Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chopin Mazurkas

I'm doing a little work about mazurkas this week. A student will be playing her first Mazurka this year. She has played other romantic works, and one or two other Chopin pieces. I decided I better look into the new research and changing viewpoints of Chopin's Mazurka writing.
So, to Wikipedia first...
"The folk origins of the mazurek are two other Polish musical forms—the slow kujawiak, and the fast oberek. In the 19th century, the dance became popular in many ballrooms in different parts of Europe. The Polish national anthem has a mazurek rhythm but is too slow to be considered a mazurek. There are many Polish versions of the mazurek but the most notable one is the mazurka.

In Polish, this musical form is called "mazurek"—a word derived from "mazur," which up to the nineteenth century denoted an inhabitant of Poland's Mazovia region, and which also became the root for "Masuria". In Polish, "mazurka" is actually the genitive and accusative cases of "mazurek."

Several classical composers have written mazurkas, with the best known being the 58 composed by Frédéric Chopin for solo piano. Chopin first started composing mazurkas in 1825, but his composing did not become serious until 1830, the year of the November Uprising, a Polish rebellion against the Russian government.

The stylistic and musical characteristics of Chopin's mazurkas differ from the traditional variety because Chopin in effect created a completely separate and new genre of mazurka all his own. For example, he used classical techniques in his mazurkas, including counterpoint and fugue. By including more chromaticism and harmony in the mazurkas, he made them more technically interesting than the traditional dances. Chopin also tried to compose his mazurkas in such a way that they could not be used for dancing [citation needed], so as to distance them from the original form.

However, while Chopin changed some aspects of the original mazurka, he maintained others. His mazurkas, like the traditional dances, contain a great deal of repetition: repetition of certain measures or groups of measures; of entire sections; and of an initial theme. The rhythm of his mazurkas also remains very similar to that of earlier mazurkas. However, Chopin also incorporated the rhythmic elements of the two other Polish forms mentioned above, the kujawiak and oberek; his mazurkas usually feature rhythms from more than one of these three forms (mazurek, kujawiak, and oberek). This use of rhythm suggests that Chopin tried to create a genre that had ties to the original form, but was still something new and different."

Interesting, huh? I love that fact that he started with a known style, but created something new. I told her that this was a more traditional common folk dance, and that it was meant to be danced to, so I will have to amend that statement when I see her again. Here are 2 clips of both the Mazurka and "Polka Mazurka" dance, how graceful in these clothes. I have danced the polka mazurka, which is the dance I decribed to her with the kick of the foot.

Here's the piece I've given her, a less familiar Mazurka, but still charming, I think.

I seem to be in a Chopin binge this month. Tomorrow I will be taking a trip to a college to see their music department and Saturday is the big multi-state Youth In Music band tournament. For more information on this event, And I'll try to take pictures of both trips and bring them back here!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Policies Retooled, Part 2

Having created a more true to self policy, I offer it for you to review now. I crafted my sheet and sent it with this month's statement. Here's a copy. This is a lot different than many legal versions. I wonder whether this is "fluffy" or going to be problematic; I guess I'll find out soon enough. It certainly is not what I used to believe was the essence of a well girded and guarded studio policy.

TUITION –Regular Lessons run Sept.-May, fees are monthly, 30, 45, or 60 minutes.

PAYMENT OF FEES – Payable for the month in advance of lessons, make checks payable to Wolf Piano Studio. Statements are sent at the end of the month to show activity on your account. A $20.00 overdue fee per family will be charged to accounts not paid in full by the 15th of each month, because that's what my bank charges me. Please tell me if financial needs arise. I have barter options.

ABSENCES - We will be fair to each other and be professional. If I am going to miss your lesson, I will credit your account or find a make-up time. I do not give credit or make up lessons when you are absent as a general rule. Of course, emergencies happen. Please do me the courtesy of a telephone call or email; I will worry if you’re not here.

STUDIO – Be respectful of my home and the neighborhood. Some ideas while you wait might include: check your homework, read a music magazine, or listen to a variety of CDs. I highly encourage you to use the computer center, games, and the Clavinova (keyboard with over 600 sounds).

LESSON TERMINATION – We will come to an agreement that is amenable and caring. Most times, people have courteously given at least a one month paid notice.

PRACTICE –This is the key to improvement. Practice on the days you eat. There’s no better way to say it. A set schedule that includes practice at the same time every day, perhaps after dinner, or before school is best. Some weeks there will be more to practice, other weeks will be less. When you come to lessons, you have entered “NO EXCUSE” land. Do not apologize for less than adequate practice. We will work together on the things that did get better.

VISITS - Parents are always welcome to sit in on lessons.

RECITALS – Sharing our music is a joy when we are ready and comfortable. At least 2 performance opportunities inhouse will be available to each student per school year. Contests, theory, festivals, and end of year Guild auditions are also available. Performances at nursing homes, malls, etc. are encouraged.

TEACHER RESPONSIBILITY - * Nurture a positive atmosphere for learning. * Provide varied performance opportunities. * Set short and long-term goals for each student. * A dedication to your piano development.
* Maintain quality instruments at the studio * Further her teaching skills by belonging to professional organizations, attending workshops and educational programs, reading professional publications, and engaging in other activities leading to her continued growth.

So, am I growing in maturity or "getting soft"?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Policies Retooled, Part 1

"There is no more important document describing 'the professional you' than your studio policy," said The Piano Education Page. I have read more than 400 policy statements over the last weeks. According to Google, I have 134,000 more to go and I have grown a certain distaste for them. The books I have read assure me that spending a lot of time on this document results in clear communication and prompt payment. It starts to sound like if I word my policy just clearly enough that there will never be a misunderstanding or conflict. This is not my knowledge of the world to date.

I was rereading my own studio policy last month and I decided I wasn't really the teacher it sounded like. It read more like a ten commandments decree than a covenant between two parties interested in sharing a long commitment of music together. So I changed it. But then, I was curious about what other teacher colleagues used and opened a real dilemma for myself.

Many of the policies I have read online sound so harsh. In one case, if you muddied her carpet, she'd charge you for its cleaning. In another, he threatened to dismiss you from the studio if your nails had dirt under them. Ever. No excuses.

In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, piano teachers can access a piano lesson guideline online. Here is some information from their site.

Most piano teachers use a “studio policy” to communicate the specifics about the logistics of piano lessons. This is, in effect, a legally binding contract between the piano teacher and the piano student (or parents).

Below you will find some items that might be found in a piano teacher’s studio policies.

FEES – the manner in which you must pay for your piano lessons should be clearly communicated.

TUITION: Piano teachers require their students to pay for their piano lessons in many different ways such as: once a month, once a quarter, or at each piano lesson. Some piano teachers charge an “hourly rate” while others charge a “monthly rate” (in which you pay the same amount each month for your piano lessons even if there are Holidays in that month).

REGISTRATION FEES: New piano students may be required to pay a one-time (or annually reoccurring) registration fee.

LATE PAYMENT FEES: The deadline for payment of fees should be clearly explained. If you fail to meet that deadline, there may be a penalty for late payment.

BOUNCED CHECK FEES: If you write a check to your piano teacher for your piano lessons, and if that check gets returned to your piano teacher due to insufficient funds, you may be required to reimburse your piano teacher for more than a simple late payment fee.

MATERIALS: Some piano teachers will provide their piano students with all of their piano music for a fee. Other piano teachers will ask that you pay for each item as needed.

FESTIVALS, COMPETITIONS, AND OTHER EVENTS. If your piano teacher has you participate in other activities in addition to your private piano lessons, there may be an extra fee for that (which may or may not be paid directly to your piano teacher).

PIANO LESSONS CALENDAR. The times when your piano lessons are to be held should be clearly communicated.

PIANO LESSONS EVERY WEEK. Most piano teachers require their piano students to enroll in piano lessons on a continuing basis from week to week.

SUMMER PIANO LESSONS. Many piano teachers do teach during this summer months. This is usually due to two main reasons. First long breaks from piano lessons can really set back progress. Second, their piano teaching is most likely their main source of income, and they probably need that income to continue in the summer. If you decide to not take piano lessons in the summer, some piano teachers will require you to drop out of their piano studio and re-enroll in the fall.

HOLIDAYS AND VACATION. Most piano teachers will include which days are considered “Holidays” and Vacation days. You may or may not pay a different amount when your piano lessons happen to fall on one of these days.

MISSED PIANO LESSONS. If you miss a piano lesson for some reason, the studio policy will often communicate the consequences of your absence. Some piano teachers are generous about offering makeup piano lessons as long as you contact them before the scheduled piano lesson (often at least 24 hours in advance), but other piano teachers will not offer private makeup piano lessons. This too is understandable since your piano teacher has reserved a spot in their schedule for you, and if you choose to not attend that meeting for any reason, that time is still reserved even if you are not at your piano lesson.

RESCHEDULING PIANO LESSONS. Some piano teachers give you the option to reschedule one of your piano lessons if you know in advance that you will be unable to attend your piano lesson at the normally scheduled time. Most piano teachers will not reschedule piano lessons on a regular basis. This is usually done infrequently.

TERMINATING PIANO LESSONS. All piano teacher policies should contain instructions regarding how to end your piano lessons if such a need arises. Most piano teachers require a minimum two-week notice. This usually means that once you provide notice (usually required in writing), then you are responsible for paying for your piano lessons two weeks after that notice has been given even if you do not attend those piano lessons.

PRACTICING. Some piano teachers put specific practicing requirements in their piano teacher policies.

LEGALITY. The policy may or may not be signed by the parent, teacher, and/or student that they understand what the rules are and that practice will happen.

So, I did have all my bases covered. For those of you curious about my former policy, I'll leave it on my website, for a few more days. Tomorrow I'll share my new one with you here.

Some of my colleagues have a multi-page document for the rules and regulations of their studios, often because they teach in their home, and sometimes because of some people who have taken advantage of them. I certainly understand multi-teacher studios with hundreds of families having strict and legal policies regarding payment.

Yet, some teachers have policies for worries that are perceived but have never really happened to them. I believe that most people who are studying here for lessons have good intentions and honest souls. They don't want to be bilked for lessons not received or gouged by big fees either.

So, is a policy document legally binding, looked over by an attorney, and a necessity? Is it am implied agreement between two parties regardless of paperwork? The legality of our teaching does not depend on a triplicate document, with a notary public does it?

More tomorrow...


I started teaching the five finger position to a five year old this week. He has been playing black keys so when we moved to the white keys it was a big deal. Tiny little pinky did not want to play his note so I demonstrated. Here is the conversation that followed. Imagine that very cute five year old boy lisp as I try to relay it in text to you.

"Woah, Mrs. Woff, yo hands arw BIG!"
"Well, yes, they are bigger than yours, but someday you will have man hands, and then they will be big too."
"NO! My hands wiw be even biggor dan yours! Have you seen my Dad? His hands arw HUGE!"

OK, Dad obviously heard that one. So, I opened the door, and we had a big, bigger, biggest moment. It was so adorable to me that my little guy knew he was going to follow in his father's footsteps. I hope it's true musically too. Dad used to really play piano, according to Grandma. Back as a repeat video, is "Rachmaninoff Had Big Hands", just because my conversation reminded me of this funny clip!

Hope you are enjoying the change of the seasons, wherever you are. It's been gorgeous in Minnesota. Here is the view from the board meeting room last Friday.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Do I Play Organ Anymore?

I used to play quite a bit of organ; I played and took lessons growing up, and many of the church positions of pianist come with organist attached as a matter of course. There's a huge difference between playing a wind instrument like an organ and the percussion instrument of a piano. Because they both have keyboards, many people believe they are similar. Weddings also inspire the question "Do you play organ?"
Every organ is very different and often for a wedding there is little to no time to familiarize yourself with the stops and registration. Most organs I have had to use also have the "shades of disrepair" ghost looming over the cobweb-filled pipes. It is very embarrassing to find out during the processional, as the bride enters the sanctuary, that a stop you've chosen rattles and clunks like the chains of old Marley himself! But that's another story.
Earlier this week a church called and was wondering whether I would be interested in coming back to fill a "one-service per Sunday" position. There would be no extra rehearsals, they'd give me the list of hymns ahead, just show up and play. The secretary was new, and my name was in their files as a back-up organist. This was news to me. I haven't played for them since 1999, and then it was full-time.
After the call, which I turned down by the way, I began to wonder when exactly WAS the last time I had played an organ? I think is was at that church a decade ago. There have been occasional wedding gigs since then, but nothing seriously organ. Would I consider myself an organist anymore? I would need so much practice on not just my pedal technique, but the keyboard as well! I came to the conclusion that the answer is no.
There are many articles and editorials that point to the slow death of organs in America and likewise organists. Many churches have not built space for a pipe organ, and have leaned toward more contemporary praise bands. One large church in my city began an organ fund five years ago. They have positioned themselves to eventually build a very big pipe organ and be a concert venue for the entire south metro area, in addition to their worship needs.
I have a friend from my grad school days that knows where every "decent" pipe organ is, he hopes to play them all before he dies. The list is shrinking as they need repair and are not fixed. He teaches organ too, but very few students want to learn this instrument.
In my area, there is a public radio program called "Pipedreams" which shares concerts in beautiful churches on these grand instruments. For more information on this program, to see some pictures of these gorgeous and sometimes flashy organs, or to hear some of the sounds click here.

The organ pictured is the 2006 Holtkamp organ in the Boe chapel of St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota. And finally, this is the organ piece I loved to play in high school, and frankly I never improved from here. This organist is outstanding, it's clear, not too fast, and the cathedral, well, wowoza.

Who's been to Visit?