Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Fly on the Wall

I had the opportunity last weekend of attending a county-wide piano student holiday recital.  I think 35-40 kids participated.  Between the students, parents, and residents of the assisted living facility in attendance, I was lucky to get a seat at the back of the hall!  All in all, the young musicians did well.  Some were better prepared than others. 

One student in particular arrived late, and without his music.  More power to him: he sat down at the piano and attempted to play from memory.  I was touched by his determination.  He got stuck.  What to do to help him?  Really nothing.  He learned, as did the others in attendance, the importance of being prepared, and the grace of accepting defeat.  He was, even in his vulnerability, an inspiration. 

A few of my students sat in front of me.  I enjoyed watching them as they listened to the other students perform.  The older brother's hands were fingering the armchair as his younger sister played.  I do that!  I was especially humored when another student played an arrangement of something one of my kids was also playing.  Whispering to mom, nudging dad's arm.  They are learning to listen critically, to discern a fine performance.  It was as much a joy to watch the audience as it was to listen to the performance.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christmas Miracles

Christmas miracles do happen!  I am still on Cloud 9 after a stunning performance by my students.  The Frederick Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship took place on Thursday, December 26.  It's a 33-year tradition to open the doors at 11 downtown churches, to invite the public in to enjoy the architecture and music.  This year 4 of my students were invited to perform at Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church.  Naomi, age 10, opened our segment with a simple arrangement of Silent Night.  Although I had prepped her as to the nature of the event, she was not expecting the number of spectators when she performed.  Her hesitant start was nevertheless well received; she needed to begin again, but did an admirable job.

Following Naomi, Josie, also age 10, thrilled her audience with 5 Christmas numbers.  I admit, I was a bit nervous; at her last lesson, she played too quickly.  She knew the notes, but had yet to add the nuances to pull me into the music.  In the 10 days between lesson and performance, Josie had perfected her art.  O Christmas Tree flowed from her fingers.  Deck the Hall, and Jingle Bells both combined staccato and legato beautifully. We Wish You a Merry Christmas was very merry indeed.  Josie saved her best for last.  Always a hit with bell choirs, Carol of the Bells was equally stunning on the piano

Josie's brother, Michael, age 12, followed with a stunning performance of Let It Snow!  His light touch, I could see the snowflakes, he was so convincing.  He then knocked my socks off with Vince Guaraldi's Christmastime Is Here.  This piece is complex, starts quietly enough, but the rhythms are tricky.  Moving down the page, it gets more technically complicated, but Michael handled the polyrhythms seemingly effortlessly.  I was beaming.  I think he was too.

Eleanor finished the program out.  To be honest, she is no longer my student.  She now attends the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and has a teacher there to shepherd her through music selection and practice.  Eleanor played a lovely rendition of O Holy Night,  followed by Sleigh Ride.   That second piece is one of my favorites.  Not to be outdone by her brother, Eleanor whipped through another Vince Guaraldi piece, Linus and Lucy.  Visions of the whole Charlie Brown gang skating on the frozen pond danced in my head. 

All in all, this Centennial experience was joyful, and historic.  I can't speak for the other churches in the area, but this was the first time children were highlighted in performance at Centennial during this candlelight tour.  In the 5 hours that the church was open, over 1800 people entered to enjoy the sights and sounds, and I am thrilled that some of those sounds came from the fingers of my students!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Ebony and Ivory Friday

Happy day after Thanksgiving, everyone!  Some call this day Black Friday, a day for saving beaucoup bucks at the shopping mall; I prefer Ebony and Ivory Friday, an extra day of piano playing with no specific agenda, just the joy of making music for all the family to enjoy. 
Speaking of joyful music, our post-Halloween recital was a Big Hit!  Thank you to all who participated, including Naomi, Michael, Radar, Josie, Anda, and Reese.  Each of you worked hard to learn your pieces, even while I was on vacation.  I am so proud of you!  Pastor Deb of Centennial United Methodist Church was especially moved by your performance and extended an invitation to play something appropriate at the Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship on December 26.  Let me know your interest.
In lieu of lessons over the holidays, the Frederick County Music Teachers Association will sponsor a Holiday Recital on Saturday, December 28, at 2:30.at Homewood at Crumland Farms, 7407 Willow Road, Frederick.  Mark your calendars now.  Registration deadline is December 7.  Please fill out Video Authorization Form for this one.  I am hoping everyone will participate in this event.
Enough of me pecking at the computer keys.  Each of you can get back to Ebony and Ivory Friday and make a joyful noise on your piano.  I’ll see you all this next week, when we’ll start to polish your holiday performance pieces. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

And it worked!

And it worked!  I took a 2-week vacation, left my students with a Practice Challenge to practice every day with a critical ear, to listen for a steady tempo, a crisp staccato, a convincing phrase.  Upon my return, they each had one lesson before our post-Halloween recital.  I was so pleased!  They were prepared to perform.  A little tweaking, perhaps, here and there, but these kids knew their music, and certainly convinced me.

We held our post-Halloween recital last night.  Seven of us performed, including myself.  (A revelation from my last recital -- my students never hear me perform, so why not put myself in the program?)  We played in a 119 year old church downtown, and the acoustics were great!   The space was filled with creepy Halloween music oozing from the rafters.  Oh, I was thrilled!  Special thanks to Naomi, Michael, Reese, Radar, Josie and Ande for sharing their talent.  I think we had 30 people in the audience.  And thank you, Christena, for the cupcakes!

Almost forgot.  After the performance, while we mingled and enjoyed cupcakes and sparkling cider, the kids continued to entertain us on 2 pianos, at the same time!  I think everyone played through their Halloween pieces again, and played other favorites.  A musical montage.  Oh, I loved it!

Friday, October 18, 2019

When the cat's away...

I'm planning a trip, and that takes me away from my students.  What's a teacher to do?  And just before a performance opportunity!

In anticipation of my absence, I uncovered a Practice Challenge I had downloaded from Tim Topham's Inner Circle.  Basically, keep track of your practice dates and times.  I've extended the challenge to include what you've practiced, and at the end of each week, give yourself a self-lesson.  Listen with your ears as you play, critique your performance.  Did you keep a steady tempo?  Is your staccato crisp?   Is your Halloween music suitably Halloween-y?

I'm hoping this will help each of my students stay focused.  I'm hoping this will help keep them somewhat accountable to their practice time.  I'm hoping that rather than simply playing through their practice pieces and thinking that's enough, they will start to develop some listening skills.  And yes, we have a Post-Halloween recital coming up upon my return.  I'm hoping that carrot will keep them practicing.  I've explained my approach to the parents as well.  It's an experiment.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


You learn something new every day.  I've been at this job for nearly 4 decades.  Arranging for performance opportunities has been part of the job description from the beginning.  Requiring commitment from  my students has never been a consideration.  Through my participation with the Frederick County Music Teachers Association, I have actually questioned the need for permission slips and recital fees.  Last month I learned the folly of my ways.

Each of my summer students worked on his or her own portion from Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.    One or 2 students let me know early on that they were unavailable for the performance, and I worked with the remaining students to divvy up their animals among those students who, I assumed, were committed.  I did not ask for permission slips.

The week of the performance, 4 kids backed out.  Yikes!  I considered cancelling the performance, but I didn't want to disappoint those remaining students, young and old, who had worked so hard over the summer!   I worked my own fingers very hard that week to get those missing pieces up to performance level.  

I learned a lot in the process.  RSVPs are crucial.  Don't get me wrong, everyone put in effort to learn their pieces.  And I think everyone wanted and intended to participate.  The children's parents were enthusiastic and supportive.  But we sometimes over-schedule, either our children or ourselves.  We forget, or don't allow enough time for all of our commitments.  Perhaps a permission slip will act as an event reminder.  I don't want to tack on recital fees, but I am holding onto that concept as a future incentive as well. 

I also learned that my students and their parents enjoyed hearing me perform.  This was a student performance, and I did not want to take away from that.  I hadn't realized that the only "performing" my students hear from me is in dribs and drabs, phrases here and there in their music during lessons.  It was a revelation.  I think they liked seeing me nervous too!

We have another performance opportunity just around the corner.  Due to scheduling conflicts in October, my students will perform their post-Halloween recital on Friday, November 8, at 5:30, at Centennial United Methodist Church.  Although I never require performance participation, I will request RSVPs this time.  I hope everyone can be there!


