A Dissertation on The Art of Accompanying Classical Ballet Technique Classes

A huge resource for those interested in accompanying classical ballet: Yee Sik Wong’s University of Iowa 2011 dissertation on the art of accompanying classical ballet technique classes. There’s a huge amount of info here on pre-existing literature, schools of ballet, pedagogical structure of classes, how music fits in, and techniques that ballet pianists are going to need.

Dr. Wong is now on staff at the Kansas City Ballet.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog


Anti-boredom formula=Daily, attentive, patient, layered practicing

Over decades of teaching children from beginners to advanced levels, I’ve been struck by those who progress over a lengthy period due to their focused, disciplined, and organized practicing. Each encounter at lessons becomes for them, an awakening, reinforced by deeper probing. If a pupil is willing to partner in such a journey where a mentor guides and also receives valuable student feedback in a reciprocal exchange, then frustration or boredom with a piece, should not ensue.

A sample of travels through the Clementi second movement of the composer’s well-known Sonatina in C, Op. 36, No. 1, serves as an example. It’s bundled with a complexity that on first glance might be overlooked. A pupil will often shakily sight-read through a few lines, ignoring a satisfying balance of voices; the emotional effect of harmonic rhythm/key changes; the mosaic of a flowing, seamless triplet underpinning against a prominent solo treble melody.

The teacher’s role in this virgin journey, is to recommend and demonstrate an approach that transforms a less refined, top layer view of the movement into a deeper musical perception. Such an exploration, delivered in parcels, includes elements of structure, harmonic movement, meter, historic period framing, and aesthetics—all bundled with sound technical knowledge: i.e. how to produce a “singing” tone that pervades a cantabile treble line; how to create seamless broken chord triplets as they carry harmonic meaning through the movement; how to balance voices; how repeated notes and finger substitutions need to be threaded with shape and contour. (What are the principle destination notes?) In the cosmos of phrasing and voicing, a focus on weight transfer will direct energy transit through relaxed arms, pliant wrists and the natural curve of the hand. (This should be demonstrated, with regular reminders about natural, unblocked energy flow) The breath will accompany well-shaped phrases framed by a singing pulse.

Blocking can reinforce the soft supple wrist entry through arrays of harmony that, when unraveled, discourage finger-generated attacks or punches.

And as the piece flows with an affect of grace with its relentless spin of legato triplets, the imagination is stirred, accompanied by mentor prompts. Notably, in the midst of an F Major progression of phrases, a transition to G minor through a secondary dominant, brings a pivotal moment of modal pathos—perhaps comparable to the experience of a first sunrise.

While a student may not be theoretically advanced enough to automatically comprehend the mechanics of a modulation, he should have been prepared along the learning route with a parallel course of scales, arpeggios, and chords (inversions, etc.) through the Circle of Fifths.


To create beauty, a bounty of ingredients cannot be shoveled into a few introductory lessons related to a “new” movement. The pace of learning is in tempo with what an individual can assimilate in spoonfuls–not beyond his/her capacity to ingest. Progress is not measured by any deadline, but it evolves naturally, when the student and teacher are on the same page in the conscientious preparation of a piece, between lessons.

If practicing is erratic, sporadic, inattentive, and impatient, the propensity for a student’s interest to wane is likely. Frustration and boredom set in, culminating in premature abandonment of a piece.

While a “new” piece on the horizon can provide a certain relief of the doldrums, it will only endure the same shortcomings that befell the preceding one.

Finally, a vital, and growth enhanced learning process is worth the baby steps taken through daily, attentive practicing. For both teacher and pupil, such a paradigm affords a foundation to build upon in future piano discovering adventures.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Happening This Weekend

Several must-see events across Canada over the next few days…
On September 13-16, Tapestry Opera presents Tapestry Briefs: Tasting Shorts, an evening of 10 world premiere mini-operas paired with food and drink. Featured singers are Teiya Kasahara, Stephanie Tritchew, Keith Klassen, and Peter McGillivray led by musical director Jennifer Tung. Featured composers are August Murphy-King, Ian Cusson, Rene Orth, and Benton Roark with texts by librettists Daniel Solon, Lila Palmer, Kanika Ambrose, and Colleen Murphy.

Facebook event listing

Happening across Canada on Saturday on Saturday, September 15 is Mysterious Barricades, a series of free and live-streamed concerts in recognition of suicide awareness, prevention, and hope. Concerts will be happening in St. John’s, Halifax, Sackville, Montreal, Ottawa, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Vancouver. If you can’t make it in person, watch the live stream
Here’s Beth Turnbull talking about her husband’s suicide and the mission of Mysterious Barricades:

Facebook page with all event listings

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

The Worst Advice

Wise words from emilyplayscello: if you’re in a position of power and giving advice to younger musicians, you can tell them about the challenges of a life in music without straight-up discouraging them from entering it. Emily’s video:

Another point that Emily makes after 6:00 is that it’s the younger people in the profession who will bring genuine change to the field that will make it a more supportive environment. Let’s enable them to succeed.

The worst advice anyone gave me? Here are two examples:

Well-known composer:

You pay too much attention to quality of tone at the piano to ever have a career in contemporary music.

Senior administrator:

You don’t strike me as the kind of person who would be interested in graduate school.

Of course we get shitty advice along the way. The important thing is to be able to recognize it and move on. But when you’ve spent lots of time in the profession and know the lay of the land, offer advice that people will admire you for one day.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Your Teaching Website Needs Online Registration

Here are two different scenarios playing out with parents trying to find a new teacher for their child’s music lessons.

A parent is looking for a new piano teacher and all they have to go by is a phone number so they’ll enter it on a list on their phone and then call once they have time to call because no one has time for phone calls any more. Then when their prospective piano teacher gets the call, they’re busy so they’ll have to check messages later, write the message down and get back to the prospective parent once they have phone time but prospective parent isn’t answering calls so they’ll have to leave a message and the next round of phone tag begins. Two days later they connect.

Let’s try that again with online registration.

The parent goes to the teacher’s website, clicks on the “Register for Lessons” button, enters relevant info on their child and the piano teacher gets back within a few hours and the initial consultation is set up for the next day. Done.

This is why your website needs that very basic feature – it will quite literally put you ahead of other teachers in your area in the queue for getting more students. Being more easily findable and contactable will result your studio getting more students, many of them traveling larger distances.

Both My Music Staff and Music Teacher’s Helper have these features on all their packages, and are worth the investment. Best wishes for the new academic year!

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Sparks & Wiry Cries Launch Their 7th Season

Sparks & Wiry Cries is an organization that promotes the advancement and preservation of art song. Led by Martha Guth and Erika Switzer, they are entering their seventh season and this year’s events feature songSLAM events in Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Toronto, New York, Slovenia, Chicago, and Denver. Martha Guth encapsulates their mission perfectly with this quote:

Sparks & Wiry Cries was born out of a passionate desire to keep the genre flourishing, to provide opportunities for those in its community and to support the growth of new art song, because the stories we tell, and the connections we make are critical to our humanity. 

What is songSLAM? Each event is:

a unique competition for emerging composer/performer teams to premiere new art song, in partnership with Source Song Festival. In the poetry-slam tradition, audience members vote on their favorite performances, and $900 in cash prizes are awarded.

Sparks & Wiry Cries also publish an art song magazine and podcast. If you feel moved to support their activities, you can also donate.

Best of luck to Martha and Erika as they embark on Season 7. Here’s a video of Martha talking about Sparks & Wiry Cries’ many activities:

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

4 Choices for Building Studio Websites

In my last article I looked at why you need a website for your teaching studio. Building a website can be daunting, and in today’s article I’ve chosen four services that make the process relatively simple to learn once you take the initiative to start.

The picture above is a slide from a talk I gave at The Royal Conservatory this summer, and it outlines four top choices you may wish to consider when building teaching websites. The prices below are accurate to early September 2018 and don’t reflect future increases, decreases, or promotions.

But in reality the price doesn’t matter. Once you’ve got a viable online presence and attract even one student for half-hour lessons for only one semester, each one of these services would have more than paid for a yearly investment.

1. My Music Staff

I use My Music Staff for my teaching website, and I run my studio using its tools. In addition to the website features, you can create a database of students, schedule them on a calendar, and tie those lessons to invoicing features, all visible on student and parent dashboards. You can also accept credit card payments, keep a repertoire database, manage downloads, expenses, mileage, publish a blog, and generate studio reports.

My Music Staff is web-based, so you’re engaging with the site in a browser. However, it’s a very fast and responsive site, and renders perfectly on any kind of device you’re using. The MMS team have a strong Agile software development philosophy, so they iterate the service weekly with new features (their latest new feature as of late August was video streaming, among others). The price is another huge selling point: $12.95 for unlimited students and storage both in the US and Canada.

2. Music Teacher’s Helper

I discovered Music Teacher’s Helper in 2007 at the Toronto MTNA conference, and this company was the pioneer in the field of integrated studio websites. MTH has most of the same features as MMS although they are app-based, so the development schedule is not as speedy as that of MMS. Where MTH excel is in the large community of teachers writing for their blog and their extensive setup guides that you can buy in order to get your studio set up to compete online. Pricing depends on the size of your studio – when paid annually, the three tiers are US$11.66/month (up to 20 students), US$24.16/month (40 students), and US$40.83/month (unlimited students).

Both MMS and MTH can provide websites, although of the somewhat rudimentary kind. If you want a website that looks genuinely fabulous and has a much wider array of content and features, you might wish to consider the next two options. Be aware that you can use both MMS and MTH on the back-end of the next two options – with a small widget, students can easily log in from your third-party studio site to see their student dashboard.

3. Squarespace

If you don’t know anything about building websites but still want something that looks fabulous, Squarespace is one of the best out-of-the-box solutions, with a more sophisticated depth of content that you can offer, including online stores and marketing tools. Take a look at the template selection – there are some beautiful designs here. Pricing as of writing is US$12/month for a personal site and US$18/month at the business tier.

4. WordPress

31% of the internet runs on WordPress. Although the learning curve might be a bit higher than with other services, you’ll have access to themes, plugins, and Google Apps to help you get your site started. If you want to go with WordPress.com, pricing options are free (with ads and limited options), personal ($60/year CDN), premium ($120/year CDN), and business ($396/year CDN). Or you can self-host your website and use WordPress’s open-source tools.

A small side-note about WordPress – its lead developer is none other than Helen Hou-Sandì, a graduate of Eastman’s collaborative piano program. You might remember that a while back Helen redesigned this site – I’ve kept the same basic design since then.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog