EAE 201 Ritenburg

Week 9 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

Week number 9 working on Chanson triste has been enjoyable. I really like this song even though I have found it very challenging. This coming week I need to work on my foot placement on the pedals. I was placing too much of my foot on. Only my big toe is to depress the pedal, my heels are to be firmly planted on the floor. That said, my piano skills and technique have increased overall as well as my understanding of the Romantic Era. I have grown the most learning this song by learning how to emotionally connect with a piece as a performer. I want to connect with my audience, give my listeners something they can think about, feel, or expand and enrich themselves on. I am always surprised how much effort and time (notice this is 9 consecutive weeks practicing 30 minutes per day) it takes to master a piece of music. My teacher Nina consistently points out with Chanson triste that there is a reason this song is included in the grade 8 curriculum- I noted previously that the notes, time signature, and key signature are not advanced/ difficult (although the time signature is rare it is not difficult) in this song. This song demands an emotional connection with it. I am getting there. There is a part in the song where the composer has indicated “poco piu mosso”, translated means “with a little more motion/agitated”. Younger students can play these notes but do not have the life experience yet to play this section of the song agitated. Nina asked me if I have ever been so angry that I was sad. After a few hard moments of thinking I remembered a time I felt like this. The 8 agitated measures of this song is where I get to express this feeling, through my fingers and their connection to the keyboard. I do hesitate slightly because I do not actually feel anger a whole lot, however I do feel frustration to a more maximum level than perhaps others do. I cannot wait to try this song this week by using these 8 measures as my outlet of built up frustration! This is brand new to me- I have never needed to play with expression before. This certainly adds a new level of vulnerability to my playing that I have not experienced. All my previous playing I was simply required to play the correct notes and such. I remind myself I have moved to a new level of playing which is performance based. Sometimes I wonder if this is what I want – I do not know because I think it simply scares me. I think I am afraid of criticism. When I am only concerned about the correct notes not much offense can be taken because I either hit the correct targets or I did not. So here is my window of opportunity to new experiences! Enjoy my final YouTube performance. Note the progress I made from week 1.

Week 8 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

My eighth week of working and practicing Chanson triste is proving to be fruitful. I am making progress although progress is slow. Slow and steady I guess! I have been surprised with the level of difficulty in this song because the notes and key signature are not difficult. My teacher Nina has pointed out to me several times that because of all the “extra” things this song requires is why this piece is included in the grade 8 book.

My new challenge this week was to start using the una corda pedal as well as the sustaining pedal (left and right pedals). The best way to describe this process is compared to learning to drive a standard vehicle: both pedals are vital yet do very different things but work in conjunction with one another. Sometimes I got my right foot mixed up with my left, meaning I tried to use my left foot on the left pedal to do what was required on the right and this would not produce the sound I was seeking! Nina had a laugh as she evaluated me this week because my mouth was open. This is a concentration strategy for me that I was completely unaware I was doing. To perform, my mouth needs to be shut! hahaha! Now I need to practice with my mouth shut. One would not think this difficult but I feel like a 1 year old learning to walk- I keep falling! I try one thing and I feel I go off sideways on another thing. I talked to Nina about this and she said that is why she scaffolds in her teaching. She does not let me move on to attempting a new technique in a song until I have a good handle on the current technique so that when I am trying to put all 150 things together it does not all fall apart on me, although that may be how I feel at times! I just cannot believe how much there is for me to concentrate on. My biggest worry this past week was that I would be lifting my fingers completely off the keys, losing my emotional connection with the song. Nina affirmed that I was doing just fine. I am so glad I see her weekly! Here are her notes for me for this coming week:

I am to practice having softer octave chords, meaning when I play large chords, especially in my bass (left hand) I need to remember these notes will automatically be far louder than my right hand because they are deeper sounding so I need to play them softly. Nina recommended I play on the very tips of the piano keys to achieve this soft and gently sound. I had never considered it important on where I hit the keys before in order to achieve different volumes in sound, but of course it makes sense because the key is really just a lever. If I strike it farther from the point of contact, it will produce a quieter sound, even in the bass clef. I need to be careful with my hand balance and this is tricky for many pianists. Having the right balance between bass and treble (left and right) is always a balancing act. In this song I do not want the bass clef to over power the treble sound but the reason this is difficult is because the bass is very low on the keyboard and the treble is on the other extreme, very high on the keyboard. Nina points out in her notes that majority of the dynamics occur in the right hand so that is where majority of my volume needs to come from. I will enjoy exploring this song further this week! I am always surprised that I can practice a song for 20 minutes every single day for months to get a song “performance ready” and the songs are often only a few minutes long!

Week 7 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

Another successful week with A Sad Song. I was to add in dynamics which I tried. I found this surprisingly difficult because there are now so many moving parts and I need to concentrate on several different things. Sometimes I had the dynamics in correctly but I forget about what my fingers were supposed to be doing- my fingers would completely lift off all the keys so then I lost my emotional connection with the song. Other times my pedalling was all over the place but my dynamics were solid. And one time my timing was really out of sync! But with practice I was progressing. I guess Nina felt I was progressing so much she added a new layer to my song. YES she did. NO I do not feel adequate to take this on! I now need to incorporate the una corda pedal as well as the damper pedal when I am trying to achieve an extremely quiet sound. Without the una corda pedal this extremely soft sound, especially in the bass clef, is very difficult to attain. The una corda pedal is the far left pedal on a piano also known as the “soft pedal”. When this pedal is depressed the piano shifts the hammers that control the piano keys only striking 2 strings instead of all 3 therefore dampening the sound, making it a softer and quieter sound. This is very complex to me because both hands are playing many keys at different times at different volumes and now both my feet with be depressing different pedals at different points in the song. My entire body is literally involved in producing this piece of music. Rarely have I played both pedals in a song together before. This makes me feel overwhelmed even thinking about it. Nina also suggested I speed the song up as it is dragging even though the song is meant to be played slowed, I am too slow!

Here is my YouTube link to witness my progress from 4 weeks ago!

This week I am adding a tidbit of history. I have been studying the Romantic Era because as you will remember this song emerged from this era. Large halls had been built to attract large audiences as well as musicians and musical “instruments had improved sufficiently to fill large spaces crammed with sound-absorbing people.” (Ainsley, R. 1995 The Encyclopedia of Classical Music. Dubai: Carlton Books). The piano had also evolved giving it increased power due to the string tensions being higher. I am so glad because I love to play this majestic instrument and I dream of playing in a large hall someday!

Week 6 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

Piano teacher notes (very bottom), Week 6

Another successful week of Chanson triste! I was very happy with the progress I had made over the week implementing Nina’s recommendations to improve my playing. I needed to begin playing using more emotion and I was hesitant because I did not actually know how. Turns out there is a trick to help me! If I keep my fingers connected to the keys, even when not making sound, I will achieve the “sad” sound I am seeking. I was successful in doing this as I practiced over and over this past week. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it works! When I do not completely lift my fingers off the keys, I create a different sound. I have never done this before. I can play sad even though I do not feel sad!

Moving forward this week, Nina has asked me to incorporate the dynamics. There will now be a lot going on in my brain and my fingers as I play this piece. I will be focusing on playing the correct notes with the proper timing (with a 5/4 time signature), pedaling properly, not losing contact with the keys to create the desired sad sound/ emotion, and incorporating dynamics (and there are many in this piece). I am excited to try this and I am grateful I am able to build on each element one by one because it makes playing not only achievable but successful! Nina also reminded me about the large jumps in the song, meaning when my hand needs to move up or down the keyboard in large octaves, I am not to move my hand laterally. I am to use an arc motion (“rainbows”) and this ensures I hit the keyboard correctly, not accidentally striking any other keys. It helps me be precise in striking the correct notes.

Week 5 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

I had a good piano lesson this week, reviewing with Nina, my piano teacher, Chanson triste. I added the pedal last week and I have the notes and proper counting in place. The pedal is coming along, I need to continue working with that. Nina could tell I was not playing with feeling however and of course playing in the Romantic Era, feeling and emotion is vital to the success of the final sound/ performance. With the song entitled Chanson triste, it translates to mean “A Sad Song” so I was very worried about how to play this song “sadly” because playing the piano never makes me feel sad. Turns out, Nina has a trick for this! Her notes are included:

Piano teacher notes, week 5

In order to play sad, I need to “maintain contact with the keyboard for a nice emotional/ connected performance.” This means I do not ever completely lift my fingers off the piano keys- I will lift my fingers enough to release sound but I am to maintain contact with the keyboard at all times.

This makes me very uneasy! I am not even sure how to do it! And I am very surprised that the position of my fingers can/ will change the sound I produce- in fact, I am doubtful! I have not attempted to try yet. Nina surprises me because she could “hear” I was not playing with emotion- she knew I was not connected with the song. I love the piece so much that I was not feeling nor portraying any sense of sadness at all. Nina’s point was if I don’t relate to my audience, “then what’s the point.” I do play for my own enjoyment but I am now at a level where my own enjoyment is second to performance and I do admit this is frightening to me. To allow myself to open up, be vulnerable to receive feedback, am I ready for this? This has never mattered in my previous playing experience. I will report next week my challenges of adding emotion and feeling to my playing!

Week 4 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

I was excited from this week’s lesson because I now have the proper counting in place in this song. With the time signature of 5/4 it is an unusual time signature but not one that is difficult. I am happy that my quarter notes now get their full 1 beat value…….. I was cheating them before! Moving on in the song, Nina has invited me to start using the pedal (see notes below). This is out of order and it surprised me! After notes and counting are in place, Nina generally has me work on dynamics: pedalling is left to last. Due to the nature of this song, she has asked that I incorporate the pedal before dynamics, so I will! The pedal seems to give this song a “finished” sound to it.

Piano teacher notes, week 4

One thing I am really enjoying about this piece so far is becoming acquainted with Kalinnikov’s charm because in this time period personality was beginning to come out in artists work. Artists are now allowed to express “feelings rather than about something abstract” (Ainsley, R. 1995 The Encyclopedia of Classical Music. Dubai: Carlton Books). Music is now allowed to be about something, it can tell a story and many stories are inspired by tourism because the composers travelled so much.

I wonder what Kalinnikov is trying to say in this song translated to mean “A Sad Song”? I wonder what he was so sad about? Will I be able to appropriately portray this sadness in this song? Will it make me sad? I am excited to explore these thoughts now that I have the notes and counting well established.

Week 3 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

Piano Teacher’s notes, week 3

This week’s lesson we spent most of the time talking and discussing the Romantic time period and what was going on politically in the area where the composer, Kalinnikov, lived, which was just south west of Russia. My teacher, Nina, pointed out that hired help was required to maintain the land of the more prominent members of society while at the same time maintaining their own lands- this was a huge struggle. At times, the more prominent society members may even request XXX number of harvested crops from the hired hands. We do not know exactly why Kalinnikov titled his piece Chanson triste but he may well have been influenced by what he saw going on around him. “Romantic composers traveled extensively and were often inspired by their tourism.” Ainsley, R. 1995 The Encyclopedia of Classical Music. Dubai: Carlton Books.

Nina has encouraged me to work on getting my counting secured with this song, I still seem to be struggling with this. The song is written in a 5/4 time signature which is an unusual time signature. It means there will be 5 counts in every measure and the quarter note is worth one count. I am not giving my quarter notes their full value.

Here is Chanston triste, recording number 2:

Week 2 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

I was very excited to attend my piano lesson this week to show my teacher the progress I have made with my song Chanson triste. She told me how to correctly pronounce the composers name but I am not sure I can remember! Here are the notes my teacher Nina made for me to work on this coming week:

Nina was very happy with my progress on learning how to play the ornaments however my timing was slightly off which was surprising to me because it was a quarter note that was getting me mixed up! Quarter notes, in this song, are worth one count, which is very easy to play and count. Anyway, Nina had me back up, slow down and try again to point out exactly where the timing problem kept occurring. Now that I know how to play the ornaments and have the correct notes, I need to speed them up and make them “light”.

Nina’s last recommendation for improvement came at bar 12 because there is a ritardando (a slowing down) that runs for the next 4 measures and I had not noticed this element in the piece of music. I was grateful this was pointed out because at this point in the song the chords are large (playing up to 6 notes between the 2 hands at the same time), so I will appreciate slowing down so I can be better prepared for the forte (loud) sound I will need to produce at this point (when I add in dynamics- I am not there yet).

For the history part of my learning this week I researched the Romantic Era, which runs between 1830-1900 and discovered that expression is what dominates this era but not letting go of older ideas. The people of this era were craving imagination, sensitivity, feelings, spontaneity and freedom. There was a deep desire to move away from the constraints of the classical period and showed rebellion by adding emotional expression into the music not previously used. Longer melodies and larger ranges of dynamics were incorporated into the composer’s music.

Week 1 Chanson triste by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

Chanson triste (A Sad Song) composed by Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901)

I have decided to learn a new song on the piano from the Romantic Era of the grade 8 Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum for my personal arts project for my Introduction to Aesthetic Education final project at the University of Regina for Heather Ritenburg. I am hopeful I can perform this piece at my winter concert in December and possibly submit it for adjudication come spring. I may even use this piece for my grade 8 exam in January 2021.

I started this song this week. Here is the link to my first attempt at this song with both hands playing together (I learn a new song hands separately). My YouTube channel will track my progress throughout the coming weeks and months! Below is the hand written notes my piano teacher, Nina, made for me on where/ what to work on this coming week as I practice this new song. Nina’s notes indicate I am to add in the “ornaments” this coming week. The ornaments always intimidate me! They are quick little notes added in tiny superscript to the top left of the indicated note on the music staff. The ornaments are not to be added into the time signature, meaning they are to be played very quickly, not adding time into the measure. This song has ornaments appear in 17/22 measures of this piece! My challenge this week is learning to play these ornaments!

In order to really understand and play this song with meaning and emotion I need to understand the composer, Vasili Sergeievich Kalinnikov (1866-1901). Kalinnikov was a Russian composer who died at the age of 34 from tuberculosis. Although he died young he had success writing both choral and orchestral works of which have been performed in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and Moscow. Kalinnikov had a gift for melody, had real talent and enjoyed support from his colleague Tchaikovsky (whose compositions I have also played).

Nina’s hand written notes, week 1 (I highlighted them)