If you watched the Studio Compilation video from Monday’s post you got a glimpse of Zach, a wonderful little guy that just started lessons with me last fall (he’s the fourth one in the video). Right off the bat, I could tell that he was serious about lessons. Of course, I should have known – he’s been coming to the studio sporadically since he was two with his older siblings (one of my long-time studio families) and giving me brief renditions of his latest accomplishments (usually played from one of his story books ). He has been a very conscientious and disciplined student with an obvious musical gift.
Sadly, I received word just after the first of the year that Zach has been diagnosed with Leukemia. This came as a complete shock to everyone, especially his family who just welcomed a new little one into the world only a few weeks before. Zach has started undergoing chemo therapy and is doing remarkably well. We are all hoping and praying for a full recovery, but it will be a long road. Zach will be continuing with piano lessons via Skype as much as possible until he is able to make it back to the studio.
I know that many of you were interested in a copy of the Book of Musical Scales and Keys, so I’ve decided to offer a special $5 discount code that will be valid through the end of January. In addition to that, the entire proceeds of all books purchased between now and the end of the month will be donated to Zach and his family to help cover the cost of his treatments. Just checkout using this discount code: O68233H4.
If you would like me to include a note of encouragement and/or your name when I present the gift to Zach, just leave a comment when you checkout or send me an e-mail. Thank you so much for your support and prayers for Zach and his family during this difficult time.
I’m frustrated with students that have the ability and time to have their recital songs prepared by the performance date, but do not. I am considering “recital contracts.” If the students are not completely prepared two weeks before the recital date, they will not participate. How does this sound to you?
This is a tough situation. I definitely understand the frustration behind the contract idea, but I also know that if I had set up this criteria for my students our Christmas recital would have had about six participants. And I would not have been one of them. Here are six points that have helped in our studio with recital preparation.
1. Cultivate a culture of excellence. From week to week in their lessons students should know that you expect excellence in their practicing and preparation of assignments. Pieces should be learned well. And when students get together for group events, the majority of them should play very well. When this is the case, those who are not as prepared as they should be will usually feel a sense of positive peer pressure to do better next time. Most students want to play well, and if they are the only one who doesn’t do well in a particular performance venue, it is usually extra motivating to them to work harder next time. I have seen this happen numerous times with my own students.
2. Emphasize character rather than achievement. This is a really important issue for me. I am much more concerned with whether a student is diligently working on getting a piece to performance level and is just struggling with some of the difficult spots than the actual quality of their performance. As teachers, we know each of our students’ strengths and weaknesses and a student who is really struggling with a particular concept may never have the piece quite “performance-ready.” For example, one of my students has an incredibly hard time with rhythm and continuity. His pieces are rarely played with a consistent, steady beat the whole way through, but he works really enthusiastically and does the best he can. I love letting him play and cheering on every step of progress! Another student started out with the worst hand position I’ve ever seen. Every time he put his fingers on the keys, they would all collapse to the side on top of his pinky. For him to keep his fingers controlled enough to play a simple melody with a somewhat erratic rhythm was a huge milestone!
3. Quality practice is what really pays off. I have a tendency to overshoot my students a bit when I’m selecting repertoire. This Christmas that was especially the case. I found such gorgeous arrangements that just perfectly suited certain students that I couldn’t help it! They all loved their selections, but it was a definite challenge for them to have them ready by the day of the recital, let alone a couple weeks in advance. However, I feel like the students and I learned a lot of effective practice strategies through the process as we dissected difficult spots and discussed strategies to learn them well. My mantra became, “quality practice is never wasted!” Stick with it to the very end and don’t ever give up on yourself.
4. Focus on the character and beauty of the music. No matter how simple or difficult the piece, it can be played beautifully. The chances of hitting every note correctly and with perfectly timed rhythm, dynamic level, and articulation are pretty slim. So I spend a lot more time working with my students to be able to improvise and keep going, creating a beautiful and musical sound than emphasizing perfection. Our focus this year has been on playing everything beautifully, excellently, and naturally, and I am so excited about the progress my students are making as musicians as a result.
5. Keep your students’ best interests at heart. It’s so easy as a teacher to feel like your reputation is on the line if a student plays poorly. But we have to get over ourselves and sincerely care more about our students. We should want them to play well for their own sake and because it is glorifying to God when they practice diligently and play well. For this reason, I would probably avoid an across-the-board approach to recital preparation and deal with each student on an individual basis. Will it be more beneficial to their progress as a pianist and what they should learn on a personal level for them to experience a failed performance, for them to sign a contract agreeing to be prepared by a certain date, or to have them sit out and just observe a recital? If your motive is love and concern for the student, you should be able to communicate any decision to the parent and student with confidence and persuasiveness.
