Category: blog

The Power of Music

The Power of Music

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” ~ Aristotle

The sorrow…

Some people assume that it is hard to emotionally and personally connect with students during online lessons. I recently had a very powerful and impactful lesson via Facetime. I logged into a lesson with my 10 year old student who I have taught for five years. When she answered, I was surprised to see her in tears. I asked her if she was frustrated with piano or if she was upset with something that happened at school. She said she wasn’t exactly sure why she was so upset and that it had nothing to do with piano. I immediately changed the subject to try and distract her and then we jumped right into the music as we normally would. I threw in some humor along the way and was sure to be extra positive about her accomplishments.

The turnaround…

Then, out of nowhere, I asked her if I could play my new, short, composition for her (we don’t have to be “productive” every single moment of every lesson. Although, this moment was most likely her most memorable one). I explained the backstory of my composition and talked about some of my difficult emotions that I was expressing through the piece. My piece from my upcoming album Central Star is titled “Moving On”. Video coming soon…

Two summers ago, we were in the middle of a move and did not have a solid plan for where we were moving to. This felt unsettling and stressful for this mama of two young children. I composed the piece while staying with my parents and agonizing about what our next step should be. Through the repetitive, relentless left hand pattern, I wanted to convey the feeling of nervousness and uncertainty. As with most things in life, with the tragic, beauty often coincides. I aimed to bring out the beauty as well.

After my impromptu performance, my student loved the piece, gave me some wonderfully insightful feedback (as she always does), and had a big smile on her face. I am continually blown away by her thoughtful comments concerning my compositions. I should mention that she also composes beautiful pieces for solo piano.

The breakthrough…

Finally, we transitioned into her improvisation that we had been working on. This time, I had her experiment with how to express different moods through her improvisation. We made her improv sound joyous, sad, and then pensive. At the end I said, “Do you feel better after playing and listening to all of this music?” Her demeanor was completely different by this point and she told me she felt much better. I explained to her that that, my friend, is the power of music and that I use music to help me deal with so many different parts of my life. I expressed how happy I was that she has music to turn to when she needs an outlet. I also explained that music helps me when I’m in a ‘difficult’ mood because it takes my mind off of whatever is bothering me and that I’m very grateful for that. The power of music! And the power of a piano teacher! HEART FILLED!

Flowing through Music…

Stories like this have inspired me to create my Piano Flow- Create and Elevate online intensive for this summer of quarantine 2020. I want pianists of all levels and ages to access the piano as their own sound spa- their personal oasis that is always there for comfort and security, no matter the circumstances. I want to empower teachers with the tools to pass down the expressive skills of improvisation, exploration, and composition to their students. I want students of all levels and ages to find their own, creative voice through the instrument. You never know, fostering the craft of creative expression through music might just be the most valuable skill you or your students could ever need.

Growing through Music…

Interested in joining a supportive and nurturing group this summer? The doors are now open for the summer Piano Flow intensive! Feel free to email with questions, or better yet, let’s connect and chat via phone or Zoom to talk about the summer intensive! I already have an amazing group of humans registered, and we would love to have you join in on the fun. In the meantime, pop over to the new Piano Flow Facebook Group to get inspired about creativity at the piano, fluid piano technique, and a positive mindset. Hope to connect soon!

Serving Through Music when the World Goes Viral

Serving Through Music when the World Goes Viral

What Can I Do?

During this trying time of Coronavirus, so many of us ask ourselves, how can I be of service, right now? Some people are jumping into action and guiding those who feel helpless or hopeless. Some are feeling extreme grief and overwhelm and maybe aren’t feeling in a position to be of service, yet. I believe that if you really look for it, there are small yet impactful ways that each of us, regardless of circumstance, can show up and serve others.

What does in mean to “be of service”? We can show up for the world in a myriad of ways. Some people serve through their occupation or skills, some serve through their community or their family, others serve simply through their calm and comforting demeanor (also known as their “energy”), and some serve through a unique combination of these things. Some serve simply by lending an ear to a loved one who is hurting, or digging deep to find compassion for your child that you are with 24/7, rather than reacting with frustration. During these difficult and confusing times, so many of us are asking ourselves what we can do to help.

Generous Spirit

People are showing up in beautiful ways and contributing their unique gifts. Famous musicians are doing impromptu live videos, uniting and exciting fans from around the world. Not so famous musicians are doing the same. Piano teacher Stephen Hughes has donated his skills and expertise to train piano teachers how to suddenly be able to teach their studio online. Illustrator Mo Willems has posted a daily video where he teaches the world how to draw his imaginative characters. Some neighborhoods are organizing sweet activities like putting stuffed animals in the windows in order to give children something to hunt for during family walks.

