This week, one of my tasks is to edit the guitar part for Impulso: Concerto for Marimba, Flamenco Guitar, and Dancer, a collaborative project with Chris Burton-Jacome. Chris is a fabulous flamenco guitarist living in Phoenix. Chris, his wife Lena, and my wife Maria will be performing the concerto in St. Louis and in Phoenix in November.
I was finding it time consuming to figure out what notes to write on the staff for the strummed chords until I started noticing patterns. For most barred chords, there seem to be only a handful of voicings that are used. I searched the web for a reference sheet that would show these voicings on a staff, but I didn’t find what I needed. So, I took some time to make up a reference sheet to help me translate what I had originally written for the guitar part into something that was playable.
Several years ago, fellow piano teacher and performer Christina Cuda Robertson took 6 months off of teaching for what she called her sabbatical. During this time, she maintained a tremendously reduced teaching schedule, where students only scheduled lessons every two weeks or so if and only if they had completely prepared everything assigned from the previous lesson.
Within her sabbatical, Christina learned new music, attended workshops, and focussed on personal musical growth. I remember feeling quite envious of her ability to plan ahead for such a valuable experience, and I was quite confident that I would never be able to make room for a personal sabbatical as long as I still had children to feed and educate.
I have been experimenting with ways to give my students a more thorough understanding of functional harmony. The deeper the student’s understanding of harmony , the easier it is to learn and memorize music. Even something as simple as knowing that a V chord usually moves to I can help a student remember what harmony follows, identify new tonal areas, and understand phrase structure.
My newest experiment involves using dice to have students construct viable harmonic motion and then play it on the piano. So far, I’ve just started playing with the concept with my students who have a more advanced understanding of harmony, but I’m excited enough about the possibilities with all my students to write about this now.
Our daughter is finishing up her freshman year in college. Probably one of the most painful things I have experienced as a parent involved with a child going to college is the application process for financial aid. It is a complicated process obfuscated by poorly written questions and confusing tax terms. Last year, I probably lost 40-50 work hours trying to figure out the two main forms that needed to be filled out: FAFSA (for federal financial aid) and the CSS Profile aid application also used by many institutions. This year was a little easier because of what we learned last year, and I hope that next year will be even easier.
Today was the Suzuki Book 1 recital of a student of mine. She had been taking piano for a year and half, starting last year with my daughter, and moving to my studio this past fall after my daughter left for college.
Two of my Suzuki teacher trainer mentors from Ann Arbor, MI (Armena Marderosian and Renee Robbins) introduced me to the concept of Suzuki Book recitals. When a child has finished learning all of the songs in a Suzuki Book, they throw their own solo recital. In my studio, the recital is held in the home of the student, on their own piano. I encourage the family to invite friends, family, and fellow studio students. Usually, the parents treat it like a birthday party, complete with cake, snacks and beverages, and some small gifts. I typically bring a CD of piano music that I think will interest the child as a graduation gift, but I have been known to give other items, like the Harvard Dictionary of Music, or even a metronome to replace a less than adequate one.
I encourage families to take ownership of the Book recital and find a twist that makes it unique to them. Many students will keep the recital to the basics — a set of order of pieces with a program handed out to the audience members, but many other students rise to the challenge of making the recital even more fun.