2011 MTNA Conference – Ultimate Music Theory Showcase

After spending some time last night with Shelagh McKibbon and Glory St. Germain, of Ultimate Music Theory, I thought it would be fun to attend their showcase this morning!

Glory gave a helpful overview of their series, including four Ultimate Music Theory Learning Principles:
1. Simplify
2. Memory Joggers
3. Tie it All Together
4. Make it Relevant

She wrapped up the presentation with three words:

Oh yes, and…buy these books! 🙂

Almost all of the showcases include free printed music and/or other fun goodies. The Ultimate Music Theory gals gave us a great little notebook (to be used for our bucket list!), a pencil, a silver pen, and a handy ruler. You can also visit their website to find free materials and lesson plans. Sign up for a free account to have access to all of it!

2011 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Morning: Willis Showcase

It was another early morning with an 8:00 showcase. Nothing like lively music to wake up and start the day, though! I started off by attending a Willis Showcase presented by Carolyn Miller and Glenda Austin.

The Dozen a Day songbooks were the first ones that the ladies played through. The arrangements of familiar tunes, accompanied by duets, were catchy and fun!

After going through several of those songbooks, the attention turned to Carolyn’s latest series, “Take a Bow!” Carolyn said that when selecting recital repertoire she always looks for the piece that her students can be most successful playing. This was the impetus behind the collection.

2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Evening: Virtual Friends Get-Together

Tonight was the much-anticipated gathering of virtual friends! About a dozen of us who knew of or about each other through blogging and/or on-line forums got together for a real life meeting.

We enjoyed a fabulous meal together and stayed way too late getting to know each other, talking shop, and just enjoying the camaraderie. Definitely a highlight of the week!

I was really thrilled to meet Joy Morin, of the excellent Color in My Piano blog! We could have probably talked much more about blog plans and ideas, but suffice it to say that I’m super excited about some of the upcoming possibilities. 🙂

2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Afternoon: Smart, Single, Successful!

One of the most exciting aspects of coming to the conference is meeting new people, especially those I’ve previously connected with on-line. One of those people this year is Becky Baker. I was thrilled to meet her and then learn that she was going to be on a panel for one of the sessions this afternoon: Smart, Single, Successful! Effective Business Strategies for Young Professionals. She is joined on the panel by David Husser and Kristin Yost. The panel is being moderated by Karen Thickstun.

The session began with each panelist sharing their story of how they launched their music teaching business following graduation. After each one shared, they were asked a question.

Becky was asked to explain what she means when she refers to Creative Management Strategy.

David was asked how he handled the transfer of the studio of another teacher to himself when he first began teaching. He said that for the first year he just took over the teaching while the former teacher continued to handle everything else. After that, they transferred the remainder of the studio.

Kristin was up next. She recommended checking out Census.gov to research the area in which you live. Some of the information includes: household income, school enrollment, demographics, etc. She used the research she did to determine to move to Frisco, Texas. She also used a free on-line forum specific to her area to connect with prospective students in the area. After teaching for about a year, Kristin launched the Centre for Musical Minds. Kristin adds that she was in the right place at the right time, but she did that on purpose.

Each of the panelists was asked to talk briefly about the value of having a mentor. Becky had many musical mentors growing up, but didn’t have a business mentor until she got married. Her husband is in finance and all of her business decisions go through him. David had a built-in mentor when he took over the studio of another teacher who helped prepare him for the business. Kristin encouraged everyone to subscribe to Clavier Companion (she has an article in the most recent issue!), and said that she has had mentors for many years, beginning back when she participated in a youth symphony program.

Karen discussed the fact that each of the panelists is in a different place now than they originally envisioned, but they were willing to move and pursue the skills necessary to become successful in the field. She asked a final question of the panelists: “If you could give one piece of advice to young professionals, what would it be?”

Becky responded, “Finances, finances, finances!” Even though she grew up under a financially responsible father, it was difficult to learn to budget and manage finances. Don’t take out as many student loans. Save and learn to budget effectively.

David encouraged everyone to be flexible. Keep in mind the possibilities that are out there and be open to new things.

Kristin says, “Enter the business with the idea that you are the CEO of your company.” You have to set up every aspect of the business structure, make arrangements for your own 401K, manage every aspect of the business…”

Questions were then taken from the audience. Kristin was asked to elaborate on her comment that templates are available to new business owners. She recommends Harvard Business Review. Becky added that Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is some of the best money she ever spent. She wishes that she went through the course in high school.

How did you research or decide what to charge? Kristin called and asked other teachers. David’s prices were already set by the teacher whose studio he took over. Becky’s price was also set by the music store where she worked. Karen said that for those who don’t feel comfortable calling and asking other teachers themselves, have one of your studio parents make the calls for you. She added, “Charge what the market will bear.” Young people should not undervalue what they have to offer.

The next question related to how the economic climate has and will affect the music teaching profession. David hasn’t noticed any significant decline in the field. Do your research and make decisions accordingly. Becky said that although she originally intended to pursue teaching at the college level, another opportunity came her way and she latched onto it. She echoed David’s sentiment that being flexible is an important principle. Kristin spoke last year at the California Music Teacher’s conference. She asked the attendees how many of them had an increased enrollment last year. 90% of those present raised their hands. People will still spend money on what they value. Learn to articulate and communicate effectively.

Next question: All of the panelists come from well-respected music pedagogy programs. Is there any one experience or project that they especially appreciate or have found valuable?
Becky remembers Karen’s classes. David enjoyed reviewing group piano texts. Even though he didn’t teach groups at the time, he later had the opportunity to teach group classes. Kristin recalls seeing a video of herself teaching that was life-changing. She also had a project that required her to create a brochure and develop a studio identity. She regrets that there was not more hard-core business information to prepare adequately for real world experience.

Did any of them have to say no to offers or requests from others? How do you know if an opportunity is presented that’s good? Kristin doesn’t negotiate lower prices. She just says, “No, I’m not interested at this time.” David felt similarly. Becky went in to negotiate with a local music store about offering a piano program through them. Because there was another store close by, she had some leverage.

What kind of piano should you buy when you open your own studio? Kristin feels strongly that you shouldn’t compromise on the quality of your instrument. Would you go to a dentist with yellowed or crooked teeth? All piano teachers should have a grand piano and a keyboard. You can find a good deal if you are creative. David also bought a 5’11” grand piano to have in his house for personal practice and teaching. It will be used long-term. He remembers that his piano teacher growing up had two nice upright pianos that were better quality than his piano. He loved going and playing on them. One of Becky’s primary considerations was the quality of instruments on which she would be teaching at the music store. She has also been saving and will be purchasing a new piano when she moves to her new home soon. Those who can’t afford to purchase a good instrument right off the bat may want to consider working elsewhere for a period of time while they work on saving up for a piano.

How often do you increase tuition? How do you address the issue with the parents? Kristin asked how often people in corporate America get raises. Every year. Teachers should raise their rates every year. Articulate the value that is included in lessons. It’s not just a weekly lesson. This is like private school or college. She charges by the semester. David increases his rates every year. He is sure to call it “tuition.” Becky gave herself a raise by shifting to a monthly rate and incorporating group classes into her lesson structure. This was a seamless way to raise rates without making a big deal about it. Kristin added that she raises rates every year in July, but she offers an “early bird” price that locks in last year’s price if they pay for the following year by the deadline. She referenced Wendy’s brochure, “Where Does My Tuition Go?

Do you teach homeschool students or adults during the day? How do you market to them? Becky teachers a class through the music store and then often adds them to her private studio. David does a similar thing with a local college. Kristin said that the enrollment at their school has about 15% homeschool students just because they value what is offered.

Where do you see yourselves in 5 years? Becky said that maybe eventually she will pursue collegiate teaching again, but for now she loves what she is doing. David also loves what he is doing, and now that he has a house, he will be there for a while. Kristin will be teaching until the day she dies. 🙂 She especially likes working with younger teachers and helping them find their way. She is also launching PianoTeacherSchool.com. It is designed to fill in the gaps that are missed in pedagogy classes relating to the business side of teaching.

The session concluded with Karen thanking each of the panelists and giving a charge to all those in attendance.

2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Afternoon: Yamaha Showcase

This afternoon’s showcase that looked the most interesting to me was one by Yamaha Corporation of America titled, “Teaching Special Students In Special Circumstances.”

Kristin Shoemaker was the first to present. She shared information about the long-distance teaching she does with a family in Zambia. (View her presentation from last year’s conference here.)

She said that although she began the long-distance lessons thinking that it would be a benefit to the girls in Zambia, it has been far more than that. The benefit to her students here in the States has been enormous, too!

After Kristin, Lori Frazer shared several touching stories of adaptive technology and the impact it has made on the lives of those who are severely disabled. She is passionate about making sure that everyone, even the least fortunate, have the opportunity to participate in music-making experiences. They are currently investigating whether they can use some of the technology of the Clavinova to provide music classes for troops of soldiers serving overseas. They did some initial testing last December to see if they could remotely manipulate Clavinovas. This will make it possible to offer group RMM classes to soldiers on the field. They hope to use the Yamaha Connection technology to provide rehabilitation services in the hospitals.

The showcase concluded with a young lady named Charity Tillemann-Dick who shared the testimony of her amazing recovery from a double lung transplant to realize her dream of becoming an opera singer. Here’s a clip I found with more of her story:

2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Morning: Scott McBride Smith Intermediate Teaching Demonstration

After a visit to the Exhibit Hall, it was time for another session! Next up was an intermediate teaching demonstration by Scott McBride Smith.

The next student, Anna Crosby, also a student of of Larisa Topolkaraeva, played Intermezzo in B-flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2 by Brahms. Scott began by pointing out the Brahms described this as one of his “lullabies of his secret sorrow.” He praised her use of pedal and overall musicality. He encouraged Ann to be more aware of her harmony. Sometimes the melody came out so prominently that the bass and harmony got lost. Listen to the resolution.

Some of the most beautiful moments in Romantic music are when the re-transition takes place. He likened it to when a funny moment comes back to you, or when you think of someone from your past and wonder what happened to them. They are not present, so it’s a distant memory. Likewise, the re-transition should not appear too loudly or too quickly. Make it a distant memory.

The final student, Katherine Plier, student of Bette Close,played Sacro-Monte, Op. 55, No. 5 from Danses gitanes by Joaquin Turina. Scott introduced her saying that this was one of his favorite pieces to play as a teenager so he was shocked to discover recently that his pedagogy students had never heard of it. He is excited to be re-introducing it to teachers today.

[oops! I accidentally deleted the videos from the last performer. So sorry!]

After talking a little bit about the origin of the title and what gypsies are like, he worked with her on a variety of issues from bringing out the sforzandos, to isolating and drilling difficult spots, to practicing at a “torture slow” speed. He challenged her to work on strong fingers. To illustrate, he gave her a pink flamingo and instructed her to hold it and keep it from falling without squeezing it. Strong, but without tension.

2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Morning: Faber Showcase

This morning we launched off first thing with a showcase presented by Randall and Nancy Faber. They began with an overview of the changes in the 2nd edition of the Piano Adventures Level 1 books (look for the words “2nd Edition” printed on the upper left hand corner of the books). We worked through the book page-by-page with them pointing out changes and explaining some of the pedagogical ideas behind the changes.

According to linguistics studies, we have to hear a word over 30 times before it becomes a part of our vocabulary. It’s no surprise, then, that students have difficulty learning and remembering note names! The Faber’s recommend using lots of different approaches to help students retain this information.

Students learn the most by imitation. If the teacher models the sounds and the gestures, the students will follow.

Interspersed with the presentation with numerous video clips of Nancy teaching students. It’s always so inspiring to see her working with the students! A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I’m not a huge fan of the emphasis on passing songs and using stickers to indicate that a song is completed. Nancy’s approach helps crystallize why I feel this way – it’s not just about learning all the right notes and rhythm and then moving on; it’s about making music, exploring different ideas, creating beautiful sounds at the piano.

Visit the Piano Adventures website for a complete overview of the changes in the 2nd Edition. I was surprised and pleased at the numerous changes and additions that have been made. Here’s a quick rundown of the general revisions:
Enhanced Reading Strategies – more emphasis on memorizing the line and space notes on each staff.
New Progress Chart – rather than a table of contents page, this helps teachers plan lessons and track student progress more effectively.
Integration Between Lesson and Theory Books – the Faber’s briefly went through the theory books to point out some changes
New Pieces/New Musical Twists – it seems like there is a better reinforcement of concepts, particularly including several pieces that highlight the various intervals as they are learned.
Improvisation Activities – so fun! Lots of creative ideas that students can explore their pieces and musical sounds beyond what’s printed on the page.
Challenge Section – an introduction to several scales. The Faber’s add that students should be encouraged to go back and transpose their favorite pieces to other keys.

I am thrilled about the latest book available from the Faber’s – a Primer Level Sightreading Book! Randall asks why a student would want to play through 96 pages of sightreading material? Because they are curious. And after they learn the piece, they are instructed to cross it out. 🙂 Also, there is a stamp on each page that says, “Don’t practice this!” The counter-intuitive, seemingly forbidden approaches excite students and help them stay focused, which is the biggest challenge when working on sightreading with students.

A primer level teacher book is also in the works and will be available soon! Preview copies are available at their book, and interested teachers can place a pre-order. The presentation concluded a performance by Randall and Nancy of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” a piece in their BigTime Jazz & Blues Level 4 book.

2011 MTNA Conference – Sunday Evening: Hal Leonard Hosts Party of the Year!

I have no doubt that the incredible evening sponsored by Hal Leonard tonight will be one of the most talked about events of this year’s conference. They went all out to extend a hearty Wisconsin welcome to all of us music teachers!

After shuttling attendees from the hotel to their corporate headquarters, they split us into groups of 10-12 for an extensive tour of the facility. Our tour guide was District Sales Manager, Sean Murphy.

After sharing the history of the company (it was founded by two brothers – Harold [a.k.a. “Hal”] and Everett [a.k.a. “Leonard”] after they began receiving requests from people who wanted to purchase arrangements of the pop music that they had arranged for their bands), Sean turned us over to one of the ladies who oversees the editing department.

Next it was on to the engraving department, where we saw a live demonstration of the head of the department preparing a piece of music for publication.

In the art department we were given a really interesting overview of the whole process from when a request for artwork is received from the editing department to the initial design concept to the collaboration with an illustrator to finished design.

After the tour, it was time to party!

A huge room was dedicated to tables lavished with food, a couple drink bars, a pasta bar, desserts, and lots of opportunity to visit with other teachers. A live band played for part of the evening as well.

Every detail of the event contributed to the ambiance – fresh flowers and candles adorned all the tables, and the whole room emanated with a blue glow.

This is a little video clip to give you a more complete shot of the room. And this was as the party was winding down toward the end of the night!

My friend and traveling companion, Lisa, and I had a marvelous time and were thoroughly impressed with the abundant generosity of our hosts!

2011 MTNA Conference – Sunday Afternoon: National Winners Recital

One of  the great advantages of attending the national conference is getting to hear some of the country’s top musicians in the competition winners’ recitals.

Right now I am sitting in the recital for the winners of the Junior Performance Competitions, Chamber Music Performance Competition, and Elementary and Junior Composition Competitions. The caliber of these young musicians is amazing!

In the past I have always gravitated toward the pedagogy-related workshops and events, but I’m intentionally trying to broaden the scope of what I attend and learn this year. Attending these recitals and other performance-related sessions goes beyond the how’s of pedagogy to give a vision of what the end result can look and sound like. So inspiring!

2011 MTNA Conference – Sunday Afternoon: Expressive Performance

Edna Golandsky, artistic director and co-founder of the Golandsky Institute, presented a session on how to move from the basics of reading and counting to performances filled with rhythmic vitality, long lines, and beautiful sound.

Her presentation stems from years of working with very advanced pianists and trying to help figure out what it would take to make their playing more musical. The missing element, she discovered, was rhythmic aliveness. She used a Chopin Mazurka to demonstrate her technique points throughout the session. She studied with Dorothy Taubman at one point and implemented many of her principles in her discussion on proper technique.

She said that many people are so afraid of playing the left hand too loud that they play it too soft. It should not be played either too soft or too loud. The left hand is what makes this a Mazurka. You could play the right hand with another left hand and it would no longer be a Mazurka. She also emphasized the importance of the beat in aiding musical expressions. It’s like a collaboration of different things happening at the same time at the piano. Use the arm to shape the tone. Use the balance of voices to help control the beat.

Ms. Golandsky said she is often prompted to find solutions when problems start driving her crazy and she can no longer tolerate them. 🙂  Another issue that drove her crazy was that longer notes would lose the shape of the line with the fading of the sound. She likened it to someone speaking with emotion and dropping out the sound every few words. Often long notes occur on the downbeat. Usually the first beat is the most important. Every beat has a different role in the measure that is expressed by the shaping of the phrase. She loves Jazz music and enjoys giving music more of a swing, a lilt.

Next, Ms. Golandsky played a portion of the second movement of the Schubert B-flat Sonata. She said that usually we just hear the right hand. It’s gorgeous, but it needs a left hand. When passages are marked pianissimo, pianists tend to hold up, creating tension. They are afraid of coming down too hard into the keys. You have to play into the key from the shoulder and release slowly. She asked the audience what the left hand sounds like. It’s actually dance-like. She went on to express the importance of openly asking, “What does it sound like?” Don’t lock composers into one style of composing. Don’t be afraid of the different sounds that you hear and recognize in the music. Another section resembled a tolling bell.

If you stop on the long notes, you are always starting over and breaking up the phrase. Big notes, long notes, have to be projected more to carry the sound into the next note. The process is a bit mysterious. You have to learn how to make the movements to create the desired sound. Legato effect is produced through tone, shaping, and pedaling. Again, the collaboration of the voices is key to achieving the tone quality in order to advance to the next level.

Ms. Golandsky took about 10 minutes to answer questions from the audience.

1. How do you play loudly without a wrist break or a harsh sound?
Harsh sound is creating by playing very fast into the key. Only two choices create a loud sound: 1. Going loudly into the key; and 2. Play into the key slowly, but use the forearm. The best loud sound is actually achieved utilizing a very counter-intuitive approach. Pain almost always comes from pushing into the keys too quickly.

What’s the role of your torso when you play?
Be sure you sit an appropriate distance so that you don’t fall off or crowd yourself. The torso, just like the upper arm, should always be following as you move up or down the keys. Whenever you play two hands, the torso should be in between the two. There should always be a slight forward leaning.

Is there a specific place on your fingers that you should play to achieve the desired shaping?
We tend to go from one extreme to another – either playing always in one spot or moving too much from one key to the next. The goal is to move the minimal amount in and out of the keys to create the best tone. Anticipate the coming notes to move in and out of the keys without breaking the line. Always consider the context in order to determine the details.

How do you play fast loud passages?
Release more weight at the same moment to achieve a louder sound. It is the role of the forearm. Keep the alignment at all times. We intuitively force more to get more sound, but the sound for both soft and loud are produced the same way.