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July / August 2020

Notes from M&J


Phew! What an experience these last months have been. Thanks for your flexibility and willingness to make piano a part of your COVID / Quarantine Life. We've been grateful for the opportunity to watch our Music Makers continue to learn and grow online. We hope you have found ways to enjoy summer, even this atypical one.

The Fall 2020 semester marks the one-year anniversary of Yellow Door Music Studio's founding. This year has been filled with many firsts—first studio events and group classes, first recital, first masterclass participant, first global pandemic in our lifetimes, first virtual recital, first online lessons. We can't thank you enough for joining on this journey and entrusting us with the musical and personal development of your students, our Music Makers. We're so excited to continue to grow in the 2020-21 studio year, offering new and exciting opportunities for students and families, and continuing the challenging, joyful work of learning to make music at the piano.

This month's newsletter focuses on information for the upcoming 2020–21 studio year. You'll find our updated studio policies and calendar, guidelines for optional in-person lessons, a comic strip interpretation of Beethoven's Fifth, and ideas about letting the breath create space in our minds and bodies to navigate challenges at the piano and in life.


Be well!

Melia & Justin


A sunset on the shores of Lake Michigan... one of many ways we've enjoyed this peculiar summer!


Studio Updates

2020–21 studio policies & calendar

Our 2020-21 studio policies and calendar are now available! They remain much the same as last year, with a few tweaks:

  • Clarification of contract commitment length (Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Summer 2021)

  • Make-up lessons will now be scheduled on an individual basis during group class weeks

  • Group classes will be offered at set times throughout the semester.

  • New Parent Workshop opportunities

  • Festival and Competition Fees will be reimbursed with prior approval by the Teacher

  • COVID-19 policies for optional in-person lessons


The classical music world lost a legend with the passing of Leon Fleisher on August 2. Fleisher was perhaps the foremost American piano pedagogue of the late 20th and early 20th centuries. In this video, Fleisher describes how a debilitating injury that cost him the use of his right hand forced him to rethink his relationship with music at the peak of his virtuoso career.

Policies & Calendar
Piano in the News
In-Person Lessons
Review Us Online

return to in-person lessons

We are excited to offer in-person lessons on an optional basis for the 2020-21 studio year. For complete information on our reopening plans and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus in our community, please review page 3 of our studio and tuition policies document. A few highlights are as follows:

  • Face coverings are required.

  • Students will wash hands at beginning and end of lesson.

  • Only the student will enter the studio for the lesson.

  • DO NOT attend lessons if you are ill or have been in contact with someone who has been.

review us online — save $50

Our Annual Enrollment Fee, $50 per family, will be billed along with September tuition later this month. We're excited to offer an opportunity to share your experience with Yellow Door and credit this fee toward future tuition payments.


To earn this credit, simply review us on Facebook AND Google. In your review, please share your student's age, teacher, ways you've seen your student grow, and any other positive aspects of your student's experience.

How to review a us on Facebook.

How to review us on Google.

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Student Spotlight


Drawing can be a fantastic way to listen and respond to a piece of music! Justin's student Hunter created a comic strip to illustrate the dramatic opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

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I've been thinking a lot about breathing lately. The summertime time has afforded me (Justin) an opportunity to practice some solo repertoire just for the fun of it. The time and motivation to learn this piece are luxuries—things I haven't had since finishing graduate school. The piece I'm learning, a movement from Samuel Barber's Excursions, has been in my ear for a while, and exploring its artful construction is a joy. My daily hour of practice often feels spacious, meditative. At other times, my practicing can feel compressed, tense, deadline-oriented—preparing for a rehearsal, making a recording for a client, preparing for the fall. I sometimes walk away from these practice sessions with a ball of tension right between my shoulder blades.


That painful ball of tension forces me to question: Why are these deadline-focused practice sessions different from my practice for enjoyment with more long-term fruit? And while there are numerous external factors that generate this contrast, one difference is simple: breathing. When I'm practicing for enjoyment, I can let my curiosity lead the way, rather than a deadline. And the result is that I breathe more naturally and frequently. With breathing in mind, I can spend many hours at the piano, and that pesky ball of tension between my shoulders is only a glimmer.

So what's so special about the breath when we play the piano? It seems that breathing relieves physical tension and grounds the mind and body. It creates mental and physical space to execute the complex sequence of motions required to play an instrument. This idea is similar to the breath's purpose in mindfulness meditation; moment-to-moment awareness of the breath centers the mind in the present and releases tension throughout the body in a virtuous feedback loop.

It seems that breathing creates space for our own internal wisdom, musical intuition, and physical capacity to shine through, even in the face of challenging passages, demanding technical exercises, or the nerves of a performance situation.

Here are a few ideas for bringing the breath into practicing the piano:

  • Start your practice session by taking 3 deep breaths. Imagine you are a tree or a mountain, rooted in the earth (the piano bench and floor which support your body).

  • Practice in 10-minute increments. Set a timer to remember to take a few gentle breaths in between.

  • Intentionally focus on breathing while practicing scales, arpeggios, or a challenging passage in a piece.

  • If you find the mind wandering from your practice session, take a few breaths, and allow those thoughts to float away. Renew your focus on your practice objective (or bullseye!)

A global pandemic seems as good a time as any to remind myself that taking moments in my day to breathe can bring peace, groundedness, and a renewed capacity to move forward in the challenging circumstances we all find ourselves in.

Take a Breath
Beethoven's Best Playlist
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