Category Archives: Uncategorized


Last week, Jamey came to visit. He is working on Rachmaninov and wanted some advice on “how to fix some things”.

Here is a short excerpt of his arrangement for solo piano of this concerto movement:


Kansas State University is looking at a possible furlough soon:

As the state budget is being debated in Topeka there have been many questions based on media reports about potential furloughs of state employees. Without an approved budget by the Legislature, there is no funding authority to distribute funds to cover the first pay period in Fiscal Year 2016, which begins June 7.

If the Legislature comes to an agreement on increasing revenues and passes a budget by midnight Saturday, June 6, or if the Legislature passes a bill authorizing short-term expenditures for payroll by midnight Saturday, there will be no furloughs.

(Source: K-State Today; Guidance on potential furloughs, By President Kirk Schulz)

The thought of a furlough is disconcerting of course, and many people are upset.

But then again, this is what a lot of piano parents (would like to) do to piano teachers every summer. I am not talking about the case where teacher and student/parents mutually agree that the student needs a few weeks off from lessons, which can happen during the summer or during the school year, for whatever reason. Or there are teachers who grant their students a “summer sabbatical” every couple years. Or maybe it’s the teacher who wants to take the summer off. Some teachers then send their students to study with another teacher over the summer.

I am talking about parents who – despite their teacher having made it clear that piano study is a year-round activity – parents who announce that they are going to take the summer off to “save some money” and because the kids are so busy, and return in the fall for lessons. So the teacher is supposed to keep their spot open over the summer = not accept new students who might fill that spot. However, despite promises there is no real guarantee that the student actually will return in the fall.

Parents cheerfully say to the teacher, “Enjoy your break!”

I wonder how employees would feel when they are being furloughed and their employer says, “I am pretty sure your job will still be around at the end of the furlough so don’t go looking for a new job but I can’t guarantee anything because you know, the economy and anyway –  enjoy your break, you’ll have time for your kids!”

Or a landlord whose tenant says, “I’ll be out of the country for two month so I won’t need my apartment. I’m not going to pay the rent since I’m not using the apartment but you can’t rent it to anyone else either.”

Utility companies have a base rate, regardless of usage. Even if I don’t use any water or electricity or gas while I am out of town, I still have to pay the base rate to keep the connection. If I disconnect I have to pay a reconnection fee.

Any and all of these comparisons are flawed, of course. I also don’t think that any parent who announces that they are taking the summer off does so out of malice. And of course there is much more at stake than the teacher’s income when students take a ten-week break from lessons – especially when the parent promises, “We’ll practice on our own!” Oh God, please don’t. If practicing on your own worked, why are you taking lessons?

Honors Recital

The local Music Teachers Association started last year to have a yearly Honors Recital. The idea is that each teacher selects one or two students and has them perform in a recital, along with other teachers’ students. After the recital there are pictures and certificates, mention in the newspaper I think.

So, who gets to perform? Who is good enough to earn the honor of performing? How do you choose the student who is the best in your studio? Who represents your studio the best?

You might as well ask me what food represents me best.

Sure, there are teachers who have a “signature food”, a poster child, their star student. I don’t. I have a whole lot of students who are doing really well, as well as a couple few who are struggling, who are not even sure that they like piano. I do have a “bragging wall” where I display (copies of) certificates and awards my students have won at auditions and competitions. Most of my students are represented there.

So, how do I choose which one or two get to perform at the Honors Recital? The one who plays surprisingly well for his/her age? The one who made the most progress over the last couple months? The one whose mother needs the certificate to show to friends and family how good and exceptional and wonderful her child is?

Last year I selected one student, this year two. The students I ask are those who I think would benefit from a public performance outside of the piano studio. I choose students whose parents understand that I strongly dislike the notion of an exclusionary Honors Recital and that we are going to treat this as a performance opportunity that happens to have the unfortunate name “Honors Recital”.

I am looking forward to the performances we plan to give at a retirement community, where all of my students get the honor of performing and sharing their love of music.


Making Music a Life Profession

The following article was published in the American Music Teacher, Aug-Sept, 1995. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Dr. Virginia Houser, Kansas State University

A friend of mine quit her profession last year. Janice was a bright, energetic young woman dedicated to her clients and excited about her field. After moving to town several years ago, she jumped into her work wholeheartedly, developing a clientele, joining local professional organizations, and making contacts within the community. Who would have thought she would leave the profession within three years?

Janice’s profession is my profession–piano teaching. I am saddened by her departure and the loss it represents–the students who reluctantly have had to find another teacher, the future students who will not know her, and those of us who will not be enriched by her ideas. Why did this fine teacher, seemingly well-trained, enthusiastic, and passionate about music, quit the profession?


As I have reflected on Janice’s departure from the music field, I have wondered about her pedagogical training. She often spoke about how enjoyable her college pedagogy courses had been. She still referred to the enormous resource notebook she had developed from those courses.

I would guess that most current pedagogy courses present the nuts-and-bolts information of running a private studio, i.e. learning styles and theories, aspects of studio management and business procedures, methods and materials, and use of technology. This is undoubtedly a necessary component of teacher training. But the question can be raised, as in Janice’s case: Is such information sufficient for insuring long-term vitality in a teacher’s lifework?