6. Have a rehearsal. For our big event of the year – the Christmas recital – I always hold a rehearsal the week prior. We say that it’s to give us a feel for the piano and the environment, but we all know it’s really to scare us into practicing our fingers off for the next week! Nothing can highlight spots that still need work quite like a nerve-wracking performance experience when you’re not quite ready. It’s ideal if the students are good to go with their pieces by the rehearsal, but the reality is every one of them still has some finishing touches they can put on the piece in the final week. It’s not like they’re playing for a competition; this is just a special opportunity to share what they’ve been working on with others and bless them during the Christmas season.
These are a few of my thoughts regarding recital preparedness. I would love to hear from others, though. What do you do if students aren’t ready for a recital? Do you let them play anyway? Do any of you use recital contracts with your students.
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!
One thing I love about the MTNA Conference is that it is held in a different location each year. It’s so much fun to visit new places across the country!
Even though we had a packed schedule, my friend, Lisa, and I were able to sneak in a quick trip over to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The architecture of the building is incredible! We especially loved this long white corridor.
An overlook in the museum provided a great view of Lake Michigan. Cold, but still beautiful this time of year!
Here’s a look at the Convention Center from the skywalk between it and the hotel.
As usual, we were loaded up with all sorts of free music and goodies at the Exhibitor Showcases and as we made our rounds through the Exhibit Hall. I’m excited to pass a lot of it on to my students and/or utilize it in my studio in other ways. The retail value for my stash this year came to around $175!
Plans are well underway for next year’s conference in New York City. I am looking forward to attending, Lord-willing, and hopefully I will see many of you there!
Joanne Haroutounian began by sharing that her most inspiring moment at the conference was visiting with a group of pedagogy students and hearing what they had learned and how they planned to implement it. She said it was the perfect introduction into the topic this morning that every student can be artistic.
The session began with an overview of Artistic Ways of Knowing. What does this mean?
Describes the artistic process of learning, step by step.
Enhance Students’ sensory awareness of the artistic process.
Explains artistic learning to those in academic areas or the general public.
There are five Artistic Ways of Knowing:
Perceptual Awareness and Discrimination – to perceive through the senses with acute awareness
Metaperception – to internally manipulate perceptions and emotions while making interpretive decisions
Creative Interpretation – to rework and refine interpretive decisions, using elements of perceptual discrimination and metaperception
Dynamic of Performance – to communicate a creative interpretation aesthetically through performance
Critiquing – to evaluate oneself and others with artistic discrimination
Perceptual Awareness and Discrimination
Joanne showed a video clip from the beginning of an NYPD show and asked audience members to watch closely and be prepared for a short quiz afterward. She asked:
What was the show?
What overall does this clip describe?
Next, she assigned groups a specific task of something to watch for. One group was instructed to look at the people. Another group was to watch the words. Another group colors. Another group sounds. Another group was to count how many clips. The final person was instructed to time the duration of the segment. Each group was asked, in turn, to share information about their category. It was amazing the extra details that were brought out using this approach! After going through all of this, Joanne asked if we thought it was just put together randomly, or was it carefully crafted? Without hesitation everyone stated that it was carefully crafted.
We want to prepare our students to be able to craft this sort of thing in their generation. How do we do that?
Encourage careful listening for details during the lesson.
Peer performance groups – assign specific listening tasks to focus on.
The artistic counterpart to metacognition
The cognitive/perceptual functioning of a musician or any artist while making interpretive decisions.
Intermingling of perceptual and expressive elements.
Thinking about thinking.
Joanne discussed audiation. She had the audience internally audiate the song, Mary Had a Little Lamb, while she conducted. Everyone started together on the first note, then “sang” internally until the last note. After doing this, she asked us all to employ metaperception to think of a mood and sing it internally again without her conducting. A few audience members shared their version of the song and they were vastly different!
Joanne showed another video clip – this time of Yo Yo Ma and Mark Morris discussing choreography to accompany Yo Yo Ma’s cello performance. Mark’s metaperception during his contemplation of the choreography was obvious.
Metaperception in Your Studio:
Encourage inner awareness of sound as students work through interpretative ideas. So often we just do it.
Provide opportunities for students to develop their own interpretive ideas, solve problems. She suggests handing the students the pencil!
Deliberate practice – working through problems with goals in mind.
Provide opportunities for creative interpretation. Creative interpretation can be either a product or a performance. Students can employ it in original work or in the way the play the works of others. The next video clip was a young student playing drum beats in answer to the drum beats played by a teacher/researcher. She was permitted to be creative in her answers.
Joanne encouraged us to teach students how to develop sensitivity to the music. How? Questioning Techniques – encourage higher levels of musical understanding. Pose a question and have the student answer musically. Analysis and Interpretation – students must understand what they are doing both aurally and visually. Incorporate personal ideas into the playing of the piece. Comparative Listening – make a copy of the music and listen to a professional pianist play the piece. Use a colored pen to make notes on the details of the performance. Use a different color to note the details of a different professional pianist. She said that YouTube diminishes the benefit of the aural because of the visual. When using YouTube for listening, don’t watch the performer. Engage Student Exploration of Ideas – don’t be hung up on “what the judges want.” Joanne shared a story of a student who wanted to write her own cadenza to play in a Mozart Sonata. She played it in a competition and the judge did not make one comment regarding her cadenza. Very disappointing.
Dynamic of Performance
Students create a “real performance/product.” Ensemble performances are a wonderful way to provide opportunities. Create a performance portfolio for a particular piece. Keep track of all performances of that piece, along with an evaluation of different aspects of the piece (e.g. Rhythm & Tempo, Melody, Technique, Musicality, Memory). Have the student make personal and specific notes of their performance of each area.
Fine tune with a precise musical vocabulary. Use descriptive words. When students critique others or themselves, require them to make specific remarks. One year Joanne decided to have all of her students learn a Chopin piece. She selected repertoire for each of them and had them learn it on their own and meet together regularly to learn from and instruct each other. It was so rewarding to watch them perform these pieces at a recital and provide affirmation for each other!
She concluded her session with this quote from Picasso:
“A painter transforms the sun into a yellow spot. An artist transforms a yellow spot into the sun.”
The acclaimed Denyce Graves and Warren Jones were the featured guest artists at the conference this year. For many, this was the most anticipated event of the week.
Ms. Graves shared that the first half of the program this evening was sung by Grace Bumbree at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Ms. Graves just performed this program at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
The program for the evening:
O del mio dolce ardor from Paride ed Elena by Christoph Willibald von Gluck
Danza, danza fanciulla gentile by Francesco Durante
L’invitatio au voyage; Le Manoir de Rosamonde; Chanson triste by Henri Dupare
Zuiegnung; Nacht; Morgen by Richard Strauss
At the River; The Boatman’s Dance; I bought me a cat by Aaron Copland
Acerba volutta…O vagabonda stella from Adriana Lecouvrer by Francesco Cilea
Siete Canciones populares Espanolas by Manuela de Falla
The Man I Love by George and Ira Gershwin
Don’t Blame Me by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields
Guess Who I Saw Today by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd
I Wish I Were in Love Again from Babes in Arms by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
Mon Coeur s’ouvre a ta voix from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens
After three encores, Ms. Graves and Mr. Jones finally called it a night and departed with the former blowing a kiss toward the audience. I don’t think there was a soul in the audience who left disappointed tonight!
I’ve been stopping in at the Exhibit Hall for a little while each day when there are breaks in the schedule. As you can see, though, it’s a trip that is not easily completed in a few minutes.
After perusing the offerings from the various vendors and redeeming my collection of coupons for free materials and supplies, it was time today to make my final rounds. There are so many great products, and so many dedicated vendors that it can be challenging to know what to get and what to pass up. I always try to have a list made up ahead of time of items that I specifically want to look at and purchase. Additionally, I usually make print music purchases at my local music store, so unless I’m getting a book or piece autographed by the composer, I just keep a list of pieces to order once I get home. It is great, though, to check out other materials and new products that aren’t necessarily available elsewhere. I think that the Exhibit Hall is every bit as inspiring as attending some of the sessions!
One of the cool things about meandering through the exhibit hall is getting to meet the composers and publishers behind the pieces and books that we and our students play. I was perusing some music by Carolyn Miller that I think will be fabulous for rote teaching and had her play several of her compositions for me. In the process, I found out that one of her more famous pieces, Fireflies, was performed on the Regis Filbin Show. He was learning to play the piano and actually had Carolyn appear as a satellite guest to critique his performance of her composition. Pretty cool, huh? So, of course I had to buy a copy of the piece and get it autographed. Now to decide which special student will be the recipient of this fun piece…
A favorite stop in the Exhibit Hall is the Frederick Harris booth, where Forrest Kinney was available to share information about his Pattern Play series. I attended the workshop that he and his wife, Akiko, gave last year and my students and I love these books! In this clip my friend, Lisa, joins Forrest for a duet improvisation on Medieval Story (from book 2 of the series). Keep in mind that they have never played together before and this is Lisa’s first time to try this particular improvisation pattern. Isn’t it amazing? That’s why my students and I love this series so much!
