The Jukebox Album – Tom Poster (piano) and Elean Urioste (violin)
Few of us believed the 2020 lockdown would go on for more than a couple of weeks. In the midst of the initial announcement by government, many musicians – and others – watched in horror as their work dried up overnight. When it became apparent that this was no “two weeks to flatten the curve”, musicians had no work in prospect with concert halls and venues closed for the foreseeable future. Bereft of live performances, many turned to the internet as a means of sharing their music with others and a number of very imaginative projects grew out of the weeks of isolation.
#UriPosteJukeBox, created by violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster (the handle is a portmanteau of their surnames, and they are a husband-and-wife duo), was originally intended “to simply to keep our minds sharp, fingers busy, and friends smiling” (Elena Urioste) by sharing a daily music video for each day spent in isolation. The inclusion of the word “jukebox” in the hashtag gave the project “an old-timey method of enjoying music” and the musicians invited their virtual audience to suggest what they might play, thereby adding another “jukebox” element to their performances. Flooded with requests, the project that took off in ways the duo had never dreamed of, capturing the imaginations and hearts of listeners around the world, and embracing requests that traversed many musical genres – from Bach to Britney Spears, Mozart to Messiaen, Sondheim to nursery rhymes and even mash-ups of pop songs of the 1980s! The pair entertained their virtual audiences and followers with daily videos, featuring increasingly elaborate costumes, props, additional instruments, and multi-tracking. In all, they made 88 videos – one for each key on the piano. The impact of the endeavour and the joy it brought to so many during an extraordinarily challenging time was formally recognised with a Royal Philharmonic Society Inspiration Award
The project also led to new commissions – An Essay of Love by Mark Simpson (conceived for the pair even before they approached him), Bloom by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Emotiva by Clarice Assad, Arietta by Huw Watkins, Bha là eile ann (There was a different day) by Donald Grant, and Peace by Jessie Montgomery-, pieces written in response to or reflections on lockdown and the strange, uncertain days of 2020. These pieces were premiered in the daily music videos and have now found their way onto The Jukebox Album, a collection of 16 of the duo’s favourite pieces from the project.
In keeping with the eclecticism and imagination of the original project, the album presents a wide range of music – from much-loved favourites like A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Send In The Clowns and La Vie En Rose (all given a wonderfully “vintage” sound through Urioste’s silky violin tone and Poster’s warm piano sound) to works by Lili Boulanger, Cecile Chaminade and Gabriel Fauré.
The opening track, Jerome Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining, reflects the spirit of the whole Jukebox project: bereft of concert work, Poster and Urioste sought a silver lining in their own situation, and embarked on something primarily to keep themselves occupied and to give them focus (“I probably would’ve put the violin in its case and not seen it for a month or two” – Elena Urioste), but which quickly became something joyful and uplifting to lighten the darkest days of lockdown, providing comfort and pleasure to the many people who craved music and connection.
The resulting Jukebox Album is a ‘recital disc’ of great variety and charm, all performed with commitment, care and obvious affection. Perhaps it is just the effect of listening after 18 months of lockdowns, restrictions, heightened anxiety, loss….but many of the pieces are tinged with poignancy – Bha là eile ann (There was a different day) by Donald Grant is a real tear-jerker track, but this is quickly dispelled by the jollity of the finale, Jukebox Toodle-oo, which features Tom Poster on piano, cello, descant recorder, kazoo, and swanee whistle, and has a delightful 1930s foot-tapping swing.
“This is the music we’ve loved our whole lives. The music world likes to pigeon-hole people, but this felt like the most authentic version of ourselves musically that we’ve ever been able to be publicly, because this is the music we’ve always loved playing.” – Tom Poster
The Jukebox Album is available on the Orchid Classics label
Tom and Elena chat about The Jukebox Album:
Tom: Which was your favourite track to record on The Jukebox Album?
Elena: I think I’d have to say the opening track, Jerome Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining. Not only did I get to multi-track four violin parts using the shimmeriest old-school sound I could produce, but the whole track had an authentic sense of #UriPosteJukeBox spontaneity, as Tom decided to arrange it the night before the recording sessions!
Elena: And which was your favourite track?
