Here's my crazy story on my blue piano.
One night, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a Steinway & Sons post about a special Boston upright that was designed my Alicia Keys. I was stunned and all googlie eyes at this piano!! It was simply stunning. Well, it was simply stunning. I found myself thinking about it for a while- like a year. When you think about things for that long...well, maybe you need to do something about it?
So, keep in mind, we are in the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. But, things are going really well at the studio. By February, a lot of our students are moving away from virtual lessons and starting to come back into the studio. But we were starting to be out of room. The smartest thing for me to do is to add another piano room. The only place we really had room to use was my office, and I was not really excited about that. In the past, I had taught where I worked and I would look over at my pile on my desk and think about the work I needed to do while I was teaching. I liked the separation of leaving my office to go into another space to teach. I wasn't sure how I was going to make this work, but knew I would be willing to if it was a cool piano.
So, I thought, maybe a Steinway upright? This would be all mine. How cool would that be? But, as beautiful as those were, I couldn't get the Alicia Keys piano out of my mind. I think I wanted something with a little more pop!
After talking with the guys at Steinway Hall- Dallas, they had a guy who painted pianos for them. He's not just a normal painter, like he really knew what he was doing to paint a piano. So, I got to work on picking out colors and putting things in motion.
Once I got swatches, I took them to my office to check out the color scheme:
So, I anticipated having this piano by the beginning of April. We began moving things around at the studio. Ms. Gayle needed to have a space to work at in the front of the studio rather than in my office where I would be teaching.
The feeling of seeing the Steinway delivery truck in the parking lot was so amazing!!
It seems absolutely crazy that I am this excited about a blue piano. But, we have learned a lot from this pandemic. We appreciate the little things. This piano is so fun to play and it puts off such a fun energy with my students. They absolutely LOVE playing it!! Their faces light up! I'm so thrilled with this new addition and very grateful for being able to buy a blue piano. I'm in love and I'm beyond blessed!
for a little more on the colors and the "pop", check out the video below. I didn't have much of a voice when I filmed this, but I was so excited!!
Well, last you heard, I had just completed my Yoga Teacher Training...and now, I just finished my Music Teacher Certification. Ha!! I told you I had been busy! And thanks to COVID for shutting things down, it helped me stay a little more sane!
So, what's all of this music teacher certification? Wasn't I already qualified to be teaching piano? Well, yes, I was and still am. However, I wanted my national certification.
We are all members of our local (Dallas), state (Texas), and national association, which is Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). Through MTNA, they offer a program for teachers to get their national certification, but it has nothing to do with how long you've been teaching or your experience. Once I applied to be certified, I had one year to finish five projects.
The 5 Projects were:
#1: My Teaching Philosophy and a statement of my Educational Goals. This was pretty easy and straight forward.
#2: Analyzing Four Pieces from different eras. (side note, this was probably the project I avoided the most! Each piece required 1,500 words, but it definitely tested my theory skills, and I really had to study for this one!)
#3: Present My Teaching. For this one, I had to get one of my students who would allow me to video tape and analyze, and state my goals (repertoire, theory, & technique) for him. I also had to submit past student theory tests, festivals and contest critiques, and student evaluations. I sure am glad I had always had those! Whew! In addition, I had to perform a piece of a certain skill level (I put that off too).
#4: Share Information about my Teaching Environment (which I'm sure they were totally jealous of in seeing our awesome studio space pictures! Ha!
#5: Discuss My Studio Business Ethics and Policies, including how I respond to parents and students about certain things.
I was able to send in the 35 page report by the end of April. My certification was confirmed at the beginning of July! I was so nervous waiting!!
So, why did I do this? I think it was the challenge! It wasn't easy! But the hardest part was probably just doing it and getting it done. There's never been a question of whether I have the education or the skills. But, knowing that I could be a nationally certified teacher just feels better. I like bettering myself with more continuing education, and I will have to in order to keep NCTM (Nationally Certified Teacher of Music) at the end of my name.
