An estimated 46% of Americans have taken music lessons, with piano lessons being the most popular choice. Most quit.
At some point, every piano student encounters a struggle to stay motivated. There are several factors that will influence if they come out of it: the teacher, their goals, and their perseverance are all important. But, in my experience, the BIGGEST factor that determines whether students will stick with their piano studies is whether they love the pieces they are playing!
I am uniquely suited to write for young pianists. As a pianist and composer, I know what audiences love. As a teacher, I know what students love.
I grew up immersed in classical music. I studied with renowned pianists and received degrees from top programs. I have a strong foundation in theory, music history, conducting, orchestration, and of course piano literature. In grad school, I also studied psychology and learned a LOT about... well... how we learn. What motivates us.
These days, I listen to music of all genres. Pop, rock, country... you name it. I draw inspiration from all of these.
This project will see through the publication of 100 pieces that are unlike anything else out there!
I write music for young pianists that's relevant and engaging... but challenges and inspires them to grow in their technique and artistry. I jokingly refer to these pieces as "gummy vitamins" - they're delicious but technically and artistically nutritious. They're etudes (studies) for this generation of pianists. Each piece was custom crafted for a student and has been student-tested and student-approved.
You WILL want to listen to this music!
Audiences who have heard these pieces have commented: "It's like something you'd hear in a movie, or on the radio."
The music is relevant and it is engaging. Styles include cinematic, contemporary lyrical, Neo-Classical, Neo-Romantic, jazz/blues, and minimalist.
It's been said that if your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough.
This is a huge project. Composing 100 pieces is just the start (the average length of time I spend on an intermediate piece is 4-5 hours. Advanced works have taken much longer!). Alongside the music (complete with colorful and inspiring cover and musical descriptions) will be video performances, video tutorials, and audio recordings. I'm estimating that's another 4-5 hours per piece. No joke.
The process looks like this:
I want to motivate piano students world-wide with music by a contemporary, female, American composer. I need YOUR help!
I am eager to reach students and teachers and share 100 Pieces for Piano Prodigies with them. Thank you for supporting this project!
Every dollar counts and is truly appreciated! I will be sharing progress updates and recordings as I make my way through this project. I am offering a few incentives to sweeten the deal!
I'll keep you up to date with my progress. You'll get to see behind-the-scenes of the work, hear the recordings, etc.
$25 or more: Zoom Concert and Q&A
Attend a Zoom concert and Q&A during which I play selections, share backstories, and address your questions about the pieces or process.
$50 or more: 25 Pieces Digital Music OR 5 Yoga Classes (+ Zoom Concert and Q&A)
Choose to receive sheet music for 25 pieces or attend 5 "Yoga for Musicians & Friends" classes. I am a "RYT200" yoga teacher and lead yoga each summer at the Intermuse International Music Institute and Festival. I will lead 5 live classes through Zoom (approx. 30 minutes/class). No prior experience necessary. Classes will focus on balance, posture, and awareness of breath and tension. And... at the end of each class, I'll play one of my compositions!
Pledge $100 or more: 50 Pieces Digital Music (+ Zoom Concert and Q&A)
When the compositions are complete, you will receive digital files to 50 pieces!
Pledge $200 or more: 100 Pieces Digital Sheet Music (+ Zoom Concert and Q&A)
When the compositions are complete, you will receive digital files to all 100 pieces AND an autographed hard-copy compilation.
Pledge $500 or more: Sponsorship Package
Help me get this music in the hands of teachers and students around the world! We will send digital AND an autographed hard-copy compilation of all 100 pieces to a music program in the USA or abroad (I have several I've worked with but am open to your suggestions) This will be donated on your behalf. I will also offer a Zoom masterclass free-of-charge to that school, good through July 2022. AND, I will perform a private Zoom concert for you and up to 25 friends!
As a pianist, I have enjoyed a vibrant career, performing as a soloist in 35 countries worldwide since my childhood (I first went on tour at age nine!). I have developed expertise in how to enchant an audience; capturing their attention within the first few notes and then taking them on a musical journey that leaves them inspired. I have performed masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and many other composers and intimately understand the theory and structure of successful composers. I have recorded critically-acclaimed CDs and DVDs as a soloist and collaborative pianist. I hold degrees from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington, Trinity College of Music in London, and Towson University.
