Submitted by Miriam Shingle
Many of us have been contemplating the return to in-person private lessons, and perhaps some of us have already done so. It is a somewhat elusive decision right now, as pandemic circumstances are
Some teachers and parents may not yet feel comfortable with in-person lessons. Keeping a disinfected and well-circulated environment, tolerating extended mask-wearing, and staying socially distant are all factors to consider when planning for reopening.
While willing to continue lessons virtually, I plan to at least offer in-person lessons to my students starting in September. I feel that giving parents a choice is important for my business to remain intact. In so offering, I will be sharing my safety procedures, such as disinfecting doorknobs and wiping down the keys with hydrogen peroxide between lessons, using hand sanitizer before and after lessons, and requiring the use of a mask. Additionally, I am pleased to say that I had an Air Scrubber installed on my HVAC system this week. It is a whole-house UV bulb that kills viruses, bacteria, allergens and mold, mainly in the air but also on surfaces.
Please comment to share YOUR plans for Fall lessons, as there are certainly things to consider not yet mentioned. Questions to our members would also be great!
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
It is Recital Season. How does one create the opportunity for instrumental performance during our current situation of having to stay in our homes? What resources are out there for this? Are there any apps that can help?
There is the issue of sound quality and household internet bandwidth problems while livestreaming, the which I am sure many of us have been experiencing in our online teaching. Some of us may be considering posting video recordings of performances, something that I personally currently plan to do, in the HOPES that the videos will actually get watched by families!!
I am hoping that some of us can contribute to this blog by commenting with their recital ideas or already-utilized solutions. Or, perhaps someone out there would like to write a whole blog dedicated to this purpose! I think we as teachers would like to know what each other is planning to do-- or not do. Anyone? Let’s share and continue to support each other...
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
This blog is created for the purpose of teacher discussion as to how we can circumvent the impact that the Coronavirus is having upon our private teaching. I am sure that many of you are wondering what is happening in other teachers’ studios in this situation.
Some teachers have no doubt opted to suspend lessons for a few weeks, while those who teach in a community center or school are forced to cancel lessons due to a shutdown. In addition, out of an abundance of caution, many parents are choosing not to send students to private lessons, even though these do not take place in a group setting.
So far, I personally have opted to continue with private lessons at my home, assuring parents that keys are being disinfected between lessons and students are using hand sanitizer before and after lessons. This seems to alleviate parental fears for now, as no one has told me they would prefer not to come.
Additionally, we as teachers have already told parents not to bring students who are ill, including the parents themselves.
What I would like to accomplish here is for our teachers to weigh in on how they are dealing with this unique situation. And indeed, if you have moved to online lessons, please offer your insights and procedures for accomplishing this.
Thank you all in advance for contributing to this blog!! Let’s support each other in this difficult time.
Submitted by Carol Angus
Going through some old papers, I came upon a letter sent to parents and students from 2002. The sentiment shared then is still appropriate today. I took my own words and tweaked them a bit to share with you. We may have modern devices and new attitudes but the basic sentiment still applies.
Allow yourself to enjoy the satisfaction of making music. One’s life is made better with the making of and appreciation for others making music. Review the following positive reasons for studying piano or any musical instrument.
I like to equate musical studies as a “musical adventure”.
My goal remains that every student should be given musical challenges that can be met without frustration while nurturing a love for music that grows with each musical accomplishment. Learning to play the piano or any other instrument is not an easy task. Developing the art for playing any instrument especially the piano takes time, patience, fortitude and self-discipline. Along with good parental support and willing students, it is my hope that I have made an impact on the students who have graced my studio.
Submitted by Felicia Lohidajat
My encounter with this book was a wonderful series of odd circumstances - my accidental entry into a percussion class for a Music Education major I never pursued, an awakening of my interest in drum set, a last undergraduate semester with great freedom, taking Drum Set Class after 7 semesters of pining for the instrument led by Dr. Chris Hanning – who recommended this book written by Phillip Farkas, principal horn in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as part of my preparation for my Piano Performance Major senior recital.
This book changed my approach to practice and refined my understanding of a wide variety of musical details in about 50 short pages, which in turn enhanced my communication in my teaching. These are some of my abridged notes and highlights from selected chapters of the book, some obvious points and some subtle points. I’ll highly recommend picking it up and seeing the full contents for yourself – a copy resides in the West Chester University’s Presser Music Library. For our March 2020 MLMTA meeting, I will be focusing on an excluded section regarding performance for the 5 Minutes For A New Idea presentation.
Submitted by John Kline
Learning a new piece of substantial length can seem like an impossible task for some students. Here are the steps I use when I am learning a new piece of music (I also use these steps for students above intermediate level or so).
