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Book Reviews





The College Piano Handbook by Byron Goh Sutherland
Piano Lessons - Music, Love and True Adventures, by Noah Adams
The Piano Book, 3rd edition by Larry Fine
Encyclopedia of the Piano
Nineteenth Century Piano Music: Essays in Performance and Analysis, ed. David Witten





colpnohb.gif (3112 bytes)The College Piano Handbook

by Byron Goh Sutherland

Edited by David J. Kennison

The College Piano Handbook is a good starting point for information about bachelor-level piano and music programs, scholarships, and auditions at selected state universities in the United States. The spiral-bound format allows the book to lay flat for easy reference and use. Although the book offers some suggestions that we would not take too literally, it is still a very useful resource for teachers and students.

The book opens with a brief description of the application process, auditions, scholarships, and preparing for auditions - including samples/examples of suitable audition programs for Piano Performance majors and for Piano Music Education majors. The first impressions part of the Application Process section has some very good insights. For example, the student is advised to scope out how a department is run to get a feel for how the department will treat him and how well-organized it is to help students. Areas such as getting the correct information and being spoken to with respect by the office personnel can reflect on how the department is run and are suggested as things to evaluate.

Although there are a number of valuable ideas expressed in the section about preparing for auditions, especially regarding the amount of prep time needed to really get the music learned well for college auditions, we were a little concerned about a few of the statements regarding audition committees. We think the suggestion that the student and teacher should try to anticipate the likes and dislikes of the audition committee and plan the audition program around these preferences was a little overstated. Similarly disconcerting were some of the ideas expressed in the "self-confidence" section. While there is often some truth to the notion offered that music departments need students, a too-literal interpretation of this advice could lead some students to the wrong conclusions. We fear that that would feel that all schools are begging for students and that all the student need do is play and they are automatically in and given a degree. The best music departments have plenty of good students who must work hard to get degrees that can lead to meaningful careers in music, so we think that students should take the auditions seriously, just as they should use the audition visit to evaluate the school from their standpoint.

Samples of repertoire for undergraduate piano students constitute the focus of the second chapter. Graduate students or newer teachers who need a place to begin their quest for repertoire for their students will find this section helpful. Mr. Sutherland gives ideas for solo repertoire for the Piano Performance Major for all 4 years at the undergraduate level, for the undergraduate Piano Music Education Major, and for the Piano Minor. Ideas for piano concertos for students at the undergraduate level are also given, prefaced by interesting and pedagogically sound ideas for the teacher to contemplate before assigning students to prepare any sort of concerto.

The third chapter contains the degree program summaries. Included in each summary are the contact persons, audition requirements and/or dates, scholarships available, degrees offered, e-mail addresses, and telephone and fax numbers. These descriptions of the piano/music departments at 212 selected state-supported colleges and universities are direct and to the point.  Many provide a detailed listing of repertoire suitable for performance at a college/university audition. Equally interesting and amusing was a listing of music not to be performed at some colleges and universities, for example, the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, and Debussy's Clair de Lune. While not all state universities are listed in this collection and most private school programs are missing, The College Piano Handbook is a great starting point for information.

The College Piano Handbook's final chapter consists of advice to the college-bound piano student. Tips included: taking the education to be received seriously, being open minded to different repertoire, showing respect for your instructors, and being prompt, prepared and positive about your lessons. Also included was advice for the instructor. Among the instructor tips we appreciated were: being realistic in expectations of students, keeping a professional demeanor at all times, and avoiding counterproductive negative criticism of students. Finally, there was a brief section dealing with studio policies for the college piano teacher, and a sample of such a policy.

The College Piano Handbook can enhance many a piano teacher's library and should be useful to students of the piano who plan to major in music. Its coverage is not encyclopedic, nor without flaws, but those shortcomings do not outweigh the overall value of this volume.

The College Piano Handbook by Byron Goh Sutherland, List price: $22.95. #VOR127BO1, Published by Voice of the Rockies, P.O. Box 1043, Boulder, CO 80306. Ph.: 800-783-1233. Fax: 303-444-8334. E-mail:

Nineteenth Century Piano Music: Essays in Performance and Analysis

ed. David Witten

For those of us who are studio teachers, this textbook presents an aerobic workout for the mind that is sure to tone up flabby thinking. There are probably more than a few piano teachers who spend most of their time with students drilling into young impressionable brains the "correct" way of playing the repertoire based on dim memories of courses taken, nuggets from past teachers and aural concepts based on recordings and performances. There are also most likely many teachers who have all they can do to keep up with current competition repertoire, etc, much less take time to leisurely peruse a scholarly collection of invigorating essays. To all of us, I say: make time!

Each essayist in Nineteenth Century Piano Music offers their particular viewpoint of a composer's work through an exploration of specific analytical inquiries into its texture and structure. This intense examination, while not pedantic, serves to alert the pianist performer/teacher to areas of possible " ah-ha' s " and " gee -I-never-thought of-that!" or, conversely "that's a great confirmation of what I've intuitively felt"

Editor David Witten's Introduction and Chapter 1 ("Stemless Noteheads, Flying Frisbees. and Other Analytical Tools") humorously yet intelligently introduces the reader to the overall intent of this collection of essays. To this reader, the intent seems to be to offer the performer/teacher a bridge between the mystical metaphor and the measurable fact. Indeed, in subsequent chapters, the measurable facts are quite thoroughly examined without sacrificing the mystical metaphor.

Chapter 2 proceeds with a previously unpublished translation of an analysis of Beethoven's op. 35, the Eroica Variations that is quite detailed. This is followed by Chapter 3's fascinating comparison of brother and sister Mendelssohn/Henselt 's piano music in light of texture and gender aspects. Chapters 4 and 5 examines the harmonic and structural drama of Chopin's concluding phrases and codas in his Ballades

In Chapter 6, "Madness or Prophecy? Schumann's "Gesange der Fruhe" poses the possibility of Schumann's harmonic language foreshadowing the future rather than being indicative of a fragile mind. Chapter 7 discusses Liszt's long interest in Schubert's music and in his transcription of Schubert's lieder; particularly investigating the interaction of the earlier melodious Schubert with the later 19th century virtuosity of Liszt's imagination. Chapter 8 explores Brahms piano music op. 76-119 miniatures with "Brahms: Where Less Is More" detailing the craft of Brahms' genius. the last , Chapter 9 "A Masterpiece from an Inhibition: Quashing the Inquisitive Savage" discusses Mussorgski's "Pictures At An Exhibition", with the intent to restore Mussorgski's reputation as a more than competent composer of the "Russian 5."

By no means is this collection of essays exhaustive of 19th century piano music, and it is not meant to be. However, each essayist does justice to their subject, treating the reader to a personal exploration of the major contributors to piano literature of the 19th century. While the book is pricey, it is well worth the time and investment. You will find it a good read.

Jane L. Viemeister

Nineteenth Century Piano Music: Essays in Performance and Analysis, edited by David Witten, ISBN 0-8153-1502-3, Volume III from the Perspectives in Music Criticism and Theory Series from the Garland Reference Library of the Humanities. Hardcover list price, $52, Garland Publishing, NY, 1997

Piano Lessons

Music, Love and True Adventures

by Noah Adams

Learning to play the piano is thought by many adults to be too large an undertaking for a busy individual. In Piano Lessons - Music, Love, and True Adventures, Noah Adams, host of the National Public Radio show All Things Considered, has written a highly personal account of his own experiences learning to play the piano at the age of fifty-two. With his many years of interviews with famous performers in both the classical and the "pop" music world, Mr. Adams had an exceptional perspective on these musicians, their love of music and their studies. At first this reviewer groaned at the prospect of having to read lofty quotes, philosophical arguments about the aesthetics of music, or the sometimes boring analysis of different teaching methods. Instead, what I found was a fresh and engaging chronicle of Mr. Adams' own journey to musical joy.

The book literally opens and ends with Schumann's Traumerei from the Kinderzenen, which was one of Mr. Adams playing goals when he started piano. It was quite interesting and refreshing to read how he stuck to that piece, went to a summer piano camp, and finally was able to surprise his wife with a Schumann-esque Christmas present. He candidly admits there were days when he actually did not want to practice and was happier than a lark to have an assignment in Ireland as a wonderful excuse. Nonetheless, he ultimately came back to his beloved Steinway #1098 to wrestle with it, work with it and eventually play with it as well as play it. As Mr. Adams quoted Denise Kahn saying to him when they met, "We can be sitting here and play a phrase and suddenly there's beauty. "

Mr. Adams tried a several approaches to his initial stab at the study of the piano. He utilized the Miracle Keyboard Software System and we laughed along with him at the agony when the program insists that you try again when you are about 1/16 of a beat off the pace. Mr. Adams also attempted one of those "learn to play fast" systems and it was quite interesting to read of Mr. Adams' encounters with this system. The one thing Mr. Adams did not pursue was taking regular private lessons consistently from a piano teacher. He did a lot of poking around and exploring and he admits in the book's Afterword that he would do some things differently a second time around.

Interspersed throughout the book one can also read about the evolution of the piano, how different artists learn music, the care and feeding of a piano, and finally the idea of listening as much as possible to all good performances of different musical genres, from classical music, to the blues, boogie-woogie, jazz, ethnic music from all over the world, and while listening, to learn to share the beauty. It contains a wonderfully brief yet accurate story of the Steinway pianos, deals with issues of humidity and climate control for a piano, and about the issue of getting a rebuilt vs. a new Steinway or other top of the line grand piano. This might sound all very dry and boring, but it is all presented with vitality and magic. You learn oodles of material without realizing it. There is also a concise, accurate listing of books, and periodicals which this reviewer would recommend highly.

Thanks Noah for writing this book. I will keep this book readily available for a refreshing dip into the joy, beauty, and discovery of music when things get a bit overwhelming. We recommend this book unreservedly to teachers, students, and parents alike. All can find something in this book to amuse and delight them.

Piano Lessons - Music, Love and True Adventures, by Noah Adams, ISBN 0-385-31404-3, published by Delacorte Press,$20.95 list, 212-782-8664. WWW:

The Piano Book

by Larry Fine

The Piano Book first appeared in the Fall of 1987 and was immediately hailed by many, including this reviewer, as far and away the best guide to the purchase and maintenance of pianos ever offered to the American consumer. That it has reached its third edition in seven years is testimony to its rapid success--a success not without growing pains, for in preparing a new edition the author submitted advance copies of his frank, no-nonsense reviews to the manufacturers and was promptly threatened with a lawsuit. As a result, certain brands--notably Baldwin--were conspicuously absent from the second edition. The present book, however, embodies a compromise: the pros and cons of products are stated in more general terms and include input from the companies themselves.

The acoustical piano is an intricate contrivance whose thousands of parts are critically dependent for proper functioning on the quality of both materials and workmanship. It is time consuming and labor intensive to make a good one, and relatively easy to make a bad one. Also true is the unfortunate fact that shoddy products and unsavory business practices are as common in the piano trade as anywhere else. For these reasons, Fine has been at pains to produce a guide that seems to cover everything imaginable that could be of concern to the prospective buyer. Moreover, in addition to manufacturers and dealers, the author consulted no fewer than fifty professional piano technicians, who supplemented his own knowledge and opinions with much valuable experience of their own. The resulting book is elaborate and often technical, and will take great patience to read thoroughly, but the knowledge to be gained is worth the effort many times over.

Chapter One is an overview of how the piano is put together, how it functions, and the differences between grand pianos and the various kinds of verticals. The illustrations here and throughout the book are generous and clear, though not models of art.

The second chapter--"Buying a Piano: An Orientation"--is one of the most valuable. The author enjoins the prospective buyer to "do your homework" by devoting thoughtful consideration to availability of space, potential usefulness, level of playing proficiency, money, and styling ("There's definitely a portion of the piano industry that thrives on selling worthless instruments inside of beautiful cases"). A piano is a major investment, and a well made one can easily outlive several generations of owners.

Subsequent chapters discuss actual shopping procedures for both new and used pianos. The author covers in exhaustive detail not only such things as how to spot poor materials, sloppy workmanship, wear and abuse, durability and serviceability, the difference between volume and tone quality, the significance of size, string lengths, soundboard area, hammer weight and the like; but also such important items as sales techniques, the significance or triviality of certain touted features, and warranties and service agreements. Chapter Four is an extensive survey of new and recently made pianos, brand by brand, in alphabetical order; it includes sections on the present state of the piano industry (dying!), a valuable index to trade names, which are often applied legally to pianos made long after the demise of the original company, digital pianos and MIDI interfaces, and a general summary of price ranges. Among the author's most important admonitions is the suggestion to enlist the services of a qualified piano technician to help in the selection process.

The final two chapters of this superb volume--obviously a labor of love--deal with moving and storage, and offer a detailed guide to tuning, servicing, and care of the piano in the home.

The author has also announced that annual supplements to The Piano Book will be forthcoming, beginning in mid-August, which will provide the latest manufacturer and product information, including current prices and hints about discounts, for more than 1700 brands and models. The supplement will sell for $14.95 plus $2.50 for shipping and handling, and a special package price will be available for those purchasing The Piano Book and its current supplement together.

If you are shopping for a piano--any kind of piano--by all means do two things: second, hire a technician to go with you, and FIRST, read The Piano Book.

William Leland

The Piano Book, 3rd edition, by Larry Fine. ISBN 0-9617512-4-X, published by Brookside Press, P.O. Box 178, Jamaica Plains, MA 02130, $16.95 softcover, 26.50 hardcover autographed by the author, Phone: 1-800-545-2022. WWW: The Piano Book

Encyclopedia of the Piano

edited by Robert Palmieri

The Encyclopedia of the Piano highlights the piano's long evolution from the times of Bartolomeo Cristofori up to 1992. This book starts with Accompanying and finishes with Johann Christoph Zumpe. In between, one learns of the histories of the different piano manufacturers throughout the world, the histories of piano playing aids (an eye-opening article!), and the stories of individuals' improvements and innovations for the piano. Also included are brief articles about electronic keyboards, synthesizers, etc. Although some topics go into a long and deep analysis, (acoustics, for example), some are just briefly touched upon.

This reviewer was most impressed with the detailed analysis of the different parts of the piano, including the action, hammers, pedals, strings, soundboards, etc. The articles about these parts of the piano gave not only a historical background to the evolution of these parts, but also specified which piano manufacturers incorporated specific ideas or modifications on these parts. After reading this book, one gets a sense of the long history of the piano and some ideas of where the piano will be going in the 21st. Century.

Equally good were the articles about piano pedagogy, piano performance practices as well as articles about individual composers whose music and lives had a direct impact on the development and evolution of the piano. The list of contributors of articles to the book is extensive and represents a worldwide cross-section of knowledgeable individuals. Black and white line art and photos help illustrate key points. Many articles provide bibliographies where the researcher interested in obtaining more information can explore further. A very complete index is also provided.

In The Encyclopedia of the Piano, one gets a real feel of the history of the piano and all the evolution that occurred to this instrument from the time of Cristofori up to present times. This reviewer would hope that an encyclopedia such as this would become a part of the college and/or university teaching curriculum for piano majors. The Encyclopedia of the Piano is a MUST HAVE book for every teacher, student, scholar and lover of the piano.

Encyclopedia Of the Piano, edited by Robert Palmieri, Assistant Editor, Margaret W. Palmieri, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (Volume 1131), Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London, 1996. ISBN 0-8153-2582-7. List price: $22.95. 521 pages, 7x10. Available October 1996. Phone: 1-800-627-6273
Page created: 9/3/97
Last updated: 01/30/15
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