30 Dec

Explore…sharing emotions through music

At its best, Internet is just wonderful!! It connects me to great people from all over the world. A few months ago, I got an e-mail from a woman with whom I had an interesting discussion about creativity. She made me aware of English online Magazines on the topic, among them the Lifewide Magazine.  Please look out for my contribution in the January issue! The topic is EXPLORATION, and I will explain my approach to exploring improvement potential on the physical, mental and emotional level. I realize that I do preach technique almost all the time, but the main thing in creating connection through music, is nevertheless EMOTION! Here is a short excerpt from my forthcoming article:

Frederic Chopin - at - Frederic Chopin - at the piano, Silouhett by F. Philipp. Polish composer (1810-1849)

Frederic Chopin, Silhouette by F. Philipp.

Despite all this talk about technicalities and systematic exploration of piano playing, my honest opinion is that music, first and foremost, is about transmitting and sharing human experience on the emotional level. For this reason, I explore how I better can connect with both the emotional content of the music and with the audience. In the old days, people said that music was the language of the heart. Nowadays, classical music has sadly become more sterile, perhaps due to the recording industry and the many competitions for young musicians. Emanuel Bach, one of the sons of Johann Sebastian, wrote a gem of a piece of advice in his piano treatise of 1753 (English translation by William Mitchell, 1949):

A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener.

I think the most important part to advance the emotional level is to actually feel the music – first in the practice room and then by daring to share the feelings with the audience. I take Emanuel Bach’s advice and actively practice feeling the various emotions in the music. When practicing a happy piece, I practice feeling happy until I laugh! In a dark piece, I sometimes practice feeling the heaviness until I actually cry while playing through the piece at home, all by myself. In my experience, this embeds the emotions deeply in a piece and makes it easier to portray it confidently and convincingly when on stage.

On a side note, I have one great tip for any hint of performance anxiety (the topic as such must wait for another time): Stay happy. Do whatever you need to keep your mood up. I ignored this fact for way too long: It is very hard to be happy and scared at the same time. Make happiness win!!

That was all for the article so far. You have to wait until January to read the conclusion. But you already got the most important part! For now, I conclude like this:


27 Jun

The Lucky Piano

620_IMG_0916Yesterday, I gave a private recital on an old piano, just like the one on this picture. However, the pictured piano is taken from one of the countless ads for pianos that are given away for free nowadays. You have probably seen them too, it’s such a sad development. The piano I played yesterday, is a Lucky Piano: It is still being played!

Not only that. The Lucky Piano has had a peculiar life. First, it was purchased second-hand by a family in Budapest. When they decided to move to the UK, they brought the piano, despite the expense and toil. It was a cherished instrument, not the least by the children who played it. The children grew up, happily playing the piano (at least, that’s what I imagine!) Later, one of them moved to Norway – and at the birth of her first daughter, she had the piano brought to her new home. It became the childhood piano of another generation of musical kids. Sometimes, I would come and play together with these kids, on the piano which had travelled so far. We played Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart. We played Christmas songs and Frank Bridge. After some years, the piano began to suffer. It was overhauled and the hammers even sent to Germany for refelting! It came back happy and continued to live. It moved from a house to an apartment, it keeps being played and tuned and bringing joy.

Yesterday was a special day in the life of the Lucky Piano. It turned 100 years! Maybe not exactly yesterday, but approximately enough for a celebration. The owner of the Lucky Piano got the idea that we should meet up in the honour of the Lucky Piano and all the joy it has brought throughout its life. To celebrate, we performed music from all the places it has lived. Schubert lieder (as the piano came from Vienna originally), Bartok pieces for children, a Clementi sonatina, a Norwegian lullaby and some pieces by Schumann to honour the new hammer felt (eh, I needed an excuse!) The daughter of the piano owner attended – with her baby son! Schumann is already his favourite and he seemed to enjoy the whole event. As far as we know, he probably made the decision of starting piano lessons soon – on his grandma’s old piano.

He is one lucky kid!

11 Jun

Thoughts on music and charity

Why should musicians and artists care about society? Should we not simply be appreciated and admired for what we do? Are we perhaps afraid that being involved in charity destroys the picture of us as the struggling artists…? (That would a win, I’d say!)

Of course, we want people to appreciate art, but we also have a responsibility of bringing art to people, regardless of their ability to actively support us in return. Personally, I see it as part of our duty to explain and demonstrate what art can do for people. It’s about people, after all! And we – as musicians and artists – have something to give!

After the article in the New York Times last summer, which presented my research on 19th-century piano technique, I got in touch with so many great people! One of them is Canadian pianist and flutist Shari Tallon. We have e-mailed, skyped and sent messages and links over the last few months. We have exchanged ideas and inspired each other!


