Excellent versus great piano playing

Excellent Versus Great Piano Playing

Excellent Versus Great Piano Playing. What determines excellent piano player? Here are a few strictly musical goalposts of excellence. However, Vladimir Horowitz, pictured above, fits into the great category.

  • Few if any wrong notes. Preferably, none.
  • Adherence to the tempo, except when otherwise notated by the editor.
  • Following phrase marking instructions.
  • Adhering to dynamics (i.e. forte, piano, mezzo forte etc).
  • Playing the correct tempo at a steady pace.
Difference between excellent versus great piano playing
Here is a verbal description of the difference between excellent and great. David Dubal interviews pianist bar-Illan.

For this blog I quote and paraphrase: Reflection from the Keyboard:The World of the Concert Pianist. It is written by David Dubal.

Excellent versus Great Piano Playing

Bar-Illan asks:  What separates a very excellent performance by someone from great performances given by certain pianists? This statement touches me. I studied with Mischa Kottler. In turn Kottler studied under Alfred Cortôt in the 1920’s. Bar-Illan’s description of Cortôt’s playing places his difference out front: “What an individualist! What is it about Cortôt! -Even with all the wrong notes and variations in tempo that I simply cannot understand. Yet his performances make your heart beat faster. One can talk about timing, personality, character, tone, ability to color the music. …It is impossible to actually say what separates a very excellent performance…from one given by  Cortôt, Rubenstein, Horowitz or Gould.” The difference cannot be defined, yet, it is essential to great music making. Every if both types play the music absolutely correctly, they are still “two different species.”

Mischa Kottler told me a most amusing story about Cortôt. In Paris the public loved a good bet.  Cortôt also had numerous memory lapses. Everyone still loved him. However, his audiences in would actually place bets as to how many times he would forget the music. Regardless, Cortôt’s pianistic interpretations thrilled all that listened to him.

Pianist David Ohrenstein is offering piano lessons in Sarasota.


Bearish Lake is of Tremendous Significance

Bearish Lake Found in American, Indian Territory

Bearish Lake Found in American, Indian Territory. What is this blog about. It is the 1st of a series. Basically, “A Great Miracle Happened There.” This will be explained over a number of blogs. Bearish Lake Found serves as the introduction.  First, the specific tribes  that this blog is about. Oquaga Lake was a part of their domain.  My entire family lived for some 15 summer seasons on Oquaga Lake. I was the piano player at Scotts Oquaga Lake House. The Lenape (English: /ləˈnɑːpi/ or /ˈlɛnəpi/),[8] also called the Lenni Lenape and the Delaware,[9] are an indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands.   They live in Canada and the United States.[4] They are also called Delaware Indians[10].  Their historical territory included present-day New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.  It is set along the Delaware River watershedNew York City, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley.[notes 1

Bearish lake Shape is Oquaga Lake. Head is not entirely in the picture. Bear is up side down in picture.
Scott’s Oquaga Lake House is set on Oquaga Lake.

Bearish Lake and Bear Legends

The following I relate from The Illustrated Signs and Symbols Sourcebook, written by Adele Nozedar. In Celtic culture, “bear” and “warrior” were interchangeable. Men and women were included with the “bear” name.  This title was applied to Artio. She was the ferocious warrior queen of the Gauls. The root for the name bear among the Celts was “artos”. Some claim the name applies to King Arthur. Others try to refute the “King Arthur” connection. Regardless, the Greek Goddess of the hunt was Diana/Artemis. She shares the bear title.

The bear has a strong connection to the Moon.

2015-06-04 1105-ANIMATION 01.gif

The Moon disappears for a period of time. This is during New Moon. By parallel, the bear hibernates during the winter months. For this reason, ancients connected the two. In northern European pre-Christian culture, the bear was the equivalent of the lion. Both represented power and authority. In the northern sky Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are the Great Bear and the Little Bear. They are the stellar incarnations of the Goddess.

As my 1st subject on the bear, I hoped to create a background. It was on bear-shaped Oquaga Lake that I received understanding. The insight was about of  number squares. It was given by the Oquaga Spirit. With blog No 1,  I hoped to tie together, the Lake, the Moon and the Bear. Keep watching for part two on DSOworks.com. It will be called Bearish Lake II. By the way, off-season I offer piano lessons in Sarasota.


