Welcome to the Cunningham Piano Online Piano Orchestra Project. This is an idea we’ve been thinking about for quite some time. Pianists, of course, have the world’s greatest solo literature. We have no end of things that we can play by ourselves. When we do collaborate, it’s usually with one other person to play duets. We can have two people playing on piano or two people playing on two pianos. It’s actually quite common. Beyond that, it’s pretty rare to have more than two, three, four people playing at the same time. The only other exceptions would be when we play with other instrumentalists, when we play with string players, orchestra players, choirs and the like. But I wanted to try to do what we did with our online chorus and orchestra project about a month ago, mainly having a piece where everybody could participate, people of all different levels from absolute beginners too advanced.
What kind of a piece could we come up with that could accommodate everybody’s differing ability levels, but not only that, also due to the fact that acoustic pianos go out of tune, what kind of a piece could we put together that could take that into account in and still sound okay?
As I was giving this some thought, I think I came up with the perfect piece. The idea I had in my mind was the sound of a Gamelan orchestra. This is an ensemble of percussive metal instruments that actually inspired Claude Debussy when he first heard them. And of course, with the sound of the Gamelan inspiring Debussy, that led to this conclusion: we’re going to do an arrangement of Claude Debussy’s, “Pagodes,” from his, “Estampes,” collection. It is basically a postcard, musical picture of Japanese pagodas. And I thought we would break this out into multiple parts.
There’s a total of 15 parts that I’ve arranged out of that piece. Now on top of that, my good friend Craig Knutson who is the tech guru for The Piano Guys, had another interesting idea. He said, “Why don’t you add something fun into the mix?” And as we thought about it, I realize that Disney is coming up with their live version of the movie, “Mulan,” which is coming out in July. It was pushed back by a few months and this is a remake of the cartoon that came out in the nineties. I did a little more research and found the main theme from Mulan, and with a little bit of juggling and juxtapositioning, I found a way to make it work with Debussy. So we are doing a musical mashup of Disney’s, “Mulan,” and Claude Debussy’s, “Pagodes.”
As I mentioned, there will be 15 different piano parts ranging from absolute beginner level – if you’ve never played the piano, this is a great way to participate – all the way up to intermediate and of course, advanced level as well. Now for those advanced pianists, I should warn you there was a good bit of alterations so it’s not the original version of, “Pagodes.” There have been some creative liberties taken to make it work with the “Mulan,” theme, but the essence of the piece is there and I’m really excited that everybody is going to have an opportunity to participate. And even with pianos that are slightly out of tune from each other, the beautiful thing about the gamelan sound is that it has a shimmering quality, and I actually think this is going to work. So even if you haven’t had your piano tuned or you’re not able to get your piano tuner to come out and touch up your piano, don’t worry, you can still participate. In fact, the more differing sounds we have, I think it’s going to create that magical shimmer. That’s what I’m hoping.
I’ve put together a series of tutorials and lead track videos. This is going to be particularly helpful for those of you who are absolute beginners. We’re collaborating with an amazing app developer called, Newzik. They are from France and I’ve been working pretty closely with them for a little while now and one of the most amazing features of this app is the fact that I can embed a video with sheet music, not just sheet music, but sheet music that actually has a liquid display, which means I can pinch my fingers and actually change the size of the notes. So if you need the notes to be bigger, you can do that. If you want to see more of the music on one page, you can shrink the notes. It’s absolutely amazing and the music will advance synchronized to the video so you can watch and I’ll show you how to play your part. The music scrolling automatically is just amazing. I should note that Newzik is only available for iOS devices, like iPads and iPhones. So we’re going to be having links to get the score and the videos for each part available for your iPhone or your iPad.
I’ll also work on making those same tutorials available as just standard YouTube videos. Of course, you won’t be able to change the size or the shape of the score from the video, but it should still be helpful if you need something to watch and learn from. But not just to learn from, these videos are going to be critical for us to stay together as an ensemble. So you will need to watch the videos in order to stay with the timing of the performance, and once you record your part and send them to me, I’ll take all of your videos, synchronize them up, and we should have a pretty amazing piano orchestra all put together online.
If you’ve never done anything like this before, that’s okay. This is the first time for us too! It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I especially want to invite those of you who have never played in a group before. I think you’re going to be surprised to see how easy it can be to follow along. Even if you don’t read music, don’t worry. I have in these videos special tools that I use to show you exactly where to put your fingers on the keys and you’ll be playing some beautiful music in no time. I can’t wait to get your submissions!