Tom: Almost certainly the closing track, the Jukebox Toodle-oo. Prior to this whole project, I really never expected to find myself laying down tracks on recorder, cello, swanee whistle and kazoo at the Menuhin Hall for Orchid Classics…
Tom: What was the funniest moment in the Jukebox Album recording sessions?
Elena: Sitting with our engineer, Patrick Allen, both of us crying with laughter as Tom recorded his kazoo tracks. I wish the adrenaline-fuelled (and wildly inaccurate) first take had been preserved on the final recording…
Elena: What was your favourite costume in the original #UriPosteJukeBox video series?
Tom: Probably the (accidental) Tin Teletubby of Oz. Or perhaps Olaf the Snowman, except for the carrot nose which kept poking me in the eyes, and the fact that Elena made me crouch down behind a piano as she attempted multiple takes of her opening monologue.
Tom: What’s one piece/song that was never requested which you’d have loved to include?
Elena: Boyz II Men’s On Bended Knee, though I’m afraid I don’t think I could do Wanya’s vocal pyrotechnics justice on the violin.
Elena: Who were you most worried might see the Jukebox series, and which video were you most hoping for them not to see?
Tom: My longtime piano teacher, Joan Havill. Having spent many years poring over the finer details of late Beethoven sonatas with her, I felt particularly nervous about the idea that she might see me playing Beyoncé on the recorder in the bath. In fact, I know she did see some of the videos (“well it’s lovely for people to see a lighter side of you, darling“) though I’ve no idea if she saw that one…
Elena: As many of our die-hard viewers know, Joey Urioste (Elena’s parents’ dog) starred in a few Jukebox videos. If you could invite any other animal to guest star, what/who would it be?
Tom: Gerald the proboscis monkey
Tom: Would you rather (a) walk out on stage to play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto at the Proms, having never played the bassoon, or (b) play every recital for the rest of your career with a pair of trousers hanging off your head, without ever being able to explain the reason?
Elena: The latter – in fact I think I’m going to do it regardless.
Elena: Koalas or wombats?
How the Taubman Approach reimages traditional practicing
guest post by Edna Golandsky
The phrase “Practice makes perfect” is a commonplace in piano pedagogy. But what do we do when practice doesn’t make perfect?
When I was a young student, my teacher would tell me to practice for two hours a day, repeating pieces over and over again, to further develop my technique. Since the pieces were memorized, and all I had to do was let my fingers play on their own, I started putting books on the piano stand and read a book while I practiced, thinking I could accomplish two things at the same time. It was only many years later, after my eight years of study at Juilliard when I began working with Dorothy Taubman, that I began to understand the negative results of this kind of practicing. I began to use my brain in a whole new way and understood that true learning starts with the brain instructing the hands how to move, and then, my hands sending a message back to the brain indicating whether or not those instructions improved the passage.
My own experience during my early years at the piano is not unique. Repetition, either of passages, exercises or pieces is the norm in piano pedagogy. Below are some of the more common, traditional approaches to practicing:
- Repeating passages endlessly in the hope of producing fluidity, speed and security.
- Using different rhythms and transposing passages into different keys to master passages.
- Doing exercises that are supposed to develop finger strength and dexterity. Developed by Hanon, Czerny, Pischna, Phillipe, Dohnanyi and other pedagogues. These exercises include finger isolation exercises, which are often done with curled fingers, stretching exercises, pushing, and pressing hard into the key, and more.
- Relaxing, what we call breaking the wrist fulcrum, which is often done on downbeats.
The first two approaches to practicing listed above have not shown themselves to be sufficiently effective in developing or enhancing overall technique. The third and fourth approaches not only fail to advance the technique but actually can lead to fatigue, tension, and pain. Nevertheless, all of these routines, as well as others have been around for at least two centuries and have survived until today as the mainstay for building technique.
Efficient practicing is the cornerstone to advancing at the piano; the more effectively the student can use his or her time at the piano, the greater the progress will be. What all these approaches mentioned above don’t consider is that existing technical problems must be addressed and resolved in order for practicing to be effective.
Technical problems can be caused by any number of reasons. The necessary alignment between fingers, hand, and forearm may be missing. For example, the fingers are often isolated, curled and stretched. The seat height may be too high or too low. The hand may be twisting to the right or the left from the wrist joint. The elbows may be too far out or too far in. The choice of fingering may be faulty. All of these reasons result in fatigue, tension, and pain. Uncorrected, they can lead to serious injury.
Enter the Taubman Approach: a comprehensive approach to piano playing that addresses all aspects of piano technique and, in the process, transforms the way we practice.
Practicing efficiently starts by initially solving the specific technical problems that obstruct learning. The goal of this approach is a technique that is free of symptoms, with freedom, ease and security. Once the issues are resolved and the technique is working well, practice becomes efficient, pieces can be learned faster, and endless repetition becomes unnecessary.
The process I outline below is the way students practice in the Taubman Approach:
- Unless the piece feels comfortable from beginning to end, the student comes to the lesson with specific passage problems that he or she has been unable to resolve.
- The Taubman teacher diagnoses the root causes of the problem.
- The teacher shows the student the solution. The student tries the solution and gives the teacher feedback until the problem is resolved.
- The student practices the solutions between lessons. The practicing is done on the material covered at the lesson. Initially, he or she practices the solutions at a reduced tempo, and the movements are somewhat exaggerated. Everything practiced leads to the final result.
- The student increases the speed as the solution takes root and playing becomes easier and more comfortable.
- The solution is then put into a broader context: first the phrase, then the section, then the entire piece.
There is a high level of precision within these types of solutions, and they are best handled with an experienced Taubman teacher. Practicing has to be result-based, which means that the student has to be involved in the process of learning and practicing. The brain can best absorb a small amount of information at any given time. The student practices for as long as he or she can concentrate and takes a break when necessary. It is best to repeat only until the hoped-for result is obtained, and then move on. Discomfort and pain always indicate a problem and the student should stop, as continued practice will exacerbate the problem.
When students first come to me, I evaluate the overall situation. Often, they come with serious injuries that need in-depth work, which can necessitate fundamental changes. These changes are made gradually, in short intervals of practicing, until the hands begin to function normally. The students start with scales, passages, arpeggios. They then progress into pieces of music and develop additional skills, such as intervals, chords, jumps of every kind and more. As the work continues into musical interpretation, practice includes how to get all the different qualities of sound, how to achieve true legato effects, physical shaping, rhythmic expression and timing.
On some occasions, people come with technique that works well, but with a problem in certain area, such playing octaves quickly or getting big rich sounds that are not harsh without getting tired. I show them how to resolve the specific problem and explain how to practice the solution to get the best results.
The correct technique, learned and practiced correctly, can last a lifetime. Playing becomes as natural as walking and talking; the hands don’t forget.
In the Taubman Approach, we first learn the correct technique, then practice it in the ways described above until it becomes as natural to us as walking and talking. When the playing is correct the hands don’t forget what to do, and the skills can last for a lifetime. In that way,
“Practice can indeed make perfect!”
Edna Golandsky is a world-renowned piano pedagogue, the leading exponent of the Taubman Approach, and the Founder of the Golandsky Institute.
A graduate of the Juilliard School, where she studied under Jane Carlson, Rosina Lhévinne, and Adele Marcus, Ms. Golandsky has earned worldwide acclaim for her pedagogical expertise, extraordinary ability to solve technical problems, and her penetrating musical insight.
9/11 : 20
Memorials on the twentieth anniversary of September 11th
Adam Swayne, piano
British pianist Adam Swayne’s latest disc marks the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 – a date which is deeply, painfully etched on our collective modern memory – and seeks to demonstrate ways in which composers memorialise or commemorate disaster through works by three American composers which deal with the events of 9/11 and their aftermath.
Karen Walwyn’s suite ‘Reflections on 9/11’ reference September 11, 2001 directly, and the time since, but the attacks themselves are absent. Instead, in Anguish (No. 3) a plaintive melody is grafted onto an unsettled arpeggio accompaniment, redolent of Ravel’s Ondine. Growing increasingly textural and virtuosic, the music descends into trauma, with dissonant bell-sounds heard through a hectic melee of notes, before a reprise of the opening. Burial (No. 6), by contrast is sombre and introspective with an ostinato bass overlaid by an elegaic melody. A series of key changes lift and pierce before the music settles back into f minor with a sense of acceptance and, ultimately, hope.
These two pieces set the tone for the whole album: here we have music which memorialises rather than portrays the actual cataclysmic events, with a range of emotions from profound melancholy to anger, sorrow to resignation.