The music profession has retained, probably to a greater degree than many other fields, a close tie to the original meaning of the word “professional”:

At root, a professional is one who makes a profession of faith–a faith in something larger and wiser than his or her own powers….the true professional is a person whose action points beyond his or her self to that underlying reality, that hidden wholeness, on which we all can rely…the true professional is one who…strips away all illusions to reveal a reliable truth in which the human heart can rest.(1)
This “reliable truth” is the heart of our profession–music itself and its power to inspire, express, illuminate, and transform thought and emotion.

Considering music’s close ties to matters of the heart, should not pedagogy programs pay attention to spiritual aspects as well as informational elements in their training? Marilla Svinicki in the book Teaching Tips writes:

A teacher, whether by accident or design is more to students than a content expert. The teacher is a model of all that it means to be a thinking person. We teach not only what we know but what we are. Part of the ethics of teaching is to realize this responsibility and to become the best models we can be, which requires some serious self-reflection on our personal standards of scholarship and living.(2)
Spiritual perspectives of the music teacher’s life are seldom overtly taught to pedagogy students. Perhaps it is assumed that students interested in piano teaching already possess the self-knowledge and ideals for life work in music. Perhaps it is assumed that such perspectives will be learned in the process of working with their own teachers in the classroom and studio. Perhaps these aspects seem too intangible to teach.

Whatever the reasons, inclusion of topics outside of the informational realm can go a long way in preventing Janice’s crisis of spirit. Teacher training programs which offer a more holistic curriculum promote longevity and effectiveness in teachers’ careers by bringing attention to a wide array of topics. In regard to spiritual considerations, what ideas and resources nourish the inner life of a teacher?


Live with a vision.

While it is important to have goals and plans for one’s life, listing personal goals within time frames is not the starting point of purposeful living–commitment to a life purpose is. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey invites you to visualize being present at your own funeral. For what would you be remembered? How would that life have made a difference in the world? Covey stresses the value of taking stock of one’s life and creating a mission statement–“the solid expression of your vision and values….the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”(3)

Know your own daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms.

Many of us in the teaching profession plan our schedules without considering our personal rhythms and cycles. Questions to ask oneself for optimum energy levels throughout the year might include: Am I a morning or evening person? When is the lowest slump in my day? What can I do to help myself through it? Does my teaching schedule reflect my varying energy levels during the week? What can I do for myself to insure high energy during the demanding times of the year? How can I best use the less demanding times of the year to recharge my batteries through interesting activities, rest, and reflection?

Integrate personal renewal into each day’s schedule.

How easy it is for independent music teachers to live frantic lives without private time. The message can be traced back to earlier student years: work long and hard and success will follow. Consequently teachers, especially those in the early years of building a studio, are prone to interpreting continuing tiredness as confirmation they are devoting sufficient time and energy to their work. This can lead to a lifestyle of constant unrelieved work activity that frustrates and squelches the inner creative voice.

Covey describes the hypothetical scenario of a man in the woods working like a maniac to saw down a tree. Although the work has become slow and difficult, he refuses to take a break to sharpen the saw. “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man explains emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”(4) Similarly, the teacher should take time to cultivate life-long habits which nourish and preserve the […] dimensions of human nature: physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual.

Design your life for development of “the things worth being”.

In their book, Type A Behavior and Your Heart, Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Roseman discuss the necessity of cultivating an interest in the broad satisfactions of human culture. Not only do they write this is crucial to maintaining good health, but also write that one “cannot continue to avoid all that man in the past has considered lovely and humane without becoming the sort of person whose death saddens no one.”(5)

How easy it is for teachers to abandon all interests and activities that are not directly related to their profession! And yet the rejuvenation and perspective from other activities enlivens teaching. The music professional does herself a favor by regularly visiting libraries, museums, galleries, concert halls, theaters, and parks. This also includes time with friends and reading of books that tell about the lives of inspiring people.

Cultivate a life approach that does not separate creativity from daily living.

In preparing for a life of satisfying personal and professional achievements, I believe the teacher should cultivate a sense of learning and curiosity that is not limited to certain activities and times of the day. Hugh Prather in his book, Notes on How to Live in the World …and Still Be Happy, recommends bringing the same attention and energy to both job and personal life for optimum happiness. If a teacher can inculcate a sense of creativity in all circumstances–from housework to planning the day’s schedule to grocery shopping to successfully teaching concepts to a young student–rejuvenation can be an integral component of daily life.

Cultivate the habit of writing.

Personal writing probably works best when not read by anyone else. It does not have to be polished writing. To be most effective, it should be honest and done regularly; and like playing the piano, it improves with practice. In her book, The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron describes writing as her own form of meditation and a fundamental tool of creative recovery and maintenance. As a film and television writer, director, and producer, she speaks about creativity in the following way:

“In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond….As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked….Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well….leaves us with diminished resources….we must learn to be self-nourishing.”(6)

Writing is a wonderful form of self-nourishment and can be encouraged by the habit of keeping a pencil and pad available for scribbling ideas throughout the day–in the car, bathroom, kitchen, night table. A personal diary can be valuable as a written record, feedback to oneself, uncritical friend, access to creativity, personal expression, a problem-solving tool, and therapy. A practice journal by the piano invites the pianist to record practice times, impressions, ideas, and musical goals.

Emphasize means over ends as the most important element in the ventures of life.

