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>>>

Giveaway of Piano: The Book

Do you remember the beautiful eBook, Piano, that we reviewed here on Music Matters Blog a few weeks ago? Well, author David Crombie is generously offering one free copy to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing for this gorgeous book! One winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, July 14, 2017. Enter now for your chance to win!

Review of Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

17th century Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher purportedly wrote the following in a letter,

“I said I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher’s sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation, and we find that most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.”

American song-writer and singer, Pete Seeger (1919-2014) would undoubtedly agree with him. I’m going to chock up not knowing of this famous musician to my age, since he was in his prime well before I was born (and because it makes me feel better about my ignorance 😉 ).

This new children’s book, Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, written by Leda Schubert and beautifully illustrated by Raúl Colón, tells the story of the man who wrote or popularized such familiar American classics as, “This Land is Your Land,” “Shenandoah,” “Skip to My Lou,” and dozens of others.

More than an entertainer, Pete Seeger saw his role as a singer as one who could also effect social change. Throughout his career he used his music to advance numerous causes, even joining the Communist Party USA for several years, eventually being subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He took his first amendment rights seriously, though, and continued sharing his musical message at schools, colleges, and summer camps. He had a way of connecting with common people and getting them singing right along with him. This is a great reminder of the power of music to touch and influence people. What a great privilege and responsibility we have as music teachers who are training the next generation of musicians!

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!

Posture at the piano

One of the things that has been impressed on me over the years as I’ve grown in my understanding of proper piano technique is the importance of correct bench placement and height. This is often overlooked by pianists, but is essential for producing good tone quality, establishing correct hand position, and avoiding injuries. Here is a helpful page with explanations and pictures demonstrating proper bench height and posture at the piano: Proper Seating at the Piano

Also, here’s a post I wrote several years ago on Gravity, Strength, and Conduction – three areas I emphasize from the very first lesson to help students establish good technique habits.

Hopefully my students will never say such things…

…but here’s to a good laugh! 🙂

Apparently these answers were given by high school students in response to music-related questions:

– The principal singer of 19th century opera was called pre-Madonna.

– Gregorian chant has no music, just singers singing the same lines.

– Sherbet composed the Unfinished Symphony.

– All female parts were sung by castrati. We don’t know exactly what they sounded like because there are no known descendants.

– Young scholars have expressed their rapture for the Bronze Lullaby, the Taco Bell Cannon, Tchaikovsky Cracknutter Suite, and Gershwin’s Rap City in Blue.

– Music sung by two people at the same time is called a duel; if they sing without music it is called Acapulco.

– A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals.

– Contralto is a low sort of music that only ladies sing.

– Probably the most marvelous fugue was the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

– Rock Monanoff was a famous post-romantic composer of piano concerti.

And the winner is…

Sylvia! Congrats, Sylvia, you are the winner of the complete studio theme decor package for the Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme!

As a special thanks to all who participated in the drawing, I’m offering all Music Matters Blog readers a $10 off coupon for any item in the Music Matters Blog store. The code is good through the remainder of June. Just select the item of your choice before July 1 and enter the code: SUMMER17

Last Day to Enter to Win the Studio Display Package for the Vanishing Voices Practice Incentive Theme

If you’re still looking for something fresh and inspirational to use with your students this fall, tomorrow is the last day to enter the drawing to win the complete studio display package for the new Vanishing Voices studio practice incentive theme. Everyone who purchases the theme by tomorrow at 12:00 noon (CST) will be entered in the drawing!