The centre-piece of the disc is ‘Sudden Memorials’, a brand new work by Kevin Malone, who has written eight works to date reflecting on the events and aftermath of 9/11. In 2006, he visited Shanksville, Pennsylvania, close to the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. The perimeter fence is adorned with objects of remembrance and honour, left by visitors to the site; such public forms of commemoration have become common in recent years (flowers, candles, stuffed animals, religious objects) as a means for people to mark their own history and to create a public space for individuals and communities to unite in and express their grief. Malone’s 30-minute composition captures in sound the instant and transient memorials that friends and relatives leave at the scene of a tragedy. Specially commissioned by Adam Swayne, the music reflects these myriad, fleeting memorials through brief quotations and “found” fragments from and references to, for example, hymn tunes, sports songs, gospel, Debussy, Chopin, lounge jazz and even birdsong; like the personal memorials on the Shanksville fence, these musical fragments are intended to trigger emotional responses from innocence and hope to grief, resignation and spiritual contemplation. The piece is dedicated to Adam Swayne, Adam, who gives the world première of the piece at London’s Wigmore Hall on 11th September 2021 at 1pm, the exact hour in Britain twenty years on the from the beginning of 9/11.
The other contemporary work on the disc is ‘Missing Towers’ by David Dei Tredici, the third part of his four-part Gotham Glory (2004). A two-part canon is used to symbolise the Twin Towers, while the music seeks to portray in miniature the epic scale of the absence and emptiness created by the collapse of those buildings. An arresting, reflective piece and a fitting close to the album.
This is not angry music (for that see Adam Swayne’s previous album). It does not rage against circumstances nor wring its hands in sorrow; yet one senses the grief and fury, held in check but only just beneath the surface. The music is spare, stoical, fragile, tender as a bruise, yet we know the wounds go much, much deeper. It’s music of extraordinary beauty and poignancy, shot through with memories, riven with emotion, yet never sentimental.
These contemporary pieces are interleaved with works by American composers from a century earlier. ‘The Tides of Manaunaun’ by Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was inspired Irish mythology and portrays the marine effects created when Manaunaun, the Irish god of the sea swayed the particles of the cosmos in rhythmical, tidal movements “so that they should remain fresh when the time came for their use in the building of the universe” (Henry Cowell). The pieces requires the pianist to use the forearm to play large note clusters and the resulting timbres, textures and rolling rhythms are evocative of the violent movement of the ocean (and by association, perhaps, the roar of explosions and the sounds of falling buildings?). Over this dramatic, plangent bass line is a melody suggestive of an American hymn tune or spiritual. By contrast, ‘Fabric’ is almost romantic in style, but its contrapuntal lines and twining melody ensure the music never fully settles. In ‘Aeolian Harp’, Cowell utilises the piano’s strings which are strummed and plucked to create a piece of naive intimacy and delicacy.
Solace by Scott Joplin draws on Cuban habanera and Argentine tango, as well as the African American Ragtime for which Joplin is best known. Not only does the work create a wistful interlude of calm and reflection, it is also a reminder of the diversity of America’s culture and its people.
Adam Swayne is masterful and convincing in this repertoire, bringing virtuosic swagger when required, tempered by sensitively shaped phrases and spare rubato. The emotions and memories aroused by the music are never far from the surface, but Swayne ensures the main message remains clear: this is music about remembrance, reflection and commemoration. Like his previous album, Speak To Me, Swayne has brought together a fascinating range composers and music whose fundamental messages will resonate with many people. This is his personal memorial to the terrible events of 9/11.
The album cover image is a print of a wire sculpture by Scottish artist Vanessa Lawrence called “Together”. Vanessa was undertaking an artist residency in the North Tower on 9/11 and witnessed the terrible events at close-hand.
9/11 : 20 is released on September 11, 2021 on the Coviello Contemporary label and via streaming services. Album launch and concert at London’s Wigmore Hall on 11th September.
Adam Swayne’s career spans the roles of soloist, composer, conductor and teacher. He takes an inclusive and innovative approach to performance, putting communities at the heart of the music-making.
Adam is Deputy Head of Keyboard Studies at the RNCM and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He studied as a Fulbright Scholar with Ursula Oppens at Northwestern University in Chicago between 2003 and 2006. He has been fascinated by America and American music ever since.
