Classical Notebook

Top 10 Reasons to Play Piano

by Maggie Molloy

The benefits of playing the piano are vast: increased literacy, intellectual and creative growth, improved social skills and confidence—the list goes on and on! Here are just a few of the top reasons to study piano:

  1. Piano-playing improves cognitive development.

Piano students learn to read two lines of music while also using both ears, arms, legs, feet, and all 10 fingers simultaneously. This promotes full use of both left and right sides of the brain, creating new neurological pathways which can be utilized in other disciplines such as mathematics, science, and engineering. These neural connections can also have a profound impact on speech, language, memory, attention, and more.

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  1. Playing music improves academic skills.

By understanding beat, rhythm, measures, scales, and other unique musical concepts, piano students learn to to count beats, add and subtract, divide and multiply, create fractions, and recognize repeating patterns both aurally and visually. Studying music also teaches students more abstract concepts such as phrasing, structure, form, and artistic analysis, making lessons a valuable supplement to traditional schooling. Developing these musical skills early on can help lead to higher academic achievement in math, science, and language arts, and can even help increase students’ test scores.

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  1. Playing piano heightens coordination and motor skills.

Consistent piano practice trains a student’s fingers to be quick, agile, and precise—plus piano-playing requires both hands to work independently of each other, helping to increase the student’s dexterity. Reading sheet music also improves hand-eye coordination and reaction-time.

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  1. Learning to play piano enhances language skills and literacy.

Playing an instrument engages students’ visual, tactile, and aural skills. This multi-sensory process of learning music enhances the same communication skills needed for speaking and reading, and can be especially valuable for students with developmental dyslexia or learning disabilities.

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  1. Playing an instrument can help breed future success.

Learning an instrument teaches students critical thinking skills, time-management, and attention to detail, plus it lends structure to their time spent outside of traditional schooling. Studying music also allows students to develop patience, discipline, diligence, and dedication—character traits which will serve them both within and beyond their musical studies, regardless of what career path they pursue.

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  1. Playing music builds self-esteem.

Music lessons encourage students to accept and learn from constructive criticism. Turning negative feedback into positive change helps build confidence and strong self-esteem. Furthermore, performing for family, friends, and peers at piano recitals can help them build grace and poise both onstage and off.

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  1. Piano-playing fosters creativity and an appreciation for art.

Playing an instrument gives students an emotional and creative outlet where they can express themselves freely. It also fosters an appreciation for other artistic media, forms, and styles by teaching students how to think both critically and creatively in their artistic analysis.

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  1. Playing the piano helps reduce stress.

Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to help reduce stress levels and improve mood. Over time, consistent musical study can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

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  1. Studying music helps introduce children to other cultures.

True, the piano is a Western instrument—however, learning to play piano can still help expose children to other cultures from an early age. A well-rounded piano education will expose students to unfamiliar scales, folk melodies, musical philosophies, religious customs, and unique harmonic languages from around the world. Learning and playing music from other countries gives students intimate insight into the traditions, customs, and creative spirits of other cultures.

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  1. Playing piano helps students engage with history.

Studying piano gives students a unique opportunity to physically engage with the ideas and emotions of composers, musicians, and artists from across history. It teaches them to recognize different movements in art and music and, by extension, allows them to better understand the depth, complexity, and lasting influence of historical events. And as a versatile keyboard instrument backed by over 300 years of history, the piano has a whole lot to teach us.

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Preview New Ives from the Seattle Symphony

by Dave Beck

This week on our Classical KING FM Seattle Symphony Podcast, a first listen to the latest recording in the Seattle Symphony’s exploration of the music of Charles Ives. Released on the orchestra’s Grammy Award-winning Seattle Symphony Media label, the new disc features Three Places in New England, Orchestral Set No. 2, and New England Holidays by Ives.

