Had to Brag

Piano Parties: Giving music students a comfortable place to perform, learn and socialize

Piano parties are one of the popular events at my studio. This year's piano parties got off to a grand start with the Halloween Piano Party.

Musespeak Studio Student Band Wins Award

Some of you remember my post about four of my students who submitted an entry into Long & McQuade's annual Music Education Contest in February. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I received an email from Long & McQuade, informing me that my students' entry won one of the bonus prizes.

I can just imagine the energy level when my students next meet to rehearse for the APTA Festival's Piano Combo class. Lots of "W00ts!" and happy dances. I imagine they will use their winnings to buy needed supplies to help record their debut CD.

They submitted a photo entry but this audio submission was their entry for the bonus prizes:

Seeing as they had to give permission to L&M that their entry could be used for promotional purposes, I'm exercising the teacher's right to promote them too!

Congratulations, WEDG - you deserve it!

Preparing for the Long & McQuade Music Education Contest

For the first time, my studio submitted an entry to Long & McQuade's Annual Music Education Contest. It's been a really neat experience for my students and I.

When I saw the poster back in November, I had a hunch that the four students I selected for the project would work well together (aged 11 - 13). Three of them had already worked together in combo classes and improv classes in previous years. I went on a hunch with the fourth member. This is her first year studying with me. However, her creative vision and personality seemed like a good fit for the other three.

In December, D stepped up to be Team Captain/Music Director. They held planning meetings at my studio, starting in January. G, the new student, wound up being the Secretary, writing down ideas and project deadlines and practice schedule on the whiteboard. E picked the song, while W brought supplies for their photo shoot.

They opted to perform "50 Ways to Say Goodbye" by Train:

They wound up practicing sometimes twice a week at my studio throughout January. They did most of the planning  by themselves. I served as an advisor, while D's mother helped supervise meetings while I was teaching.

After several discussions over their band name, they christened themselves "WEDG" (opting to use the first initial in their names). The group is comprised of W (cajón/vocals), E (lead vocals), D (vocals/keyboard) and G (keyboard/hand percussion).

I have a digital piano in my office, so I was still able to teach while WEDG practiced in the studio. At the end of the evening, I emailed the mp3 files from their practice for them to review.

There was one setback. Long & McQuade announced that the audio category was full at the end of January. The kids decided to press forward and record as they were already planning to continue working together. They were already talking about CD covers and decided they could still submit an photo entry for the contest.

We did receive good news last week though, in that Long & McQuade re-opened the audio category for the bonus prizes. Last Friday, the group recorded their entry AND posed for photos for not only the photo contest, but also their CD cover.

Recording in the Studio

To my delight, I even heard a bit of their own compositions in passing. I was occupied with setting up the recording equipment when I overheard one of them say, "Let's run through our song first." I was floored as I listened to them run through a catchy pop tune that they created.

Whether WEDG wins a prize in the Long & McQuade Music Education Contest or not doesn't really matter. The moment I heard them come together as a completely cohesive unit for the recording their final take and the surprise moment when they ran through their own band songs - that's what matters. The ties created by their shared love for music, along with their shared vision. As their teacher, I couldn't be any prouder than I was at that moment. I cannot wait to hear what they come up with next.

The Cafe Studio Showcase Experiment

In "Drowning in Music Lesson Planning" (August 2012), I mentioned some of the ideas I had for studio performances. One was the idea of having a performance at the neighbourhood café in lieu of a winter recital. Image source: Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/williamnyk/

Last week, we had our Studio Winter Showcase at Caffe Crema. I have heard back from all students and families who were part of the event, and have taken some time to reflect on the experience.

It was a good thing I confirmed my booking from August. My contact quit her job and didn't pass the details to the remaining staff. My worries intensified when I overheard the sound technician complain about a booking that fell through the cracks.

We got everything sorted out more or less. There was a bit of miscommunication about the layout. It was workable though, so not a big deal.