Adam’s first CD for Coviello, (speak to me), featured American political music ranging from Amy Beth Kirsten to Rzewski, was selected as an Instrumental Monthly Choice by BBC Music Magazine, and received two nominations at the 2019 Opus Klassik awards in Germany.
Adam is concerned with the importance of music in commemoration. In 2012 he organised concerts for the centenary of the Titanic disaster, including a performance of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic in Southampton’s Guildhall on the exact anniversary of the tragedy.
Track list for ‘9/11:20’:
- Karen Walwyn: Reflections on 9/11 (Nos. 3+6)
- Henry Cowell: The Tides of Manaunaun, Fabric + Aeolian Harp
- Kevin Malone: Sudden Memorials
- Scott Joplin: Solace
- David Del Tredici: Missing Towers
Ahead of the world premiere of his new piano work Sudden Memorials, written in response to the aftermath of 9/11, composer Kevin Malone shares insights into his creative life, his influences and inspirations and why he thinks we need to take more “time to think”….
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Roger Mroz, my first serious saxophone teacher in Buffalo, New York, has left a positive, indelible influence on my teenage psyche regarding high levels of performance and serious repertoire. Ken Radnofsky at New England Conservatory offered wisdom by telling me to attend cello and voice masterclasses so that I wouldn’t be just a saxophonist, but instead like a musician who considers the context of interpretation.
When I stumbled upon the music of Rouse, Stravinsky, Weir, Reich, Beethoven, Crumb and Laurie Anderson, I realised that there are approaches to composition outside “the system,” yet their works contained logic, rigour and a strong sense of internally-established identity which made sense to me. Discovering the music of Ives at age 14 changed my life completely. His meticulous irrationality (an oxymoron, but an accurate description!) gets to the heart of what it’s like to be human: the visceral and philosophical self being one.
All of the above meld into how I think of what a composition is for me: a script for musicians to act upon, to interpret.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Without any doubt, it is time to think. Teaching at a university is about productivity, making it challenging to create anything truly unique to add important works to the repertoire or broaden musical expressivity. If we had time to think, then we could properly assess where we’ve come from and where we are in musical composition. For the past 60 years, the focus in the arts has been on manner, not substance, and manner (style) is highly marketable so it’s taken precedence. These mannerisms pretend to address the above questions, but instead they create a veneer to evade truly addressing and reevaluating compositional substance.
There’s also time wasted because, as a citizen, we have responsibilities to challenge oppression, injustice and maltreatment. When a government sets out to privilege its financial support base and offer promises specific to its voting base, then every musician and composer must join others to take action. That takes up much mental space and time. I’ve been shocked when some composer associates have told me that such activism is up to others, even though my associates will benefit, because they claim they are here to be composers.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
I usually come up with ideas which I’m burning to compose into audience experiences; some of these become proper commissions, such as Sudden Memorials for Adam Swayne. When approached with a commission idea, then I like lots of discussion to ensure I honour the commissioner. For example, A Day in the Life is a violin concerto commissioned in 2018 by Andy Long, Associate Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North. He had a very specific brief that it should relate to Robert Blincoe, an indentured child forced to work in Northern textile mills in the late 18thC. I undertook massive amounts of research into Blincoe, indentured children and historic and current Northern mills. We discussed the proposed scenario at length, considered the audience, and after many coffees together, the music just flowed, since we had devised the vessel inside which the music would sail with many adventures along the way.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?
Oh my, that’s everything! With some close artistic associates, I actually want to completely let go of the piece when I give it to them, so that it’s entirely theirs. I want to wait until they perform it before I hear it! That level of trust and synchronised thinking is rare, but so very precious.
With others, I like to get into lots of conversations about what the piece should be doing for the listener, and how they may wish to change things here and there to achieve that. I want to hear and learn about their sound, timing, phrasing and articulation so that they and the music are speaking the same language, dialect and accent as to what I intended.
Of which works are you most proud?
Eighteen Minutes (concerto for double basses) and Requiem77 (cello and voices) for their simplicity and directness (both are on iTunes and Spotify)
Sudden Memorials (piano) and Opus opera (string quartet) for their scale which goes beyond structures, and variety of emotional unfolding.
