The Ultimate Secret to Success

Added on by Greg Anderson.
I’ve lived in many different countries and have a strong music theory education from growing up in Japan, but after moving to England, it seems that they look more at impression and emotion. I have played sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, and a few works by Chopin. I don’t know where my piano levels are and I don’t know where to focus my studies. Ultimately, I would like to play the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto. Any advice?
— Ken

Dear Ken,

First of all, how lucky you are to have an international approach to your pianistic education! All the elements you've gained over the years during your travels — technical, analytical, musical, emotional — are crucial for high level piano performance. 

In the end, the ultimate secret to success in the classical music world lies within: you must posses an unyielding inner fire for the art form. If mastery of the instrument is something you desperately desire, you'll practice more (and more and more!), and as a result you’ll become a better pianist. As a high school student, I would practice 4 hours a day on average; by the time I was at Juilliard, I'd often practice over 8 hours every day. Although there are many other factors that contribute to one’s success in the field, I certainly wouldn’t be the pianist I am today without all the hard work I’ve put in (and continue to do!). Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or short-cuts in the path to becoming a pianist ... but *fortunately* that path is filled with unimaginable beauty.

With regards to Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, it’s an incredible piece of music, and it’s no surprise you’d like to perform it. However, I recommend you wait until your teachers assign you the piece before you attempt to learn it, especially since the piece could harm you physically if you’re not ready. (Your teachers may have you work on other music by Rachmaninoff first, so that you’re both musically and physically prepared for the daunting challenges the await!)

Good luck!

Greg 

Two Copies Necessary for Performance?

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Greg, I was in the audience when you played at the Steinway Store in Los Angeles recently. I was so enthusiastic, I bought four of your arrangements, two for duet and two for two piano duo. When I got home, I realized that I have only one score for the two piano works. They are St. Matthew Passion and the Carmen Fantasy. Usually when I buy two piano scores, they come with two copies. Was that an oversight?
— Roseann Herman

Hi Roseann,

Thank you for all of your support, and many apologies for any disappointment or confusion! 

Alfred music chooses to sell all their two piano scores as single volumes — two scores are necessary for performance. Publishers choose to deal with this issue differently, but we can see how Alfred came to this decision, and we have chosen to do the same with our own scores published via Awkward Fermata Press. On a logistical level, it can be messy for the publisher to produce a second, differently formatted score and stuff it inside the first copy — this increases the price disproportionately. On a personal level, Liz and I often purchase our scores separately as we practice and live in different cities, so we'd rather not buy two sets and have additional scores left over. 

Thankfully, Alfred's prices are extremely reasonable compared to other two piano scores by different publishers, even those not sold in sets!

Assuming you're still in need of a second score, both the St. Matthew Passion and the Carmen Fantasy are available for purchase online.

Greg

Personal Authenticity in Entrepreneurial Activities

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg,
I am a member of a Scottish Music Society and we are hoping to help young classical artists of great get their name in front of those that can help them launch their career. It seems to me a very crowded and ultra competitive market and that "mere" talent is a commodity. It is in the "other stuff" that positive differentiation has its best chance. I am considering doing videos for them in the vein that you have pioneered. Any advice? regards,
  - Keir Smart

Hi Keir,

I always cringe a little when I read messages like this, as if I made the Ligeti video to help my career -- or the Piazzolla, Mozart, or Moonlight videos -- or any of the videos for that matter (...besides the blatantly promotional Anderson & Roe promo video, of course)! These videos were inspired by an inner necessity: in the case of the Ligeti video, my desire to to make the angular, dissonant music relatable to non-classical audiences; in the case of the Piazzolla videos, to highlight the charged chemistry, the physical friction, and that element of danger so inherent in Piazzolla's tangos; in the case of the Mozart video, to visually communicate the joyful dialogue between the two piano parts; in the case of the Moonlight video, to inspire YouTube users to watch music performances from an aesthetic point of view and NOT a critical point of view. And knowing these videos would be watched by an inattentive, distracted audience, we presented the material very differently than we would have for an audience in a quiet auditorium.

All of that said, the videos have been extremely helpful in enhancing my solo and duo careers -- but I think people respond to the videos because they came from an honest place. Likewise, audiences react differently to authentic, honest music making than they do to insincere, self-promoting music making.

If you are helping young musicians start their careers, I advise you to try a different approach. Instead of starting backwards ("the videos worked for Greg, so let's make similar videos"), start from the foundation -- from the artist himself or herself. Find what really makes a musician tick, and go from there. Perhaps a pianist really loves the most serious repertoire -- a YouTube music video of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata would be a terrible idea because it's not suited to the medium; likewise, a showy Brahms hungarian dance music video would be a terrible idea because it wouldn't represent the artist. Rather, consider new ways to energize both the artist and the music he or she loves: perhaps the "Hammerklavier" would benefit from a different mode of performance. The piece is epic, and to think it existed within the mind of a deaf genius! What if you developed a mode of performance that emphasized Beethoven's isolation from the world ... and at that point in his life, his closeness to God? An empty church seems to perfectly capture that twisted sense of isolation and spiritual intensity. You could charge $5,000 for a single ticket to the performance, a one-on-one experience with the "Hammerklavier" -- the pianist and the sole audience member in an otherwise empty church. That could be pretty powerful.

Try considering a "new-music" advocate on for size instead. Pretend your artist wants to present a piano piece by Wuorinen. To me, his music sounds so haphazard and jagged; I could envision a wild concert experience in which the audience was in a warehouse. Imagine each person taking a couple shots (yes, of alcohol) at the start of the event (is there any other way to listen to Wuorinen??). Now imagine each audience member being given a huge canvas and materials (crayons, buckets of paint, wet cement, or whatever!) and some instructions. When the pianist begins performing the piece, the audience completely lets loose and creates individual (or communal) works of art as dictated by the piece of music. My canvas would look like a no-holds-barred explosion. This experience would be tremendously exciting and memorable! I'd literally be "living" Wuorinen's music, and I'd never listen to his music the same again. The piece performed by the pianist would be indelibly etched in my mind. I think it would have the power to be a profoundly moving artistic experience.

These ideas could enhance the communicative potential of the music, *and* they would probably generate a bit of publicity, which seems to be your goal. Consider this "ground-up" method, and see what you can construct for your artists!!

- Greg (Oct. 23, 2009)

Sending Work to Greg

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
I have some pieces you may be interested in. Want 'em? I have scores and recordings. Holla!

Dear No Name,

Yes, I always enjoy looking at new scores and hearing new music. I make no guarantees that I will perform works you send -- my repertoire wish list is huge and there's never enough time to learn everything! You never know though -- the music you send could make it onto my wish list and someday be the perfect piece to fill a recital program, or inspire a recital program, for that matter!

- Greg (Aug. 3, 2009)

Stay Present

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
I've been playing piano for about a year now and have advanced well. I can play Chopin and some of the more easy Liszt now, but I feel that there is something missing in my playing. I think maybe its my phrasing or rhythmic drive or dynamic stratification. I thought another one could be that my fingers were still not muscularly developed. Do you have any advice on how to rectify any of these problems? Should I do Hanon or something like that? It would really be appreciated, or better yet tell me how you got so phenomenal?
Mark A.C. Warner

Dear Mark,

Phrasing? Rhythmic drive? Dynamic stratification? I couldn't tell you what needed the most work from a simple message, but if you are aware that these may be problem areas for you, then you're likely right.

The most straightforward advice I could offer is the following: BE PRESENT. Be in the moment, be aware, be centered, be you. It's the only way to really listen and concentrate.

The second piece of advice is a bit more clever, but essentially the same thing: play as if it were the last time you were ever going to play the piano. It's similar to the concept of living every day as if it were your last. There's something to that notion of "no second chances" that leads people to do what I wrote above: value the moment.

Somehow, Hanon has never inspired me to "be present" in the same way Chopin has. I've never practiced scales or exercises and I don't regret it. Call me spoiled, but I'd rather enjoy myself at all times than work hard for no reason other than the the payoff later. That's how I stay motivated.

Happy practicing!

- Greg

Audition Advice

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Greg, I'll be facing college auditions in about a year. I want to major in Piano Performance but I'm also thinking about Music History. What would be the perfect audition program? Most places around here require three contrasting pieces.
Josh in MS

Dear Josh,

You've asked an impossibly difficult question! There are a couple basic pieces of advice I can offer, but after that, things get tricky.

  • Play pieces you enjoy playing. In order to be thoroughly prepared, you'll have to practice a lot - and that shouldn't be a problem if you are playing something you like!
  • Play pieces that are within your abilities. A jury is much more impressed by controlled and musical playing than they are by messy playing of slightly harder music.

Okay. Now the tricky part. Do you play pieces that represent you or pieces that you're pretty sure the jury wants to hear?? In an ideal world, I would lay my heart right out on the table for the jury to pick apart ... but my honest choice of pieces would probably lead to a rejection letter! For example, if I had an audition tomorrow and was required to play three contrasting works, I would play a composition of my own, Earl Wild's transcription of Rachmaninoff's "On the Death of a Linnet," and my own transcription of Poulenc's "Nous avons fait la nuit" (I'd have to stay up all night long making the arrangement first!). I think that would be the perfect way for me to represent myself at this exact moment; it would certainly be a fast-path to the essence of "Greg."

Unfortunately, juries don't really work the same way I think audiences do! Most audition panels would be offended by my seemingly slight program - the short pieces, my own compositions(!), two (count them: one, two) transcriptions, the sentimentality, the avoidance of anything pre-1900, my failure to showcase the extent of my technique, etc. Instead, I can tell you right now that the audition panels are going to want to hear you play a Beethoven Sonata and a substantial work by either Chopin, Schumann, or Brahms (or possibly Liszt or Mendelssohn). Juries seem to find that through these two categories, they can most easily asses a student's proficiency and musicianship. In the past, I have followed that formula to the best of my abilities and it has always worked for me. In your case, the third piece is flexible; it is less important, but it says more about who you are as a person. (It's usually safer to highlight your sophisticated side.) To contrast the Beethoven sonata and the Romantic work, I would recommend anything by Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, or Bartok, or a sophisticated work by a well-known modern composer.

(There are, of course, exceptions to the above; however, I believe it to be the most straightforward a safe way to go about building an audition program.)

A jury forms many assumptions about a student just by looking at his or her program. Try to find three pieces (preferably within the confines mentioned) that represent you, compliment and contrast one another, and create a striking and memorable impression. Then: play well!

Good luck!!

- Greg

Memorization Tips

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Mr. Anderson,
Sometimes it's hard for me to memorize pieces. Am I just stupid or is it hard for everyone? I feel like killing myself when I have a memory slip. Please help me soon.
Sincerely,
Desperate in Denver

Dear Desperate,

Memory is something I've struggled with for as long as I can.....remember. Desperation and threats are certainly no way to solve the problem - in fact, the more you think about memory while you perform, the more slips are likely to happen. There are a couple tips I can offer:

  • Practice! The more you play a piece, the easier it will be to engrain the music in your memory.
  • Think harmonically. Remember the key scheme of the piece - For example, know that your piece is in d minor and that the middle is in F major.
  • When you memorize music, connect every musical phrase in the piece to images or feelings. The brain is better at retaining visual thoughts or emotions than it is at recalling numbers and words. It's this fact that allows us to "remember a face, but not a name!" Comical images help it stick even longer. For example, if there is a heavy, fast, and low passage in the music, try thinking about an elephant performing ballet while you are learning it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you think about the elephant during performance rather than every note name, you are more likely to recall the right notes. - Or if some of the music recalls the feeling of a really good hug, think about that while you learn it.

Good luck!

- Greg

Chopin's Coda

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
I am 16 and have been learning piano for 10 years and i am a chopin lover. I have just completed his 1st ballad but i am having trouble with the ending (my hands get tired). Are there any exercises that i could do to loosen up my hands or maby a good etude that could help. thanks.
 - Ara

Dear Ara,

Aw man! Exercises! Etudes! Those are no fun! The first time I learned the 1st Ballade, I had similar trouble with the coda -- my hands got really, really exhausted. I worked really hard on it, always making certain my hands were relaxed and rotating properly (don't try to do it all with your fingers; use your arm and wrist to your advantage!) and always listening carefully to the beautiful textures and harmonies. In the end, it wasn't perfect and I still struggled.

A few years later (and many pieces later) I worked the ballade up again for a concert. Low and behold, the coda came very easily to me! My technique had improved sufficiently to render the coda's difficulties obsolete. Soooooo -- work hard, but be patient as well.

- Greg (Oct. 23, 2009)