Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PIANO PROGRAMS-National Federation of Music Clubs

Another program that suits many students of different abilities is the Festival, sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs. This program has a booklet, called a bulletin, that lists required pieces by level. This bulletin encompasses American composers; most of the music has been published in the last 5 years! I hope to get a piece in this bulletin some day.

The NFMC was founded in 1898, and is the only music organization member of the United Nations. NFMC provides opportunities for musical study, performance and appreciation to more than 200,000 senior, student and junior members in 6,500 music-related clubs and organizations nationwide. Members are professional and amateur musicians, vocalists, composers, dancers, performing artists, arts and music educators, and music students. Notice that this event supports more than just piano performers. It has categories in everything from accordian and guitar to folk and broadway singing.

Each student plays 2 pieces by memory. One is from the bulletin list, the other is called their "choice" piece. It is a misnomer in a way, because at the intermediate levels and above, the piece must be composed by a non-American. This tends to put us in mind of the dead white European guys like Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. I have had a great time incorporating still alive, non-European guys and women(!) just to change things up a little.

The local clubs are also members of the state and national federation. They sell the bulletins, plus teachers pay local and state dues to belong and to be able to send your students. Bulletins are $5-6 every 3 years, my local dues were $45.00 this year. The clubs set their own prices for the student entries. They need to cover the judges, the location, the pianos delivery and tuning, the janitorial fees, and last year each student entry was $20.00. This is for 2 pieces, remember, and Guild was $30 for as many as 10 pieces. The fee in this case is also going toward an eventual trophy.

Each year, students can earn up to five points on their solo program. When they have earned 15 points, they earn the first trophy. Subsequent trophies grow in size at 30, 45, 60, and 75 points. Eventually to earn the largest trophies, students perform in concerti events in addition to their solo events.

These festivals take place between January and March, based on local club choice and occur only once per year.

Students receive a critique and certificate. There is a deep sense of personal satisfaction upon completing enough years to win a trophy. It is a unique event for all ages and abilities. This event also has opportunities for adults to perform and earn trophies too.

This is a great mid-year goal and everyone can eventually earn a trophy. These pieces work for Guild as well. There is a fresh list, except upper levels every 3 years. Again it is a NATIONAL PROGRAM- students can take it with them
if they move out of area.

I'm less of a fan of the trophies. They are an outward, extrinsic reward for an intrinsic music endeavor. But they motivate students. And it takes them three years or more to earn one. This is still much different that receiving a huge trophy for participation in a sport. My son has a large trophy from baseball, but he was in the outfield and on the bench most of the time. His music trophy from the Festival sits proudly on his shelf, the big trophy is in the back of his closet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michelle Notes

Last night a dear young one was learning about grace notes. They are the small notes before regular sized notes in a music score. They are a form of ornamentation, usually seen in earlier music, Baroque or Classical, but Chopin used this style of notation too. I went on discussing how different composers meant them to be played on the beat, or before the beat. We noticed that sometimes the stem of the notes have slashes through them, and that was the way the composers told us what they meant. Mozart sometimes wrote grace notes that today we would have written as regular sixteenth notes; practices have changed regarding manuscript writing and what was intended. That's why we study history as well as the music, so that we perform it closely to the way the composer intended.

"Do you mean my friend Grace has notes named after her?" Michelle interrupted. "Are there any Michelle notes?" Well....

So we changed the name of these notes the rest of her lesson. I'm sure Haydn wouldn't mind a few Michelle notes in his piece; she was quite graceful about them.

PIANO PROGRAMS-National Guild of Piano Teachers

I've decided to start an occasional series on the choices available in the piano teaching world when it comes to exams. I'm going to begin with a national program that is taken in the spring. It is sponsored by the American College of Musicians, and is called the National Guild of Piano Teachers Audition. The student is auditioning for a membership in the student chapter of the guild. It is repeated annually to retain their "membership".

The event was founded in 1929 by Irl Allison, who termed it a "tournament" and it was held in Abilene, Texas. Last year, 118,000 students were part of this annual event held in over 800 locations around the US and abroad; it is dubbed the "largest piano event in the world".

The "piano guild" as they like to refer to themselves, has many fingers under its umbrella. I'm going to focus today on the annual report card. The teacher pays dues of $65 annually, which includes syllabus and a quarterly magazine. We are then considered eligible to enter students.

The student fees range based on program chosen from $18-50. Last year, most students paid around $30 for a 10 piece elementary program. In my opinion, it is a reasonable fee for the quality time spent with an examiner.

The student and teacher have many diverse options. The critical idea to notice immediately is that there is no list of repertoire that you must choose from within. The structure of the event is almost entirely at the teacher's discretion.

The students may play solo, memory is optional, hobbyist, duet, jazz, ensemble, early and advanced Bach, or Sonatina programs. They may choose from 1-20 pieces. The teacher and student together choose their repertoire, but at upper levels, classical repertoire is encouraged. If you perform one from each broad time period, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary, you are rewarded with more points on your report card.

The student receives a critique of their strengths, areas which were both outstanding and that could use more attention, a bronze, silver, or gold pin and recognition by the national office in Austin, Texas. They are also given an end of the year, report card type grade.

The teacher receives the benefit of a non-local judge, a teacher conference after auditions with the judge, and a confidential written opinion report from the judge.

The result is that ALL students are welcome here. Average students can feel they have accomplished goals over the year, have achieved a program worthy of playing in front of someone, and it's not just for the super star students. Everyone wins. It is accessible to all students regardless of ability. Some teachers do not send everyone to the auditions. They only send their better or best students. It is my opinion that it is because of their own insecurities and does their studio and those students a great disservice. This event is the only mandatory part of your study here. Of course, students would like to get out of their math tests too, and sometimes students have less than stellar exams. But it's not about me.

Teachers choose the repertoire and skills. I get the opportunity to meet the student's ability and strengths rather than trying to make the student fit the program. A report cards is the understood language of learning. There are 44 items listed that the adjudicator listens for in each piece. The assessment is complete, and also looks at the overall musician.

There is a minimum scales and chords requirement that matches my studio philosophy. This event marks year-end progress, which is also a check and balance system for the parent. And it is an international program. I have some families that are part of global companies; they move around the United States or abroad and can take this report card with them.

If there is a downside to this program, it may involve antiquated language. Many of the forms and the syllabus are in dire need of contemporary updating. I have volunteered to help but my request has fallen on deaf ears. Several colleagues and I also grouse occasionally about inconsistent judging. I've had adjudicators that were lovely grandmothers who scored my entire studio as top talents, which is not helpful. I've had crabby men and women who made the exam miserable. Texas can not do much about this aspect of the event unfortunately. And almost every program we use has a stinker within its midst.

If you'd like more information, forms, or an application, visit here.

Another national program is next up: The National Federation of Music Clubs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Apple Picking Time

Last weekend we went to the apple orchard. Doesn't this look like the quintessential roadside stand? And the smell of baking pies; oh yes, it was a "slice" of heaven. They had 12 or more varieties of apples. They had bounties of squash, zucchini, pumpkins by the hundreds, and a whole wing of the store devoted to old fashioned candies. Everything you could imagine and a few new items made with apples, were available for purchase. Besides pie, there was crisp, strudel, turnovers, pastries, jams, apple butter, and of course, more pie.

Cutting boards in front of each type of apple offered you the opportunity to try a slice of the variety before buying a bag. I'm still a big fan of Haralsons. We eat them raw and make lots of pies and crisps, plus they're good for freezing.

(The next information is from the U of M's apple website). In 2004, the DNA testing done on Honeycrisp afforded the opportunity to fill in the missing blank that has followed the 'Haralson' apple. Haralson, introduced in 1922 after its years of evaluation, has carried the parentage designation "open pollinated Malinda," meaning it started as a seed from a Malinda apple whose flower had been fertilized by pollen from an unknown apple variety. In the past, "open pollinated" meant you would never know.

But DNA testing has identified the missing parent as 'Wealthy', the first commercially accepted variety the University's predecesser introduced from breeding work that began in the 1850's. The new, corrected cross for Haralson now shows as 'Malinda' x 'Wealthy'.

Haralson is a parent of Honeygold (Golden Delicious x Haralson, University of Minnesota, 1970) and a grandparent, through Honeygold, of the famous Honeycrisp Macoun x Honeygold, University of Minnesota, 1991).

My new favorite eating apple is Minnesota's very own Honey Crisp. They are now available more widely through the country. There is a downside to growing them outside the Midwest, though. They lose their "crisp". So, if you're going to try some, make sure where they're from.

What's your favorite variety of apple?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall Dawn

What schedule would you choose if you didn't have to work 8-5, or Monday through Friday? I teach when children are not in school. Most of my colleagues teach afternoons and evenings. Some load their Saturdays. Some teach students before school, some teach Sundays. I have a few home-schooled students and adults who can come during the day. I choose to teach the rest Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2-10. This includes some office time without students. Yes, this is late, yes, this is a long day, and yes, in my opinion, I'm sure I want to schedule it this way.

I also play keys on Sunday mornings; I'm "at work", although this is a fantastic gig with great fellow musicians, and it hardly feels like a job. This gives me Fridays and Saturdays as weekends. I like my teaching schedule as much as those who schedule themselves differently.

I had a request in August to take students before school. I am not a morning person. After I finish up, I relax until almost midnight. On Wednesday nights, we hold musician rehearsal here, and then I'm partial to a cocktail and some nachos. But mornings? No thanks. I think I had too many late gigs, theatre, and too much restaurant work to ever be good teaching before 9 a.m. I passed them on to another teacher in the area who loves mornings.

I see very few sunrises, but this one struck me as lovely. Don't the telephone lines look like the staff?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Programs and their value

I'm in the process of writing a presentation about the various piano programs that are out there and they all have different attributes. I'm in the process of writing a magazine article too. As soon as they are more fleshed out I'll share them with you. The students coming back have amazing stories to tell, but there is only so much writing time. I'm almost ready to share oodles with you. Peace

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Uncommon Sight?

Do you know if Bookmobiles still run in your area? I think this is such a great idea, yet I didn't know that our county still had one! There it was, out and about today; it was such a treat to see people buzzing in and around it too.

I used to get on our local bookmobile and ask the driver whether he could let me stay on and ride and read. He would always say no. (big surprise, huh?) Nowadays, I would be car-sick, like the student who told me tonight that less than an hour into their two week camper ride across the country, he got sick in the camper. Twice. Needless to say, the trip was not a highlight of his summer.

I've never ridden across the country in a large RV. I don't know whether I'd get motion sickness or not. The library is less than three miles from my home, and I go there weekly. At the moment I'm reading "Grand Obsession", about a middle aged woman who decides she has always been a pianist in her heart, and sets about buying an instrument. It seems similar in language to Noah Adams' "Piano Lessons". So far, I'm not enthused about the storyline, but perhaps it gets better. I'm also reading Jodi Piccoult's "My Sister's Keeper" and "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle".
What are you reading right now?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Damaged Pond

Our pond on July 28, 2009

Our pond on September 7, 2009

Muskrats are the possible cause of our pond's water disappearing, believe it or not. The animals are new in the area over the last few years. According to the city's park department, they have damaged the clay lining of the pond, which allowed water to seep slowly away.

I have been noticing the decreased water but blaming drought like conditions here.

In the meantime, the park department has come in and cut down all the brush, the young trees, and the rushes, and drained more of the water. They will be repairing the clay liner. Then rains and winter snows will fill our beauty back to its lush self. It will be interesting to watch.

Many of my piano families walk this pond while a child has lessons. You can make it from my house around the trail and back in 22-27 minutes, depending on your walking speed and whether there are ducklings, goslings, or frogs to investigate. My hope is that all these things return. The big change in their habitat makes me wonder where did they go for now?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Word on Justice

Yesterday, Mouse wrote a blog "J is for justice". to the rescue says, "Justice: to act or treat justly or fairly." I posted a comment yesterday on her site that said:

"You reminded me of one of my favorite quotes today: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Merle (another blogger) said that justice follows easily when human dignity is our yardstick. That word, "easy" sticks in my throat. Did you know that the US spends more on bird food than the homeless? My mom says that's because birds are pretty and the homeless don't fly away. May justice start at my house, teaching my children to love mercy and walk humbly..."

I've been thinking about this ever since. In my opinion, justice might be obvious, but still, it ain't easy. When I was on, there were two idioms for justice. The other one was "Bring To Justice-to cause to come before a court for trial or to receive punishment for one's misdeeds: 'The murderer was brought to justice'." Perhaps when some of us are discussing justice, minds go toward this end of justice. Feeling righteous, they intend to issue punishment for a misdeed.

I am speaking of the justice from the beginning of this post, to treat fairly. Justice is such an interesting word and I've come to believe how you see Justice with a capital J depends on where you're standing, which side of it you're on. Are you responsible for giving it, or do you hope to receive it? Ever since seeing "The Golden Child", (Eddie Murphy, 1986), I believe that "justice has survived, while compassion died". "Les Miz" is another good example of justice being twisted to do harm.

But back to the quote from yesterday. The American Birding Association states that over 63 million Americans feed wild birds at home, resulting in $2.5 billion spent on bird seed, feeders, baths and nesting boxes, (US Dept. Interior 1993 survey).

Answering the question about how much the federal government spends on homelessness should be as simple as summing the total expenditures for homeless assistance programs. Homeless programs, however, do not fit neatly into one federal agency; instead they are spread across several, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Labor (DOL). Perhaps this is part of the problem?

The Union Gospel Mission used $209 million in 2004 as its basis for the statement that I repeated on Mouse's site. This is an order of magnitude off: a warning sign that we're not even in the ballpark for addressing this issue. When I received this data in 2004, our household stopped buying birdseed, but left the bird feeders on our deck as a visual reminder that brothers and sisters are sleeping outside tonight. It is also visible from the desk where we pay bills.

Again, I hope that justice, treating others fairly, starts at my house, teaching my children and perhaps the occasional student to love mercy and walk humbly.

Friday, September 11, 2009

First Days

I love my job. That is a statement that I have said many times on this journey, and one I am coming to realize many of my friends and family can not say. For this I am extremely grateful for my own bliss, and frowning in contemplation for my co-lifers.

Let me relate just a few sweet morsels of my first day back Thursday.

The Beethoven 2nd movement of the Pathetique Sonata, Andante Cantabile, is gorgeous even when it's not ready yet. There is so much to learn in this piece! And how fun to hear someone who wants to learn it.

"I can't wait to play piano!", said my next student, 2nd grader, with a little Pebbles like ponytail near the top of her head. "I peeked at the first few songs from my older sister's beginning books already. Want to hear me play?" Why yes, yes I do! We learned about which end plays low notes versus high notes, we learned beginning hand position, where the bench should go, said the musical alphabet, forward and backward around the keyboard. We even got started on the difference between quarter notes and half notes in thirty minutes. She actually squealed in delight at getting her first sticker. The bright blue eyes observed every detail.

"Mrs. Wolf, Mrs. Wolf, I wore my Twinkle Toe shoes, just for you! Come to the top of the stairs and see them before I take them off!" My next student has just had one year of piano and went to first grade this year. Her pink Keds had been bedazzled by rhinestones on the top one inch of the toe. She returned with big smiles and lots of stories. I lent her one of my CDs of someone playing the songs from one of her books, and she looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Wow! That means my songs must be famous!" Of course they are! It will give her an idea of tempo and steadiness that we lost in August.

When I opened the door to greet the next student, she and her mother were standing there with a guffawed look on their faces. "Tell her what you told me", said the mom. "Well, I overheard you working with the last student, and well, like, I've never heard laughter in a music lesson before". This will be an amazing transfer student.

Let's get started; there's music in the air.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another Shadow

When I lived in New England, they were called Package Stores, but in Minnesota "Liquor Stores" are often owned by the city. Some independent stores exist, but many times the town makes a lot of money selling alcohol. Liquor stores in Minnesota are not open on Sunday. I used to be amazed, once or twice I was annoyed, and today I don't much care about this. I guess it's the luxury of having enough money now to keep a little extra booze around the house.

You will not find alcohol in gas stations or grocery stores here. Liquor is a limited commodity compared to other areas I have lived. If you were needy for a bottle of wine or beer, you could drive to Wisconsin and purchase some there any day of the week, and more than just 10 a.m.-10 p.m. But I just heard of a great little trick if you were desperate in this great state on a Sunday. I have lived here most of my life and even worked in bars and restaurants but did not know this.

Let's say you're having a Sunday night dinner party and, gasp, forgot the wine. Go into a restaurant and order your bottle of wine. The establishment must uncork the bottle. They can present the cork and give a person a taste. And then you may take it as a leftover! Put the cork back in, and be on your way! It will need to be transported in the trunk so bring something to keep it upright.

You may not do this with beer or hard liquor to the best of my knowledge. It is bending some arcane rule to suit the letter of the law. So enjoy a Sunday cocktail or glass of vino if you can; I hope if you lived here that you planned ahead.

I was flabbergasted to see this in action last time we were out to dinner. And the bartender didn't blink an eye.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


My posts will continue to be sporadic; I don't have students until next week. In the meantime, I'll share whatever strikes me, and today it was the "stripe" of the lawn near my office. The shadows are one of the first glimpses of the season changing for me. The sun in Minnesota starts to hang a little lower in the sky, and I shut the drapes earlier in the evening. We have had some cool overnights too, needing a jacket to sit on the deck. The public schools are hosting their "back to school" jamborees.
Students get their schedules,
find their lockers and try combinations,
shop for rulers and erasers. What's a protractor?
Parents buy tennis shoes and
put money in lunch accounts,
write more checks than they have written all summer. What's a tech. ed. fee?
Tensions are mounting for everyone-
are my friends in my class,
are my teachers nice,
what will this year hold?
Will my child do well,
will he fit in,
what will this year hold?

And the shadows leak slowly toward the sidewalk.

Who's been to Visit?