Sunday, January 30, 2011

Judging the MMTA Contest - 2011

I had the privilege of being a critical listener to fifty-four 7-8 year olds over a 6 hour span of time on Saturday. The event took place at a local northern metro (Minnesota) college. The Minnesota Music Teachers Association (MMTA) uses the lobby as a registration hub, and many, many rooms in the Fine Arts and Community Center areas for judging over both Saturday and Sunday. Thursday, a local piano store rolled in over a dozen pianos, Friday they were all tuned and tweaked. There is a judge coffee and waiting area, several of the normal campus hangout areas were today occupied by families and piano students.

MMTA does a contest for many different instruments and young artists of every caliber are encouraged to participate. The event this weekend is their piano division preliminary contest. Winners of this event will go to the Final Contest in mid-March. I have judged intermediate and early advanced levels the past few years, so it was very fun to see the young students again. The halls are bustling with students and doorkeepers, all making sure that they make it to the correct room at the correct time, with the correct piece. The preliminary contest this year takes place at many locations around the state, but over 3800 students will participate. It's a big deal.

This was my room; it's really more like a closet or a walk-in refrigerator sized hole. The door shuts if you move the bench back toward the piano, and there is room for one chair. I am left-handed, but the desk chair is rarely a lefty. It's a cozy little area, isn't it? The students and I spend 6 quality minutes together in here.

This is often a child's first experience at a judged event. I try extra hard to be kind and smile broadly. Many of them have spent months learning their 16 measure pieces. They came in their holiday dresses-ruffles, sparkles, bows and ribbons, the young boys in their clip-on ties and button down shirts. Their dress pants were belted, and their hair was combed. Nerves run high. You can feel it in the halls. Parents made a special effort to get here, from far away sometimes. Perhaps they have high expectations for their child musically. Some of them remember participating in an event like this as a child. Most of them are as nervous as the student.

My daughter walked up to this building last spring and still remembered those nervous feelings, years later. She said it felt like she was there to play even though she wasn't, and she didn't like it. Here are a few of the completely cute things that I experienced.

Not knowing that she was supposed to be anonymous, she walked up to the door and said, "HI! My name is Emily!" "Well, hi there, my name is Chris! Would you like to play for me today?"

Another student walked in the room, looked at me and said, "WOW! We're wearing the same colors! I have blue and black on too-see my pretty black flower right here? My shoes are a little tight."

Another said, "Oooh, I really like your earrings. I'm gonna get my ears pierced for my birthday."

About 6 students in a row came in with no front teeth.

After I heard a darling student in a bright orange dress with fushia trim perform, I opened the door to return her music. There were two of them there! "I'm Emma, SHE's Emily. It's her music not mine. Did you know we're twins?"

One student stopped dead in the middle of his piece, turned to me with huge eyes and said, "I'm reaaaalllly nervous!"
"Would you like a do-over? You can have one free start over today. This first one won't count, if you like."
"Really? OK. Free do-overs are great."

And finally, a young lady played her piece really well. It was musical, polished, and confident. She got to the last two measures and there were only two "C"s left. And she completely blanked on C number one. She tried a G, she tried a B, she backed up and started four measures prior, and nailed it. And then she looked like she was going to cry. I quickly raised my finger ala Maria in the Sound of Music. (Remember Maria at the market when the little one dropped the tomato?) "You played well", I smiled, and made eye contact, and smiled some more. All better.

Phew. The students came prepared, and hopefully had a good experience. I can't wait to hear how my own students did.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Year Older

It was my birthday yesterday. I share the day with Lewis Carroll, Jerome Kern, and Wolfgang Mozart, among others. A friend sends me the Writers Almanac by Garrison Keillor on my birthday every year. I am always humbled that she remembers my day, "bless her pea-pickin' heart" (a phrase the man in the picture used 'a ton').

Today I told all my students that it was my birthday. The cute 5 year old looked at me, "You have birthdays? How old are you?" So, I told him it was January 27 and that I was 27. He thought that was old. Good thing I didn't tell him the truth, huh? And yes, I have birthdays. His mom was sure laughing when we were finished with the lesson. But I'm not sure whether she was laughing at the questions he posed, or the answer I gave!

A friend of mine asked me, "What did you get for your birthday?" I said, "Another year older and deeper in debt." Hey, that was an old Tennessee Ernie Ford song. My kids said, "Who's Tennessee Ernie Ford?" He's a singer from the 50s was all I knew.

Ernie Ford got his start as a radio announcer, was a pilot over Japan in WWII, and after the war, was again announcing for a country station in Pasadena, when he developed the character of Tennessee Ernie. He really became well known when he portray the country bumpkin on three episodes of "I Love Lucy", had a hit with the Davy Crockett song, then landed a signature piece with "Sixteen Tons".

Tell me you don't snap your fingers along with this!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's a Workbook, not a Library book

A student was having a lot of trouble with a piece in 5 flats. Out came my pencil for her to write in the usual left hand suspects. I had her write them in as she practiced hands separately.

When we finished, she looked at me dejectedly. "I feel like I just corrected my math homework and got 22 wrong out of 25."

Oh, I felt so badly.

It's hard not to feel like I should be able to play any piece correctly the first time. I know my more advanced students feel similarly. We've achieved a certain level, done due diligence, paid the "dues", so to speak. And yet I find myself needing to practice. Every day. Shouldn't there just come a time when I can sightplay anything and have it be perfect?

One of the statements I made that day to her, was that this was a workbook, not a library book. We can write all over it, and then erase it when we have muscle memory to help us remember. We also worked on the scales and chords that are in Db major.

The big message I need to remind myself is that I'm not expected to be tested on the material until I've studied it and learned it first. When I really know something, I won't need the reminders anymore. And this will be true for her too.

