APTA Festival

On Tips and Reminders (My Personal APTA Festival Experience)

In my blog entry Sturm und Drang - Second Movement, I mentioned that I submitted my entry to the Teachers' Solo/Recital Class at the APTA Festival. My performance was this morning. Playing in the teacher's class was a unique festival experience. Gone was the churning stomach, hyperventilation and jello fingers from my competitive festival days.

The atmosphere this morning was fairly jovial. We were a little nervous but it felt more like playing at a master class at university with one's buddies. With the exception of one performer, I knew everyone else in the room - including the adjudicator, Helve Sastok.

We joked that it was far too early to perform. Musicians function better on stage anytime after 2:00 pm. We reminisced about how the 9:00 AM performance reminded us of early morning lessons and exams. We chatted before and between performances. A couple of us went in and out of the room to go upstairs to hear our own students perform upstairs. I went up to hear one of my students perform before returning to perform my songs.

Helve was wonderful as an adjudicator. She saluted us all for entering the class and praised our musicianship. Then, she got into the nitty gritty details, which is what we all wanted from her.

Teachers still succumb to the same challenges our students do onstage. Elements that were perfect during at-home practice were less secure onstage. Helve remarked that the heaviness of the bass on the piano we played on "wasn't the piano's fault". Touché - even teachers have voice balancing issues.

We even dish out the same excuses to the adjudicator that our students give us.

Helve gave us great tips on dealing with nerves while playing. If our hands and arms start to shake sit up straight and roll the shoulders back. If our leg starts to shake, shift your weight onto the buttock cheek of the shaking leg to force it to stop.

She reminded us that even though we knew everyone in the room, this was a formal performance setting. From the moment we rise from our chair to the moment we return to it after playing, we're performing. In short, no banter between songs and no critiquing your performance just after your bow.

One of my students and I played at the exact same time. We listened to her songs in between my pieces.

My Bartok Bagatelle came off stronger than I anticipated. I just need to readjust the balance between my voices in the middle and try a new practice tip for dealing with the technically challenging last three lines. I have three more weeks to tidy it up before my studio's year-end recital.

I thought my left hand wasn't loud enough in my Chopin Nocturne but overcompensated, drowning out my right hand melody. Helve had me drop my wrist in certain spots to give my thumb less leverage, make my left hand slither across the keys in the opening to keep it light, soft and smooth and take the ending much more broadly. Oh, I missed the ottava at the end of the third page. I never noticed it when I was learning it. Oops. So much for the big sparkly climax then. Once I fix those troublespots, it will certainly shine.

Onto my final song, Houki Boshi, which I partially improvised upon and embellished. Some of the themes that I had planned for ahead of time did come across as being more rehearsed than improvised however, she liked how I snuck in snippets of Pachelbel's Canon, Leaving on a Jet Plane and my Nocturne (the last done in a rumba style). Of course, she wouldn't have recognized another anime theme song I threw in. I got a few more good tips on improvisation and a reminder to provide dynamic contrast. I'll have to listen to more jazz to see how the musicians transition from the main theme to their improv.

All in all, a good experience. Sure, it was stressful making ourselves speed learn high level songs and memorize them in a short time span - on top of teaching, family, household and community commitments. Sure, our performances were not without glitches. However, there is no doubt that it was an extremely valuable experience for us, not only as teachers but as performers striving to improve. For to teach, we must continue to learn.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Shining Stars

Week One of the music festivals is nearly over. It's been exhausting driving back and forth from North Calgary to High River to catch students. As soon as I walked into the house, it was back to a full afternoon/evening of teaching and practicing my own songs, soothing ansty parents, pushing stubborn students who are dragging their feet on the exam preparations (and assigning names of students to the influx of white hairs on my head) and collecting registrations for next year. My students who have played so far played as well as expected. Some were still scrambling till the last minute to memorize their songs (which were supposed to be memorized two months ago). Not surprisingly, their performances were wobbly. Some succumbed to nerves, while others fell back to bad habits that I had been trying to break for months.

There were a few shining stars. There's my nine-year old student R who is steady as a rock. Steady progress and steady work habits. She got excellent comments at the festival and a mark just a couple of hairs off Honours with Distinction for her composition. Now, we just have to work at getting her rhythm in trouble spots steady as a rock.

Then there's my little showman S. This 11-year old consistently selects toe tapping songs that get the entire audience engaged in the performance. It also helps that he really gets into whatever song he's playing and flirts with the audience with his sparkling eyes and smile.

The next two are opposites: C is a 15-year old with a really good musical ear. She improvises for hours at home. After months of hounding her to write down her song, she finally did for the festival. She just missed Distinction by a couple of hairs also with her composition.

Finally, 12-year old D. She's been with me since the beginning of my teaching career. She's gone from a quiet and shy girl who only wants to play what's on the page, scared to make a mistake to a performer who impressed the adjudicator with her beautiful improvisations based on a catchy tune.

I just have a handful of students yet to perform. Then, my students and I will tear apart their songs a few more times to work on attaining a higher level of passion and technical precision for the next round of recitals and exams.

May 12, 2007 note: I need to add one more "shining star" to this list. Ten-year old R surprised his parents and myself earlier in the year when he expressed his desire to take his Gr. 5 piano exam in June. Since then, we've been working hard on his songs and technique. Fingering and rhythm have always been a challenge for him (or perhaps it's just the detail work). Prior to his performance last Saturday, I had him tap out his opening rhythm to Christopher Norton's Danger Danger. As I thought, the rhythm was a little off. I corrected the rhythm and had him practice it while I went to give two of my students who were also performing a pep talk.

When this guy is "on" he can draw the audience in. And that morning, R was "on". He nailed that rhythm and delivered the strongest performance in his class. (c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Sturm und drang - Second Movement

Perhaps the spirit of my former piano teacher Irina Ginzburg was hovering as I was filling out my own registration form for the APTA Festival. She would want me to challenge myself. Before I could stop myself, I registered for the Teacher Recital class, which means three songs. It's not too scary, at least, I hope it isn't. It's just that I now have to add two senior level pieces to my practice list (on top of students' songs and gig repertoire...to practice in the wee hours in the night).

I'm pretty happy with my selections. I've been meaning to learn Chopin's Nocturne in e minor, op. 72 #1 for years; ever since I heard it in the Hallmark TV production of The Secret Garden. It's only four pages - however, the return of the A theme is a doozy! I've sightread Bartok's Bagatelle, op. 6 #5 before and find the rhythms catchy. Hey, if I can sightread it - then it's do-able. Both songs are Gr. 10 level, which provides a bit of a challenge without taking too much time. The final selection is Houki Boshi (Comet). It's one of the theme songs from the Japanese show Bleach. I plan on embellishing and improvising a bit, something which I already do with it.

The question is whether or not I will memorize all the songs. I'll play that by ear.

So all in all, not too bad. It's still added sturm und drang though. When to practice?

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Sturm und Drang

"Sturm und drang" - "storm and stress" - these words not only apply to music, but to other aspects of life. Storm and Stress

It's amazing how much "sturm und drang" in one's personal life affects other areas. Things are settling down on the home front. One of my room-mates moved out earlier in the month. Let's just say that things really didn't work out. The house has regained its tranquil feel. I no longer have the urge to play the most dissonant music on the planet at triple fortissimo (although it was great stress relief). Maestro and my remaining room-mate have a spring to their step once again. I've been playing perky songs.

Most of my students are heading into festival/exam season in a pretty good position, with most of their repertoire and technical requirements memorized. Each year, we get better at timing. The main challenge now is to help the students take their music to the next level of musicianship and expression without them peaking too soon before performance day. There are a couple of students who could go either way. If they buckle down now, they will do fine on the exam. If they don't...the road will be very stormy and stressful indeed.

For the first time in APTA Festival history, the organizers are offering a Teacher performance class. I've been humming and hawing whether to learn something new or enter one of my senior student's songs, which I must practice anyway. I've got a few days to decide. With another busy year on the ARMTA Calgary Board ahead of me, I will most likely pick something that will provide enough of a challenge without undue stress.

Thankfully the Calgary Iaido Club has decided to host a seminar on Niten Ichi Ryu instead of both the seminar and the national Iaido Tournament. As exciting as the latter would have been to host, it would have been a challenge for us to make it work for this year.

