On the Road in June: Alberta, PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick

For three weeks very June, I go out examining for The Royal Conservatory’s Certificate Program. Over the years I’ve had a chance to hear a huge number of students of all ages all over North America playing exams at every level. It’s always a pleasure to support so many young musicians on their road to success in whatever form that might take, musical or otherwise, and this year was no exception.

I’ve done lots of traveling before, but this was the first time that I’ve worked in five provinces in one month. Starting out the month finishing up my teaching in Oakville and Toronto, the first week of my trip saw me visiting Lloydminster, Edmonton, and Drayton Valley in Alberta. The next week I travelled to Charlottetown, PEI for a single day of voice exams, then on to Moncton, New Brunswick. A last-minute cancellation had me re-routed to Halifax and New Glasgow (instead of St. John), and then back to my original route with a week in Fredericton. All in the span of three weeks!

Needless to say, I’m ready for a few weeks of downtime when I get back to Oakville tomorrow. The second week of July I’ll be coaching at The Royal Conservatory’s High School Vocal Performance Intensive while preparing for my talk on technology in the studio the RCM’s Summer Summit 2018.

Here are some pictures from my trip so far:

The view from one of my walks on a break in Edmonton.
So I travel to one of the most picturesque places in Canada and the only
picture I take is at Cow’s Creamery.
This is my second time in Halifax this year. What a fantastic city to visit!

The exam room in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. 
Dinner by the water in Pictou was worth the half-hour drive. 

The exam room at Christ Church in Fredericton. That’s a lovely vintage
Baldwin in the sanctuary. 

from The Collaborative Piano Blog


Finally, a Collaborative Piano Entry on Wikipedia

It took quite a while for someone to start it, but there is now a Collaborative Piano entry on Wikipedia. Here’s the short and succinct description of the field:

Collaborative piano is a discipline of music that combines piano performance, accompaniment, and music pedagogy.

Short, but to the point. The description is attributed to a 2014 incarnation of the NYU Collaborative Piano page. The entry has a US-only list of schools, a pretty good source list, and a rather short music festivals list.

Friends, now is the time for you to get to work and collaboratively expand the scope of this article! Add more depth and detail, add some more relevant schools and festivals, expand the range of resources to include periodicals, dissertations, and websites, create a talk page, get the discussion going, and give this profession the exposure it needs. To give you an idea of what it could become, take a look at the well-developed piano pedagogy page.

Here are some quick Wikipedia resources for those keen on editing but who haven’t yet got the Wiki skills:

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Survey: Professional Musicians and Personal Happiness

Personal happiness, overall wellbeing, and mental health are important components of a career in music. If you’re currently working or have previously worked as a professional musician, please consider filling out this survey created by my daughter Isabella for a school project. The link leads to a secure Google Docs form and all responses will be anonymous. 

Professional Musicians and Personal Happiness Survey

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

From the Start: Singing through Piano Lessons

On this Mother’s Day, I think of the many piano teachers who breathe life into fledgling musical journeys with a gentle prod of the hands and the warm embrace of the human voice. Phrase shaping and the singing tone, originate from the ebb and flow of the breath that fuels energy through relaxed arms and supple wrists. “Singing” with pupils through phrases as a partner to tactile sensitivity, gives birth to beautiful music-making. What better way to nourish a beginner, than to cradle him/her in song.

For piano learners at all stages of musical development, the vocal model is a central ingredient of expressive playing.

A snatch from Irina Gorin’s studio:

Irina Mints at work


My studio: This 10 year old, beginning student moved away, and left the piano for many months–recently returning. We are slowly reconnecting with the singing tone, and contoured phrasing.


A 15-year old pupil practices the Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous, at an early juncture of learning.


When I studied piano in New York City with Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, she always sang over my playing as well as her own. Her habitual voice-overs that lingered for years and seeped into the depths of my musical consciousness, gave me a sense of phrase-loving that would spread far and wide in my own teaching. Yet I would endure criticism from a portion of my You Tube audience, who wanted my focus to be on the fingers and where they traveled over the keyboard. (NO distractions please)

If we eavesdrop on Master Classes of the greats: Boris Berman, Dimitri Bashkirov, Richard Goode, and Murray Perahia, as well as others, we observe their sometimes raspy and imperfect vocal expression that nonetheless communicates shape, nuance, dynamics where fingers alone can’t achieve the same.

Some of the most gratifying interactions I’ve had with students centered on a vocal exchange where lines and contours were discovered and simultaneously wedded to a physical understanding of musical expression. (Awareness of harmonic movement, modulations, resolutions, and the flow of breath were always part of the integrated whole)


from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Pedagogical Tools for Score Reading

One of the most useful reading skills for working pianists can also be the most terrifying. Billie Whittaker in Good Company talks about the basics of score-reading and some pedagogical concepts behind it. She also references Brenda Wristen’s Pedagogical tools for preparing and performing open scores and the large number of scores available on ChoralWiki. Billie’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Score Preparers is very useful for those starting out with the skill. Here they are in a paraphrased form:

  • identify unisons
  • write in functional or root/quality chord symbols
  • use arrows
  • write numbers between staves
  • group pitches in one hand on the score
  • use brackets to indicate similar repeated intervals or chords
  • identify voice crossings

In particular, I’ve found that writing functional or root/quality chord symbols is a simple but useful way of keeping your harmonic grounding in a sea of clefs.

Tackling the legendary Advanced Keyboard Skills class at Eastman was my first foray into score reading. The book that we used to learn the basics of the skill was Morris and Ferguson’s Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading. The C clef exercises in particular were a game changer for us once we got the hang of the reading skills. For the course’s final exam, we had to play the Exposition of Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture from full score.

Little did I know just how useful the skill would be over the coming years, especially once I got into the new opera field. On many occasions during the workshop process, the only score available was the full one, which made score-reading skills absolutely essential.

How have you used score-reading superpowers in the profession? Leave a comment and tell us your stories!

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Enhanced Repertoire Features are Coming to My Music Staff

Burlington, Ontario-based My Music Staff has been one of the primary tools in my teaching studio for several years. One of the features that I use the most is repertoire management, allowing you to select active repertoire for each student, which then shows up in both student and parent accounts, as well as in the lesson notes which get sent out at the conclusion of every lesson.

Yesterday MMS mentioned that major changes are in the works with the way repertoire is handled, including a dedicated repertoire menu, rich editing in repertoire notes, bulk assignment of repertoire (great for class situations), and auto-completion of multiple repertoire entries. Here’s the video of the new features to be rolled out over the coming days:

Writing in depth about how I use My Music Staff to rock my students’ studio experience (especially with lesson notes) is long overdue and something that I plan to do in the coming while.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog

Kevin Class on Musical Preparation for Pianists and Singers

When you’re first starting out with opera productions, it’s useful to have a template of what is expected, both regarding preparation before the production and how things operate during the rehearsal. Kevin Class’ Opera Guidelines – A few helpful tips for opera pianists and singers is one of the best and most succinct guides I’ve seen. On the pianist’s preparation before the first rehearsal:

With rehearsal time always at a minimum, the coaching or rehearsals are not the place for the pianist to be learning his/her score. When coaching singers individually, the pianist is solely responsible for progress in the rehearsal as there will usually be no conductor (or anyone else) present. The pianist’s job is correcting all pitches, rhythms, text and diction. Moreover, it is the pianist’s responsibility to make sure the singer has thoroughly studied the character and made strong musical decisions based on their decisions of character. Since the pianist will, in fact, lead the singer through all facets of preparation (technical, dramatic and musical), the pianist must have a complete knowledge of the score, the language, the libretto, the characters, the performance traditions AND be able to play the score and sing all parts with perfection BEFORE meeting for the very first rehearsal.

On the rehearsal process:

Since the pianist is expected to be able to follow a conductor, play the score with great security and virtuosity (sounding like the world’s greatest orchestra) and catch all mistakes the singers are making in pitch, rhythm, text and diction and be able to sing any missing vocal parts when necessary (while continuing to play), the pianist must then be the most prepared of anyone in the room.

Kevin’s rundown of the learning process for singers learning operatic roles is first-rate, and he emphasizes the responsibility of the pianist/coach to guide them through it.

Here’s some more information about Kevin Class and the Collaborative Piano program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. I knew Kevin for a short time when we studied at the Holland Music Sessions in the Netherlands back in the 90’s. His performance of the Elliott Carter Piano Sonata that summer was highly memorable, and I still remember it after the passage of several decades.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog