In the studio with Morton Estrin – What I Learned Watching My Father Practice the Piano

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I want to tell you about what I learned watching my father, Morton Estrin, practice the piano. It brings back such memories. We grew up in a house in the suburbs on Long Island, about an hour from Manhattan. When we first moved into that house, I was five years old. It was a very exciting time. My father had a studio built. We had a pretty big house to begin with, but the studio was enormous! We had a lot of concerts there, and a lot of fun.

Although my father taught music at Hofstra University, he did most of his teaching right in the back of our house.

He did an immense amount of teaching! But whenever my father had any time free from teaching, he would be practicing piano. I would often go down there to sit and listen to him. I always found it interesting. I want to share with you an extremely personal story about what I learned watching him practice. This was really an epiphany. And I’m going to share something that was kind of a sad mishap that I’ve never really shared with anybody.

My father had an illustrious recording career.

My father started making records in the 1950s. His first recording was the complete Chopin Ballades and the F Minor Fantasie, for Fantasy Records by coincidence. Then he did some recordings of the music of Meyer Kupferman. These were pieces written specifically for him. They were extremely difficult 12 tone pieces that he played all from memory! Then he started making a series of recordings for Connoisseur Society Records. Alan Silver, who was the producer and the owner of the company, was truly an artist. What he was able to achieve both sonically and musically in his recordings was truly astounding! I love those recordings to this day.

My father’s first record for Connoisseur Society was the Scriabin Opus 8 Etudes, which won record of the year.

It was the first LP of these magnificent works. Wonderful performances! Then he recorded the Rachmaninoff Opus 32 Preludes. He performed the complete Rachmaninoff preludes on several occasions, including in Lincoln Center. It’s a mind boggling task!

There was a time when he was preparing a Liszt record. I remember attending the sessions. Somehow things just didn’t gel. And even though everything was set up and the piano was chosen and the technician was there, they had to abandon the session. It was a really tenuous moment, but that’s what happened. So some time went by and then the next recording my father decided to do with Connoisseur Society Records was a Brahms album. They also had a plan for a series of albums entitled, Great Hits You Played When You Were Young, which sounds kind of corny. But these ended up being really popular. The performances were so magnificent and the recording quality was exquisite. Radio stations just loved these records! They were played constantly all over the world!

In preparation for those sessions, he worked so hard that he ended up recording three records in one series of sessions! It was just a few days. They thought it was going to be the Brahms and maybe one of these discs. He just had so much repertoire at such a high level that he slammed through three complete albums in the one session!

I’m going to reveal to you what I learned from listening to his preparation for those recording sessions.

I remember listening to him practice. He got to a point where he would just be going through everything with no pedal, taking everything a little bit under tempo. Every single finger just fell in place. It was exciting for me to hear him play like that because there was such unbelievable refinement and security in his playing. He prepared so unbelievably for those sessions. It was astounding! There were so many of those recordings that were just the first take. He was that well-prepared. He just went through all of this music. And by the way, you must listen! I’ll have links below for these discs.

You want to get to the point where you have ultimate security in your playing.

I knew from listening to my father practice that the recordings were going to be great. He was so completely prepared, he could play everything accurately in a completely relaxed manner. Most classical recordings have a lot of editing because it saves time. If you have a work that’s 20 minutes long, to get one perfect performance is very difficult. On recordings, if you have just a little cracked note that you might not notice in a live performance, it’s really annoying when you listen over and over again. But he was so well prepared for this that a minimum amount of editing was necessary.

So that’s my personal story for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

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Supplemental Links:

Rachmaninoff Opus 32 Preludes
Scriabin Opus 8 Etudes
Chopin Ballades and the F Minor Fantasie
The Music of Meyer Kupferman: II
Great Hits You Played When You Were Young

2 thoughts on “In the studio with Morton Estrin – What I Learned Watching My Father Practice the Piano”

  1. I really enjoyed this very personal episode about your father. Having that much repertoire polished and memorized is phenomenal. I had a pianist friend in the music school (OSU) back in the 70s and he told me before every performance, he would play through the piece(s) at a little slower tempo. I never forgot that and my teacher at the time (George Haddad) was very big on very slow practice as well as running through repertoire without pedal. It would be very interesting if you would sometime share more details about how your father practiced! Thanks for sharing.

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