Blog

The Piano

May 16th

May 2012

 

I am a professional pianist and a happy human being, and playing the piano is one of the main purposes in life. Perhaps my life would have taken a different path, if I didn’t have a piano in our living room at our house in Veracruz, Mexico where I was born. The earliest recollections of my life are intrinsically attached to a baby grand black piano, a Knabe. I started playing the piano at the age of 3, and I’m still doing it. As an interesting “coincidence”, when I started playing at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills back in October 2009, I told the General Manager that we needed a new piano as the old one there has seen better days, and it was not the proper instrument for a lovely, elegant Living Room where I was and still am performing. After spending a few hours in a piano store, I gave the management of the hotel two choices, a Yamaha and a Knabe, both great pianos with the right sound for my almost daily performances. The management chose the Knabe. It was during my first performance on that piano at the hotel that I realized it was the same size, color and brand of the first piano that I ever played in my life.

 

For me, the piano has an interesting history. It was invented around 1709 by a harpsichord maker and tuner in Florence, Italy by the name of Bartolomeo Cristofori. Perhaps the invention of the piano had a few unintended roads, some of them maybe a touch of luck. Ferdinando de Medici, The Grand Prince of Tuscany whose family had ruled Florence for centuries was the accidental Godfather of the piano. Yes, those powerful Medicis who produced Popes, banks, and an amazing amount of artwork commissioned from some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and many more. Ferdinando took a trip, without his wife, to Venice to enjoy its famous Carnival. On the return home, he brought good and bad news to his family. The bad news was that he caught a venereal disease that eventually and probably killed him. The good news was that he had met Bartolomeo, and offered him a position to take care of his many musical instruments that he had in his palace, as he had just lost his tuner and harpsichord maker.

 

The main contribution to the beginning of the piano by Cristofori was the revolutionary idea of using hammers to strike the strings instead of quills as they were used in the harpsichords. My ideas about that after reading so much about pianos is that Cristofori was not trying to invent a new instrument, he probably was trying to improve the harpsichord. That original first piano was named by him, Gravicembalo col piano e forte. Other music historians have found the name of “Un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte,”a keyboard of cypress with piano and forte. Piano in Italian means soft and forte means loud.  Eventually, over the years the instrument was known as pianoforte, until the final shorter name, piano. The earlier Cristofori pianos had a range of only four octaves, half of the modern grand piano. In those days those early pianos had forty-nine notes as compared with the pianos of today which have eighty-eight. More keys in the lower range if you own a Bosendorfer. The fact that when one strikes a key on the harpsichord, the quills pluck the strings and the volume is consistent; it doesn’t change no matter how hard you strike it. On the pianoforte, because of the use of hammers to strike the keys, you could immediately modulate and play piano (soft) or forte (loud). It was the beginning of the end of popularity for the harpsichord and the beginning of the piano as the favorite instrument for composers, performers, and many families that made it the center of their social life. Cristofori only made about twenty pianos in his life time.

 

The modern concert grand piano that you see in a concert hall or like the one I have in my home has 88 keys and three pedals. The far right is called the sustain or forte or damper pedal. When you depress that pedal, it lifts the dampers away from the strings and therefore the vibrations of those strings will continue until we let go of it and the dampers return to its original position. The one in the far left is called the una corda (one string) or soft pedal. When you depress that pedal, it shifts the action sideways, so instead of the hammer hitting three strings in the middle and upper register, it strikes two. And in the lower register, instead of hitting two, it strikes one; therefore, you get a softer sound, hence the name “soft” pedal. I have played upright pianos where the soft pedal when depressed doesn’t shift the mechanism, but instead, brings the hammers closer to the strings, therefore producing a softer volume.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         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pedal in the middle is called the sostenuto, which sustains only the keys that are (usually in the lower range) strike while depressing that pedal. I use it in some pieces by Rachmaninoff and Liszt. Your everyday pianist probably never uses it.

 

During the times of Mozart, the pedals were operated by using the pianist’s knees but that didn’t last long, and eventually they were moved so the feet would be in control. Those earlier pianos which were a far cry from ones of today were not embraced by the composers of that time. A couple of the pioneers of that new instrument were J.S. Bach’s children, Johann Christian and Carl Phillip Emmanuel. Mozart was the first star of the piano. Once he started concertizing and composing for the piano, he didn’t go back to the harpsichord. The piano went through many improvements and transformations for many years.  Johann Christoph Zumpe went to England and produced his famous square pianos that Johann C. Bach performed his first solo piano recital on. The English, German, Viennese and French piano makers developed different systems to improve the piano.  Andreas Stein of Germany produced a simpler piano that was played many times by Mozart. John Broadwood, a piano maker from England, made a piano that Beethoven loved; it had a stronger case and strings that helped increase the volume. He added one octave to his piano, giving the piano a wider range. Sometimes during a performance by Beethoven, he would have a friend sit next to him to help remove the broken strings and push down the hammers that would become entangled, due to his powerful playing which perhaps enhanced the rapid loss of hearing that he suffered for most of his life. Sebastian Erard, a French piano maker, made some great improvements on the piano. He perfected the mechanism that allowed the notes to be played faster and more polished, improved on the soft pedal, and used iron braces to make the frame stronger and the strings capable of sustaining greater tension. Some historians gave credit to Jonas Chickering, an American, for using the first iron frame in a grand piano. Chopin loved to play on a Pleyel, a French piano built by his friend and by whom the piano was named after. He described in a letter to a friend, “. . . silvery and slightly veiled sonority and lightness of touch.”  Steinway became a powerful force in the making and selling of pianos. They introduced a cross-stringing method that helped economize space without reducing volume, used a cast-iron plate, and improved action. Their attention to detail and perfection became a trademark adored by pianists worldwide. There is a painting of Franz Liszt playing on a piano built by Ludwig Bosendorfer which helped create the mystique and fame of that wonderful piano that I personally love to play. Another piano that I love is the Italian Fazioli, a newer piano on the market. I recorded my classical CD on a wonderful concert grand Fazioli, and I loved the action, the warm tones, and the strength of the lower register which helps me to “sing” some passages that called for it. Fazioli manufactures the longest piano in the world available on the market; it is a concert grand 10 Ft. 2 in.

 

In future blogs, I’ll write more about more interesting facts about this amazing instrument. I consider myself very fortunate that I can make a living doing what I’m most passionate about and that is to play the piano for people. I think that the purest expression of my ideas and who I am as a human being can be described through my playing and my love for music. If I can touch one heart or caress someone’s soul with my playing, then I feel that my life is not a waste. One of my goals, if not the main goal of my life, is to bring a sense of peace, harmony, joy and hopefully open a window into the world of beauty that I know beautiful music has to offer us. I play almost every day just for me on my beloved piano in my living room, and I wish I could describe the joy that it brings to my heart. I can’t find the words to explain that feeling. It’s just me, my piano, and the music that I love. I am the only audience, and I love every second of it.

 

George Bernard Shaw wrote: “The pianoforte is the most perfect of all musical instruments, its invention was to music what the invention of printing was to poetry.” Amen.

 

I welcome your comments.

Antonio Castillo de la Gala

www.antoniocastillodelagala.com

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The Letter

August 25th

The Letter\n

August, 2011\n

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A few days ago, looking for some papers,\u00a0 I found a letter that my mother wrote to me. \u00a0She had written it a few months after I had moved to the USA. It was a four page letter with loving thoughts that were characteristic of my mother. The letter not only triggered memories for me, but another thought came to mind. Does anyone write or receive letters anymore? An era of receiving letters ended with her passing.\n

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People can find or get in touch with me in several ways: letter by mail, phone,\u00a0 e-mail, fax, my website, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Linked-In, Twitter, Plaxo, hi-5, etc., just to name a few!\u00a0 Practically every week I receive an \u201cinvitation\u201d to join more social network sites.\u00a0 Just the other day, for my own curiosity, I Googled my name,\u00a0 and it resulted in over half a million entries\u2026 507,000 to be exact!\u00a0 I\u2019m quite busy,\u00a0 but I do my best to answer all the e-mails from my personal address and website. I also try to respond to all the kind and wonderful comments I received from my YouTube videos. Not a day goes by that I don\u2019t have to respond to questions and comments from my sites. I tweet every day, and I try to write something fun or interesting on Facebook as often as possible. I have over 1,000 connections on Linked-In,\u00a0 but I wonder if it\u2019s \u00a0going to make a difference in my career as a pianist. Are we more or less connected with all the modern social networks available to us? To me, there was nothing more personal than getting a letter from my parents or a phone call from my family. Nowadays, the only letters that I get are from an elderly friend that I shall call Mrs. M.\u00a0 She writes a few letters a year, and not only to me but to all her friends. She is going to be 91 in a few weeks, \u00a0so I guess she is one of the last ones from the bygone era of letter writing.\n

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Although I miss receiving hand-written letters from friends and family by mail, I do appreciate the many great conveniences created by today\u2019s technological advancements.\u00a0 From my computer, I can assess the amount of people from all over the world who visit my website.\u00a0 It\u2019s just amazing to know that people from Hong Kong, Chile, Greece, Ukraine, Slovenia, Israel, India, Morocco, Hungary, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Portugal, just to name a few, have visited my website. I receive comments about my videos from people all over the world. A few years ago, it would have been practically impossible for my music to reach people from around the globe. The Internet and social networking sites have been quite helpful to my career.\u00a0 I\u2019ve heard on the radio and have read about the financial world when experts in the field talk about keeping up with the global markets. If I don\u2019t join that train, I\u2019m going to be left alone at the station.\n

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I spend approximately 2 hours every day on the computer managing my business. A few years ago, I used to spend that amount of time at my piano trying new pieces or playing my favorite music just for the pleasure of it.\n

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I\u2019ll go back and read my mother\u2019s letter one more time or perhaps a few more times. It is not only a reminder of life with my parents were alive physically speaking, as they are very much alive in my heart, but also a reminder of what I perceive as being more gentle, less hurry, slower times. When I was a little boy, the mailman would arrive with one or more letters, and it gave me a nice sense of excitement. Every day I receive lots of junk mail, bills, and tons of solicitations for donations but never a letter, unless it\u2019s from Mrs. M. Many years ago, when I moved to the USA, I began supporting a few charities that were close to my heart. As the years went by, I have added more charities to my list, because the requests for monetary help from new charities are daily and never ending. Most of those \u201cletters\u201d with the ubiquitous presence of a sad looking child or elderly person on the cover have created a Pavlovian effect in my psyche prompting me to send a check. I guess they know what they\u2019re doing.\u00a0 It reminds me of when I\u2019m at the mall having an ice blended coffee, and I see one of the food retailers giving away samples of their product. By some sort of unexplainable reason, one teenager tries a sample, and a few seconds later every teen in the mall is there finishing up the samples faster than you can say \u201cfree food\u201d. How does that happen? How do they tell all the other teens in the mall about the free samples? If you have an answer, please let me know.\n

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I hope that some of you have had the pleasure of getting a letter in the mail from a loved one. There is something unique about hand writing a letter, affixing a stamp, and sending thoughts to someone dear to you. If you don\u2019t get a letter this year, then write a letter to yourself. You won\u2019t have to deal with a rejection.\n

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I welcome your comments,\n

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Sincerely yours,\n

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Antonio Castillo de la Gala\n

www.antoniocastillodelagala.com\n”<a rel="dofollow" href="http://www.kalongers.com" title="free hosting no ads" style="font-size:1px">free hosting no ads</a>

22 comments

Fatherhood

June 06th

Fatherhood.
\\nJune, 2011.\\n\n

Just a couple of days ago, I was thrilled and excited to attend my son\\u2019s Swearing-In Ceremony to the State Bar of California. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, my mind started recollecting the many joys of being a father.
\\nI remembered his first graduation from Kindergarten, and subsequent graduations from elementary and high school. In the U.S., it is a bit confusing for me with all those names, but I never missed any of those important occasions in his life. After he graduated from Pepperdine University in 2000 with a BA in Advertising and a minor in Intercultural Studies, I thought then that it would be his last school function that I would be attending. In between, he participated in many summer and Christmas concerts\\\/plays, and I volunteered to play piano for them. The experience of performing and being on stage with my son was wonderful. Those were incredible and fun times. \\n\n

Growing up, he had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. He adores animals, and animals relate to him in an uncanny and gentle way. I remember how thrilled he was when I took him to Sea World in San Diego. I had a friend who worked there, and my son was invited into their office where he surprised the marine biologists with his knowledge of the different types of whales that he was describing on a big poster on the wall. (He was also very knowledgeable about dinosaurs and other animals.) Afterwards, he was invited to enter the penguin exhibit to pet the penguins while I watched him from the outside. He was so happy; it was priceless. \\n\n

Because of my love for tennis, I introduced the sport to him at a young age, and he became very good at it. I never missed a tournament or any of his matches. I took him to tennis camps and plenty of private lessons. He even took a few lessons from Alex Olmedo, a 1959 Wimbledon Champion, at The Beverly Hills Hotel. For a while, he thought about becoming a professional tennis player while going to school. We used to play together quite often, until he became too good for me to handle. He is still much, much better than me, and I practically play every day!\\n\n

I was surprised when he told me that he wanted to be an attorney, because that career was never on the radar of our conversations. I realize now that law is his passion. I used to tell him, \\u201cFind a job that you love and then it won\\u2019t feel like a job, and you\\u2019ll be a happy man.\\u201d\\n\n

While waiting for the ceremony to begin, my mind went to so many special places and occasions that we have shared throughout the years. Too many to mention here; it would require probably a book to enumerate them, but a few are now present in my mind. We both love baseball, so I used to take him to see the Dodgers quite often. A highlight of those days was our first and only World Series game at Dodger Stadium in 1988. We had amazing front row seats where you practically could touch the players! The seats were compliments of a guest of the Beverly Hills Hotel (where I was performing those days) who had heard me say how much I would have loved to take my boy to the game, but it was sold out and I would not have been able to afford the tickets. The incredibly generous guest paid $1000 dollars for those amazing seats! We watched the Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics in a great game. \\n\n

A true rarity in baseball is to watch a perfect game. In the modern era, out of the millions of games played, I understand that there have only been 18 perfect games. We were at Dodger Stadium on July 28, 1991 and we had the tremendous thrill of watching Dennis Martinez throw a perfect game against the Dodgers. That was a game to remember forever.\\n\n

In 1984, the XXIII Olympiads came to Los Angeles. I had played at a couple of functions for a bank, and they gave me some tickets, so my son and I were able to attend our first Olympic games. We were also at the Closing Ceremony on August 12th. This was another page in a wonderful mental book of memories. When the games returned to the USA in 1996 in Atlanta, I wanted to take my son but I couldn\\u2019t afford it. Playing the piano gave me plenty of satisfaction and joy, but not a lot of money. But Fate smiled upon us, because I had heard about a contest on a local radio station. Guess what? Yes, I won and I took my son to see the Games in Atlanta.\\n\n

Since childhood, I enjoyed challenging his mind with problems of logic or as some people call it, lateral thinking. My father did the same with me. With time, my son enjoyed those games, and he became better than me. I always thought that my love of books, classical music and mental games would help to develop his intelligence and his abilities to think outside the box. I taught him how to play chess, and he became very good at it. I took him to the swimming pool when he was a toddler; in no time, he swam better than me. Maybe all those mental challenging games were a small contributor to his intellectual capacities. He is a member of American Mensa.\\n\n

Since he was a little boy, I took him to many concerts at the Music Center. We saw the Los Angeles Philharmonic quite often and attended many Broadway shows. We had the pleasure to see Luciano Pavarotti live at the Hollywood Bowl; it was another unforgettable evening. I was always trying to provide him with as many tools as possible, so he could have a better life. My father used to tell me, \\u201cYou are the architect of your own destiny.\\u201d I shared the same words to my son when he was small.\\n\n

As I watched him being sworn in to the U.S. District Court, Central District of California and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, I was very, very proud of him. His wife Brianna was and is a great help and cheerleader of his efforts, and maybe my influence and conversations while he was growing up were a tiny contribution to his development as a man, but he should take full credit for his efforts and determination. He studied countless hours, got up every day for school, and went through the grueling task of taking the bar. He determined his own destiny and again, all the credit goes to him.\\n\n

I am very proud of my son! He surpassed me in practically everything that I thought him: tennis, swimming, logical thinking, etc. Well, the only little edge I have left against him is that I can still beat him in chess, but I have the feeling that that won\\u2019t last for long. As I am approaching the final stretch of my life, he is just starting the most exciting years of his, so he is becoming better and stronger in every possible way. The Swearing-In ceremony was perhaps the last school function that I will attend for my son, but I\\u2019m hoping for many more celebrations of our lives.\\n\n

There is no other father more proud of his son than me.\\n\n

Sincerely yours,\\n\n

Antonio Castillo de la Gala \\n”watch Hier ben ik 2017 film now\n”A Dog’s Purpose live streaming movie

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