A Day in the Life (violin concerto) and The Water Protectors for their thorough grounding in people’s experiences, tribulations and activism
And HerStories Unsung Vol.1 and The People Protesting Drum Out Bigly Covfefe for the reaction they evoke from audiences: real audience participation! Check out the premiere by Diana Lopszyc of HerStories: Lilith:
and The People Protesting premiere by Adam Swayne:
How would you characterise your compositional language?
It is polystylistic in that each work is a heady brew of multiple styles and dialects, aimed at thwarting predictability as to what comes next, yet often imbued with familiar sounds in unusual gestures. For example, a series of triadic chords may appear – what I call “tonal artefacts” – and sometimes they might suggest a sort of archaeological dig revealing a tonal centre, but one which is seriously disjointed (not apologetically muddied or blurred). So it sounds familiar, but the syntax is wildly new.
I like what Beethoven said: good music should always have beauty and surprise. That’s a powerful combination when it’s understood and balanced. I would say my music is 20% music for music’s sake, and 80% music for listener’s emotional and psychological enlivenment. I like to experiment with new approaches in compositions for ensembles, and not to experiment with the musicians themselves. As a performer for many years, it was disheartening to have a composer ignore the many thousands of hours I put into a wide palette of solid technique, only to find that I had to develop an equally convincing technical range for just this one composer for just one piece (which most likely would be performed once). We are social beings, and it is important to respect what your musicians bring to the table. A medium-size orchestra offers 600,000 hours of high-level musicality to a composer, so to ignore that is quite arrogant!
How do you work?
I think of what the audience experience would be, then I make a structural diagram of that experience, as specific as 2” phrases in some places. The structure is drawn linearly, often stretching four meters left to right. While I create the structure, I hear musical ideas in my head to make that experience, writing them in notation and English and taping the bits of paper to where they will be most effective. Eventually, the structure suggests where new ideas and developed ideas should go to best create that experience. This is wildly different from what I was taught, which was to take an idea(s) and develop it to see where it goes. I don’t think an audience cares to hear what decisions a composer took (that’s composerly-orientated music). To my ears, that approach sounds like the minutes of a staff meeting or a logical proof being justified. I’d rather focus on giving the audience an experience instead of asking them to experience my music as a composition.
This may sound quite opinionated, but I think of it as my music having an opinion – and strong ones at that – so that its narrative is spicy, flavourful, sometimes contradictory, always provocative.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To attain a sustained high level of craft which produced provocative, original works that communicate to audiences. I am suspicious of celebrity artists; surely hearing their artistry without knowing who they are should have the same value as knowing their identity. But sadly, there’s so much emphasis on marketing the person and putting artists into gladiator-type situations like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, where artists are spontaneously judged with the goal of choosing one winner and many dozens of losers. I’d love to see a TV show called Comp Idol: composers writhing in ecstatic spasms of inspiration, trying to impress instead of express. (Channel 4: I have the treatment already drawn up.)
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To work your ass off. To not underestimate the incalculable hours and years of work it takes to really say something artistically. To seek criticism from every quarter. To take risks. To not be defensive. To not try to be original, but instead to be genuinely the best of what’s inside you, which takes a lifetime. When these are achieved, you’ll be making a unique contribution to that life-force we call music.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
To teach the art-music of our diverse cultures from pre-school onward as compulsory in every school. To insist on accurate representations of art-music (it is for all people, not just certain social classes) and a vocabulary to talk about it (a perfect fifth is a perfect fifth in classical, hip-hop, reggae, ska, house, techno, jazz, folk, pop, etc.). To have a funded community orchestra/ensemble in every borough, and to make it accessible to everyone. Look at all the sports facilities in boroughs (wonderful!) but where is the funding for expressive arts? This mirrors the contempt that governments have for the power of the expressive arts: the mechanism which activates people to raise their voices and have their say.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I have no idea. I live mostly in the present, evaluating where I’ve come from.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don’t believe people should try to achieve happiness (a goal, a thing); rather, people should be happy (action, doing). This means making happy feelings for ourselves: they are our responsibility and under our control, and can change as circumstances change. For me, that is to write music which is rich with emotions and psychological states (wit, humour, sadness, surprise) and rigorously structured.
Is music the most important thing to me? No, but it is the only portal through which I achieve clarity to find out.
What is your most treasured possession?
It’s my Soviet-issued ceramic bust of Lenin which was given to me by the Composers Union of Ukraine. In 1994, they were no longer required to keep it on display in their office. I keep Lenin’s head warm with a pink pussy hat I knitted 5 years ago.
What do you enjoy doing most?
For leisure, watching films, which is such a widely diverse art form. What I enjoy doing most is composing when I’m not relaxing.
What is your present state of mind?
Great anxiety for society and humanity due to the immense greed of politicians and wealth-extraction industries (i.e. most capitalist businesses). But day to day, I am enriched by my partner and our long-haired German Shepherd dog; they buoy my hope for the future.
Sudden Memorials by Kevin Malone receives its world premiere in a concert by pianist Adam Swayne at London’s Wigmore Hall on Saturday 11th September at 1pm, the exact hour in Britain twenty years on the from the beginning of 9/11. More information
The score of Sudden Memorials is available from Composers Edition
The work of Kevin Malone spans genres and media beyond conventional labelling. He is equally at home with electronics, multimedia and harpsichords to choirs and orchestras, embracing postmodernist and hybrid approaches across his work.
Abandoning high Modernism, Malone speaks with an open, personal expression, freeing his music from the baggage of serious high art music without actually throwing away the bags.
Read more www.opusmalone.com
I understand you took up the piano during lockdown. What prompted you to do this and did you have any experience of playing the piano before then?
Yes, I started learning the piano shortly after the first lockdown hit, when I went to stay with my girlfriend (for the lockdown period). She has played the piano since she was a child. We dug her keyboard out of the loft with the intention of her brushing up on her technique, but after an hour of us playing around and her showing me a couple of easy things to play, I was hooked.
I have not had any experience with, or exposure to any instruments before, so I had to start with the basics. Not knowing anything at all about reading music, chords, key signatures etc., but with a brain that has a thirst for knowledge, I set out on my journey.
What attracted you to the piano?
It was more about circumstances than attraction. I had always wanted to learn an instrument and when I was presented with lots of time on my hands and the keyboard in front of me, I jumped at the chance.
What have been the pleasures and challenges of learning to play the piano?
There have been many challenges, but I think the main one for me was finding the right things to practise/learn and in what order. Whilst teaching myself in a lockdown, I read many books and watched loads of YouTube videos. I found that information was often just repeating things I had already learned. The other challenges included getting my hands to do different things at the same time and then, when I bought myself a pedal, adding that third thing ….. a challenge which I still struggle with.
When I am sitting at my keyboard and no matter what I am doing, whether it’s playing a piece, doing scales of chord progression, or learning a new piece, the pleasures for me are that nothing else matters in the world at that point, I am completely present in the moment. That is what hooked me at the beginning and still does now.
How much practising do you do on a daily basis?
I can normally manage an hour’s practise each day; more if I am lucky enough. I normally start with some scales, chords and arpeggios working my way through the keys. A different key each week. Then I learn more and practise the piece I’m working on at that time. Following that, I like to just ‘free play’, learning what sounds good (and what doesn’t!!) and not be tied to the music on the sheet. I usually finish by playing some pieces that I have already learnt and enjoy playing.
What kind of music do you enjoy playing?
My favourite genre is Jazz and Blues. I love the sounds of jazz chords as they resolve into each other and with blues, I love the swinging rhythm and that soulful feel it has. I get lost in it. I do also enjoy playing classical music, although I am sticking to playing some slower pieces for now.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 2nd movement at the moment. I have
learnt the 1st movement and love playing it. I am also trying to teach myself to improvise Blues.
You belong to a piano meetup group. What are the benefits of belonging to such a group? How do you feel it supports your progress as a pianist?
I highly recommend joining a meetup group. I have been fortunate enough to meet some encouraging and supportive people there. I was very nervous at first and not sure what to expect; my hands were shaking and half way through my first piece I froze. Everyone was so supportive that I managed to carry on and finish!
I am a perfectionist and very tough on myself and seeing that even the best players can hit a ‘bum note’ or even lose their place at times, helped me loads. Also just seeing pianists perform in real life was inspiring.
Would you consider attending a piano course, and if so why?
Definitely. I have been looking into getting lessons now and things are going back to normal (post lockdown). I am struggling to find someone that has space that fits around work. I feel that I need some direction now. I have tried some online subscription lessons but they’re not for me. Although they did help, I would like someone to whom I can ask questions and who can watch me and tell me what I am doing wrong (and hopefully right!)..
