Improvisation and piano four hands showcased at Valley College’s weekly recital

This week’s free music recital featured piano four hands, two different sounding pianos, improvisation and a new arrangement of “Paradise” by Coldplay.


By Natalie Metcalf, Staff Writer

Faculty took the stage and played on two grand pianos in Valley’s free Wednesday concert, which took place in Music Recital Hall M106. Photo taken on April 27. (Jose Callejas / Valley Star)

Delicate, powerfully moving piano four hands and improvisation were demonstrated in recital hall M106 on Wednesday, featuring songs such as “I Remember My Name” from Netflix’s Squid Game and “Paradise” by Coldplay.


A mix of 30 students and faculty attended Valley College’s free music recital, showcasing Transfer Alliance Program Director Yih - Mei Hu, faculty member Frank Garvey, music professor Richard Kahn and adjunct professors Patricia Hannifan and Claire Rydell. The audience was lively as each pianist demonstrated their musical skills. Memorable performances included a jazz improvisation by Kahn and an arrangement of Coldplay’s “Paradise” by Hu and Garvey. Christian Nova, chair of the music department, introduced the concert and facilitated a Q&A between performers and audience members after the show.


“Four hands is sort of a unique game, it’s not as seamless as it looks,” said Hu, in reference to learning how to play four hands piano. “Everything is very choreographed in four hands. It’s like dancing with the stars.” . “You get used to sort of sharing the middle of the keyboard.”


The “Paradise” arrangement, performed by Hu and Garvey, was played on a second grand piano. The lyrics to the famous Coldplay song intertwined with each other, giving the arrangement a dramatic effect. Hu described the difference between the pianos and the difficulties that arise when playing four hands.


“When you're doing what we call extended technique, it’s not a random placement,” said Hu. You have to know what notes those strings are for. In the smaller piano, the music desk does not move back far enough for us to do the extended technique. We had to use [the second piano] for the extended technique.”


After the event, a student asked Garvey why he chose to play at a different piano when playing his solo piece, “China Gates” by Claude Debussy. When practicing, Garvey recorded the piece between the two pianos. He chose the one that made the composition sound delicate and lighter, which was the desired effect of the piece.


Kahn was the only pianist who did not participate in four hands. In total, the pianist played five solo pieces, including a jazz improvisation. Kahn mentioned that he was playing his wife’s favorite piece — “Waltz for Debby” by Bill Evans. The composition switched from waltz to swing in a matter of seconds. At the end of the recital, he commented on how much practice is needed to pull it off.


“If you’re not present in the moment, that little voice in your head that’s singing all those notes that you don’t hear, stops singing,” said Kahn. “You’re laid waste to the perils of fingerment, which is a problem.”


The music professor has memorized every possible note on the piano, making him ready to improvise and bring something new to the audience when he is performing.


Hannifan and Rydell’s piano four hands was brighter than Hu and Garvey’s and evoked a whimsical feeling. The two pianists played “Ma Mere I’ Oye (Mother Goose)” by Maurice Ravel, “Pavane from Sleeping Beauty” from Pavane de las Bella Aui Bois Dormant (I), “Ugly Empress of the Pagodas” from Laideronnette, Imperatrice Des Pagodas (III) and “The Fairy Garden” from Le Jardin Feerique (V).


Next week Valley will take a break from their concert series, as all Monarchs are invited to attend a resume workshop and career day. All events start at 1:30 p.m. and will continue until May 25.


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