An Interview with Murray Perahia

Some of my favorite CDs growing up were those of pianist Murray Perahia, so a recent interview with him in Listen magazine published by Steinway & Sons grabbed my attention.

It was so refreshing to read Perahia’s comments relating to contemporary music and his preference for tonality, in particular the ingenious work of J.S. Bach. His explorations into the harpsichord and subsequent decisions about the use of pedaling in Bach’s music are also fascinating! His interview prompted a search for his Goldberg Variations recording and it truly is exquisite:

In an approachable and humble manner, Perahia shares about his editing work, his views on symphonic music, teachers who have influenced him, and more. I especially appreciated his closing remarks on how having a decided “point of view…inform[s] a lot of my musical decisions.” Whether in music or life, it’s good to be reminded that there is value in having a “tonal center” to ground us even when popular opinion presumes that all that is new must be embraced with equal fervor. I’m grateful for artists like Murray Perahia who continue to value and preserve and share the timeless beauty of yesteryear.

Questions to Ask Students

At our local music teachers association meeting this morning we watched a webinar by Dr. Barbara Fast and Dr. Andrea McAlister on Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias: Empowering Students Through Positive Engaging Language. From Dr. Fast’s segment, I especially appreciated the specific questions she suggested using during a piano lesson (some she gleaned from a masterclass with Leon Fleisher):

  • What did you focus on this week?
  • What did you practice the most?
  • Can you tell me how you succeeded in what you were trying to achieve?
  • To what extent did you achieve what you wanted?
  • What questions remain for you?
  • Any places that you wish were easier to play?

I love these open-ended questions and hope to employ some of them with my students this week!

Dr. McAlister shared many helpful definitions as she discussed the importance of language. These are the top three memorable points she made that I hope to keep in mind as I teach:

  • Listen with the intent to praise, not criticize.
  • View those sitting on our piano benches not just as students, but as musicians.
  • Encourage curiosity (“the desire to know”).

I’m so grateful for the inspiration and fellowship of our local association meetings and teachers. If you’re not part of such a group, I encourage you to check out the MTNA website and get plugged in with an association in your area!

Free Piano Masterclass with Robert Levin

One of the teachers in our local music teachers association alerted us to an initiative by Juilliard to live stream a series of masterclasses by various musicians.

I am thoroughly enjoying watching the recorded masterclass with Robert Levin and appreciate his down-to-earth style coupled with incredible insight into the music of various composers and how to interpret it effectively. Perhaps one of my favorite ways to learn is by observing master teachers working with students on musical concepts and diverse repertoire, so I’m looking forward to checking out the forthcoming masterclasses with pianists András Schiff and Murray Perahia as well!

It’s Live!

After months of anticipation, Musical U has finally launched their brand new podcast: The Musicality Podcast! Here’s a quick link to the audio file and shownotes for the interview I did for one of their episodes titled, A Mindset for Musicality. I already subscribed via my podcast app and am so looking forward to tuning in regularly to gain inspiration and ideas for my own musical development and for helping my students become more musical!

And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a prize package worth over $500!

Win a Music Giveaway Worth Over $500!

To celebrate the launch of the brand new Musicality podcast (1st episode is going live on Monday!), MusicalU is offering a giveaway of over $500 worth of music-related prizes (including my For the Love of Music course!). I only listen to a couple of podcasts regularly, but I’m really excited to see what Christopher Sutton has in store for each episode. He is tapping into a variety of musicians and music educators all across the globe, and I’m excited that I was able to be a part of this first episode, sharing about some of my own experiences toward becoming a more musical musician. Be sure to enter the giveaway and then tune in for the first podcast on Monday!

An Inspiring Calling

Kristin Jensen, of the wonderful My Fun Piano Studio website, asked me to write a guest post for her blog. Here’s an excerpt of my post, An Inspiring Calling:

What if you could do one thing that would motivate students, energize your teaching, elicit gratitude from parents, and increase the value of your studio offerings? I know it sounds too good to be true, but after seventeen years…

>>>Read the rest of the post here>>>

AMT Inspiration – The Magic of William Gillock

After taking a break for a few years, this spring I had the privilege to adjudicate at several student events and thoroughly enjoyed the experience! I love having the opportunity to listen to students, encourage them in their musical studies, and give them positive feedback to help them improve as pianists. The article “The Magic of William Gillock, Part Two: Preparing Students for Adjudication” by Richard Rejino in the April/May 2017 issue of the American Music Teacher was particularly inspiring and helpful! The insights Mr. Rejino shares are helpful both for adjudicating and regular studio teaching. Here are a few excerpts I found particularly inspiring:

“When he [William Gillock] judged me [Toni Ausin-Allen] there was a consistency, a friendliness about him, and I felt he understood my playing. He showed this by the way he spoke to me. He didn’t speak to me like a judge, but rather as musician-to-musician. The words he chose were always very eloquent, and he wasn’t standoffish like many judges. He wanted to engage with students as peers, not as student/teacher.”

What a great reminder to approach and work with students as a fellow learner!

“As an adjudicator, Gillock began assessing the student from the moment she walked into the room. He urged teachers to always treat the student as if she were a guest in their home. He watched to see if she exhibited thoughtful preparation before playing. Was the student concerned about bench placement, posture? Was she poised, alert, the body relaxed? Was there unnecessary tension in the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders? He noted that both rhythm and tone are dependent on a relaxed upper body.”

How important it is that we remain conscientious of the physiological side of playing the piano and help students achieve technical freedom in their playing so that they can also attain musical excellence.

“Because of him, I listen first for musicality: dynamics, phrasing, tone quality, and attention to detail. I think kids these days are too busy and teachers struggle to show students how to find time to work on these things. But every average student has the right to play musically; every busy student has the right to play musically. So, if you have to, you give them less to work on.”

This is so true! I am amazed at the way students, even average students, respond when they hear themselves making beautiful music at the piano. We do our students a great disservice when we focus on the notes and rhythms to the exclusion of the dynamics and artistry of the music. Far better to give them less to work on in order to enable them to truly experience the beauty of the music!

The Best Way to Motivate Students

My husband shared this quote with me the other day and I thought it was very relevant to teaching students and learning to play an instrument:

“Action never follows motivation…It’s the other way around. When you act, motivation inevitably follows.”

I’ve seen over and over again that when students (or I!) make practicing a discipline and a priority in their lives, they become more motivated. So, in a nutshell, the best way to motivate students is to require them to practice. Because the more they practice, the more skilled they become, and the more motivated they will be!

[Read the whole article here.]

A Teaching Recharge for the New Year

Do you ever feel like you just need a minute to catch your breath, let something beautiful sink into your soul, and recharge for another year (or even just another week!) of teaching?
Our local music teachers association meeting this morning provided just the recharge I needed! I was so thrilled that my friend and colleague, Wendy Stevens (of the renowned website!), agreed to come and share some of her music with us. It’s a treat to have her in our area, and it was fun to hear a little more behind-the-scenes info about her wonderful compositions!

If you have a local music teachers association in your area, I highly recommend participating. It’s such a wonderful way to connect with other teachers, share teaching tips, and glean new ideas. And if you ever have the chance to have Wendy come and do a presentation, you will undoubtedly find yourself inspired and your teaching recharged!

Not to mention she gave us all these great little sticky note packs! 🙂

Super Awesome Sight Readers!

If you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to check out this excellent series of posts by Dr. Julie Knerr (one of the creators of the fabulous Piano Safari method!) on how to train students to be “Super Awesome Sight Readers.” This inspires me to remain dedicated to the process of guiding my students to become confident, excellent sight-readers!

Here’s a quick link to the posts along with my favorite quote from each one:

Part 1: It Takes A Long Time!

“It takes an average of three years of diligent work for children to become confident music readers. This means that as we work with students on their reading skill week after week, month after month, we should not become disheartened if a child who has been playing for a year or two still needs help to analyze and decode a piece or a sight reading card.”

Part 2: False Assumptions

“It is so important to lay the foundation correctly when developing a student’s relationship to the notated score!”

Part 3: The Four Ingredients for Confident Music Reading

“Reading music is a complex skill that requires not only knowledge of note names, but an incredible amount of spatial awareness on the page and in the hands, combined with rhythm in real time. “

Part 4: Ingredient #1 – Patterns and Theory

“Valuable insight into the student’s thought process can be gained by occasionally asking the student to be the teacher and explain to you how to play a piece.”

Part 5: Ingredient #2 – Contours and Intervals

“Repetition builds confidence and fluency.”

(Also, I love the idea of contour stories!)

Part 6: Ingredient #3 – Rhythm

“Not only can good readers intuitively read any rhythmic pattern immediately, but they have a great sense of the macro rhythm. When reading, they do not feel all the subdivisions. Instead, they are able to feel the large beat and fit all the subdivisions between the large beats almost automatically.”

Part 7: Ingredient #4 – Note Names

“The goal is for students to see a note and know it immediately, just as they see the letter “A” and know it is an “A” immediately.”

(Dr. Knerr uses an approach similar to the NoteStars Challenge that I use with my students.)