And the Winner Is…

#17 – Heidi! Enjoy your Reflections CD from Sandy Skinner!

Hope you all are having a wonderful Christmas season! Stay tuned for lots to come after the first of the year!

UPDATE: Oops! I forgot that I was supposed to select three winners for one of Sandy’s CDs! The other two winners are #13 – Joanna, and #16 – Lori. Also, be sure to visit Sandy’s website if you are interested in ordering a copy of one of her CDs.

Merry Christmas!

My studio is on Christmas break for the next couple of weeks, so it will be pretty quiet around here as well. The Christmas recital last Thursday was such a wonderful time! For those of you who didn’t get to tune in live, you can still access the archived videos on the Christmas Recital 2010 Channel. We had a few glitches with the setup, so we missed the first couple of students on the live stream, but the majority of it got covered, thanks to the expertise of the guys running the equipment! Here’s a group photo from the occasion:

And somehow, my students managed to put together a surprise gift for me that I will treasure forever!

For three months they’ve been conniving coordinating to make this happen – and it did! I was completely clueless. The gift was a beautiful framed portrait of all of my students, accompanied by a smaller black and white of the same portrait with each student’s autograph on their photo. Plus, a dozen of my favorite roses! It was a great end to the year! In addition to taking some time off to do other things this week and next, I’m also excited to do some planning and preparing for a New Year in the studio. It will be exciting to see what 2011 holds!

May each of you have a blessed Christmas!

Media Release Form

Several of you have asked about the Media Release Form that I use in my studio. I just wrote it up based on what seemed necessary for my situation, so it would be best to get legal counsel as you develop a form that meets your studio needs. Here’s what I came up with, though:

The wording is: “I, _______, hereby grant permission for my child, __________, born on ____________, to have his/her photo used by Natalie’s Piano Studio in promotional materials, downloadable products, website content, and blog posts.”

Parent Signature _________________________ Date ______________

This is something that I include now as part of my interview process with new students and their parents. I usually have a clipboard sitting on the chair, along with the Parent Questionnaire, the Media Release Form, a business card, and a pen.

Composer Study Resources Galore!

If you’re familiar with different homeschooling methods, you’ll recognize the name Charlotte Mason. This Composer Study is specifically geared toward those looking to incorporate a study of composers into this method of homeschooling, however the information and resource lists and links are fabulous! If you are looking for helpful and practical ideas for doing a composer study, either with your students or with your own children, you’ll find a wealth of general and specific composer study suggestions, free downloadable worksheets, links to free on-line classical music listening resources, and more. I highly recommend it!

Christmas Recital Tomorrow!

After many weeks of anticipation and many hours of work, the moment is just about here! Our annual studio Christmas recital is tomorrow evening. Our theme is A Collaborative Christmas: Proclaiming together the greatness of God! And remember, you’re all invited to attend! Just go to the Christmas Recital 2010 Ustream channel and you can join us virtually for an exciting evening. The recital will begin at 7:00 p.m. CST, with prelude music by several students beginning at about 6:40 p.m. I thought you all might enjoy a little glimpse into some of the preparations of the last several weeks:

Welcome to the film studio! 🙂 Last week, I converted part of the studio into a film studio so that I could record students who volunteered to read narration in between the recital pieces. We’re attempting a bit more of a multimedia approach this year, so we’ll see how that goes!

And here’s the brains behind the filming operation – my trusty camcorder, laptop, and recording software. It’s so fun experimenting and learning new things with filmmaking – something I am not very good at yet, but hopefully I can continue to develop skills in this area. (So please cut me some slack with the very amateurish video presentation if you tune in for the live stream!)

One of the ensemble groups rehearsing Pat-a-Pan by Carol Klose at the studio the day before the rehearsal. This arrangement is for piano duet with optional rhythm accompaniments for a drum and finger cymbals – the perfect combination for these sibling pairs!

I fully intended to take lots of pictures at the rehearsal last Thursday evening, but managed to snap a grand total of two. Oops. Here’s one of the ensemble groups, playing I Saw Three Ships for piano trio, drum, and triangle, from Lynn Freeman Olson’s A Christmas Gathering.

Here’s the other picture from the rehearsal – a group of high school guys playing March from The Nutcracker, from Hal Leonard’s Level 5 Christmas Ensembles. You can also just barely see my wonderful sound man who has his hands full trying to balance the output from two pianos, two Clavinovas, several violins, and the overhead projection of our narration. We definitely could not do this without him!

It is a ton of work putting together a recital – as you all know! – but it is well worth it. This year I’ve been reminded that it’s not just the end product that matters, but the process as well. My heart’s desire is for God to be glorified and for people to be blessed through the recital, but that should also be my focus in every moment of preparation, every lesson I teach, every interaction I have with students and parents, and every note that I practice. There is so much peace and joy that comes in maintaining this focus in the small moments along the way, rather than becoming anxious and stressed out in light of the “big event.” I hope that each of you are also experiencing peace and joy during this busy, but exciting season!

Review and Giveaway of Reflections CD by Sandy Skinner

I remember growing up listening to church pianists improvise the old hymns and wishing that I knew how to add in all those extra notes like they did. 🙂 That’s what the new CD, “Reflections” by Sandy Skinner reminds me of. In a world that is ever bustling with activity, it’s nice to still be able to sit back and let the simplicity of the solo piano wash over you as it sings forth the timeless melodies of some of Christianity’s greatest hymns.

You can play a nice sampling of the music at Sandy’s website. On this disc, you’ll find these twelve selections: It is Well with My Soul, Blessed Assurance, Fairest Lord Jesus, In the Garden, Near to the Heart of God, How Great Thou Art, This is My Father’s World, My Jesus, I Love Thee, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, Sweet By and By, On Eagle’s Wings, and May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.

Sandy has graciously offered to giveaway three copies of her “Reflections” CD to readers of Music Matters Blog! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway. The winners will be selected at noon on Thursday, December 23, using a random number generator. Enjoy the CD yourself, or give it as a gift to someone else who loves piano music!

Monday Mailbag – Students Performing Without Teacher Knowledge

At a student’s lesson last week, he mentioned that he had performed a few pieces over the weekend for the public. I tried in my calmest, most interested (because I definitely was) tone to inquire as to the nature of the performance, who was there, WHAT did he play?!!! I’d really love to hear some encouraging words as to how to handle these situations. I want my students to play and definitely don’t want to squash their willingness to do so. Who has some words of advice to help us teachers keep our cool?
I’m guessing that instituting a policy that students can play any time they want without our prior knowledge as long as they don’t disclose the name of their teacher to any unsuspecting audience members is not the answer you’re looking for. 🙂
Typically I start by praising the student for taking advantage of the opportunity to play, followed by a reminder that that’s why it’s so helpful to always have pieces polished and ready to play at a moment’s notice. You never know when opportunities might arise. Beyond that, asking questions is a great way to use situations like this as a learning experience:
  • How did that opportunity come up? (Did the student volunteer, or did someone ask them to play?)
  • What did you play? (Sometimes this can be incredibly eye-opening, because we may have a student who plays pop songs really well by ear, but they never make their way into the lesson. Or a student may be working on music for church in addition to the regular assignments from us.) I often have the student play for me whatever they performed so that I can get a glimpse of other talents or interests they may have that I wasn’t even aware of.
  • How do you think it went?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done ahead of time that would have helped you feel better prepared?
  • Did you enjoy the experience?
  • Would you like to do more of that kind of thing in the future?
  • What kinds of pieces would you like to work on in preparation for future opportunities like this?
And so on. Whether it’s accompanying, playing a special at a church service, performing in a school talent show, or giving an impromptu rendition of a piece for company, this is the stuff of real life! This is one of the reasons that we are teaching our students to play the piano develop as musicians, so it’s exciting for them to see some of the fruits of their labors. One thing that is incredibly important is to keep communication open between you and the student – encourage them to bring in other things they’re working on. Ask if they want input from you, or let them know it’s okay just to play it for your enjoyment.
It’s so easy as teachers to become trapped inside our mold of what piano lessons should look like, or what students should be learning, or what we should be teaching. But most of us are teaching individual lessons, so we have incredible freedom to work with students on an individual basis. The more we can learn about their bent – their talents, interests, and strengths, the more we can help them be successful musicians – in whatever capacity that may be. This is something that I’m learning more and more all the time!
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!

My New Piano!

One of my goals this year was to purchase a new piano for my studio. I’m happy to report that this goal has been achieved! (We won’t discuss the rest of my goals for this year, though, ok? :-)) I actually made the purchase at the end of summer, but forgot to fill you all in on the details. Thanks to Lisa and Sheryl for asking about it in the comments on last Tuesday’s post so that I can show it off!

I took a day trip up to Mid-America Piano one Saturday just to see what they had in stock and get a better idea of how much more I would need to save up in order to get a really nice upright piano. Even though I was originally leaning toward the Kawai brand, I loved the sound and touch of the mahogany-finish Yamaha U3 that they had in the showroom. It was an older used piano, but was in impeccable condition, which gave me confidence that it was a well-made instrument.

After a bit of negotiation, I discovered that I just barely had enough saved up to buy the piano that day! So I signed the papers and had the piano in my studio two weeks later! My students and I have been loving it ever since. It’s amazing how motivating it is to practice when you have a wonderful piano under your fingertips. 🙂

The Art Of Piano: Great Pianists Of The 20th Century

There’s nothing quite like watching the great piano performers of the past play classics by the master composers of yesteryear to inspire continued dedication to becoming and training excellent pianists. At least, that’s how I felt as I watched the documentary, The Art of Piano: Great Pianists of the 20th Century, now available on-line in its entirety (thanks to my friend and fellow teacher, Joyce, for sending me this link!).

I especially appreciate the folks at Piano Street who have put together a listing of which pieces appear in the film and at what times they occur. This would be a wonderful resource to include (a snippet at a time!) in a group class or recital!