All posts by Gary


About Gary

Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

The Moldau

SUNDAY, November 17, 2019

Bedřich Smetana, 2 March 1824 – 12 May 1884…

Smetena was born 17 years before Antonín Dvořák, one of my favorite composers, and although he never attained the same degree of world fame as Dvorak (usually spelled without the extra accents in the West.)

Má vlast, My homeland..

This is a tone poem in six parts and is easily Smetena’s most popular work, but today we mainly hear the second part, My homeland.

It sort of “went viral” all over the world, so it was, is and probably will remain both famous and popular in the future. That one famous tone poem is:

Vltava, The Moldau…

The Moldau is a famous river in what is now known as the Czech Republic:

Here is the tone poem that is most famous…

The rest of the story, here is the whole thing…

  1. Vyšehrad (The High Castle)
    A four note motif (B♭-E♭-D-B♭) represents the castle of Vyšehrad; this is heard again at the end of ‘Vltava’ and once more, to round the whole cycle off, at the conclusion of ‘Blaník’.
  2. Vltava (The Moldau)
    This describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, then all the way until it endsending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German.)
  3. Šárka
    The third poem was finished on 20 February 1875 and is named for the female warrior Šárka, a central figure in the ancient Czech legend of The Maidens’ War.
  4. Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s woods and fields)
    The beauty of the Czech countryside and its people, the tone poem tells no real story. It was oginally written to be the finale of Má vlast.
  5. Tábor
    This piece, which was finished on 13 December 1878 and premiered on 4 January 1880, is named for the city of Tábor in the south of Bohemia founded by the Hussites and serving as their center during the Hussite Wars. The theme for the piece is quoted from the first two lines of the Hussite hymn, “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (“Ye Who Are Warriors of God”).
  6. Blaník
    This is about an army of knights led by St. Wenceslas. Blaník was finished on 9 March 1879 and premiered on 4 January 1880. It is named for the mountain Blaník.  A legend says that inside this mountain a huge army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep. The knights will awake and help the country in its gravest hour.


Janine Jansen

MONDAY, November 11, 2019

Janine Jansen is a relatively young violinist…

I have a love-hate relationship with the violin. If it is badly played, I want it out of my life, and unfortunately that includes the playing of most violinists. I grew up in a home where strings just weren’t liked or appreciated, and my mother always said, “I just don’t violin”. But later she fell in love with a couple of my recordings, so I guess she had never heard the violin played well. It is a horribly difficult instrument to play beautifully, so often scratchy, strident, out of tune and altogether unpleasant to listen to. Maybe we are much more picky when we know nothing, and I know nothing about the violin. I just know what I like.

I heard this in my car, listening to Sirius radio, and in fact I was interrupted with the world’s fastest hair cut. I was listening to the first movement, got to Supercuts and figured I would never find out who was playing. But I was in and out and caught the third movement. Sirius does not show who is playing, only what, so if you don’t catch the end of something you never find out who played. The announce the performer at the end.

Recordings have not improved that much, so listening in a car, without earphones, something recorded in around 1960 or 1970 will sound pretty much as good as something recorded last year, but on earphones you can hear a difference. This recording is really well done, so the sound is excellent. I had never heard of Janine Jansen. She reminds me of both Joshua bell and Nathan Milstein. I think she gets a really sweet sound in this, and her control over vibrato and pitch is exceptional.

Paavo Järvi…

Any concerto is a collaboration, and no matter how good the soloist is, without a great orchestra and a superb conductor it all falls flat. I would buy this recording in a heartbeat.

Nathan Milstein…

For comparison, from much longer ago, but still in the era of modern recordings…

I hear incredible similarities in the playing. I’d bet $20 on the spot that Janine grew up hearing Milstein playing this. The link is very strong, and Milstein was 57 in this recording from 1961.

There is really very little difference in recording quality unless you have a sophisticated sound system. By the early 60s the technology was already very close to where it is right now in terms of what we normally hear, and unfortunately we still are mostly stuck with two tracks for two ears most of the time when using ear phones even though quadraphonic sound already was sounding great in the 70s. However, if you have the money and the set up for modern surround sound, these recent recordings should sound spectacular.



Tchaikovksy 4th Symphony

MONDAY, November 11, 2019

Initial critical reaction to the work was unfavorable. Tchaikovsky was in Florence, Italy when the symphony was premiered and received word only from von Meck at first. His closest friends were so unsure about parts of the work that they did not say anything to him. A telegram from Rubinstein and the other musicians involved in the performances assured him only that the symphony had been well played.[21] After a month, the composer wrote to Sergei Taneyev. Taneyev replied promptly and, as per his nature, all too honestly. Taneyev had found the symphony excellent in parts but less impressive overall. While he admired the first movement, he also considered it overlong. This, he thought, gave the work as a whole the feeling of a symphonic poem with three additional movements attached to justify it being called a symphony. Rubinstein had liked the finale best. Tchaikovsky replied defensively to Taneyev but was appreciative of his candor.[22] He also suspected—rightly, it turned out—that Taneyev was hiding the news of a lukewarm reception to the premiere. At its St. Petersburg premiere the following November, the symphony was better received.[23]

Reaction to the premiere in the United States was also negative. In 1890 a reviewer for the New York Post wrote, “The Fourth Tchaikovsky Symphony proved to be one of the most thoroughly Russian, i.e. semi-barbaric, compositions ever heard in the city. … If Tchaikovsky had called his symphony ‘A Sleigh Ride Through Siberia’ no one would have found this title inappropriate.”

The British premiere was in June 1893, conducted by the composer, who was attending Cambridge University to receive an honorary doctorate, along with Camille Saint-Saëns, Max Bruch and Arrigo Boito (Edvard Grieg was also honoured, but was unable to attend in person). The hall was filled to capacity, and the symphony received great applause after each movement.

A reviewer in Germany in 1897 wrote “The composer’s twaddle disturbed my mood. The confusion in brass and the abuse of the kettledrums drove me away!”

In spite of its early critical reviews, the symphony has become a staple of the orchestral repertoire, and remains one of the most frequently performed symphonies of the late 19th century. It is also ranked as one of the best of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies.


Mahler Quartet for Strings and Piano

SUNDAY, November 10, 2019

Gustav Mahler is controversial…

There are composers who are known all over the world, who have never been anything but famous, and perhaps the most famous is Beethoven. I supposed there is someone, somewhere, who just doesn’t like his music, but so far I have never met that person.

But there are also composers who are less well known by the general public, who somehow never capture the imagination of the general public, and Mahler is such a composer.

Mahler wrote music that was neglected for a long time. Supposedly he is now one of the most recorded and performed of all composers, but he is mainly known because of his nine symphonies, all of which are very long, and non-musicians find them difficult to listen to, if note boring, because of the length and the “heaviness” of the music.

Nazi Germany called his compositions “degenerate music”…

We all know about the Nazi concentrations camps, but what the Nazis did to try to censor literature, art and music was horrible in a very different way. Because of propaganda, the music of Wagner and other so-called “Aryan” composers was hyped to the moon, and anything created by anyone else was censored.

Mahler was Jewish, and Jewish music was banned in Germany from around 1930 until the end of WWII . This, by the way, included the music of Felix Mendelssohn, whose family converted to Christianity long before Felix was born. However, Mendelssohn’s music has always been popular, while even today Mahler is not popular with casual listeners.

More popular since WWII…

Part of the delay in popularity was due to German censorship, but this does not explain why the general public was so slow to warm to Mahler’s music before 1930, or even why there was not a huge movement to play his music during the war years. Most likely the problem with Mahler’s music is that there are no easily recognizable “tunes” that are easy to hum, and in addition his music is so incredibly long.

Piano Quartet, written at age 15…

This strange, short work, is totally unlike anything Mahler wrote later in life. Instead of being at least an hour long (his 3rd Sypmhony can take as long as 105 minutes), this early work is less than 12 minutes in length. Apparently he had in mind completing something with three or four movements, but he never got past the 1st movement. He was working on it as early as age 15, and it was performed for the first time when Mahler was very close to his 16th birthday, with him at the piano.

We don’t know whether or not it was finished then, in the final form we know today. But we do know that it was forgotten for decades. Mahler died in 1911,  but his wife, Alma Mahler  lived until 1964, outliving her husband by around 53 years.

Alma rediscovered the manuscript of this early Mahler work in the 1960s, and it was premiered in the United States on January 12, 1964, in New York City. Since Mahler was born in 1860 and composed this music in 1975, there was a gap of almost 90 years between when he first played it, as a teenager, and its rediscovery.

Another teenaged musical genius…

I think it is one of the best things Mahler every wrote, and the fact that he composed it at the age of 15 is almost beyond belief.


