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Showing posts from February, 2011

Louie Bluie

Some music fans adore 1930's jazz, country, and blues music above any other era. It may seem strange to imagine this, but there is a cult following for this music and the men and women who made it. Director Terry Zwigoff (who later helmed the outstanding documentary profiling  cartoonist Robert Crumb - "Crumb") managed to find a few living legends from 1930's music. He coaxes them to tell some tales and perform some of their classic tunes for the camera. Chief among these elderly musicians is the irrepressible Howard Armstrong, nickname "Louie Bluie". He is an awesome mandolinist and fiddler. His skills are evident throughout this hour-long feature. This is one best movies I've ever seen about musicians and music-making. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these musicians. They are characters, every one of them.
Be warned though: these guys are blues musicians, and as such their dialogue does get "blue". At times the subject matter veers in…

The Nature of Our Business

This is an outstanding article focused on the art of teaching music and the many unique aspects of this work. It was written by teacher Yiyi Ku, published on the Music Teachers Blog, 2/1/11: Independent music teachers are ‘supermen’ and ‘superwomen’. Yes, I am talking about you and me! We do so much more than just teaching, and understanding the nature of our business is important if we are to remain successful and sane. Our job description is but a unique one. Here are some thoughts I would like to share as a private music instructor: 1. Ours is not a 9-5 job. We are always working even when we are not working. We are always thinking about our students. When we decide to take on a new student, they now share a piece of our heart and occupy a place in our thoughts. As Kristin pointed out, we spend just as much time (if not more) preparing lessons, answering parent questions, dealing with students’ emotional well being, filling out audition entry forms, writing student reports, giving adv…

We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen

There's no pretentiousness with these three... the Minutemen were straight from the heart. Mike Watt (bassist) is like the uncle we all wish we had. He is a king of storytelling, always taking his time. George Hurley (drummer) is humble beyond belief. And D Boon (guitarist) unfortunately is no longer around to speak for himself. You may not find melodies here that get stuck in your head for days, but you will be witness to an unforgettable portrait of true brotherhood. Highly recommended for fans of independent music.

Playing from Memory

A commentary on the common practice of performing music from memory, written by teacher Yiyi Ku: The issue of memory playing has haunted musicians for centuries. For some, it comes naturally; for others, it is an eternal struggle. Is it necessary to play from memory in order to give a professional, musical and convincing performance? Absolutely not. In fact, it was not the norm to perform from memory in Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven's times. It was Franz Liszt, the 19th century composer and virtuoso pianist, who was the first performer to present an entire recital by memory. (In recent years other musicians have been credited with that title, too, but Liszt was the most influential.) Yes let's all blame him! I has become standard practice for pianists and vocalists to perform from memory in solo recitals, although the British pianist Dame Myra Hess almost always performed from score, and all musicians have suffered from memory slips of varying degrees in their lifetime. It is every…

Piano Buying Tips

Some helpful tips on buying a piano. The article is written by teacher Yiyi Ku: Buying a piano is like buying a car; they can all take you from point A to B, but some cost a lot more than others. As to brands, there are many to suit every budget. Personally, I do not recommand anything that needs to be plugged into the wall in order to produce sound, so we are talking only about acoustic pianos here. Here are some tips: Piano Buying Tip #1: Don't buy for looks! Don't buy a piano because 'it looks good'. Baby grands may be more pleasing to the eye, but a good upright can cost more, sound better, and play better than a cheap baby grand. If you are buying a piano for musical reasons, because your child is taking piano lessons, than looks is not the most important criteria. Piano Buying Tip #2: Do your own research. Don't trust everything you hear or read in the shops. Some shops only carry certain brands. Some brands are heavily promoted because they provide the biggest …

Luna: Tell Me Do You Miss Me

I appreciate the simplicity of this documentary. I hadn't heard any Luna music prior to viewing this, and I can't say that I'll be purchasing any soon. But the film-making here is excellent, as is the editing. The members of Luna seem like they could be your neighbors or friends. Luna never had tremendous commercial success. We see the band in the van, at second-rate hotels, and packing up their own gear after their gigs. "Tell Me Do You Miss Me" gives viewers an honest view into the daily lives of touring musicians.