As a teacher, I have taught ALL ages and levels of students. I have enjoyed working with advanced students at universities and conservatories and given masterclasses in Cuba, Lithuania, Germany, China, Poland, and throughout the USA. I have worked with outstanding young musicians at the Intermuse International Music Institute and Festival. Since 2008, a huge part of my career has been focused on developing the talents of pre-college students. I founded Piano Prodigies LLC in 2011. I consider myself a successful teacher, not just because several of my students have been successful in competitions or pursued careers in music (earning full scholarships to college along the way), but because my students of all aspirations have loved their studies. I take pride in establishing a strong rapport with my students and their families and serving as their musical mentor for years (see testimonials).
As a composer, I have written for piano, trio, and orchestra. My compositions have been performed by international orchestras including the Tianjin Philharmonic (China), Šiauliai Chamber Orchestra (Lithuania), King David String Ensemble (Israel), and the Cumanayagua Concert Orchestra (Cuba). My composition "In Memoriam" was premiered at the 2013 Pažaislis Music Festival in Kaunas, Lithuania on June 14 under the patronage of the President of Lithuania. I have had several works commissioned, and am the 2021 New Hampshire Music Teachers Association commissioned composer.
Piano Prodigies student Melodee Yumi Drescher is an example of incredible creativity, perseverance, and charm all rolled into one! Over the course of this past summer, she worked on a number of pieces, both within the Faber Piano Adventures series as well as independent works. At the end of August, she decided to organize her very own recital for family members from near and far (visiting from around the world!),. She advertised the performance, prepared tickets, and had several tiers of seating options. She masterfully emceed the program, introducing each of the pieces to her appreciative audience and wowing them with her expressive and dynamic performances.
GREAT WORK, YUMI!
Interview with Yumi
What are your favorite hobbies?
My favorite hobbies are dancing, piano, art, music... and I LOVE learning things!
How long have you been playing piano?
Since I was three!
How did you get the idea for the recital?
I just love piano and I thought it would be a nice idea to share music with my family. I practiced to learn the pieces, and I decorated our home for the concert. I set up a cashier box for tickets.
What was practicing like?
I practiced a few times a day! Sometimes it was hard, and I would practice in the morning, take a break, and then get back to it later on. Mom and Dad would help and check in on me.
What was your favorite part of the recital?
Playing all the music!
Do you think other students would enjoy putting on a recital for their family and friends?
Yes, very much!
[Special thanks to Ned Phoenix for his assistance with this blog entry!]
My grandmother used to tell me: "You can be as old as a house... just don't ever stop learning!" In school, in life, and in music, I've found that to be solid advice. Sometimes the process is easy and fun, and other times it takes considerable effort. But it's never a waste of time.
This past week I learned how to play a new instrument. I had been invited to play the harmonium part for the Dartmouth Glee Club's performance of the Petite Messe Solennelle by Gioachino Rossini. Until Tuesday, I had been serving as pianist for weekly rehearsals. On Tuesday, April 30, the instrument (an Estey reed organ - in the Style E parlor organ case - made in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1891) was delivered to Dartmouth, and I changed course: new instrument, new music. Four days to make it happen.
Ned Phoenix (https://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/ned-phoenix) of Phoenix Reed Organ Resurrection in Townshend, Vermont owns this beautiful instrument, among many others of all sizes in his collection. He gave me a two hour lesson on how to play a reed organ. When he demonstrated the sound I immediately was amazed: the keys seemed to sing! Reed organs have wonderful expressive possibilities.
So, what is a harmonium? Ned explained, "A reed organ is a glorified harmonica. Both have free reeds made of brass. Free reed instruments were invented in Europe during the 1820s, so they are relatively new instruments. The Harmonium is a standardized pressure-wind instrument patented by Debain in Paris in 1840, which is why the stop designations are in French. Its name and standard construction came into general use, and now "harmonium" is not usually capitalized. In the USA and Canada suction-wind "American organs" or "reed organs" were made without standardization of stops, which is why not much "serious" music was written for these instruments. "Pump organ" is a vernacular term for an American organ."
1. HEAD: I quickly discovered that playing this instrument would require quite a bit of physical coordination that I am not used to as a pianist. Forcing my brain to absorb new material, and my body to take on a new set of motions was a challenge. To be honest, for the first two days I truly wasn't sure if it would work out: I practiced in the mornings and late into the evenings. Only the evening before the crucial dress rehearsal (the only rehearsal with all the musicians together) did it finally click.
2a. FINGERS (Technique). Organ technique is really quite different from piano. Because an organist cannot create dynamic differences through articulation (the keys simply drop to the felt), when playing a reed organ the feet and right knee create the expression. The keys start the sound when you play them, but immediately cease to sound when you let go, thus, holding notes for their full durations and releasing exactly on the rests is essential technique. Playing organs requires continuous finger substitutions (playing a note with one finger, then changing the finger while holding the note to ensure that a finger is available for the next note), and trying to create legato chords and octaves requires "walking the thumb" (using the tip and knuckle as if they were two fingers!). Ned recommends placing your fingers on the tops of the keys and simply rocking your body on your sit bones: forward (to play), then almost sitting straight up (to release) all fingers simultaneously: "One thing is simpler and more accurate to move than ten things."
2b. FINGERS (Sounds Effects). Ned says, "Organs are the original synthesizers." There are multiple "stops" above the keyboard - pulling them allows different individual timbres of sound to be heard. The organist can also put together combinations of sounds (synthesis). Some stops operate special mechanical effects (the Coupler automatically adds an octave above each note that you play). Ned had gone through the score to determine what stops would be used for particular passages in the work. Now it was my job to push/pull the stops at the appropriate times - often while playing (thus, playing some right hand notes with the left hand so that the right hand could pull out or push in a stop knob).
2c. FINGERS (Accuracy). Based on the instant activation of any key that is pressed I would argue that playing a reed organ requires extreme accuracy - mistakes are much more audible than on a piano. A unified approach is necessary to make sure that all the notes in large chords sound at the same time (and, in my case, exactly at the time that the conductor requests it).
3. HEART (expression). Harmoniums were called "L'Orgue Expressif": the expressive organ. However, the organist cannot create dynamic differences through articulation - so there is no use in pressing the keys any harder than you have to. Expression is achieved by more or less pumping with the feet, and more or less opening of the swell with the right knee. The faster or more intensively the feet pump, the louder and/or more intense the sound; for diminuendo or to relax the sound, move the feet slower. Thus, reed organs provide an opportunity to create expressive dynamics, as well as to max out the volume for dramatic passages.
4. KNEES. The biggest surprise for me was the two levers operated by the player's knees; one for the left (Grand Orgue - full organ - activates all the stops at once, creating a very grand sound) and other for my right (Ouvert - open - allows incremental opening and closing of the swell shades (like a hand moving over a singer's mouth), allowing for dynamic subtleties). Thus, while eyes are reading the score and following the conductor, ears are listening to myself and other musicians, fingers are playing the keys and pulling stops, and feet are constantly changing speed... the knees would open and close the knee levers (and, not in synchrony). What a dance!
5. TOES. The air that is used to activate the reeds must be created by the player's feet which operate the bellows. Like a harmonica, without air pressure on the reeds the organ will not make any sound. Ned instructed me, "Two quick simultaneous pumps to get it started, and then alternate your feet."
This instrument stretched my brain and my fingers (and my feet) and it felt great! The music was glorious and the reed organ added a beautiful dimension to the soundscape of the work. I had a wonderful experience working with talented musicians and people, and hope to have the opportunity to further develop these new skills in the future.
Wikipedia article on Pump Organs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pump_organ
Nota Bene (per Ned Phoenix): Throughout the history of American reed organs, the names used denote both a case style and what one could expect for musical capabilities from each case style: lap organ, melodeon, parlor organ, chapel organ, two-manual with pedal. The Wiki article is misleading: Harmonium, melodeon, and parlor organ are all free reed instruments, but are not equivalent; each is constructed differently and has different musical capabilities.
YouTube video “Ned Phoenix demonstrates the Estey JJ,” an interview done by the Brattleboro Historical Society
The A435 Levi Fuller Extravaganza video in HD on Vimeo. 2012 event at Estey Organ Museum.
Congrats to Piano Prodigies students Amica Lansigan, Liana Lansigan, Nora Paydarfar, and Joey Goff on recent achievements!
If you are ever in need of a really beautiful, out-of-the box arrangement of the National Anthem, check out THIS beautiful rendition by 12-year-old Piano Prodigies student Amica Lansigan.
Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).