A few people I would like to thank:
My parents: Thank you for giving me an amazing education and always encouraging me to reach for the stars. You continue to be proud of me and be some of my biggest supporters. Thank you for teaching me how to work hard.
Navir: Thank you to the sweetest boy who allowed me to video tape our lessons. It was totally weird at first, but then we got used to it! Your practice habits make me look like an amazing teacher! And our last videos were taken via Skype! Ha!! Thank you for going with the flow!
Logan: Thank you for helping me with analyzing. Seriously, sometimes I felt like an idiot and you just laughed with me! Thank you for proofing! You are such a wonderful friend!
Meredith: Thank you for proofing the final draft!! You are literally the best proofer ever! And, thank you for being patient with me and then for celebrating with me!
My husband, Brian, and my kids: Thank you for giving me a little extra time on the weekends to work on this. I would often get up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to sit with my coffee and my computer and work on my certification, which would then last for hours.
For those of you who know me well know I love my yoga! For the past 4 years, I have practiced a very regular schedule at Reef Point Yoga. They had a location at CityLine.. It was super convenient with my studio and teaching. I always joke, that if you need to find me, I either driving up and down Plano road going to Yoga or MSS! Ha! Before Reef Point Yoga, I did Bikram yoga, and well, as much as I loved the heat, I didn't like other aspects. The first time I went into Reef Point which was right when they opened, I was immediately hooked to their mirrorless studio, simple lines, and immediate calm. As of right now, I can see that I've attended over 520 classes with Reef Point. I became friends with the owner, Kathi. We had similar values in how we managed out businesses. We collaborated a few times with music classes and yoga classes.
Anyways, flash forward to this past December. My husband, Brian, bought me the 200-hour yoga teacher certification with Kathi for Christmas. I was shocked and so excited! I remember at the first training session introducing myself and saying I had NO idea how I was going to do all of what I was doing, but it was going to work!
A month into the training, the world shut down because of COVID-19. Our training paused for maybe a week or so, and then we started meeting via Zoom. We read a ton on our own, learned about the 7 Chakras, the Yoga Sutras, Swara Yoga, the 8 Limbs of Yoga, Sanskrit names of asanas, Mantras, Mudras, anatomy, and so much more. All via Zoom. We had to continue our own practices. Originally, we were supposed to take a certain number of classes per week. Some weeks during the pandemic, I did the minimum, and other weeks, I couldn't get enough. I NEVER had an at home practice before, but suddenly I was trying to figure out how to make my yoga practice at home work. I missed the "get away" to the yoga studio- it brought me calm, a release from the world as soon as I entered the studio, and just a general "safe" space to let all of the stress life go. That's really hard to recreate at home!
Before the pandemic, I had no desire to teach yoga. I went in thinking, cool, I'll just learn more about this thing that I love so much. But something changed. I don't remember when. I think once I "had" to start teaching a class or two, it just really made me happy- or happ-ier. I think the best part of this whole thing, is that YTT has complimented my piano teaching and made me an even better teacher! Who would've thought??
Fun fact: there are quite a few music teachers out there who discovered the amazingness of this combination already. :)
So, here I am. RYT200 certified...and now teaching a few classes each week! For now, classes will be donation-based. All proceeds from classes go to help many of our students stay in music lessons that were financially impacted from COVID-19. I know so many families, including my own, that have either lost part of their income or all of it. Any little bit helps! Plus, in taking a yoga class, you get a little self love back.
For more on our class schedule or how to donate, click here. I hope to see you in a class in the near future! Namaste
We love celebrating the things we do right, but sometimes you need to hear about what people think! Starting this past February through March, we did our first-ever parent survey! The results were great! I think we got some REALLY good and honest feedback from our parents at Music SO Simple and we would love to share our results with you.