Five Minute Line and Space Drills

MONDAY, November 4, 2019

Lines and spaces for beginners with answers – making lines and spaces automatic…

All beginners should start with these drills. For instance, the youngest student I have right now is already playing the lines and space of the drill for beginners, using my chart. At first beginners use a keyboard chart that lines up behind the keys. Say the number for each line note. Then say “on” and then the line each space note is on. The answers are for beginners.

Lines and spaces for beginners – the same thing without answers…

This is step two. It’s the same idea, but this time the answers are gone. Say the number for each line note. Then say “on” and then the line each space note is on.

The chart I use to teach this is only for the first month or so and is quickly phased out. None of my students use an aid after that to find and name all lines and spaces. We begin using only numbers as in the instructions. The letter names are drilled in other exercises.

The five lines in both the bass and treble clef are named with the line number: One, two, three, and so on.

Then the spaces, which usually are sitting on a line, are named with the line plus a direction: on one, on two, and so on, with the space below line one as simply “under one”.

In the future I will continue to add more pages if people request it. If you want to see more, leave a comment.



Bohemian Rhapsody

MONDAY, November 4, 2019

Popular for 44 years…

For those of you who want to dig deep into how Bohemian Rhapsody got written, the Wki article below is pretty thorough. It’s very long, so if you don’t want to slog through the whole thing, here are a few important points:

  1. It was slammed by critics who are, of course, almost always 100% wrong about anything important.
  2. Record companies said it would never get played on the radio.
  3. Record companies said it was too long.
  4. People had the last word, because they immediately loved it, and it has been incredibly famous and popular ever since.
  5. For the record, the moment I heard it I was blown away and told everyone to listen to it.

Here is the long story of Bohemian Rhapsody…

The bottom line is that it has been at the top of the charts or very nearly at the top many times, in many countries and is perhaps the most popular rock song every recorded in the UK.

What Shakespeare really said…

Shakespeare said: ““The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” That is usually remembered as being a blanket condemnation of lawyers, but in fact it had to do with bad lawyers. I’ve changed it to: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the critics.” But I have to say carefully, that “kill” is a very dangerous word in 2019. I don’t want to kill anyone, and I’m not suggesting violence or even anger. In addition, there are some very good critics who make important points. However, I think critics generally get everything important wrong, again and again, and this has been going on as long as long as we have recorded history.

Rock Critics Really Blew It…

As you can see, they really screwed up – not just a little bit, but all the way. Other musicians understood that something special was happened, but short-sighted people very nearly stopped the song from being presented to the world.

What ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ reviews say about the critics | Opinion

Here is a good, thoughtful article written by someone today about what happened, and why critics so often are in one world while all the rest of us are in another. When something is really bad, second-rate, over time the world’s opinion becomes the same. Even when this or that is extremely popular, even “viral”, it will be gone in a year or 10 years if it does not have special worth. But if it remains popular 50, 100 and 200 years later, you can be assured that it has worth, and then the negative opinions of critics become revealed for what they are, short-sighted and often spiteful.

Queen Fires Back At Critics For Poor Bohemian Rhapsody Reviews

The members of Queen, those still alive, have been very positive about the film Bohemian Rhapsody film. Once again film critics have been extremely negative, citing discrepancies between what really happened historically and certain things in the film that are said to take dramatic license. But as is true with music and other so many other things, a huge number of famous and world-respected books, plays, movies, musical compositions and so on were ridiculed at the time they were created, only to be acknowledged later, even among critics, to be works of genius.

Now, if there is anyone in the world who has not heard this, here it is…


For those who hate opera

THURSDAY, October 24, 2019

If you hate opera, listen to this lady, and listen to Carmen

I don’t like opera. I’ve never loved opera. I don’t even like it. I’d rather be put in jail for several hours than go to an opera. And most of the choruses you hear singing music for operas are made up of over-the-hill, warbling voices that make me want to scream from the torture of listening to them, so most of the time I don’t even like opera recordings.

But I like Carmen!

Georges Bizet, dead at age 36..

Georges Bizet died suddenly after only the 33rd performance of Carmen. He had no idea that it would become one of the most famous musical compositions ever written. The French public didn’t like it, and French critics were horrible to him and of course horribly wrong. In fact, music critics have probably done more to destroy music than anything else.

Shakespeare wrote: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”…

(Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2)

I wish he had written a similar line, only for critics. They are generally wrong about everything, praising music that will soon be forgotten and criticizing just about everything that will eventually be accepted as genius. While it is probably unfair to say the critics killed Bizet, he was very depressed by what he assumed was failure. Certainly those cruel and stupid critics did not help his health problems, and he was dead at age 36, another genius who died way too early.

