Sunday, June 18, 2017

Recitals ... so much more than performing

Yesterday we held the Music Masters Music School End of Term recital.  I love these afternoons as every child, regardless of age or ability is keen to play a piece.  They are never forced to play... only asked what piece they would like to play.  Asking them to choose lets them set their own parameters.  Each time the children play their confidence grows so the recital becomes about so much more than performing.

My favourite moment yesterday was seeing one student rescuing another who had a memory lapse during a performance.  The two did not know each other but little Alice (all of 7 years old) knew the piece that was being played and passed the music up to the stage to assist.

A simple gesture, brought about from genuine empathy ... better than any performance.

Christine Masters


Monday, March 10, 2014

Who I learn from...

It is so easy to get locked into the mentality of learning the piano so that you can sit the next exam...

Lesson two of term one, Michaela came to her Saturday morning piano lesson slightly unenthused. After chatting with her, it seemed that she was just not enjoying the piece we had begun the week earlier. 

It became clear to me then that I had automatically started the year off with a new piece from her AMEB piano for leisure book.   This is a wonderful syllabus filled with quite a broad range of pieces from well known classics, film themes and popular songs.  The piece I had chosen had a bright, energetic tone which I thought was appropriate to get the year started.

However, without even realising, I had gone straight into challenging piece.  Michaela is a very smart and bright piano student who diligently practices each week so I had automatically pushed her boundaries... in lesson one!!!

We put the piece from week one to one side and pulled out a series of books that were of her current level so she was able to play them quite quickly. We managed to get through three pieces in one lesson and found a little duet which she is now playing at home with her mother.

I am the first to say that we are an assessment driven society but there I was part of the production line!   Of course I will extend Michaela’s piano skills and as a result move onto more challenging pieces but at a rate that allows a lot of music to be enjoyed and shared in the process... 

After so many years of teaching I am still learning ... learning from my students. 


Mother and Daughter play piano duet

Mother MaryAnne 
plays piano duet 
with her Daughter Michaela

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Instant or Expresso?

I was chatting with a barista earlier this week who was telling me that he was going to have to close down his cafe :(    He said that within a 5k radius a number of new cafes had opened and that as a result his sales had declined.  I tried to assure him that while there were new cafes propping up that their coffee was not of the standard of his .... the reason why I pass two cafes to get a coffee from him.

This got me thinking...

When my boys were very little I travelled to Yeronga (a 30 minute drive to the other side of town), so that they could be taught swimming by a lady who coached children of all ages and levels.  The reason? She specialised in teaching children, taught them individually,  building their confidence in and out of the water.

Currently, I am taking one of my sons to trampolining at Redcliffe (a 45 minute drive north), as he loves the sport and the tuition is in very small groups and of a high standard.

When something is of good quality there is no compromise.

It seems, however, that with the busy lives we all live, many opt for convenience over quality.  Getting their coffee fix from the closest cafe so as to save a precious 5 minutes on the way to work.  Do we use this saved time?  Do we forget the richness of the finer coffee bean, the experienced extraction, the genuine chat?

Life moves at such a busy pace that some even resort to instant coffee!!  No conversation, just passive osmosis from the (probably commercial) television.  Is this a good use of that 5 minutes saved?

The freshly ground bean prepared with experience and love results in not only a inescapable aroma, but a smooth, drink that is enjoyed every time it is sipped.  Regardless of how many times it is made the barista makes each cup as enjoyable as the last.

Music too must be prepared with experience and love so that when the piece is mastered it evokes a feeling, an expression, a statement, by both the performer and the listener.  The student must be gently guided to see more than the notes on the page.  To understand, and therefore demonstrate, how the dynamics and phrasing can completely change everything they play; how different interpretations can bring different shades to a performance.  They need to be taught to think about what they are playing choosing composers and styles that they enjoy and understand.

Students must be taught to mature past the mindless repetition of notes to get to the end of the piece or to get through the next exam.   If not their lessons becomes more like the instant coffee fix that requires no guidance or expertise to prepare.  The student practices aimlessly without changing the way the music is played smothering the life of a piece.  They go through the motions of playing between lessons but forget the purpose or enjoyment that can be gained from employing a well guided phrase or dynamic marking.

I would like to think that I encourage the  'expresso' over the 'instant' approach.  The latter is sadly experienced by many who have no concept that there is anything else.  They are so caught up living their lives of convenience, that the true experience of living is completely watered down and often missed... music that is never appreciated or shared, let alone played well.

Have a think next time you have a coffee!!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Student looks back .... the difference music makes

Recently I caught up with a past student of mine, Laura who began her music lessons with me as part of the Music Masters Early Childhood Music program.  She is now in her first year at the University of Queensland fully emerged in the tertiary world and loving it.  While she has not chosen music as her career path, she was telling me just how significant music was to her growing up and how it still has a role to play in her life now.

I asked Laura if she would write down what she had said as it was a beautiful example of how music is experienced, learned and shared for the benefit of all...the reason I love teaching.  She has happily allowed me to share it.

I began early childhood music classes with Christine at 18 months, and music has been a constant in my life since.  Throughout primary school I learnt piano with Christine, and was involved in the St. Anthony's choir.  I went on to play the bassoon in my high school band as part of the Franciscan Colleges Instrumental Program, and was able to embrace the variety of cultural opportunities available at Mount Alvernia College. In year 12 I was awarded a dux for both music and music extension, and received an FCIP Excellence in Music Award in 2012.

When I look back, I can see that learning music has given me the passion and skills needed to really embrace opportunities in life.  Music has both challenged and inspired me at each stage of development, and taught me life skills of commitment, teamwork and discipline.  And possible more importantly, engaging in musical opportunities has given me so much joy, friends and fun!  

I am now studying psychology at UQ and my life is still so enriched by music. I am fascinated by the link between music and psychology and am taking music electives in my course finding Music Therapy and Musicology of particular interest.

For me at this stage in my life, music is both an area of study and learning, a stress release and a social outlet.  I am confident in saying that starting music classes at a young age plays a significant role in growth and development and I am so grateful I had this opportunity.  I would attribute much of my success - both academically and holistically to the significant role of music in my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Piano Tuner's Brain

I recently read an article about how a piano tuner's brain is significantly extended as a result of listening to note pitches.  The study, published in Neuroscience (29 August 2012), showed that the part of the brain that is used for memory and information processing was quite different from those who were not accustomed to listening to specific pitches.

The more experienced the piano tuner, the greater structural changes within the brain.  Do you think this means that the musical brain is consistently being extended regardless of age?  This is of particular interest to me as I am the daughter of a piano tuner.   Hearing notes from a piano being tuned is a sound I am very familiar with.

Music is such a fascinating medium.  Not only is the brain processing the notes and emotions of a particular piece of music, but with training, it is capable of extending grey and white matter.

I would love to see the brain scans of children who have come along to music classes for a number of years....


(check out the link below if you are interested to read the study)