Free organ concert with Malcolm Kogut at Foothills Methodist in Gloversville. June 3 at three. Free. Here is a sample (Flight of the Bumblebee):
One of the causes for strain, stress, injury and other maladies pianists, organists and typists experience is simply that they press too hard into the keybed of their device or instrument. Let's first take a look at sports and then physics (that HS subject you think you don't use in real life).
As a baseball player stands at home plate and the ball is hurtling toward him, he back-swings, forward swings, hits the ball, then all the energy left over from the swing dissipates into the follow through. The same action occurs when an athlete swings a tennis racquet, kicks a ball, swings a golf club, punches someone, throws a ball, etcetera. That is Newton's third law of physics that every action has an equal and opposite action. In order to forward swing, one must first back swing. Even when we walk forward, as one leg is extending up and forward, the other leg is pushing backward. So according to the laws of physics, in order to type or play the piano down, one must first lift up. Many of us were trained or taught to play or type from a resting and relaxed position which actually creates tension because holding a position requires effort. So we know that everything requires an opposite motion and a follow through. I bet all you smart kids out there know exactly where I'm going with this.
Now imagine that our baseball, tennis, soccer, golf, football players or boxers are standing before a concrete wall and they backswing then forward swing but instead of hitting an object and following through, they strike the immovable wall. All the energy of the swing, instead of following through and dissipating, ricochets back into the athlete. That can hurt.
A piano is much the same. Many pianists press into the keybed of a piano and not only does that fail to produce any more of a tone but, all the energy of pressing down is being transferred back up into their finger joints and tendons. We often don't notice this until after an hour or so of practice or the next morning when we wake up with stiff fingers. We are taught by bad teachers "no pain, no gain." In this case, it is very much a lie. No pain, no gain is fine when building muscle but not for bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and certainly not for our technique. Often poor technique, strain or missed notes are a result of what we are not doing rather than what we are doing and often we are using the wrong muscles.
Sit at any acoustic piano and very slowly, depress a key so you don't play a sound. At some point you will hit a little bump in the action, then press through it and you will hit the keybed. That little bump is the point of sound once you actually play.
As a pianist drops the controlled weight of their arm onto a key, they must use Newton's third law. As they hit the point of sound, much like an athlete striking a ball, they must then follow through without hitting the keybed. When they press into the keybed, not only is their energy backfiring but, they are pressing down and according to Newton, we can't set up for the up motion if we are pressing down. This hinders technique. You can't play down if you don't play up and you can't play up if you are pressing down.
So, the key and cure to playing without tension or pain is learning to play to the point of sound and simply following through and not pressing into the keybed. Unbeknownst to most teachers, their students press into the keybed. It is a motion that is often invisible. When a student experiences problems with technique or pain, the teacher often says practice more or run exercises to build strength and endurance and the teacher is often oblivious that the way the student practices is what needs to be addressed, not a clock.
Danger Will Robinson. Before anyone tries to learn to play to the point of sound, there are other components of technique which must first be in place. This includes controlling arm weight, controlling up/down, controlling in/out from the shoulder and elbow, using the fulcrum of the elbow, controlling rotation of the forearm through the use of the pronator and supinator muscles. Likewise, there are movements to avoid such as abduction, curling the thumb under the palm, isolating a finger, equalizing fingers, radial and ulnar deviation, and trying to play too relaxed, still and quiet.
A virtuoso technique looks like it is effortless and relaxed. That is true, the fingers are relaxed because the arm does all the work. Observers are often looking at the pianist's hands and fail to notice the elbow and arm is actually doing most of the work. Pianists who attempt to play from the fingers and have fatigue, are told to relax so, they relax the same muscles they are continuing to use and they achieve nothing.
Once all of the proper motions are achieved and the improper ones eradicated, point of sound will just happen. Some "techniques" such as the Russian Technique, surreptitiously imbue the pianist with these movements but personally, I would rather learn the physics and ergonomics of movement rather than being tricked through mindless imitation. Although, it works to some degree. Where it fails is when a pianist encounters a passage they can't execute and if they knew the mechanics of the arm, would be able to figure out what sort of adjustment is required to play that passage.
