Thursday, December 20, 2012

George Shearing and his Etude - Chapter Two...

You  will know of the existence of that unique arrangement by Glenn Miller I came across, if you have read my Dec. 6 blog.
As this particular arrangement possesses sufficiently challenging  barriers that compare to difficulties  we find in various classical etudes, I thought that I might accept the challenge by working on it.
The primary problem in this 'etude' is the problem of Memorization. I have never before made an attempt to memorize material that is extemporized, then frozen onto manuscript. It is a surprisingly difficult process, I can assure you. First of all, the arrangement is centered around an isorhythmic pattern in the left hand.  As I had mentioned in my earlier blog, there are over 400 notes  in the left hand on four pages, almost all of which are in steady-moving 16th notes. With the repeat section that  Shearing desires, there are actually almost 500 notes, all in the left hand, coupled with chord formations in the right hand, redolent with Shearing's wonderful sense of harmonic colorization, which gives us almost 1000 notes to have to encounter. All this, plus the reality of notes that were in improvised form, as Shearing himself must have played it - rather strange; I cannot find evidence of a Shearing recording of this arrangement.
And so it is a rather challenging event to come face-to-face with; namely, an event that is based upon reliance of  memorization in order for it to come into existence.
And so, some days ago, I began the process of memorizing this  music in manuscript form   that was actually an improvised approach to this tune by George Shearing; NOT a piece predetermined by form and structure we normally connect to a classical composition.
Well, I  am pleased to tell you  that I just recently have been able to play these 900-plus notes without resorting to the manuscript; all within a matter of days. The final aspect is to determine what to do with these notes now that they are memorized.
So, at this point of time in  my life's experience,  I can now feel certified in the reality that this old muscle positioned between my ears is still working.


Glenn Miller - Chapter Two of My Dec. 6 Blog...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Charles Rosen - The Passing of a Great Musician...

A few days ago, the acclaimed  pianist, educator and writer Charles Rosen, died at the age of 85.
His book on the Age  that gave us Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is, essentially, as valuable a work as can be found concerning these three titans.
Sadly, my experience and his presence at the Eastman School came at different times - I would have loved knowing this man, who emerged as one of the most vital assets which adorn the glorious history of music.
Along with his consummate knowledge base and artistic values, Rosen was, in my view, a world class pianist.
All this, plus his recordings on the Siena piano, arguably the most unique piano extant. The word "unique" may seem, at first flush, rather out-of-place when one discusses the most omnipresent  instrument on the planet.But listen to the Siena piano, crafted around 1800, supposedly, as a gift to a farmer in Siena.
The sound is like no other piano - is it a harp? a guitar, perhaps? some form of harpsichord? a collection of bells?
Do go to you tube to hear examples, not only of the immense performances of Charles Rosen, but also this truly unique example of a piano - you will be enthralled, I assure you.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Pop Tune Becomes An Etude? Read On...

Those within the field of music, along with those close followers of the art full well know that an etude is a piece written for a particular instrument with a particular technical problem endemic to the instrument, usually of palpable difficulty. And if the composer of the etude is a master composer, the etude also can be a great piece of music. The legendary etudes of Chopin are, perhaps, the best example of what heights this particular form of music can reach. Of course, other composers such as Liszt, Schumann and a number of other great writers have also created important etudes.
The other day I came across an arrangement by the great pop pianist George Shearing of a tune written by Glenn Miller in 1939, titled "Moonlight Serenade," which may well be the tune best connected to the career of this eminent arranger and band leader of the mid-twentieth century.
What is striking about the Shearing arrangement is that it towers over all the other arrangements available to the pianist, in terms of concentrated difficulty and wonderfully rich  harmonic material he lends to the melody.
Specifically, it is quite impossible to play well unless(1), the pianist is veritably a world-class sight reader, or(2),all the notes are thoroughly memorized, which puts this arrangement  in a class equal to that of the great classical etudes given us by the great 19th century composers.
There are  well over 400 notes in the left hand, compressed onto four pages, that have to be mastered before the piece comes to life, and these 400 - odd notes form a wonderful harmonic creation underneath the simple and ravishing tune that is "Moonlight Serenade."
For those of you who play piano seriously, and happen to love Glenn Miller's talents, do look for this arrangement. It stands alone, in my view, among the available piano arrangements left to us by George Shearing.