Amidst all of the tragedy including loss of lives, loss of income, anxiety about where we are headed next, and unknowns about how long this pandemic will last, there is something tragically beautiful about this unsettling moment in time. It is highly unusual to have the whole world stopped in their tracks at home (not including those who must serve as health care works, delivery workers and grocery store clerks, to name a few). We are all unified, sharing a common experience, with time on our hands to connect more with loved ones and to possibly reassess our own status quo and question if there are any changes we want to make in our lives when life resumes to normal times. It is also a time that has brought about an enormous amount of generosity, gratitude, and selflessness.

Appreciation

Gratitude is in full effect, like never before. When we come out of this, we will fully appreciate face to face time with loved ones, the freedom of coming and going as we please, the pleasure of eating in a favorite restaurant, and the soul lifting experience of attending a live performance. We will not take for granted how fortunate we are to obtain any sort of household supply and ingredient that we could imagine. Even the appreciation for the sunshine and birds singing have intensified for me. A few mornings ago, I had a stare down contest with a squirrel from my kitchen window. I had nowhere else to be, so I decided I might as well interact with a backyard creature. I found it quite entertaining. My daughters joined in on the fun and we shared a good laugh together. This helps balance those times that are more trying. We are in a time of deep appreciation for the little, simple pleasures in life.

Unique Gifts

Lately, I have been thinking about how I can over-deliver for my clients. I had a week of spring break scheduled and I offered piano lessons that week at no extra charge, since clearly, I had nowhere else to be. Every single student took me up on the offer. I think we both looked forward to having something scheduled in the day- a precious time where we can connect and express music together. I offered a Little Gems for Piano sale and discounted the unlimited digital downloads for the first (and most likely last) time. I have posted more videos than usual, displaying my “Musical Meditations” where I improvise with no prior thought or intention. I have also been recording pieces from my upcoming album as a way of entertaining and engaging people. It is so gratifying to hear people from around the world comment about how the music soothes them or brings them out of a dark space.

I am also trying to be a positive light for my family. There is no doubt that this can be a challenging time for parents who are suddenly thrown into homeschooling while working from home. There are some moments where I feel extreme sadness for my children. I feel sad for their loss of time with friends, missing out on after school activities, and don’t even get me started about how I feel seeing the playgrounds covered in yellow caution tape, or seeing their teachers wearing masks and gloves while handing me school work. Through this sadness and frustration, I am trying to keep our home life as positive as possible.

These are simple examples of how I choose to serve- through my expressive teaching, my inspiring compositions for students, choosing to parent in a positive way (when I’m able to control my reactions), and through my uplifting (hopefully) performances. I am grateful that I am able to do all of this, from the comfort of my home. I know many people are not as fortunate to be able to continue their work, and my heart goes out to them.

Serve, Appreciate, Share your Gifts, Repeat

I truly feel that we will all emerge from this with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the simple pleasures in life, as well as a renewed, energized passion for sharing our unique gifts. If you feel comfortable, please share how you have been of service, even on the simplest level, and how this unusual time has shaped your perspective. Here is a “Musical Meditation” to *hopefully* bring you a few minutes of calm and peace.

Resiliency

Resiliency

Lewis Carol

The struggle

I have a confession to make- I struggled with correctly spelling the word ‘Resiliency’ (twice). But, I paused, thought about it, course corrected, and moved on. I believe we are constantly being tested and our resiliency will make us or break us, in life and in music making. By the way, I am happy to report that by the third time I wrote the word ‘resiliency’, I had no troubles.

At the turn of the new year, I was *so* pumped to roll into 2020 like never before. I could not wait to see what this year has in store. I don’t know if it’s the start of a new decade, or simply that it is the year 2020 (how cool is that!?). I mean, how lucky are we to get to witness a year that functions as an expression and as an eyesight prescription! The number 2020 has so many meanings, and is so perfectly patterned. In 2020, I have multiple presentations for piano teachers scheduled, a family trip to Mexico, concerts of my original music booked, my album launch, local concerts performing in musicals, dance performances in Miami and Chicago choreographed to my original music, a yoga retreat in Hawaii with my lifelong bestie, family visits, and the list goes on. What could be better?

