Reflecting on My Facebook Free Lent

Some people give up sweets for Lent. Others give up swearing. I've done both. This year, the glaring vice I could see during my pre-Lent musings was my "Facebook Login & Refresh My Notifications" Addiction. It didn't matter whether I turned off most notifications in my Facebook settings. Nor did it matter that I uninstalled the app on my mobile devices. I used to log in - a lot. It certainly didn't help matters that I have personal and business contacts on Facebook and belong to international Facebook groups (TL: The group never sleeps). So I gave up Facebook for Lent — cold turkey — on Ash Wednesday.

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:

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!"

On Scaring Classically Trained Music Teachers with Contemporary Idioms

Earlier this month, I presented improvisation and various elements of Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms syllabus to The Piano Pedagogy Group. This was a group of bright yet frightened classically trained piano teachers. After years of being told "Play what's on the page," the sight of a chord chart or a lead sheet drew looks of puzzlement and various states of uncertainty. Conservatory Canada has recently updated their Contemporary Syllabus in such a way that makes it easier to crossover to the "fun zone". I myself haven't gone through all of the changes yet (You can find out all about the syllabus changes here). What I did touch upon was my experience delving into contemporary idioms on a deeper level. Much deeper than playing through popular arrangements by Dan Coates, Bill Boyd and Phillip Keveren.

I began by sharing my experiences taking jazz piano lessons with jazz pianist, adjudicator, clinician and examiner Derek Stoll. Then, I walked them through various elements of preparing for my Level 7 Contemporary Idioms piano exam.

The bulk of my presentation was on sharing the resources I commonly use when teaching contemporary music, in addition to my approaches to teaching technique, improvisation and learning music that isn't in standard notation. This is rather huge, I will go into each area in more detail in subsequent posts. Hopefully, this will open up a dialogue between music teachers and students who would like to delve into the "fun zone".