Four young ladies from the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at the University of South Carolina presented this engaging session. They began with a simple, but lively rhythm activity that involved all the attendees.
Michelle Wachter, Abigail, Birling Wylie, Anna Hamilton, and Sarah Evans, advised by Dr. Charles Fugo, comprised the presenters. Michelle began with a brief history and overview of educational psychology. Educational theorists discussed included: Edwin Gordon, Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, Jean Piaget, David Elkind, Robert M. Gagne, and Jerome Bruner.
The next portion of the session, Potential Distractions, was presented by Abigail. She invited us to think of something that has happened in our lesson that caused a disruption in the flow. Then she asked us to turn and share our story with the person next to us. The best approach to avoiding disruptions is to be preemptive. She recommends:
Establish a routine.
Create a musical environment.
Begin with an easy musical activity.
An activity prior to pulling out the book helps focus the student and prepare them for the work that they’ll be doing throughout the lesson. Despite our best intentions, outside distractions often detract from the focus of the lesson. To deal with outside distractions:
Reassess pacing – consider whether you are moving too slowly or too quickly from activity to activity.
Redirect with a smaller and more clear objective.
Share lesson plan and order.
Abigail shared that often excitement in the moment can cause us to tune out important information. She gave illustrations of students who might stop in the middle of a piece to ask a question about the pedals, or to look more intently inside the piano.
Sometimes students ask to play other pieces:
Evaluate level of engagement.
Create a musical environment for every piece – they want it to sound musical.
If a student asks when the lesson is over:
Share the lesson plan and order (this is what most students are accustomed to in their school classrooms).
Be mindful of outside distractions.
Ideas for ending the lesson:
Make the ending clear.
End in a musical way.
Encourage students to tell parents about the lesson.
Abigail makes the new concept of the lesson a really big deal so that the student is clear about what they learned that day and can relay it to their parents if asked.
Anna showed a video clip to illustrate how she uses an opening activity each week to begin the lesson. She also uses a similar activity to end each lesson. Another video clip showed a young student and Anna waving scarves while doing an imitative singing exercise to introduce the student to stepwise melodic patterns. Then they went to the piano and played some of the little exercises on the piano.
The next clip was of a young 6-year old who was doing an improvisation activity to end her lesson. After a few measures, the student stopped playing. Anna encouraged her to continue but she refused. After demonstrating an idea and reminding her that she used to make music just fine. The student indicated that she was nervous, so Anna let her play at a separate piano and then she was willing to continue. Now seven, the student has continued composing and improvising and has even had some great opportunities with other musicians.
Anna showed several other clips working with students and dealing with distractions in the lesson. She said that it’s most effective when working with young children to focus on just one thing at a time. One of the greatest advantages that we have today is the ability to create resources to use with our own students.
Anna illustrated this by having a volunteer from the audience join her at the piano for a song she wrote to introduce loud and soft, forte and piano to students.
The session concluded with a list of available resources on the market for young children and time for a few questions from the audience.
This morning’s plenary session was a presentation by a group called The Performers Network, comprised of Dr. Barry Bittman, Dr. Neil Cherian, Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield, David Marcarian, and Dr. Kathleed Riley. Dr. Barry Bittman, a neurologist and researcher, began the presentation with the remark, “What we’re about to present is truly revolutionary. It’s an approach that has never been used.”
They are providing a solution-oriented approach for a long-standing challenge. High level musicians, educators, and students with symptoms interfering with their ability to perform have great difficulty finding appropriate medical consultations and treatment. There are many resources available for athletes. And in reality, all musicians are athletes and need access to solutions for their challenges. Clara Schumann is an early example of someone who sought out appropriate treatment for the painful challenges she faced from over-practice.
Many problems we experience are related to the neuro-musculoskeletal system. Instrument specific health problems are related to excessive force, static loading, and repetitive motion. Athletes of the small muscles are susceptible to a condition known as focal, task-specific disorder. There are really no good resources currently available.
The group’s objective is to develop the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary, medically-based, world-wide performance enhancement and treatment network for musicians based upon evidence-based scientific protocols. Pedagogues who are often approach first for solutions to this problem will be linked to a network that will provide solutions. Key elements will be:
Evidence-based protocols and programs
An interdisciplinary team
High level instruments
A new ProformaVision software program has been developed, along with an approach called The piano Perceptions. Utilizing Internet Midi capabilities that have been designed by George Litterst, musicians everywhere will have access to this program. There will be tools that will allow a performing musician to be monitored so that problems can be correctly identified, diagnosed, and treated.
