Proper Piano Practice Means Precision. I began my piano studies at age 11. The date was August 24, 1958. This was exactly two months before my October 24th birthday. I would turn twelve. At my first year piano recital, I played the entire Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven from memory. The teacher I studied it with was a Mrs. Foster. I forgot her 1st name. My apologies. In retrospect, I played it terribly. The reason for this shortcoming will became apparent. in the blog. My apologies. The way to Proper Piano Practice was later shown to me by my nest teacher, Mischa Kottler, but:
I didn’t listen to his most basic advice. I thought I was quite advanced at age 15. He told me to (1) practice slowly and (2) hands separately. My adolescent mind told me, “that’s for babies.” Of course, I never told him that. But as it turned out, I was wrong. When slow practice and intense concentration unite, the results are outstanding. First, here is a taste of this great virtuoso-pianist, teacher. Kottler would play it for an encore. Even when he was in his nineties he could finesse his special arrangement of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz.”
Minute Waltz (Mischa Kottler Version)
Kottler had the ability to see the future when it came to his piano students. I studied with him for years. When I was 25, he looked straight at me and said: “You’ll get good when you’re in your sixties.” He was serious. Naturally, that comment did not sit well with a 25 year old. I’m well into my sixties, Finally, I have seen the “proper piano practice” light. Here’s the core of the method I now started to use. It’s never too late.
Play any two fingers on either hand. With one finger play a white key. With another pick a black. Play the two notes at the same time.
Unless you intensely concentrate on what you just did, the notes are likely to be perhaps 1/10th of a second apart!
Now think of how difficult it is to play even more tones at the same time. Add to the formula, using the fingers on both hands.
Multiply this spread out sound by an entire piece of music. You have a mess.
How has Proper Piano Practice Helped Me?
In one word, employment. This December 20th, I’ll begin my 9th winter-spring season at the Gasparilla Inn. On Boca Grande it is favored place for VIP’s. Off-Florida season, there are also no shortage of jobs. Currently I play at the Crab and Fin Restaurant . It is on St, Armand’s Circle in Sarasota. Of course, a lot more goes into successful piano playing. If you wish to know more elements, I’m also available for piano lessons in Sarasota.
Special Birthday for My Teacher, Mischa Kottler. How many people can still be outstanding in their fields of endeavor when they are in their nineties? I guess that when you are that aged, every birthday is a special birthday. The active aging honor mostly goes to creative artists and musicians. When Mischa Kottler was 94, he flew, without escort, to Sarasota to visit us. “Us” is my wife, three children and me. He shows up at the Sarasota-Bradenton airport sporting a handsome blue sport coat wearing a baby blue colored French beret. Music kept him young and vital until his last days. He stayed with us for weeks at our Sarasota home. There I was lucky to receive regular piano lessons from this great master once more. For our family and friends he flawlessly played the version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz that on youtube below. Another famous musician who actively lived into his nineties was James Hubert “Eubie” Blake (* 7 February 1 887  in Baltimore , Maryland ; † 12. February 1983 in New York City , New York ). He was an American jazz pianist and – Composer who influenced the development of Ragtime and early jazz. Music and the arts definitely offer “a retirement profession.”
Chopin-Kottler Waltz 6 in D♭ major, Op 64~1
Special Birthday and a Special Man, Mischa Kottler
Mischa Kottler was a pianist, born in 1899. As a young man in New York, he played for Sergei Rachmaninoff, impressing Rachmaninoff with his own third piano concerto. Rachmaninoff recommended Kottler study in Europe; he went and became a student of Alfred Cortot in Paris and Emil von Sauer in Vienna, the latter being a pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Back in the United States, Kottler was lead pianist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 1933 he became musical director of WWJ radio in Detroit. He was chairman of the Piano Department at Wayne State University, and was a major influence on young pianists.
