We’ve written many, many blogs over the last 3 years, and I am surprised that we haven’t thought to write about this subject. Possibly because it’s not the most positive topic to talk or write about, but it is certainly important. With our May Awards Recital about 8 weeks away, I was thinking about the performances of my past and current students. While most of my students have performed well, there were a couple who had disappointing performances, so I wanted to write about the importance of failure.
In the wise words of Yoda, “The greatest teacher, failure is”. While it is difficult to get a poor test score back or to perform poorly at a recital or festival, I think it is these situations where we really learn what to change and are able to fix our problems. I’ve thought back to my own performances that were disappointing, but I know exactly what I did wrong, and I rarely ever make those mistakes anymore. I needed to experience failure in order to grow and improve. Of course, I would never let a student go up and play in a recital who was totally unprepared. But, if a student has had plenty of time for their piece and has chosen not to practice, and has it mostly memorized, he/she will participate. It’s never easy to watch a student “bomb” their piece, but we always address it at the next lesson and usually the student knows exactly what they need to do differently next time. “Maybe I should have practiced more”, “Maybe I should have read my assignment sheet to see what my goals were”, “Maybe I should start memorizing my piece earlier instead of trying to memorize it at the last minute”- these are all things I hear after a poor performance. I reassure them that no one performs perfectly every time and that these are experiences that everyone goes through.
It’s also critical for students to learn how to recover from a mistake in the middle of a performance. To prepare for this, the student and I pick out a spot or two to start from again in case their memory slips or they can’t get past a troublesome passage. You can turn this into a game as well- I’ll point to a measure anywhere in the piece (usually in the middle of line somewhere) and ask them to start from there. Students that know their piece really well can do this fairly easily. Students that need to start from the beginning of the line or all the way at the beginning of the piece will need more practicing.
I think all teachers and parents want to prepare children to be successful adults and to learn how to deal with all types of positive and negative situations. Rejection and failure are real world experiences, whether at work, school, or even in relationships. We can’t ignore them because they are unpleasant to deal with, but we can be supportive and teach our students and children how to grow from them. Students who go through failure end up being the most resilient and prove to themselves that they can recover from a poor performance experience.
This blog has been mulling around in my brain for a while and I’m finally sitting down to write it out. I’ve had a lot of friends and students going through some pretty rough times here lately, and it has made me really think about how our children react and cope with life changes.
First, let me tell you a little about me and what I went through exactly 8 years ago. We had just gotten home from a super relaxing 3 ½ week trip to Greece. Dominic was starting kindergarten and Juliette was almost 3 years old. I started having some health issues and was going from doctor to doctor. My hands were completely swollen, my feet had blown up to practically the size of 2 tree trunks- I didn’t even have ankles. I had some of the worst doctor experiences ever and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. This went on for about 4 months. I was literally a basket case- crying all of the time, unable to move, I couldn’t hold Juliette, I was exhausted all of the time, and super small things like making my bed were impossible. My diagnosis eventually was Rheumatoid Arthritis. I started some pretty heavy medication, and it was months until I started feeling like myself again.
This situation for me and my family was incredibly stressful. I tell you this because as I was battling my everyday issues, I had to communicate with my kids’ teachers and my friends. I needed all of the help I could get to take care of my children and function. When children are affected by these things, they cope very differently. Some children act out for more attention. Some stay the same. Some simply need a little more love and maybe hold on to their teacher more often if they normally don’t.
Life changes are unavoidable and they affect our kids. These changes could be moving to a new home, separation/divorce, new baby, new job, loss of job, death of a family member or pet, change of schools, or applying to a new school. Anytime something changes in our lives, our children notice it! What should you do? I understand you don’t want to broadcast your life to everyone, but giving your teacher a heads up as to what is going on is incredibly helpful. Besides the teachers in your child’s life being there for your child, they will be able to watch for signs while they are away from you. Sometimes, no changes really happen, Other times, that child might just want to sit and chat. Or sometimes they are acting out, and we need to know why,
Being ill was not only stressful for me and my family, but it was a bit humiliating. I didn’t know what was going on or why. Plus, I had no control over what was happening (for those of you who know me know I like having control in my life!). I thought I had done something wrong, or wasn’t being “healthy”. It was hard for me to tell my kids’ teachers what was going on, but once I did, they were able to help me in different ways than I ever anticipated. They were a set of eyes when I wasn’t parenting. Some started giving me a little advice or pointing me in directions of others who were going through something similar. I began to not feel alone. The best thing I did was open my mouth and talk about what was going on with me. We are a community and the best thing about that is caring for one another. Never think you are alone. You need the support, and your children need the extra care. We teachers genuinely care about the well being of your child, and we want to be sources of support for your family when you need it.
