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Recording of the complete Chopin etudes for solo piano, performed on a period instrument.
Recording of the complete Chopin etudes for solo piano, performed on a period instrument.
86 backers pledged $4,438 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Why Chopin?

Seven years ago my world changed dramatically in three very different ways. My mother died, I gave birth to my son, and I got tenure. Grief and joy swirled around me, and I decided to take all those feelings and channel them into becoming a better musician. And for a pianist, there is no better teacher than the great composer Frederic Chopin. I knew I had to try to learn the Chopin etudes.

The Chopin etudes are twenty-seven enthralling, emotional, beautifully structured pieces of music. They are incredibly difficult and highly technical studies that develop specific virtuoso skills. Every serious classically-trained pianist has grappled with at least some of them, and I had always dreamed of playing them all. At first approach, I thought I could learn them in two years. Instead they’ve taken me six and a half.

Learning these etudes has been the biggest creative climb of my life, and sharing them with audiences is one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever experienced. Now I’m ready to record them, and I need your support.

I’ve played the whole set in concert more than twenty times now, and I’m still learning from these amazing pieces every day. Played together, they are an exhilarating, exhausting ride for both me and the audience. The etudes have changed me as a musician and as a person: I had never lived with music this closely for this long, nor mastered technical skills so difficult. While I’ve been working on them, life has thrown some challenges my way (illness, brushes with mortality, heartbreak, the usual), and I’ve poured those experiences into the etudes.

This music is intensely personal for me, and I want to share it with you.

The Piano

My journey with the etudes has also included scholarly research, and that’s really shaped some of my ideas about how these pieces might have originally sounded. I’ve consulted with experts in historical performance and piano tuning, and I’ve played on over a dozen instruments similar to the ones Chopin played in his beloved home of Warsaw and his adopted city, Paris. I’ve traveled across the United States, practicing and performing on period pianos, and I’ve been astounded by the hospitality and generosity of their owners. Playing on the different pianos has taught me so much about different possibilities of sound and touch: effects that are incredibly difficult on one piano are sometimes much easier on another, and some sounds are only possible on some pianos. After I had played on a few Chopin era pianos, I started looking for the right one to record on.

Then I found it: I fell in love with an 1841 Erard.

Erard was one of Chopin’s two favorite kinds of pianos, and this particular one is from his lifetime. The first time I played it, I woke up the next morning feeling like a kid on a birthday: I couldn’t wait to play it again. There’s a clarity to the sound that I absolutely love. The piano was made for this music, and it’s a wonderful feeling to play it. Anne Acker owns and refurbished the piano, and will be the technician for the recording. She’s one of the world’s foremost experts on historical keyboard instruments, and it’s an honor to play on one of her pianos. In addition to being a master instrument builder, she’s also an expert in historical tuning systems. She is tuning the piano for the recording with a system informed by research on the way Chopin’s piano was tuned.

 

I made this woodcut years ago; it's the image that will go on the t-shirt and sticker.
I made this woodcut years ago; it's the image that will go on the t-shirt and sticker.

The Recording

We’ll record at Anne’s studio in Montrose, PA. Emmy-award-winning audio engineer Jeffrey Clark will be the sound engineer. Ian Quinn, Professor of Music Theory at Yale University, will produce. We’ve got dates set for the end of July. Con Brio Recordings, the label that released my three previous albums, will handle production and distribution of the CD (Kickstarter backers get yours first, of course).

I’m ready to go into the recording studio, and all I need is your help to get there. Thank you so much for your support!

Risks and challenges

Although learning these pieces has been the most challenging creative experience of my life, by now I’ve now performed this music in concert more than twenty times. I’m ready to make this recording. I’ve released three previous solo piano albums, so I know what’s involved in making a recording like this.I’ve got dates in the studio scheduled, and all I need is your help. Injury would be the only reason this project might be delayed, and I will be taking very good care of my hands!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Revolutionary Etude

    A digital download for you of the famous Revolutionary Etude, Op. 10 no. 12. Thanks!

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    Complete Download

    A digital download of the recording. Plus many thanks!

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    Signed CD

    A signed copy of the CD, before it launches to the public. Plus many thanks!

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Piano woodcut t-shirt

    100% cotton t-shirt, with an image from an original woodcut (that I made) of a grand piano. Choose adult or child S, M, L, XL. Plus a signed CD. And thanks!

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    CD collection

    I'll send you a signed Chopin CD and all three of my previous CDs, plus a t-shirt and many thanks, shipped anywhere in the world.

    *Troublesome Moon and Other Forgotten Gems from Tin Pan Alley: little-known Tin Pan Alley songs played as solo piano pieces. I found the scores at the Library of Congress, and made this CD as a side project while I was already deep in practicing the Chopin.

    *Rhythms and Blues: American Solo Piano Music: music that's often inspired by rhythms and forms from Africa and popular music. Discover American music that you've never heard before, including my first time recording an improvisation.

    *Piano Recital: my first CD, featuring music by Ravel, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and others.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Podcast special

    A link to exclusive behind-the-scenes audio from the recording session, with outtakes and commentary. I'll also thank you by name in a podcast episode. And I'll send you a signed CD, t-shirt, digital download and two stickers: the Play It Again Swig gravatar and a sticker of the piano woodcut. Thank you so much for being my practice buddy!

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Holiday shopper special

    Seven copies of the Chopin CD, ready for you to give as gifts! Plus a handwritten thank-you note.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Chopin Tea Blend

    Savor a handcrafted artisanal tea blend inspired by Chopin Etudes Op. 10 and made especially for this project. The blend of jasmine, lavender and rose pairs beautifully with the experience of listening to Chopin. Plus complete download, CD collection, t-shirt, and podcast special. And many many thanks!

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Sponsor an Etude

    Tell me your favorite etude, or I'll pick one for you. I will copy the opening of your etude by hand, and send it to you with a handwritten thank-you note. Your name will also be listed in the CD booklet as a sponsor of your etude. Plus complete download, t-shirt, CD collection, podcast special, and Chopin tea blend. And many many thanks!

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    Pledge $350 or more About $350

    Lesson

    Are you learning to play some of the etudes (or any other music) yourself? Play another instrument and want some advice about interpretation or performance anxiety? Don't play at all but always wanted to know more about music? We will spend an hour together in a lesson or conversation, either in person at my office in Central Pennsylvania or on Skype anywhere in the world. Plus complete download, CD collection, t-shirt, podcast special, tea blend and etude sponsorship.

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    Pledge $350 or more About $350

    Original Improvisation

    Would you like an original improvisation, recorded just for you? Send me a few words or pictures, and I will use them as inspiration for a solo improvisation in the style of Chopin, recorded on a 1920 Steinway piano. Plus complete download, t-shirt, CD collection, tea blend, podcast special, and etude sponsorship.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Live performance (driving distance)

    I will perform a concert of the etudes or spend an evening reading chamber music with you in your home, school or venue with a piano, anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard or within an eight hour drive from Central Pennsylvania, in 2017 or 2018. Plus all the rest: complete download, CD collection, t-shirt, tea blend, podcast special, etude sponsorship, an original improvisation, and a lesson. And many many thanks!

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000

    Live performance (US)

    I will perform a concert of the etudes or spend an evening reading chamber music with you in your home, school or venue with a piano anywhere in the continental United States, in 2017 or 2018 (you cover travel and lodging, please). I'll list you as "special thanks" in the CD booklet. Plus all the rest: complete download, CD collection, t-shirt, tea blend, podcast special, etude sponsorship, an original improvisation, and a lesson. And my gobsmacked thanks!

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    Pledge $2,500 or more About $2,500

    Live performance (anywhere)

    I will perform a concert of the etudes or spend an evening reading chamber music with you in your home, school or venue with a piano anywhere in the world, in 2017 or 2018 (you cover travel and lodging, please). I'll list you as "special thanks" in the CD booklet. Plus all the rest: complete download, CD collection, t-shirt, tea blend, podcast special, etude sponsorship, an original improvisation, and a lesson. Plus my undying thanks!

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Funding period

- (26 days)