To this day I am also still actively sporting my piano profession. From Christmas to Easter I play 6 days/week in Boca Grande at the Gasparilla Inn. It is a favorite spot for VIP’s. I’ve recently completed my 8th year at the Inn. On the summer season, I just started playing on St. Armand’s Circle at the Sarasota Crab and Fin. I also offer piano lessons in Sarasota to aspiring musicians. Check out events on DSOworks.com
Entertainer Lives on St Armand’s Circle at the Sarasota Crab and Fin restaurant. How? Listen to the outdoor piano playing of David Ohrenstein. He plays there Monday from 6-10 pm. And during the daytime on Tuesday 12:30 to 5:30 and Wednesday, same hours. Are you in the mood for fun? Then come and listen to David at the Crab and Fin. Enjoy the music written by the genius of Scott Joplin, Arthur Marshall or Scott Hayden. These three musical giants collaborated and/or lived together in Sedalia, Missouri at the Marshall home. This was because at the turn of the 1900’s, Sedalia allowed minority groups the chance for an excellent education. While some locations only allowed schooling for 3 months/year, Sedalia allowed a full 9 months. In no small measure, Sedalia, by accommodating Joplin and friends, allowed for the birth of the ragtime movement. That, in turn, shaped American popular culture.
Poster stamp for the Sedalia Missouri State Fair, c.1930.
Sedalia is also home to The Pettis County Museum and Historical Society, located at 228 Dundee Ave. The building was once a Jewish Synagogue and features many Historical artifacts from all periods of Pettis County history.
Entertainer is Heard on the Streets of Sarasota at the Outdoor Setting of the Crab and Fin
David offers a lesson on playing the music of Scott Joplin in the enclosed video. He explains how the notes tied over the measure are of the essence. Of course, playing ragtime requires a beautiful tone. All three of the ragtime giants described above were classically trained. Ideally, any serious player of ragtime should have had such training. Without the production of nice tone, any music can become vulgar. David studied with Mischa Kottler at Wayne State University. He holds a Master of Music degree. Kottler,then head of the piano department at Wayne, believed that it took about one full year to develop a correct approach to touch and beautiful tone. David now offers piano lessons in Sarasota to this end. In the meanwhile, be entertained by David’s version of The Entertainer.
Pachelbel Canon is Still Popular 350 years Later. Today is June 14, 2017. I have my first summer job in Sarasota, Florida in 20 years. I’ve been a regular in New York state and at the Gasparilla Inn on the isle of Boca Grande. Currently I play a well guarded and kept Yamaha console piano outdoors at the Crab and Fin on Saint Armand’s Circle. The setting is under a covered patio. My assigned times are Monday evening 6 -10 pm. Afternoons are Tuesdays and Wednesdays 12:30 to 5:30 pm.
Anniversary Couple Requests the Pachelbel Canon
A gentleman comes up to me at about 2:30 pm. That was today, Wednesday June 14, After hearing me play selections by Beethoven, he thought there was a possibility that I could play the Canon. He and his wife featured it at their wedding. June 14 was their anniversary. Among the Beethoven selections he heard me play on the piano was the 2nd movement from Beethoven’s 7th symphony. It was used as the theme for the movie, The King’s Speech.
One reason for my success so far as public piano player: Play orchestral transcriptions on the piano. That was a specialty of Franz Liszt. It worked admirably for him. Basically the public loves hearing familiar orchestral works well played by the intimacy offered by a single piano player. Among the transcriptions that I regularly play at the Crab and Fin in the summer; and during the winter at Gasparilla Inn are:
“Jupiter” from the suite The Planets by Gustav Holst.
Selections from Carmen by Georges Bizet.
The Barcarole from Tales from Hoffman by Offenbach.
Tales from Vienna Woods by Strauss
The Beautiful Blue Danube by Strauss
The American in Paris by George Gershwin
Song of India by Rimsky Korsakov. The list goes on and on.
Shortly I will post my own rendition of a piano transcription of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Keep checking DSOworks.com for my Pachelbel posting. I also have a few openings for piano lessons in Sarasota.
Beer Versus Coffee and Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is cool. I love his sense of humor and strength of spirit. Speaking of spirits: During J.S. Bach’s life there were two distinct points of view in Germany with regards to beer versus coffee. In this incredible battle J.S. Bach, a humble and poor musician, took on Frederick the Great. First a little background on the man Bach fought against in the beer-coffee battle:
Frederick II (German: Friedrich; 24 January 1712 – 17 August 1786) was King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of any Hohenzollern king. His most significant accomplishments during his reign included his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the arts and the Enlightenment in Prussia, and his final success against great odds in the Seven Years’ War.
Now, enter J.S. Bach to face King Frederick the Great. An edict by Frederick the Great declared: “It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and this must be prevented. His majesty was brought up on beer and so were his ancestors and his officers. Many battles were fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the king does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon to endure hardships or to beat his enemies in case of war.” My source is a quote by Victor Borge in My Favorite Intermissions.
Bach’s Coffee Cantata is close to being an opera. His Coffee Cantata #211 has a plot, recitatives, and arias. Had money been raised for scenery and costumes, it would have been a baroque opera. Bach wrote it in defiance of the king’s edict. Basically, in the cantata, a daughter’s father tries to reason with her to kick the coffee habit. After all kinds of threats, in desperation he promises to find her a handsome husband. Marriages were pre-arranged in those days. However, as Borge states: “She (daughter in the cantata) and Bach (the composer) have the last laugh together”. The daughter confides that she would only marry the man that lets her drink all the coffee she wants.
Beer Versus Coffee – Coffee Wins (at least in the Coffee Cantata #211)
For years J.S. Bach gave weekly coffee concerts at Zimmerman’s Coffee House in Leipzig. Isn’t it amazing how something as simple as beer versus coffee could create such conflict. Please share if you like this Bach blog. Oh yes, I am available for piano lessons in Sarasota, should you want to study some of the music of this great master. I also play Bach’s entire Italian Concerto on St Armand’s Circle in Sarasota at the Crab and Fin restaurant. Days are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -check events on DSOworks for details. Yes, the Crab and Fin serves coffee, coffee drinks and beer. Your choice.
Two Significant Beethovens include the Grandfather. Most have read of Beethoven’s father. Mostly, about how he was alcoholic and beat his son on his ears. Before turning to drink, the father was a gifted musician. He sang tenor in chorus and in opera. His name was Johann Beethoven. As a result of the father’s drinking, the family lived in abject poverty. His small salary was wasted at the ale-house. With such unfortunate circumstances his oldest son, Ludwig, became the breadwinner of the home.
Two Significant Beethovens Were Originally Dutch as was the Father, of Course
The Beethoven family were singers at the cathedral at Antwerp. The grandfather was also named, Ludwig. In Germany, the grandfather held many important positions in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. He was at first a solo bass singer in the opera and choir. Later he was appointed stage director. Finally he became the musical conductor at the church. He had moved earlier in the 18th century to Bonn on the Rhine.
Some significant chronology on L.v. Beethoven:
At age 11 he was playing viola in the orchestra.
At age 12 he was the assistant organist with the orchestra at the church.
6 months later he was the assistant conductor. His duties included conducting the sub-rehearsals. He arranged the music for the singers and orchestra. Also when an opera did not have a suitable aria for a great singer, he would write one. However, he never received a salary for his work until after 17 years of age. But Beethoven still laid the foundation for financial support. Here’s how:
He made a number of connections at the church. This included a wealthy lady, Frau von Breuning. He taught her son and daughter. He also befriended members of the Vienna aristocracy who were in their university days in Bonn. This included the young Count Waldstein. Beethoven dedicated his Waldstein sonata to him. Finding that the young Beethoven lacked a suitable instrument on which to practice, Waldstein had a fine grand piano sent to Beethoven in his attic room (see picture above). He also befriended Count Lichnowsky and many others. They became life long patrons.
I enjoy blogging about Ludwig van Beethoven for several reasons:
I trace my own teachers back to Beethoven. Here’s how. I studied with Mischa Kottler. Kottler studied with Emil von Sauer. Sauer studied with Liszt. Liszt studied with Czerny. Czerny studied with Beethoven. Many of Beethoven’ s innovations were shown to me by Kottler. These included the principle of the prepared thumb.
I have just finished my 8th yearly season as pianist at the Gasparilla Inn on the isle of Boca Grande. Management had the Steinway concert grand in the dining room rebuilt. I now play it in season. It has the finest Steinway parts. They were ordered directly from Germany.
I also enjoy composing. Here is a sample of my own music entitled El Nino in Sarasota. Oh yes, I am available for piano lessons in Sarasota.
