Sunday, April 27, 2008

Largo by Frederic Chopin

This is another recording from the book, Classical Music for the Church Service: Volume 2. Although Frederic Chopin wasn't really known for writing music for worship (unlike Johann Sebastian Bach), you will understand why this selection was included in a volume of music for worship services. It has a very hymn-like feel and structure. It is a simple melody moving in a series of chords. It also ends with a cadence that moves from the fifth back to the dominant. This is very typical in church music. For example, at the end of a sacred work, you'll often hear a concluding "A-men" held out at the end. That is quite often a cadence from the fifth to the dominant to help the music feel a firm resolution. Chopin ends this piece in a similar way. However, his conclusion is more subtle for two reasons:
  1. For the second-to-last chord he uses a B-flat seventh instead of a plain-old B-flat Major chord. This ads a harmonic disonance (yes, I know that is an oxymoron) helping to level out the grandoise feeling that might be there otherwise.
  2. For the final chord he leaves out the B-flat and writes only the dominant and third (E-flat and G). The B-flat is what ties the dominant of the B-flat seventh and the fifth of the E-flat Major chords together to give it a prominent feeling of resolve. He leaves out that note to create a more subtle conclusion to the piece. I should note that the B-flat is still in the listeners mind and ears because during the interval between the last two chords the left hand steps down from the dominant (E-flat) to the B-flat, then down one more to the E-flat for the final chord.

With all of that information fresh in your mind, now go and enjoy listening to Frederic Chopin's Largo BI 109 at my Lisztonian site or by using the convenient player below.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What if I don't reach my goal?
What happens to existing donations?

I've now been asked this question several times and so I think it is worth a post.

Q: What if I don't reach my goal? What happens to existing donations?

A: At some point, if I still haven't reached my goal, then enough is enough! I still plan on providing free recordings, but will eventually buckle down and do one of the following:
  1. If I have enough money, then I'll downgrade my wishful thinking from a Steinway model B to a Boston Grand (still made by the Steinway company) - pictured to the right. These pianos are still excellent and are about half the price of a real Steinway.
  2. If I still can't afford a new piano and there is no obvious way that I can use the money to improve the quality of my music and recordings, then I'll donate the funds to the Gina Bachauer Foundation or some other worthy piano-related institution.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How Often should I Tune My Piano?

A question I am very commonly asked is, "how often should I tune my piano"?

The answer:
As often as it needs it, and as often as you can afford to!

Concert pianos are tuned before every performance and are often tuned/adjusted during intermission. Recording pianos are also tuned and voiced regularly. I've heard rumor that some of the best recording studios will tune multiple times a day -- that doesn't surprise me because it really comes down to "as often as it needs to be tuned." Especially in a recording, an off-tune (or poorly voiced) piano will be extremely noticeable.

The next question that typically follows is, "so how often do you tune your piano?"

The answer:
As often as it needs it, and as often as I have time for it!

When I got my first piano (the studio upright I currently record on) I had a guy from the piano store come and tune it for me. As I watched him, I realized that I was completely at his mercy and that I would need to constantly call him to come and fix things. This would never do, especially since it costs around $75 per tuning, not counting voicing and regulating. So for a low-end upright piano, it just wasn't worth it. At the same time, I couldn't live with a piano that was constantly out of tune. So I went online and bought myself a basic piano tuning kit. I then went to the BYU library (where I was currently enrolled for school) and searched for books on piano tuning. I found an extremely old and very thick book about piano tuning throughout history and so I sat down in the middle of the isle (fortunately this was a very low-traffic section of the library) and I proceeded to read all about tuning pianos. I learned some very interesting facts about tuning harpsicords and the early pianoforte instruments -- all very useful knowledge ;) Then I opened up my piano and started fiddling with it.

It took me a good year or so to really get the hang of it. At first, it took me 6-7 hours to tune my piano. Now I've got it down to about an hour. However, with all of the recording I've been doing recently, I've been keeping it in tune and so it only takes me about 30 minutes to keep it in tune before each recording session. You'll notice in some of my recordings that I sometimes miss a few keys -- and sometimes it is just the piano. There are a couple of really stubborn strings that go out of tune almost immediately and then there are a few that must be poorly tempered because they just never go perfectly in tune :( If your feeling sorry for me, now is a good time to ask you to make a donation towards my Steinway ;)

So for all of you piano lovers out there, if you are serious about keeping your piano in good shape, here is what I recommend:

  • Have your piano tuned at least every 3 months if you can afford it.

  • If you can't afford it, or if you want it tuned more frequently, invest in a basic tuning kit. You might be frustrated at first, but after a while you'll get the hang of it.