I once studied with a leading concert pianist in my area who didn't know what he was doing but had a phenomenal natural technique. His instruction to me was to watch him play then imitate his motion. That would have been fine but I already had bad habits hardwired into my brain which were getting in the way. Since he didn't know anything about ergonomics nor physics, he had no idea how to fix me other than prescribing "practice more."
I once gave a lecture on this topic and a pianist disagreed with me about Newtons third law citing that the piano is down, not up. The finger must come straight down onto a key. If the pianist is playing with a "still and quiet hand" and they must also play black keys, note that the black keys are higher than the white keys. This results in the still and quiet pianist to stretch or twist to reach those keys which in turn create vector forces or, two muscles pulling one bone in two directions simultaneously. This creates tremendous imbalance in the arm which controls the hand and fingers and this leads to an incoordinate technique. Keep in mind your fingers have no muscles. They are moved by the flexor muscles in your forearm so that is where the pianist must first play from.
If you were to walk up stairs, your ascending leg would lift HIGHER than the next stair, then come straight down onto it. If you tried to walk upstairs without lifting your foot higher than the step, you'd trip. Playing the piano is the same. We must use the larger muscles of the arm to get the fingers higher than the notes we are desirous to play. Of course as we become more efficient, we minimize the height but make no mistake, although it may appear invisible, it is still there. Hanon knew this and prescribed the pianist to isolate one finger and lift it high but, this isolation engages the flexors and extensors at the same time resulting in strain to the long flexor tendons which leads to median nerve entrapment (AKA carpal tunnel syndrome). Remember the arm, hand and fingers can only move in one direction at a time. By abducting, for instance, the hand gets pulled in two or four directions despite the pianist trying to play a passage in a specific direction.
I have no conclusion to this post other than don't try this at home. Find a teacher who knows what a pronator and abductor is and work from there.
Join the Foothills Methodist Church, 17 Fremont St. in Gloversville on Sunday, October 30, at 3:00 p.m. in the church sanctuary for an exciting Halloween organ recital featuring a smorgasbord of classics, favorites and surprises. Malcolm Kogut will perform pieces such as the vivid and bristling with energy Dubois Toccata and the ubiquitous Toccata in D Minor by J. S. Bach. Other music will include Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Boellmann's famous suite Toccata, and "In the Garden." The organ recital is free and open to the public.
Every once in a while I come across a piano teacher or musician who think that they need to stretch their hands or run scales to "warm up." The myth behind warming up is that you are able to isolate a body part such as the hands and move them to warm them up. If that were true, the blood that you think you warm up in your hands while moving them, because of circulation, doesn't stay there. It circulates throughout the rest of the body meaning "cold" blood is coming back into the hands. Furthermore, you are not warming up the blood or muscles, the blood is already at its maximum temperature. The real issue is circulation.
A danger in moving cold hands or other body parts is that the elasticity of the muscles and tendons are compromised because they are in a contracted state and if you try to move cold body parts fast, you can cause damage to the tissue such as micro tears and pulls to either the muscles or the tendons. Slow movement and in the medium range of motion is always advised when the extremities are cold.
When the body is cold, the blood is kept near the core vital organs and circulation is slowed to the extremities such as the hands and feet. That makes our hands and fingers feel cold and stiff. Stretching is not a solution and our teachers and coaches have been teaching this mistruth about stretching for years.
When you stretch beyond the mid range of motion you are creating micro tears in the muscle tissue or tendons and the body's response is to rush blood to that site to both immobilize and repair the damage. This process gives us the sensation of "warming up" when in reality we are damaging our tissue structures. Whenever we move, we must only move as far as the mid range of motion, not the extreme where we will stretch, tear and damage tissue.
There are actually two categories of muscle, fast twitch and slow twitch. Musicians should take the time to learn which ones are which and how to utilize them in their craft. Even so, forcing fast twitch muscles to move fast or to stretch them when they are cold and in their contracted state could damage them. Think of your muscles as being like warm gravy. The gravy can easily pour out of the bowl when it is warm. Now put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour and note that it no longer pours fluidly. You can't just run a spoon through the gravy to warm it up, it needs to come out of the fridge and be warmed totally.
If you have a teacher or coach who prescribes stretching and isolation exercises to warm up the body, find another teacher. It is not their fault that they have been given erroneous information themselves from their own teachers, but, their ignorance on the subject can cause you permanent damage. Ignorance is not bliss if it results in tendon, nerve or muscular disorders. That is like going to a mechanic who says that your tires are bald but you can probably get away on them for another few months. He may be the best mechanic in the world but he is risking your life.
If one wishes to truly warm up the body and consequently the hands, one needs to sit in a warm room so that the whole body warms up, not just the part they are going to use. Another solution is to do some mild whole body movement to get the blood pumping throughout the circulatory system.
There are mini steppers on the market for under $50 that a musician can take to a gig with them and use in the green room before a performance. After doing twenty minutes or about 2,000 steps on one of those, the blood will be circulating efficiently throughout the whole body and one may even break a small sweat. You won't have to warm up your legs because you've already been walking all day and, movement that is well known such as walking is as simple as the brain turning on and off a switch. One doesn't need to warm up to remember how to ride a bike. The brain just knows what to do, like flicking a switch.
Conditioning is important, too. If you can only do three minutes on the stair stepper before fatigue sets in then you're not going to achieve a full body warm up in that amount of time so, it would behoove you to do this every day so the body is conditioned to work at that level without fatigue. One doesn't want to go on stage exhausted and weak. It is also advised to be hydrated before, during and after this simple body warm up procedure.
I'll not endorse any particular brand but you can find mini steppers on Ebay, tax and shipping free. Read the user reviews on Amazon to find a brand you think you can trust.
A pudgy high-school kid who likes classical music isn’t bound for much of a social life, especially in the photogenic wilds of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Fortunately for Byron Nilsson, there was salvation. It came in the form of an LP he swiped from a radio station in nearby Danbury, an album on the back of which one song title was scribbled out, with the added inscription: “NOT SUITABLE FOR AIRPLAY.” The album was “Noël Coward in Las Vegas.” The song was “Uncle Harry.” The lyrics were mildly suggestive.
That Coward album – and a book of Tom Lehrer songs and recordings by Flanders & Swann – inspired a love of well-crafted light verse. Which means it rhymes. And can get a delightfully nasty before you realize it. Byron not only enjoyed those songs, he learned them. His social life didn’t improve, but he gained a measure of frightened respect.
“Rhyme on My Hands” is the latest excuse for a cabaret performance by Byron and his longtime musical director, Malcolm Kogut, spinning the fantastic story of how he weathered a life of scorn and heartache in order to sing these songs for you. Songs like “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” “The Irish Ballad,” “The Sloth,” and “The Butler’s Song” will liven the proceedings.
The show takes place at 3 PM Sunday, January 2016, at the legendary Caffè Lena (47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs) and tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Their recent Valentine’s Day and Christmas shows played to sold-out houses, so they’re hoping they can inveigle an audience once more. Warm yourself on a chilly afternoon – or come see this show!
I had heard of and seen pictures of the fabled Sprakers Falls but couldn't verify their existence or location from any online source. Internet searches only yielded that the waterfall is rumored to be near the town of Sprakers or is "lost."
My friend Doug searched a topo map and upon further investigation of drone maps, they helped me to discern where I thought the falls to be.
We parked at an Eerie Canal Bike Path parking lot across from the Sprakers Reformed Church. Our original plan was to drive up Canyon Road and look for parking spots or herd trails leading into the canyon but upon perusal of the Canyon Road entrance, a narrow, single lane, no shoulder dirt road, we decided to park at the lot and traverse up the creek.
Looking at the shaded spot on the topo map I calculated that the waterfall was only eight tenths of a mile upstream. I used a phone app called MAPMYHIKE and at an average speed of 1.7 mph and a distance of about one mile, 35 minutes and 12 seconds later we arrived at the falls.
The water level in the creek seemed low and very manageable. Evidence of high water debris deposits and entanglements showed that the creek must have recently been a raging river up to four feet deep. At that level it would have been absolutely unnavigable.
We intentionally wore old sneakers and simply trudged through the water which was actually a welcome relief as the temperatures were a humid 85 degrees. There were a few locations where the water was about four feet deep and there was one impressive swimming hole beneath a medium sized waterfall half way upstream which had no discernible bottom. It was a fine reward for the intrepid adventurer. At this point we could hear the turbulent roar of the larger falls slightly upstream.
The rocks in the stream were predominately slimy and slippery. Bristling with mistrust, whenever we could, we hopped on the top of dry rocks or walked along the shore. I advise bringing a walking stick to catch your balance should you slip in the slime or mud which sometimes caked the shoreline. I speak from experience.
There was evidence of wild life such as the footprints of deer and racoon. We did see two hawks, possibly a Cooper and Sharpshin. There were an assortment of smaller birds plus two Kingfishers who zigzagged the stream ahead of us. In the water there were minnows and crayfish. At one point the air became rapidly charged with the unmistakable effluvium of skunk and at another there was a strong odor of rotting flesh. We looked around for its source but it was probably above the creek-line in the woods and the scent of decay was just wafting down the canyon walls.
The actual waterfall flume was resplendent and impressive with a small grotto hollowed out to the right of the main fall. The water was turgid, most likely with the water of the previous days storm. There was poison ivy up in the grotto area so we didn't venture too far under its overhang. Our original plan was to climb the falls and bushwhack to Canyon Road then take the road down from there. I was told there were private homes up there but while walking upstream along the creek bank there were no discernible trails or access to properties above the canyon.
The creek had an assortment of man made debris such as car bumpers, radiators, a bike frame and tires. Most likely these were washed down from a dump site or farm after various heavy rains over the years.
Around the actual waterfall, there was evidence of human partiers who left their empty soda and beer cans for others to enjoy. My friend Doug would have carried them out but I am more passive aggressive and left them in the hope that should they ever return they will be ashamed at seeing the mess that they left. Probably not. Only now do I realize that after the next storm, their nickel valued aluminum detritus will be transported downstream to eventually adorn the mighty Mohawk River.
Video - Malcolm Kogut
Music Patrick Moraz from the album THE STORY OF I
These are photos from a three day hike through the Adirondack Mountain range in upstate NY. We ascended eight arresting peaks in twelve hour excursions. The steep ascents, rocks and roots in the trail, crowded trails, occasional black flies and carrying about four liters of water made for an arduous trip but the worst offender was the 90 degree temperatures and high humidity. I need to invest in more moisture wicking clothing. Most all of the mountain streams were dry so there was no chance of filtering water en route. Pictured are my partners in crime, Doug, Jim and me, Malcolm Kogut.
The pictures include Ausable Lake from Blake Mountain, the fire tower at the top of St. Regis mountain, a distant view of Giant, Noonmark and Sawteeth, the ridge walk of Whiteface Mountain, Mirror Lake in Lake Placid and a sign designating the "Ladies Mile" trail from back in the day when women were considered the more "dainty" of the sexes.
I was watching the news this morning, one day after the opening Olympic ceremony in Rio and you know that period during the news when the anchors have no real news to report so they just banter off the top of their heads? I call it verbal detritus. One of the anchors said that she cheered when the American team came out. I know that anchors are probably required to be college graduates but I don't think this one was paying attention during Geography 101. It's okay, I am smart enough to know what she meant but this is what she really meant to say.
There is a super-continent known as the Americas or the New World. It is divided into two sections, North America and South America. In North America there are at least 23 officially recognized independent states or countries. To the far north is the state or country of Canada. Then there is a conglomeration of states comprising of the county The United States. Both those countries are of America. Below that is Mexico and assortment of other American countries such as Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Jamaica and many more. They are all part of America and they had teams at the Olympics representing their state in the Americas. They are all American teams. So "America" isn't just the United States, it is a whole super-continent.
To further complicate things for our anchor who wasn't paying attention in class, there are a couple dozen independent territories owned by countries or states from the European continent such as the Cayman Islands (UK), Martinique (France), Aruba (Netherlands), Greenland (Denmark) and many more. So, does that mean France is part of America? I don't know. Maybe a news anchor will be able to tell us.
Singing and speaking from the diaphragm is so easy that a baby can do it. Then why do so many voice students spend thousands of dollars and many hours on lessons trying to learn how to do it and many, despite years of practice still never fully learn the skill?
Let's first look at a few reasons why we lose this skill. When babies are born, they instinctively breath from the diaphragm because it is the most efficient way to breath and it is natural. That is why you can hear a baby babble across a crowded church yet can barely hear some members of the adult choir from ten feet away.
What is the first thing a parent will say to a child who is making loud noises? Shhhhh . . . quiet . . . shut up. Infants and toddlers quickly learn that being heard is wrong so they stifle the natural process of breath support in an effort not to be heard. Likewise, teens and adults who are insecure, self conscious and don't want to stand out suppress the natural mechanics of support so they are less noticed. This also causes people to slouch, bring their shoulders together, bend their neck or close their throat. Another reason is that proper breathing comes from the belly region and nobody wants to make their belly look bigger. Fear of what other people think of us is very stifling to creativity.
Finally, gravity pulls down on the body and people instinctively think that raising the shoulders is how we breath because that is what they think it feels like to breath. Breathing doesn't come from the shoulders or lungs.
Let's first look at our anatomy. The lungs are beneath our ribs and right beneath the lungs, still under the ribs, is a parachute shaped sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. When we breath, we pull down on the diaphragm muscle which creates a vacuum in the lungs and air simply falls down or is sucked into the lungs. Our chest and lungs are not necessarily directly involved in that process. There is no need to raise the shoulders although, maintaining an expanded chest allows more air to fill the lungs. Bigger expanded lungs means more space for more air intake. Every good soldier knows to "STICK OUT YOUR CHEST. SUCK IN THAT GUT!"
When you exhale you push the diaphragm muscle upward and it pushes the air out of the lungs. If you only breath from the upper chest and shoulders you will only use half the air in your lungs causing you to run out of breath or have other issues with your vocal production. If you use the diaphragm, you will use all the air in all of your lungs.
Expanding the chest and only breathing partially through the diaphragm is also the secret to the dead man float. The lungs are like balloons and if you expand and fill up the upper lungs with air, then only breath through the lower lungs, you'll float without effort.
Let's do a few exercises to show you how effortless, natural and efficient breathing from the diaphragm can be.
Let's start by lying on the floor. Bend your knees if you like. Breath naturally. Feel that your breathing comes from the stomach area. That's it. Simple. Now let's try a few things with your voice. Cough. Notice from where it emanated from. Pretend you are a fire engine making siren sounds and get louder and higher each time you sound the siren. Yell "HEY" like you just caught someone stealing. Yell "Bad" as if your dog just messed on the floor. Yell "GIT" to a cat in your trash. Call for help three times with increasing volume as if no one can hear you. Say "BOO" like you are jumping out from behind a door to scare someone. Now, playfully say "Woof!" as if you are a puppy trying to entice its owner to play. Now get on all fours and pant like a dog. Where does it all come from?
Do you see how easy and effortless all that was? The challenge now is to stand up and continue to breath that way after years of training your body to accept ignorance, misuse and abuse as normal.
While you are still on the floor, try not to breath from the stomach and only breath from the upper chest. After five minutes of breathing properly and effortlessly, can you now feel how wrong it is to breath from the chest and shoulders? Proper movement always makes improper movement to feel bad, like it really is.
I have included a video link to an example of what it looks like to breath properly. This clip is taken from the movie ROCK STAR starring Mark Wahlberg or "Marky Mark." Notice that he takes his breath from his stomach then pushes in or contracts his muscles to expel the air. If we had cameras from his back and side you'd also see expansion there, too. There are intercostal muscles between each of the ribs and because of the intensity of what he is singing, he is expanding and contracting those, too. Also watch the swimming competitions at the summer Olympics and pay close attention when the swimmers get out of the water or do interviews immediately after competitions. They are trained to breath from the diaphragm. Some of them may raise the shoulders but they are at least instructed properly otherwise. The professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars are well trained in breathing since they are also reprimanded for raising the shoulders. There are many great examples all around us in our professional athletes. Musicians need to remember that they too are athletes and can sometimes benefit more by a few lessons from a sports coach than a singing coach. Singers will also benefit by singing WITH the lost, lonely, homeless, dying and the sick. Technique is worthless if it is not connected to an emotion. Too many of our trained singers are also devoid of soul.
I will add that if anyone is suffering from any form of COPD, this type of breathing can prolong their life and also rescue them from a shortness of breath panic attack. Diaphragmatic breathing also increases oxygen in our blood stream which aids in healing, repair and clear thinking because oxygen is needed for brain function.
So, new moms, please think twice before saying to you infant "Shhhhh . . . " At least, if you have to say "Shhhh . . . " do it from the diaphragm.