Kathleen Riley is the music performance and rehabilitation specialist for the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute. She gave a demonstration of how the system works. She has wires attached to her that send signals to the program. The program then monitors the shoulder movements, records audio, records images of both hands playing, and tracks the midi data from the performance.
This information is so important, not just in terms of working with individual students, but in being a part of a larger network. Kathleen proceeded to share some of her “aha” moments. She has worked with many musicians who suffer from focal dystonia, tendonitis, and severe scoliosis. When Kathleen hooks them up to the system and is able to provide valuable feedback to the students, it is amazing to see the results. Not only is it the teacher telling a student what looks or sounds incorrect, but students are able to see and analyze the results for themselves. Students who previously couldn’t even get through certain pieces are able to play completely pain-free.
Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield took the stage next. On March 27, 2007, she had the pleasure of being on stage at the MTNA Conference in Toronto dancing the tango with George Litterst. But on the morning that she returned home from the conference (exactly four years ago today), she suffered a stroke that left her entire left side paralyzed. Her journey to recovery was, and is, still long, encompassing a wide variety of therapies. She lived for two months in a rehabilitation center and then began therapy three times a week. In addition to Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, Ingrid has had Cortisone shots and Botox injections. She has also been fortunate to take advantage of some of the latest technology available for stroke patients. She wears a sensor in place of a “big ugly brace with big ugly shoes. I can’t wear ugly shoes. Please notice the cute shoes with bling.”
Since last July, Ingrid has been working with Kathleen using bio-feedback. Prior to working with Kathleen, the extent of her piano playing was using her right hand while resting her left hand on an arm rest. She showed a picture of herself in a wheelchair with a keyboard in her room at the rehab center. She points out, “Please notice that I accessorized even while in the wheelchair.” Her biggest goal was to be able to get her left hand up on the keyboard. She then made her way to the piano and demonstrated the use of her left hand playing a few keys on the piano – to the hearty applause of the audience.
For those wondering how they would ever use this, David Marcarian, a former NASA researcher and inventor of the system, took the podium to address this question. This is not just ordinary technology; it is medical-rate. There is no other equipment under $30,000 that meets this standard. On top of that, the system is very simple and easy to use. They used an 8-year old for their beta testing.
Dr. Bittman introduced Neil Cherian, a neurologist who is part of the team that enables users of the system to do something with the feedback that teachers and musicians receive. This network is bringing together industries that have formerly never talked to each other. It is truly inter-disciplinary. Their mission is to provide comprehensive and coordinated health care tailored to individuals in the performing arts. A musician/performer/therapist is only as good as their tools. They are improving the tools. Imagine a “medical jury” where a whole slate of people reviews your performance and provides feedback either in general or to help find solutions for specific problems. The “jury” includes a Neurologist, a Physical Therapist, an Occupational Therapist, a Piano Pedagogue, an Ortho/Hand Specialist, a Psychologist, a Music Therapist, an Internist.
Many of the issues that pianists face have nothing to do with the point of pain or the location where the symptoms of the problem are realized. With this system problems can still be identified and solved. Even those who may not be experiencing any noticeable problems can use this system as a preventive tool. It is very patient-centric. Dr. Cherian foresees that in the future every neurologist in the country will have a keyboard in his office to utilize in rehab for stroke victims. There has to be widespread availability. Through these global networks and technologies every musician can have access to centers and tools and experts. They are re-inventing the word, “tele-music.” Additional partners will continue to be identified as the program moves forward.
This optimizes personalized healthcare for musicians by offering the first world-wide network for individuals facing performance-related health issues. He concludes, “I can talk your ear off or show you something that will blow you away!” With that statement he introduced Charity Tillemann-Dick, who gave an impressive vocal performance. The presenters met Charity at the Cleveland Clinic last year. She had endured a double-lung transplant. (Read yesterday’s post about Charity.) Dr. Bittman stated, “You just heard the first opera singer in the world sing with someone else’s lungs.”
Charity reflected on her piano teacher and all that she taught her about what it means to be a dedicated musician. Although she is the only of her family of eleven children that has become a professional musician, every one of them has learned to pursue excellence in their lives because of the influence their music teacher had on their lives.
The session concluded with a brief time for questions from the audience. It will be exciting to see what the future holds with these exciting new developments!