Popular for 136 years…

He died in 1875, and Carmen was not revived in France until 1883, 8 years after his death. But from 1883 to today it has been popular, more popular and even more popular. Today everyone in the world knows at least a couple themes from Carmen. There is no nation on the planet that has been more wrong about many of its greatest geniuses than France.

Maria Callas, an opera “rock star”…

That said, I love listening to this lady. I don’t think there was ever a more famous singer. It’s strange to read that her mother didn’t want her – she wanted a boy. Maria was also overweight, typical of so many divas that sound magnificent but don’t exactly fit the romantic parts they play on stage. And she had serious vision problems. Then around 1954 she lost 80 pounds. She also disliked her own voice. There is great controversy both about her voice and what the weight loss did to that voice. In fact, Maria Callas was the very embodiment of controversy. She had a very difficult, unhappy life. But no one argues about her greatness as a singer.



Zankyou no Terror

FRIDAY, November 1, 2019

A bogus teaching idea…

There is an idea taught that says that if you know the beginning of songs, you can associate those beginnings with intervals. An example would be: Here Comes the Bride for a 4th (perfect 4th.)

Songs for Intervals…

Because I am a curious person, I stumbled across this site. No, this will not work. You can get a list of 5 or 500 songs that start with an interval, and you won’t use them to hear things, BUT: This is a very interesting list!

So I looked at the list of songs for major 7th and ran across:

Fugl – (Zankyou No Terror) – youtube

I’m always curious about everything. What is “Fugl”? What is “zankyou”? Is this bad Japanese? “Thank you?” Again, I did some checking and found this:

Terror in Resonance…

It seems pretty dark. I have problems trying to associate the stylized Japanese animation form with something this serious, but I really know next to nothing about anime. So here is the next thing I found:


So now you know as much as I do about anime, which is next to nothing. But my interest is not primarily about movies or cinema. It’s about music, and this how I stumbled upon the video I ended up listening to. I found the music haunting and spent several days finding the notation for piano. Here is the composer of the music:

Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子=kan-no, you-ko)…

(Japanese names are written last name first in Japanese. 菅 is カン(kan), and 野 is の (no), 子, which also means “child” is こ(ko), and finally よis yo, and う makes the “o” longer. You can add the above to you top 10 list of “things you never wanted to know and don’t care about”, but Japanese interests me.)

I listened to other things written by this lady and so far found nothing that is as interesting as this one selection, but I’ll be open to finding more things in the future. Meanwhile, here is the video that caught my attention. It uses very simple chords, chords I teach, and it is sort of modal, with a Mixolydian feel. It also demonstrates something I call “-ness” as in “F#-ness”. What that means is that you use the key signature of F# major, but there are other notes besides what is used in that scale. There is also one section where it moves from B half-diminished to F/C to C#aug to F#m, and then to Dm. These are all morphs, what I have been teaching. Something keeps sliding from one chord to another. For instance, if you move back and forth between Dm and F#m, you don’t move the A. The D slides down to C#, and the F slides up to F#. One note stays, one note goes up and the other goes down. Perfect morphing chords. This is called “chromaticism”, but I like the word “morphing” better.

And now the song…

Album: Zankyou no Terror Original Soundtrack
Artist: 菅野よう子

Piano only…

Here is a recording made by someone who was just interested in playing the piano part. It’s well done but a bit empty because it is missing the really interesting string parts. I have since worked out the string parts, and it makes the piano sound much more interesting, but also maybe 10 times harder to play.


Jacob Collier

MONDAY, October 28, 2019

Popular for less than a month…

I have no words for this. The talent is beyond understanding. This young guy has an ear, he has a voice, he has imagination. His editing is beyond belief. Do yourself a favor and listen to this on earphones. It’s a sonic banquet.



1812 Overture

FRIDAY, October 25, 2019

The 1812 Overture…

Tchaikovksy hated this. It’s hard to believe, but he felt like it kept people from hearing things he was proud of, and in fact it is often true that composers come to loathe the things the public loves the most. But to be fair it was probably not well played within his lifetime. He did not include any choral music in his own work, but this version, with chorus, I think is pretty amazing.

Popular for 137 years…

At at any rate, the public always has the last word, and this piece has been amazingly popular from the time it was first played, much to the dislike of Tchaikovsky – who nevertheless enjoyed the money it made for him.