Review and Giveaway of American Portraits Piano Book by Wendy Stevens

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is an audio clip worth? In a departure from my typical process of reviewing new materials, I thought it would be cool to give you samplings of the actual music rather than mere words attempting to describe the music. In fact, didn’t some great musician say something to the effect that if we could describe it in words we wouldn’t have needed to compose the music in the first place? But I digress.

I recently had a chance to sit down and play through Wendy Stevens’ latest late intermediate collection, American Portraits, and rather than tell you about it I thought I’d give you a chance to hear little snippets. Then I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll love it as much as I do! Each piece is inspired by “forgotten heroes in American history” and includes a short paragraph about that person, accompanied by their portrait. Hence, the title. Enjoy listening to these brief excerpts and then check out the bottom of the post for how you can enter to win your own copy of this wonderful collection!

Letters From Abigail

Frontier Chorus

Morning at the Falls

Underground Railway

Midnight Ride

Summer on the Prairie

Hal Leonard is offering a free copy of American Portraits to one Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. The drawing will be held at noon (CST) on Thursday, December 9, using a random number generator. For fun, I’d love it if you include in your comment the piece you think you’ll like the best based on the excerpts above! 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Who Pays for New Student Music?

When you get $200+ worth of new music for your students, do you then have them purchase each one or how do you do that?

At this point, I purchase all the new music for my students. Several years ago, I instituted a registration fee of $50 that is due by the 1st of August for any students planning to take lessons that year. That fee reserves their spot, covers the cost of the custom-designed practice journal that goes along with our practice incentive theme for the year, offsets various administrative costs, and also includes any music that I purchase for them to keep or to borrow from my lending library. I don’t itemize how each student’s $50 is spent, but I’m sure if I did, I would discover that it’s not quite covering the costs I’m incurring for them. But at this point, the arrangement is working okay for us.

At some point, I would like to invoice the students for the specific music I purchase for them. This would be incredibly easy since I use Music Teacher’s Helper for my billing program. All it would entail is me adding a fee to the student’s account and listing the book titles. Then when the automatic invoices are sent at the beginning of the next month, the student/parent would see the balance due, including the book cost, and would just write a check or complete on-line payment for all of it. This is my ideal scenario, but I’m not quite there yet! Anyone else want to weigh in on how you handle acquiring new music for your students? I’d sure love to know what works (or doesn’t work!) well for you!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

This week I’m not teaching, so I decided to take the week off of blogging as well (in celebration of Thanksgiving and my birthday – which happens to be on Thanksgiving this year! :-)). I’ve also got a couple of speaking engagements this week and will be working on plans for our upcoming Christmas recital.

We had our second Investment Club Meeting of the year last Thursday night, and I was reminded of what a blessing it is to be a music teacher. I absolutely love all my students and their families! And I am continually amazed and blessed by the creative, supportive, and generous music community – both locally and in the blogosphere. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, reflecting on God’s many blessings!

A Break from the Regularly Scheduled Programming…

…to have some fun! Several weeks ago, Sheryl, of the fabulous Notable Music Studio blog, contacted me to let me know that she had bestowed upon me the highly sought after and coveted Versatile Blogger award. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit overly dramatic, but hey, an award is an award, right?! 🙂

In order to receive the award, there are certain criteria that must be met. Namely, I must share seven random things about myself. Fair warning: read on at your own risk.

  1. I have an obsession with looking up words in the dictionary. For starters, I looked up the word, “versatile” to get an official definition of this award before I accepted it. The definition reads, “capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.” Is it just me or is this a cleverly disguised way of identifying someone with ADD? As in, can’t stay focused for any length of time on a single task. 🙂 Hmm…guilty as charged. I am horrible at multi-tasking and sticking to one thing for a long time, but I do often move quickly from one thing to the next to try to accomplish as much as possible in a short amount of time.
  2. I change my own oil. In my car, that is. My brother-in-law taught me how about five years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. The once or twice I’ve had my mechanic do it, I always regret it because the next time I go to do it myself, I about twist my hand off my wrist trying to unscrew the oil filter.
  3. If you invite me to go target practice with you, I’ll be there in a heartbeat! I love shooting and have a bruise on my shoulder right now to prove it. 🙂 Last weekend, I shot sporting clays with a friend of mine and I think his 12-gauge shotgun that I tried once did me in. Better stick with the 20-gauge until I get more experienced! I’m saving up to buy my own gun right now, but I’ll probably start with a handgun and go for a shotgun a little later.
  4. Last year I published my first book, Pajama School, and even though I adamantly refused to consider writing another book after that long and difficult process, I think I’m starting to get the itch again! I’ve had an idea floating around in my mind for a while, so right now I’m praying about it and waiting to see if I should launch this new project or not.
  5. This might really make me look like a geek, but I actually enjoy tracking expenses, setting up a budget, and balancing my checkbook. I have been known to record $.25 expenditures in my bookkeeping program just to make sure that I have an accurate account of all my finances. (My Dad is in the financial industry and began training me in finances at a young age, so I blame him for this!)
  6. Whenever I travel to a new place, I love to pick up the free homes magazines and look through them to get a feel for the area housing market. And if someone in my family travels somewhere, they know to bring these magazines back for me! Maybe this stems back to the days when I thought I would become an architect and spent hours drawing up plans for all sorts of houses…
  7. I love to cook and experiment with new recipes, but I have a habit of destroying kitchen appliances. We’ve been through several blenders, a couple of food processors, and who knows how many hand mixers. I contend that the manufacturing standards aren’t high enough, but my family just runs for cover when I don my apron and put on my chef’s hat! 😉

So, there you have it, folks. A little glimpse into my life outside of music and teaching. Maybe five years from now I’ll share more! But for now, let’s see if we can get some of my favorite bloggers (who haven’t already been nominated) to divulge tid bits about their lives as well. 🙂 Here are my seven nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Chris Foley of The Collaborative Piano Blog

Joel of So You Want to Teach

Jenifer Cook of The Church Pianist

Gerald Klickstein of The Musician’s Way Blog

David Cutler of The Savvy Musician Blog

Natasha Banasiak of Notes from A to G Piano Studio

Steve Engel of Music Ed Lounge

If you don’t have a blog, but would be willing to share seven things about yourself (especially if you want to share something that will make me feel less like I’m the only geek around…), the comments are all yours! I’d love to get to know some of you better.

A New and Exciting Era of Recitals!

Growing up, one of my least favorite things to do was attend recitals. I think most of the other students and audience members felt the same way. So it has been my personal mission to make our studio recitals not only tolerable, but immensely enjoyable and something that students and families look forward to. It made my day a couple weeks ago when I asked a friend if he would run the sound system for our Christmas recital this year. He eagerly agreed and said that when his daughter stopped taking lessons several years ago, his biggest disappointment was that he would miss the Christmas recital. (Looks like I’ve got a sound man for life, huh?! :-))

As you all know, it takes a TON of planning and preparation to pull off a recital, but it is so worth it! And the students love being able to invite their relatives and friends to be a part of the Christmas celebration with us. It is unavoidable, though, that every year there are far-off family and friends who would love to be here, but just can’t make the trip. Well…in one of the most exciting discoveries of the year, I think this will be a problem of the past because now there is a way that anyone can attend the recital virtually! Enter: USTREAM.

USTREAM is a free online television station that enables registered users to broadcast their shows and events via the internet to viewers around the world! I’ve been exploring the site this past week and not only can you broadcast through your channel, but you can also record and archive events so that they can be accessed and viewed at a later date. We are just itching to give this a try in my studio, so we will be live streaming the Christmas recital this year and you are invited to join us and be part of the experiment!

The recital will be on Thursday, December 16, at 7:00 p.m. (CST). Just go to my USTREAM channel: at that time to watch the live broadcast. Since this is our first time giving it a try, there may be glitches, but hopefully you will bear with us and give us feedback that will help us make improvements in the future. And if any of you decide to live stream a studio event, I’d love to know about it so I can tune in and watch. Plus, I think there are tons of other possibilities for this technology. For instance, there’s an option to invite viewers to be co-hosts, so I could see multiple studios across the country connecting with each other for a joint event of some sort. If any of you are interested in trying something like this, we should brainstorm and see what we can come up with. What FUN!

Produce Professional CDs for $1!

Last Friday I presented a workshop to one of our local music teachers associations on the topic of “New-to-us Tech Ideas.” I shared about some of the recent finds I’ve come across, many of which I’ve shared here previously. However, I realized that I never did a post on an awesome resource I came across this past spring. A friend and I were working on my CD, Journey to Self Publishing: 12 steps to successfully publish your book, and he told me about Kunaki.

If you’ve ever wanted to help your students produce a CD that looks professional and even comes with professional packaging, look no further! The entire system is completely automated, so you are on your own in terms of getting everything recorded, designed, uploaded, and ordered. But if you spend some time reading over the extensive question and answer pages on the site, you’ll be just fine.

I’ve used the system twice now, and both times I’ve been incredibly pleased with the finished results. As part of our studio theme this year, my students have the option to produce a CD, so I’m excited to see if any of them decide to give it a try. Once you’ve produced and designed everything according to the specifications, just place an order. For quantities of 10 or less, you’ll pay just $1 plus shipping. The only other costs would be if you hire a graphic designer to do the cover and insert design (as I did with my Journey to Self Publishing CD), but I suspect that most students would have fun designing their own covers!

Anyway…tons of fun! If you give it a try, you’ll have to let me know. 🙂

Review and Giveaway of Showers of Blessing Piano Book by Jenifer Cook

Anyone who has followed Jenifer Cook’s The Church Pianist blog knows that she is a gifted pianist and teacher. Her ability to communicate improvisation and arranging techniques to aspiring pianists is unparalleled in my opinion! It’s one thing to be able to play and improvise well, but a whole different thing to be able to teach others how to do it. Jenifer excels on both counts.

Jenifer’s piano book, Showers of Blessing, released this year by Soundforth is a welcome addition to the rather sparse material available for intermediate level church pianists. The book is a wonderful collection of familiar favorites for a variety of occasions – Patriotic (America the Beautiful), Christmas (What Child Is This?), duet-playing (Stepping in the Light), Thanksgiving (Showers of Blessing), a rainy day (A Shelter in the Time of Storm :-)), and everyday (Come Thou Fount, It Is Well with My Soul, and Onward Christian Soldiers).

Each of the 2-3 page arrangements begins with a fitting introduction, followed by a melodically and harmonically pleasing rendition of the song. The pieces stick to the keys of C, G, or F, and contain straightforward rhythm patterns, making them very accessible to the intermediate level pianist. Yet the arrangements are musically attractive enough that I wouldn’t even mind playing them as a simple offertory or prelude for church.

You can listen to audio samples of each of the arrangements on Jenifer’s blog. You can enter to win your own copy of Showers of Blessing by leaving a comment below! And…for double entry, just post a link to this giveaway on facebook, twitter, or your blog and leave an additional comment on this post indicating that you did so. Feel free to let any of your intermediate-level students enter as well. The drawing for the winner will be held on Friday, November 26 at noon (CST) (since that Thursday is Thanksgiving!), using a random number generator.

Monday Mailbag – Christmas Music for Students

??I was just looking into Christmas music for my new student and was curious as to what books you recommend?

In my studio, the Christmas recital has traditionally been our big event of the year. So I am always on the lookout for great music for my students to play. At the end of October, I spent several hours at our fabulous local music store (Senseney Music) and bought a ton of Christmas books. Then, a couple of Saturdays ago, I spent about eight hours playing through hundreds of pieces and trying to find just the right ones for each student. I have several “rules” that I use to help make the selections:

  1. Each Christmas song may only be played once on the recital program. In rare instances, I have made an exception, but I really want everyone to enjoy the recital. And hearing 4,000 renditions of Jingle Bells does not contribute to an enjoyable experience. 🙂
  2. I have to enjoy playing and listening to the piece. Regardless of the level of difficulty, if I don’t think it’s an interesting arrangement, there’s a pretty good chance my student won’t either. In fact, this year I returned more books than I ever have in the past because the arrangements just didn’t grab me. I always like to check out the new releases, but there are plenty of tried-and-true books and pieces that I turn to repeatedly.
  3. Don’t repeat the same arrangement of a song two years in a row. Again, I have made exceptions, especially on earlier level pieces, but I try to incorporate lots of variety to keep the recital interesting for those who attend every year.
  4. Incorporate a variety of instrumentation. I don’t do this every year, but in keeping with the Year of Collaborative Music theme this year, every student is involved in some sort of ensemble. This year’s program will include solos, duets, quartets, quintets, and more. It will be exciting to see how it all turns out (hopefully!)!
  5. Take each student’s personal preferences into consideration. I love being able to give a student a piece and say, “I found this Christmas song that is absolutely perfect for you! I think you are going to love it!” Even more than that, it makes all the time and effort worth it when the student comes back after a week with a glimmer in their eye and says, “I LOVE my Christmas song!” 🙂 This year I gave my students a survey in September asking them for special requests. I take those into consideration, but then try to match the arrangements to the students. Lyrical, harmonically rich arrangements for the students who love to be dramatic and expressive; big chords and scale runs for the students who like to play fast and loud; syncopated rhythms for the ones who like a touch of Jazz; and so on.

Now, without any further ado, here are some of my favorite Christmas music selections:

  • Beginner Praise for Christmas by Ellen Banks Elwell (late elementary, with a couple of duets; we especially love the One Small Child duet and the Mary, Did You Know? solo)
  • Christmas Traditions by Phillip Keveren (elementary solos with nice short intros and simple, but attractive arrangements; the rendition of Go Tell It On the Mountain is especially fun!)
  • Christmas Medleys and Variations by Catherine Rollin (intermediate/late intermediate; especially great for the student that will be playing for a Christmas party or other festive occasion!)
  • Christmas Duet Fantasies by Robert Vandall (intermediate/late intermediate; big sounding pieces that are accessible and patterned; definite favorites!)
  • Christmas Delights by Martha Mier (three volumes of varying levels; nice arrangements of familiar carols)
  • Famous and Fun Christmas by Carol Matz (five volumes of varying levels; these aren’t that exciting in the way of arrangements, but they are perfect for providing students with lots of familiar Christmas songs to play during the season – excellent for building reading skills!)
  • Christmas at the Manger by various artists (late elementary; my favorite new find of the season! I truly loved sitting and playing these arrangements of contemporary Christian songs)
  • In Recital with Christmas Favorites by Helen Marlais (all levels; there are some real gems in some of these books!)
  • First Favorite Christmas Duets by Lynn Freeman Olson (early elementary; great little equal parts duet arrangements that are perfect for young students!)
  • Celebrated Christmas Solos by Robert Vandall (five volumes of varying levels; unexpected harmonies spice up these arrangements and give them a mature sound)
  • Traditional Carols for Two by Carol Klose (elementary; equal parts duet arrangements with a nice balance of sharing the melody between the two parts; the Pat-a-Pan rendition includes optional rhythm instrument parts that we’re planning to use this year!)

I’m sure I could go on and on because there is so much great Christmas music available! But I’ll stop here for now. If you and your students have any favorites in your studio, please share!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Fun Musical Mayflower Mystery Note Worksheet

Just in time for a fun Thanksgiving activity, I came across this Musical Mayflower worksheet on the Sing a New Song blog. It reminds me of the Mystery Note game that I play with my students (included in the 5 for Fun! book), but I love the way this worksheet is designed! It’s so colorful, and is such a fun, skill-developing activity for students. There are two levels available. Just visit the link above to view and print both of them. You’ll find several other great Teacher Resources there as well!

Musical Mayflower Level Two