Here's Yuja Wang, discussing her recent CD. She still practices. She came to the Schubert Club and gave an outstanding concert. I got this CD for my bithday in the mail today! Wow, right? I am inspired.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Could Get Used to This!

Due to a combination of snow, cold, and illness, I had the pleasure of seeing a student Wednesday, Friday, and again on Monday last week. At the Monday lesson, when she realized we had made a great deal of progress on her pieces, she exclaimed, "I could get used to this!"

Well, so could I! I noticed immediately that mistakes were not ground in after a week on her own. She practices every day and knew exactly what I was expecting TOMORROW to be accomplished. There was no time for sedentary behavior on her or my part. In fact, I would love to schedule all of my studio this way, all the time.

Oh, if I could get direct feedback from an instructor on my pottery class three times per week, or to have a directed approach to fitness or a goal I wanted to achieve. I wonder how feasible it is to question the once per week lesson approach.

My father is going to have some physical therapy, which will meet three times per week at first. A friend of mine lost a lot of weight, weighed in every other day. It kept her accountable, she said.

I wonder in what area of my life I could use this strategy? It certainly would be worthwhile if it was a goal worth achieving.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Potter Puppet Theory-Success!

I gave that theory assignment last week, and every single student did it! I was shocked that they could clap, repeat and sing all the puppet parts, in duet, with me on another part. Ok, maybe shocked is too strong. But all of them had gone home and really listened to the rhythm of the voices. Not all of them could write the rhythm on paper, but many of them had the right idea.

One student exclaimed that he'd do theory every week if it could be fun. One of them wanted to go through every part, "and you be the other one, ok? Now you do Hermione!"
This has me thinking. Why did they like it? I believe it was because it was relevant. It was visual and multi-media. And like the young man, I'd like to do that sort of thing every week, and keep it fun!

I think it's time to dip my studio into the land of You Tube. I will need to keep the students anonymous. I will want it to be educational. It needs to be fun! And maybe it needs to be like candy, something you want to partake of, just because it's yummy. And bright colored. And kid friendly. And easy. And imaginative. Oh boy!

I love this challenge. You'll know about it soon. Let's see what these kids and I come up with!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Puddle Jumping-A Memory Metaphor

We are really close to ready for the upcoming festival and preliminary contest in the studio. Many students have just a small memory slip here and there, but sound quite musical. With 2 weeks before the competition, we are in relatively good shape and spirits.

Without thinking about what we were saying today, a student and I decided that those dang ole memory spots were like puddles. She kept wanting to back up in the piece and try to go through the muddy spot by going backward first. I suggested that she jump over the puddle and keep on going.

My concern with memory issues is the vicious cycle of getting stuck in the same spot and never getting out of the endless loop. I have been known to be on the musical highway from here to there, and taken the wrong exit, so to speak, and wound up in Poughkeepsie, rather than Atlanta. If I hadn't tried to go around the road block and make up my own offramp, I would have been on the right highway.

My friend, Miriam likes to embarrass me about the time in Pedagogy class when I was asked to play my Beethoven Sonata, Op. 2 movement I was working on.

I was not mentally prepared to play this one. I had been working really hard all week on my Debussy Reflections on the Water. So, somehow, in the middle of the Beethoven I took an off ramp, and got to the the middle of the Debussy anyway, without missing a beat, she claims.

I think I must have had some stumbling around; they're centuries apart, and not anything close to the style of each other. I don't really recall many of my pedagogy performances. What I do recall was what everyone else was performing. I still think of some of my colleagues in terms of what they were preparing musically.

I think if I had been a puddle jumper rather than an off-road 4-wheeling warrior, it would have served my better, but we'll never know. For now, I'll teach to hop over, and not try to go around the mud. And hopefully, ultimately, fix the puddle!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"When it Rains, It Pours"?

I'm having an incredibly trying, tantrum evoking, kick off to 2011. When I have exasperatedly and dramatically expounded on my many disasters over the course of a few days, several people (read 7 and counting!) have chosen the phrase, "when it rains, it pours!"

What a funny, curious thing to say. I wonder where it came from? I found a website that had the above cute graphic and said, "it hasn't happened in a long time, and then it happens all at once." It then sighted some examples of how to use the idiom correctly. But what I was really hoping for with my blathering on and on was a more philosophical discussion of why. Why now? The age of the furnace and the refrigerator are not the same or are they old. Are the car and the electrical box on some sort of electro-magnetic wavelength with each other so that they both decide to fail within 20 minutes of each other?

Some have suggested that the latest lunar eclipse was going to bring some cataclysmic appetizers as our world comes to an end. It arrived on the Winter Solstice. This hasn't happened since 1638. I mean, Bach wasn't even born until 1685; it's a long time inbetween events! We were still in the Renaissance period. I can see how it might be worrysome, given how rare it is.

One person thought that the origin of the phrase "when it rains, it pours" was from the Morton Salt company, who used it with their girl and umbrella very successfully. I could not find out whether they invented it or simply used it.

I think that there is not a reason for everything, and that sometimes things just happen. And yes, it had been awhile since things around here broke down, but I'm starting to feel a bit picked on. Any explanations of the "When it rains, it pours" would be greatly appreciated.

This matches my current out of control mood.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rhythm Month

I am taking a month to reinforce rhythm at the studio. I have found a strange pattern of weakness in my students. If they are band students, they have great rhythm as a general rule, but are not strong interval readers. If they are in choir, they can sight sing really well, but are not sure of rhythm patterns. To begin the week, we will start with this silly video, which will be uploaded onto the computer in the waiting room. Note that the "ticking noise" could be the metronome equal of eighth notes. We may write down the rhythms of each character, or at least clap some of them for the younger ones. Fun huh? Did you know that this silly little video has over 94 million hits? I thought you should.

Who's been to Visit?