We sat down one afternoon with one of our Barcelona music teachers, Leandro Avalle, to get acquainted with his instrument of choice- the piano. Both performing and giving private piano lessons in Barcelona for a number of years, the accomplished Avalle was the perfect choice to introduce us to one of the most popular musical instruments for study today.
Relaxing in Estudio Shine amid a mish- mash of guitars, keyboards, the odd accordion and stacks of music notes Leandro told us how he began his piano career. Cutting his teeth on piano keys from an early age, Leandro watched his sisters learn the instrument. He insisted that he receive piano lessons too and was playing at age seven and performing in competitions by age 9. He dabbled in other instruments as well, like the guitar and chello but, “They were not the piano, so…” he ultimately returned to his first love and hasn’t looked back since.
Leandro believes that students should begin to study piano at a young age. Indeed one of his students at the Shine school of Music in Barcelona is only 3 years old. “I think it’s very important for the intelligence, even if most of them will not end up as pianists… It gives you tools to develop your brain, like math or language. I think it’s very important for kids to learn piano.” He explains that children’s motor skills are developed through the use of both hands on the instrument. Leandro has noted a marked difference in his students ability to concentrate as they learn to play and read music notes. “It’s amazing!”
Students at Estudio Shine are encouraged by their teachers to enjoy their instruments while learning and Leandro points out that this nurturing develops their talents even further. “Never get frustrated!” Learning will always be a part of enjoying music and studying an instrument, he continues. “You have to have this mind, where you will always learn.”
This mindful awareness allows for discovering new music and Leandro applies this to his own art. Taking a note from one of his teachers in Argentina, “she’s 85 years old and she keeps learning everyday. She goes to concerts and courses, her brain is amazing and I think that most musicians get to this moment in their life, and yet they still grow. So that’s what’s unique about music I think.”
Avalle advocates a curious mind. Although trained as a classical pianist in Argentina, when he arrived in Barcelona, he found that music continued to give him new experiences, and allowed him to connect with people in ways he did not expect. “I’m Argentinian and although I never played Tango, suddenly I was playing Tango!” In Barcelona, he now performs as part of a tango group. “You can learn like a kid! You will never finish learning!” He smiles.
True to his word Leandro is now discovering contemporary piano music and continues to expand his knowledge and love for music. He plays in a classical duo with a violinist from Chile performing all over Europe. Leandro reflects on performing as a soloist and as a group. “With a classical performance, you have to prepare a lot of pieces and you play once. The moment is unique!” As a group it’s very different, it’s fun, he gestures, playing the same numbers each concert. Traveling biannually to Argentina to play piano, Leandro is also kept busy with his Tango group as they tour, playing up to 20 concerts together at a time. All this while still giving piano classes in Barcelona.
We asked him if he thought the piano was still popular as an instrument. Responding with a grin, he affirms, “It’s a complete instrument. It’s easy and gentle to learn initially.” He goes on to explain that piano has a large range and can be played expressively, from soft to passionate, “so people enjoy listening to the piano in concerts.” Interestingly he tells us that in Barcelona people enjoy understanding the music and the story behind the pieces. He has learned to converse with his audience, drawing their attention to certain parts or explaining different melodies and meanings. This gives people a better grasp of the music he explains, and although he was surprised by this style of concert initially he now really enjoys sharing his knowledge and the history of the piano with his audiences, taking his music teaching out of the classroom.
Teaching piano at Shine Music School in Barcelona for a number of years, Avalle points out, “I think it’s the first instrument that you should learn.” From a technical point of view, if students learn to read piano sheet music, both the treble clef and bass clef gives you a bigger understanding of music. He continues to explain that from this point, students can read any music notation written for other instruments. Studying piano gives a fundamental understanding of music.
“Secondly it develops your sense of harmony and melody at the same time. This is quite unique to the piano. It’s a harmonic and melodic instrument and the repertoire of the piano is extensive.” Piano is a visual representation of music. Learning piano, the keys and notes, show how music is structured, making understanding music easy. The greatest composers, Avalle extrapolates, have been writing music for the piano for centuries. The methods these composers used and history is expressed through the music. Studying the piano affords you a wider, more complete musical base upon which to build. “You develop more accurate methods of study, ” Leandro explains. With the skills gained from learning the piano, it’s far easier to move onto another instrument and to be a successful musician.
You can watch Leandro perform as part of his duo and tango group, by keeping up to date with his piano concerts in Barcelona on the Estudio Shine Facebook page. You can also study piano with Leandro at the Shine School of music. The school has a number of piano courses from intensive piano course to piano courses for beginners. Contact Leandro at the Shine Music School and apply his thoughtful comments on learning and playing the piano to your own study and enjoyment of this classical instrument. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to be invited to one of his private piano concerts in Barcelona! The Shine School of Music rents pianos and offers piano summer courses. You can study in Spanish or English and we have a range of styles available from contemporary jazz piano to classical piano. The school also offers piano lessons over Skype. Thank you to Leandro Avalle for his time and to Rachel Huffman for conducting this interview.