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By Robin Steinweg

Have you held traditional senior recitals? Often they are formal events. But what if your seniors don’t roll that way? Here are three unique senior send-offs, customized for out-of-the-ordinary students:

  • A late-starting piano student of mine hadn’t reached a level of wanting to share difficult repertoire. She had a couple of beautiful pieces prepared for the spring recital—including an original—but the traditional event wouldn’t be for her. She had traveled to Phoenix, Arizona and visited the MIM: Musical Instrument Museum (“The world’s only global musical instrument museum”) and had taken wonderful photos. I invited her to speak to my group class. She put together a power point presentation of highlights. Not only her own favorites, but what she thought the younger students would love to see. She held them captivated, and at the end, fielded a lively Q&A session.
  • A ten-year piano student had a large repertoire including many genres. She decided to host her own private senior concert before Christmas. She designed and created invitations and sent them to over a hundred friends, relatives, and teachers or other adults in her life. She chose not only her favorite pieces, but added some of her family’s favorites, and other songs for their entertainment value. She decided the order of the songs with attention to good pacing. The programs were her design. She invited another local musician to lead a Christmas carol sing-along so she could take a short intermission. She baked and brought all the refreshments for the reception. I’m sure it was a great addition to her portfolio!
  • Another long-time guitar (and voice) student entertained for a couple of hours at a coffee house. He sang and accompanied himself on guitar; invited family and friends; planned his sets carefully for pacing; set up and ran his own sound system; interacted with his audience; took requests; included a few original pieces; and invited his teacher to join him for a couple of duets. It was a successful evening for him and lucrative for the coffee house!

Music teachers tend to love their students and grow sentimental over them leaving the nest. We want to honor their gifts and hard work. When you have students who don’t fit the typical recital mold, how do you give them a unique senior send-off?

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One of my New Year’s Resolutions for many years has been to practice more. (And exercise more, and read more important books, and avoid library fines, and remember to send birthday cards.)

I’ve learned through those many years that a goal without a plan is more like a wish. And while I have indeed had wonderful years of practicing more, I have also had years that started out with big repertoire and performance goals which fizzled as my need to finish so many daily tasks trumped my desire to improve my playing.

I love big dreams and big plans. I love the quest for transformation. I don’t love when my big goals fizzle because I’ve set my sights a little beyond the mark, and I don’t love that once those goals fizzle, it’s hard to get motivated again. So this year, I came up with a new concept, one rooted in a concept from the Tao Te Ching: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or in my case, two measures.

Two Measures

While sitting at the piano bench at the beginning of the new year, flipping through repertoire on my “to learn one day” list, I attempted to sightread Frederic Rzewski’s Down by the Riverside, from his North American Ballads. Again. I’ve read through this piece many times in the last few years, but haven’t ever really put in the time required to conquer it. I decided to move it from my “one day” list to my “this year” list, and then decided that I would learn two measures a day. I decided if I was going to do two measures a day of the Rzewski, I might as well throw in another “one day” piece, so I added Bach’s Goldberg Variations to my two measure a day goal.

Two measures a day is such a small chunk that I have been anxious to get to the piano all month long. And surprisingly, two measures a day is a big enough chunk that measurable progress occurs. Today I attended my monthly piano group and performed the Aria and first variation of the Goldberg. The memory wasn’t 100% perfect, but it was fun anyway.

My process:

1. Read the two measures (always ending with the first note of the next measure)

2. LH fingering

3. RH fingering

4. HT super duper slowly (less than 1/2 speed) to check fingering and articulation. In the Rzewski, I check to see if I need to do any substitutions between the hands.

5. Slow to fast metronome work. In the Bach, I do the full two measures. In the Rzewski, sometimes I just do 2 beats, then the next 2 beats, and so on.

6. Choose a goal speed (usually 50-75% of performance speed). Once I can play the two measures at this goal speed three times perfectly in a row, my goal for the day is met.

7. Review all previous measures and continue polish and speed work.

8. Feel super awesome about completing my goal and go back to finishing the dishes or working on student invoices.

I figure at this rate, the Rzewski will be completed easily within the year. I am memorizing the Bach as I go, but not the Rzewski. Once I feel comfortable in my performance of Down by the Riverside, I will memorize two measures a day. The Bach? Well, if I learn a variation a month, I will be done in less than three years. And I guess that’s OK, because my journey of a single step has to start somewhere. Enjoying the journey is most of the fun, anyway, isn’t it?

What motivates you to practice? How do you fit practice into your busy lives? Do you think it is important for a music teacher to also be a practicer/performer? Why or why not?

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I wrote a post a while back about teaching the extremely young student. One of the comments I recently received asked about finding repertoire, and it inspired this post!

So, here are the books that I use most (and comments on what I feel are successful/not successful about them), in order of preference.  I’ve found that most young students don’t particularly connect with classical music, but often, when I start with these and a secure singing technique, I’m able to guide them into the Classical repertoire as they mature.

Disclosure: I am using here mostly links to www.SheetMusicPlus.com.  I am beginning to write for their blog (this post will be re-posted there).  I use these links instead of www.amazon.com links, where you can generally find these books at considerably lower prices, because they are sheet music specialists who will help you find exactly what you’re looking for.  Also, their song listings are complete for every book and very detailed, including visual samples of what the music inside the book looks like, so you can judge whether the book is what you’re looking for.  Their customer service is wonderful – they get back to you quickly in response to questions.  They also have an “Easy Rebates” program for teachers, schools and libraries that gives an 8% rebate on purchases you make, as well as any referrals you make (none of the links in this are rebate links for me).  They support and care about the private studio teacher, which is why I’m recommending them over low prices. [···]

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