Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Piano Care Tips

Have your piano tuned regularly. Twice a year minimum.

Ask your technician to do a minor "touch-up" regulation at each tuning. This will prevent most instances of
unnecessary wear and breakage.

Have a full regulation done every 2 to 5 years. You'd be surprised at how your piano should have sounded and
responded to you playing all these years.

Don't attempt any "home repairs" on your piano. Although it may appear easy to fix yourself, an innocent mistake
can be costly. Let a technician do it - they have the right tools, replacement parts and expertise to do the job right
the first time.

Keep your piano away from heating registers, radiators, fireplaces and air conditioning vents. Subjecting it to
extreme fluctuations of temperature and humidity levels can do major damage. Keeping a piano away from an
outside wall was probably necessary in poorly insulated older Victorian homes, but should not be a problem these
days. Avoid direct sunlight on your piano - it can damage and fade the finish, or even create horrible tuning
problems. Use curtains or blinds.

Try and keep the temperature and humidity levels as consistent as possible in the room where you have your
piano. Using a temperature/humidity gauge (hygrometer) can keep this in check.
Seasonal swings in relative humidity are the piano's greatest enemy. Swelling and shrinking of wooden parts affect
tuning and keyboard touch, while extreme swings can eventually cause wood to crack and glue joints to fail. Pianos
are happiest in a relative humidity level of 40 to 45 percent. If you don't have a central humidifier/dehumidifier,
consider getting a room humidifier for the winter, and a room dehumidifier or air conditioner during the summer
months. There's even such thing as a special piano humidifier/dehumidifier that can be installed in your piano. Ask
your piano technician.

Keep plants, vases, drinks, or anything to do with liquid off the piano. Condensation can ruin the finish, and
spillage of liquids into the inner mechanism can result in irreversible damage.

To prevent scratches on the finish, never place objects on your piano without a soft cloth or felt.

Don't use furniture polish to clean your piano. It can soften the finish if overused, and the silicone & oils present in
many household brands can even contaminate the wood, despite what the labels may say.

Just feather-dust the piano first (dust is abrasive, so wiping it first can cause scratches), then wipe with a soft,
damp cotton cloth, wiping in the direction of the grain. Then, wipe up any excess moisture with a similar dry cloth.

Do the same thing as above to clean your keys, but use separate cloths for the blacks and the whites. Don't use
cleaning agents!

If more thorough cleaning and polishing is desired, special polishing products are available through us, and they
are made specifically for piano finishes.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Music History Timeline 350AD - 800 AD

350 Foundation of Schola Cantorum for church song, Rome.
386 Hymn singing introduced by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
390 The First “Hallelujah” hymns sung in the Christian Churches.
450 First use of alternative singing between the precentor and community at Roman Church services, patterned after Jewish traditions.
500 Boethius writes “ De Institutione Musica”
500 In Peru, flutes, tubas and drums in use.
521 Boethius introduces Greek musical letter notation to the West.
600 Pope Gregory orders the compilation of church chants, titled “Antiphonar”.
600 Pope Gregory founds the Schola Cantorum in Rome.
609 The crwth, a Celtic string insturment, appears.
619 Chinese start to use orchestras with hundreds of players.
650 Neumes, notation for groups of notes used in music. This system is used in the West until 1050.
725 The court orchestra of Emperor Ming-Huang of China represents the high musical culture of the T'ang dynasty; no harmony or polyphony, five note scale without semitones; flutes, guitars, bells, gongs, drums.
744 Singing school established at the Monastery of Fulda.
750 Gregorian church music is sung in Germany, France, and England.
750 Wind Organs, originally from Byzantium, start to replace water organs in Europe.
790 Schools for church music established at Paris, Cologne, Soissons and Metz, all under the supervision of the Schola Cantorum in Rome.
800 Poems sung to music at Charlemagne’s court.
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The Schola Cantorum - Singing Songs of Praise as One Voice

In the early Christian church creating songs of praise, devotion and thanksgiving, reflected the beauty of the cosmos. When accompanied by dance movements and hand clapping, from the fourth century onward, rhythmical hymnody took the lead. Aurelius Ambrose (St Ambrose c337 – 397) descended from an ancient Roman family. He shaped his ideas of Christianity into melodies that had an ability to excite the listener. These became known generally as Ambrosian hymns. Although his actual personal input remains unknown, the vitality and artistry of his works, intended for the greater good were enjoyed for centuries. Today they still form the basis for many hymns we recognize, want to join in and sing to. Some religious groups use their historical aspect to inspire current worship.

Ambrose, and other church fathers of his day, recognized the importance of emerging music traditions, especially in their relationship to reflecting and inspiring worship and music. They became an important aspect in the development of Christian liturgical traditions as well as the form and arrangement of public worship.

During the fourth and fifth centuries monastic communities exerted a penetrating, and sometimes powerful influence on the spiritual, economic and musical growth of church life. The rite of the Lord’s Supper, which was held in the evening, was often linked with an agape meal or ‘love feast’. This event was interspersed with prayers and songs rendered by a choir. It was an era that marked the beginnings of what is known now as Christian hymnody or, the composing and singing of a group of hymns. Cathedral and church choirs historically and contemporarily are usually made up of a group of people with outstanding voices individually. More than often though, they lack the courage to compete as a soloist in the performance idiom. By singing in community they gain courage, inspiration and momentum to give outstanding performances collectively.

In England during the late sixth century King Ethelbert was growing the city of Canterbury as a centre for faith, worship and music. It became so successful that at one point the English church was described by Rome as being ‘a jewel in the crown’ of the Christian church. By the time of Pope Gregory 1 in the sixth and seventh centuries there was a distinct appreciation of fine singing as well as a genuine regard for a beautiful voice. Pope Gregory re-organized the liturgy and its music, influencing the establishment of a schola cantorum, a choir passionately committed to the singing of psalms (psalmody) as an aspect of divine worship, ‘as if it were one voice’.

Rome became the indisputable centre for the development of church music at this time. Children in orphanages supplied sublime singers for the papal choir of the Sistine Chapel where they were warned that ‘none of the singers should sing faster or louder than the others’.

It was during the seventh century that Isidore of Seville, a notable musical theorist and scholar, remarked how hard it was to notate music. As the recognition that the various sounds the human voice was able to make could be recorded, so did the idea of arranging those notes to make different tunes evolve. Plain or simple at first by the ninth century a form of simple notation recorded the preferred form of plainchant as performed by monks and, as the study of sound and musicality advanced over the centuries, so would compositions become more complex.

The alleluia was an exclamation in general use. It was meant to express thanks, to praise God or to herald relief, welcome and gratitude. Eighth century historian and doctor of the church, the Venerable Bede 672/3 – 735, earned the title ‘Father of English History’. He related the story of a battle known as the ‘Alleluia Victory’ when mariners reputedly shouted the exclamation from ship to ship following their successes.

By the eleventh century a long high note or descant was being set against others signing another whole range of notes, which were then set above the original plainchant melody. Those sustaining the prolonged notes were called ‘holders’ or tenors, while those who sang the descant were called contra tenors. Contra tenors were eventually called ‘altus’ and later, those who sang a part intertwining with the altos were named predictably, contra altos.

Eventually both their parts would be surrounded by two other voices appropriately named sopranus, which means ‘above’ and bassus, which means below. This style of music was called polyphony, meaning the bringing together of a multiplicity of sounds.

Acclaimed castrati, like Farinelli, enjoyed vast riches and royal patronage

During the reign of Henry XVIII’s daughter Elizabeth 1 (1533 – 1603) English composers devoted themselves to creating musical settings for church services resurrected on demand by an ever-expanding middle class. The Book of Common Prayer was revised three times within 10 years to ensure that the latest hymns were included.

Queen Elizabeth 1 loved music both sacred and secular. She was an accomplished musician playing the virginals, an early type of keyboard instrument smaller and simpler than the harpsichord, as well as the lute, a stringed instrument known from the days of ancient Egypt. She was also very fond of dancing to music, particularly The Volta in which ladies jumped ever so elegantly into the air.

Some people thought it was a scandal because the women showed off their knees, but it didn’t dampen their style or enthusiasm.

