As a Professor Emeritus of harpsichord at Paris’ Conservatory of the 18th precinct and Organist Emeritus at Saint-Jean de Montmartre Church, Frank Mento (MM Organ, 1974) has helped numerous students develop their skills and abilities in keyboard music. Now, the CCM alumnus has ventured into helping newcomers to the harpsichord get off to a strong start — regardless of whether they are six or 60 years old.
Mento, who studied at CCM under organ professor Wayne Fisher, has created a comprehensive online training method for the instrument that is meant as a surrogate for 10 years of training. The first nine volumes covering nine years are currently available for purchase. The tenth and final volume is expected to become available soon.
“I teach beginners having no previous musical knowledge by a method that [encompasses] education by the eye, ear, muscle, and drawing,” Mento stated of his pedagogical approach. “This is learning based on relative reading, singing, motor skills, and three-dimensional geometry transferred to two dimensions. It is a realistic and living approach. Pupils learn how to read music like a design or drawing.”
Part of his motivation came from observing and experimenting for the better part of 12 years in areas where accessible education on harpsichord is extremely limited due to economic, social and other factors. Students of any age receive training that ranges from learning the most commonly played notes to advanced improvisational techniques involving the variation of melodies, Baroque-style ornamentation and creating musical lines based upon basso continuo. For Mento, this improvisation is key to the success of his approach.
“A long time ago, in order to ornate and vary the music, musicians had a habit of inventing little melodies, which made the piece more joyous, expressive, and prettier,” Mento wrote. “This tradition of ornamentation and improvisation based on a melody died in the early 19th century as far as ‘classical’ music is concerned. Now, only Jazz musicians and musicians of traditional music practice it fluently.”
He also provides free downloadable copies of public domain scores from famed Renaissance and Baroque composers including Johann Sebastian Bach, Handel, William Byrd and others. These scores also feature notes on them that inform the musician to which volume of the method each is applicable. Owing to his stated desire for accessibility regardless of age, he readily encourages redistributing the scores to others to further his pedagogical goals.
Story by CCM graduate Kevin Norton (DMA Saxophone, 2015)