Monday, August 25, 2008

I Can Play It: online music lessons

The most common environment where music lessons take place are in a teacher's studio or local music store, involving an exchange of physical interaction between the teacher and student. Yet with the technology readily available on the Internet, players can find alternate sources of instruction with one click of the mouse button. These online lessons can provide opportunities to learn from the experts without ever having to leave the house. Although taking online lessons has its drawbacks (absence of personal response and immediate feedback to one's playing), the numerous advantages, such as receiving instruction from renowned performers thousands of miles away or viewing the lessons at your convenience, can make them worthwhile. Online instruction works best used as a supplement to a player's one-on-one coaching.

One superb site that offers instruction for various instruments is, where you can subscribe to short lessons on clarinet, piano, other instruments, and music theory. British clarinetist Emma Johnson gives her thoughts and advice on various topics that apply to all levels of clarinet playing. Each of the 32 mini-courses lasts between 3-5 minutes long and includes demonstrations by Johnson along with diagrams, musical examples, and excerpts illustrated. Emma Johnson's pleasant approach and engaging manner draws in the viewer, whether she is executing a beautiful phrase or explaining how embouchure position affects intonation.

In addition to discussing the fundamentals, Johnson also highlights areas concerning technique and agility, fingerings, breath support, adjusting reeds, and ideas on performance practices. The chosen musical excerpts are from the standard repertory and much attention is given to Schumann's Fantasiestűcke, No.1. Lesson #30 exclusively covers the piece, providing the viewer with a mini-master class on the movement, followed by a heart-felt performance by Emma Johnson in the subsequent lesson.

Although a subscription must be purchased in order to view all thirty-two lessons, Icanplayit allows viewers the chance to watch five mini lessons free of charge.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mate Bekavac - Carmen Fantasy

Slovenian clarinetist Mate Bekavac has attracted attention in the clarinet world for this performance of his own arrangement of themes from Bizet's Carmen for clarinet and orchestra. In this exciting arrangement, Bekavac uses the extreme altissimo range and violin-like acrobatics to achieve an impressive effect. Extended techniques such as flutter-tonguing and glissando add a fresh perspective to these well-known themes, while still remaining true to the style of the piece. The fifteen-minute video is in two parts:

While information on the web about Mate Bekavac is scarce, a short bio mentions his studies with Bela Kovacs at the University of Graz and with Charles Neidich at Juilliard. Also, check out this thread at the Clarinet BBoard about Bekavac's video, including discussion about embouchure technique for extreme altissimo.

And if the Carmen Fantasy left you wanting more, perhaps this video will serve as an encore - it's Bekavac performing Guisganderie (by Faustin and Maurice Jeanjean) accompanied by what appears to be a student clarinet quartet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ivo Papasov and his wedding band

Dominating the Bulgarian wedding-music scene, clarinetist Ivo Papasov is well-known for his distinct improvisational and folk-influenced sound. Papasov quickly became popular in 1974, but his wild clarinet playing did not sit well with Bulgaria's communist-ruling party. In 1982 he was arrested and sentenced to a labour-camp, only to be reprieved three weeks later. Papasov attained international recognition only after landing a contract with Hannibal Records in the late 80's. This YouTube video offers a sample of why Ivo Papasov and his Wedding Band have such a large following.