January / February 2022

 
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NOTES FROM MELIA & JUSTIN

We hope this newsletter finds you and your family happy and healthy! Thank you again for your understanding through our family’s COVID situation. The semester had an interesting start, but we’re so grateful to be back in the studio with our Music Makers.

 

Over the last couple years, we’ve realized that producing a monthly newsletter is quite demanding on top of our other studio work. So… this newsletter is the first of two you’ll receive during the spring semester. You’ll still receive pertinent information via email, which is our primary mode of communication.

 

In this newsletter, you’ll find important announcements about February Group Class (Feb. 14-17), How Pianos Work (Mar. 19), and Spring Break (April 4-8). We also explore the life and work of German pianist and composer Clara Schumann in “Women of the Keys.”

Our best to you,

Melia & Justin

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Clara Schumann

(1819–1896)

This month, we continue our 2021-22 studio year theme “Women of the Keys: Piano Music by Female Composers” with a look at 19th-century virtuoso pianist and composer, Clara Schumann. Schumann was one the most renowned concert pianists in her day, touring internationally and, for many years, being the primary breadwinner of her family. She also composed extensively from a young age. Through her composing, concertizing, and promotion of works by other composers, including Johannes Brahms and her husband Robert, Clara Schumann left an indelible mark on the world of classical piano music.

Check out four activities to watch, read, listen, and do to learn more about Clara Schumann and her work!

WATCH

Schumann spent many hours at the piano preparing music for her concerts and composing. What did her piano sound like? Pianist Tiffany Poon shows us in this wonderful video performance.

LISTEN

We’ve added works by Schumann to our “Women of the Keys” Spotify playlist. You’ll hear examples of three forms common to the Romantic period: a movement from a piano concerto, a character piece, and a movement from a piano sonata.

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READ

Younger students will enjoy reading this short biography of Clara Schumann by Classics for Kids. Older students can check out this longer piece from the LA Phil.

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DO

With your parent’s permission, check out the Composer Index from A Seat at the Piano, an organization devoted to the inclusion of piano music by female composers. Many of the composer entries in the index include a link to the artist’s website. You can also search for recordings of their pieces to hear their work.

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PIANO IN THE NEWS

Music can bring joy throughout our lives! No one knows this better than 97-year-old pianist Ruth Slenczynska, who will release a new album of piano music on the Decca Classics label this March. Learn more about her incredible life in music in this article from ClassicFM.

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STUDENT SPOTLIGHT

We love seeing our Music Makers take their playing out of the studio or their home and share it with others. Justin’s student Jesse shared his own arrangement of “Jingle Bells” at a church Christmas program in December. Way to go, Jesse!!

STUDIO UPDATES

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February Group Class

Our first group class week of the spring semester is February 14-18. Per the studio calendar, classes will take place at the following times:

Monday, February 14 @ 6 PM

Tuesday, February 15 @ 4 PM and 5:30 PM

Thursday, February 17 @ 5 PM (Advanced Track only)

All classes will take place in person. Please register for the session your student will be attending in the studio portal by Wednesday, February 9. We have capped in-person classes at 7 students for COVID safety. Advanced Track Students (45- and 60-min students) have been pre-registered for the Thursday class.

Spring Studio Event:

"How Pianos Work"

During our Spring Studio Event, master piano technician and salesperson Jeff Hall will show us  “How Pianos Work,” allowing our Music Makers to get up close and personal with the inner workings of our favorite instrument. The event will take place in person at West Michigan Piano (3600 29th St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512) on Saturday, March 19 at 11 AM. Students are encouraged to play on the many beautiful pianos in the showroom before and after the event. Feel free to invite family and friends! We do ask that all attendees mask.

Spring Break!

Per the studio calendar, our Spring Break will take place April 4-8. We’ll resume our normal teaching schedule the week of April 11.

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PRACTICE TIP:

The Beginner's Toolbox

Handyman Tools

In today’s Practice Tip, we’re getting down in the weeds, offering the practice strategy I most often recommend to my beginning students. (Spoiler… it works for all pianists, myself included!) Use the following steps for a short piece of music, for example a 1-page song in a method book. If practicing a longer piece, break it down into smaller chunks and complete the following procedure on each one. I use the abbreviations HS for “hands separate” and HT for “hands together”:

 

  1. Clap and count the rhythm using your favorite counting method. If the piece uses HT playing, clap and count HS then tap HT on your lap. Write in the counting for tricky spots or places you’ve made an error.

  2. Play the notes of the piece in the rhythm you just clapped while saying the note names aloud. If working HT, say note names HS, then play HT.

  3. Same as step 2, but this time say the finger numbers! (Make sure you’ve double-checked the starting position.)

 

A few important notes about this method:

  • Be sure to master each step before moving on. After each time through the piece clapping, speaking, or playing, evaluate your attempt. Were there errors? Was it perfectly accurate?

  • When you make a mistake, “zoom in” on the challenging passage in the music. Ask yourself, “Why did I make this mistake and how can I correct it?”

  • Go slow and steady on each pass-through! You can always add speed later. A parent can provide a slow, steady beat by clapping.

 

Why this method works…

  • It allows students to break a piece of music down into its component parts: rhythm, pitch, fingering, hands separate and together. Once each step is mastered, a new component can be layered on.

  • It gives students a very specific series of practice steps. If nothing else, they will at least have played the piece several times with a specific focus on each pass-through.

  • By activating the brain verbally (counting, speaking notes and fingerings), students are engaging their full intellect at the piano. The method elicits focus and makes mistakes more obvious to the student.

 

What questions do you have about practice? Send me an email at <justin@yellowdoorgr.com>, and I’ll try to answer them in upcoming newsletters.