We are so excited about our programs this summer! Now that we have our own studio space, we are thrilled to expand our summer programming (but still keeping our favorites from last year!) Here’s our full list of programs by age:
Mini Maestros and Treblemakers: Mondays (4:15-4:45), Fridays (10:15-10:45), and Saturdays (10:30-11:00) with Ms. Stathia
This parent/child music class is tons of fun! The class includes movement, playing simple percussion instruments, and lots of singing! We use music from all sources (MusicTogether, Kindermusik, and old favorites) and even explore music from around the world. Not only is your child beginning to learn about tonality and steady beat, but it’s also a great way to bond with them at such a young age!
Merry Musicians (weekly class): Tuesdays 3:30-4:15 with Ms. Meredith
This is our general music class for kids ages 3 ½ to 5 ½. Since our summer class is only 8 weeks, we are choosing our very favorite lesson plans from the school year, which are based on letters of the alphabet! We will be learning to sing a few songs, developing steady beat, and even learning note values and basic rhythm patterns. If your child is closer to 5 or 6 years old, this class will help prepare them for group piano or private lessons in the fall.
Group Piano (weekly class): Wednesdays 1:00-1:45 with Ms. Meredith
Group piano class is a great way to start your child’s piano journey! We will learn the basics of rhythm, how to read simple pieces, play listening games, and use our coloring book to help us learn more about the piano. Having a keyboard or piano at home is a requirement to enroll. This class is designed for 5-6 year olds who are entering Kindergarten or 1st grade in the fall.
June 3rd: Famous Composers (9:00-12:00) with Ms. Meredith and Presenting the Orchestra (1:00-4:00) with Ms. Logan
Sign up for just one or both to make a full day camp with lunch in between! We will meet some of the most famous composers, learn about the time periods in which they lived, and the music they wrote. In the afternoon, campers will learn about the instruments and their families, the conductor, and of course, famous symphonies!
July 15th: Musicals! (9:00-12:00) with Ms. Meredith
Movie musicals such as Mary Poppins, Annie, and the Sound of Music will be featured. Campers will love singing, dancing, crafts, and watching excerpts from the featured films!
July 29th: Music Around the World Pt. 1 (9:00-12:00) with Ms. Meredith and Pt. 2 (1:00-4:00) with Ms. Logan
This popular camp is back again this year, but expanded into an optional full day! Each half day camp will explore music, cultural traditions, and traditional dress from 4 different countries. We will even learn to speak a little of the language!
Each of our camps will include a snack and special craft daily!
Group Piano Performance (weekly class): Saturdays 2:00-4:00 with Ms. Chiara (June) and Ms. Ellie (July)
This class will explore pianists’ concepts of piano timbre in their expressive performance, identify the role of the body when performing, and different sense modalities such as touch. We will also work on performance anxiety and embracing the pressure that comes with it!
Broadway Kids Camp (Week of June 17th): 1:00-4:00 with Ms. Logan
Join us for a week of singing, acting and dancing along to Broadway’s biggest hits! Students will learn solos and group numbers from famous Broadway shows, write scenes to perform, and learn choreography. The week will culminate with a performance created by the class. Family and friends are encouraged to come watch the production on the last day!
Kids Guitar Camp (Week of July 8th): 1:00-4:00 with Mr. Brett
This course is a one week exploration of famous guitar heroes and songs that introduces young musicians to practicing and performing on the instrument. Students will learn how the guitar works and how to play songs from different styles of modern guitar. It’s a great kick start to a long term interest in music!
Group Guitar (weekly class): Tuesdays 5:45-6:45 with Brett
Regardless of what genre of music you’re interested in, this course will introduce you to playing the songs you like, and give you the tools to learn more music beyond class. We will cover how to read music for guitar, learn basic music theory, and apply this knowledge to songs individually and as a class. Each member of the class should come with their own guitar, acoustic or electric.
We can’t wait to see you all this summer at the studio!
For pricing, visit our website here: https://www.musicsosimple.com/summer-classes.html
To register, visit here: https://www.musicsosimple.com/register.html
It’s the end of January 2019, and I’m taking a little time to reflect on 2018. 2018 was a great year for MSS. We got a new studio, built up some classes, and added teachers to our MSS team! To date, we have 135 active students. At this time last year, we had 80. That’s unbelievable!! Last year we had 4 teachers and now we have 8. Those numbers are looking great, but since I am always trying to improve and be better, I’m setting up my goals for 2019.
Our Goals for 2019:
Bring on 2019! We are ready to continue working hard!! Thanks to our MSS families and student for helping us be so successful!
Q: Tell us about how you first became involved in music.
A: I started piano lessons as a young kid, probably at around 6 or 7. I picked up guitar and singing for my school/church worship team when I was 10 and have consistently been involved in worship music even into my career.
Q: Is anyone else in your family a musician?
A: No, actually! They’re all engineers. My brother-in-law plays French horn in the Amarillo symphony and is a co-owner of Houghton Horns in Coppell, but my immediate family is not particularly musical.
Q: Tell us more about your music education/background.
A: I was self taught on the guitar for 15 years. I had my first professional lesson when I was 25 and it completely impacted my feelings on the instrument and my capabilities. I studied under Noel Johnston, who is currently a professor of jazz guitar at UNT. Since then, I have chased every scrap of knowledge I can from successful online educators to local jam sessions and open mics, eventually to paid gigs that I learned from on the job.
Q: Did you have any influential teachers/professors who guided you towards becoming a professional musician?
A: When I was in high school, the Spanish teacher at Richardson HS was Mr. Wing, and I believe he still teaches there. His room on Tuesdays at lunch time was always a jam session, so I would bring my guitar and play. I was terrible, but he was always patient to play with us and let music be a part of our day. I never took a class in Spanish, but he gave me a taste for how impactful music is in community (and how important a patient teacher is). I have always grown as a musician primarily because friends and mentors share music with me.
Q: What is your personal teaching philosophy?
A: You can never do something fast that you can’t do slowly. Learning music develops daily over time, and practice should always focus on succeeding in small ways before moving on to bigger ones.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a teacher?
A: Cranking up the distortion on my amp so the piano teachers know guitar is vastly superior.
More seriously, I love that guitar is a versatile instrument adaptable to any style. My students are all individuals and each one of them develops an interest in completely different music, often teaching me something new. I have worked with some of the same students long term and seen them use music in their own lives as they are exposed to a variety of influences. I cannot overstate how valuable it is to watch them learn to love music outside of class, with their own families and friends involved.
Q: What are some of the skills that you hope our students will learn from you?
A: I prefer to learn music by ear, so that just by listening to a song I can jump in and play it. Reading sheet music is valuable, but the guitar is so portable sometimes it’s more convenient just to understand the mechanics of a song by hearing it. This takes practice and hard work, not just “natural talent”, but I certainly hope they learn that it’s entirely worth the effort.
I also want them to find and pick songs they want to learn for themselves, and develop a personal musical style, and even perform it! The best concert I could ever go to is one my students perform.
Q: What styles of music do you enjoy playing the most?
A: I have performed in several folk and jazz groups on acoustic guitar in the last few years, but Top 40s, funk, and rock tend to be what I play professionally. If I had to pick one I would say funk. The band Ripe or Cory Wong will likely be blasting in my room when I’m not teaching.
Q: When you are not teaching, what do you like to do in your spare time?
A: Honestly, more music! I love performing and rehearsing and practicing.
My son Oliver keeps me active and also encourages me to cook more to experiment on his weird taste buds.
My non-music hobbies include roasting/brewing coffee, playing tabletop games, and disc golf.
To see more about Brett, click here
We talk a lot about how many benefits there are for kids to study an instrument: enhancing language and math skills, developing “grit”, and learning to appreciate the arts, just to name a few. But did you know that there are several benefits for adults too? Many adults think they are too old to learn an instrument, but this is absolutely not true. If you are motivated to learn and have the time to practice, then it really is possible! Here are my top 5 reasons why adults should take up an instrument:
Whether you took lessons as a child and want to return, or you’ve never had a single lesson, we know how to get you started. Reach out to us if you have an interest in taking up lessons, and we will match you with a teacher that’s right for you and your musical goals. If you’ve always wanted to learn, you haven’t missed the boat on this rewarding hobby!
This was an incredibly busy week for me as a mom. My daughter, Juliette, was in the Nutcracker and we had rehearsals Wednesday and Thursday, and then performances Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. As I was trying to juggle my work and being with my daughter, I realized the things we do that really impact our children’s stress levels. So, this blog is going to be from both a mom and teacher perspective. Sometimes, it’s really hard to switch hats!
Rehearsals began in early October. Soon, those rehearsals became part of our routine- fix hair, put on head piece, drive there, rehearse for 2 hours, drive to the rest of our Saturday activities. It was a sacrifice- I had to reschedule most of my lessons the week of the performance to be with her (during what is our recital season). Many weekends, I was teaching in between family stuff and rehearsals, making sure my own students got in their lessons. Juliette sacrificed her “down-time” on the weekends as well as doing homework ahead of time so she didn’t get behind in her school work.
I was able to be backstage mom on Friday evening, and as I watched these kids go out on stage, worried about whether they would mess up, we gave them the confidence that they knew what they were doing! They had practice so hard, attended numerous rehearsals, and now it was time! They were going to be amazing! We had weeks to practice the curls and hairstyle. One of the performance nights, a girl’s curls were slightly out of place, and there was a panic to fix those curls! Get the bobby pins (that actually have a place on the emergency table backstage) and fix! You know what that dancer was then probably thinking? Are my curls ok? It made me wonder what was important in a performance.
On Sunday, I got to sit in the audience and just watch the ballet. It was absolutely beautiful. At some points, it brought tears to my eyes. Do you know which parts were so heart-warming? It was the dancers who were truly confident on stage. Their smiles that glowed were contagious. They were not worried about their steps or their curls. They knew they were as prepared as they could be. They put their hearts into it. Did the audience pay attention to the curls? Nope. Was I looking for curls out of place? Nope. And I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one who “wasn’t paying attention” to that sort of thing. It was a truly professional performance. I could even bet that the directors backstage were watching for confident and poised dancers.
This is not a whole lot different than what we do to prepare our students for their music recital. We give recital music usually 8 weeks prior. We work with our students to get their rhythm correct, to get in dynamics, to perfect the notes, to work on our bows, and to get our piece by memory. It’s not just the student’s effort- it’s the entire family! You (parents) have to listen at home, you have to remind them to practice, you have to bring them to their lessons...the list goes on.
At the recital prep class I taught, a majority of the students were so nervous. Now, we were in the “comfort” of a living room with a beautiful piano. These kids were prepared. Most had their pieces memorized, but a lot lacked dynamics and personality. Why? Because when we are nervous, those are the first things to go. They didn’t want to mess up. They think, “if I mess up, then it’s not perfect, and my audience will only hear the mistakes”. Unfortunately I have the same thoughts as well when I have to perform. I can’t tell you how much I dislike performing, and it’s because of my experiences in college performances. All I would get was negative feedback- and it was crushing! This has affected my adult “performance” life.
In this crazy world that our children live in, we need to instill in them that we are not striving for perfection all of the time. Of course, there is a time and place for that. We want them to be the best they can be. We want them to be confident performers. We want them to enjoy what they are doing. So, does that mean we throw rhythm, correct notes, dynamics all out the window? NO!! But, we want them to work hard on that before and be super prepared before their actual performance. Which means, we practice. We learn and memorize a few weeks before so that then we can concentrate on enjoying the performance.
Parents, be supportive to your child. Encourage them to work hard now and that they will be so prepared that they will have fun. No one knows their piece like they do. They are the expert. We want them to show us what they love about their piece!
As teachers, we will encourage our students. We will ask them to prepare their best and then not remark only on the mistakes, but celebrate their victories.
Our recitals are a wonderful day for us as teachers, parents, and students. This is a family affair and a celebration of music. Our students are well prepared: and yes, we do make sure that their piece is memorized, but that’s so they really know their piece. I know recitals are not for everyone, but I absolutely love our beginners to be a part of our recitals. It gives them a look into their future as a musician, and it gives them a goal to work towards. Our more advanced students get to see how far they have come as they listen to the beginners. Let's share the love of music together!
We teachers will be reviewing these points during lessons prior to the recital. We would love for you to do some recital practice performances at home with your children. Watch for these bowing pointers described below, the DO’s & DON’TS. It will really dress up the recital nicely if all of our performers have nice finishes and lovely bowing for their performances. I always tell my students that when they bow, they are telling the audience, “Thank you for listening to my music!” Bowing is brief but important, and it brings performances to a lovely conclusion.
The Standing Final Chord
The student rotates away from keyboard, and stands up while playing the last note.
Hands are still on the keyboard, as the student is rising.
The Tin Soldier
The arms are clasped stiff and tight against the body while bowing.
The Rag Doll
The arms swing and flop with noticeable extra motion while bowing.
The Non-bow Nod
Student makes an almost-bow by merely nodding the head. No movement in the upper body.
The Assembly Line
Student bows, but does so, extremely fast, like an assembly line machine.
The Bobble-head Doll
Student bows, but the face remains vertical, looking at the audience.
Looks a bit like a bobble-head doll.
These are girls with long hair, usually in a ponytail.
They yank the body down so forcefully that the ponytail slings up and over their heads.
Then they yank the body back up again so that the ponytail slings backwards.
It’s like a wild horse, flinging its mane.
The Striding Head Yank
These are almost always boys.
The student stands up and immediately walks away, giving just a quick jerk of the head while walking.
This is almost always accompanied by an expression that says, “Acknowledging you in the audience is beneath me.”
To be honest, this last one comes off as downright impolite.
1) First, finish the last note properly, still facing the piano, and still seated! Then take hands away from the piano. It’s fine to actually put them in your lap, for just an instant, but at least, take them away from the keyboard. If the end of the music is slow and quiet, it’s good to do this slowly.
2) Stand up towards the audience, and away from the piano, then feet should be still. Look out at the audience. If the student is too shy to look directly at any of the people, then at least, the student should not look down at the floor – looking at the back wall is acceptable for a shy student. Expression should be a smile, or at the very least, neutral -- no grimaces, no frowns.
3) Then bow the entire upper body and look down at one’s shoes.
(Normally people bend from the waist, not from the hips.)
Upper body does not need to go completely horizontal – several inches downwards, is enough.
1-2 seconds going down, then 1-2 seconds rising back up – so it’s not slow, and not fast.
Students can think, “Thank you” (going down), and “very much” (going up), for good timing.
4) Arms will naturally move a little as the upper body goes down, but arms should not be stiff, nor swing or flop unnecessarily. Longer hair will also naturally move with the upper body motion, but hair movement should not be exaggerated by movement that’s clearly too sudden or forceful.
5) Then return to normal vertical, head up. Feet are still motionless. (Just for a half a second, or a second.)
6) NOW the feet can move! Walk straight back to the performer seating. Great job!
We left from our hotel at 8am on a shuttle to the New York Steinway Factory. On our way, owner of Steinway Hall-Dallas, Plano, and Houston, Danny Saliba made introductions and told us a little history of himself and his relationship with Steinway. Danny had worked in the New York Factory for 15 years before coming to Dallas to open Steinway Hall-Dallas.
Steinway & Sons was founded in 1853 by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg who later Americanized his name to Henry E. Steinway. Back in the 1850s, Steinway had bought lots of property around the Queens area and to build the factory and homes for it's factory workers so that they didn't have to travel from Manhattan to the factory. That's why there is a Steinway Street!!
Upon arriving to the Steinway & Sons building, we were greeted and given name tags and filled out a waiver for our tour.
We were given a nice history of Steinway and Henry Steinway.
Now, I'm not a huge history fan, but I was following right along!!
Then we got outfitted in the coolest glasses I would have worn- HA!
Apparently, we had to have eye protection.
I wasn't allowed to take pictures in most places, but what I did get, I want to share with you!
First stop on our tour as making of the rim. The building was 5 stories tall- probably not the most efficient building to be making pianos- but they made it work! It is the original building and factory! Below are pictures of the rim presses.
How wood is chosen- so many pieces don't make the cut!! There is a huge list of what is "Unacceptable" compared to those that are "Acceptable"
We were able to see and take photos of Steinway's “Pictures at an Exhibition”. This piano (below) was conceived and hand painted by Steinway Artist and world-renowned visual artist Paul Wyse.
Last, and certainly not least, was the viewing of the Steinway SPIRIO- which is a high-resolution player piano. This piano is both a Steinway AND a player piano equipped with the latest technology allowing listeners to hear Steinway artists playing on that piano!
In a nut shell- I was completely honored to be chosen to be on this VIP tour. It truly was magnificent and gave me a whole new appreciation to how pianos are hand-made in America.
special links you might find interesting:
For Tour Information: www.steinway.com/about/vip-factory-tour
Video Narrated by John Steinway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAInt7hIZlU
Have you ever wondered if your child should be involved in a choir? Maybe they are already taking voice lessons and love to sing and you want to give them another opportunity to sing each week, or maybe they are already in piano lessons and you are curious if another instrument could be helpful to them. Whatever the reason, there are many benefits to belonging to a part of a choir, including several tangible health benefits. Below, I have listed my top five reasons that your child should join a choir:
And why do I have five reasons listed for joining a choir? Because you need at least five members to form a choir. It’s not too late to sign up for Holiday Choir Classes at Music So Simple! We will rehearse once a week for 45 minutes, and have a final performance of service at a local nursing home.