With the release of the new recording, we thought we’d take the opportunity to speak to the orchestra’s president and CEO Simon Woods about a topic he knows well—the economics, history and transformation of the classical recording industry since the 1980s. From that time until the late 1990s, Simon worked as a record producer with EMI Classical in London where he initiated and produced recordings with the world’s leading classical artists and ensembles.

At about the same time his producing career was launching, the orchestra with which Simon would eventually take the administrative leadership helm, the Seattle Symphony, was making important first steps toward its role as one of the leading players in the classical recording industry.

Prior to coming to Seattle, Simon was Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, one of the United Kingdom’s leading symphony orchestras. Prior to his time at RSNO, he worked in the United States as President & CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Vice President of Artistic Planning and Operations at The Philadelphia Orchestra

Simon Woods joined KING FM’s Dave Beck this week to review the journey that the Seattle Symphony has taken as a recording orchestra—one that has earned the organization 21 Grammy nominations, two Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.

Lisa Bergman at Pianos in the Parks

KING FM host Lisa Bergman was the emcee for the Pianos kickoff on July 13 at 12th Avenue Arts. The lobby was filled to the brim with colorful pianos, each one decorated by a different Seattle artist.

“It was absolutely fabulous!  A great crowd and there were about 7 of the artist-decorated pianos in the lobby.  I not only spoke but was a featured performer as well—and I made a point of performing on each of the pianos—like a kid in a candy store!”

Click here for more information on Pianos in the Parks, and be sure to read our list of the Top 10 Reasons to Play the Piano!

KING FM’s Flyaway to NYC’s Met Opera

Thanks to everyone who donated and entered to win our KING FM Flyaway to NYC’s Metropolitan Opera! This campaign has ended and a winner will be selected soon. If you have further questions, please contact us at

For additional information and contest rules, please click here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter Interview: Korngold, the Inner Voices of the Orchestra, and the Language of Empathy

With four Grammy Awards, an impressively varied discography, and a continuing solo career spanning the whole world, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter now releases an album of charming short works and concerto fragments. She spoke with KING FM’s Dave Beck about the music of Mutterissimo, and music’s power to link people together.

Dave Beck: What were the pieces that were important for you to include on this recording, that you call Mutterissimo? What were some of your thoughts and considerations as you chose this material?

Anne-Sophie Mutter: I wanted to give an audience a taste of as many different styles as possible, an audience who maybe doesn’t want or have the time to sit down for 35 minutes, 40 minutes to listen to an entire concerto. So we have pieces by Bach, and covering all the romantic repertoire [such as] Schumann and Mendelssohn. We have Brahms in it, we have also Stravinsky in it, Gershwin, and little pieces arranged by Heifetz. So it’s from really the core repertoire to more unknown pieces, but also two pieces that are highly virtuosic and just great fun to listen to. Excerpts run from 10, 12 minutes down to one minute and a few seconds – I think that’s the Jamaican Rumba I’m thinking of. It’s pretty much trying to be a bridge between the different styles, and hopefully catching the listener’s interest and hooking them – finding a few ears who want to deepen their understanding and eventually listen to an entire piece, not just an excerpt of a violin concerto.

DB: Along with these brilliant performance of concerto movements by Korngold and Beethoven and Brahms, there are these charming little miniatures: the Gershwin Prelude is wonderful, and the Dvořák and Brahms dances. There’s a Fritz Kreisler arrangement of the Mendelssohn “Spring” Song Without Words. What is the special delight for you in the world of the miniature, pieces often used for encores? Why are they such a pleasure to explore?

ASM: It’s a very good point Dave, and sadly this is repertoire that is vanishing. Of course, you have the chance to bring them back in encores, but you really have to dig for them. In conjunction with Lambert Orkis’s and my Live from the Club album, we were digging very much into all these Heifetz encores from the last century and finding music which is really the essence of style put into the one and a half minutes or the three minutes that the composer gives that particular piece. And the wonderful thing is in a setting of twenty to thirty minutes of these little gems, you really have to switch quite a bit between the musical languages. It’s a great challenge, but it’s a great joy to play so many different roles.