But! Within the first week of 2020, I have been hit with some very minor whammies. Within one week, the School of Rock musical I was scheduled to play for weeks in May did not get its’ rights approved, so it’s a no-go. Then, the director from the theater in the park show I was excited to play for this summer told me she would find someone else for various reasons, after I may or may not have changed my San Francisco solo concert that fell on the same weekend, and now the venue is completely booked in 2020. Yikes. Sadly, the church I adored playing for once a month last year suddenly doesn’t need me until April. My beloved long time student who is pure joy to work with decided she is taking a break until spring (hopefully), and the list continues. The biggest whammy came when I blocked out my schedule for three months after being hired for a very exciting musical theater production in town. I was excited to play that particular music, to work with the fun new director, and most importantly, to feel personally and musically connected in my new community. Out of nowhere, the gig was offered to someone else. I think you get the point….

The perspective

Each of these tiny tidbits of bad news feels like a little punch in the gut. I sit with the uncomfortable sensations in my body. I say to myself that these opportunities were not meant for me. I try to move forward with as much grace and humility as I can muster. I realize these are not life altering events. The international piano teaching community has been hit very hard with life changing events in the last few months and my heart aches for some inspiring teachers around the globe. This story is completely unrelated and simply shines a light on coping with mild set backs, not life altering traumatic events.

Some people might take all of these little set backs as a sign to throw in the towel. I see them as par for the course. I am realizing that I am an eternal optimist. My gut reaction often says, “Of course this will work! Of course they will say yes. Of course this new product launch will be wanted by all!” Then, if it doesn’t go as planned and hoped for (my product release, my grant application, my concert pitch, etc.), I am continually surprised. I think this optimistic (or is it delusional!?) outlook serves me well.

I am about to pitch my multi-media concert idea to presenters, knowing full well that in my industry, it is common to get 90-95% rejections, or even worse, you might never get a response at all. Regardless, I follow full steam ahead, heart fully engaged, hopes held high, clearly knowing that these are my odds. If I were constantly shutting things down before they had a chance, there would be a 100% guarantee of failure, rather than a 90-95% chance of rejection. Somehow, the 5-10% success rate keeps me believing that I have a massive chance of achieving all that I strive for. As the band Journey likes to say, Don’t Stop Believing!

Music making teaches us

The pursuit of music mastery mirrors life in so many ways and instills wonderful inner strength building qualities. In all phases of music learning, we must constantly keep an open and curious mind. We have to have a love of learning and an appreciation for the process. Those who expect quick miracles and rapid improvement are usually disappointed. We must have patience for ourselves and patience for the process. We must trust and accept ourselves where we are. Each day that we work on mastering a skill, we improve bit by bit, or sometimes not at all. Some skills take months (or longer!) to master, until we finally feel like we have reached a new plateau. Over time, we are able to make huge strides with proper guidance and support.

In music, things don’t always go as planned. Performances might not always go as well as we dream they will. Learning new music or foreign skills might first involve feelings of frustration or disappointment while we try, fail, repeat, and finally succeed. Someone else, at some point, is bound to land the audition. We don’t always score high on our performance exam, or win first prize in the competition, or get chosen by that prestigious artist management company. Sometimes we will fall, but if that spark and the desire are there for what we want to achieve, we must always get up, and try, try again. Because when we finally achieve our little dreams and goals, it feels so sweet. Until, the next setback! Not to worry. It is all a part of the process of growing as a musician, and as a human being.

What’s your take on going out on a limb and putting yourself out there? What have you done recently that required bravery and perseverance?

How do you teach resiliency to your students?

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretsky

Angels We Have Heard On High…

Do you believe in angels?

It’s kind of a fun thought, that people and events are sent to you as a sign or for reinforcement that you are on the right (or wrong) path. Being a creative artist who produces their own works (think composers, writers, choreographers, etc) requires quite a bit of courage, conviction, and determination. One must have full belief in themselves that one day, in the distant future, countless hours of hard work will be appreciated and fully worth the effort.

I am currently composing for my upcoming original solo piano album Central Star. No one is asking me to make the album. No one is commissioning the work. It is simply a calling that gives me so much gratification and fills my soul. This is a similar feeling that I had while making the first Little Gems for Piano book. I would stay up late at night and fill my days and evenings with composing, engraving, and editing. I took the process very seriously, although I had no idea where it would lead. After it was released, a few people around the music school where I teach would continually praise the book and ask me to write more. Almost every time I saw them, teacher Martha and her student Isaac would rave about the book and say, “You must write another level!” . These seemingly small encounters can do wonders for a creator and remind them that their work is worthwhile.

