I am working on putting together a full schedule of all the conference posts for easy access, but in the meantime I thought I would give you a little glimpse of my blogging set-up this year. Instead of lugging around my bug laptop I decided to try blogging with my iPod Touch. It worked amazingly well from my perspective, but I would love feedback from anyone who followed along. Did you like the timing of the posts? Could you see the pictures and video clips? Were they helpful? Any questions or ideas for future conference blogging endeavors? Feel free to leave a comment below or email me with your thoughts!
Steinway & Sons generously offered to set up tours for attendees at the conference. They provided bus transportation from the hotel to their factory in Queens where we enjoyed a 90 minute overview of the process of building a Steinway grand piano from start to finish. It was fascinating! Here are just a few picture highlights from the occasion:
Between all the showcases that distribute complimentary materials and the many exhibitors that have specials and coupons for free books, you are guaranteed to make back almost all of your conference registration fee in the materials you take back to your studios!
My stash added up to over $200! There are some wonderful favorites, plus a nice selection of new compositions to try and distribute to my students. It’s so exciting to take these things back to the studio and think through how to put them to use and how to implement the things I’ve learned at the conference.
Welcome to the final morning of the conference! It will be short today, as there were only two sessions scheduled. After so many late nights and early mornings we checked out the schedule for today and decided to get a little extra sleep and then make it for this final session. Quite a few of my students either play a second instrument or play with friends who play other instruments, so I was very interested in finding out more about chamber music for young students!
Kiyoshi prepared a lovely handout (something very few of the presenters seem to do anymore) with an outline of the session, printed excerpts from scores, and a repertoire list.
The trigger for research into this topic has been personal experiences. Kiyoshi thus began by sharing some of his own experiences playing chamber music. He now teaches at a 2-day Heart of Texas Piano Workshop for beginner to intermediate students. Many of the students are young and are not reading fluently. It is also often their first experiences with mixed ensembles.
The literature they use has been especially created for these students. The arrangements make use of solo pieces that the piano students already know and then add string parts to them. Joseph McSpadden has arranged a lot of these and published them in a book called, Twenty Triolets: for piano, violin, and cello. Because he is a Suzuki teacher, many of the included pieces are from the Suzuki repertoire. Kiyoshi has also put together some of his own arrangements to supplement McSpadden’s publications.
Is the use of arrangements that use intermediate repertoire with added parts valid pedagogically? Kiyoshi says yes for two reasons:
1. In most chamber music, the student must be quite advanced in order to have the skills that make this literature accessible. These arrangements enable students to experience the joy of ensemble playing at a younger age.
2. Students who don’t yet have fully developed reading skills are not kept back from participating in the chamber music experience.
Kiyoshi went on to show a video clip of three of his students playing the Rameau Rondino he arranged with added violin and cello parts. This enabled the pianist, who had already learned the piece as a solo, to participate in a chamber music experience.
Because the parts are not very difficult, the students can work on other aspects necessary for excellent ensemble playing.
There are several techniques for adding parts to a piano solo:
* Double the melodic line in the second instrument.
* Support the harmony by arpeggiating or playing double stops.
* Take advantage of little rests in the piano part to create a dialogue between the instruments.
Kiyoshi proceeded to play an audio excerpt from the Mozart Sonata in B-flat, K. 570, first as a solo piano work, then a version with the violin part that was added by an unknown person. You could clearly hear an example of the last of the three approaches to adding parts, where the violin filled in the spaces left open by the piano part. It was very nice!
There are numerous other examples of the accompanied piano sonata throughout history. They are published as sonatas rather than piano trios and the string parts often duplicate the piano part at alternating times in the piece.
Why should we include chamber music in our students’ music study? What are the benefits?
* Awareness of other musical lines while playing your own. Musical multi-tasking.
* Learning to give physical cues and make eye contact to indicate starting and ending points. Greater understanding of physical preparation. (Kiyoshi never lets students count in; they have to learn to give physical cues.)
* Establishing an inner pulse and establishing an appropriate tempo.
* Listening to the length of sound for each note and ending together.
* Dynamic balances. Can you hear the violin? Can you hear the cello?
