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January 2021

Notes from M&J


Happy New Year, Music Makers! We hope you had a restorative holiday break.  The studio has hit the ground running in 2021! Weekly lessons are back, and there are many studio events on the horizon. We hope music can provide some joy and light in the darkness of the winter season. In this month’s newsletter, you’ll read about our upcoming Parent Education Workshop, more Music of COLOR composers and performers, and the newest grand piano craze!

Melia & Justin

New Year Celebration
Music of Color
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In October and November, we examined African American composers working predominantly in the classical realm. Like all Americans working in the classical music, their work would always be tied to the tradition’s European origins. This month, we turn our attention to popular forms of music, in particular jazz and its predecessors ragtime and blues. It has been said that jazz, developed in the early twentieth century, was America’s first unique contribution to music, allowing American music to break away from those European roots. And there is no debate that jazz emanated from the culture of Black Americans. This month, we examine ragtime and celebrate three composers who sought to portray an authentic picture of Black music through this syncopated style.

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Will Marion Cook (1869–1944) was a violinist, composer, and music director. Cook studied with classical composer Antonín Dvořák, but the bulk of his work was in the American popular theater. Cook’s music making took him all over the world, including a performance for the King of England.

This month on the playlist... listen to the overture to Cook’s musical In Dahomey, the first Black-produced show on Broadway. It later made a successful tour in the UK. In contrast to minstrelsy (a form of American theater that stereotyped and demeaned Black culture), Cook’s work sought to portray a rich and accurate version of Black music on the stage.

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Scott Joplin (c. 1868–1917) was a composer and pianist, known as the “King of Ragtime.” Joplin found commercial success through the publication of his many piano rags. In addition, he composed a ballet and two operas. While Joplin thought the name “ragtime” was demeaning to the music he was developing, he and others made a lasting impact on American music history.

This month on the playlist... listen to Joplin’s ragtime piano solo, Peacherine Rag. Like the eponymous fruit, this piece is filled with sweet major-key harmonies. Notice its “ragged” or syncopated rhythms throughout.

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James Reese Europe (1881–1919) was a New York-based bandleader and composer.  In addition to popularizing Ragtime among New York’s elite, Europe also founded the first talent agency for Black musicians, the Clef Club. He also directed an army band during World War I. According to Richard Crawford and Larry Hamberlin, “Europe was the first African American to be honored by the city of New York with a public funeral.”

This month on the playlist... listen to Europe’s Castle House Rag. This rag is dedicated to dancers Irene & Vernon Castle, who developed and popularized a style of ragtime dance to Europe’s frequent accompaniment.

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!


What defines the style of ragtime? Check out this video to learn why this music makes us want to dance!


Listen to music by Cook, Joplin, and Europe 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 times in American history.

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Minstrelsy was a popular form of entertainment in 19th- and early 20th-century America, in which white (and sometimes Black) performers portrayed Black life on stage in a variety show format. In this article from the Academic Kids encyclopedia, you’ll learn how this form of entertainment contributed to harmful racial stereotypes that persist in America to this day.



Put your dancing shoes on! Listen to a rag like Peacherine Rag or Castle House Rag, and notice the way your body wants to move. What beats are strong? Which ones are weak? Ragtime is made for dancing!


(Pictured: Vernon & Irene Castle, frequent collaborators of James Reese Europe, who developed ragtime dance.)

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Studio Updates
Piano in the News


Did any of you get a new piano for Christmas? A big trend in our teacher groups was the new LEGO grand piano! Check out this timelapse of the building process:

Parent Workshop
Calendar Reminers
Practice Tip


Our students are pretty tech-savvy! Justin & Calvin use Zoom's annotate feature to notice patterns in the right hand.

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Student Spotlight



Parent Workshop: Why "Music of COLOR"?

This semester, our parent workshop topic will be "Why 'Music of COLOR'?” We’ll discuss the vision behind this year’s studio theme, how it fits into our core learning objectives, how to engage with material at home, and enjoy listening to music by Black artists!

Parent Workshop: Why "Music of COLOR"?

Sunday, January 31 @ 3 PM on Zoom

More details via email!

Updated Calendar

We’ve made some changes to our spring semester calendar to better accommodate the arrival of Baby Colwell in May! :) Click here to view and download.




The secret behind every pianist's success: hard work, consistency, and A PENCIL! Always keep one (or two, or three…) at your piano for practice sessions. Writing notes, circling details, and marking mistakes helps make each minute spent at the piano more effective.

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