Conclusion: Here is one formula for success for aspiring musicians and composers. It is based on this blog: (1) Get the audience. Be a church or by any other means. (2) Appeal to everyone, even the elite. Young musicians and composers need as much help as possible. I encourage all to be kind to composer/musicians that you believe could have potential. You just might have a great work dedicated to you.
Piano Accompanying from Singers to Oboe Players. Talk about maximum contrast. A competent accompanist needs to be like a chameleon. Chameleons or chamaeleons (familyChamaeleonidae) are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of Old Worldlizards with 202 species described as of June 2015. These species come in a range of colors, and many species have the ability to change color. Likewise, a good accompanist must have the ability to change styles like a chameleon changes color. This, of course, depends on who he’s accompanying. I have been fortunate to work with oboist Edmund DeMattia. He is an incredible oboe player and conductor. He is also into his 80’s. I have been receiving a wealth of much needed knowledge from him. Among his accomplishments:
The idea for a “national concert band” began in 1973 with discussions among retired and former members of the four major military service bands in the Washington, DC area. The organization’s two main purposes were to provide a way for area military musicians to continue to play after retirement, and to preserve the concert band tradition of music in the United States, so prominent in the first half of the twentieth century.It was during conductor DeMattia’s tenure the Band participated in making the epic series of historic recordings of “The Heritage of the March,” produced by Robert Hoe of Poughkeepsie, NY.
The first conductor chosen was Edmund DeMattia, formerly principal oboist with the United States Navy Band. He was one of the founding members of the American Concert Band Association (ACB) and the National Concert Band became a member of this professional organization.
Ed and I are rehearsing regularly for an upcoming concert. We will do well known and established works for oboe. My wife, Sharon Ohrenstein, will also sing. Much of our music is original. I write the music. Shes does the lyrics. However, I must mention, Ed will also be performing also be playing one of my original works. It is called the Iguana Farm. Audiences go wild over it.
Now here’s the difference between the voice and the oboe:
Piano Accompanying for Singers
Singers need more of a background accompaniment. It is essential that lyrics be heard. Use the soft pedal on the piano. When music is marked forte, bring it down to mezz0 piano. If something is marked mezzo piano, bring it down to pianissimo, etc.
When the singer is tacit in a piano solo section, then release your soft pedal. Play it full out.
Piano Accompanying for Oboe Players
Ed tells me “I need a full sound.” There is no concert band with us. We do not have 50 players. You are the only one. Contrary to the singer, when the music is marked mezzo forte, play it full forte. When it is full forte, play it doubly loud. The bass must always be strong and solid, even with syncopated passages in the treble. Without these directions, the music can easily turn to chaos.
I have been so fortunate to work with experienced older musicians. (1) Piano lessons with Mischa Kottler (2) Accompanist to world renowned violinist, David Rubinoff (3) Work with Edmund DeMattia. I’ve continually built on my Master of Music degree from Wayne State University. Since I myself am becoming older, I wish to keep the tradition going. I offer piano lessons in Sarasota; but for those who are interested the possibility of a career. Our concert date and place will be announced shortly.
Mischa Kottler Student Endures on the piano. My father had a sense about me. We grew up in Detroit. I immediately took to the piano and composing. At age 12 I wrote a piano concerto. I had only been playing the piano for 3 months. I also played the complete Beethoven Moonlight Sonata from memory.This was at my first year piano recital. We soon arranged for auditions with the best Detroit instructors. Julius Chajes was the director of music at the Detroit Jewish Community Center. Chajes suggested to go to Mischa Kottler since he was quite busy. Chajes also mentioned Karl Haas. Haas was the creator and host of the nationally syndicated program, Adventures in Good Music. Haas also suggested that I audition for Mischa. Finally, I went to Mischa Kottler. He is a brief description of him in Keyboard Magazine by one of his students student.
Another notable Mischa Kottler student – Greg Philliganes
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. Misha 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.
As a Mischa Kottler student
So, how did Mischa impact my career. I am playing my 8th season at the Gasparilla Inn on the exotic isle of Boca Grande. Management thinks of me as part of their corporation. It’s amazing how well you a liked when you are good for business and morale. Management just reconditioned a vintage 1924 Steinway grand. What a difference it makes! “Beautiful, lovely, most enjoyable” …are a few of the positive adjectives. Very few people walk by the piano without patting me on the back. They invariably say, “Good job.” I play 6 nights weekly. This is through April 16. Earlier I had been playing for some 15 years in the Catskill Mountains of New York. This was at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House. Another demanding job: Seven nights a week! Through the training of Mischa Kottler and the generousity and backing of my father, I’ve been enjoying a remarkable long career. I offer piano lessons in Sarasota. Below is a picture of the Gasparilla Inn.
