Friday, December 10, 2010


Six of my younger students performed for the residents of Sunrise Assisted Living this past weekend.  After a lot of schedule changes, we were happy to be there, and the residents were happy to have us!  The recital opened with the National Anthem.  One of the gentlemen asked if they should all stand.  LOL  From there the music ranged from a spooky, well-performed Halloween selection (see previous note about schedule changes) to Jingle Bells, from Classical to Rock 'n Roll.  The kids were great.  The youngest performer, 7 years old, asked if she could play her own composition.  I admit, I was hesitant, I didn't know what to expect.  But she really wanted to play, and what a great job she did -- you could hear the Christmas bells ringing!  After performing, we shared juice and cookies with our audience.  All in all, a wonderful respite from the pre-holiday rush!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Adult soiree

Such fun!  I hosted a soiree last Sunday afternoon.  Four of my adult students participated, playing whatever they have been working on most recently.  We gathered at 4:00.  One participant was detained, so we gathered around the hors d'oevres and chatted it up a bit.  Present so far:  Phyllis, a brandie-new student to me, transferring from the credit department at the college to the non-credit department (less pressure); Olivia, a student of 3 years; Rob, whom I've been teaching for 5, maybe 6 years, his wife Katie, and Kerry, my newlywed daughter.   The Rob and Olivia played at my last adult soiree, 2 years ago.  None of us could believe it had been that long ago!  All enjoyed sharing their stories, why they are taking lessons, how long they've been playing, what they enjoy playing.  My daughter entered into the conversation as well, having played both the piano and the flute for a while when she was younger.

Jim and Frieda eventually joined us, at which point we moved to the piano to enjoy an informal performance.  I volunteered to go first.  This was new for me -- I do not perform in recitals.  After my summer camp experience, I thought I should break the ice, as it were.  I had played Confidence, one of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, last summer, and dusted it off that morning.  I introduced my piece, talked a bit about my summer experience, what I had done, what I had learned.  Then I sat down and played.  Not flawlessly, but well enough.  One of my favorite quotes from Oprah magazine: "Strive for Excellence, not Perfection."

Phyllis volunteered to go next.  She had just finished working on Bach's Minuet in D Major.  She gave quite a good introduction, talked about Anna Magdelena Bach and her children, the Baroque era.  Finally she talked herself down enough to play.  She was nervous, but I insisted that she go on: we are not a discriminating audience, but a most appreciative group of fans.  She started hesitantly, but played on, and received a great round of applause when she finished.  She sat down and said she can now relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.  Her audience noted her well-rounded knowledge of her piece.  Phyllis was happy to move out of the spotlight, which now shone on Rob.

Not to be outdone, Rob gave a brief history of the Beatles before facing the keyboard to play Here, There and Everywhere.  I was very proud of his performance.  He has been working on bringing out the melody, not rushing.  He was very expressive.  He, too, received a hearty round of applause.  Katie, especially, was happy to hear him play -- he tends to practice when no one is home.

Jim was quick to volunteer next.  Jim is my "youngest" student, in that he just started at the piano in June.  We had worked about halfway through the lesson book, and he said he wanted to play more rock and roll.  He wanted to play Layla!  LOTS of notes, but he was determined.  We worked on it for a few weeks, and he felt comfortable enough to play through the first verse.  Jim has enviously long fingers -- he could play Clapton's chords with relative ease, but he stopped at the chorus!  Didn't matter -- he did very well, and his wife, too, was especially proud of his performance.  Everyone was impressed that such a rookie would tackle such a composition.  Good job!

Okay, Olivia, it's your turn.  She has been working on another Baroque piece, Minuet in F Major, by Haydn. She has worked hard on this one, and it showed.  Her technique was admirable, her dynamics well-suited.  She commented upon finishing that she forgot the repeats, but perhaps she just forgot that she played them.. She seemed more nervous toward the end than at the start, and any mishaps occurred in the last line.  Nevertheless, she was spectacular.  Another round of applause for a job well done.

Now we can party!  I had prepared a limited array of appetizers, and wine, of course.  I think everyone had a great time.  We concluded the evening with hugs all around, and promises to get together again for another performance opportunity.  I received my marching orders: a soiree next spring.  I'm already looking forward to it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Noteworthy News ~ November 2010

(I should have posted this 3 weeks ago.  Oops.)

November is a short month.  I do not teach the week of Thanksgiving.  You can play for your grandparents before you sit down for turkey dinner.  They will love to hear you perform!  Lest there be any questions, the tuition remains the same.  There will be longer months in the new year to make up the difference.  Just makes bookkeeping easier all around.

The mini-recital is on!  We will perform for the residents of Sunrise Assisted Living on Sunday, December 5.  There are 7 of you who have responded -- I am counting on each of you to remember and to be there.

Remember also, this is not a formal recital, but an opportunity for you to show off what you have been working on, and to provide some light entertainment for the residents.  They are looking forward to you being there.  And of course, those of you who need it can earn an hour of community service for participating.

Monday, October 18, 2010

No excuse for missing a lesson

"But she didn't practice all week.  She'll just have to miss her lesson this week."  How often have I heard such a line?  And how often have I acquiesced?  Until now, that is.  I have finally come to understand the efficacy of a weekly lesson, regardless of progress at home.  Yea, verily, 30 minutes of daily practice is not always the key to success at the keyboard.  Effective training at the lesson is the essence.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I would encourage my students not to practice.  What kind of teacher would I be?  Daily practice is the aim.  Effective practice is the goal.  In my studio, when a student sits down at a lesson, she plays through the assigned piece.  No comments until the end.  I typically ask what she thought of her performance.  "Did you listen as you played?"  Funny, the responses I get.  Often that's the hardest part of coaching: they have to listen as they play -- how else can they hear what they're doing?  Then we review the sticky passages.  I provide a practice approach to improve those sections.  We then "practice" how to practice.  And immediately the notes go in the assignment book.  I might even ask for a review of the assignment.  That way we both know what's expected over the next week.  If all goes well, the following lesson will produce great improvements, and space to move forward.

So what happens when the student doesn't touch the keyboard all week?  Certainly the previous lesson has not been ingrained.  Possibly no improvement will be apparent.  Surprisingly, there are times when  the following lesson shows great improvement.  How can this be?  As I stated above, we had already practiced the tricky spots together a week earlier, and maybe the repeated review is all it took.  So I ask, "Imagine how it would sound had you spent even one day last week actually practicing?"  Yes, just imagine.  Lest the performance be a fluke, I do repeat all that I had encouraged the week before, highlighting the improvements, and more than likely, making additional suggestions.

Another reason not to accept missing a lesson is in that word I used above: "ingrained".  When a student hasn't heard her teacher's words of advice and encouragement for a week, she tends to forget them, even though I have written them clearly in her assignment book.  The trouble spot is still there.  She may very likely continue to play that trouble spot as she originally learned it.  The incorrect fingering or phrasing becomes ingrained in the hands, and all that much harder to break.  Attending an intervening lesson will always highlight that same section, review the proper fingering or approach, and lead to improvement.

In a nutshell, daily practice is an essential element in moving forward at the keyboard.  Weekly lessons are vital -- no excuses.  30 or 60 minutes of concentrated effort once a week with a teacher will highlight trouble spots and break bad habits.  So get back on that piano bench and practice!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Noteworthy News ~ October 2010

We’ve been at it for a month already.  And already each of you, from beginner to advanced, has made great strides at the keyboard.  I look forward to every lesson, and to hearing what you’ve learned each week.  Keep up the good work!

I need to postpone our previously scheduled mini-recital. I know as we move into November and December, everyone’s schedules become busy.  Please check your calendar ASAP - how does Sunday, November 14, or Sunday, December 5 fit into your busy schedule?  I need a commitment now in order to prepare a full program.

