Most of the time, my student recitals come together with everyone ready, excited and a little nervous, all at the same time. One recital, however, was different.
At first, things proceeded as usual: the space was reserved and paid for; arrangements were made to have the piano tuned; the date was confirmed with the students; the programs were printed; and the parents would provide refreshments.
The week before the recital, my students weren’t ready!
Has this happened in your studio? What did you do?
I gave the situation a lot of thought, and then had to make a decision. The most important consideration was the students. Playing for each other is so important! Everyone makes on-the-spot progress after hearing feedback from other kids.
I didn’t want to wait, eliminating the date. (My student recitals are typically about every six months.) Also, having paid for the space (which was difficult to nail down), the piano tuning, and the programs, I didn’t want to lose the money.
After thinking about all the things I didn’t want to happen, a brainstorm hit.
What if the kids played for each other on the designated date, but their parents weren’t invited?
Every kid loved the idea. No one would have to worry about adults being around when they weren’t ready, and it might even be fun! (The refreshments were still on. It’s never a good idea to cancel the refreshments.)
So that’s what we did. I felt like I had a secret conspiracy going with my students! Nobody had to dress up. Everybody could use the music. They didn’t have to be perfect. And no one would criticize them. What’s not to like?
During the first piece on “recital” day, I had another brainstorm.
Rather than telling each participant what I thought, what if I asked questions of the group instead? The other kids could all talk, and they would probably listen better.
It worked! In fact, it worked so well, I’d do it again in a second.
I just sat back, relaxed, and asked whether everyone had heard fast or slow playing, loud or soft, happy or sad, which hand had played the melody, etc., etc. A big part of not being ready meant that the composer’s dynamics weren’t in the playing yet, the melody and accompaniment were the same, and most of the music was at the easiest tempo for the kid. So those kinds of basic questions were appropriate.
When another kid talks about dynamics and tempo, the one playing hears what they say. Sometimes when I say something, a child will respond with something like, “Of course you can do it. You’re a grownup! You’re expecting me to do that?”
When another child said they heard a loud, peppy piece, for example, the performer corrected his or her playing so fast (to softer and slower) I almost didn’t believe it!
So, after seeing instant results in that “recital,” I am now an unwavering advocate of group lessons. If you haven’t tried it, try it once. You’ll be surprised.
Have you had student recitals that derailed? How did you handle the situation?
Please share your experiences in the comment section below!
When I arrived at an 8-year-old student’s house during a developing storm one day, her 4-year-old sister was home but her mother wasn’t.
The mother had called a few moments before to say that she would be home shortly.
The clouds moved in quickly. Soon we heard thunder. It was loud!
Soon it became obvious that the little sister wouldn’t be able to handle being by herself in another room during the lesson. She opened the door to the basement, where the piano was located. Since she was about to cry, I had to do something!
The piano was located near the stairs. I sat on the steps with the 4-year-old, dreaming up ways to distract her by including her in the lesson.
A potentially awkward situation turned out to be fun!
The older girl played a little “concert” of some pieces she knew. Some of the songs had words, so we could all sing along.
I showed the little girl how to conduct ~ she loved it!
We talked about the music her sister played. Was it fast? Was it slow? Happy? Sad? Funny? Did she like it? Why or why not?
I played a march and a dance while both girls moved to the music.
We clapped along with another piece or two.
Although I hadn’t planned to be the babysitter that day, in this case I had no choice. Happily, this time, it worked out well.
And then Mom came home.
Have you experienced a similar situation while teaching lessons? How did you proceed? How did things work out?
Please share your experiences in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer“ ~ make steady progress without getting stuck! PRINT VERSION NOW AVAILABLE at the Amherst Music House, at Collective Copies, or by sending me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Coming soon: Kindle version on Amazon.com!
My students often choose one piece as a favorite in piano recitals. The “winner” in one was, not surprisingly, Debussy‘s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner.*
It was played very well by a high school junior. And the student who was completely bowled over was in seventh grade!
First lesson following the recital
The younger student (I’ll call her “H”) told me excitedly that she wanted to play that piece.
What would you think of first when considering her request?
My immediate reaction was, “The student who played the piece is four years older!”
After that, I thought, “You’re really not ready.”
And I said “no.”
This went on for a couple of weeks.
H then asked me why I kept saying “no.” I’m so glad she had the courage to call me on it!
I was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to handle the piece, would become completely discouraged, and stop studying. So I told her all of that.
H said, “What if I promise not to quit?” Aha! Good suggestion!
So I felt much better about saying “yes.”
We tackled the piece! H could handle the beginning and the end fairly well. The middle section, though, was beyond her. “Cedez?” What the heck is that? In addition, she hadn’t had much experience pedaling. (There were also hand-position changes, wide stretches, unusual fingerings…. and the key signature! See musical example, above.)
So we did the difficult parts by rote. That was a little tedious, but possible.
H performed the piece! She was terrific!!!
H had skipped at least a year of slower, step-by-step learning. She improved more than I could have imagined.
So I’ll resist saying “no” in the future. Enthusiasm trumps experience sometimes!
Have you been challenged by a student who wanted to play something that seemed too difficult? How did you handle the situation? What were the results?
Please share your experience in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer“ ~ make steady progress without getting stuck! PRINT VERSION NOW AVAILABLE. Coming soon: Kindle version on Amazon.com!
*Read more about Children’s Corner on this blog here.
A Hampshire College acorn beaned me on the head today!
The gorgeous foliage is dramatically different this year in Western Massachusetts. Early in the season, I thought the colors would be less impressive because of all the rain we’ve had. More leaves had fallen earlier this time around.
The beauty is equal to other seasons. Different, and just as wonderful as in past years.
During Hampshire’s Family and Friends Weekend, parents with cameras would stroll around campus, come to a stop in front of a tree, and gaze at it for a long time without taking pictures.
One red maple in front of my building has lost most of its leaves. The last attached leaves are widely spaced, some hanging onto charcoal gray, horizontal branches. The effect is like an Asian design.
The red maples turned red first, and then turned orange! I don’t remember seeing so much orange in past seasons. This year the orange is so intense it’s shocking, instantly riveting your attention.
I love the way the light turns yellow when you pass a gold tree. It’s fun to stand underneath one and experience sunshine, even on a rainy day.
Some days can be very windy, often gusty. Yellow leaves blow horizontally across the windshield of the bus I’m on, fifteen or twenty at a time. In yesterday’s wind squall, leaves of all descriptions swirled all over, like a dust storm.
One tree near Amherst College has green leaves still, with red borders around the edges wide enough to have been drawn with a crayon. Another has wide yellow stripes across the green, near the tip.
At Hampshire, I looked up toward the perfect sky to see red leaves glistening in the sun. The rest of the tree was empty of foliage.
One tree at Hampshire seems to be a white birch. But there are no branches! Instead, there are longish tendrils hanging down from the top. They are similar to those of a weeping willow, but not as long, and with very little vegetation attached. I wonder what type of tree that is?
Banks of trees lining the roads or bordering the fields provide a riot of color no matter where you look. At times the leaves look like a pointillistic painting ~ at others, like small, irregularly shaped pieces of paper made into a collage. The density of the leaves in each area and the distance of the trees from each other causes the varying visual impressions. The position of the sun also provides constant changes, sometimes causing a dappled effect, sometimes backlighting the leaves. The light changes as you pass.
One of my favorite sights is an old tree with red leaves and vines with yellow leaves attached to the dark charcoal trunk. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
A house with gold trees near the street also has a gold lawn, the grass completely covered with fallen leaves. I hope it stays that way.
Small yellow leaves often fall to eye level, then waft horizontally on the breeze, after which they spin to the ground. From a certain distance, they could be mistaken for butterflies!
The hills in the distance resemble a dark blanket with red, orange, and gold patches woven in at intervals. Or different-colored mums, all in one pot. When you look a little closer to where you are, you see the same effect, but much larger, when individual trees become discernible.
Around 5:30 two or three evenings ago, the sky was dark gray and the sun illuminated the trees below. The darkness of the sky made the light and the colors even more intense than usual.
After the sun had sunk, the leaves of the hemlocks appeared to be a flat, subtle sage color, where earlier they had been a sunlit, greenish lemon-yellow.
When I arrived home after dark, the street lights brought out the color in nearby trees. Beautiful even at night.
I love living in a crayon box!
What do you experience when looking at foliage in your area? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer“ ~ about making steady progress without getting stuck!
Chopin in two sentences!
A former piano student I had the pleasure of teaching for two years grew up in Korea. She had studied piano for six years before I met her, always in a class situation.
She described her classes as only playing the notes. The teacher would walk around the room, saying “OK, next” when students knew the notes. So the students would turn the page and go on.
Hence the following story.
My student (I’ll call her “K”) played something for me, I don’t recall what. Everything sounded like everything else.
So I said, “Where’s the melody?” K’s response was a confused facial expression. She honestly didn’t know.
After some discussion, K said, “I thought it [playing music] was just playing the notes!” Given what transpired in her previous piano classes, this was not surprising.
K and I discussed what she would like to work on. (This was Continuing Ed., no requirements.) She answered, “Chopin, Fantaisie Impromptu.” I took a very deep breath while thinking about what I would say.
My initial reaction was that she would never be able to learn the piece, given her current repertoire. Had she done anything with complicated rhythms between hands? No. Nor did she have a practice plan to handle this piece.
And then I thought further. She had the chops, she sight-read well, and she was accurate. She loved the piece, and had the maturity to accept that she might need to switch to something else.
So I said “yes,” wondering whether I had just made a big mistake.
K had broken down the rhythms, and was playing very slowly, fitting the right hand’s 16th notes in with the left hand’s triplets. Accurate, yes, but think about it. It wasn’t music, and getting the sweeping sound required would take forever.
So I took another big risk, suggesting that she just play it. Let each hand do what it wants to, and don’t analyze the rhythm so meticulously. K reacted with surprise.
It worked! Just like that. Yes, the tempo needed to be faster, but the music was there. I wouldn’t recommend that leap for every student, but K was ready to go there.
With a student recital coming up, K wanted to perform. So we started working on presentation.
Since K had never performed before, we practiced walking to the piano, how to begin the piece, and bowing afterwards.
I asked K how she had been practicing the piece. How was it going? How did she feel, with the recital a week away?
Her response: “I ask, ‘Where is melody?’ Then I bow to wall.”
So there you go. Chopin in two sentences! : )
Have you taken chances with your students? What was the outcome? Please share your experiences in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book, “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer“ ~ making steady progress without getting stuck! Print version coming soon! Proofed first copy last week!!! Very exciting!!!
Most pianists find themselves playing electronic keyboards from time to time. To my mind, the way we think about that makes a difference.
Of course there are “keyboardists” ~ that’s what they do. That’s how they describe themselves. And that’s fine! My take is somewhat different.
Having spent several years in the “pianist” niche, I think of myself as a pianist who also plays keyboard. Some pianists are reluctant to go there.
My first experience playing a keyboard was with the Norman Luboff Choir. We used a keyboard for the first half of each concert. For Monteverdi and Schütz, a small organ sound was needed. Mendelssohn required more sound. And there was one more piece for which we used a large pipe organ sound.
The large sound worked well in the high and middle ranges. But something was missing in the bass register. No rattle, the kind that happens with the 16′ or 32′ bourdon stops. A large pipe organ should rattle your soul, your chair, the walls and the floor ~ in other words, your entire being.
As things turned out, we only performed the piece twice.
A recent production of the Fantasticks in which I played used two keyboards and a drum set wedged into the available space.
The harp part worked well on keyboard. In fact, the keyboard provided a much better outcome than an acoustic piano would have. Glissandi on an acoustic piano tear up the skin on your hands very quickly!
This particular keyboard had unweighted keys, which turned out to be a help. Less weight was required to play glissandi. In addition, I discovered that using the palm side rather than the back of my hand worked great.
Result: 36 shows, skin intact. 🙂
Another situation involves the Valley Light Opera, a group that performs Gilbert & Sullivan each Fall. This year the group changed rehearsal spaces. The new location has one acoustic piano ~ other rooms are equipped with keyboards.
So far, so good, except for last night’s rehearsal. We moved to a different room for the first time in order to rehearse with the set. The keyboard there was a disaster! (I’ll spare you the details… long list!)
Using keyboards in this rehearsal space is a necessity ~ much better than nothing (most of the time)!
Other situations in which a keyboard has been useful:
- playing a concert for a woman who was bedridden with ALS
- outdoor church services
- producing a harpsichord sound ~ I find it so much easier to play a keyboard than to adjust to a harpsichord, which is completely different in key width/length and action. Harpsichord technique is specific to the instrument, not at all the same as playing the piano.
- piano class situations ~ students use headphones
- beginning piano students can do very well by having a keyboard at home
One note about a major difference between keyboards and acoustic pianos: the keyboard has only one pedal, and it slips around constantly.
Acoustic pianos have much more sound capability ~ variety in dynamics, differences in articulation, shadings of sound produced by subtle differences in finger pressure, etc. The damper pedal has levels of engagement. There are two additional pedals ~ sostenuto and una corda. Playing Debussy on a keyboard, when the
is needed, just wouldn’t be satisfactory. The choices would be to blur all the sounds or let the bass notes disappear.
Keyboards are quite useful and sometimes necessary. I play the keyboard like a pianist, not the other way around. And I will always think of myself as a pianist.
What do you think? How do you handle this question? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” ~ about making steady progress without getting stuck!
This is more about Marilyn Horne than Joan Sutherland… I’m posting it anyway.
A day after the Lincoln Center concert with Sutherland, Horne, & Pavarotti and the New York Philharmonic, I was at Martin Katz’s apartment when Horne was there. We were watching part of the concert video, a Sutherland/Horne duet.
Martin: “We have a choice. We can look at your [Horne’s] mouth or Joan’s chest.”
Horne: “I was wearing 4-inch heels and Joan was barely wearing SHOES!”(To be filed under “What I Learned when I was in Graduate School: Extracurricular Activities”)
On Sunday I watched the men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo. Since watching the best players is such a draw for me, I’ve been thinking about why that is.
My all-time favorite activity is performing concerts. Professional tennis has a lot in common with that.
Nadal’s uncle Toni, who is also his coach, said in a New York Times interview:
“People see the victories; they don’t see the obstacles…. Rafa has an approach which is very important and that is even if things don’t come quickly, he continues to believe they are going to come, and he is ready to keep trying until they do.”
You know, obstacles like the intense work required, injuries, fatigue, meeting the public even when you’d rather be at dinner or sleeping or seeing a movie….
In other words, it isn’t always fun. I get it, and I’m sure other performers do, too.
Until they have gained a certain amount of experience, music students often see only the end result. After hearing a wonderful performance on CD, it can be very hard to honor the process of getting there. It sounds so easy! When reminded that some musicians spend 10 years or more on a piece before performing it, they honestly can’t believe it.
But that’s what it takes.
- Always practice
- Challenge yourself
- Celebrate your progress
- Acknowledge your failures
- Seek good advice
- When you fall backwards, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again”*
- Never give up
- Always be gracious
- Be ready for surprises
- Be in charge of you
- Know that you’re in it for the long haul
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book ~ “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” ~ make steady progress without getting stuck!