Dance will return to three four time signature

Three Four Time Signature is Called for by the Oquaga Spirit

Three Four Time Signature Called for by the Oquaga Spirit. There is a hidden place where life is still beautiful. Water is crystal clear. It is drinkable with minimal filtration. A spirit hovers on the lake and surrounding area. I was most fortunate. The spirit took a liking to me. It accompanied me on walks through the woods and over the mountains. As I say in one of my poems, called The Oquaga Spirit: “So much she needed an ear, she ignored my tranquility.”  Who is this spirit? I sensed it was a female from the Lennie Lenape American Indians. At one time their domain was also around the lake. Women ruled the roost. What characterized this spirit?

The Oquaga Spirit even spoke of triple meters.
My wife and myself lived for many summer seasons on Oquaga lake. This cottage is called the “Birches”. We enjoyed the lake view while dining on the back porch.


Dancing Near You

Home / Albums / Dancing Near You

Triple Meters and Dance
My ballroom dancing CD is available on DSOworks.com




  • First and foremost: It loves music. At 4:30 P.M. a showboat went around the lake. The guests sang with gusto as it circled its perimeters.
  • The spirit loves ballroom dancing. As a matter of fact, it inspired our ballroom dancing CD, Dancing Near You. We had ballroom dance instructors from all over the country offering their thoughts. I wrote down the music. My wife Sharon was the arranger.
  • It loves wisdom and knowledge. Many of the blogs on DSOworks.com were communicated to me by this Indian spirit.
  • The Indian spirit was a great advocate the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It did not like contrary people.

What the Oquaga Spirit Said About Three Four Time Signature

The spirit dictated my poetry book, The Oquaga Spirit Speaks, in triple time signature. The poem I quote is Nature Loves to Waltz. Its concluding quatrain is:

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

So what is my poetic plan? Simply, to tour the world reciting the wisdom of the Oquaga Spirit. Also, I have a few openings for piano lessons in Sarasota. Here is a free poetry sample on youtube. May the spirit be with you!

The Oquaga Spirit Speaks – YouTube

Mar 28, 2016 – Uploaded by Dso Works

David Ohrenstein reads excerpts from the book “The Oquaga Spirit Speaks,” the voice of nature and the …






Dance will return to three four time signature

Triple Meter Has All But Disappeared

Triple Meter Has All But Disappeared. I refer to music beats per measure. Waltzes are in triple meter. You count 1-2-3 over and over. They are scarce. They are also memorable. For example we have Piano Man and You Light Up My Life.  Two more are Take it to the Limit  and Morning Has Broken.  I would venture to conservatively guess that perhaps 1 in 5,000 popular selections that get air time today are  written in triple meter. According to Wikipedia, it  is a musical meter characterized by a primary division of 3 beats to the bar, usually indicated by 3 (simple) or 9 (compound) in the upper figure of the time signature.

Compound triple drum pattern: divides each of three beats into three About this sound Play 

Simple triple metre beat on rock drum kit[1] About this sound play 

Triple meter is much less common in traditions such as rock & roll and jazz. The most common time in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop is duple and quadruple.[1]

Duple and quadruple meter are sharp and angular. A conductor uses angular strokes of his baton in 2/4 and 4/4. For example, 2/4 is conducted with an angular up and down motion for one and two. Triple meter, on the other had can be conducted with circles or curves.  A circle is completed with each set of 1-2-3 beats.  Let’s apply meter to yang and yin. Duple and quadruple meters are yang. Triple meters are yin. What does this mean for society? Yang is male. With 4/4 or 2/4 meter, the male mostly dominates. While in 3/4 the yin or female becomes more dominant. We are about to see a massive return dominant 3/4 meter. It will be the age of the glorification for the ladies.

Our Drinking Song From the Princess and the Peasant Uses Triple Meter with a Quadruple Meter  Introduction

As men and women come together to waltz, yin and yang become balanced. In so many dances, since the Strauss father and son composers, contact is scarce. However, trends are cyclic. The waltz will return in a big way. I am currently playing piano at the Crab and Fin in Sarasota. Deliberately, I pump a lot of 3/4 time out of the piano. Then, from Christmas to Easter I will be at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, Fl. Of course, I plan to play 3/4 time. This includes many Strauss waltzes. Watch for more posts of my original music in 3/4 time on youtube. The Princess and the Peasant is about to make a big splash. Also, off- season, I offer piano lessons in Sarasota.