Why do I arrange these mini-recitals at Sunrise?  It is an opportunity for younger members of our community to give back to our senior neighbors.  I see it also as a  “practice” performance, in front of a very accepting audience.  And those who need it can earn an hour of community service.  So let me know.  And keep practicing!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summertrios, the final episode

Friday night, I'd been there 6 days, I was beginning to enjoy this whole "music all day" thing, not to mention letting someone else make meals and clean up.  Friday night was Camper Concert night.  Ooh, as I said in my first post, I signed up for this whole week to help me work on confidence, and what better way than to sign myself up to perform?  I figure, hey, I've come this far, paid a whole lot to get here, and learned enough to keep me going for a good long time.  I really need to take this one last step.  (And as I told my students, I really needed to put myself in their position, to appreciate fully what I put them through every spring.)

My group and I had worked on the Schubert all week.  In fact, everyone I played with all week long worked on the Schubert with me.  I'm sure they were all fairly tired of playing the Schubert, but I was fired up to show off what we had learned!  Our group played 7th on the program: lots of time to get nervous, right?  Someone had suggested that eating a banana would work similarly to a beta blocker, calming the nerves, at least a bit.  I grabbed a banana for dessert that evening.

I don't know if the banana beta blocker was the ticket, or if I had convinced myself not to freak out, but whatever it was, I sat at the piano, with the violinist at my right shoulder and the 'cellist in front of the piano, and we did it!  I gave the starting breath, and away we went, piano talking to 'cello talking to violin and back to piano.  We communicated, we blended, we were gr-r-r-eat!  A benefit of playing chamber music is the chance to cover up your mistakes.  Oh, I'm sure we each had a few oopses, but we all kept going, maintained  a decent tempo, and counted when we got lost.  As long as someone was playing, who's the wiser?  We started together, we stayed together, and we ended together to a great round of applause.

I know we each had fun, and I developed that confidence which I so blatantly lacked earlier in the week.  Thank you, Summertrios, for providing the opportunity and the venue to overcome my stage fright, to learn the beauty of chamber music, and to experience the joy of playing with fellow musicians.  It was well worth the expense.  Let me add as I close, the final day, while other groups were practicing for the second Camper Concert, I sightread all day.  What a hoot that was!  I am so glad I went to summer camp this year.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summertrios part II

The whole week was an experience, let me assure you!  Each day was filled with practice.  Practice with other campers, practice with professionals, practice with my group and a coach, and lots and lots of practice on my own, trying to get those squeaky measures tweaked just so.   Folks would practice in the living room of the dorm, in the dining hall, in practice studios, in the hallway, in their dorm rooms, and even outside under the trees. (Violinists have an advantage there -- they can practice anywhere! The pianists would scramble every morning to reserve a practice room.)  There was music everywhere!

I had been working on one section (maybe only 2 measures), trying to get my right hand to play in fast running thirds.  I just could not get it.  My last coaching session provided the help I needed -- let your left hand play too.  It was written for right hand alone, my left hand had nothing to do at that point.  It never occurred to me to use my left hand to play the notes my right hand was missing.  Wow, what a difference! Yes, I can play that section!  

I especially liked the professional sessions.  Even when I messed up, the pros kept going, covering up my mistakes, and making the whole thing sound ... professional!  I received good coaching at these sessions as well.  The violinist didn't like my attack at one point.  He stopped and wanted me to play alone.  He corrected my fingering.  He showed me a different way to drop my hand to create a different sound.  But wait -- "You're a violinist, aren't you?"  He was first a musician, and a very good one at that.  A violinist, a pianist, a conductor -- and a great mentor.  I learned a lot from him.  Oh, and the 'cellist from Day Two, remember him?  We were assigned together once more, and I had had enough time to "get" this whole chamber music thing by then.  We did much better second time around.

The evenings were a time to relax, for us campers at least.  We enjoyed concerts by the professionals each evening.  Piano trios and quartets, string quartets, all performed with such pizzazz.  We all enjoyed letting someone else's fingers do the walking.  Wow, were they good!  Post concert was always party time.  And yes, an occasion for more music.  The string pros would do a "read through" to beat the band.  Such good music from morning 'til night.  Nothing like it!

