Pianists and Pitched Percussion Ensembles

When a family decides to provide their child with an education in music they face choices.

The first choice is “Do we choose voice or instrumental lessons”?

Of the 170 private students who are enrolled at YACM, nearly 1/3 are piano students. Often piano is selected as the instrument of choice because of its apparent accessibility. It appears accessible because anyone can walk up to the keyboard and press a black or white button and make a pitch perfect tone.

Those of us who are pianists are quite grateful for that immediate gratification and the reason we are grateful is quickly realized once are lessons begin. But piano lessons soon present students with the challenge of two contradictions.

The first is the contradictive challenge of learning to meaningfully play melody and harmony at the same time. The second is the challenge of enabling a percussive instrument that is struck to sustain and blend pitch.

Sustaining a tone is not naturally implied in the act of striking. However, the complex design of the piano as a pitched percussion instrument, along with a qualified education program provides the student the opportunity to perfect technique required to overcome the challenges of producing multiple sustaining tones in melody and harmony through percussive motion.

In past Holiday Harmonies’ Show Concerts, YACM piano students have performed in electric keyboard ensembles. However, those performances lacked the expression of technical and artistic merit associated with the study of piano. The action required to play a plastic non-weighted keyboard is really nothing nothing like the action required to play piano.

Additionally, students would commonly short-cut the proper fingering and attempt to use only one hand. During the stage performance, the keyboards would fail electronically or fail to promote the tone and volume necessary to produce a quality sound so each child could experience personal success.

As Artistic Director, I must ensure the quality of education and performance experiences meets a standard of excellence associated with goals of YACM. My challenge: How to provide over 50 piano students with a meaningful ensemble performance experience that edifies their learning, confidence, and sense of community.

On December 16, over 40 beginning and intermediate piano students will perform in ensembles associated with fixed pitched xylophones. The technique required to meaningfully play these instruments is fundamental to that of acoustic pianos.

The musician is required to use both hands, read piano music, play more than one note at the same time, and execute a striking technique that enables each tone bar to “sing” according to the note value given. Through playing in an ensemble, the young pianist learns to listen to others, follow the music and the conductor, and exhibit the self control to play in time, at the right time, and with the right technique. The tone produced by these maple and rosewood instruments has a rich and warm quality which I am proud to make a part of our Holiday Harmonies Show Concert.

Parents who support this opportunity by ensuring their children have participated in YACM’s first Mallet Percussion Ensembles have enabled their piano student to experience very meaningful musicianship directly associated to the skills of pianists and musicians who perform together.

Wanda L. Cook, Artistic Director

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