* Becoming aware of the different nature of string and/or wind instruments. There are vast articulation capabilities on string instruments.
* Developing good rehearsal strategies. Working together helps build better habits for practicing and drilling difficult parts. Start at various points within the piece and work exclusively on bass or treble lines.
* Preparation for more advanced literature and ability to develop independent skills.
Kiyoshi used to have the philosophy that it was his business to teach music exclusively and not to “interfere” in students’ personal lives. But that philosophy has shifted over the years. He’s come to realize even in this small format that music-making is a social as well as an artistic endeavor. If you are a skilled chamber music player you are aware of those around you and their needs. For example, you don’t play as loudly as possible, drowning out the other players. And you can’t just determine your own tempo and go with it. The lessons instilled through chamber music experiences are beneficial for other areas of life as well.
This showcase was the first one I put on my schedule! Ever since I attended Forrest and Akiko Kinney’s Pattern Play showcase at the 2010 MTNA Conference, my teaching has been transformed!
Forest gave his workshop on piano arranging to a group 24 years ago. So, he’s been looking forward to this day for that many years. He is excited to have a course available now to offer to music educators.
He humorously suggested changing his name from “Forrest” to “Four Arts.” The arts used to include many different components, but has in recent years been reduced almost strictly to interpretation of existing art.
In the same way that we can have conversations and arrange words and stories to share with others, we should be well-versed as pianists so that we can do the same. It’s great to be able to interpret and play the works of the masters, but we must also be comfortable carrying on musical conversations with others and creating new arrangements.
He expressed hope that all of us would “buy” his argument: “It is not talent that keeps all of us from experiencing the four arts. It’s only one thing – pedagogy.”
Forrest will be presenting both an old and a new pedagogy. Clara Schumann’s father taught her to arrange at the piano, and in fact it was a year before she learned how to read music. Forrest and his wife have developed a new pedagogy for teachers today through their Pattern Play series.
A volunteer from the audience was invited to come forward to try an improvisation with him. He taught her the Persian scale, placed a couple of pencils and a book on the strings inside the grand piano (another use for the Pattern Play books… :-)), and began playing an accompaniment pattern while she improvised on the scale.
We think that knowledge is so important, but she didn’t even know what she was doing. Her intuition kicked in and she was able to make beautiful, Persian-sounding music on the spot!
How did we all learn to speak? Our parents talked with us day after day after day until we could converse fluently. That’s why it’s so helpful to play the duet patterns with students until they feel comfortable stepping out on their own to improvise with both hands simultaneously. Each pattern also contains a trio and ensemble option so that students can play together and create beautiful music. Forest had a couple of volunteers take their seat at the piano to demonstrate this trio aspect of the materials.
After this quick overview of the Pattern Play philosophy, Forrest moved on to the new Chord Play series. Being able to arrange is an essential skill for a pianist. He has been invited to play 19 times at the home of Bill Gates. It’s because he is able to create engaging arrangements of old favorites, orchestral tunes, Broadway songs, and more.
What’s the most important song for every pianist to be able to play? He thinks there should be an acronym for pianists – HBPHD (a.k.a. Happy Birthday Public Humiliation Disorder). Ear training has largely been abandoned in our day. People who only play by eye are robbed of a certain intuitive faculty. Those who play only by ear and can’t read are impoverished; they tend to be enslaved to one style of playing.
He begins working with a student by asking, “Did you know that you can play Happy Birthday starting on any key?” Really? they may be surprised. Many students have no concept of well-tempered tuning. He plays a game with beginning students by playing the first notes of Happy Birthday starting on any key with a book covering his hands. Then the student has to try to find the starting key and play it.
The Pattern Play books are geared around little patterns called “explorations.” Chord Play introduces theory concepts and then immediately turns them into artistic expressions.
Forrest draws a humorous analogy: Knowing your chords is like having a head of hair. Once you have it, what do you do with it?
Once you have an idea of what you can do with chords from the ideas presented in the book, you learn to shift/substitute chords, then add 2nds to chords. He describes these as “flavor enhancers without the headaches” (in contrast to MSG). The last part of book one is about introductions, endings, and fills.
