My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A brave but beautiful new world

Life has been so good to me lately.  A bit baffling, but good.  I've been adding "workshop presenter" to my list of things that I do and even though this had never been part of my picture and I'm still getting used to being on stage in this different sort of way, I'm enjoying the benefits so much that it's far outweighing the newness of it all.

So far I've presented two different workshops:

  • "Behind Closed Doors - a discussion about what really goes on in the practice room" 
  • "Musical Investigations - making music learning more engaging and musical"

It's been interesting to realize that presenting workshops is a bit like performing music.  I feel each one is still a work in progress and I have a sneaking suspicion that how I present them is going to be different each time but I can safely say that I have fallen in love with the topics and am finding myself energized by having the opportunity to share what I've learned over the past few years with others.  I also love the fact that I walk away knowing a lot more myself from listening to the teachers, parents, and students that attend.  There is such a wealth of information out there and I love being in the middle of it all.

This past weekend I was down in Pensacola, Florida, presenting for the folks in the MTNA chapter there.  I was especially looking forward to this one because it meant I was finally going to meet two twitter friends and fellow bloggers in person, Victor Andzulis and Monika Durbin.  (For folks who don't know much about twitter, this is known as a "tweet-up.")  We had a wonderful time at the workshop and I got to hear about some of the struggles and successes the teachers there have been experiencing in regards to getting their students (and the students' parents) thinking more creatively in the practice room.  I was also really excited this visit to be able to present not only a mini-recital with my dear colleague, soprano Youngmi Kim, but to also give a masterclass for young piano collaborators.  This was a first for me in a formal sense even though I've coached plenty of people in one-on-one settings and I just loved it!  It was a fun challenge for me to tie together everything I had discussed in the workshop in the morning with what how I approached the recital repertoire we were performing and then to help the students get a sense of those same concepts themselves.  Being able to share my love of the art of collaboration and the music itself was exhilarating and getting to hear and see young people playing music with one another while having fun put me on cloud 9 for wait, make that days...oh heck, I'm still there!!  

Needless to say, I'm hoping that this masterclass thing will become an option for whenever I conduct a workshop.  

So onward!  At this point I have another workshop scheduled in November over in Chesapeake, Virginia and then possibly a workshop weekend in Tennessee in February.  Meanwhile I have ideas for other topics I want to start discussing so I have lots of work ahead of me!  

I'll try to keep my upcoming events listed in the sidebar of this blog so keep checking there.  If you find out that I'm going to be in your area, please do let me know if you want more information.  


  1. That concept of a masterclass for accompanists or collaborators is something I don't think I've heard of before. It's always presented as a soloist thing. That's really awesome. Is this done often? If not, it should be. I mean, won't most piano students be making a living as accompanists or collaborators than soloists?

    1. Janis, I've been a part of very few masterclasses where the focus is on the accompanists/collaborators and those were all focused towards pianists that are already quite experienced and playing at a fairly high level. This one was right down my alley since the pianists were mostly between the ages of 10 through college age and most of them, as far as I know, are fairly new to collaborating. And yes, I do think it should be done more often because as I've written about quite a bit on this blog, I think it's a skill that too often is reserved for later in a pianist's education. I'm going to write a blog post next about the experience so stay tuned!


    2. I think it's a skill that's almost viewed among the young as the dreaded Plan B -- what you need to do if you fail to be Lang Lang or something, which is utterly wrongheaded. I don't know if MY mental image is wrongheaded or not; it may be. But I wonder how popular a class like this would be for kids at music schools who would see it on a schedule and think, "Oh I'm not taking that class, I'm going to be a soloist."

      I keep thinking of this article:

      that was making the rounds a while back, and one throwaway line in it that went unmentioned in most discussions of it: "They were among the 44 instrumentalists who graduated in 1994, excluding pianists, who generally follow a distinct career path of their own."

      The sort of masterclasses and workshops that you are doing are the foundation for that career path, I'd think. But the belief among the youngsters that they won't need to know that stuff because they will be the next Andre Watts might keep them from realizing they need to take them, whereas the more experienced folks you mentioned are experienced enough to have learned that this is how a pianist makes their money, and that it's high time they finally learned how to do it -- years later than would have been ideal.

      Rambling away. Jeez, I'm a blabbermouth. I just wonder how many of your adult, experienced students take your classes and workshops while thinking to themselves, "I should have learned this twenty years ago!"

    3. There are actually more and more schools these days that offer degrees in accompanying/collaborating. Most are graduate degrees but there is at least one school that I can think of that offers it as a concentration within the bachelor's degree, which I think is a good thing. Many schools make pianists wait until grad school, I'm assuming because they want to ensure that the students are well-trained pianists first before honing in on their accompanying skills. My guess is that's a reaction to the stereotypical view that pianists that can't make it as soloists accompany...kind of like the belief that musicians that can't perform end up teaching instead. The students that do end up getting degrees in accompanying typically are pretty amazing, well-rounded musicians and performers, as you can imagine and many of them end up collaborating with other professional musicians.

      So here's my question...

      Who accompanies the average Joe student, amateur, or adult musician? Most of the time it's not pianists that have accompanying degrees and may have not had as much guidance. What I see is that they do it because they can play, like working with other musicians at any level of ability, and are good people people (is there another word for that?). I'd like to see more of those pianists getting the coaching that they'd like so they can serve students and non-professional musicians at a very high level. I believe it's important for everyone to be accompanied by someone who is good enough and musical enough that they can be led practically through osmosis into musical experiences. That's how I learned and that's one aspect I'd love to pass on to as many people as I can.

      Hah! Now who's the blabbermouth?

      Thanks for inspiring some thought, as always!


    4. What kind of textbook is used for this sort of class? :-) I'm not saying you need to write a textbook NOW O:-) but that, in the future as you stack up more and more workshops and masterclasses, you will probably have some kind of workbook or manual for piano collaboration and accompaniment that these programs would find extremely useful.

      What schools have these programs, graduate or otherwise -- can you list them? I wonder which schools are considering them, too.

    5. Hmmm...good point. There is one textbook that is used but in all honesty I haven't read it yet. :-P

      Here is a good list of schools that offer programs...

      Pretty amazing to me how many there are!

      And when I was at Eastman, all freshman piano majors had to take (and pass) sight-reading which was a year-long course. Then we also had to take accompanying, I believe for a was very intensive (and fun for me!) and we got fantastic coaching from the accompanying professor. It was a great experience.