I booked the café from 1:00 - 4:00 PM. The afternoon was comprised of three sets, with 10-minute intermissions to allow people to come and go, place their orders and visit. One of my students came early to help with the set up. She also volunteered to emcee as well. Another student relieved her when she got ready to perform. Other students, along with their parents, helped out with setting out the programmes and packing up. That worked out beautifully.

Feedback has been overwhelming positive. Many enjoyed the cozy atmosphere of the cafe. They liked the "come and go" casualness and found that it was easier to get family and friends to come.

Hands down, everyone enjoyed the food and drinks. I am willing to bet $1,000 Maestro Bucks that some of them will become regular customers at Caffe Crema.

Everyone did admit to feeling more nervous than they do at recitals. This can be attributed to three factors:

  1. Uncertainty over a different venue
  2. Uncertainty over playing a different instrument
  3. Fear over playing in public

For most of my students, this was their first public performance. Studio recitals and examinations are private. Music festivals are semi-private. The idea of playing for a bunch of "random" people with absolutely no connection to my studio or their families was terrifying for some of them.

My very first performer of the day walked in with tears streaming down her face. She absolutely didn't want to play in public. For a fleeting moment, I thought, "Oh no! Should I have made it a private performance? Did I introduce this change too abruptly?"

Several of us gave her hugs and encouragement. She got up there and played her entire set of five songs. Her voice didn't betray how nervous she was when she introduced each piece. She was able to smile after all was said and done.

Was it a perfectly clean performance? No. Was it a fluent performance? Yes. Then that's all we can ask for.

I only heard one negative comment. That's bound to happen with any public performance. My knee-jerk reaction was to never have my students do anything like this again - to protect them from ever hearing such criticism. Later, I came to the realization that it's not my job as their teacher to shield them from criticism but rather, to help them deal with it - to use the constructive criticism and discard the rest.

Will I do something like this again as a performance opportunity for my students? Probably. Only two said they would rather not do it again and I have a couple of options for them. Would I go back to Caffe Crema? It's a definite possibility.

Most of them enjoyed performing on a different stage. They gave me variations on this theme, "I was more nervous than usual, but as you said not everyone was listening. I'll never see those random people again." That showed in their playing, enough for some of the "random people's" kids to inch closer to the action. Clear enough for my friend and fellow teacher, Sharon Fast to say, "It's great to see what other teachers are doing in their studios and you are really bringing out the creativity in those kids! And they really seem to enjoy music making!"

Using Multiple Cameras in a Music Lesson Demonstration

After reading "On Teaching Piano with Multiple Cameras", one of my readers had mused how wonderful it would be to see a demonstration of using multiple cameras in a music lesson. My student Dylan and I were happy to oblige.

Here we are working on a short chord progression from U2's "Stuck in a Moment". I used the three claps at the beginning to synchronize the videos (à la Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir).

We used the following cameras for this demonstration:

  1. POV Camera on Dylan's head (Top Left): GoPro Hero 2
  2. Profile Camera on the Studio Desk (Top Right): Microsoft HD LifeCam 3000
  3. Pedal Camera (Bottom Right): Canon PowerShot 5S IS (I can't bring myself to retire it completely because it's still a good camera)
  4. Overhead Camera (Bottom Left): Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910

I took a photographer friend's advice and turned off the auto-focus on the two webcams. Another thing I do is try to minimize the number of background programs running on the computer when recording video.


The profile view is essential for checking posture and hand position. The overhead view gives you the musician's peripheral of the keyboard geography. The pedal view is essential with students who are having issues with timing their pedal changes. As for the POV camera - isn't is just fun to see how another musician sees when they play? It's also good for checking where they are focusing.

I will probably swap the positions for the pedal and profile camera.

Now, when a student working on something new, I can show them various perspectives that they can review at their leisure at home. Or perhaps they'd like to show off a newly polished piece to their relatives across the country.

Students, "Record & Review" has never been so easy to do at home. Use any of your portable devices, such as a smart phone, iPod, tablet, netbook, laptop, camera. You can place them at various positions as we have here.

Find out more about how to incorporate webcams into your studio here.

* Special thanks to my student Dylan and his family for granting permission to record Dylan for this demo. *