  • If neither of the above are an option, then please get your piano tuned at least once a year. This will help keep the strings happy.

Oh, and tuning is NOT the same as voicing and regulating. I still recommend that you have a professional help you with that. Every piano brand is different and so the needs will differ slightly, especially with voicing. The Steinway is the most amazing piano when it comes to voicing because you can customize the sound in so many different ways; boy, I wish I had one of those -- hint, hint!

I hope this has been helpful to somebody :-)

Why didn't I finish my Music Degree?

I have lived a double-life :) My education and career are as an engineer, but my passion is the piano. Few of those who know me through my career even know I play the piano; and those who know me through my music are typically surprised that I did not finish my music degree.

So why didn't I ever make piano performance my career? Well, that was my original plan. While getting my undergraduate degree at BYU I was pursuing a double-major in engineering and piano performance. I worked hard at both, but eventually I had to choose. My heart yearned to be at the piano but my mind and in-most spirit knew I needed to pursue my degree in engineering. This was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.

So at that point, I stopped taking any classes towards the music major, and instead finished all of the classes for the music minor. I continued to perform and study the piano as much as time would permit, but it had to take a backseat to my engineering degree and my career.

And now... I work hard to provide for my family in my industry while spending a little time each week studying music to share my passion for classical piano with the public. I've been doing this for several years now and I've found that it is a happy middle-ground. I'm never fully fulfilled as a musician, but I am ecstatic knowing that I have done the right thing for my family. My family is the most important thing to me and so I don't ever look back with regret when I know that I did what I felt was the best choice for my wonderful wife and beautiful children.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Arabesques for Piano (I)
Dedicated to the Robertsons

To all of my listener's I apologize for the several-week delay in releasing another recording. Sometimes life becomes too busy for personal hobbies :)

My latest release happens to be my first recording of a work by Claude Debussy (believe it or not). It is the first of two arabesques (Deux Arabesques). This is a well-known composition by Debussy, who is an impressionist composer. It is one of his earlier works, and is actually not very stylistic of the music that granted Debussy's title as an impressionist composer. Nonetheless it has remained a favorite amongst classical listeners.

This piece is often heard at group or student recitals. It is an all-too-common mistake (in my opinion) to hear this piece played at more of an Allegro tempo than the indicated Andantino. I've tried to maintain a strolling pace in this recording although it still feels a bit rushed at times.

I am dedicating this recording to my dear friends, the Robertsons. While I was living and serving as a volunteer missionary in Japan (for my church), the Robertsons acted as my mentors, guardians, friends, and stand-in parents. With hundreds of volunteers serving under their care and direction, they still took the time to make each one of us feel important and loved. They gifted true charity to everyone they encountered; and brought renewed hope, and a warm heart when people needed it most. So it is with utmost sincerity and respect that I dedicate the recording of this Arabesque to them.

For additional commentary and to download this recording please visit this page of my Lisztonian site. For other recordings or to download all of my music, please go directly to

As has been the case with all of my recent recordings, this piece was recorded on a studio upright. Much of musicality is lost to the limitations of the instrument. To those of you who have enjoyed listening to my recordings, please consider signing your name to the lid of my future piano by making a donation. I am still a long way from reaching my goal, but I am hopeful that the day will eventually come that I can be recording free music on a new Steinway Model B. Regardless of whether or not you choose to donate, THANK YOU for your support and for enjoying the music that I provide.

Here is a streaming version that you can listen to now of this latest recording (Two Arabesques for Piano (#1) by Claude Debussy). You may also subscribe on my iTunes page so that you don't miss anything new!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kotaro Fukuma Concert

Kotaro Fukuma
Last night I had the extreme pleasure of attending the latest in the Gina Bachauer Concert Series. The performer was a Japanese artist by the name of Kotaro Fukuma. He played 4 different composers including Haydn, Schumann, Takemitsu, and Scriabin.

This was my first experience hearing the music of Toru Takemitsu - a famous Japanese composer.

The concert was fabulous. I was extremely touched by his performance of the Haydn Sonata. There was also one of the scenes from Schumann's Carnival that I have never heard performed with such an astounding brilliance -- I'm struggling to remember what the name of that scene is called.

He performed one encore piece that was another work of Schumann's (I believe it was Spring Evening?) arranged by Franz Liszt. Although it was reminiscent of something I've heard before, it was not all too familiar to me.

Immediately following the performance I went straight to the lobby to purchase Kotaro's album of Toru Takemitsu to add it to my collection. Kotaro was also in the lobby greeting and thanking his patrons and so I took the opportunity to have him sign my new CD :)

If any of you have the opportunity to see Kotaro in concert, PLEASE DO! Also, I encourage you to consider buying one of his albums that he has available here.