My Music Charity Picks for 2018

Introduction

Giving Tuesday is a real thing, as evidenced by my inbox today. There are so many emails and pleas for my money. I’m not against giving, but I do find it annoying when charities spam me multiple times per day. Worse, I really hate when they call asking for very specific amounts to be pledged during that very same phone call. In the end, I unsubscribe or ask to be added to their Do Not Call list. I prefer to make my annual charitable donations from a quiet place, giving to groups that speak to my best self, based on what I have to give. Lately, it hasn’t been much.

This year, I chose three music charities for contributions. It just worked out that about the only thing binding them is their common mission of music. The local charity is the smallest, too small to be ranked by Charity Navigator. The other two have top 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator; I’ve provided a link to Charity Navigator for those larger organizations if interested. Each organization has a different target audience. Each uses its resources in the best possible way to help those it chooses to serve.

My Picks

Opera in the Ozarks – I believe that giving should start at home, and this pick has been giving back to its community annually since 1950! Based in Eureka Springs, Opera in the Ozarks, and its parent organization, the Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony, presents summer opera during June and July using a pool of 50 talented young singers in an apprentice program. It offers three full-length operas in a rotation, and even offers residents of NW Arkansas a discount for attending on opening night.

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation – Founded by the composer of the film score for the 1990s movie, this Los Angeles-based charity provides musical instruments to under-funded public school programs.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) – MPR is a local NPR affiliate in its home state, but it’s also an important national producer of music content benefitting radio listeners throughout the U.S. I’m most grateful that they continue to support Pipedreams, a long-running weekly program broadcasting organ music from around the world. They also produce a smattering of classical music shows, such as Performance Today, and they also produce many special Christmas/New Year programs that are picked up by many local NPR affiliates. My favorites are the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge and the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert.

Outside of classical music, they also present Live from Here, which used to be called Prairie Home Companion. The new host, brilliant mandolinist Chris Thile, has completely revamped the show and it presents a smattering of uniquely American music styles. MPR is even busy outside of music, with shows such as Marketplace, which presents financial news frequently spliced into NPR news programming.

Posted 2018-11-28

Piano Teaching Philosophy

Introduction

From time to time, people ask about my piano teaching philosophy. As a response to this, I wrote the following thoughts months ago but never published them. However, there’s only so much you can learn from a conversation. When you’re near the end of your interview process, I strongly suggest that you schedule an evaluation lesson. Both teacher and student should be comfortable before beginning what could end up being years of learning together.

Piano Teaching Philosophy

I believe that art and music are important to the education and enrichment of the lives of children and adults alike.

Piano lessons are expensive, so they should be undertaken with a commitment to get the most out of them, for the time that they’re pursued.

Learning to play the piano should be fun, though it’s not always easy. Proper technique, good rhythm, and sight-reading are necessary through all stages of learning. Written music theory and ear training are also important to round out all of the concepts learned at the keyboard.

Each student has his/her own needs, and I accommodate those as part of the learning process. Some pursue piano for recreation, others are more serious and ready to score high at the upcoming festival. Stickers motivate some but not all. In other words, lesson plans are tailored to the student’s ability and goals.

The process is as important as the final result. Learning how to break down a new piece of music and put it back together, and then doing it all over again, is what inspires me. Humility comes from realizing that there never will be a perfect performance. There is always an opportunity to learn something new from a great composer!

Posted 2018-05-29

Where Music Notation Fails

Have you ever faced a situation where music notation fails to convey the essence of the music? I routinely find this when dotted rhythms and syncopations enter the curriculum I use to teach piano students. Of course, preparatory activity like tapping, clapping, and singing the tune can be especially helpful. After all, any pre-school kid can sing London Bridge Is Falling Down. If I can convince an eight- or nine-year-old to sing, the teaching becomes much easier. Syncopations, especially those that cross the bar line, are another matter!

YouTube to the rescue! I always remind my students that the music came first and that the notation is just a necessary shorthand. Here is a short list of videos of innovative music that requires more complicated notation and time signatures.

La Bamba – Sing and clap where the words are just “La La Bamba”

America – Tap foot on the beat and clap off beat

Take Five – Feel and clap the innovative five beats per measure

Posted 2018-04-30

Organ Music for Lent and Easter

As you might imagine, there is an abundance of wonderful organ music for Lent and Easter. It would be pretty easy for me not to learn any new music for the season, and just recycle what I already have. But that doesn’t serve my goal to learn a lot of new music while I’m still young enough to do so. Plus, there are entire composers whose music I’ve avoided due to the difficulty or strangeness of it. Now is the time to build a few of these pieces into my repertoire.

Certainly, one composer whom I’ve avoided is César Franck. His music is not the most difficult to learn, but his works are long, have lots of tricky sections, and require lots of registration changes to be effective. There are other composers like Edwin Lemare, Marcel Dupré and Jean Langlais who seem to delight in how many notes they can throw on a page. With them, there are no easy pieces, even ones marked at slow or moderate tempos.

I’ve learned to choose only a couple of difficult new pieces a season, so I can do them well. The Pastorale and Prière of Franck are two of these. For everything else, I look at lists from prior years and choose a variety of pieces and difficulties to make sure that I don’t spend too many nights toiling away at the console.

So, as the pensiveness of Lent breaks into the jubilation of Easter, the keys may change from minor to major, but the work continues! In order to document my work, I’m recording and posting some of these recordings to my own Website. However, they are just for my monthly newsletter subscribers. It’s free and easy to subscribe (please do) and unsubscribe (but I hope you don’t).

Posted 2018-03-26