1) Trio no 1 part 2: Scherzando/Heleen Verleur
2) Tango Trio no 2 part 1/Heleen Verleur
4) Movie ‘Piano Trio Day no 1′ the whole movie
4.12 little boy
At the Playground
4) Link to page ‘Piano Trio Day no 1′
Piano Trio no 5: At the Playground
Piano Trio no 2: Spanish Dance
Milonga for three
Piano Trio no 4: Chinese Dragon
Piano Trios for Early Learners
I should like to introduce myself. I’m Heleen Verleur, piano teacher and composer from Amsterdam. I studied classical piano in the Netherlands. I started to compose little pieces for my students. After a while I thought: “I like to take part in a competition.” I sent in a piece to a very prestigious international competition, the Gaudemus Music Festival. Just to know where I was standing with my compositions. The piece was my first piece in a rather contemporary idiom, although not really atonal. It was written for soprano singer, piccolo, bassoon, metal garbage can, and piano. The piece was one of the few to be selected to be performed during this Gau-deamus festival. I was thrilled, but also almost frozen by the idea that the famous Schönberg Ensemble would practise my piece! A day later a re-porter of a newspaper wrote a very negative article about my piece, that finally made me decide to quit composing. One of the most silly decisi-ons I have ever taken. Just because someone was saying negative things about my piece, I was quitting!
But ideas kept coming and a few years after, I wrote an encore piece for a composi-tion competition of a famous Dutch woodwind ensemble, Cale-fax. I had taken the decision: if it is selected, I go on with composing and I take lessons. If not, I quit. I was really surpised that I won the first pri-ze! It would be performed at the famous ‘Music Building at the IJ’. A few weeks before the performance, one of the very virtuose players of this emsemble, called me, and said: your piece is wonderful, but we don’t manage to perform it at the concert.. it is too hard!
That was the first moment in my early composition career, that I felt the need to write easier pieces. Also the one and only teacher I had, Jeff Hamburg, was a teacher who writes pieces from his heart. And if you write from the heart, music doesn’t need to be complicated. Although it can be! Jeff alway says: please think about the player. Take him into ac-count, imagine playing his part.. would you be happy doing that? I was not happy playing my own music at that time: much too complicated!
I said Jeff was my only teacher, but I was also taught by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Schumann and a lot of other composers. Because what did I do to learn to compose? I started writing the way they did. I wrote whole piano trios in the style they did. Like:
1) Trio no 1 part 2 : Scherzando
This trio had not yet been published. After this I wrote another trio in the classical way, but with a tango twist. It happened to be that our crown prince in that time, 2002, was going to marry a Argentinian bride. My Argentinian piece was just in time! So this performance was held in the Concert Building in Amsterdam, and the recording you hear is from the Mirror Room from the Concert Building.
2) Trio no 2: Tango Trio
After this, I wrote many more music. I also wrote music to childrens books, duets for piano, many musicals, and lots of other music. But now I want to tell how I came to write piano trios for early learners!
My first piano trio I ever played, was Beethoven Trio Op.1 no 2. I already bought the score, without knowing a violin and cello player in my neigh-bourhood. But I started practising (it wasn’t quite easy!) Some time after that I went to a party. I had a conversation with a visitor about this, I ex-plained that I really wanted to play this trio. He said: I do know a violin and cello player, they are a couple. I could ask them if they should like to play together with piano? I said: ok, let’s give it a try! It felt a bit like a contact advertisement, but I really wanted to play that Beethoven trio. So I called the violin and cello player a few days later. The cello player sounded really nice. I asked her which trio she would like to start with. She said: well, we just bought Beethoven Op. 1 no 2, would you like to try this out? This was one of these moments that I thought that angels we-re watching us from heaven.. how could it happen that from all trios that have been written, we both bought this Beethoven trio?
We played together, since then twentyfive years have passed, and the vio-lin- and cello player became the witnesses at our wedding!
What I really like about piano trios, is the role of the pianist. It feels like playing in a mini orchestra. You have an important role, but you are not on your own. You are playing together, but you are not accompanying. The parts are generally not easy, rather pianistical complicated. That is exactly the problem for amateurs. Because you have to be a very good reader ánd player to perform a trio of Clara Schumann, not to say Men-delssohn or Schubert. It is challenging!
Chamber music for young players, isn’t that a bit too much to ask, in par-ticular for the young pianists? If you just start to play the piano there is already such a lot to think about. You are learning to play with two hands, with sometimes completely different melodies and movements, as in the Bach menuets from the Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena.
