of today - not a sponge or a Swiffer. It was a long stick with lots of pieces of fabric hanging down loosely.

Do your hands look like a broom, all stiff? Or like a mop, nice and loose? You need to develop nice quiet fingers like the end of a mop.

I started playing piano when I was five, and took lessons for 14 years. When did I stop making mistakes?

The kids hemmed and hawed. Finally, a little tentative voice quavered, "Never?"

Well, you're right, Mr. Cook said. I still make about two mistakes a year. I've already used up my quota for this year. My wife says I make mistakes all the time, but that's another story.

Have you ever broken a window? Did you fix it? Why not?

You can't fix it! You can't glue it back together after it's been shattered. It's gone.

That's how you should view a mistake when you're performing. You can't fix it, so keep going! Next time you're practicing, work on it until you get it right.

Third place went to a boy playing a Leila Fletcher piece. - 82
Second place went to a girl named Gail - 83,
First place went to Christopher - 84.

Tiana's group was next. Kaitlyn played "Inner City Stomp". Judith played "Minuet in F Major by Mozart. Emily played "Old McDonald Had Some Farm" by Mark Nevin. Tiana played Sonatina in G Major by Beethoven - the Second Movement. Lisa played Twilight.

Donald shared his wisdom with the girls.

Technique is important, but watch the tension. Relax those fingers. Find ways to develop flexible finger action.

He played to demonstrate. Same notes, completely different sound, because of stressing different parts.

He told Judith that the minuet is a graceful dance, so it should sound dainty and graceful. Think about what style the piece is. Understand the different styles. This should be elegant and graceful. Keep a steady beat, but make it delicate, more graceful, and lighter.

He played it with a heavy beat, then played it delicately to demonstrate. The notes were right in both cases, but playing without the proper style would be like wearing long johns to dance a minuet, instead of the long, beautiful dresses.

He said it is kind of hard to learn music, because musicians have to practice on their own while everyone else is running out to play. Some instruments take a long time to master. His own daughter played the violin, and sounded terrible for five years. (I never want to go through that again, he quipped.)

He spoke about having variation. When you read f for forte, how hard should you play? Loud, yes, but how loud?

If someone says he wants more ice cream, how much more would you give him? If he was a little baby, you'd give him a little bit, but if he was a big guy, you'd give him a bit more.

How loud you play forte depends on the piece. If it's a soft piece, maybe you only need a bit more sound. If it's a loud piece, you might have to play very loudly. It must be in proportion. It's all relative. Don't play it too loud, or it will sound like turning up the radio very loud in the car. Not at all pleasant.

He reminded Tiana that she should have not slowed down quite so much at the end of bar 16, which calls for a rit. A little slow down in the middle, followed by a more pronounced slow down at the end, would be better. Keep it light, he said.

He asked if the Twilight piece showed the mood well. Did you create the mood? Was it gentle and sensitive? Sometimes the left hand can get in the way. That becomes BORING. Don't stress the left hand... Sing out the right hand. It helps to sing the melody as you practice.

Third: Emily - 82
Second: Lisa - 83
First: Tiana - 84

We then headed over to St. Paul's United Church for Linda's class, which was to be played on a beautiful Grand Piano. Before Linda's competition began, two people played their own composition. Elizabeth played "Bittersweet", and Daniel played "Storm".

The adjudicator spoke of composers like Gershwin and Chopin. Chopin used to write the extra notes in so the person playing the piece would understand how to fill out the sound more. When you write down your score, you make it permanent. It's important to write how you hear it in your head by indicating the staccatos and legatos, etc.

The tone is loud, soft, staccato, legato. It must be blended - like colours on a piano. Communicate the feeling. Match the sound with the name of the song. Bitter (harsh notes) with sweet (soft, beautiful notes).

Daniel wrote much of Storm in a minor mode, which has dramatic appeal. Where is the storm? On any sea? The Dead Sea? Have you been there?

Poetry is the closest thing in words to music. What kind of storm do you want to show? Heavy, intense, short, long? Decide what you want to do... like a single celled amoeba. Daniel has many ideas, but he must choose and develop ONE idea.

Linda's class was next. Jim played a Minuet in G minor. He was obviously nervous and made many mistakes. I felt so bad for him.

Linda played "Winter Scene". Lovely.

Jane played Mendelsohn's Venitian Boat Song. Lyn played "The Lake".

The adjudicator was wonderful and encouraging to all. He asked the competitors, "How much do you play in public?" Linda was the only one who plays publicly (at church) on a regular basis. It makes a big difference.

He said that if you don't play in front of others, your body reacts despite what your brain says. He recommended a book called "The Brain that Changes Itself" to understand neurological responses. Music is great for self expression, and is phenomenal at bringing art right to the people. You must figure out the structure of a song. He used the word structure, as architects call their work "frozen music". If you continue playing in public, you will shape your piece and change it. Performance requires a lot of practice performing.

He demonstrated what the harpsicord would have sounded like by plucking the strings on the Grand Piano. There was much more quietness 400 years ago. No traffic noise. So the instrument would have been quieter. He played to demonstrate how extra sounds were added into the music. The extra sounds are not in the score, but the composers expected the musicians to add them in.

He told Linda that her piece was composed by a man who had just returned from WWII with no marketable skills, so he turned to composing. He won many prizes. He told Linda, "You have a knack for this kind of music. You have a good ear, and you perform often. You have great flexibility and a naturalness of phrasing. The piece was balanced well mechanically. You were guided quite well (Yeah, Mrs. Lear!!). You have patience. Quo vadis? Where are you taking me? Take people to a place the composer wants them to experience. You did that well. Lots of detail. Bravo! Very good.

The adjudicator talked about Mendelssohn who was a great composer, a painter, a writer - brilliant. He wrote a piece for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria to play together. The Wedding March is his most famous piece. He talked about interpretation. How wide is the sound? Do you need to narrow it down? How loud is loud? How soft is soft?

He spoke about Lyn's piece - In the Lake by Rowley. Edward McDowell was a composer whose music jumped around like this. He said that Lyn's co-ordination and balance were very good, but that she needed a little more confidence.

Third: Jean - 83
Second: Lyn - 84
First: Linda - 88!


  1. Hurray!! :D

    Great job, everyone!

  2. Yay!! Cool that everybody got 1st.

    Way to LINDA!! 88 is awesome. Way ahead of everyone else in the class.

    Phew. Glad it's over.

    Very proud of all you guys.


  3. Just for the record, I admired Jim a lot - first of all because he kept trucking even when he made mistakes, and second of all because I know the piece he played and it is HARD. Really hard.

    I meant to tell him that, but I never got a chance. I was amazed at the other competitors, who have been playing for 2-3 years like me, but were all 20, 30, 40 years older than I am. It goes to show you it's never too late to start. :)


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