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October 2020

Notes from M&J


It’s October, and fall has certainly arrived in West Michigan! We love the cooler temperatures and the changing leaves. We also love the consistent practice patterns we’re seeing in our students this semester; good practice means good lessons, and good lessons mean more fun (and progress) for everyone!

In this month’s newsletter, you’ll read about “guiding questions” that parents can ask during practice, details about Piano in the Park and our Fall Recital, a story about a musician serenading his mother in a nursing home, and four African American classical composers from the past.

Happy reading!

Melia & Justin

Music of Color
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This month’s newsletter focuses on four African American composers from the past, each a pioneer and consummate artist in their own way. Let’s meet them!

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Margaret Bonds (1913–1972) was a composer, pianist, and educator. She faced harsh discrimination during her studies at Northwestern University, and she later studied at the Juilliard School. She is best remembered for her works for the voice, including many settings of texts by African American poet Langston Hughes.

This month on the playlist... listen to Bonds' solo piano work Troubled Water, a virtuosic set of variations on the African American spiritual "Wade in the Water."

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R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) was a Canadian-American composer, pianist, choral conductor, and educator. Dett's work sought to elevate the profile of African American folk music within broader American culture. He led an extensive college teaching career throughout the United States and concertized extensively as a choral director and pianist.

This month on the playlist... listen to Dett's choral setting of "Ave Maria." Dett's piano suite Cinnamon Grove appeared on the playlist last month.

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Florence Price (1882–1943) was a composer, pianist, organist, and educator. She was the first African American woman to have her work performed by a major orchestra. Much of her music was thought to be lost, until boxes of her manuscripts were discovered in an old home in 2009.

This month on the playlist... listen to Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement. Price played the solo piano part for the work's premiere in 1934. It was also performed by her friend and student Margaret Bonds (above).

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William Grant Still (1895–1978) was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. For these achievement's he is often referred to as "The Dean of Afro-American Composers."

This month on the playlist... listen to Still's Afro-American Symphony, a pioneering blend of the classical symphonic form and elements of Black musical genres like the blues.

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


What's it like to be a Black person in the predominantly white field of classical music? Student cellist Ethan shares his experience encountering discrimination and stereotypes as he pursues his dreams. How would you feel in these encounters? Can you think of ways classical music can become more welcoming to individuals from diverse backgrounds?


Soak up the sounds of these four composers through our Music of COLOR playlist on Spotify!

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Read a brief biography of one of the composers featured in this month's newsletter. Where did they study? What did their music sound like? What challenges did they face in pursuing their careers as classical composers?

Margaret Bonds

R. Nathaniel Dett

Florence Price

William Grant Still


With your parents' permission, explore the Historic Composers Directory from Music by Black Composers. This list allows you to sort composers by name, region of the world, life dates, and gender. Find a composer that interests you, and Google their name. (Sometimes it’s helpful to add a keyword like “composer” or “music” after the name.) Listen to one of their pieces or read about them. There’s a world of classical music by Black composers out there!

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Studio Updates
Piano in the News


Well, this month it’s technically "French Horn in the News," but you get the idea! Check out this video to hear about a very special retirement home concert!

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Parent Workshop
Piano in the Park
Practice Tip
Fall Recital



Piano in the Park!

Our fall studio event will be Piano in the Park! On Saturday, October 10 from 11 AM to 12 PM, our Music Makers will share their playing with studio mates, Yellow Door families, and passersby at John Ball Park (just a block from our home studio). We'll also have some snacks to share (while maintaining personal distancing). Check your email or the studio portal for more details! 

Piano in the Park

Saturday, October 10 @ 11 AM

John Ball Park

Parent Workshop: "Partners in Practice"

Thanks to all the parents who joined in our first-ever workshop, “Partners in Practice!” It was great to hear from you about your goals and dreams for your Music Makers. If you missed the workshop, you can always watch the recording here! We can’t wait for future workshops; let us know if you have a topic or question you’d like addressed.

[Virtual] Fall Recital

Our fall recital will be Saturday, November 7th at 11 AM! This recital will be virtual with students recording their pieces at home or during their lesson, then premiering on Facebook! Be on the lookout for additional details in the next few weeks. Don’t forget to invite friends and family to tune in. We can’t wait!



Have we mentioned that we love seeing our students in person again? Hunter demonstrates the idea that "posture = power" at the piano!

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Student Spotlight



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In our Parent Workshop, we mentioned the idea of asking “guiding questions” during a practice session as a way to provide support and cultivate independent music-making. Here are a few questions to try during your Music Maker's next practice session:


  • What are the first notes in each hand? What is the meter of this piece?

  • How should you play this piece (softly, loudly, slowly, quickly, etc.)

  • Can you play without pausing and keep a steady beat with your feet while you play?

  • What practice strategies did your teacher recommend for this passage?

  • Can you play hands separately?

  • If using a metronome, what tempo marking are you practicing at? How slowly or quickly are you increasing the tempo?

  • What is the interval between those two notes?

  • What chord do you play in your left hand?

  • Can you play this piece backwards, one measure or phrase at a time?

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