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

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.