Music is in the Air in the Catskills!

Walking in upstate New York
Hiking in Ithaca in upstate New York



Music is in the air in the Catskills! However, in the picture, I  had taken a side trip to visit my youngest son who was at Cornell University in Ithaca.  I have been told by various entertainers that there was some 200 resorts back in the heyday of the Catskill Mountains that featured entertainers seven days a week! What a wonderful opportunity it was for people to try out and polish their acts. Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Gene and Fred Kelly… so many of the greats launched their careers from the Catskills. I guess that back then they could call it the entertainer’s Cape Canaveral.


from The Oquaga Spirit Speaks  by David Ohrenstein ( my book of poetry, written over three summers in the Catskill Mountains, will soon be available for purchase on this website. Almost all the poems were written while hiking the mountains.  I describe the setting of  where I wrote the book in a sample poem called,  Get Thee a Walking Stick)

It rained the night before;
The streams and brooks are full…
Gurgling down the mountain,
Feeling gravity’s pull.

The noisy crows are cawing;
Giant birds in flight-
So much noise they make
Before the Sun is bright.

A rabbit leaped, then jumped
As I left my abode;
The morning air was chilly
As on my walk I strode.

I heard a distant rooster
Add to the early noise
As daybreak waved her baton,
The morning orchestra was poised.

Flowing brooks like strings,
The crows are quite the horns.
Other birds are woodwinds
While drums of man are born.

A car makes grating noises
As it struggles u[p a hill.
A train rumbles miles away,
Its whistle gives me a thrill.

The orchestra, everywhere is heard;
Not only at symphony hall.
And tickets cost not a penny,
Spring, Winter, Summer or Fall.

What a spectrum of sounds
Does the morning walker hear!
He’s more alerted and alive
Then if awakened by Paul Revere!!

If it’s life you wish to live
And enjoy it to the marrow…
Then get thee a walking stick
And hear the morning sparrow.

Beethoven’s 5th is a Musical Molecule

{\clef treble \key c \minor \time 2/4 {r8 g'8[ g'8 g'8] | ees'2\fermata | r8 f'8[ f'8 f'8] | d'2~ | d'2\fermata | } } Two four note molecules

Beethoven’s 5th is a musical molecule. Well, on the periodic chart  atoms are arranged into eight families by, that is in order of the number of protons (i.e. hydrogen 1, helium 2, lithium 3- etc). In the same manner, the tones of our major, minor and modal scales are arranged by eight successive tones. As elements have repeated properties every time they have the same number of electrons in the outer most shell; sympathetic vibrations of musical tones are on a higher level every eight notes (which is called an octave) as, for example a lower “C” vibrates sympathetically with a higher “C”. On the periodic chart, the elements, for example, of beryllium, magnesium, and calcium are located on successive octaves on the periodic chart and also have sympathetic properties.

Our musical scales and the chemical elements work by base eight as does our dancing. The choreographer in the Broadway show,” A Chorus Line“, yells out: “five, six, seven, eight” in tempo to start the dance. (I will dwell on the specific benefits of using base eight over base ten or the binary in future blogs). Broadly speaking, base eight promotes life and love. The base that you use to count with also shapes your thoughts and consequent actions.

Now let’s compare a musical motif to an elemental molecule. Most of its 1st movement is based on the above four notes for its development. If we used only three notes of his four note motif; Beethoven’s 5th would be unrecognizable. In this regard we can compare a musical motif to a molecule which is defined as the smallest particle that a compound can be can be divided into and yet still exist as that compound. For example, the base unit of methane is C8H18 (eight carbon atoms attached to 18 hydrogen atoms). If even one atom of carbon or hydrogen were to be removed, it would cease to be methane.  In the same manner,  one note taken out of the opening of Beethoven’s 5th, it would have a totally different essence. Conclusion: Beethoven’s 5th is a musical molecule. Just as a musical motif provides the identity of music, a single molecule provides the identity of a substance. We can say that Beethoven’s 5th makes for good chemistry.

Film featurette called 50 words by Kathryn Parks

Kathryn’s Cabaret


Kathryn’s Cabaret: Although in France “cabaret” at one time was referred to as any business that sold liquor; as a theatrical venue, the culture began in 1881 with the opening of Le Chat Noir, the “Black Cat”, in the Monmartre district of Paris. Among its patrons were Debussy, Satie and Maupassant. Performers got to test new material and audiences could enjoy the goings on for the price of a few drinks in win-win-win situation.


In keeping with this exciting tradition, stage star Kathryn Parks, who has been cast in leading rolls across the Sarasota-Manatee-Venice area,  with guest relatives- mother Sharon Lesley and father David Ohrenstein – some 135 years later will bring back the original spirit and intent of Le Chat Noir to the cabaret stage at the Venice Theatre. Kathryn’s Cabaret -As part of the 2015 Summer Cabaret Festival, we’ll be appearing Saturday, July 11 and Thursday, July 16 at 8pm.


After keeping a diary for over 20 years, Kathryn will be sharing excerpts and singing songs. She’ll reveal stories of growing up in a very entertaining household while singing the classic songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, Sondheim, and more.

Tickets are only $15 and can be purchased here:  //  The Venice Theatre is located at 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice, Fl. 34285. The box office is 941-488-1115.


Here is a video with clips of Kathryn’s performances. We hope to see you there!

Catskill Mountains and Live Music

Pebbles tossed in a pond, Circles do they make. from The Oquaga Spirit Speaks
A pebble, tossed in a pond,
Circles does it make.
from The Oquaga Spirit Speaks

The Sound of Music is in the Catskill Mountains at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House in Deposit, New York. The location has inspired my many books of poetry. The Scott’s music, just like the von Trapp family, fills their mountain dwelling. They are truly the American version of this Austrian family.  I, David Ohrenstein, in my volumes of poetry, entitled, The Oquaga Spirit Speaks – named after the spirit Indian guide, whose presence I felt while on my walks in nature- was dictated to word by word by this spirit. For my 1st blog, I chose “Nature’s Waltz”. When a conductor leads an orchestra in 3/4 time, he often chooses to outline the curves of a circle:

Nature loves to waltz.
She moves in 3/4 time
Like a dancer’s feet
Or my beats of rhyme

Swaying to the wind
In undulating motion.
Rocking back and forth
To triple meter potion.

Grass waves in the wind;
Always in an arc.
Branches circle about
As breezes blow through the park.

A pebble, tossed in a pond,
Circles does it make.
One follows the other,
Leaving a bull’s eye wake.

The eternal comes in three
But on a higher plane
Where nature’s curves are found
In the space and time refrain.

Man likes duple meters.
His triple meters wane.
Return ye to the waltzes of Vienna
And the vibrant boleros of Spain!

Elizabeth of Russia


Elizabeth of Russia, it all goes back to a book that seemingly popped off a shelf decades ago as wife- Sharon walked through Brant’s Used Book Store in Sarasota, Florida.  She felt a special destiny in that moment. The book was about Elizabeth of Russia, the daughter of Peter the Great. However, although she wrote her book after some initial research, the idea sat dormant in her mind.  Some twenty plus years later, Sharon then met with her husband David, a composer, began collaborating on the project, and Elizabeth of Russia was born.Continue reading

Chopin’s Works and the Musical Soul

Artur Rubinstein, the famed Polish pianist,  once remarked that the damper pedal on the piano gives  the instrument  its soul.  Although I feel that no one is an expert on the nature of the soul, we all are entitled to an opinion. As for me, I feel that the soul an an accumulation of all the thoughts, emotions and  feelings that a person during their lifetime; and possibly, if the theory of reincarnation is correct, all their other cumulative lifetimes.  In a similar way, the damper pedal can effect an accumulation of sound. I personally believe that the worst disservice one can do to music is to insist on as pure a blend of tone as possible.  As no one has a pure soul, not even a saint; then no singer or instrumentalist could or should attempt to sing or play with total purity. It just doesn’t happen in life and therefore should it not happen in music. Our music, at best, is a reflection of the human condition through sound.

As a pianist, that brings up the point: How should we approach the damper pedal on the piano?  Beethoven is reputed to have left the damper pedal down for the entire of the 1st movement of his Moonlight Sonata. The answer on the best use of the damper pedal  lies in the (1) sonority of the particular piano being played (2) one’s touch and (3) the nature of the composition. Artur Rubinstein once commented that he would give a year of his life to hear how Chopin played the piano. All of us are can only  make educated gueses as to how Chopin played.  I feel that the damper pedal was generously applied by Chopin: Often he uses one firm and repeated tone in the bass, played with beautiful sound, repeating it many times  with changing harmonies above. Musically, a low and repeated tone called a pedal point. In Chopin’s Prelude, Opus 28 No. 17, for example,  a low Ab pedal tone, three lines under the bass staff, in 6/8 time repeats and sounds for a duration of 26 measures. If this the section is played on an appropriate piano; while bringing out the bass, playing the melody with only a medium strong tone, and the chords in the middle with extreme delicacy, the damper pedal may be held down for the entire 26 bars- thereby giving the entire section the beautiful effect of soul. At some point in the future, when more resources are at more disposal, I will play this prelude in the manner I feel  it should be played as a feature on our website.  Finally, I ask my pianist  readers not to be afraid to experiment with touch, pianos and longer damper pedaling  when called for.

One Musical Hoagy Please?




One Musical Hoagy Please?  This blog takes a look at the timing of American musical trends. It uses the songwriter, Hoagy Carmichael, to illustrate the point. In the past, dominant melody and then dominant rhythm have taken turns in ten year periods. Individual writers here and there have written melodic works in a rhythmic era and vice versa; but there has been a ten year rhythmic cycle in public taste.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Epoch Making Song-   Stardust
One Musical Hoagy Please?  Here’s the story.An effective way to gain some insight into these cycles involves the classic song, Stardust.  It was written in the late 1920’s by Hoagy Carmichael. Hoagy made a fortune with it because of the Great Depression which began in October of 1929.

Earlier, January of 1929, Joe walks downtown, he’s upbeat because “everything’s coming up roses.” He has plenty of money, a good looking dame and one of those new- fangled automobiles. He has a bounce in his gait and moves to the rhythm of the quick step song, “Five-Foot-Two”. The last thing he wants to hear is a long- winded beautiful melody. What a damper melody is!Continue reading

Franz Liszt at the Piano

What’s Your Musical Angle?
Just as a salesman usually has an angle to sell his product, a pianist should have an angle formed by the tilt of his hands toward his thumbs not only when playing scales and arpeggios but also most of the time.  Prepared thumbs are only one of several necessary techniques necessary for playing scales effectively.

Use your thumb as a fulcrum
With you thumbs resting on the white keys, raise and tilt your hands and other fingers toward the thumbs so that while the thumb along with the first, second and third fingers stay grounded, the 4th and 5th fingers are slightly elevated as follows: The fourth finger barely touches the white key, while the 5th hangs suspended in the air ready to pounce on the key when required.  Since the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers are strong, they do not need additional strength to strike the keys, while the 4th and 5th finger do.  With the hands tilted toward the thumbs, these weaker fingers can make use of lateral motion from above to get a fuller sound.  This is essential because not only are the 4th and 5th fingers the weakest on each hand but as you will now see:Continue reading

Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb:

Mischa Kotler, David's piano instructor and official pianist of the Detroit Symphony for 30 years.
Mischa Kotler, David’s piano instructor and official pianist of the Detroit Symphony for 30 years.

Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb: Beethoven was not only the greatest pianist of his day and arguably the greatest composer, but he was also a great innovator of piano technique.   Among the techniques he invented was the “prepared thumb” for scales and arpeggios.  My piano instructors can trace their training back to Beethoven.  How?  Well… working backwards, I studied for 14 years in Detroit with Mischa Kottler.  Kottler studied in Vienna with Emil von Sauer in the 1920s.  Von Sauer studied two summers with one of the greatest pianists ever, Franz Liszt.  Liszt studied with Carl Czerny – the greatest writer of piano exercises of the classical era.  Czerny studied with none other than Beethoven, himself.

Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb: for Playing Scales

In the figure below, I share how the principle of the prepared thumb is executed in motion.   The C major scale, as played by the right hand, shows the correct fingering with the corresponding letter names of the pitches.

Letters:   C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

Fingers:   1  2   3  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  1  2  3   4   5

As you ascend the scale note by note, the moment you strike your 2nd finger on “D”, tuck your thumb under the palm of the hand to prepare to play the “F”.  The hand must be held in a high arch to make room for the thumb so it doesn’t scrape the keys below.  When you place your 3rd finger on the key to play the “E”, the thumb is already there waiting on the “F”.

As you proceed further into the scale a slight variation occurs, three notes G-A-B are played before the thumb is reused.   The thumb is tucked under in the same fashion but when you play “B” with your fourth finger the thumb does not reach the “C”.  So, the hand glides horizontally in a tiny jump to land the prepared thumb on the next “C”.  This way you prevent strain.


Playing Scales Smoothly

The prepared thumb should contribute to evenness of tone as one plays up and down the piano. Nothing is as annoying than hearing a thumb go thumping on the keys after every third and fourth finger during scale work. When playing scales, the top of your hand from its knuckles to the forearm should be still. The scale work in Beethoven’s concertos and sonatas often require  speed and fluidity.  For that purpose, Beethoven had to “build a better mousetrap”.

One Full Year of Study and Practice

Mischa Kottler told me, it takes a year of training to have good hand position.  Kottler played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra until age 93 without injury. I have a limited number of openings for piano students in the Sarasota area. In season I play six nights weekly at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande Fl. If you are interested in studying, E-mail me for schedule availability.


Brookdale colonial park performance

Live performance featuring David Ohrenstein at Brookdale Colonial Park April 23, 2015

David Ohrenstein will play the Steinway grand that belonged the world renowned duo piano team, Ferrante and Teicher. His performance will be for the open house ribbon cutting ceremony for Brookdale Colonial Park, a senior living facility- given on Thursday April 23 from 5-7 pm at 4730 Bee Ridge Road. For more information and to RSVP call 941.378-4414.

David will have just completed his sixth winter season playing the two Steinway grand pianos at the Gasparilla Inn at Boca Grande where he regularly plays for American presidents and heads of state from around the world. He is a great fan of vintage Steinway pianos.

In honor of the autographed piano by Ferrante and Teicher that Brookdale has, he will feature the special arrangements for one piano done by these giants of music including such classics as:

  • EbbTide
  • The Shadow of Your Smile
  • Last Tango in Paris
  • Put Your Hand in the Hand
  • and even Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

He will demonstrate the incredible tone capabilities of their Steinway piano with numerous selections by Chopin, Beethoven, J.S. Bach and Brahms and that great early jazz classicist, Scott Joplin including Bach.s Italian Concerto (all three movements, the theme from the movie The king’s Speech from Beethoven’s 7th symphony, Chopin’s Ab Etude used in the movie The Turning Point
and of course many selections from the Sting especially Joplin’s beautiful Argentine tango- Solace.

David will also play some of his own compositions which he recently played for at a command performance in New York on beautiful Oquaga Lake this last September where he has been residing in the summers.

Featured will be Moonlight on the Lake along with other great classics about the Moon including Debussy’s Claire de Lune and little known but equally beautiful composition of Claire de Lune composed by Debussy’s composition teacher, Gabriel Faure.  I personally like Faure’s better although it is not as well known.

In the popular vein he will play Moonglow and Blue Moon and Moon River along with numerous other compositions by Henry Mancini including:

  • the Pink Panther
  • the Baby Elephant Walk
  • Charade
  • Arabesque
  • A Powdered Wig
  • It Had Better Be Tonight
  • and Inspector Clouseau’s theme

Of course there will be plenty of Cole Porter and George Gershwin to go around with the marvelous atmosphere and piano Brookdale Colonial Park. David is also a great fan of Michelle Legrande and will play such classics as Windmills of Your Mind, What Are You doing the Rest of your Life, and Little Boy Blue. There will be plenty of music fun to go around.

See you there- David