Listening Assignment – Week of July 6- July 13

This week’s Listening Assignment will be listening to music written for piano and one other instrument.  The first is a piece written by Mozart, a Clarinet Concerto in A Major, with the piano playing what is called an Orchestra Reduction, that is the orchestra part has been re-written so that the piano plays all of the orchestra parts.  It isn’t the same sound as an orchestra, but a well-written reduction can provide a very satisfying musical experience for someone who wants to play a concerto but doesn’t have an orchestra ready to play along with them.  This piece shows the delightful “conversation” between the clarinet and the piano with sometimes the clarinet taking the lead and other times the piano.  The precision of these two performers is impressive and their ensemble playing is so good it almost sounds like one instrument at times.  Playing together like this takes a lot of listening to the other person and anticipating their part, similar to what you have to do when playing piano 4-hand music.

The next selection is a Violin and Piano Sonata written by the French Romantic composer, Camille Saint-Saens.  The excerpt chosen is the third and fourth movements of this Sonata and shows the intricate and high-stakes writing demanding incredible accuracy and no slip-ups as the two parts as so intertwined.  It is a white-knuckle ride as it has both instruments playing at the extreme speed of their instruments but is so exciting and impressive to hear.  Happy Listening!

Mozart Clarinet Concerto



Saint-Saens Violin and Piano Sonata

Listening Assignment- Piano and . . . June 29- July 6, 2020

One of my favorite Piano and . . . is the Piano Trio made up of not three pianos but of a piano, violin and cello.  There is an abundance of music written for this ensemble as the range of these three instruments gives composers a lot with which to work.   The piece I chose for listening this week is written by a contemporary American composer, Paul Schoenfield and is called Cafe Music.  It was written in 1986 and in it you will hear jazz elements, beautiful lyricism (pretty melodies) and toe-tapping rhythm.  Schoenfield was born in 1947 and has written music for piano, piano trio, violin and piano, piano concerto, and various other combinations of instruments.  In his compositional style he is known for combining popular, folk and classical music.  He currently is professor of composition at the University of Michigan.  Happy listening!

Listening Assignment – week of June 22-27- Piano and Pictures

This summer, the theme for the Listening Assignments is Piano and . . .  The piano, though a very large and not very portable instrument,  is nonetheless very versatile and has inspired  composers to write an amazing collection of music which continues to grow with new compositions being written all the time.

The listening assignment for this week is a collection of 10 short pieces called Pictures At An Exhibition which was written in 1874 by Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian composer.  His inspiration for the music was a collection of paintings by his friend Viktor Harmann who died unexpectedly at the age of 39.  Mussorgsky wrote the piano music as a tribute to his friend and in the music he “describes” with sound each painting in the exhibit.  There is a promenade theme that is played between the pieces as if someone was walking and viewing each painting and which connects the entire piece.  Here are the titles of the paintings:

The Promenade/ The Gnome/ Promenade/ The Old Castle/ Promenade/ Chilren’s Quarrel after Games/ Cattle/ Promenade/ Ballet of Unhatched Chicks/ / Samuel Goldenberg and Schmyle) Promenade/ The Market/ Catacombs/ Baba Yaga( The Hut on Hen’s Legs) The Gates of Kiev

As you listen to these pieces, try and figure out how he uses sound to describe each painting.  For instance, with the Promenade theme, what makes it sound like someone walking?  What does he do to create the impression of The Gnome or The Old Castle?  How are the rhythms in those pieces different from the steady calmness of the Promenade theme?  Does he use a different register of the piano? How does he use silences and pauses to create drama? How is tempo used to create the different moods and character of each piece?  Listen for the wide range of dynamics and how he brings out each melody, voicing the top note of large chords, or playing the accompanying parts really softly.  Write down three descriptive words for each picture and for the Promenade theme as part of your assignment for this week.  Also, try experimenting with one of the musical ideas- maybe the promenade theme-  just play around with it and see what you might create.  To give you some ideas, I’ve also included another version of the piece by The Piano Guys that is so inventive with how they incorporate puppets and gives an example of taking a musical idea and creating something new from it.  Happy Listening!

Pictures At An Exhibition




Piano Guys


Listening Assignment- Week of Feb. 24- March 1, 2020

This week you will be listening to the music of Dimitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer whose lifetime nearly encompasses the 20th century.  He lived from 1906-1975 living through the Bolshevik Revolution, WWI, WWII, of worst of all The Terror, which is what people called the years when Stalin was in power.  Shostakovich survived all the political turmoil and artistic suppression but at great personal cost to himself.  He was often forced to speak in defense of the USSR when traveling abroad as its musical ambassador, but his music tells us another quite different story.  The 8th symphony in particular is now understood to be a denunciation of totalitarianism, and in the music he mocks the members of the ruling party including Stalin himself.  Shostakovich’s life was very hard and he suffered much, but through all of his difficulties he kept writing music and his music still speaks to us today.

Did you ever think that music could make you laugh?  The first piece you will hear is a Polka which has so many surprising twists and turns in sound that you will hear the audience laugh out loud!  Shostakovich will often use the extremes of an instrument which also adds to the humor of this piece.  I dare you to keep from laughing when listening to this piece!

The second selection is the Andante movement from his second piano concerto.  It is such an exquisite piece of music that I just had to share it with you.  Many people describe how listening to this piece brings tears to their eyes as it is so achingly beautiful.  So the two pieces for this week express emotions of humor and sarcasm and then of deep sadness and longing which reflects in a small way, the life of Dimitri Shostakovich.  Happy listening!

Listening Assignment – Week of Feb. 17- Feb. 23, 2020

This week you will be listening to the music of Frederic Chopin, a Polish composer who spent his adult life living in France.  He lived from 1810-1849 and in his short life significantly contributed to the body of piano literature, writing almost exclusively for the piano.  He developed a style of music which called for a  beautiful singing tone, known as cantabile, and he is often referred to as the “poet of the piano.”   The piece you will hear is an Etude which means “study” or a composition meant to develop a specific technique.  He wrote 24 Etudes, one in each key, similar to Bach’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, and while they do require great technical skill, the pieces are also very beautiful and musically satisfying.  This particular Etude is nicknamed the “Revolutionary Etude” as Chopin wrote it wanting to express the solidarity and passion he felt for the Poles fighting for their freedom in his native Poland.  I’m going to post two different performers playing the same piece so you can hear how one piece of music can be interpreted in different ways.  Happy listening!


Listening Assignment- Week of Feb. 10- Feb. 16, 2020

The listening assignment for this week is the Beethoven piano sonata in C Major, Op. 2 No 3,  a delightful sonata, full of exuberance and  excitement.  I selected it partly because it is one of my favorite sonatas of Beethoven and also because it shows us how he can take a motive, like the opening motive of this sonata, and create such a interesting and engaging piece of music.  Notice how he uses arpeggios and scales to great affect.  The recording I selected includes the entire sonata which is made up of 4 movements and lasts about 26 minutes.  Feel free to listen to the entire sonata, but the part I want you to listen to every day for the next 5 days is the first movement which lasts for 7:50.  You will hear a pause at the end of the first movement and when the second movement begins it is at an Adagio tempo.  Enjoy!

February Frenzy 2022

Winning Teams:

TEAM PIANO PEOPLE: Angela, Asahi, Dylan, Eric, Hannah, Kennedy,  Sky 

TEAM TREBLE IN PARADISE: Abby, Avery, Eliza, Jo, Joy, Julian, Natalie, Shelley, Stacie, Zoe

These two teams tied for first place earning an ice cream party!

TEAM THE BASS NOTES: Andy, Anthony, Golnaz, Johanna, Hanna

This team placed second






Listening Assignment – Week of Feb. 3- Feb. 9, 2020

This first week you’ll be listening to a Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in D Major by J. S. Bach, from the Well Tempered Clavier Book 1.  This is music from the Baroque Period (1600-1750) and one of the  characteristics of music from this period is that it is written in a polyphonic- many voices- style.  This will be especially evident in the Fugue which has four voices.  See if you can hear the entrance of all four of them.  Another characteristic of Baroque music is its “perpetual” motion feel.  Once the piece begins it is propelled forward from measure to measure not stopping until the very end.  The performer is Andras Schiff, one of the best interpreters of Baroque Music, and his interpretation of this prelude and fugue is stellar.  Happy listening!

Listening Assignment – week of July 23-July 26, 2019

This is our last week of listening to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, but I hope it will just be the beginning of your further exploration of his music.  For a man who lived only fifty-seven years, had a miserable childhood, poor health all his life, and eventually complete hearing loss, his creative output is impressive.  He wrote:

9 symphonies; 32 Piano Sonatas; 16 String Quartets; 7 Piano Trios; 5 String Quintets; 10 Violin Sonatas; 5 Cello Sonatas; 1 Sonata for Horn; 1 Opera- Fidelio; 7 Concerti; Miscellaneous piano compositions such as Bagatelles

For this week’s listening we will complete the Ninth Symphony, listening to movements three and four.  The fourth movement is where you will hear the famous “ode to joy” theme.  I’ve also included a recording of the Horn Sonata.  It is such a rollicking, catchy tune and it will lift your spirits and set your toes tapping!  The 3rd movement of the Ninth Symphony is played by the Czech Republic Orchestra and the 4th movement of the Ninth Symphony is performed by 10,000 Japanese musicians.  It is truly a remarkable performance and illustrates well how Beethoven’s music transcends cultural boundaries and speaks to all humanity.  The words sung by the soloists and choir in the fourth movement is from a poem by Goethe, a German poet.  Here are the words in English:

O friends, no more these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
more full of joy!

Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.

Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.

All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;

She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.

You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!

Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.

Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?

Seek him in the heavens;
Above the stars must He dwell.


3rd Movement from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

4th Movement from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony