Happies, August 2017

August brings with it the last few weeks of summer vacation and the nervous excitement of back to school. Here are some things that made us smile in the studio this month:

  1. Student, age 11, after working on a difficult piece: “The good thing about me is that after trying something twice I get it.” That is a good thing!
  2. Quote from author Marisa de los Santos in her book Belong To Me concerning Bach’s fugues: “It’s music so complicated you can hear the math in it.”
  3. Flashcard challenge for younger students – a good review at the end of summer!20170808_093841
  4. Sibling completing puzzles while waiting in lessons20170721_073052
  5. Eight year old student: “I can play this song without looking!”20170821_170506
  6. Ten year old student practicing transposing a piece from C position to G position remarked “C position sounds dull like a dirty penny and G position sounds shiny like a bright penny!”
  7. Two high school students who decided to lengthen their lessons to 45 minutes so that we could have more time to learn longer, more complicated pieces

Fall Information Letter


“Communication is the real work of leadership.”

– Nitin Nohria

Because I teach throughout the year and have maintained the same students for several years, I sometimes forget that new families to the studio might not know how my particular studio functions. While I have a “Policy and Procedures” page on my studio website which also gets sent as a PDF to each family every August, I also like to walk families through the ins and outs of the studio so that they feel prepared when they come for their first lesson. I send this information in an email to each family in August whether they are new or returning.

Here are some of the things I think are important for each family to know:

  1. The day and time their lessons will be each week
  2. The date of the first lesson
  3. What happens when you come for a lesson. Questions I often hear from parents are “Should I wait in my car or sit in on the lesson?”, “What happens if I arrive early?”, “Can I drop off both kids for their lessons and come back later?”
  4. What to bring to a lesson. I remind students to bring their music, studio binder and also a recording device if they would like to record during the lesson.
  5. How to cancel a lesson/how to communicate with me
  6. Tuition costs
  7. Payment plans
  8. How to make a payment
  9. Where to find information on the studio website
  10. Permission to use pictures/videos of a piano lesson on social media sites

I have found that sending this information in advance of the first lesson has been key to starting lessons smoothly. Parents know what to expect, I know that they are informed, and we are able to start the first lesson with confidence and trust.


Now Is The Time To…

calendarI recently received an email from my local gardening store reminding me that now is the time to divide my irises. I love to garden, but I don’t always do the right things at the right times. For example, this summer my husband and I moved some shrubs around in our front garden on the hottest day in June and scorched those shrubs to within an inch of their lives. But happily, they seem to be coming back to life.

I have a file in my computer titled “Task Calendar”. This is very helpful as I go throughout the year to remind myself that I should send a note to parents about the upcoming recital, or order Christmas books, or remind parents about spring break, etc. Usually I remember these things on my own, but you never know when brain block will hit.

At the end of July I sent out an email regarding scheduling for the fall semester. So the past few weeks have been filled with working out scheduling for 35 students. It’s a rather daunting task. Thankfully I think I have everyone in place and I will even be able to have dinner with my family every night!

Next week is the first week of the fall semester in the studio. My task calendar tells me to send an email to each family with the following:

  1. Reminder of lesson day and time
  2. Date of the first lesson
  3. What to bring to the first lesson
  4. How to reach me if you are unable to come to a lesson
  5. The studio policy (sent as an attachment)
  6. The lesson calendar for the year (sent as an attachment)
  7. Tuition costs
  8. Payment plans
  9. A warm welcome to new and returning students

I have also been busy preparing a new reward system for the year, updating the weekly assignment page to support the goals of the new reward system, and updating the studio website.

The students’ studio binders will be given a new front cover insert and cleaned out at the first lesson.

So there are a few things to do!

I love the freshness that comes with a new school year – setting new goals and planning a year of recitals and activities that will hopefully motivate and inspire my young musicians.

Olga Kern and the Colorado Music Festival


Last month my hubby and I had the opportunity to hear Olga Kern play with the Colorado Music Festival. Every summer the festival presents a six-week program featuring innovative programs and world-class musicians.