Here are the averages on our teachers (scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest)
Here are the averages on the studio as a whole (scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest)
Comments that really stood out are:
And, to address the concerns:
And to end with a few random comments: We definitely have some cheerleaders out there!!
Paige Kelley was a piano student of mine for 11 years, and she wrote this essay as part of her application to Vanderbilt University. She is now a senior in college and still plays piano for enjoyment. She has such a special place in my heart as my first piano student to graduate from high school! It's wonderful to know that the teacher-student relationship os two-fold!
"Sitting at the piano, I squint at the sheet music in front of me. Frustrated, I continue to stumble through the next measure of the piece. I cringe. Something about the previous chord was not right. I slump, filled with chagrin. My piano teacher’s voice rings in my ear, “Not perfect yet. Try again.” Once again, I remind myself of the five flats in the key signature of “Clair de Lune” - B,E,A,D, and G. The thought of mastering this piece makes me want to bang my head against the white ivory keys looming in front of me, but I know that my teacher, Ms. Stathia, will lead me through the intimidating jumble of music in my Classics book. She is my guiding light - in many ways other than music instruction. Lessons learned from her, through the key of D-flat, are lifelong and everlasting.
B – Blunt. Occasionally, an overwhelming amount of schoolwork hinders me from coming to a lesson well prepared. Although I may try to convince my teacher that I managed to practice, she can tell when I haven’t met my expectations. She is not afraid to let me know when my performance is sub-par. However, my teacher is also able to commend me when my discipline has paid off to transform a sheet of music into a piece of art. Her honesty has taught me to never expect any more – or less – than my dedication deserves.
E – Encouraging. Performing in recitals has always given me the worst case of nerves. Despite my unfailing commitment and countless hours of practice, trembling hands can reduce my flawless production into something lackluster. At every recital, she sits besides the stage to mentally prepare me before I walk into the spotlight. Disregarding the times I have frozen in the middle of a piece and skipped to the final measures during a performance, she has never relinquished the hope that I have the ability to astound the audience with my artistic capabilities. Whenever I doubt myself, I can turn to her consolation and fortitude.
A – Avid. My teacher’s passion for the piano proliferates every minute that I spend with her. It’s evident that she teaches children the beauty of music because she treasures the impact that it can make. Without hesitation, she will lower the tuition fee for a student from a struggling family. She will meet for a lesson at 7:00 on a Saturday morning or 11:00 on a Wednesday night. Regardless of the circumstance, she continuously stretches herself for the absolute wellbeing of those whom she teaches, influencing me to do the same.
D – Delightful. Although my study of piano requires focus, the first ten minutes of my lessons are generally filled with light conversation. I look forward to sharing my week’s highs and lows with my teacher, as she proves to be a source of advice. Unlike the stereotypical piano instructor, she is understanding and easygoing, serving as an outlet for my venting. Because of her charming disposition, she makes every moment we share enjoyable as well as constructive.
G – Greek. Both my teacher’s mother and father were born and raised in Greece, and her roots are evident even in her name – Efstathia Dimoulakis. Throughout the eleven years that she has served as my mentor and instructor, I have enjoyed learning about the various cultural characteristics of Mediterranean tradition. Not only have I been exposed to the customs of her country, but I’ve also experienced first-hand the characteristics of the typical Greek. She is vivacious and lives every moment as if it may be her last. She is faithful and hospitable, treating me as if I were not her student, but instead a member of her family.
My time with my instructor has been a learning experience for the both of us. As heart rendering as it is to conclude my study of the piano, I will continue to carry the lessons that she has taught me as I embark on my journey of adulthood. As I face future disappointments, I will be reminded of my mastery of the five flats in “Clair de Lune” and my piano teacher, who lead me every step of the way, so that I can persevere and live the life I dream. B, E, A, D, and G."
-Meredith Manley, Director of Music So Simple
This week’s blog is all about how Music So Simple was born. Before we get into the details of how it formed, let’s back up a bit to see how Stathia and I began on this adventure.
