My Favorite New Christmas Piano Book!

Several weeks ago, I posted about my afternoon of playing through Christmas music trying to find just the right piece for each student for the Christmas recital. As I confessed, I wasn’t that thrilled about spending a sunny Saturday afternoon in the basement at the piano, but when I started to play through these contemporary arrangements by James Koerts in his book, Wondrous Christmas, my whole mood changed! I recognized his name from when I discovered some free Christian piano arrangements on his website, so I decided to pick the book up when I was at the music store and give it a try. Now it’s my new favorite for this season!

You can download a 4-page pdf preview of the book from the Alfred website. I like the fresh, lively style of each arrangement. And instead of assigning it to one of my students, I decided to keep the whole book all to myself. 🙂 I love playing through some of the carols each day as part of my practice routine.

Check out for more information and to listen to some of James’ other music.

A Story of Thanksgiving

Since I’m taking the week off of teaching, I won’t be blogging either, but I wanted to share a really cool story with you that happened this past week.

The church where I have been holding my Christmas recital for years disbanded this fall and sold the building. I knew I wouldn’t be able to use it for my Christmas recital, so I’ve been praying that God would provide a location for us to use. My criteria is a place with a nice piano, preferably a grand, and a fairly cozy environment. And affordable, of course! One of my families volunteered to check with their church and I was really hoping that it would work out, but we got word back last Thursday that it would cost $550 for two nights of use (the rehearsal a week earlier and then the recital the following week) – and it wasn’t even available the nights I needed it.

With that door shut, it was time for more brainstorming and praying. With the rehearsal only 4 weeks away, I was beginning to feel the pressure of finding a place. I called a teacher friend of mine whose church we used for a festival several years ago to see if she thought their facility would be a possibility. She gave me a bit of hope and the name and number of the church secretary. First thing the next morning I whispered another prayer and made the call. The secretary said the dates were open, so she would send me the contract. I decided to drive over there instead to pick up the info in person and speed up the process.

As soon as I skimmed the contract, my heart sunk. A quick calculation of the numbers brought the sum for use of the sanctuary and fellowship hall to $300. I double-checked with the secretary on the cost and she said she would confirm the total with the trustee. I went home and resolved to keep trying to come up with alternatives. Maybe I needed to think outside the box. The possibility of checking with some area hospitals to see about using their chapel crossed my mind. It would be kind of cool to use a more public venue and try to reach out to hurting people through our music.

With that in mind, I prayed that if God wanted us to use the aforementioned church that He would put it on the trustee’s heart to offer it to us for $100. But if God wanted us to explore some outside-the-box options, the church would keep the cost above $100. I was excited about some other possibilities, but with such a short time left for planning, it seemed overwhelming. However, I was open to following God’s leading either way.

About five minutes later my phone rang. It was the church secretary. She had just gotten off the line with the trustee and he instructed her to offer to let us use the building for both nights for only $100! I was ecstatic! It was such a quick and obvious answer to prayer, and it gave me the confidence to move forward with this location. I’m still working on details and don’t know if we’ll have the ability to live-stream the event like we did last year, but I am so thankful to the Lord for meeting our needs in such a specific and special way!

May God make Himself real to each of you this week as you face needs and turn to Him to provide for you. He is more than able to do so! Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

Young People’s Concerts

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Young People’s Concert put on by our Wichita Symphony Orchestra. I have been organizing a group of homeschoolers to attend for several years now and this was by far the best production I’ve ever seen!
Here’s a shot from our seats in the box! After some young students from the youth symphonies performed Bach, and a mime enacted visual entertainment for a Rossini overture, the part I was most excited about commenced – Carnival of the Animals!

It was even better than I could have imagined! The Ogden Nash narration was included in the performance and a troupe of dancers did a masterful job portraying each selection. The coolest one was The Aquarium with its use of black lighting for an amazing visual effect!

If your area has a Young People’s Concert program, I highly encourage you to check it out!

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

Is everyone else knee-deep in Christmas books these days?! I confess, spending a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in the basement studio trying to select Christmas music for all of my students wasn’t at the top of my list of favorite activities for this past weekend. But I knew it needed to be done, so I made a few preparations:

1. Brew a pot of tea to sip on while I work.

2. Light a candle to create a better ambiance.

3. Spread out the newly acquired Christmas books and start playing!

I’m pretty picky when it comes to selecting recital music, so I didn’t get everything figured out that I was hoping to, but it’s a start! And I even started enjoying myself more once I got into it. 🙂 In fact, I decided to share with you one of the surprising favorites that I ran across. It’s a lovely rendition of Silent Night, arranged by Melody Bober (located in Christmas Encores, Book 1):

Have you all found any new gems this year? Or any old favorites that you would recommend?

Marshmallows and Music Festival!

Last Saturday, one of our local associations held a fall festival dubbed, Marshmallows and Music. I’ve always wanted to put on an outdoor recital, so I was thrilled to be a part of this group effort! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for our inaugural effort of what may become a yearly favorite!

One of our members graciously invited us to use her home/tree farm for the festive occasion. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Each of the students donned their brightly colored festival t-shirt for the occasion! Several rows of chairs provided seating for the students just in front of the deck so that we could quickly work through each of the performances. Family members and friends brought chairs and blankets to place on the lawn where they could listen and enjoy the performances.

Here’s a snapshot of all of my students who participated in the event (except for one who disappeared right before we took the picture!).

Ben, Joey, and Jed did a great job working together to prepare a captivating performance of, Secrets, by OneRepublic for the event.

Noelle, Naomi, and Amanda did a lovely job with their rendition of, Impromptu, by Gurlitt.

I am so proud of each of my students and their musical performances! And I’m so grateful for the dedication of other teachers in the area that enables us to collaborate and put on events like this for the benefit of our students, their families, and the broader community.

Are any of you involved in festivals with your students this fall?

Review and Giveaway of Titanic: A Voyage In Piano Music by Rebekah Maxner

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most tragic, but unforgettable events in history: the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The heart-wrenching story of the demise of one the grandest ocean-liner of its time has captured the imaginations of people for decades. Many have been inspired by the valiant sacrifice of the men on board, and thousands watched in fascination when its watery grave was discovered in 1986. Now, nearly 100 years after the fateful day, Rebekah Maxner has published a collection of books to keep the memory of the Titanic alive in the minds and hearts of pianists everywhere.

Titanic: A Voyage in Piano Music is available as both an elementary level piano book with optional duets and an intermediate level piano solo book. Each volume includes nine repertoire selections that “recount the tale of the Titanic’s one and only voyage: original music that captures the mood of the day, numbers that were performed for passengers by the hired White Star Line musicians, popular music that would have been played by Third Class passengers who had their own instruments, and music that was bravely played as the ship was sinking.”

As if this weren’t enough by itself, Rebekah has also included a variety of black and white photos from the Titanic and its passengers, and a paragraph of historical notes for each repertoire selection. The books are truly beautiful and will be loved by pianists everywhere!

Now…the moment you’ve all been waiting for. 🙂 Rebekah has kindly offered to giveaway two copies of these Titanic books to two Music Matters Blog reader. Just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing to win one of these books for yourself or a special student! The giveaway will end at noon (CST) on Thursday, October 13, and the winner will be drawn using a random number generator.

September Surprise is Tonight!

All year long we anticipate and prepare for this occasion. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of overkill, but the September Surprise! is definitely a highlight in our studio. Since I take off the whole month of August for brainstorming and planning our theme, selecting new repertoire, and traveling (more of that than the others this year!), I haven’t seen any of my students for over a month. The September Surprise! is my clever way of conning them into continuing to practice hard even when they’re not taking regular lessons fun way of welcoming everyone back and gearing up for an exciting new year of hard work!

We will be playing interactive games, listening to each other play their surprise selections, and, of course, announcing the theme for the year! I’m quite proud of myself for not slipping up and letting out anything about this year’s theme, so it will be a complete surprise to all the students. 🙂 And tomorrow, I will let you all in on it too! If you’ve got a theme for this year, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can even compile a list of themes/practice incentives that teachers are doing all around the world. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Today is the Big Day – Entrepreneurship Meets Music Student!

My students and I have been eagerly anticipating this day all year long! Tonight is the culmination of our year of Quest for Capital! Tonight is…The Gallery!

I think of tonight’s event as a sort of entrepreneurship-meets-music-student endeavor. Part of my vision was to give students a framework to work within to develop creative projects that relate to music in some way. Yes, we want to become excellent pianists, but it’s also important for us to see music in the context of the world around us. All of life should be cohesive and integrated. We shouldn’t fragment and segment the pieces of our lives into separate corners, but rather find ways to interlock them (like a puzzle) so that they form a beautiful whole.

Ultimately, I believe that Jesus Christ is the one by whom everything is held together in life (see Colossians 1). He gives meaning and purpose to every worthy pursuit. Within our lives, though, there are so many possibilities for us and our students to integrate music with other areas. That’s what I hope each of my students has gleaned and continues to remember from their preparations for tonight. I also wanted them to experience how exciting it is to be a producer and not merely a consumer in our society. And there are lots of other things that I hope this year’s practice incentive theme has accomplished as well :-)…but for now, here’s a list of the projects that will be on display at The Gallery:

  • A Year of Praise with Psalm 150 Calendar
  • Capturing God’s Creation Musical Slideshow
  • From His Heart to Mine CD
  • In Our Valleys Music Book
  • Musical Art – “Castle”
  • Musical Keychains
  • Musical Treats
  • Piano Bracelet
  • Piano Masterpiece Pencil Drawing
  • Quotable Mug Raffle Drawing
  • Set of Customizable Musical Postcards
  • Students’ Classics CD
  • Sunflowers in the Rain Sheet Music
  • The Abandoned Amusement Park Sheet Music
  • The Magnificently Amazing Music Book Holder
  • The MuZine
  • The Space Book

Monday Mailbag – Structuring Recitals

In the past I’ve done the recital where we start with the simplest pieces and work to the most complex. That has worked out pretty much following ages, with the exception of a few younger really gifted kids who make it to the older age group. But now I have some older beginners who will be playing some simple pieces, so I was thinking of creating different “sections” to the recital, like a “show tune” section, a “classics” section, etc. That way I can mix up the ages a little better, more naturally…But I was wondering what others do in this situation?

Growing up, my teachers always followed this method to structuring recitals, too – the earliest level pieces to the most advanced. But for some reason, I’ve never been a fan of that approach. One of my biggest priorities with recitals has always been to plan an event that people will want to attend over and over again. (You can read the post, 7 Tips for Enjoyable Recitals, for a bit more on this topic!) So the idea of a systematic easiest-to-hardest-piece program doesn’t appeal to me at all.

For our annual Christmas recital, I usually include some sort of narration, theme, or special guest musicians, so the program is planned around that. I try to mix up the levels and ages of the students, in addition to developing a flow throughout the whole program. When we did a big patriotic dinner and music program one spring, I used a similar approach with narration transitioning from one piece to the next.

Sometimes we do other random things like drawing numbers out of a basket, going in order of birthdays, alphabetical order by students’ first name, alphabetical by composers last name, etc. The “sections” idea is great, too! I’m all for changing it up to keep things exciting…and to keep everybody wanting to come back to see what new ideas the recital will hold each time!

I would love to hear any other creative approaches to structuring recitals! Do you use a systematic approach? Or what other approaches have you tried that you and your students like?

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!

Collaborative Music Festival is a Blast!

Have any of you been involved in collaborative music events this year in conjunction with MTNA’s Year of Collaborative Music? We kicked off the theme in our studio at our September Surprise last fall, continued with our Collaborative Christmas celebration, and several of my students and I participated in the festival sponsored by one of our local music teachers associations last weekend. It was so much fun! In addition to a collection of wonderful ensemble performances by area students, there was a fabulous organ demonstration. Several of my students had a great time trying out the organ and experimenting with the different stops.

Here are the video clips of the four duet performances from my studio (see if you can tell which one is the comedy routine… :-)).

Joey and Andrew play Amazing Grace arr. Kathleen Massoud:

Natalie and Noelle play Polonaise by Wagner:

Amanda and Naomi play Rondo from Sonata in C by Mozart:

Lucas and Jedidiah play C.S. Theme and Variations by Randall Compton:

We love being together and playing together!