Apart from the amazing music (which I will get to), my absolute favorite thing about the evening is that the Colorado Music Festival performs in the Chautauqua auditorium,  which is basically an old barn. The acoustics were amazing. Sections of the side walls slide open to allow the air to flow freely from the outside in. The moths that came in and flew around the stage actually added to the enchantment of the evening.


We had front row seats! And it was opening night of the festival! There was much excitement in the air. Look at the far right of the above picture – notice the music stands for the brass section were taped to milk crates. Love it!

The orchestra, led by director Jean-Marie Zeitouni, began the all-Russian program with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. It was exhilarating.

Then Olga Kern took the stage to play Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto of 1911. She was flawless. This was followed by a short intermission to allow Ms. Kern to change dresses. She looked beautiful, by the way. It almost made me want to play another solo recital just to have a reason to buy a fabulous dress like that. Maybe I should just buy the dress and wear it while playing the piano in the comfort of my own home. 🙂

Then Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Oh my goodness. It was fierce. The variation we pianists most like to play (Number 18) was simply rapturous.


Ms. Kern takes a bow. The audience was so appreciative. “Sir, could you step back so I can get a good picture? No? Okay.”

We went outside for intermission. On one side are the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. On the other side is a view of Boulder. We went back in for Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, played by the orchestra.

It was a memorable evening. The music filled my soul. The atmosphere was beautiful. It is well worth it to remember that support of the arts really is support of ourselves and those around us.

Happies, July 2017

20170725_094805It’s been a beautiful summer with beautiful things happening in the studio! Here are a few things that made my happy this month:

  1. The “secret garden” outside of my studio window is in full bloom.
  2. The shimmer of aspen trees outside my studio window provide beautiful accompaniment to our piano music.
  3. 6 year old student: “I smiled at your dog and she smiled back at me!”
  4. A student has been working on “Simple Gifts”, a piece which was played in our wedding. The student played the completed, polished piece in a lesson which happened to take place on our nineteenth wedding anniversary, July 25. It felt like the sweetest anniversary gift!
  5. New student learning “Old MacDonald” in Faber Primer Lesson book came to his lesson, sat at the piano, set up his fingers on the black keys, turned his face away and played the piece looking the opposite direction. He was so excited to surprise me with his trick!
  6. I was waxing eloquent as I related the facts of Haydn’s life to an eight-year-old student. I included exciting details such as Haydn living in a real castle, composing music for a real-live prince and for real kings and queens who came to visit. The student nodded with bright eyes. I was sure I was igniting his imagination and creating enthusiasm for the next piece he would learn by Haydn. The student responds by asking: “Yes, but do you know about the Emoji movie?” 🙂
  7. After offering a prize to a student who had practiced every day for three weeks: “Maybe I should have two.” 🙂
  8. A mother emailed to describe her children practicing at home: “Thank you for being such a great teacher!  My kids all love going to piano. Eddy is cracking me up…everybody else when they were starting would get frustrated when they’d make a mistake,  but Eddy just keeps saying “I’m getting so good!”
    So thank you!”

Bullet Journaling

20170702_073628Has anyone seen the new craze called bullet journaling? I started a personal bullet journal last September to keep track of my life, streamline my goals, accomplish my daily tasks, and record events and thoughts.

The system has worked so well that I decided to start a bullet journal for the studio. While I already have a notebook to keep track of thoughts and things I need to do (e.g. buy books, make flashcards, call so and so, etc.), I wanted a journal for tracking festival and recital preparation, noting books and repertoire commonly used, and keeping track of goals.

I know the bullet journal can get really in-depth, and some people thrive with a detailed journal, but I have chosen to keep my journal quite simple. Here are three ways I used the bullet journal in the studio:

Tracking Festival and Recital Preparation

20170718_130550The bullet journal helped to prepare students for Achievement Day. I used a separate page for each student and tracked the pieces they performed, the technique learned (including scales, arpeggios, chords), the tests they took and any extra options in which they participated. This will be so helpful next year when we prepare for Achievement Day once again and I can easily look back at what was accomplished previously (no searching for old judging forms or computer files!).

