We Wish You a Merry Christmas?

If I was going to be completely honest (and I do try to make a habit of it), I would have to say that I really don’t like much Christmas music. I know that’s practically blasphemy to many Christmas die hards, but it takes all of about one day for me to be done with Christmas carols. Less if it happens to be October or earlier. And I have three children in my house that are already breaking out the Christmas music!

Maybe it’s the bland, trite arrangements that make me groan, or maybe it’s just the pervasiveness of it the last couple months of the year. I don’t know for sure. But just as I will continue to teach Fur Elise for the sake of my students, I will continue to endure the familiar yuletide tunes to support these motivated aspiring pianists. That makes me a nice teacher, right? 🙂

All that said, I was intrigued by the latest newsletter from Alfred Publishing on “A Creative Christmas.” Robert Vandall talks through his latest contribution to the Christmas repertoire – Christmas Extravaganza – and the various composition techniques he employed to “have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy.” I’m actually looking forward to playing through some of these selections and hopefully finding some new, fresh, inspiring music that I can enjoy listening to this Christmas season!

One Week and Counting!

In one week from today we’ll be having our September Surprise! to kickoff a new year of piano lessons! In addition to getting all the finishing touches put on our practice incentive theme for the year – Jungle Expedition – I’ve also been collecting student repertoire and resources for group classes throughout the year. It’s motivating for me to spend time playing through a lot of great music, and it’s fun trying to figure out just which ones to use for each student that I hope will capture their imagination and inspire them to work hard!

Here’s a snapshot of some of the great music and resources we’ll be using this year! I’m especially excited about a unique find that I came across at our state music teachers conference this summer – 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano. This should be a fun way to work on rhythm in an ensemble setting! I’ll keep you posted (and hopefully share some videos!) along the way.

Giveaway of 3 Piano Solo Collections!

Don’t you just love having a new book of beautiful piano solos to play?! One of my favorite things to do is sit down with a new collection of lyrical piano pieces and just lose myself in the music. Thanks to composer James Stevens, there are three more such collections available to pianists everywhere (Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade). In honor of his latest releases, James is generously giving away one copy of each collection to three special Music Matters Blog readers! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, August 1, 2013.

In the meantime, check out James’ music at the following links:

Website Info: New Piano Music by James Stevens

Sheet Music: Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade

Free Giveaway of 44 Birthday Variations by Forrest Kinney!

Those of you who have been around here for a while know that my teaching philosophy and approach has been largely influenced by Forrest Kinney and his Pattern Play books and teacher workshops. I am excited to share that he has a new website and has been working on lots of projects to share with fellow pianists and teachers!

And, even better, he has graciously offered to giveaway a complete set of his new 44 Birthday Variations to one Music Matters Blog reader! You can listen to sample recordings of them on the individual variation pages (e.g. here’s the New Age one). Just leave your name in the comment section below, and a winner will be selected using a random number generator on Friday, July 11, at 12:00 noon (CST). I know you and/or your students will love these!

Faber’s New Studio Collection

Randall and Nancy Faber recently announced their new Studio Collection, “a spectacular mix of styles with carefully selected pieces from the PreTime® to BigTime® Piano Supplementary Library.”

I love that you can click each book’s image on the site to view videos of Randall Faber performing and sometimes discussing the pieces. What a great resource for students who want to learn these familiar tunes!

Review and Giveaway of Be Still by James Koerts

When James Koerts contacted me about his new collection of hymn arrangements titled, Be Still, I jumped at the chance to play through them! After having such a satisfying experience with his new book of Christmas piano arrangements a couple of years ago, I had high expectations for this latest release. And I was not disappointed. 🙂

The book of piano solos was just as advertised, “A reflective collection of 10 piano solos designed to encourage and inspire. Ideal for the late intermediate to early advanced pianist.” Since it’s sold exclusively as digital music, if you’re not into the e-music reader world yet (I confess, I haven’t yet crossed over into the new era of digital sheet music yet…), you’ll have to print the sheet music yourself, but I decided to just “bite the bullet” and print the whole book at once and then put the pages in plastic sheet protectors. This worked out nicely and Be Still was quickly added to my repertoire of prelude music.

In fact, funny story…I was in the process of selecting prelude music for a local homeschool graduation ceremony and decided to use several of these arrangements in the mix. When I was at the rehearsal for the ceremony, all the parents were being lined up outside the entry doors, so I decided to get a feel for the piano with some of the prelude music. I began playing James’ arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Unbeknownst to me, the parents started filing in, and by the time I realized what was happening it was too late to transition over to the piece I had intended to play for the parents’ processional. In the end, the “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” worked out so well that I decided to keep it there and use it for the actual ceremony. The style was perfect for the occasion and many people commented on how much they enjoyed the music.

