Sunday, April 23, 2017

Meet Mr. Keys



Say "hello" to my little friend, Mr. Keys!  Can you guess how old he is?  That's right!  He is 88 years old.  How did you know?  He is black and white, just like the piano keyboard.  Even though he has no fingers nor a mouth, he is very helpful during piano lessons with younger students.  (Older students like him too though.)

He is full of important information about playing piano and music in general.  He knows how to explain the use of the fingers on the keys.  He can play the piano, at least two notes at a time.  He can play three (a full chord!) using his nose when he is feeling really energetic.  Mozart even said to use your nose if that's what you have to do!  (Did he really say that?  Look into it.)  He knows the notes on the staff and which key they go with!  He knows his scales.  Even though his ears are small, he can hear the slightest gradations in dynamic, pitch, tone, smoothness, etc....  He can explain music theory and harmony relationships.  He's read all the great books on piano technique.  He has read all the old treatises on keyboard music and how to play it.  He is here to help, and he cares about his students.  He wants them to succeed at piano, even though it can be hard sometimes.  Mr. Matteo might make you cry (not really, I hope), but Mr. Keys will brighten your day! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spotlight on Scott Joplin


video

One Hundred years ago, today, Scott Joplin passed away.  In honor of that, I want to acknowledge him and his music.  His music brings us much joy when we hear it, even if we don't know that it is his.  I don't feel that Scott Joplin is exactly a household name, even though many people have heard of him by now.  People may hear one of his classic piano rags, but not be able to put a name to a tune that rings so familiar to them.  Or, maybe some people hear a tune they might attribute to him, but is in fact not one of his classic piano rags.  That might be because like Marian Klamkin stated in her book, Old Sheet Music: A Pictorial History, "The beat as written by Joplin and his contemporaries would influence all popular American music that was written after it."

Scott Joplin was born in 1868 in Texarkana, Texas.  He spent most of his life in the Midwest visiting St. Louis and Chicago, before following his publisher, John Stark, to New York City.  It was in Sedalia, Missouri though (1899) that Stark published Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, which was a great success (and still is)!  Joplin wrote the tune in 1897, and it is named after the Maple Leaf Club where he played music at the time.  It was his first published music that gave him the royalties he deserved, and much more followed after that.  He and Stark had a long friendship (not always happy), but I think they ended on good terms ultimately.

Scott Joplin was well known in his day.  But after he died, I guess the waves of novelty music and Tin Pan Alley kind of washed him away.  There was a bit of a revival in the 50's of the classic piano rag, but for you and I, the really big thing that brought it back into our sphere was the movie, 'The Sting,' starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  This was back in the 1970's.  Marvin Hamlisch did the music, and decided to use tunes by Scott Joplin.  The music wasn't exactly time period specific, but it worked quite well as a backdrop for the scenes of 1930's Chicago.

It worked so well that it catapulted Joplin's "The Entertainer" into posterity forever.  Even today, every piano student wants to learn it!  They may not have a clue who wrote it, but they've heard it somewhere (or at least the first 6 notes), and by jove, they are going to learn it whether their piano teacher wants them to or not!

Scott Joplin died in New York City April 1st, 1917.  He is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery, which isn't far from the Steinway factory.  He has more fans than ever, and I look forward to continuing to learn his music, and teaching it to others.  It is such a joy not only to listen to, but to play as well.  It feels good to the ears and soul, and if feels good to the fingers too! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Auditorium Building Chicago (Where I went to School)


The Chicago College of Performing Arts, where I earned my Master's degree, is housed in the Auditorium Building in Chicago.  I took the picture above in the stairwell on one of my visits back after I graduated.  I think this is the seventh floor, though I forget exactly.

It was a joy to get to attend classes in such a building.  Artistic inspiration was all around me.  Getting to perform in Ganz hall (with its unique chandeliers) on a 9 foot Steinway piano was a highlight of my school experience.  Rudolph Ganz (who the hall is named for) is a well known historical figure in the musical history of this country.  He was originally from Switzerland, but became established here at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (the Chicago Musical College back then).  My teacher's studio, which had been his studio, had walls filled with pictures of all the great pianists and musicians of the past.  I can imagine all of the stories those pictures have attached to them.

The building was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.  It was completed in 1889, and was designated a Chicago Landmark in September of 1976, about one month before I was born.  A young Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in a bit of the interior design.  I'll spare you a rehashed wikipedia article about it, and send you off to this website... Auditorium Building.  It is a well done article with many more beautiful images of the inside.  Enjoy! 


Monday, March 13, 2017

Practicing Tips for Children

It's a fact.  Getting children to practice can be a challenge.  I know.  I've been there.

But sometimes I come up with something that helps my kids to practice, and lessens my burden.  One of those ideas is to use a sand timer.  The one in the picture above lasts for 5 minutes.  I found it at a place called Ken's Educational Joys in a town not too far from me here in Pennsylvania.  I set it on the piano, and say something like, "Please practice such and such a piece for at least 3 turns of this timer."  Then I leave them on their own, trusting them to follow through.  I don't try to correct anything during this time.  They need to learn to regulate their own time, and they need to see that I'm trusting them to do that.

Another idea is to summons them to their instrument.  They have fun with this one.  At a random point, I will ring the bell.  Since I have two children, I use two different sounding bells.   They know which sound is theirs.  I will ring one or the other, and they are supposed to come into the music room to the instrument, and play a piece of my choosing from their "memorized" list.  This provides a good gauge on where they truly stand with the memorization, and can help focus the next true practice effort.

So, just a couple of ideas that help the kids learn to take responsibility for their own practicing, but also to provide a little bit of fun for all involved. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Is my Four Year Old too Young?

I was imagining the other day how I might answer that common question, "Is my 4 year old too young to start piano lessons?"  A different thought came to my mind this time.  In my head, my answer to this hypothetical parent was, "What if you were to take some lessons with me, and while you do that, teach your child yourself?  Then bring them to me for more formal lessons later."
       
Well, I really do think that it is a viable option.  A parent is who the child looks up to most, feels most comfortable with, and trusts most at that young age.  The parent would gain skills and confidence in a new skill that they could feel good about.  They might even be redeeming a lost love, having regrettably quit piano too soon.  Certainly, it would help to create beautiful memories with your child that nobody could ever take away from them (and you).