End-of-Year Blowout
Wed, May 5
Program to include Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries!
and other operatic excesses...

[mostly on hiatus since 2012]

View demo videos here

Monday, May 4, 2009

Level 1,812

[UPDATE2: We had an even bigger success with this at an Oct. 10, 2009 Homecoming event, with a much larger audience on hand. Read more about it here.]

[UPDATE: This was definitely our biggest success yet. We had a big audience, many of whom participated by popping paper bags as cannons. Works remarkably well! I'll write more about this soon and post some video highlights...]

Yes, we've found a secret code that allows us to jump all the way from Level 40 to Level 1,812. (Note, we've also skipped Level 6 & Levels 8-39.) This is the final Piano Hero of the semester, so something of a celebration is in order.

We'll leave it as an exercise for you to guess what the main course will be for Level 1,182. HINT: Bring noise-making devices. (No gunpowder, please.) There will be at least one appetizer (of the musical variety) as well. As always, the doors will be open, so you're free to stay for much or as little you wish.

Wednesday, May 6 at 12:20pm
Phillips Recital Hall
Gordon College
Wenham, MA.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Today. Mozart. Symphony. 40. 12:15.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Level 7: Beethoven 7

Piano Heroes ride again this Wednesday (4/22) with a two-piano version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. I wish I had more time to write now, but I'll just say that this is my favorite of all the Beethoven "Nine" and maybe my favorite Beethoven, period. The last movement is wildly entertaining, and it should be quite a thrill ride as a sight-reading exercise.

[Yes, technically we're skipping Level 6, whatever that means. Let's pretend that we found a secret code that lets us skip a level.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Week Off

Thanks to all who came out for Beethoven's 5th last week. We had a fantastic audience.

We're taking this week off, but Piano Hero will return on Wednesday, April 22. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Level 5: Beethoven's 5th

It was inevitable that Level 5 of Piano Hero would have to be that most famous of all symphonies - however, to make it all the more exciting, we'll be playing an arrangement for 2 pianos, 8 hands. Between us, Nathan and I only have 4 hands, so we'll be joined by two outstanding guests, Chaz Woodstock and Megan Muthersbaugh. And, to really make it exciting, we will have very little rehearsal time as a group. I haven't even looked at my part yet, come to think of it.

Anyway, it all takes place tomorrow (Wed) at 12:15 in Phillips Recital. As always, the doors will be open and people are free to come and go as they please. We'll be projecting the orchestral score if you like having something to look at - other than 4 desperate pianists hoping they don't get lost.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Piano Hero 4 Recap

Here's a taste of what Piano Anti-Hero looked and sound like:

Read more about it here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Level Four: Piano Anti-Hero

We're back this week, after a two-week hiatus, with Aaron Copland's wonderful arrangement for two pianos of music from his ballet, Billy the Kid. As an added bonus, we'll be taking on the famous "Hoedown" from Rodeo. If you don't know the "Hoedown" by name, you've probably heard it as used in the "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" commercials. But everyone loves it, even vegetarians.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Piano Heroes at Rest

We took last week off for Spring Break, and it turns out we'll be taking this week (3/18) off as well. The truth is, we met to rehearse a piece this morning and just didn't like the way it sounded on piano. If we're not enjoying, why make others come suffer along.

So, check back soon. Hopefully, Piano Hero will resume on Wednesday, March 25...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Level Three Completed

Piano Hero will be off this coming Wednesday, for Spring Break. Stay tuned for information about the next performance, likely to be on March 18. In the meantime, here's a quick video excerpt from this past Wednesday's takedown of Beethoven's "Eroica." Read more about it here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Piano Heroica

Yes, Piano Hero is back for Level Three this week with, appropriately enough, Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica." Many have asked to have these performances start a little later than noon, since classes get out at 12:25. The "Eroica" is a long symphony though (at least 45 minutes), and we have to be done by 1pm, so this week we'll plan to start at about 12:10. As always, the doors will be open and you're free to come for as much or as little as you'd like.

We'll be projecting the score (if all goes as planned) this week, so you'll be able to see exactly what our pianists are seeing and (hopefully) playing. And, for the first time, Michael and Nathan will each get his own piano. That's twice the Steinway for your money (free admission).  If you want a sneek peak, here's what the score looks like. Now the only question is, can they beat the score? Come find out.

Beethoven's Symphony No.3
Michael Monroe and Nathan Skinner, pianos
Wednesday, 12:10pm
Phillips Recital Hall

Friday, February 27, 2009

Level Two Completed

Our heroes survived their encounter with Mendelssohn on Wednesday - wow, that piece has a lot of notes. And, to increase the challenge factor, they were playing from a scanned version of the score that looks like this in spots:

Still, it's worth noting here what an amazing resource the International Music Score Library Project is. Without, we'd have had no score for the Mendelssohn. Plus, the poor scan makes a great excuse for any little misfires that might be scattered throughout the performance. The video above provides a brief sampling of the Piano Hero experience, but the mistakes are more exciting in person, I have to say.

We've decided to go back to Beethoven for Level Three next week (3/4), with a few new wrinkles. First of all, we'll be playing the landmark Symphony No.3 in a version for two pianos, as opposed to the 4-hands-at-1-piano arrangements we've used the last couple of weeks. Beethoven famously intended to dedicate this work to Napoleon, but then when disillusionment with the self-proclaimed emperor set in, the composer switched the title to the more generic Sinfonia eroica (heroic symphony) - which I think we can finally understand as a forward-looking dedication to our Piano Hero concept.

Also, if all goes as planned, we'll be projecting the score for your viewing pleasure this time, perhaps with some helpful annotations thrown in. This way, you'll be able to see exactly what we're seeing - and possibly faking. Nathan might go old-school and play from paper pages this time around, but I will definitely continue to play from a Tablet PC, because that's how I roll now. In the interest of full disclosure (and since there were witnesses, and all), I might as well admit that we had a minor technical snafu this last time out. I had the Airturn page-turning pedal all set to go, but when we arrived at the first turn, I pedaled - and nothing happened. We had to stop and restart after a quick exiting and re-entering of full-screen mode. In retrospect I'm not sure what went wrong, although it wasn't the fault of the Airturn device. The PC had simply stopped responding to instructions in full-screen mode, and the PageDown key wouldn't budge it either. This machine has done that a few times before when it's been left sitting unattended for awhile (as happened here), but I don't think it's a major concern. However, I will always remember to double-check that the program is "awake" before starting a performance.

Finally, a quick reminder that you can hear the "orchestral" version of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 this Saturday night (2/28) at 7:30 in a performance by the Gordon Symphony Orchestra. It's a very rich program that also includes a Handel oboe concerto, with student soloist, a large-scale work for cello and orchestra by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner, with artist-in-residence Carol Ou as soloist, and Brahms' gorgeous Schicksalslied for chorus and orchestra, feating the Symphonic Chorale and College Choir. Guest conductor is Susan Davenny Wyner.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Piano Hero: Level 2

Last week’s debut of Piano Hero seemed to be a success, so we’ve decided to go to Level 2 this Wednesday (2/25), again at noon in Phillips Recital Hall.

If you missed last week, the idea of Piano Hero is that pianists Michael Monroe and Nathan Skinner will sightread (more or less) a symphony originally intended for orchestra, but arranged for one piano, 4 hands. Such arrangements date from the nineteenth century when the lack of home audio equipment meant that this was the best way to hear Beethoven’s latest at home. So, these performances are intended to be rather informal, which means that Michael and Nathan have agreed not to practice too much. That’s what gives the experience a bit of a Guitar Hero feel – at least for the performers. They also will again be playing from a geeked-up piano that replaces the conventional music rack with two computer monitors, and also incorporates a magical page-turning pedal.

Last week Michael and Nathan survived Beethoven’s first symphony. This week, in anticipation of Saturday’s upcoming Gordon Symphony Orchestra concert, our pianists will be tackling Mendelssohn’s colorful Symphony No. 4, popularly known as the “Italian.” If you don’t know this piece, hearing it in the piano version is a nice way to get to know the tunes and basic character in preparation for hearing the full orchestra play it on Saturday. If you do know the piece, you’re still sure to hear something new in this “black-and-white” version. In a preliminary pseudo-rehearsal, Michael and Nathan noticed that there are a LOT of notes in the first and last movements. This could be the week they go down in flames. Would you want to miss that?

As before the doors will be open and you are welcome to stay for as much or as little as you please. The symphony is about 30 minutes long.

To recap:

Piano Hero
Wednesday, 2/25
High Noon
Phillips Recital Hall

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Piano Hero Debut

This Wednesday (2/18), come see pianists Michael Monroe and Nathan Skinner take on Beethoven in a matchup of four hands against the great master’s first symphony.

It’s often said that 4-hand piano arrangements of orchestral works were the record players (iPods, for the kids out there) of the nineteenth century, as this was the only practical way to hear such music in the home. Although some details might get lost in the translation from colorful orchestra to black-and-white keyboard, these stripped-down transcriptions provide an enlightening, entertaining, and economical way to hear the classics.

It’s also a lot of fun for the pianists, and in that spirit, Michael and Nathan are planning not to practice too much. It’s often said (by Michael, at least) that sightreading at the piano is kind of like playing a video game. The notes come flying at you and you do the best you can not to get blown up. So, this is intended less as a polished performance than as a diverting way to pass the noontime hour on Wednesday. The doors will be open, and all are invited to wander in for as much or as little as you’d like.

Although the performance will be old-school in the “nineteenth century record player” sense, it will have a twenty-first century feel as Michael and Nathan read the music from computer monitors and turn the pages with a magical wireless pedal. (Why? Because they can.) So, it might really look like they’re up there playing a piano version of Guitar Hero with an 88-key controller. Feel free to cheer or boo as so moved.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, the first of the legendary Nine, is a delightfully high-spirited work in four movements lasting about 25-30 minutes (depending on how many times our heroes crash and burn). If all goes well, Symphony No.2 might follow next Wednesday.

It all takes places this Wednesday (2/18) at noon in Phillips Recital Hall.

Admission is free, and you’ll get your money back if you don’t have a good time.

~ ~ ~

Michael Monroe is an Assistant Professor of Music at Gordon, where he teaches piano and music history and helps to turn unsuspecting undergrads into opera singers. He blogs regularly about music at

Nathan Skinner is a 2007 Gordon grad now working as a coach in the Music Department. He’s also the organist at First Congregational Church of Hamilton and is frequently featured as an organist at major Gordon events. He can play really loud.