Shari (photo) is extremely passionate about charity. What I admire about her, is how she connects people to each other in the process, enriching so many lives. When Shari recently began working for Steinway Piano Gallery Toronto (Tom Lee Musuc), she immediately initiated a partnership with Hamilton School of Music. Now, the music school school is holding a Practice-a-thon all throughout June in order to help Liberty for Youth. According to their website, this organization “provide[s] prevention and intervention mentorship for at-risk youth”, 12-25 years of age. The Practice-a-thon at Hamilton School of Music will help Liberty for Youth to acquire a piano for their music room! How cool is that?! I can’t wait for an update on this exciting project!

Hamilton school of music

In the meantime, please be inspired to think about how your artistic endeavors may benefit people around you! Dare to think big and reach out to people outside your everyday circle with an idea, a thought, a suggestion. Sooner or later, you will find your charity partner!


Do you want to support me going to Toronto in March, right after my debut recital in Carnegie Hall, to teach, perform and give these kids some great musical experiences? Act fast: support my Kickstarter campaign for my Carnegie debut which is already funded in full thanks to all of you generous piano lovers – the next $ 400 will cover my flight to Toronto!!

UPDATE: The Kickstarter was funded, but not (as of yet) the flight to Toronto. However, prospective donors are welcome to get in touch With Shari or me for arrangements!

08 Jun

Robert Schumann: Intensity of feeling, expressed in music

Forget about When Harry met Sally. When Robert met Clara would beat most romantic movies!

It is unclear whether Robert met Clara at some private concert and therefore wanted to study with her father, or whether he came to Leipzig to study with renowned piano pedagogue Friedrick Wieck and therefore met his talented daughter Clara. In any case, they met! In 1828. And it was the beginning of a long, painful, joyful love story.

robert + Clara

Robert Schumann, the literary addict, took intensity, courtship and romantic longing to a new level. First, let’s remember that the thought of matrimony because of love was a rather new thought in the early 19th century, perhaps introduced by Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Sorrows of the Young Werther) in 1774. Yes, we know that Schumann liked Jean Paul! But I would argue that he also owed a great deal to Goethe. The psychological depth is present with both authors, and Schumann’s complex personality embraced and portrayed childish simplicity one minute and unequalled intensity of human feeling the next – just listen to Kinderszenen (op. 15) and Fantasie (op. 17) respectively! I also strongly suspect that Schubert was a strong inspiration regarding both of these aspects. (Schumann’s admiration for Schubert is documented by the fact that he bought scores from Ferdinand Schubert and saw to it that Schubert’s Great C major symphony was premiered).

Let us return to Schumann’s personal love story. After a romantic relationship slowly evolved with Clara, Friedrich Wieck did more than his share in preventing a future marriage. He simply forbade the two to meet, and during long periods even to write letters. This does not mean that no letters were written, though. Friends and maids served as secret mail service agents to keep a minimum of conversation going. The only communication allowed by Wieck, was the exchange of musical compositions – and this strict rule was even enforced after their engagement! Wieck did respect Schumann as a composer, and he did want his daughter to compose. Clara was allowed to perform Robert’s works even if they were not allowed to meet. Imagine the feelings contained in their works – feelings which had only one expression: sound. Sound, modelled for piano. In tones and chords and phrases, as they thought of each other.

1 September 1838, Clara writes to Robert:

Did you pass by our window last night? Alwin claimed to have seen you. Did you perhaps hear that I rehearsed your music?

The heart-breaking answer reads:

Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I passed by your window. I thought that you’d come out. It was thundering and I was standing at your house for half an hour. Didn’t you feel it?

Adieu. When will we get to talk???

Robert Schumann endured it. He endured the thunder and the rain and the separation and the longing which seemed to have no end. After an unsuccessful engagement to Ernestine von Fricken, his heart was set on Clara (then 16 years), and he refused to live without the woman he loved. He and Clara did not give up, and they did marry in the end. It is questionable whether they lived happily ever after, but there were clearly times of shared happiness, success and enjoyment.

Perhaps you cannot express intense joy without knowing the pain of missing it?


Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856

20 May

Tribute to Clara – 120 years after her death

 Clara Schumann (13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896).


At least among pianists, she usually goes by her first name only: Clara! Her father named her so already before she was born. Friedrich Wieck had decided that if he got a daughter, she should be called Clara – meaning bright, shining – because she would become a bright and shining star on piano heaven. Wieck was confident that his clever guidance would bring her there. When his wife, Marianne Tromlitz, divorced him (!) in 1824, he – as any man would at that time – was awarded sole custody over Clara.

It seems that Wieck commenced her daily music lessons from about this point. Clara’s rapid progress made her an excellent emblem of her father’s authority as a pedagogue. He also made sure that she studied counterpoint, harmony, composition, music theory, violin and singing. In other words, she received a thorough and splendid music education early on; this was unheard of for women and rare even for men.

Allow me to digress for a moment before we proceed with Clara’s story. I want to remind you of how the 19th-century viewed women’s abilities for anything theoretical, logic or scientific. German philosopher and theologian Karl Rosenkranz (1805-79) is sadly representative, despite “feminist voices” like the ones of the Damen-Journal of Leipzig since the end of the 18th century. In one of his many books, Karl Rosenkranz writes sarcastically in 1848:

“Nowadays, popularity is often equaled with making oneself understood by the ladies without any difficulty; a didactic triumph, as one simultaneously achieves to do away with everything profound and complex, merely says what already is immediately available to all and sundry, disposes of the seriousness of the matter, and does not spare in illustrations, anecdotes, jokes and colloquialities.”
(My translation; from Die Pädagogik als System. Ein Grundriss von Karl Rosenkranz, Doctor der Theologie und ordentlichem Professor der Philosophie an der Universität zu Königsberg. Königsberg, 1848, pp. 102-03).

Rosenberg’s sarcasm regarding the “didactic triumph” assumes the common view that girls could not understand math, theory or abstract matters. Even when comparing study plans from the Leipzig conservatory, it is clear that the curriculum of music theory around 1850 was easier for women than for men!

As we already have understood, Friedrich Wieck did not comply with contemporaneous expectations in this regard. (Let’s appreciate that!). In a time when women should play the piano to prove themselves worthy of a providing husband, Mr. Wieck provided Clara with an education equaling that of the greatest composers. Other girls could play a few tunes to entertain, but Clara was a professional musician every sense of the word before other girls had packed away their Barbie dolls (well, you know what I mean!). At 9, she made her public debut in her hometown Leipzig and at 11, she made her first tour to Paris. By this time, her opp. 1 and 2 were published, testifying of an impressive technique for her age, and a secure grasp of harmony and form.

About the same time, she met Robert Schumann. Despite her young age and the fact that he was 9 years her senior, a friendship evolved. (I will return to that in a later post!) If we dive into their correspondence, we get glimpses of Clara’s musical life. On 17th September, 1832, 13-year-old Clara writes to Robert:

“My dear Mr. Schumann!
Ha, ha! I hear you think, there we go! A letter from the girl who forgot what she promised. Oh no, she does remember. Read on and see why I did not write any earlier.
On the same day as the concert at Molique’s I got ill with scarlet fever. Until a few days ago, I could do nothing but stay in the boring bed. Yet, it turned out to be a rather light attack, meaning that I can be up a few hours per day and play the piano again. But I had to cancel the concert at the Concert house.
Everyone is afraid of being infected by me now, but you, dear Mr. Schumann, should not refrain from coming [to Leipzig] – as I will surely be well by New Year. On 8th January, I have to play at the Concert house again.” (My translation)

Two years later (Leipzig, 1. september 1835), she gives an account on her recent activities:

“I have been very diligent. Go ahead and laugh, but it is true! I have finished my manuscript [Partitur]; I have written out all the parts myself, in just two days; I have made a fair copy of my variations in F major and also Une nuit de Sabbat (Hexenchor). I have also commenced the task of orchestrating my piano concerto.” (My translation)

These excerpts certainly testify of her unusual discipline, diligence and professional approach to rehearsing and composing – her age (and gender!) taken into account.
As you understand, her entire life cannot possibly be covered in a single blog post. With this little appetizer, I just wanted to spark your curiosity! 120 years after her death, music history still bears Clara’s footprints, and she is remembered as an excellent pianist, teacher and composer – as well as the wife and editor of Robert Schumann and mother of his eight children.

What would she answer if we asked her whether a woman can “have it all”? She would probably say “Sure, you can! But keep in mind that neither romantic holidays (or any holidays!), girls’ nights out, taking the kids to amusement parks or simply enjoying a relaxing day by yourself are part of the deal”.
Please join me in commemorating Clara Schumann!

(For more on Clara and Robert – please watch the presentation of my Carnegie debut program!)