Is Piano Practicing Ever Fun?

A humorous and thought-provoking article written by Dr. Joseph Line: "As I scan Internet articles and blogs about piano practicing, I am always amazed at how many people write about and are searching for ways to make practicing fun. Speaking as a professional pianist and piano teacher, I've found practicing interesting, challenging, frustrating, thought-provoking, at times boring, often exhilarating, and enjoyable... but I've never thought of it as being fun. What have I missed here? I've studied with several world-class (I mean truly world-class) teachers, and I can't remember them ever suggesting that practicing should or could be fun. They've definitely taught me about the joy of playing the piano... but fun? I don't remember that lesson. So why it is that so many people... teachers, students and parents... are putting out so much effort striving to make practicing fun? To me, an activity is "fun" when there is instant gratification. It's fun…

Miserable day teaching

It seems I have a few of these per year - a miserable teaching day. 6 of the students I worked with today are preparing for the upcoming Certificate of Merit evaluations. 4 of the 6 have been slacking terribly. And it makes me sick. I started each of them on the necessary material for their level(s) back in October. There has been plenty of time in the build-up. I designed it that way. Yet here we are in February - their performances set for less than 2 weeks from now - and these 4 are floundering. It is hard not to take this personally. These 4 students of mine will go and perform their technique, sight reading, and selected repertoire for another teacher. It's embarrassing. They will present themselves as representatives of my work. I hold my work to a high standard. It is immensely frustrating when your supposed collaborators are pulling minimum weight. Most taxing of all is trying to impose my will upon unwilling parties. A difficulty in teaching is that no matter how on point …

Top Ten Tips for Teachers

My vocation as a music teacher involves continual challenges. Each challenge is an opportunity to learn. I'm learning how to better accomplish my job every day and every week. Here is a helpful list of "Top Ten Lists for Teachers" written by Nancy Ostromencki and Dr. John Zeigler that I find to be filled with helpful suggestions. Believe me when I tell you: I'm not standing still. Top Ten Tips for Teachers 1. Be organized! - Be as organized in ALL facets of your teaching as possible, ranging from billing to repertoire lists to teaching materials for your students. Although it appears to take time away from the lessons, the time you spend getting organized now will make it much easier to give lessons, as well as make a better impression on your students. 2. Consider yourself a professional, worthy of as much respect as would be given to any professional, and act that way at all times.  Make sure that your students and parents realize that teaching is your profession. You…

How to get your child to practice

Here's another article on the ever-vital topic of how to get your child to practice their instrument. This piece is written by J. Dean, published at the Piano Teachers Federation website, 12/7/10: "When I was a child, there was not as much competition for my time as there is for kids now. I realize that, but I believe that practicing the piano should be a habit. A habit like brushing your teeth everyday, exercising, doing homework. In the beginning having a child practice Monday through Friday at least 15 minutes a day not only shows consistent advancement but also decreases anxiety over practicing. For example, every parent expects their child to do their homework every night and every child accepts that and it is worked in as part of their daily routine. When piano lessons are started your child should add piano practicing as part of their daily routine. If you plan exactly when and what time the piano practice will take place, then anxiety and fighting over practicing is elimi…

Buena Vista Social Club

In the 1990's, American musician Ry Cooder travelled to Cuba and rendezvoused with some of that isolated country's top musicians. The music presented in this resulting documentary film is wonderful. The performances are spirited and everyone genuinely thrilled to be playing music together and finally have another chance at reaching a wider audience. It's worth noting that after watching this Ibrahim Ferrer will be your new favorite person for at least a week - he is a joy to behold.