What about piano exams… do you have any plans to take grade exams?
Yes, I will definitely be taking some graded exams at some point. Actually when I started to learn I used the grade books as a starting point for learning and would love to go through them with a teacher and sit the exams.
What advice would you give other adults who are considering taking up the piano?
Do it!!!! Sometimes it feels like a mountain to climb. Reading music, theory, scales etc but keep it simple. For me, the more I did scales and read music, then looked into the theory, timing and key signatures, the more it made sense. Learn an easy piece or song that you enjoy playing so when the practise gets boring you can play it and lose yourself in it. The most important thing is to have fun.
If you could play one piece what would it be?
I long to be able to ‘jam’ and confidently improvise on the piano.
I grew up in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. After leaving school I trained as a plasterer, which I still do today. I suffer from drug addiction and I spent twenty years in active addiction; not really living but just existing and the last eight years of those I was homeless. After making the decision that I needed to change, I moved to nearby Luton and started attending Cocaine Anonymous (CA) meetings. After a six month detox program and support from CA, I now work a 12 step program and have reintegrated myself back into society. I will be three years clean from all drugs and alcohol on the 13th October 2021. I met my girlfriend, Abbie, whilst working in the school where she works, and now live in Surrey with her.
If you are an adult amateur pianist and you would like to take part in the Piano Notes series to share your personal piano journey, please get in touch
A great deal is said and written about “integrity” and “honesty” in musical performance. For most people, this means respecting the score by following the composer’s markings and attempting, as far as possible, to interpret the composer’s intentions in the music. In addition, musicians who are praised for “honest” performances tend to play without surface artifice or flashy pianistic pyrotechnics; they attempt to “let the music speak”, free of ego, offer insights into the music, and communicate with the audience.
But there are other aspects to the musician’s honesty which are not immediately obvious to audiences, nor generally acknowledged within the profession, yet these can have a profound effect on a musician’s approach to their music making and their professional life.
For young musicians there is great pressure to conform to established ways of learning and presenting the music. A large part of this is concerned with repertoire, where student musicians or those at the beginning of their professional career may feel under pressure to play certain works to satisfy teachers, concert promoters or critics. (This is borne out when one considers the piano concertos which regularly appear in piano competitions and which are held up as “core works” which every young pianist should play or aspire to play.) Yet for some, these works may not suit them or be to their taste, and as a result they may not play them at their best. Being honest about the kind of repertoire one enjoys and wants to play will make practicing more productive and bring greater integrity to one’s performances.
This is related to another aspect of the pianist’s honesty – accepting that one cannot “play everything”. Again, the notion that one should have broad musical taste which extends to what one should play is often inculcated during training. There are very few professional pianists whose repertoire extends from the Baroque to the present-day, the notably exceptions being Maurizio Pollini and Marc-André Hamelin (who seems to be able to play anything!). The British pianist Stephen Hough has been open about his reluctance to play the music of J S Bach, a composer whose oeuvre is revered and resides, for many, at the very heart of the core canon. In interviews Hough has admitted, to gasps of horrified disbelief, that he doesn’t feel a deep connection to Bach’s music. Such honesty is commendable in a world where choosing not to play music from the core canon is regarded by some as a form of musical heresy!
There is another more personal kind of honesty, which is to be admired, and that is when musicians open up about injury or performance anxiety. By doing so, they support others who may be similarly suffering, and being honest about one’s frailties helps break down the taboo surrounding musicians and injury. This goes even further in the case of pianist Lars Vogt, who in very public statements on social media and a particularly moving interview for Van magazine revealed that he has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. It takes a special kind of honesty, indeed courage, to share such personal information, but for Vogt from the outset this was what he intended to do: “This is a part of my life. It gives people the chance to take part in it. It was supportive, the amount of kindness I encountered….” (interview with Van magazine).
Allied to this is the ability to accept and admit that it is time to quit the concert stage. The great pianist Alfred Brendel, who retired in 2008, wanted to stop performing while still at the peak of his powers in order to pursue other activities, such as writing and lecturing. It takes a degree of personal insight and honesty to make such a decision; for others, the honesty of friends and colleagues may be the catalyst to encourage a musician to review their career and adjust it according to their age or personal circumstances.
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