Greetings!! Today in Mr. Severino Presents I’d like to give you some ideas to help you become a more interesting pianist. At first you may think odd the whole idea of becoming an interesting pianist.
I learn the notes and play them. What more is there? you may be thinking to yourself. That’s a very good place to begin!! Let’s begin with the question What more is there?
When I was in 4th grade we began learning about poetry. I thought it was interesting how the poets would put together words in very clever ways. I think my first favorite poet was Ogden Nash. His poems made me laugh. Like this one.
by Ogden Nash
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.
What a clever way to describe a cow! Each end of this creature tells us something very important about itself. But, as a 4th grader I never came across the word – bovine. The word bovine means relating to cattle. The little word ilk was also a word I was not familiar. Ilk means class or family. So, the first line of the poem is a poetic was of saying that the cow is a member of the cattle family.
It is not at all uncommon for poets to use words that are a little unusual. The magic of poetry is often in the clever way poets, like Ogden Nash, put words together. Now let’s compare Ogden Nash to my version.
by Dan Severino
The cow is of the cattle family;
It may moo, but it also gives milk.
There is nothing clever in my version, it doesn’t even rhyme. There is nothing that would make anyone remember it. Not so with Ogden Nash’s version.
How does this relate to playing the piano? Much of the music we enjoy is in the clever way the composer puts notes together. Any time I hear a piece of music I like I want to get a copy of the music to see exactly how the notes were put together. Also, when playing the piano, we want to make our pieces special so they will be remembered, just like the Ogden Nash poem.
In music, it is the composer and the clever way he puts notes together that create a kind of musical poetry. Let’s now take a longer poem, examine it, and then notice the the tools of understanding and expressing a poem. We will find the same tools are used in understanding and expressing a musical composition.
The poem I want to use was also one of my favorites while in grade school and it is still a favorite many years later. The Duel by Eugene Field.
by Eugene Field
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn’t there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)
The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!”
And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!”
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I ‘m only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don’t fancy I exaggerate—
I got my news from the Chinese plate!)
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)
This poem is first of all a story that captures our imagination. The way the poet tells the story makes us want to listen to the very end. The poet asks himself, “How can I make this story as interesting as possible?” The pianist (you) must asks himself, “How can I turn these notes into a musical story”? Too often we are given a new song and the first thing we do is start playing the notes. It may be better to do some other things first.
1) Look at the title. Does the title give us any clues as to what this piece is all about? Do you understand the title? If a composition is titled – Berceuse – do you know what you will be playing?
This poem is called The Duel. A duel is a fight between two people, usually with witnesses, to settle a point of argument. Duels have been going on for almost 1,000 years. Our combatants are the gingham dog and the calico cat and the witnesses are the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate. The two witnesses give their witness to the narrator who informs us of The Duel at the end of each verse.
2) Look at the time signature. The time signature tells us how our musical notes are organized. This is VERY important. Beat 1 is always emphasized and it is especially important to stress this beat in anything dance-like.
3) Look at the key signature. Are there sharps or flats that I must play throughout this piece? Is the piece major or minor?
4) Check out all the musical words in the composition. If you don’t know them ALL — find out!! Ask your teacher OR buy a music dictionary. CLICK HERE for a link to several Dictionaries of Musical Terms.
5) Look for notations that are not familiar to you. Examine them to see if you can figure out how to play the passage.
Now the poem itself. There are two pairs of people in our poem. The main characters of The Duel are the gingham dog and the calico cat. The next most important are the witnesses to The Duel; the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate. The narrator also has a very important part to play in this poem as he relays The Duel from the information given to him by the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.
What is gingham? Gingham is a checked or striped cotton fabric. Gingham was a cloth that was first found by European tradesmen that was found in Indonesia.
What is calico? Calico is a coarse, brightly printed cloth. Calico was imported from India. Eventually these two cloths were made on the European continent.
So, the gingham dog and the calico cat were two stuffed cloth animals that were put together on a table, probably for decoration. And in this same room was a special place for some rare knickknacks like the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate. Very often, when people have items in their home that are special or rare, they identify them with the country where they were made. I think we can say the room than housed our four friends was a very special room indeed.
Let’s now listed to The Duel by clicking on the link below.
First, knowing what a duel is helps the person reciting the poem to understand why we have two combatants and two witnesses that give information to the narrator. We might enjoy the poem without knowing this information but with the information everything in the poem makes more sense.
It is therefore very important that you know everything you can about the pieces you play. If you are playing a Minuet, you should learn everything you can about a minuet. The more information you have found the more interesting you can make your minuet. The more information you have the more you will enjoy practicing the minuet trying to get it exactly right. You will soon begin to see that your piano compositions all have interesting stories behind them. You will also see that music is so much more than “the notes” staring at you on the page.
Did you notice how many times in The Duel that the last word of two consecutive lines would rhyme. These two lines of poetry are often referred to as a couplet. Music, too, often has set of notes that musically rhyme. Here is an example from a popular composer for young students, Cornelius Gurlitt.
Notice the first two short phrases. They rhythm is exactly the same in each phrase. The melodic shape is exactly the same in each phrase. In this sense there is a perfect “rhyme” between the two phrases. The only difference is the second phrase begins one step higher than the first phrase, the second phrase begins on “D” and the first phrase begins on “C”.
This little example shows you how the two short musical phrases act like the several couplets in the poem, The Duel.
“Rhymes” exist in music just as frequently as in poetry. Draw attention to the poetical elements you find in your musical compositions.
Did you know there was A LESSON that Eugene Field wanted us to think about in his poem, The Duel? Eugene Field asks us at the end of his poem – Now what do you really think of that! What do you really think about two people that fight each other so intensely that they “eat each other up”. This is a poetic way of saying they do harm to each other and hurt each other. I think he wants us to think that this is not a good idea at all. What do you think?
Composers often have LESSONS they have in mind in the compositions they write too. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a group of pieces that we know today as “The Two and Three Part Inventions”. Bach tells us WHY he wrote these pieces. He wrote an …
” … Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only
(1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress,
(2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good Inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however,
(3) to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time
(4) acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”
Bach wrote these pieces with four major ideas in mind. I would like to draw our attention to points 3 and 4. It was very important to Bach that students learn to develop a cantabile style in playing. It was very important to Bach that one learn HOW TO SING on their keyboard. Much of Bach’s greatest music was for vocalists and that ability TO SING was at the center of his work as a musician and composer.
Also, as a composer, Bach wanted to draw attention to his students not only to perform well BUT TO COMPOSE too. Bach wanted to give his students the tools to compose and this is one of the major reasons he wrote his Two and Three Part Inventions.
To be involved in music is to be involved in a great adventure of the imagination. That imagination is often centered on the poetry of sound. It is also centered on being as curious as a detective in searching every avenue that might lead you to some information to help you understand your musical compositions better. The great thing about studying music is that every area of human thought crosses its broad roads; history, poetry, mathematics, science and composition and even athletics.
Thanks for participating in Mr. Severino Presents. ‘TILL NEXT TIME — KEEP PRACTICING!!
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