It is unfortunate that in our goal-oriented, competitive, result-driven culture, the mentality which glorifies ends over means influences every pursuit. So it often is with music study. Ends-oriented teaching stresses competitive performing to the exclusion of broader considerations. Means-oriented teaching promotes and develops a wide range of elements: comprehensive musicianship skills; awareness of the body in playing; nourishment of a deep emotional attachment to the music itself; personal knowledge of one’s own learning style; and responding, creating, and expressing in the sound and emotion of the present moment.

Remember that efficiency and function do not feed the soul.

We all absorb the message from the earliest age on into adult life–to live in a way that produces results in the quickest, most efficient way possible is the best way. Modern culture extols efficiency and function in objects and lives as well; but a deep, rich sense of living is not nourished by these elements. In his book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes about the soul and spirit being fed by myth, ritual, tradition, and, for those who embrace a higher faith, religious belief. It has been noted Drs. Friedman & Rosenman in Type A Behavior and Your Heart that “the repetition of any pleasant event eventually gives far, far more pleasure than the initial event possibly could have done”.(7)

Rituals to enhance the life of a music studio might include celebrating achievement with recitals, complete with individual certificates and sharing of refreshments; giving birthday remembrances; observance of holidays and seasons of the year through appropriate music and decorations; and regular study of the great composers’ lives.

Stay in touch with new ideas in the time management field.

Time management encompasses so much more than it used to. While the teacher can always gain inspiration from reading books about time use (e.g. How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Lifeby Alan Lakein, or How to Put More Time in Your Life by Dru Scott), there are holistic-approach books which adopt a broader life-management view. One such book, You Don’t Have to Go Home From Work Exhausted by Ann McGee-Cooper, promotes ideas to bring joy, energy, and balance to life. Topics include high energy engineering, the importance of passion and dreams, recapturing the vitality of childhood, balancing work and play, recognizing burnout traps, designing an energy environment, and daydreaming as a source of energy. A far cry from the old make-a-list-and-check-it-off system!

Cultivate active ties with fellow musicians through dynamic involvement in professional organizations.

No pianist leaves a pedagogy course without hearing about the value of membership in a music organization. Yet it is easy for a new teacher in a community to get so busy setting up a studio that seeking out fellow professionals gets put on the back burner. It cannot be stressed too much in pedagogy training; there is a synergy in numbers which translates into inspiration, practical ideas, increased knowledge, exchange of information, and increased political and financial resources for its members.


Independent teachers, by taking advantage of the freedom and choices available in their profession, can create a life that is creative and restorative. Problems and stress are handled within the context of a larger purpose. Flexibility, awareness, open-mindedness, love of learning, balance, and attention to self and others are tools of daily living. It is from this humanistic foundation that living and teaching are nourished.

NOTES:1. Parker J. Palmer, The Active Life–A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring(San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990), 44.2. Wilbert J. McKeachie, ed., Teaching Tips (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Co., 1994), 273.3. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People(New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1989), 129.4. Ibid., 2875. Meyer Friedman, M.D. and Ray H. Rosenman, M.D., Type A Behavior and Your Heart(New York: Ballantine Books, 1974), 255.6. Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way–A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1992), 20-21.7. Friedman and Rosenman, 257.

The amusic brain

an abstract from an article by Isabelle Peretz, Elvira Brattico, Miika Jarvenpaa, and Mari Tervaniemi in Brain. A Journal of Neurology

Like language, music engagement is universal, complex and presentearly in life. However, ~4% of the general population experiencesa lifelong deficit in music perception that cannot be explainedby hearing loss, brain damage, intellectual deficiencies orlack of exposure. This musical disorder, commonly known as tone-deafnessand now termed congenital amusia, affects mostly the melodicpitch dimension. Congenital amusia is hereditary and is associatedwith abnormal grey and white matter in the auditory cortex andthe inferior frontal cortex. In order to relate these anatomicalanomalies to the behavioural expression of the disorder, wemeasured the electrical brain activity of amusic subjects andmatched controls while they monitored melodies for the presenceof pitch anomalies. Contrary to current reports, we show thatthe amusic brain can track quarter-tone pitch differences, exhibitingan early right-lateralized negative brain response. This suggestsnear-normal neural processing of musical pitch incongruitiesin congenital amusia. It is important because it reveals thatthe amusic brain is equipped with the essential neural circuitryto perceive fine-grained pitch differences. What distinguishesthe amusic from the normal brain is the limited awareness ofthis ability and the lack of responsiveness to the semitonechanges that violate musical keys. These findings suggest that,in the amusic brain, the neural pitch representation cannotmake contact with musical pitch knowledge along the auditory-frontalneural pathway.

So, in essence, and pushing this issue a bit further:  this is like autism with regard to music?  Just like an individual with autism who can perfectly well see and hear – but then doesn’t know what to do with this sensory input (what does it mean when someone “smiles”??), an individual with an amusic brain can hear and distinguish musical details just as well as everyone else – but what is being heard has no meaning because there is no “contact with music pitch knowledge” due to a “lack of responsiveness”.

The question, as always, is:  what do we do – now that we know?

Merry Christmas!

I’ve overheard teachers say, “Only a couple more students stand between me and my winter/summer/whatever break …”  How sad is that? It makes the students sound like an obstacle, something to endure. What kind of lesson can you expect with this attitude?

While I certainly look forward to my break, I hope I never feel like any of my students stand between me and something I am looking forward to.

This week Monday and Tuesday are official make-up lesson days: students who had to miss a lesson this semester and have not yet been able to make it up have their chance now. Only four and a half lessons over the course of two whole days: one at 11 this  morning, one in the afternoon, half of one as an extra lesson for a student who needed a bit of extra help with a piece, and then tomorrow a lesson at 1:30 and one at 2:30.

In a normal week, a spread-out schedule like this would feel terribly disjointed and wasteful. But somehow, this week, it feels luxurious. I get one more chance to be with a couple students before the break. The lessons are somehow nicely relaxed – maybe because the kids are out of school already? -, there is somehow less pressure (why??), and even though I would be prepared for the kids to resent having to have a lesson when it’s their break already, so far every one seems in a good and festive mood, smiling, laughing readily. Not only that, but they are willing to work, too, even doing the kind of detail work that so often has them rolling their eyes. I don’t want to jinx it but maybe we should have lessons routinely when the kids are out of school?

What a wonderful start to my Christmas break.

In defense of the parent who says “We just want to try lessons, and see if she likes it.”

Many children request piano lessons, because their best friend takes lessons and if their best friend takes lessons then lessons must be cool. Parents explain “you’ll have to practice!” and “every day!!” and “even when you don’t feel like it!!!” and the child says “yes, Mom” because their best friend takes lessons so they want to, too. The child has NO CLUE what it means to “take lessons” – and how could they? They have never experienced it, they have nothing to compare it to. Yet, parents make their children promise that they will practice – “yes, Mom” – every day! – “yes, Mom” – – they’d promise you the moon if it meant that they can start taking lessons.

Parents have no idea how utterly unfair and inappropriate it is to make their children promise something they have no way of knowing anything about. (And no, *telling* them how it’ll be doesn’t count.)

So, the child starts lessons and realizes, oh boy, this is not what I thought it’d be. Maybe they don’t like the sound of the piano. Maybe they don’t like how the keys feel under their fingers. It is hard work, rather lonely, and even with the best teacher and best materials, even if they have a wonderful instrument at home – there will always be children who realize, “I don’t like it. I changed my mind about taking lessons. I don’t want to do this anymore.” Ideally, the parents say, well, ‘twas a good experience, let’s move on to the next thing. More often however, both teacher and parents say, “You promised!” and force the child to continue something they don’t like.

There is so much in a child’s life they have to do without having much if any control over it: go to school, get up in the morning, eat what is being served, clean their room, and now we are adding piano lessons to the list just because the parents weren’t smart enough to realize that just because the child “promised” the child had no clue what they were promising.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to say, Let’s give this a try and our best effort, and in a couple weeks we are going to see how things are going.

Actually, better yet, let’s keep evaluating constantly, let’s keep an eye and ear open for signs that this – piano lessons -, despite wonderful teacher, materials, and instrument at home, may not be what we thought it’d be, and then have the courage to change things.

Yamaha C7

When it comes to pianos, I am extremely picky. It took me many years to find the perfect grand piano. To me, the perfect piano has not only a wonderful sound, but also great variety in touch – much beyond just loud and soft. The perfect piano can sing, it can weep, caress, it can shatter ears and souls.

Five and a half years ago I found and bought what we call “the first Kawai” which was perfect (still is) and then nine months later the “second Kawai” – second because we bought it after the first, and because it was second in quality. It wasn’t 100% perfect but it sounded like it could be, with a bit of work. Unfortunately, after nearly five years and at least two different piano technicians who worked on it, it still didn’t sound and feel exactly the way I thought it would and could. Somehow I wasn’t able to communicate to the technicians exactly what kind of sound and touch I was looking for. Still, it is a very good piano and I felt very fortunate to have two grand pianos in the studio.

Once in a while, I like to go to the piano store to browse, just for fun, or to look for a piano for a specific student. A week ago, Friday, I played several of the pianos and to my surprise completely fell in love with one of the grand pianos. It was simply perfect – I loved the tone, the touch – I can make it sound velvety, or bell-like, or booming bombastically, anything! It is considerably more expensive than the second Kawai, but we decided it was worth it to invest in this upgrade. We traded in the second Kawai, and last Friday Mid-America Piano delivered the new Yamaha. “New” as in new to me. It is a 1988 Yamaha C7, made in Japan. (Some of the newer Yamahas are made in Indonesia and are of lesser quality.) With good care, a good piano will keep its value, will depreciate extremely slowly. Not sure I would want a car from 1988, but a 1988 piano can be as good as one built just this year!


New York!

After a full day of traveling from Manhattan, KS to Manhattan, NY, we arrived this evening (Friday, March 23) at our hotel, the Hilton New York. Registration for the MTNA Conference closed at 6 p.m. so registration will have to wait until tomorrow morning. The first session tomorrow, a piano master class with Nelita True, starts at 8 a.m.

Breakfast will have to be early …

Saturday, March 24.

First things first.  I don’t do mornings.  I especially don’t eat before about 10 a.m.  Cup o’ tea, yes, fine, but oatmeal has to wait until my stomach is awake.  And my stomach, like me, doesn’t do mornings (I get physically almost-ill when I force it).  So.  Having to somehow fit in the registration process and some kind of breakfast and getting to the Grand Ballroom in time to get a good seat before 8 a.m. would be a bit of a challenge.  Even though Mark and I splurged and got a room in the conference hotel, thereby minimizing / eliminating any kind of commute, we got up shortly after 6:30 a.m. to allow enough time to find our way around on this first morning.

Just in case there would be a line at the registration table closer to the 8 a.m. Master Class, I went through registration first, then breakfast.  My hunch was correct:  when we walked past registration at 7:50 a.m., there was a long line.

There is a “Marketplace Cafe” which serves breakfast and lunch in the hotel but you certainly pay for the convenience of staying in the hotel … Breakfast buffet is $30 which I suppose is ok if you have two hours to sit and nosh and sit some more and eat and go back to the buffet several times because, you know, you have two hours.  We didn’t, so we carried out some fresh fruit and an egg-and-bacon sandwich both of which were excellent.

My stomach survived food at 7:30 a.m.  and at 7:55 I was seated in the Grand Ballroom, eagerly awaiting Nelita True, whom I had seen, heard, witnessed some 17 or so years ago.  I also have the four videos “Nelita True at Eastman” which give you a taste of her teaching which defies superlatives.  Her master class this morning was outstanding, of course.  I was again blown away by her wit, her humor, and her warmth. It’s such a tricky task to work with a student you’ve never met, in front of hundreds of people, on camera, finding the things that matter most and which you hope you can address (successfully) in 45 minutes …  Among the many favorite quotes from this morning:  “your mind was ahead, you threw that away”  –  “could this have more drama? You’re being so nice …”  –  “offbeats must be like a nudge in the ribs – don’t be too polite!”  and  “… could you make that just a bit more evil?” followed by her observation that composers like to use chromatic scales when they want something to sound sinister.

After the master class, at 9:30, I had to choose from four different sessions, two of which were of particular interest to me:  “A practical guide to fingering – breaking free of tradition” and “Approaching Anna Magdalena and the Two-part Inventions”.  I started with the fingering session and caught the tail-end of Bach.  I particularly appreciated that Scott McBride Smith and Steven Spooner (the fingering session) not only had a hand-out at the door but that they offered to email the hand-out to anyone who didn’t get one at the door because they had run out.

At 10:40, there were again four sessions to choose from.  I was equally interested in “Dancing the Baroque Suites and Romantic Dances” and “Lecture and Clinic: Basic Technical Principles / Troubleshooting the problems right away”.  I chose Technique and learned that especially with teenagers, the reasons for poor posture (slouching mostly) differ between girls and boys.  Teenage boys very often grow awfully fast and their bodies can hardly keep up, so Theresa Bogard recommended that boys work out and strengthen those new muscles to get stronger and feel better about this new body.  Teenage girls on the other hand often pull their shoulders forward, arms close to the torso, because they feel the need to protect themselves – Theresa reminded everyone that as teachers we must make sure we provide a safe (emotionally safe) environment for them.  Much talk about wrist and elbow and shoulder and rotation.  What I found interesting was her suggestion that wrist problems can come from being a Type A personality who has this need to control.  She suggested that it’s ok for the brain to be Type A, but the body must have a drink at the bar and relax.

Lunch across the street in a little deli Mark had scouted out earlier; we met up with two of my colleagues and had a very pleasant lunch together.

1 p.m. another master class.  Like Nelita True, Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky had interesting things to say about the extremely well-prepared performances:  “no matter how good one is, there are always other ways to look at things”  –  “Chopin’s long lines become easier if you insert commas”  –  “Rotate; think of circular rather than sideways.  Sideways twists the hand”  –  “this LH is not a lyrical legato, it is not necessary to actually connect the notes from key to key”  –  “a nocturne is not a lullaby” (this one made me smile because I had just the other day told one of my students the very same thing) “don’t use the loud section of a nocturne to wake people up – engage them from the beginning”  –  “do not just create affectation, do not just try to create an effect; make it sound more natural, more genuine” (and then she described and demonstrated where and how exactly to be more genuine).

2:10 p.m. I started with “Technique: it’s not just for fingers anymore” and sat in for a bit of “The essence of Chopin’s style” – actually, sitting in was impossible as the room was packed: just as many people standing and sitting on the floor as were seated on the chairs … So I stood for a while.  While I don’t think my Hungarian teacher in Germany was a Chopin specialist per se, she certainly knew and therefore taught us how to play and interpret his music.  I was a bit surprised to hear the presenter tell the audience that he finally figured out that “sotto voce” means left pedal in Chopin.

Mark and I had stayed in touch via texting; before the next session at 3:20 I took a short break and we went across the street to a Starbucks for some lemon bread and a latte, and then walked half a block to a nice little green space, “Urban Plaza”, to sit and catch up.

“Right from the start” with Marvin Blickenstaff made me wish he’d get in touch with Sheila Paige.  And by the time I sat in for a bit on “Back to Bach: performing the Partitas on the modern piano” I was tired and not really able to absorb any more teaching information.  So I sat in on the business session “Communication and Marketing” which offered some valuable tips on how to market your business.

Mark and I went back across the street to the little deli but were disappointed this time:  it looked like the buffet foods had been kept warm since lunch, and the clientele and therefore the whole atmosphere was very different from our lunch experience.  Worst though were the mosquitoes – not what I would have expected in March!

Earlier, Mark had showed me that from the street in front of our hotel we can see Central Park, a couple blocks to the north.  The Central Park.  He knew that the one thing I would not want to go home without having been to was Central Park.  We walked the couple of blocks to and then around the south-east end of Central Park, taking pictures along the way on this perfectly mild spring evening.

A full and filling day.  Tomorrow, in addition to events and a master class, the exhibits will open, and at 5 p.m. will be the premiere of the long-awaited documentary “Take a Bow:  The Ingrid Clarfield Story”.

Sunday, March 25.

Last things first.  The premiere of the documentary: “TAKE A BOW – The Ingrid Clarfield Story” will easily become the emotional highlight of this conference.  The video is very good, but to sit in a room with others and watch, witness the documentary, together – it was almost a spiritual experience.  To suddenly burst into laughter, together, to see others nod their heads in agreement, to hear emotional sniffs, to smile, together – it was very very special.  There was a standing ovation at the end, as much for Ingrid Clarfield (who, along with her husband, was in the audience) as for the maker of the documentary, Lu Leslan.  It was a very emotional experience.

Every time Mark and I travel overseas, we hit what we have come to call “the third day”.  That’s when the excitement from traveling and being somewhere else has worn off and overwhelming exhaustion sets in.  Nothing but a good long nap, and general lying low, helps on that third day.

This morning, after the exhibitor showcases ended at 9 a.m., I was exhausted and in no space to take in any more information, so I went back upstairs to our room and lay down for a nap.  45 min later I felt better and was ready for the day.  I skipped /missed the Opening Session, went straight to the Exhibit Hall and browsed.  Lots and lots of good stuff … Sigh.

11 a.m.   Marvin Blickenstaff’s “Intermediate Piano Master Class” was a delight – I had seen his teaching on video and knew that I would not want to miss an opportunity to watch his teaching live.

With another exhibitor showcase at 1 p.m. there wasn’t too much time for lunch.  Mark and I wandered, rather unsuccessfully, around the hotel neighborhood which is littered with little cafes and delis, street vendors and markets, couldn’t find anything that looked good.  Mark didn’t feel good so he went back to the hotel room to lie down, and I went across the street to yesterday’s deli and got some lunch from their buffet.

The Henle Urtext exhibitor showcase was surprisingly interesting.  Norbert Gertsch emphasized the challenge of determining what the “real” urtext of a composition is.  Is it the first publication?  The manuscript?  What about changes / corrections the composer made after the first publication?  One way they deal with this is by offering an extensive appendix (instead of foot notes which tend to clutter the page, often necessitating extra page turns).  He stressed particulars of Henle editions such as the non-glare, cream-colored paper which is easier on the eyes (especially in performance situations under artificial light), the fact that the paper won’t tear even if you turn the page quickly (as you must when performing chamber music), the binding of thicker books which allows them to lie flat, etc.  Barbara Fry, my teacher when I was growing up in Germany, insisted on Henle editions – except for Chopin where it had to be the Paderewsky edition, or the Cortot édition de travail (study edition) – so I am well familiar with Henle and the benefit of using an Urtext edition.

Back to the exhibitor hall … I turned in many of my coupons and received special goodies, such a sheet music samples etc.  Another short break so I could dash across the street to Starbucks for a moccha, hoping that it would help alleviate my headache.  Mark had been out and about but we had kept in touch via texting and were able to meet there.

“A Natural History Of The Piano” by Stuart Isacoff was interesting and witty.  Mark had bought the book for me the moment it came out, and since the presentation was a one-hour reduction of the book I multi-tasked: listening for a bit, checking email, etc.

After the video premiere, we went to a place called “Astro” which served delicious and plentiful Greek fare.  Mark had had a late lunch there to try it out and decided it would be a good place to have dinner.  They do have a website but it is not at all as appealing as the restaurant itself so I won’t post it here as it would probably give you a completely different / wrong impression of the real thing.

Tomorrow promises to be another full day, with probably no time for a nap.  Exhibitor showcases, the Keynote Address with Benjamin Zander, and, like yesterday, there will be a group of four sessions all at the same time (one such in the morning, one in the afternoon) – very difficult to choose just one!

Monday, March 26.

Anyone who has seen Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk on YouTube or who has experienced him in a live speech knows that the moment Zander opens his mouth to talk you’re in for a treat.  His Keynote Address was an elaboration on his TED Talk.  I loved the way he used the image of birds flying over the fences that keep the sheep in to illustrate long lines in music.  As an exercise to make the audience experience bigger pulses and longer lines in music, he had us – hundreds of musicians and music teachers – sing Happy Birthday to one of the members whose birthday happened to be today, subsequently working on individual phrases to improve.  I may not have been the only one who noticed that this may have been a bit of a moot point – we know about phrasing, and pulse; so the very first rendition where at the end we spontaneously broke into (more than) 4-part harmony was already quite spectacular.

Randall Faber in his exhibitor showcase talked about how they have been incorporating the latest in brain research in their method.  There are now second editions available for several books in the Piano Adventures series.

While I didn’t have much time to listen to Joanne Haroutounian present her new book “Fourth Finger on B-Flat” it sounded interesting enough so I ordered a copy.

Zenph Sound Innovations looks like a really promising idea – I had read about it in one of our journals already; it was interesting to see it in action.  At this time, the price is prohibitive for a private piano teacher with a relatively small studio.