William Byrd 1543 – 1623, a staunch catholic, was recognized as the leading English composer of his generation. Very versatile Byrd reshaped the amazingly rich musical life of the Christian church in England. It began to dominate the music of the continent in both depth and variety and in a way not seen before or since. His pre-eminent position, when musical publication in England was in its infancy, allowed him to leave a substantial printed legacy formatted at the inception of many important musical forms.

He also exerted an influence on the music of the Low Countries (The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) and Germany and his outstanding legacy in sacred choral composition consists of two huge volumes entitled “Gradualia” (published 1605 and 1607). This work was made up of shorter pieces of great clarity, making them one of the supreme testaments in the history of western music.

As musical style developed an interest in the differences in the range and timbre differences of lower male voices also meant the last primary voice type, the baritone (Greek for weighty sound), came into use.

They also constantly experimented with high voices, creating a vibrato by using turn and trills adding yet another layer of richness. As even higher treble voices became an aim, and the church would not use women’s voices, they used a high turnover of young boys, at least until their voices broke.

That would not change until the sixteenth century when mature males arriving from Spain were found able to sing in falsetto. This was because they had been surgically castrated before puberty. Castration as a practice dates from the ancient civilization at Sumer. It results in the development of an unusually large rib cage and retention of an infantile larynx. High notes of great purity are the result. As much of Spain was under the domination of the Moors during the Middle Ages castration served two purposes, for purity of voice and to provide eunuchs to guard a Harem. Eunuch singers are known to have performed in the choir at the Haghia Sophia, the great church of early Christendom, that became a mosque in Byzantium (modern day Istanbul).

In Europe the practice began to die out in the late eighteenth century and was finally banned in Italy in the late nineteenth century with the last castrati singing in the Sistine Chapel choir early in the twentieth century.

On St. Cecilia’s Day, 22 November 1903 pope, Pius X, issued instruction “Whenever … it is desirable to employ the high voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church.”

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2010 – 2012


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Friday, April 20, 2012


Beethoven Symphony No. 2

In Beethoven's day, most music was taught by private instruction. Beethoven had the good fortune to be taught by some of the finest teachers of his era. The first of his teachers that we know about besides his father is Christian Gottlieb Neefe, who thought much of his young student and instilled in him a love for Bach by having Beethoven learn how to play Bach's set of preludes and fugues in The Well Tempered Clavier. Beethoven also studied with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, an acknowledged master of counterpoint. Joseph Haydn taught Beethoven for two years and their relationship was strained. Haydn called Beethoven 'The Great Mogul' and Beethoven refused to be acknowledged as a Haydn pupil. Antonio Salieri also taught Beethoven about vocal composition, especially for opera.

But perhaps the best teacher Beethoven had was experience. At age 14 he was named organist for the Choir of Maximillian Franz, and he also played the violin well enough to be in t he orchestra for the Bonn Opera house for four seasons. His time as an orchestral musician was no doubt of the utmost usefulness to the budding composer as he rehearsed and played through the operas of Mozart and many others.

Beethoven used that experience to good effect in his first symphony, written in 1799 and first performed in 1800 at a concert that also saw the premiere of his 2nd Piano Concerto and Septet. This was Beethoven's initial concert of works in Vienna. His Second Symphony followed closely behind, as he began writing it in 1800 and finished it in 1802.

He wrote much of the symphony while staying in Heiligenstadt, where he came to terms with his increasing hearing difficulties. The prospects of his growing totally deaf were a hard blow to overcome for Beethoven. He was at the point of taking his own life. But he came to terms with it and went on to take a different path in his compositions. In some ways, the second symphony was the very beginning of this new path, and considering the state of his mind during some of his stay in Heiligenstadt, the work is remarkable for its confidence and playfulness.

The symphony is in 4 movements

1) Adagio molto: Allegro con brio - The symphony begins with an Introduction that makes its way to the opening theme, with an outburst in D minor thrown in for good measure. The first theme is full of energy and spirit with a rapid connecting piece to the second theme. The connecting music that leads to the recapitulation has some of the syncopated off-beat accents that Beethoven was fond of. The development sees Beethoven modulating and varying both the main themes and their accompaniments. The recapitulation is condensed considerably and has a coda added to it.

2) Larghetto - The second movement is in sonata form, and contains some of Beethoven's most lyrical writing for the orchestra. It is also rather long for a 'slow' movement, but the sheer beauty of the music and the way it is presented makes it seem shorter than it is.

3) Scherzo: Allegro - Beethoven's first use of the term 'scherzo' in his symphonies. This movement is a foreshadowing of the originality and rhythmic vitality of the Beethoven that is to come in the later symphonies. The contrast between loud and soft 'makes' the joke in the scherzo and plays a part in the trio also, along with the chattering bassoons and other woodwinds. The scherzo moves briskly along, and seems like it just got started before it is over.

4) Allegro molto - This is the movement that gave Beethoven's contemporary audiences the most problem. The orchestra begins the movement with a huge 'dip' from G down 12 notes to C.

This was looked upon at the time as bizarre at best and downright crude at worst. There has been all kinds of interpretations concerning this re-occurring rondo theme, even to a modern-day idea that Beethoven was depicting the noises he made due to his poor digestion, that it is a hiccup, belch or (heaven forbid in a piece of 'serious' music) a fart. Or it could just have been an attention-getter to make the listeners of the day sit up and take notice whether they liked it or not. Kind of like a jab in the side to get one's attention. Be that as it may, the entire movement was something of a novelty of the time.

Beethoven was a composer that was always growing, always evolving. The second symphony is not a revolutionary symphony as was the third, but it was markedly different in tone and expression if not in form. Indeed, the second symphony is as far as Beethoven could go within the confines of the form as known by Haydn and Mozart. To go further, he had to add and expand on the form and technique of the symphony until he made it his own.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012


Improving Your Piano Sight Reading Abilities

When you are ready to learn a new piece of music for the piano, do you find that you spend days or even weeks carefully reviewing each note? Does the frustration of this process make you long to simply give up on the piano completely and give up on your desires of creating lovely music? Do you watch other people play the piano and wish that you could read the music as quickly and easily as they do? With the tips offered here, you can enjoy those same skills. All you need is the desire to learn and implement these tips.

1. Practice sight reading! Just as with any other skill, the more you practice, the better you will get. Also, when you focus so much on memorizing the music that you will perform for other people, your skills at sight reading new tunes can fade. To keep your sight reading skills high, make it a point to also play new and fresh pieces. Taking the time to sight read new piano sheet music just for fun and for the sight reading practice will help your skills at sight reading to rapidly expand and grow.

2. It doesn't have to be perfect! When sight reading music, it's okay to cut yourself some slack. You will miss a few notes, or play a dynamic or tie slightly off. It's okay and natural for this to happen when sight reading. The main thing is to keep going. Don't stop to correct yourself. Corrections are for serious practice. The main idea is simply to keep going and get a good feel for that point.

3. Focus on rhythms! When you are able to see a rhythm and quickly understand that, your sight reading skills will greatly improve. In order to quickly understand what the rhythms should sound like, you may need to focus more on that particular element. If you are practicing and find that you are facing a section where you really don't know the rhythm, it's okay to take a moment to consider what it is about that section that is causing problems for you. Look at the core note values, see if you can identify common rhythmic figures. Another tip that can help you improve your sight reading is to focus on sight reading pieces that are within the same time signature. Once you are really comfortable with a basic 4/4-time, then you can move on to 3/4, 6/8 and other time signatures.

4. Work on the clefs individually! If notes rather than rhythm is presenting a challenge, it's important that you take the time to work on each clef by itself. Once you are comfortable with each clef, you can combine the two to enjoy the beautiful melody. If you are struggling more with the bass clef then give your right hand a break. Play on reading just the notes of the left hand, even ignoring the rhythm if you need to..

5. Work on one key signature at a time! Many less advanced piano players find it hard to determine which notes should be flat or sharp. When you focus on a single key signature for an extended period of time, it will be easier for you to identify which notes should be sharpened or flattened. You will find that your hands will begin to take on a life of their own as they fly across the black and white keys completely naturally. Combine this tip with scale exercises and you will find that your sight reading skills will improve even more quickly.

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