DB: I love hearing you play the Korngold Concerto.

ASM: It’s a great piece.

DB: It reminds me too of your [performance of the] Heifetz arrangement of the Gershwin. It’s such a summation of – there’s an American character, but it’s that great virtuosity and sense of color and style that you bring to everything you do. I wonder if doing pieces like Gershwin and Korngold have a special resonance for you.

ASM: You know, Gershwin – I was very shy of really going in that direction of repertoire, because it’s musical language I have not been growing up with. I think German orchestras in general are not very good at playing American music, so I always have been rather self-conscious being a German, but then André [Previn] said “eh, you can play jazz, you can play anything!” And I did study Gershwin a bit with him and he was very generous, so I hope I’m not insulting anyone when I’m playing Gershwin. And almost the same thing with Korngold. I grew up with this incredible [Heifetz] recording – actually a few times, Heifetz has recorded it, the Korngold Concerto. And I always thought oh boy, I would really love to play it, but why bother if there’s such a perfect interpretation out there by Heifetz? And it was once again André who said you have to play it, you can do it and you can bring something different to it. And it’s definitely a style of music writing which doesn’t exist anymore, and which I highly appreciate because of the orchestration of Korngold, and the themes he is coming up with, and the way he really knows where the violin is at her best when it comes to virtuosity, as well as these long, longing and very colorful melodic lines. That’s a total dream come true for violinists to play.

DB: I’ve read that one of the things that you’re more interested in over the years is the inner voices of an orchestra. And you listen to that Korngold concerto and you hear the rich instrumentation and the way that you interact with that – it sounds like that’s something that gets richer and more intriguing for you whatever the concerto, as the years go along.

ASM: But of course for that – that’s a very good point – for that you need a great conductor, and it’s solely André’s doing in bringing out these voices. Then of course, as a co-musician, which the soloist is, you do react to what is in the score and what the conductor brings out. But sometimes I’m leading orchestras, although in a very limited repertoire: baroque [works] and the Mozart concerti. And then of course, going back to these scores which seem to be so simply orchestrated: in the simplicity lies the essence of importance of every single note. You do learn to dig deeper, and that’s how I developed – some 17 years ago – my love for looking deeper into the orchestra score and bringing that (when I’m leading from the violin) out. That’s what makes the many operatic dialogues in Mozart’s concerti even more vivid and transparent and clear to the listener.

DB: I wanted to get at least one question in on how you encourage the young artists that you mentor to make a strong mark in the world beyond the brilliant things they do on the violin, or the cello or the double bass. What can and must an artist and musician bring to the world to make it a better place?

ASM: I do see (over the decades I am performing and traveling) that music can really have an impact on society. You can and should bring people together in pro-bono work, spending time and collecting money and really investing efforts in getting interested in the causes of, let’s say, the SOS Children’s Villages, or Save the Children Organization, or Artists Against AIDS… I mean there are a trillion organizations. Or [organizations like] Rise Against Hunger, where music and dedicated concerts for such an organization can play a vital role for making the world a better place not only through financial donations but through the fact that you talk about it, that you make it your agenda, that you are an advocate for the poor and the ones in the shadow of society, and then we all, as humanity, understand that we are all interlinked with each other and empathy goes a long way. It needs to be exercised, and music seems to be the perfect language to start that process.

Mutterissimo is available now on Deutsche Grammophon.

GiveBIG for Classical Music!

Show your support for Classical KING FM during GiveBIG on May 10 and your dollars will be matched. Don’t want to wait? Schedule your gift now! Click here to donate.

During GiveBIG 2017, a match of $50,000 is being offered thanks to the generous support of KING FM Performance Circle members Tom Bayley, Susan Coughlin, Susan Harmon and Richie Meyer, Ciara and Neil Jordan, Ronald E. Miller and Murl G. Barker, Pamela and Donald Mitchell, Tom and Judi Rogers, Rich and Mary Shrader, Bob and Lindie Wightman, and Debbie and Rick Zajicek.

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KING FM has been delivering beautiful classical music 24/7 to the Pacific Northwest since 1948. Since becoming a public classical radio station, KING FM has been among the highest rated classical music stations in the country. Each week, we serve as many as 300,000 listeners on 98.1 FM and another 100,000 through our online streaming channels. In 2016, we served more than 8 million hours of classical music to audiences across the Northwest and around the world.

Since 2011, KING FM has been operating as a listener-supported radio station, and 70% of our budget is contributed from our listeners. Through your donation to Classical KING FM, you are offering quality, convenient, free access to classical music to a wide diversity of people from all backgrounds and in different life situations.

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Berlioz’s Messe des morts

by Maggie Molloy

Hector Berlioz was famous for pushing the envelope. From his enormous orchestral forces to his revolutionary use of color, space, and orchestration, his compositions secured a place in history some of the most innovative music of the Romantic era.

The Grande Messe des morts is among his most famous works. Composed in 1837, the piece is a Requiem Mass scored for an enormous orchestra and choir of over 250 musicians, with four offstage brass ensembles stationed throughout the hall. This weekend the Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform the work under the baton of Ludovic Morlot, with the help of Seattle Pro Musica and members of Vocalpoint! Seattle.

To learn more about this weekend’s performances, we talked with Ludovic Morlot about the music of Berlioz and Requiems from across the ages:

Maggie Molloy: What are some of the unique challenges of performing Berlioz’s Requiem?

Ludovic Morlot: Ensemble is a big issue, because of the strength of the forces. You are left to make decisions last minute when you’re onstage, and any given space will pose a different challenge.

The biggest challenge perhaps is for the chorale. It’s the work of a young composer who wrote very much instinctively, but maybe not with the most subtle of an understanding of vocal technique. He asks from the singers a range of technical challenges that can sometimes create vocal discomfort. It’s a challenge to do justice to the extremes Berlioz had in mind for this piece.

MM: Since 2013 the Seattle Symphony and Chorale has performed Requiems by Verdi, Britten, Fauré, Mozart, Ligeti, and now, Berlioz. What draws you to performing Requiems?

LM: When I was Music Director at La Monnaie in Brussels, there was a huge tradition that we would present a Requiem Mass around Armistice Day. Beyond being a very nice gesture, this gives us a chance to work on diverse repertoire which holds the Latin text in common. This allows us to focus on the vocal challenges as opposed to the delivery of language.

It’s also fascinating, I think, for the audience to witness how composers go completely different directions with the same text. It gives an insight into who they are as composers. Some describing the pain and suffering of going through the end of your life, some describing an afterlife of beauty.

MM: What do you think makes Berlioz’s Requiem a compelling musical production for 21st century audiences?

LM: We’ll always be looking to music to find comfort in that darkest of subjects. I think there is no difference between now and 200 years ago in this regard. Music is where we turn to find answers to the big questions of this world.

The Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform Berlioz’s Requiem on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 7:30pm and Saturday, Nov. 11 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, click here.

Different Trains!

To me, one of the most exciting things Seattle Symphony does is the [untitled] series.  looking through the upcoming season, the first [untitled] concert looks like a smash hit.  Featuring Seattle Symphony chamber players performing contemporary classical superstar composers John Adams and Steve Reich alongside the lesser-known-but-quickly-rising Thomas Adès, this concert promises not to disappoint!  Info here.

Of particular interest to me is Steve Reich’s Different Trains.  This is a piece I experienced for the first time live (imagine that!) at a concert that was part of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival several years ago.  I had no idea what I was in for when I walked into Nordstrom Recital Hall that night, but I left a changed person.  This piece, like many, is vastly better experienced live.  I HIGHLY recommend braving the late-ish start time of this season’s first [untitled] show, Friday, October 13 and getting yourself in the room for Different Trains.

If you’d like a taste of what’s in store, check out this stellar performance by the Seattle-born Kronos Quartet.

Sean’s Livelong June: Local Concerts You Can’t Miss

by Sean MacLean

How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong June
To an admiring bog!

My dear Emily Dickinson, let me croak it out for you.  This admiring Northwest Bog craves great local performances!

June 1 and 3: Seattle Symphony brings to life a rare performance of Ravel’s Magical Opera! Let’s get something straight off the bat here: the characters include a Wedgwood teapot, the fire in the fireplace, a dragonfly, a tree frog, and a huge skirt. Oh, and the boy who tortures all of them before they gang up on him. Weird? That would be an understatement—Ravel himself said “the phantasmagoria is constant!” He also said “More than ever, I am for melody. Yes, melody, bel canto, vocalises, vocal virtuosity—this is for me a point of departure.” Ravel explained he was following the style of Gershwin and American operettas of the time. And Ludovic Morlot will be at home in the brilliant orchestral textures of his countryman for this special production that is lit and designed on Benaroya Hall’s stage.

June 2-4: Defiant Requiem – Verdi at Terezín gets two performances each from two discrete groups for a total of four chances to catch this moving tribute. University of Washington School of Music and Seattle Peace Chorus will both honor the strength of the human spirit and the power of music to keep that spirit alive during the darkest times. Verdi’s Requiem was memorized and performed by prisoners in the Terezin Nazi concentration camp. The amazing Murry Sidlin, who for eight years was resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony, premiered in 2002 his “Defiant Requiem” in Portland. Since the premiere, he has led thirty performances, including three in the Czech town of Terezin, the site of the concentration camp. This movie trailer gives you and idea.  Seattle Peace Chorus’s presentation will also feature Jewish songs that were sung by the prisoners of Terezin.

June 4: Early Music Guild’s 40th Anniversary Celebration Dinner and Concert hosted by yours truly. It will be my honor to usher in the official name change to “Early Music Seattle” as this magnetic organization, which has mapped Seattle as an early music lifestyle destination, welcomes superstar cellist Jaap ter Linden to join Alexander Weimann, Linda Tsatsanis, John Lenti, sound|counterpoint, and soloists of the Medieval Women’s Choir to fill Town Hall Seattle with celebration. I look forward to seeing you there!

June 10-12: The Titan: Vancouver Symphony Season Finale has so much to love. We who benefit from James Ehnes’ programming magic every summer at Seattle Chamber Music Society also love sharing his Grammy, Juno, and Canadian Music Award-winning recording with the VSO of violin concerti by Barber, Korngold, and Walton. This is your chance to hear the conductor from that recording, Bramwell Tovey, not only reprise the Korngold with the sumptuous tone of Baibe Skride, but hear the maestro’s new work written in celebration of Canada 150—a world première event! Top it off with Mahler’s “Titan” First Symphony, and it’s more than memorable close to one of their greatest seasons ever—and all their seasons are great!

June 17: Lake Union Civic Orchestra presents Triple Play with William Schuman’s New England Triptych, Brahms Symphony No. 3, and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. KING FM’s Director of Outreach, composer/maestro/guitarist Christophe Chagnard, unites some seriously proven talent at Meany Hall: for the Beethoven, his lovely wife Jo Nardolillo is violinist, and cellist Julian Schwarz (son of Gerard Schwarz) joins his love Marika Bournaki at the piano for a surefire passionfest. You can see what I mean from Julian and Marika’s appearance on my live show, and Jo’s collaboration to perform Seattle Symphony’s former composer-in-residence Sam Jones. Tune in Friday, June 16—the night before the show—when we broadcast LIVE from Meany Hall their dress rehearsal on Northwest Focus LIVE.

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