In my new town of Bend, Oregon, I am treating my composing and performing career as a full time job. Composing music, recording it, booking concerts for the multi-media collaborative performance, and transcribing it into a publishable book is a massive undertaking. Each piece has a correlating piece of art painted by Adrian Arias and will move in real time to the music. Sometimes I literally laugh out loud about how much I am taking on with this project. I also like to think of choreographer Kevin Jenkins as someone who was sent to me as a sign that I am on the right track. When I was in the beginning stages of the album creation, he reached out and asked if he could use my music for upcoming dance performances in 2020 in Chicago and Miami. I was thrilled!

I am fortunate enough to have a gig once a month playing at a gorgeous church in town. During the offertory, I am free to choose whatever piece I would like. I have been playing selections from the album, and in a way, these are the “premiere” performances! It is such a safe and comfortable way to perform the new works and get a sense for how people react. The feedback has been so heart warming and reaffirming that yes, I am on the right track! Some people said they have been brought to tears, some described how calm or transported they felt, and others inquired about when the sheet music and album would be available because they could not wait to get it. I am so grateful for every single person who came up to me and every comment I received. It is most important to have inner conviction that your work has value, but to have a few people along the way come up to you and praise your work can be truly uplifting and affirming.

How does all of this relate to teaching? Lately, I have been thinking about where my students’ natural gifts reside. We all have things we easily gravitate towards. Some students are wonderful performers, some love to compose, and some can improvise quite intuitively. I have been taking the time to point out my students’ strengths, having a conversation about it, and deciding with the student where to take and develop this skill. It is easy to take a more generic path for all students, but I think it’s important to carve out individual paths based on the student’s aptitude and interest. I have a student who is a junior in high school who plays at a high level. We could take all of our final lesson time to prepare for his Level 10 Royal Conservatory of Music Exam, but we have decided together it would be more worthwhile to prepare some Level 10 pieces, while also spending quite a bit of lesson time on his original compositions. Who knows where his propensity and passion for composing will lead. Sometimes I view piano teachers as angels, sent to students for a finite period of time to develop and instill their love of music.

p.s. If you haven’t seen my updated website, feel free to take a look around!

Inclusion in Music

I believe every person who walks into my studio with the desire to learn piano should be given the tools to soar and express themselves through music. I am talking about high achieving children ready to work their way up to a Beethoven Sonata some day, kids with behavior and learning issues, elderly people who have never touched the piano, adults who may have had a negative experience learning piano as a child but have always yearned to return to music making, and anyone and everyone in between.

With an open mind and an open heart, everyone has the potential to learn piano, although all students are not necessarily capable of achieving the same goals.  I teach children who speak multiple languages, attend the top schools in San Francisco, receive the highest scores in the area on their Royal Conservatory of Music exams, and achieve high results musically.  I also have students with learning differences who absolutely adore learning to improvise and compose and play beautiful rote pieces to compliment their note reading skills, and older folks who are not interested in learning how to read music but delight in recreating the melodies of their youth.

One inspiring, 82 year old student of mine also takes voice and French lessons, and is an avid tennis player and voracious reader. During his voice lessons, he focuses on singing his piano pieces.  He recently sang “Too Young” for me and was proud of how much he has learned and improved.  After his moving rendition, we both agreed he is sounding very much like Frank Sinatra. 😉

Any and all of these types of students are welcomed, embraced, celebrated, and nurtured in my studio. When we put blinders on and expect lessons to go one way only, and expect one kind of outcome for all students, we are doing a disservice to a large amount of the population.

Sometimes this open minded way of thinking can be erroneously associated with the more “average” teacher, and the teachers with all high achieving students have the liberty of screening students and being selective about who should be able to study with them. There are exceptions! After careful screening to assess the parental involvement, world-renowned teacher Irina Gorin embraces this inclusive approach with some of her students.  She is known for her warm, compassionate and effective approach that inspires students to play at the highest possible level.  However, if she encounters a sweet soul who struggles, she still maintains her high expectations, but sprinkles in more rote pieces during the beginning stages to supplement the slower pace.

It is truly inspiring to see what we are all capable of achieving with students who have to try harder in order to keep up in our demanding, competitive world.

What sorts of materials and modifications to do you use to accommodate all students who want to express themselves through music? How can you make greater connections and offer the gift of music making to more people who walk through your door?

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa