Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Piano Hero

Below you'll find a write-up about an experimental performance concept I'm participating in tomorrow. I think the write-up pretty much tells the story, but I'll just add that the point here is to try to present a classical music event that makes it clear musicians actually have fun reading and learning music - even before the music is ready for prime time. I really like the idea of a recital that celebrates the joy of impromptu sightreading and not worrying about getting everything right. I also really do find significant similarities between sightreading and videogaming - it's basically all about split-second hand-eye coordination. It would be great to have gaming software that could score one's attempts at sightreading, but the music is its own reward. Hopefully.

This Wednesday, come see pianists Michael Monroe and Nathan Skinner take on Beethoven in a matchup of four hands against the great master’s first symphony.

It’s often said that 4-hand piano arrangements of orchestral works were the record players (iPods, for the kids out there) of the nineteenth century, as this was the only practical way to hear such music in the home. Although some details might get lost in the translation from colorful orchestra to black-and-white keyboard, these stripped-down transcriptions provide an enlightening, entertaining, and economical way to hear the classics.

It’s also a lot of fun for the pianists, and in that spirit, Michael and Nathan are planning not to practice too much. It’s often said (by Michael, at least) that sightreading at the piano is kind of like playing a video game. The notes come flying at you and you do the best you can not to get blown up. So, this is intended less as a polished performance than as a diverting way to pass the noontime hour on Wednesday. The doors will be open, and all are invited to wander in for as much or as little as you’d like.

Although the performance will be old-school in the “nineteenth century record player” sense, it will have a twenty-first century feel as Michael and Nathan read the music from computer monitors and turn the pages with a magical wireless pedal. (Why? Because they can.) So, it might really look like they’re up there playing a piano version of Guitar Hero with an 88-key controller. Feel free to cheer or boo as so moved.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, the first of the legendary Nine, is a delightfully high-spirited work in four movements lasting about 25-30 minutes (depending on how many times our heroes crash and burn). If all goes well, Symphony No.2 might follow next Wednesday.

It all takes places this Wednesday (2/18) at noon in Gordon College's Phillips Recital Hall.

Admission is free, and you’ll get your money back if you don’t have a good time.

~ ~ ~

Michael Monroe is an Assistant Professor of Music at Gordon, where he teaches piano and music history and helps to turn unsuspecting undergrads into opera singers. He blogs regularly about music at http://MMmusing.blogspot.com.

Nathan Skinner is a 2007 Gordon grad now working as a coach in the Music Department. He’s also the organist at First Congregational Church of Hamilton and is frequently featured as an organist at major Gordon events. He can play really loud.

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