Dec 17, 2007 – Uploaded by Rudder3218

Lesley and Ohrenstein’s Elizabeth of Russia follows in the tradition of the great Broadway hits South Pacific …

Periodic Chart Harmony

Periodic Chart Harmony Favors the Octave Interval

Periodic Chart Harmony Favors the Octave Interval. In music, an octave (Latinoctavus: eighth) or perfect octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. It is defined by ANSI[2] as the unit of frequency level when the base of the logarithm is two. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the “basic miracle of music”, the use of which is “common in most musical systems”.[3]

pyramiding dots point to the 3 x 3 number square grid and the periodic chart
T-1 is the unison. T-2 is the 2:1 octave ratio. Other harmonies are for future blogs.

So where is the periodic chart harmony of the octave?

Here is a quote from blog #400. It is also about the periodic chart.

  • The system begins with hydrogen-1. The next vertical element is Lithium-3. So, 3-1 = 2. This is the first coding number on the chart.
  • Lithium is atomic number 3. Sodium is 11.  By subtraction 11 – 3 = 8. Sodium has 8 more protons than lithium.
  • Potassium has 19 protons. Sodium has 11. We see another 8 protons by subtraction. As, 19 – 11 = 8.
  • Next, Rubidium has 37 protons. Potassium has 19. We have our 1st 18 proton difference:  37 – 19 = 18.
  • Cesium is atomic number 55. Rubidium is atomic number 37. Thus, 55 -37 = 18.
  • That is followed by a 32 proton number difference. Francium is atomic number 87. Cesium is 55. Thus, 87 – 55 is a 32 number difference.
  • GaffuriusTheorica musicae (1492)

The chart finds periodic or repeating properties with atomic numbers 2, 4, 18, and 32. The first vertical row sets the pattern. Periodic chart harmony is found with these numbers. Simply write the 2 to 1 interval of the octave as follows. 2/1,   4 /2,   6/3,   8/4. The number of each fraction expresses an octave when multiplied as:

  • 2 x 1 = 2
  • 4 x 2 = 8
  • 6 x 3 = 18
  • 8 x 4 = 32.

Blogs on DSOworks.com are attempting to place our planet in harmony with the cosmos. Pythagoras saw the basic unity of music with our world. He defined it by string lengths. If one string was 2 x as long as the other, the shorter sounded an octave higher to the longer.  An octave is (1) The most harmonious interval. It is also the most “perfect” of the perfect intervals. (2) It is also the first overtone in the series of overtones.  Why not take the musical view of our cosmos? For those who are interested, I’m offering piano lessons in Sarasota.



Special arranging was shunned by Beethoven

Special Arranging was Not Beethoven’s Cup of Tea!

Special Arranging was Not Beethoven’s Cup of Tea!  Beethoven loved receiving inspiration.  He would stroll in the woods for this purpose.  He also created his music of grand sentiment. For example:  Symphony No.5 deals with the struggle and the joy of victory.  “The Pastoral symphony” represents the expression of the love he held for  for nature.  However, he refused to make special arrangements for specific instruments once the work was composed. Of course, his editors took up the slack. His publishers hired arrangers through their own publishing houses. The end result was Beethoven sold more copies and made more money. This happens when you increase your potential buyers.

What Exactly is Special Arranging?

I will define arranging by a joke. It circulated in the entertainer’s old haven- the Catskill Mountains. Below is a picture of Oquaga Lake, It is perched high in the Catskills.  I was the house pianist at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House for some 17 years. As such, I accompanied many Catskill comedians and professionals.  Harry Carlyle often told this story:

Image result for picture of a canary in a cage
This lucky song bird has an arranger!

“A man walks by a pet shop in the summer. Its windows are open. He hears a canary singing. The man walks in and says to the pet shop owner: “I love the song of this canary. How much does she cost?” The pet shop owner says, “”five dollars”. “That’s all, the man answers, I’ll take her!”. The pet shop owner says,”Wait a minute.” Do you see that ugly, scraggly, looking bird over there? The man answers, “yes”. “The owner says, “When you buy her, you have to buy him. And, he’s $100.00 dollars”. The man looks up in a state of puzzlement: “Why should I buy that ugly, scraggly bird over there for $100.00 when I can have this beautiful songbird for $5.00?” The pet shop own answers: “He’s the arranger!.”


Scott's Oquaga Lake House where I heard this special arranging joke.
Scott’s Oquaga Lake House where I also made many arrangements for comedians, singers, etc.



Incidentally, in between jobs I offer piano lessons in Sarasota.