You are learning to decode two different music clefs. Quite a demand already on your motor skills, and quite a lot of stimulus. Does it make sense to add another instrument to this, or even two? What is the added benefit? Isn’t this asking too much? And how
will it sound, with the addition of these two beginning string players? Too much of a struggle, for all involved?
On Friday November 25th, 2017, EPTA chair Bart van der Roer and my-self both gave an address on chamber music on the 26th EPTA Congress.
Bart, pianist of the Storioni Trio, gave a captivating exposition about the balance between string players and piano. Next it was my turn, in the same block. I explained the importance of having young piano players play together with strings or other instruments, in particular in trio form. In the words of the congress coordinator and EPTA secretary Hetty Floors: top and base were joined in this block. The Storioni Trio versus amateur musicians who just starting out. Educational and thrilling.
As piano player you are a soloist. The piano is a harmonic instrument, so in fact you do not need anybody else. That’s quite convenient, and it could be one reason for being attracted to the piano. For the piano on its own almost sounds like a complete orchestra, or even: is an orchestra. No need to add anyone to this. Let me digress a bit now. It is not by accident that there are piano only versions of all symphonies. In the days before sound could be captured you had to perform yourself to hear all those or-chestral works, by playing them on the piano, either by yourself or with four hands. All music at home had to be home made. Of course one would miss out a bit on the sound colour of the various orchestral instru-ments, but one could capture the harmonies quite well.
Back to the topic of chamber music for beginning
players: it is a bit of a pity that piano players, as specialists in harmonics, play together quite a bit less than for instance string players. Melodic in-struments often get together in small orchestras or play together with their teacher during lessons, or they are made to team up with fellow string players in group lessons. How immensely useful to learn to recover from getting lost when playing together, instead of just to stop and give up. Most beginning piano players get confused and tend to freeze when they make a mistake. But those that regularly play with others find it easier to just play on. The show must go on, no-one is pleased if you quit. If you team up in a piano trio for the first time you suddenly have to take two other players into account. That’s not always easy, but it is fun and it gives a lot of inspiration!
It is inspiring, because:
• It feels like playing in an orchestra, albeit in a minimal one.
• You only need three players. Much easier than getting together a
• The social aspect gives a boost to motivation.
• The sound of it is marvelous, like on a CD.
Apart from the fact that ensemble playing can act as a great motivator and
stimulus for the ‘regular’ lessons, there are a few things that pianists who are
regular ensemble players learn ‘on the go’, such as:
• paying attention to two other players
• starting and ending together
• being in charge: the flautist has to breathe, string players have to get
their bows ready.
• breathing together
• keeping balance between the instruments
• keeping measure when another player has ‘lost it’
• recovering when you get lost yourself
• agreeing with each other on how to perform a piece.
Maybe it is true that if you play together regularly, that it brings more quality to the normal lessons, but there might be obstacles along the way. I mention here two things that could stop you to start this:
1. How do you organize such a thing? As private teachers you have less contact with other teachers than when you are connected to a music school.
2. There it not much trio music for early learners
Certainly early triomusic in which the piano part has something nice to do, not only playing supporing chords but having a real melody! Pia-noparts from early trios are often more supportive and consist largely of accompaniments without melody. I tried some trios of Adam Carse, but my students thought the piano part what not so exciting. In the meantime I wrote 31 shorts trios myself, from which three books have been publis-hed with Alfred UK, and als some at the Suzuki shop in The Netherlands. As a composer I have tried to write in a contemporary idiom, but accessi-ble, not too complicated but without making many concessions. I do hope that more composers will pick up the glove an write more trios for early learners, from the first year. But I notice there are not so many serious composers who do this. Composers like Bartok and Tchaikovsky, wrote pieces for children. But they didn’t write piano trios. It is a challenge to write a piano part that is interesting enough for pianists, not only chord accompanying the others, but a real exciting piano part that can stand on it’s own.
Difficulties are there to be overcome. Surely when students tell you that “playing trios is the best thing there is!”. That was wat one of my students told me after the 2nd Trioday in Amsterdam.
1. How do you organize something like this? In Amsterdam in the past few year two triodays has been organized by teachers, with Suzuki violin teacher Monique Dowgwillo as feeder. The last time, on Sunday the 12th of February 2017, it has been organized by three piano teachers, two flute teachers, three violin teachers and one cello teacher. These teachers are a mix of private teachers, all living in Amsterdam. Both Suzuki teachers and music teachers. 33 children took part and 11 of my trios have been practised and performed. All 33 children got three different lessons with another teacher, as a trio. The day was closed with a concert of all trios for public.
3) Short movie from the 2nd Piano Trio Day
The teachers has rented the building of the Music School Amsterdam in de Nieuwe Kerkstraat, the New Churchstreet. We needed 7 different classrooms with a piano, because several groups of trio players had their workshops at the same time, from different teachers. Also a grand piano was needed for the big performance at the and of the day. There are not many building with both 7 pianos and a grand piano, so we were happy to find one. The music school also turned out to be available on Sunday. A good day, because then very little other activities or performances had been planned. A good advise: it is handy to make contact with a local music school that is willing to rent out the building on Sunday.
All workshop participants pay a rate that is is enough that the organizer has at least the rent out and that involved teachers can be payed.
If you don’t have other music teachers in your neighbourhood, you can try to find them through teacher banks like EPTA, ESTA of Facebook (for example the Classical Musicians Platform). Hanging up notes in schools and supermarkets is also a possibility. When there is a will, there is a way.
It is true, that organizing a trio day is an entire organization. But it doe-sn’t need to be a whole day: if you find two other music teachers (for example violin and flute) you can already start. I recommend to find tea-chers in the environment of your teaching practice. This because there will be extra rehearsals and it is more convenient and more motivating if they don’t need to travel a lot. Once it runs smoothly, they are also going to play together outside of these lessons, so than it is more convenient if they don’t need to travel the city and the country.
You agree on forhand that everyone practise his own part in advance. When you agree to play together, it is only useful when everyone knows his part very well! Because with every player who plays through you, it is harder to keep on playing your own part. When you are not used to that, you will be terribly distracted, it is almost as if a -admittedly beautiful- siren goes off. Meanwhile you keep on playing your part, so you have to master it very well! That means good practise in advance, under the gui-dance of your teacher.
After a few weeks or month everyone has learned his part. That is a beau-tiful moment: now the first rehearsal can be arranged. With the other tea-chers can be agreed that the rehearsal can alternate. For trios with violin, cello and piano, one time can be practised in the lesson of the pianist, other time in that of the violin player and next time in the lesson of the cello. This requires clear communication, by email and/or telephone. It is convenient to make a schedule for all involved in advance, so that every-one knows what, where and how. The nice thing about the alternating les-sons, is that with every rehearsal the teacher of his specific instrument can give clues for his own instrument. About the general musical aspects every teacher can say something about, but specific clues about direction of a violin or intonation, as a pianist you can better leave it to others. The most important aspect of this rehearsals is the attention to interaction, and last but nog least: the pleasure!
Another way of organizing could be that the piano teachers hires the vio-lin- and celloteacher for an afternoon. They come to the pianoteachers practise and play all the parts. The piano students play the parts alternate-ly. This could also be done by advanced violin- or cello students. It is more like a kind of a ‘masterclass’ for beginners.
Something I still want to start up for myself, is asking if there is a need for permanent trio lessons. This could occur weekly or once in the 14 days, or even once in a month: three of the same people come to my prac-tise and build up a collaboration during a longer period. Like the profes-sional trios do. It would be fun!
Quote from a review of the 2nd Trio Day by Paul Bataille in the Dutch Suzuki News:
“How loud is loud? How do you take care of that you all start at the sa-me time and also end at the same time? And how? What to do with ferma-tas and changing of tempo and rhythm? The piano mostly leads the rhy-thm with the bass or chords, but a flute player has to take breaths and can come into trouble when another players indicates the bets. How sharp is a staccato or marcato? Where are the little breakes that make a piece breath? Where to move on, keep the momentum.
And than dynamics. How loud it forte? How soft is piano? How loud can a piano play without drowning out the others? Who has the main melody, where to predominate, where do the others have it, and do you have to withdraw a little bit.. How soft are accompaniment parties and how loud is the mail melody so that the whole is in balance? What can you do best when you just lost the thread? A world opens up for you when you start to make music with others. When playing chamber music, everyone can say his thing, and together you choose how to perform the piece. That is get-ting used to, both for the more timid types as for the flamboyante extra-verts ..”
I can insure the listener: the first rehearsal as a teacher can frighten you off.. A memory of such a moment: it seemed as if an atonal piece was played, but it happened to be three children each playing their own tem-po! After the 2nd and 3rd attempt it soon sounded a lot better! They noticed that they could choose for the same tempo, and that is sounded a lot more logical. What an instructive experience it was: counting is really necessary!
2) There is too little trio music for beginners
There little sheet music for early learners. I tried a trio from composer Adam Carse but my student lost his motivation because he thought the piano part wasn’t that exciting. Self I have made a modest attempt to overcome the shortage of playable beginner trios to fill: I have now writ-ten 31 short trios for ‘Young Players’. I have hereby – as a contemporary composer – done my best the music modern, for everyone accessible and not too difficult to make, but without too much concessions. I hope that in the future more composers will pick up the glove recording and writing trios that are accessible to early learners.
Examples from Piano Trio for Young Players:
The difficulty of the trio books from the Piano Trios for Young series Players that has been published by Alfred UK, is increasing, from begin-ning to average. In At the Playground (example 4) from Book 1 the piano part plays almost entirely from one position. The piano is not only ac-companying but also has a melodic role. The violin and cello imitate each other, while the rhythm of the piano part in eighth notes continues. This gives a quiet underground for the sixteenth notes of the violin and the cel-lo. The piano part of bar 16 and 17 looks difficult for beginners but it is not: left and right hand alternate but remain just in the same position. This gives a somewhat ‘clownish’ effect in combination with the other instruments. There is a lot of imitation in the piece: the theme bar 17 co-mes first in the violin, then in the cello, then in the piano. This gives a hold for young players: someone has already preceded them, the red car-pet is already out. This piece does not demand much, technically, but the-re is a lot of communication between the instruments. As ‘whipped cream on the cake’ in size 20/21 one sounds
glissando, which children often like to do.
Spanish Dance (example 5) has a piano part that is exciting, but at the same time easy to remember. The right hand stays on its own spot, the left hand varies. It sounds much more difficult than it is (always nice!). The fifths in both hands have the same bass tone below. The piece begins with only the violin and piano, followed by cello and piano. In bar 13 violin, cello and piano meet for the first time. The pianist knows that once the cello has finished his solo theme (which is an imitation of the violin) the piano takes it’s the turn. In that way, the pianist can focus completely on the interaction instead of keeping track of where he is.
Cats (example 6) comes from a not yet published book of trios. I don’t have a recording yet, but you heard it in the beginning of the movie from the 2nd trio day. It introduces (from measure 42) the rhythm 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 1-2 1-2. This seems hard to play, but when you say “pineapple pine-apple kiwi kiwi kiwi” (the accents in the left hand) it suddenly becomes a lot easier. The piece is strongly canonically: the flute and the violin have the same theme, but the violin imitates the flute one bar after that. The piano ‘supports’ the flute with the same theme. From bar 50 it becomes rhythmically the same. Hereafter (not visible in this music example)
from the players is asked to say all three at the same time a few times ‘Miaow!’. This
always gives some hilarity, especially for the public (the musicians have this at
the rehearsal already had), because that is not expected, although because of the title of the piece one could have received a hint.
Milonga (example 7) This piece is a wink to the great master Astor Pi-azzolla. It already contains at the beginning glissandi for the strings. The piano part has pleasant, wide chords with pedal. An optimal effect is achieved with few resources. The violin starts with a minor scale of long whole notes, for the strings suitable for learning good intonation. The pi-ano moves underneath it, with quiet wavy eighth notes. The cello, in bar 6, brings in the typically punctured Milonga rhythm, by which on the last page the piece also ends. The funny thing is that it really is not difficult to play: there is no contionous transposition, as with Piazzolla, but the piece sounds pretty Argentinian.
In general, all parties are fairly easy for the pianist play and easy to re-member and read. As a piano party too much accompanying, it is not challenging enough for beginners to practice; after all: playing one-third of the whole on your own often does not sound that good, and sometimes that does not motivate enough to want to play the piece.
And last but not least
As a private teacher good and motivating to work with other teachers. It keeps you fresh and fruity: here in Amsterdam I work a lot with Janece Milos and Jana Neplechovich. Sometimes we teach each other’s students. It is interesting to find out that we all have our hobby horses. And also is it is good to become aware of what others are doing differently, perhaps inspiring because that’s something to try. It keeps you flexible as a tea-cher. My aim is for every early learner in the Netherlands and abroad to create the conditions to play trios. I think as a beginning pianist you will be stimulated very much by this, and your enthusiasm will grow. It can be a revival for the regular lessons: you have tasted the value of interaction on a high level. How wonderful is it to communicate and interact with each other, without words, with music as language. If you want to organi-ze a trio day in your area or you have questions, do not hesitate to contact me via: email@example.com or www.heleenverleur.org.