Category Archives: inspiration

How I Began My Beguine

As I mentioned in my Bossa nova blog series, I became motivated to learn the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and his peers during my teenage years. Since my models were well-known jazz musicians I listened to a variety of their recordings which featured songs like The Girl from Ipanema, How Insensitive and A Day in the Life of a Fool.

After being captivated by the rhythmic accompaniments I heard, I found a way to imitate these types of Latin bass lines that worked for my solo piano playing. My approach to playing these bass parts with my left hand also worked very well on the Hammond B-3 organ which I played in various jazz and commercial groups.

Although I continued to use these rhythmically flavored bass parts for several years, something happened during the mid-1980s that totally changed my approach to playing left hand Latin bass.

Here’s what happened…..

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Autumn Nocturne, Tranquility in Season

Throughout my many years of teaching, students have often brought in one of Chopin’s Nocturnes and asked me to teach them how to play it. In order to help a student get started with the learning process, I realized early on that explaining what a nocturne is can be a tremendous help.

One of the ways that children and adult piano students can improve their playing as well as speed up the learning process is by understanding the music that they are working on. Throughout my years of working as a composer of concert (i.e. classical) music, I became familiar with all sorts of ways to increase my musical comprehension when it was needed.

As a result of this experience, I now often discuss the definition of the musical form of a piece during the student’s lesson. As I was writing this blog post, it occurred to me that there something about today’s featured selection that I had missed.

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Autumn Serenade – How Could I Have Missed This Musical Treasure?

During my years of working as a solo pianist, one of the greatest challenges that I faced was answering a request for a song that I didn’t know. I suppose that at one time or another every musician must deal with this issue. Veteran pianists, including Boston’s own Dave McKenna, Bob Winter, Ray Santisi and Paul Schmelling have spent thousands of hours on gigs (especially working with vocalists) and have internalized huge repertoires of standards and show tunes.

One of my constant joys as a piano teacher is to be able to introduce some terrific tune to a student who really likes it. With iTunes, Rhapsody Music and, my piano pupil can immediately search for and listen to a variety of inspiring performances of this selection for study. When he or she returns to the following week’s piano lesson, excitement and enthusiasm energize the learning process!

But I’m getting ahead of myself here……

As I began writing this post, I wanted to admit my own lack of familiarity with Autumn Serenade to you my faithful readers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about teaching piano. There’s always something to learn! Sometimes the expansion of my knowledge comes from a student while at other times it results from talking to a fellow professional colleague.

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Autumn in New York – Will the Real Vernon Duke Please Stand Up?

In many of my previous blog posts, I have mentioned the fact that finding sources of inspiration is absolutely critical to your musical vitality.

During the years when I was actively composing concert (i.e. classical) music, a somewhat unusual way to fuel my energy and enthusiasm for creative work became clear to me. I started reading biographies of famous classical composers. This not only validated my career path, but also sent me searching for musical scores and recordings. This process became a regular routine for me as I continued to grow and develop creatively.

It was in fact, during the process of reading Prokofiev’s biography (yes, he composed much more than Peter and the Wolf) that I became aware of the dual identity of the composer of Autumn in New York. Vernon Duke (1903-1969) was born in Russia as Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky.

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