High Stepping on the Steinway at World Class Gasparilla Inn

High Stepping on the Steinway Piano at World Class Gasparilla Inn. I feel like I have a special connection with Steinway grand pianos. My primary teacher on piano was Mischa Kottler. He kept two Steinway grands in his studio. For my lessons, I played on one. He accompanied and demonstrated on the other. What kind of teacher was Mischa? I quote Greg Philliganes in Keyboard Magazine. 

High Stepping with Mischa Kottler

From work with Stevie Wonder while still in his teens, to tours and recordings with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, and Toto, Phillinganes’ massive discography reads like a “Who’s Who” of pop music, encompassing four decades.

From Greg Philliganes’ interview in Keyboard Magazine

“Sensing that I needed discipline more than anything else, my Mom managed to hook me up with a wonderful teacher named Mischa Kottler.  He was a no-nonsense Russian Jewish guy who could crack a pane of glass with one finger. He was a complete badass, and he cooled my attitude out immediately. I studied with him well into my teens.

What kinds of things were you studying with him?

I was studying technique and classical repertoire. He taught me a certain way of playing that I still use to this day: a sense of evenness where your wrists aren’t loose or moving up and down. It’s a totally linear way of playing, where there’s even movement in both hands so your wrists stay perfectly still. Mischa would take two fingers and weigh them down on my wrists to keep them from moving. He instilled a sense of dexterity and definition in my playing. If I’m known for my speed and precision, it’s probably due to Mischa more than anything else. 

High Stepping on his Steinway was Mischa Kottler
Mischa Kottler preferred old vintage Steinways just like the ones I now play at the Gasparilla Inn.

I also have Mischa to thank for instilling in me speed and precision. He also instilled in me the desired to look for the “truth” in music. What is the music really about? How do you convey it?  Again, thanks to Mischa, I have year round employment. . Until Dec 18, I will be at the Crab and Fin in Sarasota. See events on DSOworks.com. Then, Gasparilla from Dec. 19- April 1 2018 for six nights weekly. I play on a newly rebuilt Steinway Grand. The parts were special ordered from Germany. In between, my wonderful agent Fitz Otis at Jay Goodley Entertainment Group books me any other time I am available. My advice to students: Work hard. Be serious. And yes, I have a couple of openings for piano lessons in Sarasota.




Unsung romantic hero was, in a way J.S. Bach. Read how.

Careless Music Editors Point the Wrong Way

Careless Music Editors Point the Wrong Way. I am a proud graduate of Cass Technical High School in Detroit. The school was a four-year university preparatory high school in Midtown Detroit, United States.[2][3] The school is named in honor of Lewis Cass, an American military officer and politician who served as governor of the Michigan Territory from 1813 until 1831. The school is a part of Detroit Public Schools. In the 1960’s Cass Tech two major musical curriculum. Both were college prep. The school had some 30 college prep courses of study. You could even major in aeronautics. We actually had an airplane in one of the rooms that you could work on for assembly or repair.  In the music courses the  students were wise to editors. We all spoke of a professional frustration cycle. It went from soloist to conductor to editor. Editors, we half-jokingly said, wanted to get revenge on everyone else. Obviously, they couldn’t be successful at the first two professions. Not bad for high school kids!

Careless music editors were bantered about at this High School in Detroit
My High School Alma mater was Cass Technical High School in Detroit

J.S. Bach omitted placing tempo, phrasing or dynamics in his works. Over zealous editors quickly stepped in.  I quote Edward Hughes from G. Schirmer  & Co. I think he is one of the good ones. Edwin Hughes taught at the Ganapol School of Musical Art in Detroit from 1910 to 1912, the Volpe Institute of Music in New York from 1916 to 1917, and the Institute of Musical Art in New York from 1918 to 1923. He lectured at various schools. From 1920 to 1926 he was special editor of piano music for G. Schirmer, Inc. He toured widely in the USA and Europe after the close of World War I; performed duo-recitals with his wife, the pianist Jewel Bethany Hughes, and also gave master-classes. He also had opinions about careless music editors.

Careless Music Editors Over-Edit

I am currently working on the Bach Prelude and Fugue in A minor. It is transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt. Publisher is G. Schirmer Inc. Hughes humbly states about his editing: “The phrasing is to be regarded more as indicative than complete. Of himself he states “There is no desire to appear arbitrary in matters of pedaling, touch and so forth. Also bear in mind: “In the democracy of art there is no final authority on such subjects.” I think these are the words of a great man.

Finally, if anyone is interested I have  I have one or two openings for piano students in Sarasota.