Pianist David Ohrenstein to Play for Diners on a newly rebuilt Steinway Grand at the Gasparilla Inn. He is scheduled 6 nights weekly in season on this island resort.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club – Photo courtesy of Gasparilla Inn
The Gasparilla Inn and Club in Boca grande is wonderful for that special occasion. Here are just a few of the highlights that the dining room has to offer:
Great food by master chefs
Great service and wonderful decor
A newly rebuilt vintage Steinway grand piano
The Steinway is played by David Ohrenstein
David is particularly excited about playing this year. Famed piano technician Larry Keckler from Sarasota Florida was called to recondition and fine tune the dining room Steinway. It dates back to the early 1920’s. Mr. Keckler loves this Steinway. He told me that after he worked on it, he is bowled over by its incredibly sweet and beautiful tone. I can’t wait. My piano playing is all about melody and singing tone.
PIANIST DAVID OHRENSTEIN PLAYS LONG TERM ENGAGEMENTS
This year David’s contract in Boca Grande spans approximately four months. He plays six nights a week. The timing corresponds with the peak busy season in Florida. He has also worked as the pianist at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House in upstate New York. For some 15 years his contracts were for almost five months at the time. Most often, in New York he worked seven days a week. He and his singer-actress wife Sharon would also perform two featured shows weekly. So many say there is little work for musicians. On the contrary, David knows musicians can pick and choose. He offers piano lessons in Sarasota for aspiring students. Meanwhile, see you at the Inn! Yes, I take requests. Sample of David’s playing below:
Career – Circumstances that Bolstered Beethoven’s. Here is a brief summary of his accomplishments from Wikipedia: Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770 in Bonn – 26 March 1827 in Vienna) was a Germancomposer. He wrote classical music for the piano, orchestras and different groups of instruments. His best-known works are his third (“Eroica”), fifth, sixth (“Pastorale”) and ninth (“Choral”) symphonies, the eighth (“Pathetique”) and fourteenth (“Moonlight”) piano sonatas, two of his later piano concertos, his opera “Fidelio”, and also the piano piece Für Elise. When he was a young man, he was a talented pianist. Beethoven was popular with the rich and important people in Vienna, Austria, where he lived.
So, What Bolstered His Career?
Obviously, he played for rich and important people. But, he also held his music in the highest of esteem. Higher than even the royalty, At the time he lived in Vienna. It was the day of the amateur pianist. Aristocrats played the piano. They had a conception of how difficult mastery was. Prince Ferdinand Josel Lobkowitz was one of three that guarenteed him a life long income as long as he stayed in Vienna. This Prince had his own quartet. He played music all day long. Archduke Rudolph was a pianist who took lessons with Beethoven himself. He contributed to his income. The 3rd was Prince Ferdinand Kinsky. He loved vocal music. The times, Beethoven’s location and his incomparable genius launched his carrer. You could say, the right person at the right time. If the times are not quite right for you, be patient. Times also change in cycles. We are over due for lots of wonderful new happenings in the arts.
I have a special connection to Beethoven. It is being 5 generations removed by teaching lineage. Beethoven taught Carl Czerny. Czerny taught Franz Liszt. Liszt taught Emil von Sauer. Sauer taught my piano teacher, Mischa Kottler. I studied with Kottler for some 15 years. One of Beethoven’s inventions, I was told, was the prepared thumb. Also, the 2 note phrase was used to “divide and conquer” many difficulties. Enjoy my youtube presentation called the Paris Piano connection. You can hear me play 6 nights weekly at the Boca Grande Gasparilla Inn. I have a just newly reconditioned 1924 Steinway concert grand. This will be my 8th year of 6 nights weekly from Dec. 20 – April 14, 2017. I also have a couple of openings for piano lessons in Sarasota. The Beethoven tradition of my lineage of teachers must be kept alive!