Review and Giveaway of Compositions by Lisa Donovan Lukas

Close your eyes, sit back in a comfy chair, and imagine a beautiful interlacing of impressionistic and contemporary harmonies drifting from piano music that might provide the soundtrack for your favorite tear-inducing drama. Now you can skip the imagination part and let this video fill in the music for you:

Goodnight, Sweet Dreams is one of six compositions by Lisa Donovan Lukas.

To Raise The Wind Horse is an imaginative duet that was premiered at the Daniel Pearl World Music Days concert in California. You can read a little about the inspiration and history of the composition on the Daniel Pearl Music Days website. I can think of several horse-loving students that would love to learn this duet!

Each piece presents fairly advanced rhythmic challenges, but the end results are well worth it! The most accessible of Lisa’s six works is A Song From the Garden. It has a lovely singing melody, and could be handled by a motivated intermediate student.

I think Summer Dance would be an engaging selection for a student looking for a fresh contemporary piece to use for a festival or contest. Waiting is a rich, gorgeous piece that I’m adding to my collection of wedding and prelude music. And A Passing Cloud is a great mood piece if you or a student are looking for something to sink your hands into and let your expressiveness take you away. 🙂

I love that you can download samples and listen to full recordings of each piece on the Alberti Publishing website! But I love even more that Lisa has offered to giveaway a copy of each of her compositions to Music Matters Blog readers! Six winners will be given one of her pieces and you can enjoy it yourself and/or use it with a student in your studio. Just leave a comment below and six winners will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, February 9, 2012.


Monday Mailbag – Group Class Assignments

I’ve never done group lessons before, but I’d really like to try one. When you do a group lesson, what do you do about students’ individual assignments/songs they’ve learned the week before? And what do you assign them for the next week? Or do you think of group lessons totally differently than individual lessons?

In my studio, group classes are offered as an extra perk in addition to the regular lesson that week. They are scheduled approximately every 6 weeks on a Thursday evening for two hours. Since I set the schedule for the studio at the beginning of the fall semester, everyone can put the dates for all the classes on their calendars if they want to attend. This has worked out really well for quite a few years and usually around 15 of my students are able to make each group class.

I’m tossing around the possibility of trying a different approach next year just to change things up a bit and try some new ideas, but we’ll see if I actually end up doing it or not! I know a number of teachers schedule group classes in place of regular lessons for the week, but I’m not sure how individual assignments would be handled in that case. Anyone want to chime in? If they are performing for each other and participating in various group activities at the class, perhaps you could incorporate specific practice suggestions and/or give them new assignments as part of the class that would give them something to continue working on until their next lesson.

I also tend to think that if students have taken some ownership for their own musical progress that they will be able to continue working on their own for two weeks and moving forward even without new specific assignments from the teacher. Some students are great at this; others, of course, will take the extra week as a “get-out-of-jail-free” (a.k.a. take-a-week-off-of-practicing) card. 🙂

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!

And the Winner Is…

#14 – Jeannie

Congratulations, Jeannie! You will receive the 8-hour compilation of music put together by Michael Griffin. I’ve sent you an e-mail with information about how to claim your giveaway!

Also, for anyone else interested in purchasing a copy of the compilation, Michael Griffin is offering it to Music Matters Blog readers with a discount of $10, making the total only $29. Contact him via e-mail if you are interested!

Check back for another great giveaway next Tuesday!

Only 5 More Days for Discounted Book of Scales and Keys!

Just a quick reminder that if you’re planning to purchase a copy of The Pianist’s Book of Musical Scales and Keys, next Tuesday is the last day to use the $5 discount code (enter this code when you checkout: O68233H4). The entire proceeds of the sales this month will go to Zach and his family as they begin the long journey of treating his recently-diagnosed Leukemia.

Here’s a snapshot of what the book looks like when it’s printed:

How to Motivate Your Kids to Practice Their Instrument

Jason Bernstein, of the Piano Lessons World website, has a helpful post on How to Motivate Your Kids to Practice Their Instrument. He shares 6 specific ideas that are great for parents looking for practical tips on how to help their child be successful. In particular, I really appreciate #2 – Participate in Performance Opportunities. This has proved to be one of the most motivating elements in my studio. Students who attend group classes regularly and play for other students develop a great deal of confidence in their playing and are usually eager to work on polishing a piece for this purpose.

In addition, I have had numerous students come back after participating in our big annual Christmas Recital and be extra driven to learn new music and become more skilled in their playing. There’s nothing quite like watching other students perform really cool-sounding pieces well to make you want to work harder and play better the next time. And perhaps one of the most memorable expressions of this came after our 2010 Christmas Recital when my long-time student, Isabella, exclaimed to me during the reception, “Wow. I really need to kick-it-up-a-notch!” Her comment sparked an idea and last summer we launched our first-ever Kick-It-Up-a-Notch! summer piano intensive. Just last week at her lesson she was talking about the incredible progress she made from the 2010 Christmas recital to the 2011 Christmas recital and remarked that Kick-It-Up-a-Notch! was a huge turning point for her.

As I think back on the whole process for Isabella, it’s really neat to see how one thing spurs on another, all contributing to a student’s motivation and development as a musician. You never know what great experience or event will spark the drive to do better in your child or student, so make the most of whatever opportunities you have! And, as Jason points out in another of his tips, “if you stick with it, they will get something out of it and almost surely begin to truly enjoy what they have learned.”

Mixed Messages

In last Friday’s post, I mentioned that we played a game at our group class called Mixed Messages. Students had to translate Italian music terms and then write the definitions to complete English sentences. All the students were split into two teams and whichever team finished all their sentences first won a Free Travel Pass. One of my older students who has attended lots of group classes and played lots of games remarked that this was one of her favorite games! Here’s a list of the Mixed Messages we used (with an obvious Italian travel theme):

  1. The Mediterranean Sea is so bella and pacifico this time of year.
  2. If you ritardando in the streets of Naples you might get run over!
  3. The street performers in Rome are allegro and full of giocoso.
  4. Gelato is a dolce way to fine a meal.
  5. If that luggage is troppo pesante, just fermata and we will have someone else carry it for you.
  6. We are dolente that our trip will presto be over.
  7. I would like a poco piu cheese on my pizza.
  8. Please accelerando so that we get to da capo of the bus line in time to catch a ride.
  9. The sound of the train is crescendo.
  10. The people of Italy are assai friendly.
  11. It’s sempre exciting to travel to new places.
  12. See if you can find loco to stay for meno than €100 a night.
  13. Let’s sit by the fuoco and sip a mezzo cup of coffee largo.
  14. The dancers in the ballet moved around so leggiero and grazioso.

And for your convenience, here’s a handy list of the same messages with the Italian terms translated into English. Of course, these are not necessarily the Italian words you would actually use in that context; I just tried to stick with ones that my students would be somewhat familiar with from their music studies.

  1. The Mediterranean Sea is so beautiful and peaceful this time of year.
  2. If you gradually get slower in the streets of Naples you might get run over!
  3. The street performers in Rome are fast and lively and full of humor.
  4. Gelato is a sweet way to end a meal.
  5. If that luggage is too heavy, just stop and we will have someone else carry it for you.
  6. We are sorrowful that our trip will quickly be over.
  7. I would like a little morecheese on my pizza.
  8. Please gradually get faster so that we get to the beginning of the bus line in time to catch a ride.
  9. The sound of the train is gradually getting louder.
  10. The people of Italy are very friendly.
  11. It’s always exciting to travel to new places.
  12. See if you can find a place to stay for less than €100 a night.
  13. Let’s sit by the fireand sip a medium cup of coffee slowly.
  14. The dancers in the ballet moved around so lightlyand gracefully.

Monday Mailbag – Composer Biographies for Students

I have a student that is a very avid reader (girl, 7th grade, homeschooled).  Her mother asked me to compile a list of good biographies or books of composers/music.  She thought that this would help her practicing since she might be more interested in the composer or subject matter.

One of my all-time favorite collection of composer biographies is Ben Lansing’s The Bigwigs of Classical Music (Your student might be interested to know that Ben was homeschooled, too! You can read an interview I did with him here.). A couple of the books I mentioned last week (My Life with the Great Pianists and Lang Lang’s biography) might be of interest as well.

Also, these aren’t books, but the In Search of Beethoven and In Search of Mozart films are very well done and I think would be of interest to a middle school and/or high school student. I also really like and occasionally reference the book Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh. It includes interesting stories, well-written historical information, and a highlight on a character quality exemplified by the featured composers. Honestly, I haven’t read many other biographies of composers or musicians that come to mind, so I’m hoping some others can chime in with suggestions!

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!

Travel Tour #3 – Including Out-of-State Students via Skype!

Last night was our third Travel Tour of the year, going along with our theme: An Italian Intrigue. For the first time ever we included a couple of my out-of-state students via Skype. It worked wonderfully! Here’s a brief video recap from the occasion:

Activities for the group class included:
Mixed Messages – students had to translate Italian musical terms to complete English sentences. The winning team members each won a Free Travel Pass!

Board Patrol – as each student performed, the others were placed in pairs and given a board labeled with one of the following: Dynamics Board, Tempo Board, Articulation Board, and Mood Board. They had to listen and write on the board as many elements as they could come up with that they heard in the performance.

Key Signature Lesson and Scramble – Thanks to the Teach Piano Today blog for the inspiration for this activity!

On Overcoming Difficulties

A daily calendar that I have in my studio had this wonderful quote by John R. Mott yesterday,

“Difficulties are not without their advantages. They are not to unnerve us. They are not to be regarded simply as subjects for discussion nor as grounds for skepticism and pessimism. They are not to cause inaction, but rather to intensify activity. They were made to be overcome. Above all they are to create profound distrust in human plans and energy, and to drive us to God.”

This perspective became especially relevant when I was talking with one of my students yesterday about her composition efforts. She is a gifted composer, but has been focusing on other things lately in her music studies, so it’s been over a year since she turned out a full composition. She grew frustrated this past week while trying to pull together some ideas and told me how she finally had to just take a break and spend some time praying and give it over to God. Her story reminded me of the quote, so I read it to her.

It was a huge encouragement for her to know that she’s on the right track and should press on to overcome the difficulty she’s experiencing in composing (and of course this can relate to lots of other areas of musical study as well!). It will be exciting to see if anything comes together for her by her next lesson!

Buy A Book of Musical Scales and Keys to Support Zach!

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.