Friday, August 27, 2010

What an experience I had earlier this summer.  Before June 2010, I had never been to sleep away camp.  Before June 2010, I had never played in a piano master class (voluntarily yet!).  Before June 2010, I had never played chamber music.  This past June, I experienced all three events.

Summertrios is a music camp for adults, held at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA.  I drove up in the Miata, with the top down, and just a little shirt -- I wanted to work on  my tan.  2 hours later, I was hot, my hair was unkempt, and my shoulders sunburned. When I pulled into Campus, I had no idea I looked as disheveled as I did.  I checked in, got my room assignment, and immediately headed for the shower.  Oh, I was hot, and the water wasn't.  At all.  In fact, it was very cold.  Nevertheless, I jumped in and out quickly, enough time to cool off and wash my hair.  Once I felt more presentable, I ambled across campus to the main building for dinner.  I was in a room full of strangers (to me, at least.)  For the rest of the campers, it was like old home week.  They gather at this venue annually.  Devotees, every one of them.  And all musical geeks, so I fit right in.  Everyone wanted to know what I was playing.  I don't know, some Schubert piece, and something by Mendolssohn?  I had never heard of these particular compositions before preparing myself for this week, but they knew exactly what I was learning.  Most of them had played them in earlier years.  Good, they can help me!

Day One was Getting to Know You.  Day Two was Forget about Life for a While, and get in that practice room and PRACTICE!  I had a reading session with one accomplished 'cello player and a novice violinist.  What a wake-up experience that was.  They have a score for their instrument only.  I have the full score, and in addition to playing my own part, I was supposed to follow them as well.  Needless to say, that first session did not produce good music, but we had fun trying, and vowed to get together again before the week was over.

My second session was not nearly as fun as the first.  I was assigned to a professional 'cellist and an experienced violinist.  The 'cellist kept stopping (me), saying "This is NOT a piano solo.  LISTEN to your co-players, follow along."  Now, mind you, I hadn't had a piano lesson in 26 years.  And this was my very first exposure to chamber music. I was on the verge of tears, being corrected like that.  I wanted to hide my face,  run away, quit.  But I thought better of it, I spent an awful lot money to get here.  Let's just see how tomorrow plays out.  I knew I was in way over my head, but if I could just tread water a little bit longer.  And besides, there will be wine at the party tonight.

Later that day, I sat in the practice room, playing the Mendolssohn piano solo I had learned for the master class.  Yes, I volunteered for this honor.  How totally unlike me.  From the Mendolssohn Songs without Words, I chose Confidence, one page, not too too demanding, and I was working on confidence from every angle, so it just seemed appropriate.  The 4 other pianists chose much longer pieces, but they were also returning campers, more experienced at this than I.  I played second, the master coach listening intently.  When I finished, she asked me to describe the piece.  ABA form, a sort of introduction, followed by a hymn-like section, and the opening section repeated at the close.  Then she had me go back to the beginning. She critiqued my performance ever so gently: "Try it this way."  "No pedal here."  "Listen to the voices 'talking' to each other".  I got it!  I played it again, with the audience applauding more the second go 'round.  They could hear a difference!  Okay, I'm glad I stayed for this.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.  I'm learning to tread.

[Now I'm off to the beach.  I'll come back to camp in my next post.]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The new piano year is here!

Can you believe the school year is already upon us?  And you know what that means?  Piano lessons are just around the corner, and it's TIME TO PRACTICE.  I'm scheduling lessons Tuesday through Friday in the afternoons.  Rates remain unchanged, $120 a month for 30-minute, weekly lessons.  Other lesson lengths are also available; just let me know if you want to schedule a longer lesson.  Music is an additional charge.  Give me a call to get your name on the schedule, and let's get started!  Polish 2 pieces out of your repertoire, and if there is something specific you want to learn this fall, please bring it with you to your first lesson.  I'm looking forward to getting back together after a long, hot summer.