Noting Commonly Used Books and Repertoire

At the beginning of the repertoire section I have an index of composers, genres, publishers…any way I file it in my brain is how I filed it in the index. On the pages relating to the index is where I fleshed out the specific pieces used in recitals or festivals. For instance, my Vandall page is categorized by the name of the books, pieces from those books and names of students who have studied those pieces.

Although I also have computer files to keep track of commonly used repertoire, I have found a tangible notebook works better for me. I can easily flip through the pages to quickly reference pieces I am searching for.

Keeping Track of Goals

In the journal I have a section devoted to the “Happies” that happen in lessons. I write down comments or situations that make me smile. In my daily non-professional life, I do this in my personal bullet journal as well, and am a strong believer in the power of looking for the positive. It can change your entire outlook on life and teaching.

I also track the pieces I am learning, ideas for blog posts, summer goals, etc. It is a microcosm of some of the thoughts I scribble in my ongoing work notebook mentioned above, but in a much more organized manner.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you keep a journal? What works best for your organizational process?


This past Saturday we had a garage sale. Wowza. This means that I have been peering into the dark recesses of the house to bring to light that which should be sent along its way into the homes of others.

I happily ran across this book in my overflowing book collection.

20170718_075756I started to flip through it and lo and behold, the smiling face of my high school piano teacher peered back at me.

20170717_114903Aww. I have such fond memories of Dr. Howell. After having studied piano with the same teacher for seven years, I decided to embark upon a new challenge and study with a college professor. A family friend recommended we call Dr. Howell, who at the time was the chair of the Piano and Music Theory Department at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

My first memory of Dr. Howell was when I went to his house for an audition the summer before starting 9th grade. He took the pressure off my first performance for him by going to the kitchen to make tea while I played. This I found quite unusual since I was used to having a teacher sit right next to me the entire lesson. He was very kind, offered a few suggestions, and agreed to accept me into his studio.

Summer lessons were taken in his home. The large upright piano sat in the living room, whose windows opened onto a backyard of beautiful gardens, all planted and curated by Dr. Howell. Tea, garden and music. Interesting that these three things have become my favorite hobbies as well.

Lessons during the school year were taken in his studio in the music building on the campus of Bethel College. As a high school student, I felt so grown up walking through the halls and mingling with the cool college students. I remember Dr. Howell grabbing a snack during my lessons and crunching away as I played through Chopin or Debussy. I had to remember to dress in layers during the winter months because he would blast the space heater and I would end up sweating through my thick Minnesota-approved winter sweater.

Dr. Howell was a kind and gentle soul. He taught me many things. In the early days, he taught me that the purpose of piano study was not to play through as many pieces as I possibly could, but to slow down and mine the treasures from each piece. This was a hard lesson as a fourteen year old because I felt that my worth as a pianist was tied to the sheer volume of pieces I could play, however mediocre the performances were. Dr. Howell taught me to see the detail and to start making music. 

He was also the first teacher to really teach me technique and theory in a way that directly correlated to the music I was playing. And it started to make sense. We would study for the Minnesota Music Teachers Association theory exams and I began to really see how theory enlightened my understanding of music.

He taught me how to really practice and required an hour of practice each day, more than what I was previously doing.

Later in high school, he brought me along to different meetings at which he was speaking to demonstrate how to teach technique to high school students. These were great opportunities to play for other teachers.

In planning my own studio recitals, I still think of Dr. Howell’s recitals. They were pretty basic, but all his students played well and the recitals were enjoyable.

He encouraged me to study music in college and hoped that I would attend Bethel College where he taught. Although I chose a different college, I am forever grateful for the solid technical and musical skills Dr. Howell imparted to me. He helped make the pursuit of a music degree a possibility for me.