We initially met working together at a music school right after I moved back to Dallas; she had been there for about 15 years when I was hired. Before I moved, I previously owned a voice/piano studio as well as a music therapy practice in Chicago. I knew that I wanted to work at the school for a year or two and then open my own studio again when the time was right, as there are many perks to being self-employed.
Stathia and I initially hit it off as we discovered that we had very similar teaching philosophies. We are both traditional teachers, love teaching baby/toddler/preschool music classes, and value building strong relationships with our students. She was a great mentor when it came to finding piano repertoire, introducing me to the Dallas Music Teachers Association (DMTA), and giving advice whenever I needed it. It’s safe to say that Stathia really helped me get on my feet and was a great support system for me there (not to mention, a super fun co-worker!) As we continued to build lesson plans for our classes, we discovered that we not only worked well together, but that we were building a great friendship.
Around the time Stathia left the school in March, I really started thinking about what I wanted to do after the semester ended as I felt ready to go out on my own. After I left the school in May, I decided to call her to see how things were going. I knew that she was preparing to open a studio over the summer in Richardson, which was a great location for me as well, so I presented the idea of having a joint studio. The idea of being partners was ideal because we would split the administrative tasks, and it would prevent burnout/loneliness as a sole business owner (these are things I did NOT like previously in Chicago!) Plus, we share the same work ethic and studio mission. She agreed, and the rest is history; Music So Simple officially launched in June of 2016. We are so excited for our future plans, and we appreciate the support thus far from our students and families!
Some people wonder what a day is like as a piano teacher/business owner. Well, I tell you, it is quite possibly the best job ever! I’ve always told people that being a music teacher is awesome. Why? Because I can work as much or as little as I want, I can manage a family and work, and I get to see the best in my students and impact their lives every single week! Most teachers get to have their students for a year, and then pass them to the next teacher, but as a private music and piano teacher, I see my students for many years. The relationships that we build often last a lifetime! Here’s a little sneak peak into what a typical day looks like for me.
After getting my own kids off to school, I usually start my day by answering emails from parents, checking into daily “business”, and looking at music for my private students. Then, it’s off to teach a baby/toddler music class. Moms/Dads//Nannies bring their sweet little ones to enjoy a 30 minute music class. We play with maracas, sticks, bells, and woodblocks to music. The kids love playing instruments and sometimes even show me their dance moves! Caregivers enjoy a little relaxed time with the kids and even learn new songs to take home with them. These classes typically happen in the mornings before nap time. It’s a great way for me to begin my day- seeing their little faces always make me smile!
Private lessons happen after school. My students come for a 30 or 45 minute lesson, depending on their age. They sometimes come grumpy after a hard day of school or they’re stressed out with so much homework to do! But most of the time, they come happy to see me and are eager to unwind at the piano. We usually start with a little small talk: how was your day/week? What’s going on at home? How much practice did you get in? We talk about their last week’s assignment- what did they have a hard time with, or did they breeze through their assignment? We start with some warm-ups, play review pieces, and then look at new pieces. Some students prefer to learn new pieces on their own, while others like to be taught. This usually depends on their age and level, but I almost always like to at least get an introduction of the new repertoire in before they leave. At the end of the lesson, we do a theory/workbook page (or its given for homework if time is up!) Theory work always helps us dive a little deeper, giving us a better understanding of what we are currently mastering at the piano. It’s also a great way to take a break from the piano at the end of each lesson.
Typically, I can fit in 4 to 6 students each afternoon, depending on whether they are coming to me or if I am travelling. Of course, traveling takes up more time, so I schedule in less students on those days. I usually try to finish up my teaching around 7:00, just so that I have a little dinner and family time before it’s time for my own kids to go to bed.
After lessons are done for the day, I write down notes about each lesson and plans for the next week’s lesson. I do see most parents on a weekly basis, but if I don’t see them that week, I send an email or text just to let them know what happened that day.
