After greeting the audience and giving a brief history of the music school where he teaches in Princeton, Marvin Blickenstaff was joined by four students from his youngest class, Caroline, Haley, Ananya and Naomi. They began by giving a demonstration of what would take place at their PEPS class. This included rhythm clapbacks, melody sing-backs according to finger numbers (he played a short melody starting on middle C and the girls sang back the tune using the corresponding finger numbers). Each of the four girls moved to a bench in front of one of the pianos and was instructed to do some warm-ups.
After a few finger stretches, they played technique exercises simultaneously. Not only were the girls obviously well-trained, they had to listen very closely because of how quickly Marvin gave detailed instructions and expected them to understand exactly what he meant.
Haley began by playing several Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok. They focused particularly on getting a strong upbeat and he employed the other girls to clap at specific points to help emphasize the ends of phrases in a very dramatic Romanian style.
Ananya played Allegro Burlesco by Kuhlau.
The instruction emphasized repeated notes and the importance of breathing before each phrase. He called this a “rule of thumb” and had the girls write it down on a page in their notebooks designed for this purpose.
Naomi then played Notturno by Grieg and Caroline played Ivan Sings by Khatchaturian. Due to time limitations, Marvin gave them a few brief comments and then had them move on to the next portion of the session where each of the students shared an original composition.
A waltz in binary form by Haley:
The other compositions were also in binary form and included a tarantella, a German dance, and a minuet. They were all lovely!
A collection of insights I gained from the session:
* Use clear terminology that is understandable to the students and expect them to be able to respond quickly in executing technique drills without further explanation.
* Have students develop a habit of “announcing” their scales before playing them.
* When working in groups, look for ways to incorporate the observing students even in the playing part of the class.
*Use dance styles and binary form as instructional and inspirational material for teaching composition.