Another piano master class:  this one with Alexander Kobrin who worked on two Chopin pieces.  Regarding rubato in Chopin, he said, “He writes it in when he wants it.  If not, just let it flow – semplice.  That doesn’t mean to play metronomically – we don’t breathe metronomically.”  –  “If you play slower it must be because something is different (such as a new voice in the accompaniment) – listen to what is different, so it has purpose.”  –  “sostenuto, don’t push it forward, it is not yet exciting”  –  “gentle, but polonaise”  –  about LH leaps: “don’t jump – you don’t want the accent from landing”  –  “don’t play faster than you can hear! Don’t let the fingers just go up and down.”  –  “In Chopin, unlike Liszt, every note has a purpose – you must hear every note!”  –  about a tricky ornament which the student played in a somewhat forced manner: “Don’t sound so angry”  –  and “intense but not hysteric”.

There was not enough time to go out for lunch and browse the exhibition hall, so Mark brought me some carry-out lunch I could eat in between things.

More exhibitor showcases:  “The Carnegie Hall Royal Achievement Program” (how much more prestigious-sounding can you get? Not only Carnegie Hall, but Royal, too!), and “Ultimate Music Theory”. At 2:15 there were again four very interesting sessions (all at the same time) and after sitting in for a bit on the Debussy presentation I went on and listened to “The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities”.  Most interesting for me were the personal stories of the two presenters.

More browsing in the exhibition hall.  The greeter (hall monitor?) at the entrance noticed that Mark and I were chatting for a bit by the entrance before we said good-bye (Mark was going to go back upstairs to the room) and suggested that we could get a day pass for Mark (who is not an MTNA member) so we could browse together.  I enjoyed being able to show Mark some of the things I had found, and being able to point out composers such as Dennis Alexander etc. who were available to answer questions and sign books.

For dinner we found another deli, this one much larger and, I thought, a bit nicer than the one across the street.  In defiance of normal dinner fare I had cheesecake and hot chocolate.  Back to the hotel room for a long nap, and then right back to the deli where, this time, I had foods from the buffet:  some hot pasta, chicken, veggies, and delicious cold salads, including some cold salmon.

Very much looking forward to tomorrow’s piano master class with Menahem Pressler.

Tuesday, March 27

Two of my colleagues and friends, Bonnie and Lee, had originally signed up for the Steinway tour but then changed their minds.  Since the tour plus getting there and back was going to take a good four or five hours I didn’t sign up – didn’t want to miss half a day of presentations, but Mark eagerly accepted their offer to take one of their invitations.  He wrote about it here.

8 a.m. exhibitor showcases offered a choice of 3-D Piano with Fred Karpoff; Hal Leonard new releases; the International Institute for Young Musicians with Scott McBride Smith, Steven Spooner and Jack Winerock; and Stipes Publishing’s Keyboard Fundamentals.

Since I purchased 3-D Piano when it first came out I skipped that presentation.

The Keyboard Fundamentals looks like an interesting book but the horrid voice leading (parallel fifths and octaves and leading tones left and right) in the demonstration of chord improv was appalling and unprofessional; it cheapened everything else.

The International Institute for Young Musicians is located in the middle of the USA: in Lawrence, KS – a mere 75 minutes from where I live.  After a short talk about the Institute, there was a (much too) short master class with three high school students.  Adrian Saari performed Liszt’s Waldesrauschen stunningly, effortlessly and beautifully – Steven Spooner commented on the fact that Adrian’s playing was able to draw the audience in at 8 a.m., even more astonishing considering that Adrian, in response to Steven Spooner’s question, admitted to not being a morning person … If he plays like that at 8 a.m. I wonder what he sounds like at 8 p.m.  His is certainly a name to remember.

One of the several highlights of this conference followed at 9:15 a.m.: Menahem Pressler had graciously agreed to give a master class. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who had left the previous presentation(s) early to secure a good seat in the Grand Ballroom where Mr Pressler was going to be: by 9 a.m. the hall was filling up. Mr Pressler didn’t mince words when commenting on students’ performances … he was genuinely impatient and displeased when a student didn’t do well. It was clear that he expected a lot from the students, but not unreasonably so. And, of course, the few times he said “Yes!” or “Good!” – as genuinely as he had said “No!” before – it really made an impression.

More good stuff still before noon:  “Practice With Your Students”, a presentation by Martha Hilley, covered the many ways we can help our students be more productive in their practicing; and another Louis B Nagel presentation, this one on “The Six French Suites”.

At 1 p.m., Alfred Music Publishing presented more new music, but the really interesting stuff happened in Murray Hill (room):  “Special Students, Unusual Circumstances, Creative Technology” (Yamaha Corporation).  I walked in late, so I missed the introduction but what I heard and saw from then on was yet another emotional highlight of this conference:  Daniel Trush and his father introduced Daniel’s Music Foundation which, since 2005, has been providing free musical instruction to individuals with developmental and physical disabilities in the NYC area.  Connie Wible shared experiences from her own studio, encouraging the pitifully small audience to look into this special field of music teaching.

The fact that every day so far has brought at least one very emotional experience was not something I had expected when I decided to attend this conference.  I expected to learn, to review, to run into old colleagues / friends, to browse the exhibition hall – but I was not prepared for this to be an emotional experience. Mark said a few times that he could hear in the tone of my texts how very special some of the events were.

