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".


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.

Summertime Music Musings

The double whammy wedding gig weekend is behind me. The first one went quite well. I had a lot of fun improvising on Canon in D. Everything was timed very well. I like it when that happens. The "rock music" wedding was interesting. I was shaky in a few spots and kept getting stuck in one part of "Another One Bites the Dust".

Another One Bites The Dust



Another One Bites The Dust By Queen. For piano, voice, and guitar (chords only). Film/TV; Pop; Rock. 4 pages. Published by Hal Leonard - Digital Sheet Music (HX.2135)

...more info

However, I just plowed through. Sometimes, I really "faked it", but it turned out ok. The groom got a little teary eyed saying his vows, which was quite touching.

Today, I returned to the place I temped at last month. I'm filling in for two admin assistants, one week in each department. My primary function will be to keep their seats warm, so I'm bringing my lesson planning binder with me and I anticipate that I will complete the year plans for my 40 students while on my assignment. Granted, it will be done in between answering the odd call, scheduling a handful of meetings and filing, but I'll have time to complete it. Maybe, just maybe, I'll have a chance to score study my intermediate students' repertoire while I'm there too.

During my last temping assignment there, I completed an article on rhythm and flow in music and Iaido for The Iaido Journal. I'm not sure when it will be published, but you could check the link regularly.

I got promoted to First Vice President for the local branch of the Alberta Registered Music Teachers' Association. At first, I was a little leery but now, I'm excited at the idea of completing my time on the Board one year early. I'm trying to wrap up my work on the Governance Committee this month so that come September, I will just focus on the Website Committee and the behemouth project known as the Honours Recital. I have to get caught up on the latter this weekend and call a committee meeting...on my week off.

On a completely different note (but just as exciting), the Calgary Iaido Club, where I train, got the green light to host its first national Open Iaido Tournament. We'll have seminars in other disciplines as well. Our planning meetings have been a welcome change from some of the Board meetings I've attended. Has anyone else ever noticed that when there are mostly men at a meeting, it goes far more quickly than when there's mostly women?

Alas, I've mused long enough. It's time to get back to putting together my music card games for the students. (c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


On Meetings & Creative Practicing Ideas

We had our Annual General Meeting for Calgary ARMTA yesterday morning. It’s official: I am the Second Vice President for the 2006/07 Executive. Barring any unforeseen life changing circumstance, I will become the President in two years. But for now, it simply means that I get to add a few more projects onto my plate, such as the Honours Recital, which showcases students who performed superbly on their music exams and implementing some of the new membership benefits and programs we plan to offer. After I complete my advertising drive for our branch’s newsletter, my next order of business will be to find and train my successor. I’ll still be involved with maintaining our branch’s website.

Kudos to Barbara Robertson, our Past President, who did her best to keep the rest of us on track (somedays that was a challenge!). Beth Olver, this year’s President, brings a lot of board member experience and progressive ideas. I’m looking forward to the upcoming year.

We also had a guest speaker prior to the AGM. Calgary piano teacher/clinician/pianist Colleen Athparia presented a talk on creative ways to practice – to keep things fresh. Some ideas were new, while others were a good reminder of what has worked in the past and should be tried again.

In the spirit of “keeping things fresh”, I deliberately changed the order to today’s lessons. I’ve fallen into the habit of starting with technical exercises, followed by repertoire, then theory and aural/sight reading/rhythm exercises. Some students started with theory and ear training today, while others were asked to play arpeggios instead of scales first. One student took great delight in playing Oh Canada backwards. Another got a kick out of crossing her hands and then playing Aloha Oe, while another thought it strange that I asked her to play the f# melodic minor scale as slowly as she possibly could (I wanted her to listen to the sound decay of each note). All in all, it made for an interesting afternoon and evening. I wonder how I can shake up the rest of the week?

© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Not exactly a week off

It’s Group Class Week, which has altered the studio schedule. In lieu of regular piano lessons, the students attend a group class this week. I tried something different this year by spreading the four group classes over three days. I used to run them on a Friday/Saturday of one weekend. I found that I spent the whole week conserving energy for those two days and needed (but couldn’t have) another week to recover. Thankfully, my brother is available to help out with the beginner classes tomorrow and I have hired two of my older students as teaching assistants to give them some experience.  


There are a few bugs to work out since a new system and it’s the first group class for the year, but the first one last night went all right. My intermediate students performed for each other, improvised and figured out what do in a 10-minute practice session if that’s all the time they have (see my earlier entry on this for more info).



With the studio running at full capacity, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make the group class schedule work more effectively. I’m already thinking about how to structure it next year, believe it or not.


It hasn’t been a week off, as my heading implies. I am still teaching theory lessons this week and doing “make-up” lessons. There was the Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association (ARMTA Calgary) meeting on Monday. Maestro helped me with the filing and bookkeeping. Now it’s off to do some administrative work (receipts to couples whose weddings I played at, finding a venue for the winter and spring student recitals, preparing for the lessons and group classes today).


© Musespeak, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.


Midnight Musings

Being an entrepreneur means that you never completely stop working. It’s past midnight and I am trading e-mails with the president of the local branch of the Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association, while I am working on tonight’s blog entry. We have a general members’ meeting on Monday, which we are preparing for. The executive is trying to implement some changes to improve how we operate and what we offer to members, students and the general public. But change is hard and, well anyone who works with people knows that sometimes personalities clash. It’s a challenge for volunteer board to meet the needs of everyone. Quite simply, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. I have two main gripes: people who complain but don’t take action and people who don't do their share of the workload. It’s always the same volunteers doing all the work. We could use a little more help.

Enough ranting. I didn’t mean to rant but with “freefall” writing, you just type/write what pops out of your head without thinking.

Speaking of writing, I recently started a creative writing class at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. After years of doing corporate and technical writing, it is a refreshing change to write “fun stuff”. Strange how childhood memories flood the pages of my notebook, like my juice cup from kindergarten with letters, numbers and animals on it or the cat that scratched my arm when I tried to feed it weeds. I have even started writing haiku (it’s addictive).

On another note, some students and I are performing Sunday afternoon at a local nursing home. It was something I did when I was growing up. The residents appreciate the visit and the entertainment. It is also a great way to hone the students’ performance savvy.

Picture yourself at the piano, playing away, when a resident spills coffee all over the floor, another decides to belt out a different arrangement of your song, while another babbles incoherently - loudly. If you can maintain composure through that, then performing before a stern faced examiner or at a family reunion should be a little easier.

That’s enough musing for tonight. I still need to figure out what I am performing at the recital. Maybe the song titles will jump out at me in a dream.

© Musespeak, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.