Monday, August 22, 2022

Frederick County Duets

(I can't believe I failed to post this.  The event was in June!  My bad...) 

What a morning!  The Frederick County Music Teachers Association had their end-of-the-year meeting this morning.  Typically, at this particular meeting, we gather for coffee and conversation, no set agenda, just reminiscing about the year past and dreaming about the year to come. 

This morning, however, was a little but different.  Back in March, I challenged the teachers to a Duet duel!  Buddy up with a partner, practice a duet of their own choosing, and perform for each other at this meeting.  Oh, what fun!

The opening number was a one piano, 4 hands transcription of Beethoven’s 5th – OMG, it was like the entire orchestra was right there in front of us!  The sound one can get out of a grand piano in an acoustically live room is immense!  We heard Brahms’ Liebeslieder,  Dvorak’s ­­­­Slavonic Dances, Faure’s  Dolly Suite,  Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, and a Prelude in G Major, by Melody Bober, for 6 hands!  We decided those 6 hands should be connected to younger bodies; we didn’t fit on the piano bench, had to bring in an extra chair. 

Although our event was not advertised, not a public event per se, it was a great way to end a year of in-person performances by our students.  For most of the pandemic, our student performances were limited, or online.  This year we were fortunate to host a few recitals in person, and what a difference live music makes!  Not wanting to be left out, I guess, we decided to do our own Duet Recital.  I can’t wait ‘til next year when we do it again! 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Where'd I Put My Glasses?

Great lesson last night.  New student, still learning to read the notes.  And he admitted he hadn't had time to practice.  As we were reviewing his treble clef notes, I observed him leaning closer to the music, pulling back a bit, squinting.  "I wonder if this book is online?  At work I just enlarge the screen."  "Ah, you need glasses," I replied.  Middle-age moment.  "Let's put the book away and approach this differently."

So we did.  First, Twinkle Twinkle.   I love teaching this piece; it's part of a first lesson with kids, but not so with adults.  It took some doing, but he got it.  So well, actually, that his right hand taught his left hand how to play it.  Voila!  Hands together.  Good job!

How about a scale now.  He played C to C, using most of his right hand fingers.  We corrected for fingering, and he got it.  Now add left hand, in contrary motion, both thumbs sharing Middle C.  After a few trials, he got it.  Good, good, now parallel motion, ascending.  Got that too.  We were on a roll!  But we still had 40 minutes to fill.

"What do you remember about Twinkle Twinkle?  Did you know that Mozart wrote 12 variations on this very tune?  Let's add some left hand accompaniment."  (Yes, I've taught the variations, and have the opening theme etched in my brain.)  We learned it measure by measure, left hand first, then adding right hand.  We got as far as "How I wonder what you are" before our time was up.  Depending on his state of denial next week, we might get to add "Up above the world so high."  (Yes, he really needs to get glasses.)

This was the evening for rote learning.  I had a youngster earlier tonight.  This little guy is an amazing reader.  I have a poster of musical terms in my studio.  He has read every word on it, many times.  "Sforzando--that's a funny word!" He's got phonics down pat.  Not so with note reading, however.  I have him in a young beginners book, and we struggle every week.   (Funny, he can identify the notes on flash cards, and he can name the notes on the keyboard, but he can't get from staff to keyboard.  Gotta work on that.)  

We turned the page to find Old MacDonald Had a Farm.  Oh, good, a melody he knows!  He named the notes, he knew which hand starts, he put his hands in position.  "Where do I start?"  Um... left hand thumb, middle C.  After a few false starts, we closed the book.  I told him to sing it while he played.  After the opening C C C, do the notes go up or down?  "Old      Mac      Don 

                             ald."  Sing it -- Up or down?  Yes!  He got it.  We never quite got to E-I-E-I-O; perhaps next week.  

A challenging evening, but always fun.  

Friday, June 3, 2022

Piano Pizza Party

End of the school year, end of the piano year.  How do you celebrate a year of in-person lessons, YAY!, in-person recitals, BRAVO!, and great successes?  Throw a Piano Pizza Party, of course!  I used to have a huge event, at the house, invite all my students, their families, prospects for next year.  That's when I lived in a big house.  Since I downsized, I hardly have room for all my students to gather.  

But gather we did.  Everyone had had a portion of a duet or a trio to learn.  We only had a month to pull this together; our Spring Recital was May 1. These kids were awesome!  The first performance was Ravel's Pavane for Sleeping Beauty, from The Mother Goose Suite,  The two girls who performed had never played together.  They are both accomplished young musicians.  They read well, they learn quickly, and they played very well together.  First read-through was a bit clipped.  We listened to the suggested metronome marking and they played again,  Wow!  Yes, awesome!

The second performer was a youngster,   She has limited recital experience, and was reluctant this evening.  We agreed to skip the performance piece and jump to the party piece, Hungry Hippo. The primo section is all on black keys -- hey, I know this piece -- I played it with my friends when I was little!  She learned the piece in the book, and I taught her a few additional verses.  We had fun learning it, and we had fun performing it for the others.  This little girl was ready to teach it to the other students in attendance!  Maybe at another time; we had more music to play.  In fact, she then played her performance piece, She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain, also a duet, very well.  