Now…for the exciting news! James has generously offered to giveaway three copies of Be Still to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing to win your copy of this collection of lovely piano solo arrangements of favorite hymns. The winners will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, June 27.

A Special Piano Solo

I’d Rather Have Jesus has been one of my favorite hymns for many years. Rhea Miller’s beautiful lyrics express the feelings of my own heart. I’ve always wanted to write my own arrangement of this hymn, and after attending The Creative Life conference last summer and launching Project 28 in my studio, that became one of my goals for this year. Although I’ve composed and arranged a variety of music over the years, the biggest challenge with this arrangement was that I determined not to notate anything, but to compose and play entirely by memory. For those who naturally memorize quickly and can play dozens of compositions with hardly a thought, that won’t seem like much, but for someone like me who has always struggled with memorization and playing by ear, I assure you it was no small feat! I am so grateful to God for giving me the ability to see this goal to completion.

A sweet friend recently encouraged me to put together a recording of it for her. If you watched our studio Christmas Recital you may have already seen my first performance of this, but I wanted to do a separate recording that would be easier to share with my friend. I hope it is a blessing to you!

Here are the lyrics:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

Monday Mailbag – 5 Essential Resources for Selecting Repertoire for Intermediate Piano Students

I have been thinking a little more about curriculum. My younger students typically work through a method book with additional repertoire and activities added. My older students  choose several pieces to work on through the semester/year, discuss theory/musical concepts in their pieces, work through a theory book, and typically do scales or other technical exercises. Do you have any set “curriculum” you follow as far as what you expect students to learn/cover over the course of a year?

This question has been sitting in my inbox for about six months now (sadly it’s not the only one…), but I’ve been intentionally delaying answering it because this is an area I’ve been really wanting to improve in my teaching. Sequencing and repertoire selection seems so much simpler for elementary students than it does for those at an intermediate level. There are so many musical possibilities, so many skills to be learned, so many pieces of repertoire to be discovered…and only so much time to work with each student. What to focus on? And how do you know if you’re covering the most important things?

Well, I finally decided to post this question, not because I have a brilliant answer, but to share some resources and ideas that have been helpful to me in my quest to learn to teach higher level students more effectively. And in hopes that some other more brilliant teachers will pass on their knowledge in this area! In this response, I’ll be dealing specifically with repertoire selection for intermediate level piano students. Next week I’ll address other aspects of the “curriculum” for teaching intermediate level students.

For starters, here’s what you’ll need:
1. The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath – this is a must-have for every piano teacher! I cannot even imagine what an enormous task it was to compile a reference book of this magnitude, but I love having a handy place to look up specific composers and their works, read a brief overview of the piece, and see an approximation of what level of difficulty it is.

2. Spotify – Ever since I first posted about Spotify last fall, I have fallen more and more in love with it. 🙂 (You have to have a Facebook account to set it up, but it is well worth it!) You can do quick searches to find nearly any piece of music, listen to several recordings, click through to discover new albums and artists and repertoire, subscribe to playlists that others have created, and create your own customized playlists. For example, as I did lesson planning and worked on selecting repertoire for several late intermediate students this spring, I put together a Student Repertoire Spring 2013 playlist so that I could quickly access pieces I selected for individual students for my own reference and to play recordings for them at their lessons. For students who are also on Spotify, you can easily share links to tracks, albums, or playlists. I would definitely consider this another must-have for music teachers today!

3. Excellent compilations of intermediate literature. Here are some of my favorites:

4. IMSLP Petrucci Music Library – It’s great for students to be able to play familiar, tried and true piano classics, but I love to find lesser known and played pieces for the students to learn. Especially when they will be performing for recitals, adjudicated events, or auditions, it’s fun to find new pieces that will capture the student’s (and audience’s!) imagination and inspire them to develop their skills and musicality to new heights! IMSLP is the perfect place to find just about any musical score (that’s in the public domain) and download a temporary copy to see if it’s what you’re looking for and whether it will work for a particular student.

5. A cup of hot tea. Definitely a necessity for long hours of poring over musical scores and listening to recordings, trying to find the perfect pieces for each student!

Now it’s time for others to share their brilliance. 🙂 What resources or tips do you have for selecting repertoire for intermediate 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!


Piano Teaching Tips

One of the most helpful aspects of the Alfred Ledger Lines blog is the Piano Teaching Tips that they post periodically featuring one of their composers giving a little “masterclass” of sorts on how to play one of their pieces. The most recent one is a post by E.L. Lancaster highlighting Midnight Adventure, an etude in the Premier Piano Course Technique book. It’s really cool to read the composer’s own thoughts about the piece, and gain a deeper understanding of how they want it to be played. Plus, you can download a pdf file of the piece with comments from the composer jotted into the score to aid with your understanding. This is such a beneficial resource, especially for new teachers who need practical direction on how to teach students to play excellently and musically.