Submitted by Elaine Friedlander
If you have considered judging for festivals or competitions but felt you did not have the right background or advancement, think again. Most festivals have many more students who are beginner or intermediate level. If you feel that is as advanced as you can judge there could still be plenty of chances for you to broaden your scope of work and earn a little more money.
Competitions sometimes have a very young division. Yes, sometimes these students are amazingly far advanced but you were trained to hear good playing and that can be readily apparent no matter how advanced the student. You could prepare for this work by listening to several recordings of the same work by different pianists. With the internet, this is now quite easy. Listen to the subtle differences in each performance. We will assume all the performers are playing the correct notes and rhythm. See if you can verbalize or write down the differences. The ability to write down quickly what you perceive is in need of improvement in a performance is the beginning of becoming an effective judge particularly for festivals.
You should probably have about 10 years of teaching experience before you offer to judge for an event. You will have a better understanding of both the literature and the children. The literature is vast but children are children. They may come in different shapes and sizes but experience gives you the eyes to see who is too nervous, underprepared, over confident, shy or even on the autism spectrum. Experience will give you the edge to see all of that in a blink. Smile and help them make sure the bench is at a good height and a comfortable distance from the piano. They feel much happier if the judge is “nice.”
Usually the judge chair of any event will send you the guidelines for that particular occasion. There is a rating form which will have the name or number of each student along with the literature they will play. Check to see which piece they are playing first so the comments align with the correct piece. Always make sure you understand the purpose of the event and your role in it. Festivals are usually not competitive so your job is simply to give a rating. Just like any other evaluation your comments are very important. Make sure you can say something positive about the playing and be specific. They can play half the notes wrong with the right rhythm so you can say their eighth notes were even or they kept a nice steady beat. Then remark on what can be improved.
The form our Main Line Association uses for the Constance Murray Festival is quite good. All the important qualities are listed with a place for each to be evaluated and space for comments both suggesting improvements and
recognizing what was prepared well. Other forms only give you space to write. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding how much to write. On a few occasions I have heard playing that was so poorly prepared I could only write about half of what I felt should be addressed. While you may give a few low ratings for festival students competition is another matter. The forms are usually just an open page with the pieces listed at the top. Competitors are given time constraints and repertoire requirements. It might be best to create a personal rating system. After listening to many performers, it’s helpful to have a small guideline of your past thoughts in order to choose the best.
On the day of the event make sure you arrive on time. The judge chair is usually prepared to remind you of the intent of the event and what you are expected to do. Dress appropriately. Everyone respects the judge more if they look professional. Students may arrive in shorts and flip flops (you may comment on that if you wish) but we need to look the part of the judge. After all, we do not have robes. Occasionally I have been in a situation where pencils were not provided. Bring some along just in case. There is usually time left between performances but it is rarely enough so be prepared to write while they are playing. I know some students are disturbed by that but it is important that you get to say everything necessary and have a little time to think about additional comments in between. Keep an eye on the time and the schedule. Make every effort to stay on time. There are many people involved in this production. The judge’s part is important but there is a great deal for everyone to do so make sure you are prepared and ready to work. It can be a fun and rewarding experience.
Submitted by Tatyana Roytshteyn
A few years ago, I was working with a young student on his first piece requiring opposing articulation between the hands. We worked through tiny sections of the music painstakingly tracking every movement of the fingers and carefully making sure that one hand held the note down to connect while the other lifted the note for non-legato. We repeated these movements in slow motion, moving slightly forward, retreating and trying to move ahead again. At this stage I usually tell my students that their fingers are like unruly children that need direction from the teacher, parent or conductor (the brain) in order to work well together. The student’s mom, a neurologist, was watching the whole process and at some point, exclaimed, “He’s building neural pathways right now that didn’t exist before!” As the neural pathway is developed, the instructions from the brain travel to the hands faster, and the action becomes easier, more automated. I had, of course, witnessed this development often in my teaching over the years, but hadn’t realized how much brain plasticity came into play. We focus much of our teaching attention on repetition of tasks, developing hand independence, speed and strength, but what is happening in our brains to produce these complex actions? Can that knowledge be used to aid our teaching?
The brain and music connection is a topic for some fascinating reading. Some scientists believe that our language abilities developed from a so called “proto language, a musi-language which stemmed from primate calls and was used by the Neanderthals; it was emotional but without words as we know them” (Mithen, 2005). The evidence for this theory stems partially from the brain development of Homo sapiens. The visual cortex of our species is smaller than that of the great apes, while the areas of the brain responsible for auditory processing are larger. This variation in brain development “heralded a shift to an aesthetic based on sound, and abilities to entrain to external rhythmic inputs” (Trimble and Hesdorffer 2017).
Studies have shown that music has a profound effect on the brain, not only emotionally but physically as well. The rhythmic entrainment of motor function can aid in the recovery of patients with stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury (Thaut 2005). There is also evidence to suggest that music can decrease the frequency of seizures in children with epilepsy (Bodner et al, 2012).
