A Neighborhood Christmas Concert

We always love to try new ideas in our studio, and this year we thought it would be cool to expand our annual Christmas recital into a Neighborhood Christmas Concert as a way to get to know our neighbors better and share our musical selections with them. So we printed up invitations about a month ago and hand-delivered them to our neighbors.

Our theme for the evening was “A Time for Joy.” We greeted our guests at the door with some warm candlelight and a program adorned with the winning cover art for this year (each year the students are invited to draw and submit artwork that corresponds with the theme and then all the students vote for their favorite at our rehearsal).

We ended up with a nice turnout for the evening even though it was bitter cold and icy. One of the perks of having the guests coming from next door and across the street!

Unfortunately, one of our students who comes from out of town was unable to make it in for the occasion due to the road conditions. Here’s a group shot of everyone who participated in the program:

Following the musical performances and narration we enjoyed some hot drinks, delicious refreshments, and lots of time for visiting!

At the last minute we decided to live stream the concert for some of the neighbors that had hoped to come, but couldn’t make it, and some out of town family. (In the years since I first experimented with livestreaming recitals, it has become so incredibly easy that all you need now is literally a smart phone and an app – Ustream is what I started with and it works great!) Unbeknownst to us the iPhone that was doing the recording got bumped part way through, so the view moves to the ceiling, but for anyone who wants to get a glimpse into our event, here’s the recording:


Live streaming video by Ustream

I hope you all are having a wonderful Christmas season and eagerly looking forward to a New Year!

Just Make it Up

Sometimes when students are preparing for a performance I encourage them to “improvise” when they get stuck or have a memory lapse. Some students understand this, but for others who are younger or more concrete thinkers, I found a very simple phrase this week to help them keep going in a performance. Around 1:27 in the following video you’ll hear Claire say, “I forgot that part.” All I had to say was “Just make it up” for her to turn right back around and keep playing. For Claire, who is highly literal, this phrase made perfect sense and she was able to improvise some chords until she got back on track. It’s simple, but I have heard it said that it’s better to teach the same thing seven different ways than seven things one way. Now I have one more easy way to teach students to keep going through any performance!

[This is a lovely arrangement of The First Noel by Melody Bober in the book, In Recital! with Christmas Favorites, compiled by Helen Marlais]

A Fun Memorization Game for Piano Students

Have you ever had students completely blow the performance of a piece that they’ve played numerous times without a glitch? Or have you ever been that performer? I raise my hand. Learning how to memorize cognitively has made all the difference for me, and I’ve used it over and over again to help students (even those who thought they didn’t need it!) prepare for an effective memorized performance. One way we approach this is by determining the form of the piece and creating little cards with labels for each section.

Here, Robert is in the final stages of preparation for a performance of “Lights in the Water” by Robert Vandall (this has become his all-time favorite piece!). We quickly created cards with labels for each section and began by placing them in order on the music rack. I had him play through it once by memory, taking mental note of each section as he got to it in his performance.

After one run-through, we scrambled the cards and placed them on the music rack for a second performance. He got lucky starting again with A-B! After that, though, the order was mixed up, so he had to see if he could recall how each section started and ended in order to play them in the arranged order.

This is a very helpful tool for creating a mental road map that can guide the student during a performance. Plus, even if they do get stuck in one section, they can easily move on to the next section without panicking! Anything that engages the brain to aid in a memorized performance is a step in the right direction toward cognitive memory and not solely muscle memory.

Year End Awards Ceremony and Piano Recital

For the conclusion of our C2 practice incentive theme this year, we had a special awards ceremony in conjunction with a studio recital this Monday evening. We began the evening with a couple rounds of Musical Wheel of Fortune, then moved into student performances.


Levi performs “Little Robot”


Daniel performs his own arrangement of Viva La Vida”


Heidi performs the theme from Beauty and the Beast

After each of the students performed, I recognized them for their growth in character and competence throughout the year, identifying a particular power card from our theme that I thought best represented each student. After sharing a little about their growth they got to select their choice of an award: a selection of mugs filled with various goodies.

Mercy is the top point scorer for the year and receives “The Battery Award” for the way she energizes others with her enthusiasm and hard work!

After they selected their awards I asked them what made them choose the award they did. Interestingly (thankfully!) each of them chose based on the content in the mug. I asked them how that content got there. They quickly replied that I put it there.


Levi is given “The Engine Award” for his demonstration of steady, dependable character throughout the year.

So I made the point that just like they chose the mug they wanted based on the content they wanted from it and that content was placed there intentionally, they will only be able to get out of life what is placed into it. In other words, if they want to be a responsible, dependable, trustworthy person, they have to put those qualities into their lives. And if they want to be an excellent, artistic pianist, they have to put those skills into their lives. And then I reminded them of our theme verse for this year:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations.” Ephesians 3:20-21

There is a power greater than any power in the world that will enable them to accomplish even more than what their minds can imagine right now! I can’t wait to see how that plays out in each of their lives as they seek God and let Him grow them in character and competence in music and every other area of life!

And of course we ended the evening with a time of snacks and fellowship!

I’m so grateful for an awesome group of students and families!

2014 Christmas Piano Recital and Dinner

Last night was an evening of tradition and new beginnings. It was our 17th annual studio Christmas recital, but it was also our 1st annual Christmas dinner! Thanks to the vision of my creative husband, we decided to combine our studio recital with a special Christmas gift to our studio families – an evening of dinner, fellowship, and inspiration. Here are a few snapshots from the occasion:

Our theme was based on Matthew 1:23, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

We used the Fireside room in our church building – a warm, cozy escape from the blistering winds and snow flurries that started falling in the afternoon!

Once all the families arrived, they were directed to their tables and offered hot drinks. My four kids were each assigned to serve a table, and did a fabulous job keeping drinks filled, serving each course, and making everyone feel welcome! You can see my husband attired in his kitchen apron also checking in on guests – he and my mom manned the kitchen and dished up plates of food to be served to the guests.

The courses were interspersed with musical selections – a variety of solos, duets, and ensembles – and a time of sharing testimonies of how we have experienced “God with us” throughout this year. I was so encouraged and blessed by all that was shared!

All of the students collaborated on a “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” ensemble (from A Christmas Gathering by Lynn Freeman Olson). Fun!

A group shot of all the students, plus a few guest artists (a.k.a former students) who contributed to the musical program.

I wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but thanks to the help and participation of each person, it proved to be a wonderful success! We look forward to many more years of Christmas recitals and dinners!

Musings for the New Year

After a long hiatus, I’m excited to be back to posting on Music Matters Blog (though I anticipate it will be much more sporadic than before!). The New Year is in full swing, and I’m thrilled to be entering it with an incredible husband, four wonderful children, a studio full of amazing families, and an awesome support network of family, friends, and colleagues! I have lots of ideas and thoughts to post in the coming days, but for now, I thought I’d share a few videos with you:

Christmas Recital 2013 – There is a Redeemer

Julian’s and My Wedding Video

Julian and Natalie-Wedding Ceremony from IanGVideo on Vimeo.

A Shorter Version with the Highlights from Our Wedding

Julian and Natalie’s Wedding (Short Version) from IanGVideo on Vimeo.

Our Story (the video that we showed at the beginning of our wedding)

Julian and Natalie from Positive Motion Studios on Vimeo.

Happy New Year to all of you! I’d love to hear about your plans for the year and any special new things you are doing in your studios!

Monday Mailbag – Favorite Christmas Arrangements

I have so appreciated your ideas and was wondering, if you find any great Christmas arrangements that you just love, will you let us know?

With our Christmas Recital coming up later this week, Christmas music is definitely on my mind! Here are some of the favorites on our program this year:

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear by Melody Bober – a gorgeous intermediate level arrangement!

Christmas Traditions by Phillip Keveren – this whole book is a gem! This is a great collection of musical arrangements at an elementary level, and many of them are perfect rote teaching pieces. One of my favorites for this is the Go, Tell it On the Mountain arrangement.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Andy Fling – a fun, simple arrangement of this favorite Christmas classic.

In Christ Alone by Natalie Wickham – :-) A couple of my students requested a duet for the recital, and after considerable searching I thought it would be fun to see if they could pull together this duet that I arranged several years ago for another student.

Several of my students have written their own arrangements this year, and they are absolutely amazing! I’m so excited to share them with you all sometime after Thursday. :-) I won’t be able to live stream the Christmas recital this year, but I’m hoping to get it posted to YouTube like we did with last year’s.

If you have any favorite Christmas selections in your studio, please share! It’s always fun to find out about other great arrangements to add to the list of possibilities.

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!

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

It’s that time of year again when I empty my Christmas music file drawer and spend hours trying to find just the right piece of repertoire for every student. I really enjoy the challenge of considering what each student will enjoy the most and trying to create an interesting program for all those attending.

The only downside is that my studio looks like a disaster area for a couple of weeks…

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