Monday, September 16, 2019

End of Summer Coup

Such fun!  My summer students performed Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals yesterday evening, to the delight of all in attendance.  We had been working on it all summer.  Each of my students had a part, even the adults!  What a coup!  This was a first for me, children and adult students playing for each other.  I was so pleased with everyone's performance, from the Royal Lions to the Swans, from the Characters with Long Ears to the Fossils, the Elephants and the salmon-pink Japanese Angel Fish.  The Swan was played especially well, truly evoking a swan gliding on a pond in the silver moonlight, and brought a tear to my eye.

Originally scored for two pianos, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute (and piccolo), clarinet C and B), glass harmonica, and xylophoneSaint-Saens wrote the orchestral version in 1886, as a joke really.  He was deeply immersed in his Symphony #3 and needed a diversion.  He allowed only one performance in March 1886.  It was not until after he died that the manuscript was rediscovered, and it has been a favorite of concert-goers ever since!  

Hans-Gunter Heumann composed our piano arrangement, and Vicco von Bulow (better known as LORIOT) provided the narrative.  One note from the score, "In the opinion of Saint-Saens, pianists are a strange, almost animal-like species, playing endless, boring scales with the utmost seriousness."  The beginning student assigned this role was unable to attend, so I took that part.  I think my students were impressed by the utmost seriousness with which I executed those scales!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Noteworthy Newsletter

It’s official.  I became a gramma on August 5; a bouncing baby boy, the apple of my eye, my pride and joy.  But I digress.  Piano is my life, and you, my students are also my pride and joy, don’t ever doubt it!

The school year is upon us. I will offer lessons Monday through Thursday, beginning September 9, 2019 and running through June 11, 2020.  Tuition remains the same at $120 per month for weekly, 30-minute lessons.  Longer (and shorter) lessons are available.

A few holidays are worked into the schedule.  Specifically, the week of Thanksgiving, December 23 through January 3, the week of February 17, 2020, and a sliding Spring Break. 

To show off their summer accomplishments, my summer students will present Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals on Friday, September 13.  Please note the date change.  This performance will take place at 5:30 at Centennial United Methodist Church, 8 W. 2nd Street.  Street parking is an option—meters stop at 5:00 -- and there are garages within walking distance.  My adult students are also partaking in this event.  I am so excited!  Also, pencil in Saturday, October 26 for the Halloween Recital.  I will be out of town that weekend and I need a parent to fill in for me.  Any volunteers?
The week of September 2-6 is a piano holiday for my school-age students: get back into the school routine; we will commence lessons again the week of September 9.  In the meantime, please confirm your fall lesson slot.  And even though you don’t have lessons, please continue to practice.  We have a performance in 2 weeks!                   

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Summer Catch-Me-Up

So, I didn't sleep last night.  After tossing and turning, reading, and counting sheep, I finally gave up, got up, and listened to a webcast on making and keeping a Piano Studio Website.  Most important takeaway from this lesson: update often.  Having obviously failed in that regard, I offer the past piano year in a nutshell, just to catch everyone up. 

Last September opened with a Duet Recital.  I actually wrote about that in my previous post.  We jumped quickly into Halloween Season music.  The Frederick County Music Teachers Association sponsors a Halloween recital each October, to the delight of all involved.  Everyone comes in costume; our emcee this year was Sponge Bob!  I had 6 students performing, and of course they each were stellar performers.  A 7th student participated in a piano competition that very same day.  She played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and the reviews came back very positive.  She was nervous, but apparently hid it well.

Over the Christmas break, the FCMTA sponsored a holiday recital at a local assisted living residence.  Four of my kids performed, and one very brave young student took part in the Spring Keyboard Musicianship Testing event.  Our Spring Studio Recital at the end of April did not close out the year: 2 additional performance opportunities awaited.  I was thrilled to have 4 students perform at the Frederick Arts Festival.  In addition, we spent the month of May learning bug music, i.e. music inspired by insects.  I read portions of David Rothenberg's Bug Music, highlighting the incessant call and response on the cicada, the rhythmic chirrups of crickets, and other tidbits on the contributions of insects to music.  We closed the event with a lively exchange on rhythm cups, enjoyed by students and parents alike.  All in all, a fun event, and a performance-packed year.

I am so proud of one of my school-age students who auditioned and was accepted at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown, and will start there in September.  Another of my students went on to study music and psychology in college; she found me after 30 years and took up lessons with me again after a hiatus!  What a treat for me!

This summer, all of my students, young and old, have been working on excerpts from Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, which they will perform for each other in September.  I can't wait!