The final presentation was Melody Bober's Prelude in G Major, a piano trio, meaning one piano, 6 hands!  We all learned a lesson on preparedness with this one.  The two outer voices had given adequate time to learning their parts; the inner voice, not so much.  Hey, with the demands of end-of-the-year school activities, it is understandable that she just didn't have the time.  She did her best, resorting to reading just one hand.  Still, the piece didn't hold together.  She and I changed places: I played the inner voice and she became the teacher.  I too had not given it much prep time, but we pulled it off.  

My new mantra this year has been Practice Makes Progress.  These kids on Tuesday evening appreciate what that means.  And their prize for their progress?  Pizza!  Funny, everyone had a chair for the performance half of the evening, but once the pizza came out, we all just sat on the floor.  Some good conversation between bites let me know the evening was a success.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

 Practice, practice, practice!  

I've just returned from a weekend in New York.  What a whirlwind weekend it was.  To catch the 7:33 Amtrak out of Baltimore, I had to leave my house at 6 a.m.  We pulled into Moynihan Station a little after 10.  Having taken the escalator upstairs, I still couldn't find the exit to the street.  Fortunately, I was meeting a friend, and she talked me up more flights of stairs to get to street level.  Already I'm overwhelmed by the city that never sleeps!

A little more than 24 hours later, I hailed a taxi to take me uptown to Carnegie Hall,  The draw?  One of my students was performing in a recital!  I first met Anda in 2019, when she was a 6-year-old beginner.  Always eager to please, still we struggled to read notes, learn rhythms, make music.  But she had enthusiasm, and a mother who was equally eager for her to succeed.  

I actually credit the pandemic with her unparalleled learning curve.  When school went online, we also moved from in-person lessons to Zoom lessons.  Anda did well in her school studies and excelled in her music studies.  Not being able to go outside and play with her friends, she sat at the piano, for hours, every day.  Not only did she learn to read those notes, the pitches and the values, but she also learned to express herself musically at the keyboard.  Her parents, noting her progress, bought her a fine instrument to play.  She played Beethoven's  Fur Elise, she played Handel's Passacaglia, she played soundtracks to video games that I can't even pronounce.  

Last summer, her mother asked if I thought she was ready to prepare for a piano competition.  I've never prepared for a music competition; I have qualms about making music competitive.  But I agreed.  Anda had certainly shown she's got what it takes.  They chose Mozart's Rondo alla Turca, a fast-paced piano solo in sixteenths, arpeggiated chords, phrases in octaves; in other words, a lot of notes for 8-year-old hands.  We had 6 months to learn it, memorize it, and polish it for the Elite International Music Competition.  

And polish it she did!  We were lucky the actual competition was a) in-person, and b) local.  Anda played beautifully  The comments from the adjudicator matched my own thoughts: questions on phrasing, use of pedal, and the like.  Anda accepted the critique with grace, and we awaited the results.  Second in her age group!  The prize for all her hard work?  A place in a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York!  

How thrilled was I, her teacher, to be invited to attend this recital.  And what a show!  46 children in all, ages 3 to 18, performed music of great difficulty, all with such grandeur, such finesse.  I have reconsidered my reluctance toward music competition.  These children were poised, happy, artistic.  I was delighted to be in the audience, absolutely proud of Anda's success, and looking forward to a future bright with music.  Not only will I be able to say, "I knew her when..."  but also, "I got her started!"

Friday, January 7, 2022

Holiday Sounds

Oh, what a night!  

Late December back in '21. 

All were gathered, we had so much fun!  

What an evening, what a night!  

Last Monday evening, I invited all my students, young and old, to share in a Holiday Piano Party.  Twelve pianists performed holiday music and more, to the absolute joy of all in attendance.  We had Chopin, we had Mozart, we had Handel and Bach, all to wish us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

These past 22 months have limited public performance.  I was thrilled to obtain permission at the local church to host this event.  We were all masked, of course, which made announcements a bit muted and awkward.  But the masks could not hinder the beautiful music each participant performed.  They worked hard to master their respective pieces, and to get over the anxiety of playing for others.  I was so proud of everyone!

No formal program was intended, and we chose names out of a hat for performance order.  Took a bit of the edge off, I think.  My youngest student got to open the program.  He has been taking lessons with me a mere 4 weeks, and delighted his audience with a 5-finger version of Jingle Bells, followed by an anime soundtrack he taught himself by ear.  Kudos, Samuel, for a job well done.

Ha, I just realized, anime opened and closed the program.  Josie pulled off a rip-roaring version of Fukashige a la Carte, worthy of the silver screen.  

In between these 2 bookends, we heard variations on Jingle Bells, a Chopin Prelude, Bach's Jesu, Joy of man's Desiring, Mozart's Rondo a la Turca,  and so much more.  I was thrilled to welcome back a student from 2 years ago to play the Chopin; Eleanor now attends Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.  She even provided some Christmas tunes to quiet and focus the audience as we awaited the start of the program.  Anda and Myra played a Jingle Bells duet; this was their first time paying together, and after a rocky start, they did great listening to each other and staying together.  Anda used this audience to prepare her for a Carnegie Hall debut to be held in April 2022.  You read that right: Anda placed second in her age group in the Elite International Music Competition in early December, earning her a place on the recital stage at Carnegie Hall this spring.

The program lasted about an hour, followed by cookies and drinks, and a surprise violin performance by Will, the brother of 2 of my piano students.  The acoustics at All Saints truly enhanced his playing.  We were all thrilled that he brought his violin!

As I stated at the beginning of this post, performance opportunities have been limited in this time of Covid.  We held lessons online for 16 months, and occasionally still rely on Zoom to get together when necessary.  Being able to gather together and make music together is great therapy for all: the kids learn stage presence; the parents beam with pride; adult students overcome performance jitters.  We all hope the Omicron variant will not hinder future performance events, but at least we got this chance to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

May 2022 be kinder, gentler. May we continue to make music to share.  

Sunday, October 31, 2021


We held our first (annual?) Bachtoberfest just last weekend, and kudos to all who participated.  Even my brandie-new beginners took a turn in the spotlight.  As their teacher, I was absolutely thrilled!  We started working on this event way back in August.  

(Almost) everyone learned a Bach composition: Minuet in G, Prelude and Fugue in C, Solfeggietto, to name a few.  We started by looking for patterns, melodic, rhythmic, to help make sense of the whole.  Next we aimed to make those melodies sing, to meet Bach's cantabile instructions.  In most cases, we truly appreciated the "sewing machine" nickname given to Baroque-era music.  It just goes on and on, with hardly time to breathe!  

We found our breath between performances.  Paying homage to the German flavor of the evening, we enjoyed bratwurst and pretzels!  And in keeping with the season, between bites, we also enjoyed some Halloween tunes.  

Bachtoberfest was an adult event.  My kids performed their Halloween recital yesterday.  Oh, what a hoot!  Sponsored by the Frederick County Music Teachers Association, there were 77 participants, representing 10 county teachers.  Certainly the largest group event for this group.  Kids and teachers alike, even a few parents, arrived in costume: angels and ninjas, witches and cats.  The music ran the gamut as well, from absolute beginner to quite polished advanced musician.  One high scholar in particular performed her own composition, including percussion which she had previously recorded to accompany her spectacular piano performance.  What a day!

And what a month!  Music, music everywhere.  Even the church choir is singing again.  Makes my heart glad.  Oh, we're still wearing masks, of course.  But what a thrill, to be able to gather and enjoy making music together.  The beat goes on...

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Summer Soiree

All of my students have now had the opportunity of a post-pandemic public performance, and what a joy last night's petite soiree was  This was an adult evening, wine and cheese and piano playing.  I think everyone involved enjoyed themselves.  I know I did!

My younger students presented their Spring Recital in June, to much acclaim.  Two of these young musicians chose the same piece to perform. Handel’s Passacaglia, arranged by Bobby Cyr.  It was interesting to hear their different interpretations of the same printed piece.  These are two young people, and tempo is everything to them.  The Passacaglia flew off the piano keys, much to the delight of my adult students in the audience.

A-ha moment, indeed.  You like this music?, I asked the adults.  How about you learn it too?  “Passacaglia” is an old Italian or Spanish dance tune, a theme and variations over a repeated bass line, and typically at a slow tempo.  In this particular case, it is a series of scales in the right hand, and a simple chord progression in the left hand.  I gave each of my adults 6 weeks to learn at least 2 lines, the opening theme.  Some chose to go on, learn more, while others were quite content with the 2-line challenge. 

We got together last evening to share our results.  The learning curve worked to our advantage.  Between us, we were able to cover the whole piece, all 8 iterations of the theme.  We talked about how Handel/Cyr worked out the left hand, the repeated interval patterns beginning on different notes in each measure, but the pattern was the same measure to measure.  We noticed the scale pattern in the right hand, how it turned itself upside down in the second iteration, how it disappeared in the third section.  We talked a bit about how each of us went about learning it, and about how we struggled to get our hands to play nicely together.  And of course, we fed our performance with wine and cheese.  We rounded out the evening with a sightreading session, playing through duets together.  My lesson coming out of that: introduce the duets in the next lesson, with the goal of a polished duet soiree in September! 

You may ask, why would I teach the same piece of music to multiple students for the same performance?  I had never done so before, even having the 2 girls play the same piece at the Spring Recital.  In the case of the girls, it was a piece I knew both girls would enjoy, and they both really wanted to include it in their recital repertoire.  For the adult soiree, my thinking was different.  I wanted them to compare their learning techniques, their insights along the way.  As an added bonus, I learned different learning techniques!  I was able to help each of them by applying what I learned from each of them.  And we all had compassion for the struggles of the others.  It was a fun experiment.