Mischa and I in our Sarasota Home
My instructor, Mischa Kottler, studied with Emil von Sauer- a pupil of Franz Liszt. I acquired a Master of Music degree from Wayne State University under Mischa.

Musical Transcriptions Were One of Bach’s Priorities

Musical Transcriptions Were One of Bach’s Priorities. However, he often transcribed his own works. Most think of transcription by people other than the original composer. For example, Franz Liszt transcribed some of Bach’s organ works for the piano. In fact, Liszt wrote transcriptions for piano of a wide variety of music. Indeed, about half of his composing work (approximately 400 out of 800 items) are arrangements of music by other composers.[52]

Musical transcriptions contributed to Liszt's popularity.
Liszt give the musical public what they wanted- musical transcriptions

During the period 1730-1733 Bach wrote seven concertos for harpsichord and strings. Most were musical transcriptions from his own violin concertos. Bach had a passion for transcriptions. He seemed to be never satisfied with any definitive version of his musical output.  I quote Wanda Landowski in her book, On Music: “His versatile and restless spirit refused to be limited to the use of any one particular instrument or even to instruments in general.”

Reason for Musical Transcriptions

What other reason can there be for writing a composition for different instruments? Perhaps business. It allows you to sell more copies.Instead of selling to only violinists, you can , also sell music to other instrumentalists. Also transcriptions makes a person popular with the public. If they enjoy a particular  work, they can also hear it played by a piano player. Liszt became rich enough to help many composers of his time.  Yes he was a great pianist. However, I feel his transcriptions propelled him to the top and gave him the reputation of being the greatest.

For years I worked as a transcriber for Rubinoff and His Violin. He too made a fortune.  He called me his best arranger in his lifetime of performing. Enjoy our concert at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House. We gave it in 1984. Witness the audience going wild over a violinist at age 87. I am playing the piano. Also, see for yourself what a difference arrangements can make. Also I have one or two openings for piano lessons in Sarasota.


Lost Concert “Rubinoff and His Violin” on Oquaga Lake, 1984

Lesley & Ohrenstein
Libra Music Has Verve

Libra Music as Effected by Instructor, Franz Liszt

Libra Music Has Verve and Drive to Spare. The month of Libra takes place September 23 – October 23. Some sources have a give or take of a day or two. The following is based on my upcoming book, Music Under the Zodiac. Hopefully, it will overall intention is to make musical therapy more pointed. However, much is also written in the spirit of fun.

Composers born during the month of Libra music include: George Gershwin, John Philip Rameau, Dmitri Shostakovich, Paul Dukas, Heinrich Schutz, Camille Sain-Säens, Giuseppe Verdi (Joe Green translated to English), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and our featured composer: Franz Liszt.

Libra Music as Written by a Libra Comoser
Franz Liszt’s music had the power, verve and drive of Libra, an air sign.

What was Liszt’s thought process that made him a great virtuoso? It was his approach to piano practice. This I gleamed from my own teacher, Mischa Kottler. He didn’t say “practice, practice, practice.” Many used to say, the way to Carnegie Hall was directed by this repeated word.  Mischa  rather said, practice slowly and one hand at the time. Kottler learned the art of piano practice from Emil von Sauer. In turn, Sauer studied with Franz Liszt.

Image result for picture of Mischa Kottler for the blog on changing music
Mischa Kottler, my teacher, studied with Emil von Sauer. In turn, Sauer studied over two summers with Franz Liszt in Austria.

Liszt not only practiced slowly. He would practice each element of the music slowly. He would practice being rhythmically precise with each hand. He would work the dynamics that he wanted. If two notes were to be played by the right hand, he would strike them exactly together. Playing as close as possible to exact togetherness was most important. It makes each note resonate more beautifully.  A 10th of a second brake between even two notes was not to be tolerated. He developed a special technique for playing the ubiquitous two note phrase.

So why am I not touring the world as a great pianist? Like so many, I was too impatient. Slow and hands separate practice was not for me. I thought I was better than “slow”. Now I’m older. This type of practice is making all the difference in the world.

Libra Music in the Balance of Fast and Slow

Finally, let’s tie all this into the scales of Libra. The opposite of very slow is ultra fast. By slow practice, you acquire precise and accurate speed. One extreme rocks the other. You can “practice, practice, practice” and never get good. As Mischa would said to me: “David, you are only perfecting your mistakes!” If practice takes hours upon hours, it’s because of the requited painfully slow tempo of meaningful practice. I changed my mode of practice late in life. It’s making all the difference in the world. And yes, I have room for a couple of piano students in Sarasota.