Being a piano/music teacher requires a lot of communication, preparation, and patience! Sometimes when I get home, I like to just be quiet because I have been making music and talking most of the day! I love the fact that each day is different with new beginnings and new endings. Week after week, it is almost never the same; this keeps me energized and always thinking.
My job is both rewarding and challenging, but most of all incredibly personal. The friendships and relationships I make with parents and students are long-lasting. I want my students, no matter what age, to always remember me and have fond memories of their time with me. What could be more rewarding?
With all of the exciting growth that’s been going at Music So Simple in the first month, I am thrilled to say that I, Ms. Meredith, am the newest teacher to join the studio!
Let me start with a little about my background. I have had an interest in music for as long as I can remember; I sang every word of every Disney song like it was in my DNA before kindergarten. And like any child with an older sibling studying piano, my mother signed me up for lessons with Ms. Reithmeyer. She was a wonderful teacher, and boy did I love getting those stickers when I played well! But getting me to practice was like pulling teeth, and I would stomp off with frustration (literally) when I didn’t play it right the first time.
Around the same time, I began choir at Prestonwood Elementary. Singing was easy for me and I had a natural talent for it. I did my first audition in the 2nd grade and scored a role as the Lead Zebra in our school play “It’s a Jungle Out There”. This turn of events helped me win my case a couple of years later when I begged my mom to let me quit piano- I convinced her that I was meant to be a singer and not a pianist, and I’m sure she was fed up with nagging me to practice, so she let me quit.
I was a choir member throughout high school at J.J. Pearce, and even earned a coveted spot in the all-girls acapella group my senior year. I absolutely loved the community that choir gave me, and it made me feel a sense of being a part of something bigger. But I became curious about piano again: perhaps because it goes hand in hand with being a vocalist. I asked myself, “Why did my mom let me quit piano? I wish I hadn’t of quit...I’d be sooo good by now!” It seems like everyone I have met who learned an instrument at a young age and stopped playing has asked themselves this very same question. So I started trying to teach myself piano again, with very, very slow progress, but this time I had a motivation that wasn’t there before.
I continued my musical studies while earning my music therapy degree at SMU, with a concentration in voice. I still remember attending my music theory class for the first time with no knowledge amongst students fresh from Booker T. Washington, and I had never felt so incompetent. I ended up having weekly tutoring from my very patient professor, Dr. Foster, and other students who volunteered their precious practice time. I was also required to take piano for 2 years, and it was this class with Dr. Karp that inspired me even more to practice. I also learned to play guitar my sophomore year of college (another requirement as a music therapy student), which solidified my belief that you really can learn an instrument at any age. For my readers who are convinced that they are too old to learn and that they missed their window- you are wrong!
All of the experiences I’ve had in my journey definitely play a part in my teaching. I understand those students who want to play perfectly right away and who hate to practice. I empathize with those who are frustrated trying to sightread something new. I share their joy when they earn a sticker for their accomplishments. Whenever I’m helping a student learn roman numerals for chord progressions in their workbooks I think of the days when I struggled to keep my eyes open in my 8 am theory class in college. And I always tell my students that there has to be a little bit of struggle in order to progress. I really am grateful for the challenges I faced in becoming a musician, and I know that I am a better teacher because of them.
It’s pretty amazing to think that I had only one piano teacher from grade school through high school graduation, and only one in college. I’m not sure that it is normal to only study with two piano teachers...in my teaching career, I have seen many students switch teachers for various reasons. Even at our national pedagogy conferences, there are seminars devoted to teachers who receive “transfer” students. Let’s just say that I am one of the lucky few who stuck with the same teacher week after week, year after year for 11 years! That’s a lot of time!