All in all, life if back to a manageable level of sturm und drang.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Enter Troppo Crazy Season - #2

It's that time again - when students and teachers ride a six month non-stop roller coaster - with dreams of summer so far away. My new room-mates are seeing first-hand just how nutty my life is. It goes almost without saying that I won't be able to update my blog as much as I'd like to for the next little while.

I began the winter term with an ARMTA Calgary Executive Board meeting. We have some exciting projects on the go. Our neighbourhood Chamber Chats, which launched in September, have been a hit. Calgary has grown so quickly that it is becoming more challenging to bring teachers together. We divided the city into six regions and created regional groups in the hopes that the teachers within the groups could network and support each other with joint recitals, master classes and mock exams. We have another round of Chamber Chats scheduled for the coming week.

Also on tap this month is our Honours' Recital, which I'm chairing. Students of member teachers who attained high marks on their 2006 music exams will be honoured at the end of the month for their hard work. I've been busy fanagling scholarship money. I know, I seem to recall saying that I'd never fundraise again after the CFMTA Peak Performance Conference & Celebration, but I just can't seem to get out of it.

My student recital is next weekend. Thankfully, my parents have been taking care of the post-recital "Snack & Chat". However, it's up to me to remind everyone to bring a plate of goodies to share and get the "recital box" ready. I also have to do up the recital program. Keep your fingers crossed that my students don't change their songs at the last minute. I was trying to prepare a new song for the recital. Reluctantly, I had to admit that it would not be up to performance standard for next week. I pulled out my old ARCT repertoire to dust off an old song. I was delighted to see that in next to no time, I had Danza del viejo boyero back under my fingers in a night.

The entry deadline for the High River & District Music Festival is next week, so I had to get all the forms ready for the six students who can enter. Talk about detail oriented work.

No luck finding a successor for the Advertising Coordinator position for ARMTA Calgary. Those of us on the Nominating Committee will have to sort that out before the AGM. I'm torn, a part of me hopes that our current President decides to stay on an extra year to push through some of these new initiatives we've launched. However, part of me looks forward to the day my commitment on the board will be over. If she completes her term and hands the mantle to me, then we're both done sooner. Hard to say which would be the better path. Whatever happens determines whether it's just easier for me to hold onto the Advertising Coordinator role since I've done it for about three years.

It's a good thing that those of us on the Website Maintenance committee for ARMTA just have regular updates to do. As one of my colleagues and I maintain our own websites, it's not a big deal to add some of the info from our site onto ARMTA's.

It was a relief to come out Saturday's Calgary Iaido Club Tournament meeting with only two tasks, as opposed to the 15+ that each committee member on the ARMTA Board winds up with. Taking minutes and filling out grant applications - I can handle that - especially with proofers to double-check my work.

All I can say is that I'm glad my room-mates and I launched our little "adventure club" for family and friends. Maestro and I will need a healthy dose of fun and adventure to survive this term's roller coaster.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Performing to Expectations

We're into high performance season for musicians. Some of my students have already begun their stint at the APTA Festival. I was delighted today to see the comments one of my students received. We're definitely on the right track. Just a few tiny things to improve on but nothing this student can't handle. I can only hope that the rest of my students do as well. Some students have recently memorized their exam and/or festival pieces so there may be some wobbly performances. As my brother once told me, "They'll perform as well as expected."

I can't wait to see how my students found the Technique Games and the Music is More than You See Workshop on embellishing. I especially can't wait to find out how two of my students will do in the pop class, where they are strongly encouraged to improvise and/or embellish. One is a good improvisor and should play well. The other? We'll see.

It's the same deal with next week's theory examinations. One student is postponing her exam, while the other four should perform as expected. I hope one squeaks by with a passing grade, but following instructions has been a challenge for this student. Writing a music theory exam is like taking an accounting test: If you get one step wrong, it will drastically affect the rest of your answer. Not following directions will adversely affect your grade. The other three will pass, if past performance is any indication.

This week, I'm asking my students to decide what they will perform at the studio recital at the end of the month. I suppose I should do the same. I know that I should perform by memory, but I don't know if I'll have time to memorize. Jeez, I can't even decide what to play, let alone whether I'll use the book. (c) 2006, Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.