Over the course of the last year I’ve continued reading, researching and veering off on various tangents. One article or research paper would spawn multiple offshoots, each interesting and worth pursuing. Finally, I arrived at research focused on the neuroscience of metacognition and the role that tip of tongue states (TOTs) play. Metacognition is “thinking about thinking” and TOTs are commonly used in metacognitive research. That feeling of not being able to remember a word even though you’re certain you know it? That’s a TOT. It turns out that TOTs aren’t simply memory blocks. They are more likely metacognitive triggers, activating the brain’s monitoring system and spurring us to action. Current research shows that TOTs happen with greater frequency in instances where retrieval is more likely, thus prompting us to try harder.
Metacognitive strategies are not new in the world of music education, many teachers report using them and much research has been written on the topic. However, when students are interviewed on the success of these strategies, many report a feeling that they weren’t instructed on them sufficiently. A multiple case study from 2017 by Barbara Colombo and Alessandro Antonietti concluded: “Data supported the notion that teachers use metacognitive strategies during their teaching practice, but students are not aware of this because a metacognitive focus on strategies, as well as a strong emphasis on monitoring, appears to be lacking.” What are we to make of this? If teachers are employing metacognitive strategies, then why aren’t students retaining these skills and what is “monitoring”?
The brain areas involved in metacognitive thinking are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The ACC “is activated during mismatched conditions, such as during feedback to high confidence errors and low confidence corrects.” In other words, this brain area alerts us to a mismatch between expectation or confidence and actual performance. The result is a metacognitive experience that “leaps into consciousness" and allows us to correct course. The authors of this study (Butler, Karpicke and Roediger 2008) also found a “hyper-correction effect”. They observed a “greater recall of correct answers to questions that were initially answered incorrectly with high confidence. So, the greater the discrepancy between what we think we know, and what we actually know, the better we can retain the correct information once it is discovered. The DLPFC, on the other hand, is associated with error suppression. The ACC activates the “ghost in the machine” monitoring system and in turn propels the DLPFC to suppress future errors. TOTs therefore are “metacognitive feelings” that monitor what we potentially know and drive us to keep attempting retrieval in the face of frustration.
In scientific literature, TOTs are generally presented in terms of language recall, but could they be applied to music as well? Could we harness this natural human monitoring ability to aid independent learning? I sifted through my teaching ideas and approaches to solving various common difficulties and one example stood out. When teaching similar sections or phrases with different endings, I often use contrast practice (practicing the sections back-to-back to identify where the similarities end, and differences begin). Nearly every time the students are surprised at their fingers strong desire to automatically jump to the section they know best, even when they are attempting to play the contrasting one. If a piece is larger in scope and has multiple similar sections, I ask the student to label them (1,2,3,4 etc.) and jump to each out of order. This usually works quite well for untangling the structure (provided they follow through and practice like this at home, but we’ll get back to that later).
After combing through multiple TOT studies, I began to wonder, I began to wonder, what if we were in essence forcing a TOT to happen? Students felt certain that they knew the individual sections and couldn’t figure out why the errors kept occurring (high confidence). They were surprised to learn that as a result of knowing one section better, their fingers were automatically leading them astray (mismatch between expectation and ability). This forced them to analyze the piece deeper (monitoring) and pay attention to those particular sections in future performances (error suppression as a result of monitoring). When this approach is applied consistently with every piece, year after year, the students do eventually learn to recognize potential trouble spots independently.
The ACC and DLPFC correlations were further explored by a study involving music students at the University of Hanover. The authors (Maria Herrojo Ruiz, Hans-Christian Jabusch and Eckhart Altenmuller) found that highly trained student pianists were able to continuously monitor an ongoing performance, predict mistakes before they occurred and adjust accordingly. They concluded that the ACC functioned as the monitor, sending signals to the DLPFC to initiate corrective action when necessary. They also found that pianists with a higher degree of synchronization between these two brain regions were able to suppress the volume of an incorrect note more efficiently thus making it less noticeable.
It seems that the key to successful learning strategies and performance lies in the development of a strong connection between the two brain areas involved in metacognition, the ACC and the DLPFC. The difficulty lies in helping students develop this skill to the point of self-driven monitoring, analysis and correction. At this point in my teaching I try to encourage these habits by asking lots of targeted questions to nudge my students toward analyzing their practice and involve the parents to continue at home in the same vein (this is where we come back to quality of practice outside the lesson). However, I also look forward to exploring this topic further and hopefully applying more neurologically-based strategies that take advantage of our natural metacognitive abilities.
Submitted by Ann Scarola
This year is the celebration of Clara Wieck Schumann’s 200th birthday. When I was a teenager I began reading about the lives of Clara and her husband Robert. I was always inspired when I read about their love for each other and the music they created and shared with each other and audiences all over the world. With the celebration of Clara's birthday, I am once again inspired as I read about the various celebrations taking place this year.
There is an amazing amount of information on the Schumann Network website. To access this site, go to www.schumann-portal.de. Click on “news” for continually updated information about events happening this year. Click on “200th anniversary of Clara Schumann's birthday in 2019” and it reads, “On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann, not only the Schumann towns are making their plans but planning of all kinds is going on elsewhere, too, and new recordings are released with a view to the anniversary year 2019.”
In Leipzig they are already celebrating The CLARA19 Festival. The English translation website for this festival is https://english.leipzig.de/detailansicht-news/news/clara19-an-entire-year-dedicated-to-clara-schumanns-200th-birthday/. Leipzig is Clara's town of birth, the town of the beginning of her childhood prodigy career, the starting point of her international pianistic career, the place where she met Robert, the place where she got married and of the first years of marriage with the birth of the two oldest daughters. On this website you can learn about Clara's early childhood, see concert dates, see pictures and dates for tours of the Schumann house and see a picture of the beautiful Clara bouquet stamp.
In St. John's Smith Square in London, England they are beginning their Clara Schumann Festival with a weekend of music and discussion celebrating Clara, pianist, composer, wife, mother, friend and muse. The festival opens with a rare opportunity to hear Clara’s complete published songs, 29 settings in total. February 22nd to February 24th are the dates of this opening celebration. One can find all the information about this festival at sjss.org.uk.
For other listening opportunities, on Amazon you can purchase “Clara Schumann: Complete Songs” on the Naxos label. The songs are performed by soprano, Dorothea Craxton and pianist, Hedayet Djeddikar. At http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk, you can hear extracts from the CD, “The Songs of Clara Schumann.” The songs are performed by soprano, Susan Gritton, baritone, Stephen Loges, and pianist, Eugene Asti. There is also a wonderful two-page booklet that is included with this CD. In this booklet there is an explanation of the songs by Nancy Reich. She writes, “Except for Walzer, all Clara Schumann’s songs published during her lifetime were written after her marriage to Robert Schumann, and almost every song was intended as a Christmas or birthday present for her husband.”
I decided to do some exploring myself this past November. I had already read the book “Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman” by Nancy Reich many years ago and found it fascinating. Now, living in New Jersey, I took a trip to Hastings-on-Hudson to visit a bookstore in the town Mrs. Reich resided. I had read an article that Mrs. Reich had a book signing a while ago at this quaint bookstore. I learned when visiting this book store that Susanna Reich, Nancy’s daughter has written a book entitled, “Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso.” This book is aimed for children ages 7 to 10. After reading the reviews online, I can't wait to purchase it! From reading the reviews I think people of all ages will enjoy reading it.
Here are a few of the reviews:
While exploring the Schumann Network website early this month I was saddened to learn about the passing of Nancy Reich just recently on January 31st. I learned from reading an article on this site that in 1996, Mrs. Reich received the Robert Schumann Prize from the city of Zwickau, Germany. Clara Schumann’s Youth diaries written by Nancy Reich will be published in March. There is also a most interesting article written in the New York Times on February 11th, “Nancy B. Reich Scholarly Champion of Clara Schumann dies at 94”. Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes in this article, “Throughout her career, Nancy Reich fought to redress the belittling portraits of Clara Schumann by earlier authors and to have her recognized as a significant composer, pianist and educator, as well as a central figure of German Romanticism. Decades after “Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman” was published, there have been many doctoral dissertations, anthologies and histories of music by women. Clara died in 1896 and left behind compositions, including songs, works for solo piano, chamber music and a piano concerto.”
When reflecting on why Clara is so easy to relate to, I can see many similarities to a woman in today's world. Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes in her article, “Mrs. Reich said in an interview with the NY Times in 1996, “It’s a modern story. Here was a girl growing up with a working mother who was taken care of by a maid, a child of divorced parents. She was left a widow at 36 but was very independent and refused any loans. When Robert was sick, she went back to the concert stage to pay for his medical bills. She was a working woman. She worked with her hands. In the NY Times article from 1996 Nancy Reich also states, “She lived a life that's very familiar today. She was her own manager and agent doing her own publicity and giving the premiers of Robert’s piano works. She was a close friend of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Brahms. Liszt respected her highly. I know what it takes to balance a life as a woman and as a professional person. I see her as a contemporary. If Clara Schumann were alive today, she would be a world-class star, traveling, touring and performing. Her success did not depend on beauty, youth or a brilliant personality. She was simply devoted to her art for her whole life. Her nickname was the “Priestess.”
While I won't be able to travel to Germany or England to experience the Clara Schumann Festivals (there is actually a concert celebrating Clara at Carnegie Hall as I write this blog), I am thankful to share this information about celebrating Clara and I welcome your comments.