03 Aug

Piano Shelters: Idea of an organisation


Can we start Piano Shelters in big cities? Places where people can donate pianos they don’t use anymore so that people who wants to play the piano but can’t have one can come and play the piano? Places where music students and volunteers can tune, repair and teach? Where ANYONE who want to play the piano, get a drop-in lesson, watch the piano tuners work or just listen to some piano music at all levels can hang out? (I’ve set up a facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Piano-Shelters/1517338975224400?fref=nf )

Before you say that this is stupid/impossible/useless, let’s consider the following (please endure the read):

Nowadays, people often give away their acoustic piano for free. No one in the family plays it anymore, it’s expensive to tune, they could use the space for something else, they’re dreading to move it, etc. So, we have a surplus of used pianos that no one really wants.

Nowadays, we are worried that classical music is of no interest to people. Presumably, this assumption is tied to of the sinking audience numbers in snobbish concert halls! Nothing wrong with concert halls, but we have to admit that ticket prices and the somewhat posh context exclude many people. It looks like we have a surplus of music interest that no one cares about: Those who love piano music, but don’t go to classical concerts.

Nowadays, as perhaps always, we have a surplus of people who wants to play the piano, the guitar or whatever, that no one really teaches. Be they youth addicted to computer games, adults who don’t have time for regular, weekly lessons, or have no income to pay for them, or elderly people with a desire to renew their skills. Then there are the unemployed, the disabled, the homeless, looking for occupation and socialization. Are we willing to care for them? And willing to give them an opportunity to care about something and someone?

We may agree that something should be done. It’s another thing whether it’s a good idea to care for them with music, with pianos!! OK, maybe my idea not for everyone. But maybe it’s for many more than we think. All the attention over the last few days has made me thinking: When a nerdy piano video like mine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INh84SP6DiA) have gotten 140.000 views in 10 days, even with the help of New York Times, must not this mean that people care about piano music?! Someone must care about either pianos, piano history, the mechanics of an instrument, the skill of playing an instrument and/or the music itself. So, maybe piano shelters are worth trying? By sheltering pianos, we’ll create a place to shelter and provide for people!

Consider for a moment the potential side effects, even for someone not really interested in pianos or piano music. The potential side-effects of bringing people together across boundaries of age, occupation and social class, the side-effects of allowing us to appreciate people we otherwise would never meet. The side-effects of seeing joy on people’s faces as they master their first piano tune or feel that their contribution in spending some free hours bringing music to less fortunate, is really appreciated!

Potentially, this would bring understanding. Potentially, this would bring out the best in people. Potentially, this would make use of resources otherwise wasted. Potentially, it would create good music. But even if it doesn’t in a while, it would create appreciation. For music and for people. The latter is what’s important, the former is merely a tool, after all, no matter how beautiful!

So, what do we need?
A tentative list:
– Facilities. A place to be where there’s space for several pianos and where people are allowed to play them. Groundfloor preferred…! Ideally spoken, there’s also space for a small piano workshop and some kind of a concert room (maybe even in the workshop?).
– Pianos! That’s easy. People give them away for free. Deal: You order someone to deliver your piano and the Piano Shelter receives it. (It has to approved prior to delivery).
– Piano knowers: We need piano educated people to choose which pianos to receive to the shelter.
– Piano tuners: We need piano tuners/students of piano maintenance and tuning who can volunteer from time to time. Superb if they are willing to teach others, too.
– Piano teachers: Whether you know just a little bit or are a professor of piano, we need you to drop by and teach a lesson or three to someone struggling to learn at whatever level they are.
– Guitars: If you have a guitar you never use, we’ll gladly receive it if it’s in working order.
– Guitar teachers to drop by and give lessons. If you know a lot or just a little, there’s always someone who can benefit from your skills!
– People who look after the people and the premises.
– Cleaners.
– Administrators.

So, if you want to contribute, there is certainly something you can do! To help us model out this idea in our mind, please write below how you’d be able to either help or benefit (or both!) from a PIANO SHELTER, once we get one in your city!

Are you in a position to make this happen? Or do you know someone who might be? GET TO WORK! I’m more than willing to be on a board or to volunteer in teaching, etc., but I’m throwing the idea out there for someone to pick it up and run with it – to journalists, politicians, community authorities – to a church or organization able to investing more time and resources than one single person (me) represents. Besides, I can only ne in one place at a time, while we need many Piano Shelters!

Join in! It can be done!

20 Jul

The compassionate conservatoire

DSCF4639Why should governments continue to support higher education in music? What is the role of the conservatoire (or college, or academy) in today’s society? In my opinion, music should not remain behind closed doors, nor be presented almost exclusively to the ‘culturally aware’ audience. If I may say so, I would love for music – even classical music! – to sound in places where people are desperate for someone to care about them. Can we care for people through music? Can we give something back to society for allowing us to pursue our dreams and study music?

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