Just like Franz Liszt, once you learn these principles you can invite audience members to shout out themes and you can make up arrangements on the spot. A bag of fake books will go a long way!
Book One is kept to root position chords in order to cultivate the ear. Book Two begins with Canon in D. Ask the question, “Is there some way we can make that bass line more interesting?” You can invert the chords to create a descending pattern. The book keeps exploring inverted chords in relation to the principles introduced in Book One.
Some chord substitution can be accomplished just by voicing the changing bass line created by using chord inversions. The book moves into a long discussion of arpeggios and then goes into right hand inversions.
The book goes into ragtime and then gospel style. Book Three explores seventh chords extensively so that by the end of the book students should have the knowledge and experience in their fingers to arrange any hymn, pop song, etc.
The final minutes of the showcase were reserved for an introduction to the newest Pattern Play Book 6. It uses keys with three sharps and three flats. Another attendee joined Forrest on the bench for a riveting improvisation on the pattern, Storm!
This musically uplifting session began with Louis B. Nagel giving a lovely performance from the six Bach French Suites.
I was a few minutes late, and it was so enriching to walk into a room with the glorious music of Bach wafting through the air!
Louis’ primary focus for today is on contrasts. He began with one of the allemandes. An allemande is defined as a moderate dance in flowing form. Bach didn’t use tempo markings in his dances. He was giving the performer full range to express how he felt about the music. Each of the allemandes is very different.
In contrast to the allemande we have the courante. Some of them are written more in the style of a courantee with its French influence rather than the others which are primarily in an Italian style. Louis wonders whether it was perhaps the inclusion of these French style courantees in the suites that prompted someone to call the set “French Suites.” He said he has no scholarship behind that speculation, but it just makes him wonder since the other dances are so clearly in an Italian style.
Louis played another of the dances and ad libbed the ornaments on the spot. He doesn’t think the repeats should be played identically to the first time through. Pedagogically, he added that he has heard students play Bach in such a way that the ornaments overtook that which was being ornamented. It should not be so planned and contrived as to not allow the performer the freedom to play it as desired in the ornament. Ornaments must be played without sacrificing the structure.
He continued to play some of the individual dances, making a variety of remarks about each one.
The most important thing about the dances is the contrast. He is “hop, skipping, and jumping through them to demonstrate those contrasts.”
Articulations are so very important. Bach doesn’t write dynamics. The expressive device of the period (the harpsichord) differentiated between articulations but not dynamics. The articulations illuminate the line of music so music more effectively even than the dynamics. We can’t – and shouldn’t – deny dynamics with our present instrument.
He talked briefly about the pedal and some people’s insistence that it not be used in Bach’s music. “Please don’t do that!” he begged. “Bach did have pedal.” Louis went on to demonstrate some finger pedaling. Don’t deny yourselves or your students the beauty that can be created through the use of the pedal…as long as the lines remain clear. Bach’s music has to beautiful at the piano in our language today.
MTNA President Benjamin Caton introduced today’s masterclass teacher by saying, “I feel like I’m on hallowed ground with the master behind me.” The comment was followed by a hearty applause.
The first order of business was to present Menahem Pressler with the MTNA Achievement Award for 2012.
A very small excerpt of the first performance: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann, performed by Jiaxin Tian.
Menahem Pressler began by saying, “Beautiful playing, well taught, but…” Everyone laughed. He commented that she was too sensitive, like a new mother who loves her baby so much that she almost strangled it.
The first theme sounded like a variation. He was left listening the whole time for the next nuance. He had her start over by playing just the theme. They worked for a while on a more piano sound and a connected legato line. In particular, he had her listen to make sure that the second and third notes of the melody were not louder than the first. She could hear it, but had trouble getting the dynamic he wanted.
Mr. Pressler turned to the audience, “In my class we would not go on until she got it. But I don’t want you to have to hear that. She will struggle to get it at home.”
At the end of the theme is a crescendo. Why? Schumann is opening the door for the first variation. The final cadence creates a question mark.
When Jiaxin started the first variation, Mr. Pressler pointed out that the tempo change was marked un poco. He tapped her two tempi and asked, “Is that a little bit?” When she shook her head, he responded, “No. It’s very much bit.” The second Etude should be more intense, but not that much faster.
In the next one, he said what was wrong is that her sixteenth notes were uneven. She was instructed to try to control it. As the theme came in in the bass line, he encouraged her to play it more meaningfully, voicing every note.
At one point he asked her what could be more beautiful about her playing. Then he asked if she owned silk gloves and had her approach the keys as though she was wearing silk gloves. His primary focus continued to be on the voicing of each phrase so that no note sounded out of place in the line.
When she incorporated a ritardando that wasn’t in the music, he asked her why and then said, “you know if yous top like that when you are in a car, you’ll go right through the window.”
After congratulating her on a job well done, Jiaxin left the stage. Then Mr. Pressler turned to the audience and said that just for us he took it easy on her. In his studio the students have to work very hard. Then he added, “You never give up and you never give in.”
An excerpt from the beginning of the second masterclass student: 8 Pieces Vol. 1, Op. 76 Nos. 1, 3, and 8 by Johannes Brahms, performed by Reed Tetzloff.
“There are many nice things that you are doing. Very good piano playing…in principle. But… – and it’s a big but – the markings of Brahms don’t seem to play a big part in what you are doing.” Mr. Pressler went on to address the tempo marking of allegretto and the evenness and coordination between the hands of the accelerando at the beginning. After he incorporated the suggestions: “Fine. I think I can live with your tempo. It’s not a good life, but…” The audience laughed!
The un poco agitato should not be overdone. It’s more like it’s churning. Mr. Pressler used lots of vocalization of the rhythms to help Reed hear how to achieve the desired tempo and rhythmic flow. Being able to hear the melody in the 6/8 pulse was essential to maintaining the desired consistency.
To create the more intense feel, it was important to feel the emphasis more on the offbeat, bringing out the Hungarian influence. “Mr. Brahms says, ‘WashingTON’, not ‘WASHington’.”
The art of playing Brahms is in hearing and voicing the counterpoint. While the lyrical melody is singing in the right hand, the left hand counterpoint should be a short lively sound.
Piano Trio in B-flat Major “Archduke,” Op. 97, 1st Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Sohyun Ahn (piano), Mikyung Kim (violin), and Yoni Etzion (cello).
Just to give you a little better taste of Mr. Pressler’s style, here’s a clip from his initial comments after the trio finished:
He went on to work individually with each of the musicians to help them understand the appropriate dynamic elements and rhythmic flow, very similarly to his work with the two previous pianists.
Their music was definitely much more alive by the end of his time working with them!
Hal Leonard is definitely one of the savviest companies I’ve seen! They have showcase sessions at every available time slot and for every showcase you attend, you get your name entered in a drawing for a brand new iPad 3! The drawing will be held at this afternoon’s showcase.
Jennifer Linn, a favorite Hal Leonard composer, opened this morning’s showcase with an overview of one of the free books in our packet: All-In-One Piano Lessons.
Next, she introduced Teresa Ledford who gave attendees an overview of the new Worship Piano Method co-authored by herself and Wendy Stevens (of the ComposeCreate blog). She said they designed this course to encourage a lifestyle of worship. Instead of just reserving worship for Sundays, we should include God in every part of our lives. They also wanted to help students develop skills that would prepare them to participate in today’s church music.
Ensemble playing is critical. The CDs with the method are invaluable for helping students learn to play with other people and instruments.
Teresa played and sang several pieces along with the accompaniment CD. The books include original compositions, hymns, and kids’ Sunday School songs. There are also improvisation exercises for the student and teacher to play together or for the student to play with the CD. Book Two gets more into playing chords and reading chord symbols. The first lead sheet experience is with the hymn, O Worship the King with the student providing left hand harmony with root position chords. By the end of the book, the student is using both root position and first inversion chords. They are encouraged to experiment with rhythmic variations with their chords.
Other concepts include major and minor chords, eight notes, key signatures, transposition, and more. The whole goal in developing this method was to equip students to become versatile church musicians while becoming more grounded in their faith at the same time.
Throughout the showcase, the presenters conducted drawings for the various materials that were introduced.
Phillip Keveren began his series twelve years ago with the goal of creating supplementary solos that you could use with students of all ages. He now has over 88 books published!
He said that often the problem with writing arrangements of pop songs is an often slavish attachment to the original instead of what feels right to the pianist. When pop songs are written the first consideration is always the singer. When writing arrangements it’s important to be true to the original intent but to write the piece in a way that fits in the hand of the pianist and works best for them. The bottom line is…when you’re done do you want to hear the piece on the piano? That is his hope with his arrangements.
This arrangement of Abide With Me is from his new collection, Treasured Hymns for Classical Piano. He also played bits from his other latest releases.
Mr. Keveren concluded by stating, “Writing music for you and your students is one of the great joys of my life.”
Jennifer Linn resumed the stage to give an overview of a series she has been working on for the past several years: Journey Through the Classics: 24 Essential Masterworks – a 4 book series. These are designed to be used prior to her individual composer collections.
She placed the pieces in order of difficulty rather than chronologically for ease of use in teaching. Each book has a simple, clean layout, and is comprised of a mixture of favorite and lesser-known pieces.
A handy reference chart just before the Table of Contents includes the page number, piece title, composer, era, key, meter, challenging elements, and a placed to checkmark when it’s completed.
Jennifer did extensive research on the pieces and often referenced the original manuscripts while compiling the books.
At the end of the showcase, Jennifer invited two guests to the stage. The first, Lynda Lybeck-Robinson has just published her first solo with Hal Leonard – Williwaw. She is from Alaska, and Jennifer encouraged attendees to check out her website. She literally has whales in her backyard!
The second guest is a new Jazz artist, Jeremy Siskind. He played from his book, Jazz Etude Inspirations.
The pile of music to take home, play, and distribute to students is growing!
It used to be that if a family had a child with a disability, especially a mental disability, it was shameful and they were hidden away. Thankfully, that is no longer the case! Students who may not be able to be successful in sports or academics or even dance might have the capacity to do well in music.
All of us have a student who has been labeled with a disability that’s been determined via a medical diagnosis. However, they are a child, or a person, first. There are ten characteristics that Beth and Scott have observed that are helpful when teaching students of any disability.
1. Consistency – the words used in the studio should be the same as those used at home or school. Even the day and time of the lesson should be strictly kept. Making changes could provoke a meltdown. Consistency provides comfort for the child. From week to week, the lesson should be structured in the same manner.
Specifically for a child with autism, their world is built around details, routine, systems, and procedures. For example, parents often have to give the child a rundown of each day’s activity in preparation for the lesson day. The same approach should be used when anticipating events such as a recital or festival. When the child comes to the lesson, they should be greeted in the same manner each week, asked the same questions, given the same sort of instructions. If you forget what comes next, just ask the student. They will remember.
Beth suggests using pocket schedule cards that help you and the student keep track of what to do in what order. Most meltdowns occur in the “New Learning” category. Even giving simple instructions can cause frustration because they assume that the student understands the terminology and is even watching or listening to you.
2. Adaptability – we all have been through lots of pedagogy training and have a bag of tricks. These may be helpful, but we should also delve into practical tools available through the special needs resources. Beth recommends a resource called Boardmaker that provides visual schedules for special needs students.
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the world of a special needs student. Many of them are seeing other specialists and attending therapy sessions that make their lives far different than fully-abled students. You can also look for ways to tap into their natural habits. Scott had a young student who made a ticking sound under her breath. At first it drove him crazy, but then he was able to utilize her rhythmic sounds to play with excellent rhythmic pulse.
3. Flexibility – not just in teaching methods, but also how you relate to children from the moment they walk into the room. Other children may be able to just shake off a bad day, but a special needs student will often dwell on the particular bad point in the day. You can’t ignore it, but should address it and then move on. You may end up with a meltdown anyway, but it will often be followed up by an apology letter.
Roll with the moment on how to handle each situation. Sometimes you have to get close and be firm. Many students with autism have hyper-sensitivity issues. A faint air conditioning sound in the background may be like a hurricane to him. Always end the lesson on a positive note.
4. Setting Expectations – students with disabilities in Scott’s studio have the same goals as those without. Beth said she programs all of her studio in the same recital – both those with and those without disabilities. Both sets of families need training to behave appropriately. Those with disabilities need a model of good behavior. She said that all of her disabled students are better practicers, come to lessons well-prepared, and have their recital pieces memorized first.
It’s important to communicate openly with those organizing and adjudicating at events when you include students with disabilities.
Patience – this is important not just because of all the issues involved, but because the process may take a long time. For one of Scott’s new college students, it took several weeks for her to consistently and quickly find the key D on the piano. Be patient with yourself because you will mess up. It takes time to understand the lingo. When parents talk with you, ask what they mean.
Sometimes as the teacher you have to get out of the process. Give the student time to think and work through things on their own. Sometimes medical needs also keep students from being able to attend lessons. Be patient with the whole family.
5. Compassion – the parents don’t want you to feel sorry for them. They want someone who is willing to just be with their child. Your willingness to work with them means a lot!
Be open with the parents when they inquire about lessons. “Sure, let’s give it a try. If you feel like it’s not working, or I feel like it’s not working, we can talk about it again.” Many times the parents have been so appreciative because no one else will work with their child. Beth shared about her first special needs student who had been turned away by 80 other teachers.
6. Sense of Humor – sometimes you have to just laugh about the unexpected things the kids do. Also have a sense of humor with yourself. The kids will be quick to point out the mistakes you make. Remember, the parents don’t expect you to be perfect. The things students blurt out are funny, but they are instructive about their perspective on what’s going on and whether your approach is effective.
Special needs students often take language very literally. A phrase like, “You crack me up” won’t make sense to them. You also find out a lot about the families from these students. Learn from all of it and keep looking for ways to grow.
7. Learn from Your Mistakes – visualize the student as being “normal” and yourself as the one with the disability who must learn how to function in their world. A lot of working with students initially will involve learning appropriate behavior in the lesson. One of Scott’s mistakes came when after teaching the student the appropriate lesson etiquette of “my turn” and “your turn” asked the student to do something without specifying “your turn.” The student wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t misbehaving. Quite the opposite, he was just following the protocol.
8. Lose the Ego – students with disabilities are not going to change for you. You have to give up the right to be “king” or “queen” in your studio. Remember that what you’re teaching these kids is not just music skills, but social skills and other life skills.
View the students disabilities as a gift that gives them specific skills and opportunities. Help them learn to see it that way and give them tools to capitalize on those strengths.
9. Have Fun – Beth said that she has learned more from teaching disabilities than anything else. Scott said he’s a better person because of it. Learning to work with them opens all sorts of doors and opportunities.
The session concluded with video clips of some of Scott’s and Beth’s students.
In addition to learning repertoire, Scott does lots of improvising with his students. He showed one clip of a blind student who is classified as a savant. He gave her a one-measure motive and then had her improvise on the spot. It was amazing!
Recommended Resource: Woodbine House Publishing
After discovering and posting about Glory’s music theory videos a couple weeks ago, I was excited to see catch up with her again at their exhibitor booth and attend her workshop this afternoon.
Glory is an energetic and passionate educator and a great communicator. She has an amazing way of explaining theory concepts in a common sense way that clicks for teachers and students alike.
She explained harmonic intervals by showing two notes stacked on top of each other on a staff and drawing an H to represent a hotel, where the rooms are on top of each other. A melodic interval was likewise illustrated on the staff with an M drawn to represent a motel where the rooms are side by side.
Ultimate Music Theory is an attractive theory curriculum that is well laid out. In addition to the lessons with these creative memory joggers, the books contain review tests and in-studio exams. All of their scores/percentages are placed in the table of contents for an easy overview of the students’ overall music theory grade.
What is the point of doing music theory? It’s important to make it relevant to students. Theory helps us grow as musicians. It enables us to analyze a piece of music. Theory gives us the knowledge to understand what we are hearing and/or playing.
Glory shared a little bit about one of her favorite people: Albert Einstein. Of course, we know him as a brilliant scientist, but he was also a violinist and played the piano. His mother was a piano teacher. She closed by sharing several of his quotes:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them.”
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”