Tuesday afternoon and I was a bit running out of steam.  I knew from the beginning that this would be a time to be overwhelmed, with plenty of time back home to digest.  At 2:15 I sat in on “Strategies for Reliable Memory in Music Performance”, yet another presentation that was clearly planned for a smaller audience:  the room was packed and the air was getting stale and rather warm which made it a bit difficult to focus.

More exhibition hall browsing, and purchasing …  I am finding lots of very good books and materials.  MTNA had recommended that especially those of us who travel via airplane bring boxes to ship purchased materials rather than having to pack our suitcases with heavy books.  Mark and I decided to pack two suitcases with our clothes etc, and put the smaller of the two bags into a slightly larger one, thereby having three suitcases to bring back home.  One of them would be a carry-on = no extra bag fees.

For dinner we went to an Irish Pub Mark had tried and liked for lunch.  We met with Bonnie and Lee and had a fabulous dinner together.  One of the nice things about having had a (nearly) full glass of beer is that one doesn’t seem to mind when the waiter acidentally spills most of the rest of said beer on one’s clothes (and purse, and bench) …

Last conference day tomorrow.  No more master classes, no more exhibition hall, just presentations, and the Awards Brunch (which I hadn’t signed up for).

Wednesday, March 28

I had been looking forward to Amy Greer’s presentation “Let’s Play Ball! Motivation and The Music Lesson” but unfortunately – perhaps because I was tired (physically as well as mentally) – I found her nasally voice hard to take.  So I switched to “It’s More Than Just Being Nice” about the MTNA Code of Ethics.  Perhaps it was very telling, indicative of the role the issue of ethics plays in music teachers’ lives and organizations that this presentation was pushed (?) to the end / fringe of the conference – I had overheard quite a few people say that they were leaving Tue evening or Wed morning, presumably because there was nothing of worthy interest going on Wednesday.

“Playing Together: The Chamber Music Experience for Beginning and Intermediate-Level Pianists” was certainly of worthy interest.  I particularly liked that Kiyoshi Tamagawa tied his presentation in to other conference events: references to the Menahem Pressler master class, Benjamin Zander’s Keynote Address, etc.  It made it more – personal? relevant? and less like something that could have happened anywhere anytime, just another presentation.  With Mark’s cello studies (beginning of book 4 now) and my about-to-begin viola studies, I am looking forward to trying my hand at chamber music, looking forward to arranging tunes or original late beginner / early intermediate piano works for piano trio.

Mark had been taking wonderful care of me, being there to text or meet in person, bringing me lunch and mochas (spell check doesn’t know about mochas, wants to change it to ‘machos’ …), sharing the exhibition hall experience, taking pictures of me with contemporary composers I met and had asked to sign some of the books I had purchased; he had also been able to “do New York” a bit on his own – Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, Fifth Ave – but we were looking forward to doing some of these things, and more, together.

On our second evening, we had already walked to and around the South end of Central Park.  Wednesday, after the last session (bitter-sweet –  what do you mean, That’s it? …), we walked to Fifth Ave (away from Central Park first) because I was hoping to do some shopping.  Found some basic clothing articles at H&M (familiar from Germany) and jewelry at the Fossil store, but nothing that would say “New York!”.  Lunch at Pershing Square – delicious!  Back, in light rain, to the hotel, and after a while, out again.  Broadway, Times Square, Junior’s Cheesecake (they are famous for a reason …), Fifth Ave toward Central Park, The Apple Store, FAO Schwarz …  Grateful for good (“sensible”) walking shoes … The weather was mild again, friendly, so beautiful to see the trees in bloom.

Thursday (yesterday), we traveled back to Manhattan, KS.  11 hours after we got up, we were back home.  To sleep in my own bed, take a shower in my own bathroom – ah, yes.  Having until Monday to come back and go back to teaching was excellent planning.  Right now I am in this delicious in-between stage – part of me is still in NY, I can still hear the traffic, still feel the energy …

Email exchange between students’ mother and myself.

(Parent’s and students’ names have been reduced to initials to protect privacy.)


Wed, 7 Mar 2012 23:29:44 -0600
Any desire to move this week’s lessons to Fri (no afternoon school), 2:30 p.m.?
Sibylle Kuder


Thu, 8 Mar 2012 10:07:04 -0600
Good morning Mrs. Kuder:

Thanks very much for asking. It is nice to move to Fri. afternoon. But I don’t think K will be ready since he has been pretty busy this week.
So there two ways for this week:

1. I ask them if they are ready for tomorrow, if they do, I will write email to you tonight.
2. We just stay on the original schedule Saturday afternoon 1 p.m.

Which way do you like?




Thursday, March 08, 2012 10:01 PM
I think I would prefer tomorrow, Fri, if possible.
I’ll wait to hear from you.
Sibylle Kuder


Fri, 9 Mar 2012 08:45:15 -0600
I asked them, only S is ready. If you prefer today, how about we move the time later, like 4 PM, I can let them practice a while. How do you think?




Fri, 9 Mar 2012 08:45:15 -0600
When you said that K was really busy this week I tried to move the time to later in the afternoon to give K more time to practice today, but R must have her lesson at 5 p.m., so 2:45 is the latest we can start. I actually don’t mind if they are not 100% prepared – I know they are one day short. Whatever works best for you and the kids …
Sibylle K


Mar 9, 2012, at 10:10 AM
I talked to his teacher and I can pick him up early so that he can get more practice today. We will be at your house around 2:40.

See you this afternoon.