So a little about my experience with this very special teacher, Jerry Stephens, who was my first teacher. I started taking with him in the 2nd grade and continued through high school. He also taught my two sisters and my brother back to back. That’s a LONG time to be at piano each week! And that was only for private lessons! Back in those days, we went twice a week: one for private lessons, and another for group theory and performance classes. That’s one dedicated mom!
I remember (most of the time) loving my piano lessons and group lessons. I made life-long friends in his studio. Together we were each other's encouragers and together we stressed about recitals, competitions, theory tests and ear training.
Every once in awhile, my mom would sit in on lessons and give her input on which pieces she “approved” of us playing. I remember her NOT liking the pieces that “went on and on forever...or had lots of scales going up and down.” I think that sometimes we were grateful for her opinion just because it would get us out of harder pieces!
He could tell what kind of day or week we had just by how we sat at his piano. To keep us working, we got stickers on completed pieces each week and we LOVED his sticker pile! Even as we got older, we still wanted stickers! When helping us learn pieces, he gave us clever, silly words to help count the rhythm, such as huckleberry and gooseberry: words that we still remember. Sometimes, he would come to my house if we couldn’t make a lesson that week at his house, especially as we got older. He told the same jokes over and over and over again- and yet, they were still funny! He did push us to our potential- and he knew that our hard work would pay off! We learned how to play in contests, festivals, and ensembles. Of course, this also taught us recital etiquette.
Jerry shaped my life as a student and now as a teacher. You know when you become a parent and you start sounding like your parents? Well, I hear him in my teaching! I even use the same music from my many years with him with all of his markings on it. With my own students, I use the silly words to help them with rhythm- they laugh and remember how to play correctly! It works! I have passed his high expectations of me down to my students, encouraging them to be the best they can be, but always remembering that learning and appreciating music is the key.
Thank you, Jerry, for all that you did and still do for me! You’re amazing!
I honestly had never thought about how I impacted my students when I first started teaching 15 years ago. After graduating from college, I wanted to try teaching as a way to make extra income. All of a sudden, I started falling in love with my students and I realized how much I influenced their lives. Being a music teacher and giving the gift of music can be incredibly rewarding, and I can honestly say that we do make an impact on the students we teach.
Kids are involved in so many activities these days: sports, dance, study groups, learning languages...the list could go on and on! But music lessons give students something that many of these group activities don’t: one on one attention with a teacher.
For just a moment, forget about the benefits of music education. Think about your child and how much one on one time they get with a teacher. Even if they are in a small school, they don’t get 30 minutes to an hour of individual attention. In addition, we as parents are also pulled in so many different directions that giving each of our children special attention is rare. This is why private lessons are so great, as long as you feel comfortable with the adult your child is with.
I love learning about my students, especially their interests, and most of the time I like to hear about how they are doing when I see them at lessons (how their day at school was, what they are sad/happy about, what’s going on at home, why they got to practice more/less this week, etc.) Many times these students will tell me things that they won’t talk to their parents about. Sometimes talking about feelings in the music will drive out emotions in the student, and they begin to use the music as a way of expressing and understanding their thoughts and feelings. I encourage them to keep working harder, and they want to become better pianists for me because there is a relationship and trust. It is really amazing!
Bringing music back into this chat, I think that learning to play an instrument teaches and reinforces lifelong habits. Learning a piece sections at a time teaches discipline and time management. Memorizing and preparing for a recital or contest teaches presentation skills and being in front of an audience. And lastly, practicing teaches dedication and commitment. These are all lifelong skills that we want to teach our children, and music teachers have a key role in helping kids learn how to do this. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that we are raising well-rounded students who will be prepared for high-school, college, and eventually real life!
To think that a while ago I didn’t even consider how I was going to touch the lives of my students is kind of crazy! Being a piano teacher can sometimes be much more than just teaching music. I expect to touch the lives of each student I come in contact with by being a positive role model and teaching them the love of music. The thing I don’t always expect is how students touch my life in return, and that’s probably another blog waiting to be written...