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February 2021

Notes from M&J


We hope you and your families are staying warm and safe; Michigan's winter has not disappointed this year! Our Music Makers have been working hard and growing, and we've been amazed at their resiliency as they continue to adapt to the all the changes in their school situations and lives as a result of the pandemic. In this month's newsletter, you'll find a few important announcements, including reminders about midwinter break and group class. And in "Music of COLOR," we'll explore one of the most influential genres in American music, the blues. 

Be well!

Melia & Justin

Valentine Candy
Music of Color
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This month we dive into one of the most influential genres in American music, the blues. Along with ragtime (see our January newsletter), the blues were a forerunner of jazz, gospel, rock-n-roll, and R&B. The blues emanated from the experience of poor Black communities in the Deep South. Blues pioneers like W.C. Handy brought the style into the national spotlight, paving the way for successful recording careers by numerous Black artists, including Mamie Smith and “Ma” Rainey.

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W.C. Handy (1873–1958) was a performer, composer, and bandleader sometimes called the “Father of the Blues” because he brought this musical style to national prominence. While Handy did not create the blues, he was the first to write and publish music in the blues style. He also wrote extensively about the history of the blues.

This month on the playlist... listen to Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” Like most blues songs, this piece uses the “12-bar blues” form. Can you hear the chord changes? When does the pattern repeat?

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Mamie Smith (1891–1946) was a blues and jazz singer with roots in the vaudeville tradition. Vaudeville was a type of entertainment in which traveling troupes performed variety acts throughout the country. In her work as a “vaudevillian,” she also played piano, danced, and acted. She is best remembered as the first person to make a blues recording, opening the door for many Black artists (especially women) to follow.

This month on the playlist... listen to the historic recording mentioned above, “Crazy Blues.”

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Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886–1939) was one of the first professional blues singers. She got her start in Black minstrel troupes and later made an extensive career writing, performing, and recording the blues. Parents and older students may enjoy the recent Netflix film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a film adaption of August Wilson’s play centering on one of her later recording sessions at Paramount Records in Chicago.

This month on the playlist... listen to “Ma” Rainey’s “Runaway Blues.”

SOURCE: Crawford, Richard and Larry Hamberlin. An Introduction to America's Music, 2nd edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013.

And now, four activities to watch, read, listen, and do to make your month more musical!


Is the blues a style? A form? A feeling? Check out what jazz artist Bryan Carter and his band have to say!


Listen to music by Handy, Smith, and Rainey on our Music of COLOR Spotify playlist, where you’ll find a growing list of music by Black artists from a variety of styles and periods in American history.


Where did the blues come from? This article traces the history of blues from the turn of the 19th-century to the present day.

Pictured: Mamie Smith and the Jazz Hounds

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It’s your turn to play the blues! Check out this tutorial from Pianotes to get started.

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Studio Updates
Piano in the News


This month is technically “Violin in the News,” but check out the newly Grammy-nominated duo Black Violin. Their unique “classical boom” style is sure to get you grooving!

Parent Workshop
Midwinter Break



Parent Workshop: Why "Music of COLOR"?

In case you missed it, check out the recording of our January Parent Workshop, "Why 'Music of COLOR'"?

Midwinter Break

Next week (February 15-19) is midwinter break. There will be NO regular lessons unless you’ve scheduled a makeup with your teacher.

Group Classes

The first group classes of the semester are coming up on Tuesday, February 23 from 4:30 to 5:30pm and Thursday, February 25 from 6 to 7pm. Like last semester, we are splitting these group classes by age. If you’re not able to attend your assigned time, please feel free to switch in the studio portal.


Students who are participating in SAT this year: please check your emails for details about repertoire recording and skills testing.

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Group Classes
Practice Tip


Finishing a book, earning a prize, and matching socks with your teacher, all in the same lesson?!? Congrats to Melia's student Julia!

Student Spotlight




Even though Yellow Door offers piano lessons, singing or chanting along with your music making, too! When we can sing along to the melody or keep a beat with our voices, it means we’ve learned a piece at a deeper level. And that means better playing!  So… practice your singing skills at the piano, and watch what happens!

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