Listening Log 2021-2022

April 2022

Sonatina in G by Thomas Attwood

This month we are practicing our feedback skills before our performance workshop in a couple weeks. If you are Level One or higher please challenge yourselves to write specific comments on your feedback sheet. Find things you like about Victor’s performance and things he can work on. We do this ALL THE TIME in lessons. You’re getting quite good at it! Some examples of comments you might write are:

  • Sometimes your beat was steady
  • Look at the audience and smile before and after bowing
  • Great contrasts in dynamics
  • Remember to do a cat back at the end

Smiley faces are fine for students in MFPA or Primer levels. 🙂

March 2022

Sonata in B Minor, K.27

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) lived during the Baroque period. He was born in Italy and grew up there. His father, Alessandro Scarlatti, was famous for the many operas he composed. Young Domenico started playing harpsichord and organ for a church in Naples. He was just sixteen years old when he started playing there. When he was 23 years old one of the church leaders, Cardinal Ottaboni, set up an organ and harpsichord playing contest between Domenico and George Frideric Handel. It is said that Handel won the organ contest and that they tied for best harpsichord performance.

Domenico’s father, Alessandro, expected his son to follow in his footsteps, composing opera. For a while he tried doing that but he really wanted to do his own thing, so he moved out the country. He got a job making music for the Royal Chapel in Lisbon, Portugal. He ended up teaching the royal family’s children to play the harpsichord too. When his best student, Princess Maria Barbara, moved to Spain to marry Ferdinand the VI, Domenico followed her there. The music of Spain: the traditional folksongs and flamenco influenced his compositions. You will hear quick repeating notes that imitate strumming a guitar, dissonances (sounds that clash, like seconds), and modulations (moving to new scales), and ornaments. American pianist, Sara Daneshpour, plays his keyboard sonata with great artistry and skill.

Flamenco music is rhythmic, energetic and full of feeling. Flamenco dancers do quite a bit of dancing with their hands and feet. They typically are accompanied by guitar, castanets, cajon (box), and palmas (clapping). Sometimes there is singing too.

Watch this short video of Ileana Gomez dancing flamenco. It’s so awesome they actually incorporate one of Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas into their performance!


February 2022

Hang Up Your Hang Ups

Herbie Hancock (1940-present) is an American composer who experiments with jazz fusion, funk and electro-styles. He plays the acoustic piano, synthesizer, keyboards and other electronic instruments. He loves to collaborate with other musicians. He has played music with Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Juanes, Lang Lang, Santana, Oscar Peterson, Ed Sheeran, Wayne Shorter, Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones among others. He actively performs to this day.

Herbie started playing the piano at age 7. He was considered a child prodigy, playing a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was just eleven years old. He went to Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa, double majoring in music and electrical engineering. When he graduated he moved to Chicago. As a young man he spent five years playing in Miles Davis’ jazz quintet. Later he started is own band called the Head Hunters. He had several hit albums: “Takin’ Off,” “Maiden Voyage,” “Empyrean Isles,” “Speak Like a Child” and more. Some of his most famous compositions are: “Chameleon,” “Watermelon Man,” “Cantaloupe Island,” and “Maiden Voyage.”

I hope you enjoy this funky composition played by Herbie Hancock and his friends.

January 2022

Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob XVI:23

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was a composer from Austria that lived during the Classical Period (1750-1820). When he was a boy he and his brother sang in a church choir. He enjoyed playing practical jokes. He loved music so much he tried to earn his living as a composer. At first it was pretty tough but then he was hired by the Esterhazy family to compose music for them and manage their musicians. As time went on Haydn composed 107 symphonies, 83 string quartets, 62 piano sonatas, 26 operas and more! He helped develop the genre of string quartet and “sonata-allegro form” which is kind of like the ABA Coda form we study in the Level One Gold Star Book. He took Beethoven on as a composition student for awhile. Haydn said of himself, “I was never a quick writer, but composed with great care and efforts.”

When Haydn was young he was a prankster and that tendency didn’t disappear when he grew up. Some audience members would get a little too sleepy during his slower compositions. He composed a little surprise for them in his “Surprise Symphony” No. 94. Imagine a soft and gentle piece with a fortissimo chord in the middle of it! You can listen to it here. The second movement has the surprise (9:10-15:00 marker).

Tiffany Poon performs this piano sonata. Notice how long she pauses before she starts each movement. She is audiating, hearing the music in her mind so she can bring it to life. You will notice how much preparation she does, moving around the keyboard all the time. Memorizing the music helps her play better and with greater artistry than she could if she needed to read the music. Listen to the way she makes the melody louder than the rest of the notes. That’s called balance. Her articulations, or staccato and legato sounds are crisp. Notice the different character or mood of each of the movements in the sonata.

December 2021

I Saw Three Ships

The song playing on the car’s radio was, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” which was written and recorded in 1953. Jon Schmidt from the Piano Guys plays a motive (small musical idea) from another Christmas carol to get his light show working. Can you guess which one?

The main melody he plays during the light show is “I Saw Three Ships,” a traditional Christmas carol from England. The composer is unknown. He changes to a different scale (or key) around the 3:06 marker. That’s called modulation. I hope you enjoy this festive, energetic light show and piano music!

November 2021

Deck the Halls

This month we are polishing our observation and feedback skills before our performance workshop in a couple weeks. If you are Level One or higher please challenge yourselves to write specific comments. Find things you like about Holly’s performance and things she can work on. We do this ALL THE TIME in lessons. You’re getting quite good at it! Some examples of comments you might write are:

  • Sometimes your beat was steady
  • Look at the audience and smile before and after bowing
  • Great contrasts in dynamics

Smiley faces are fine for students in MFPA or Primer levels. 🙂

October 2021

Night on Bald Mountain

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was a composer from Russia. His mother was a fine pianist and was his first music teacher. He studied some of Franz Liszt’s pieces. He served in Russia’s military for awhile but still continued to make music.

Mr. Mussorgsky wrote many different types of music including songs, a famous opera called “Boris Godunov,” and a piano piece called “Pictures at an Exhibition” which was later orchestrated by his former roommate and friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. This piece, “Night on Bald Mountain” is a symphonic poem. This type of composition is meant to paint a musical picture in your mind. The conductor Claudio Abbado conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) in this recording.

September 2021


Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. His first music lessons came from his father. Young Liszt heard violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini performing at a charity event in Paris for cholera victims. He was so inspired that he started practicing diligently to master the piano as Paganini had mastered the violin.

Liszt started composing music at age seven. He composed a lot of piano music including the Consolations, Hungarian Rhapsodies, Etudes de’execution transcendante, and Sonetti de Petrarca. He wrote some art songs (for singers), music for the church and symphonic tone poems. Liszt invented ‘tone poems’ which had a looser, freer musical form than traditional sonata form.

Much of the pianistic traditions we practice today come from Franz Liszt. He made piano recitals popular (and that’s an understatement). He started positioning the grand piano so that the lid opens towards the audience, giving them better sound quality as well as a side view to see a pianist’s technical skill. You could say that Liszt was just as popular as the Beatles in America. Fans would mob him when he appeared in public. You could think of him as a piano rock star who instead of playing crazy guitar solos jammed on the piano! He was a very generous man, giving much of the money he earned to charity.

In 1859 his son, Daniel died. A few years later his daughter, Blandine passed away. This was a very sad time for Franz Liszt. He decided to become a monk but still continued to make music.

The pianist performing this recording of “Liebestraum” is the great Artur Rubinstein. The title is German and means ‘love dream’.