FAQs about Kinhaven’s Adult Piano Workshop

Why four-hand performance?

By focusing on music for four hands, participants have the chance to simultaneously develop their pianism and hone the skills of musicianship that emerge only in a chamber music setting. Unlike “normal” chamber music programs, all faculty members of the Kinhaven Adult Piano Workshop are pianists, so in your coachings you will be able to discuss not only what the music should sound like, but how to make it to sound that way.


If you are not a chamber player, four-hand music may be something of a revelation. It will stretch you technically and musically. On a personal level, since there are no keyboard orchestras or choruses to bring us together, four-hand playing, and the Kinhaven workshop, are a rare opportunity to be with other pianists in a collaborative rather than a competitive way.

What if I don’t have a partner?

Generally, this is not a problem. If you send a sample of your playing to Leander Bien, workshop director, he will match you with an appropriate partner. Most Kinhaveners did not have a partner in mind the first year they attended.

Recitals, 2015

What music will we play?

The duos learn and perform baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary music — some originally written for four-hand playing and some adapted.

Many have chosen works of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Ravel, Schubert and Schumann.

Others venture into music by the likes of Barber, Casella, Dello Joio, Faure, Hindemith, Milhaud, Poulenc, Satie, Shostakovich and Stravinsky.

Here’s a partial list of music played in past workshops.

How is the repertoire chosen?

You and your partner can pick your music, or you can ask Leander for suggestions.

Some tips for good repertoire: Don’t pick something too long or too hard. It is best to pick something you can gain reasonable technical mastery over so that you will be able to handle the subtleties that emerge in the coaching.

Given that partners have three coaching sessions with faculty at Kinhaven, you may find advantages in picking music that divides readily into coachable chunks. Suites and theme-and-variations formats work really well this way. Of course, there are lots of great pieces that are not organized so conveniently for coaching; with those you will just have to think harder about how to allocate your coaching time.

Pieces originally written for four hands are generally more pianistically satisfying than “arrangements.” That said, some composers, including Brahms and Schumann, created their own arrangements of chamber works, and these can be quite wonderful.

What is the best way to prepare for Kinhaven?

Some tips:

  • When you practice alone, sit where you will play in a duo, not where you sit when you play solo.
  • Be able to play your part with no pedal — final pedaling will grow out of negotiation between you and your partner.
  • Become as familiar as possible with your partner’s part.
  • Write your fingerings on your music, and when you get to Kinhaven, transfer your fingerings to the score you will perform from.

What if my partner lives in a different city?

Lots of partners don’t practice together until they get to Kinhaven. For this reason, the first full day is allocated completely to rehearsal time.

Should I play primo or secondo?

Some factors to consider: How do the technical difficulties align with your strengths? Four-hand music often calls upon the hands to play unaccustomed roles — for example, the left hand of the primo may have melodic passage work, and the right hand of the secondo may contain figures more common in the left hand of solo pieces, e.g. Alberti bass. These role-reversals can feel awkward at first.

In great four-hand music, both parts will be interesting, satisfying and equally difficult. The attractions of the primo part are fairly obvious — lots of melodic interest, and often the showy, virtuosic passages. But the secondo provides the rhythmic and harmonic heart of the piece, and who wouldn’t want to be in charge of that? Most of the time, the secondo does the pedaling for both parts. As mentioned above, the secondo needs to know the primo part and provides support for the primo. The secondo also needs to be able to listen carefully and not let the texture get muddy.

Do I need to be able to sightread?

Repertoire is selected well in advance of the workshop so there’s ample time to learn the music before the workshop. Sightreading proficiency is therefore not an issue for concern.

Do I play well enough for Kinhaven?

Kinhaven will be more enjoyable and you will benefit more from the workshop if you have the ability to master the basics of the piece you choose before coming. It will be a better experience if you are comfortable enough with playing that you’re not struggling to learn notes and rhythm.

Having said that, Kinhaven participants have a wide range of abilities. One of the workshop’s pleasures is watching players at different levels respond to the coaching and improve over the years.

How does four-hand playing compare to other chamber music?

Your chamber music experience will transfer very well to four-hands. Many of the same issues pertain: balance, ensemble and shared conception.

Four-hand playing, though, also offers its own challenges and opportunities. On the challenge side, the players must work out a lot of choreography. They need to get comfortable sharing “their” space with each other. Fingerings may have to be adjusted to make room for the other player’s hands. Since, in contrast with a heterogeneous chamber group, it is possible for two pianists to perfectly reproduce each other’s sound and articulation, much is expected in this dimension. The results can be really stunning or sound messy.

There are many opportunities as well in four-hand music. Unlike your string or woodwind colleagues in a chamber ensemble, your duo partner will completely feel your pain. He/she will know what is difficult, and may even have some suggestions for making it easier. At the same time, you will have standing to make suggestions to your partner and have them received with respect. (Have you ever tried telling your string players their intonation needs work?)

What’s a typical day like?

Breakfast, as leisurely as you like, begins at 8. The schedule, which starts at 9, is different each day. Except for the first day, which is devoted to rehearsal time, you will practice with your four-hands partner and attend one coaching session each day. Additional, optional activities include, for example, the Alexander Technique workshops, master classes, and sightreading with the coaches. There is ample time for individual practice and exploring the beautiful environs. Lunch and dinner are welcome and delicious breaks from the routine.

Kinhaven pasture at dusk

Do most people stay in the camp facilities?
Will I miss out if I don’t?

Most people do stay on the campus, but lodging in the nearby villages of Weston and Londonderry is a perfectly good option. To have the full Kinhaven experience, plan to take most of your meals in the dining hall, and to stick around for the wine and cheese gathering in the evening.

What are the cabins like? Will I be comfortable?

That depends on what you require for comfort!  There are several housing options:

The Main House has a few rooms available for participants. There are shared baths.

Several cabins are available with: kitchen, bathroom, multiple bedrooms and living area.

Most participants choose to experience Vermont cabins in the woods. These cabins are quite new, rustic but sturdy, with window glass and screens, electric lights and outlets, but they are not climate-controlled. Depending on weather, cabins can get warm or surprisingly cool. May and June nights in Vermont can be as chilly as the 40s, so it’s worthwhile to bring warm blankets and/or an electric space heater just in case.


The cabins are nestled among the trees, in a beautiful, peaceful setting. There’s lots of room to spread out, as you’ll have a room if not a whole cabin to yourself. Each cabin has two rooms of bunk beds plus a counselor’s room in between. Most workshop participants stay in the counselor’s room of their cabin, which has a bed, lights and electrical outlets.

There is an inviting communal bathroom area for each group of cabins — connected to them by a wooden walkway. No need to find your way in the woods in the middle of the night.

The bathrooms have plenty of hot water in the showers, flush toilets, and again, lots of room to stash your stuff so you don’t need to carry it back and forth every day.

Where is Kinhaven?

It’s in south central Vermont, outside the little town of Weston, on the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest. See map below.

Airports near Weston (2 hours or less driving time):

  • Albany, NY — American, CapeAir, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United
  • Burlington, VT — Allegiant, America, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, United
  • Manchester, NH — American, Delta, Southwest, United
  • Hartford, CT (Bradley International Airport, Windsor Locks, CT)  — Aer Lingus, Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, OneJet, Southwest, Spirit, United

Driving time to Weston from Eastern cities (adapted from Google Maps):

  • 3 hours from Boston
  • 4 hours from Montreal or New York
  • 5 hours from Philadelphia
  • 6 hours from Buffalo
  • 7 hours from Toronto
  • 8 hours from Washington, DC, or Cleveland
  • 9 hours from Pittsburgh

What’s the food like?
If I’m a vegetarian, will I find anything to eat?

The kitchen staff has been a loyal and integral part of the Kinhaven experience for years. They are able to address all dietary considerations and restrictions. The food is fresh, superbly prepared, delicious and healthy. Meal times are wonderful for the food and for the camaraderie.


Should I bring my spouse or significant other?
Is there an extra charge?

To answer the easy question first, there’s a charge of $375 for on-campus guests (room and meals) and $275 for off-campus guests (meals only). Now for the harder question: Many people bring their significant others and manage to fully participate in the life of Kinhaven. These significant others become part of the Kinhaven family, and we look forward to seeing them every year. Other participants find that having their S.O. at Kinhaven would cut into their time with their piano partners and dilute the intensity of the Kinhaven experience.

Some questions to consider before deciding are: What will your S.O. do when you are busy? Will you feel guilty if you have little waking time to spend with your S.O.? Will your S.O. feel comfortable relating to the other Kinhaven participants as an individual separate from you? Will you make the effort to get to know others if your S.O. is there?

Optional: practicing after dinner

What about the concluding performance?

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, at the workshop’s end, we gather in the concert hall to hear all the partnerships perform. We participants are so eager to hear what our friends have been preparing! The audience is the ultimate in supportive listening. When we perform, we know we have total support from faculty and participants.

Finales, 2015 recitals

What about when I’m not practicing?

While you will be very busy with coachings, rehearsals with your partner, and scheduled activities, you will also have time to enjoy beautiful Weston and its environs, including the adjoining Green Mountain National Forest. Participants love to walk and jog the dirt roads surrounding the campus. Some bring bicycles (be warned, the terrain is very hilly). The tiny town of Weston offers several shops including The Vermont Country Store, definitely worth visiting. Time permitting, Londonderry and towns to the west offer shopping and further exploration.

Varying activities are scheduled in the evenings, followed by wine/beer and gourmet offerings in the Main House. These are wonderful times to socialize and to relax. The setting is comfortable and welcoming.