Thursday, April 27, 2023

Talking About Memory

With the passage of years, I don't find memorization more difficult, but....different. When I was a teenager, I had a near-perfect visual memory and could memorize pieces just by mentally looking at the score when I played without the music. Until I had catastrophic memory slips in recital, that is. Then I learned to listen, to develop tactile memory, to understand what was going on in the form of the work, and to feel my way through the piece as well. Every five years or so I need to completely revamp the way I memorize. 

Angela Hewitt's article on memory in the Guardian looks at her own experiences with memory and how it has created a richness in her music-making, in spite of the continual risk:

Memory is a subject we don’t like to talk about – like sex, love and religious beliefs – most likely because we are afraid of losing it. It takes courage to admit even to yourself that your memory is failing. Often friends or family notice it first. We shouldn’t feel ashamed, but rather embrace this normal sign of ageing and then do all we can to keep our brains alive. It upsets me when I can’t remember where I’ve put my boarding pass, as happened this morning at Heathrow (only to find it in the outside compartment of my bag, where I must have put it five minutes previously); when I can’t remember if I’ve taken my daily HRT lozenge (now there’s something that helps older women with memory!); and when I make the same mistake over and over again when learning a new piece.

Angela's remake on how to think ahead and multitask in memory work are elements worth considering, as is the tendency of older pianists to play slower, perhaps because of the slower processing speed of the aging brain. My adult students will be glad to hear that.  

(Via John Mac Master)

(Photo courtesy of That's Her Business on Unsplash)

More about memorization:

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Bard College Conservatory's Collaborative Piano Fellowship Will Be Accepting Three Pianists in 2023

Erika Switzer, Director
of the Postgraduate
Collaborative Piano Fellowship
Katie Rossiter sends along the following information regarding Bard Conservatory's collaborative piano fellowship:

The Bard College Conservatory is seeking applicants for three fellowship positions in the Postgraduate Collaborative Piano Fellowship, a two-year fellowship program designed to give professional experience to pianists who have a strong interest in becoming collaborative artists, with the ultimate aim of easing the transition between school and the working world of a collaborative pianist. Directed by collaborative pianist Erika Switzer, the fellowship is open to students who have already completed a degree in collaborative piano as well as those who have completed a master’s degree in piano performance and have a strong interest in further study in collaborative piano. This fellowship program is tuition-free, and all fellows receive a $28,000 annual stipend for living expenses, as well as access to Bard's Student Health Services. Application and audition information may be found here.

The Postgraduate Collaborative Piano Fellowship allows fellows to expand their knowledge of the core collaborative piano repertoire; to gain experience in playing for high-level undergraduate and graduate students under the mentorship of master musicians; and to deepen their musical understanding through the guidance of the distinguished faculty of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, including artists such as mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, violinist Gil Shaham, and composer Joan Tower. 

Fellows are responsible for playing for studio lessons, master classes, rehearsals, auditions, and performances for the instrumental and vocal students of the Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Graduate Vocal Arts Program. In this capacity, they play for and are coached by the faculty and guest artists of the Conservatory. In the past, piano fellows have performed at Bard Fisher Center, National Sawdust and the Morgan Library in New York City, the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and throughout the Hudson Valley. They have also had the opportunity to play for guest artists such as Renée Fleming, Pierre Vallet, and Margo Garrett. Fellows may also teach, on a limited basis, some secondary piano lessons to undergraduate instrumentalists, under the supervision of the program director, Erika Switzer. Learn about the current fellows on the Bard Conservatory website

Questions? Please contact the Bard Conservatory Admissions staff at conservatoryadmission [at] 

The deadline for the program is December 1. Application information can be found here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The 2022 Edition of The Royal Conservatory's Piano Syllabus and Celebration Series Launches this Wednesday at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Every seven years, The Royal Conservatory launches a new edition of its Piano Syllabus and Celebration Series in order to reflect new directions in piano pedagogy and to refresh the many selections available for developing pianists to learn.

The kickoff event for the new series and syllabus is Music Lights the Way on Wednesday, April 27 in Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Pianists appearing include Steward Goodyear, Lang Lang, Angela Hewitt, Jan Lisiecki, Tony Yike Yang, Heather Schmidt, and Dianne Werner-Simon. 

The in-person event is sold out, but you can still register to watch the livestream online

One of the highlights of this event is an announcement that the RCM will be gifting more than 400,000 physical copies of the Celebration Series, Sixth Edition to teachers across North America. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Stay tuned over the coming days for more information on how you can redeem your copies. 

I'll be posting more articles over the coming months on the new series and how it can inform your teaching. For now, here are a few of the works newly introduced to the Celebration Series that I'm really excited about and are going to have tremendous value for both teachers and students.

From the Level 8 repertoire book, From Moanin' Pines by Harry Burleigh, played by Julia Scott Carey:

From the Level 10 repertoire book, Troubled Water by Margaret Bonds, played by Samantha Ege:

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

duo526 Sonata Seminar at Indiana University on May 23-27, 2022

Those of you who are interested in exploring the extensive violin and piano repertoire might be interested in attending duo526's week-long Sonata Seminar at the end of May hosted by the Jacobs Academy at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. This is a fantastic opportunity for those interested in deepening their ensemble skills and knowledge of the art of ensemble with violin and piano. 

Some information from the website:

duo526 Sonata Seminar @ IU offers an intensive five-day performance seminar to explore the art of listening for both pianists and violinists. Since 2018, duo526 Sonata Seminar has been offered at Brandon University, Canada; duo526 is thrilled to bring its program to IU’s Jacobs Academy. Up to five duos (five violinists and five pianists) will be selected via the application process. The daily schedule includes mentoring time, wellness time, individual coaching, training, and masterclasses. The program will culminate with the recital performance on the final day. Any pianists or violinists aged 18+ are eligible to apply.

duo526 is a duo ensemble with Kerry DuWors and pianist Futaba Niekawa. They'll be joined by wellness instructor David Simpson for the workshop. Registration and audition info is on the IU link above, and the registration deadline is March 15. 

Monday, February 07, 2022

Leaving Classical Music?

Since the start of the pandemic, many classical musicians have made a shift away from traditional classical music work, in whole or in part. Clarinettist Zach Manzi writes about his experience on why he left the profession

As much as I’ve felt like a failure over the last almost two years, I don’t regret my choice. I wish it was more normalized to move on from music as a profession , but there’s so much shame around “quitting.” I wish I’d known earlier that moving on would allow me to grow in ways that would not have been possible if I stayed. I’ve been working to know myself apart from my identity as a musician, which I always held in higher regard than my inherent worth as a human being. Even for musicians, life is much bigger than music, but I never really understood that until now. 

When I think about why I want to share this story, I think about younger musicians who are struggling to figure out what they want to do with their careers. Many are anxious and depressed, trying to find their way, exactly as I was, realizing that their career in music is not giving them what they had hoped it would.

Zach's follow-up article on what it means to end a career in classical music looks at how is identity changed as he was no longer defining his self-worth in terms of success as a musician:

So what did I mean by ending my career? Although I would characterize ending my career by no longer depending on the classical music industry for income, that feels like the least significant part of it. I still practice the clarinet occasionally, take gigs when I want to , and enjoy talking about and listening to classical music. It’s still an important part of my life. The most significant part of ending my career in classical music has been far more existential. 

The end has primarily involved attempting to separate myself from my identity as a musician, which has led to my understanding that I’ve let my talents and abilities define my worth. There were times in my adult life when I literally thought being a musician was the only interesting thing about me. I’d convinced myself I could not give up that identity because then nobody would want me. I thought worth came from being admired for the things I did, having talent and creating something beautiful in the world, and ultimately, my career choice.

How does it feel to "make it" outside classical music when there are fewer and fewer jobs in orchestras and university teaching jobs are mostly sessional/adjunct positions that don't pay very well? Some of the musicians that I've talked to mentioned these things:

  • once you leave classical music, there are way more than the half dozen positions available every year in your field across North America
  • the pay for an entry-level programming job is often the same as a position in a major orchestra
  • less anxiety
  • more time for exercise
  • since hours are often flexible in remote positions, you can still take on freelance performing work
Musicians who have left the profession, what have your experiences been like? Leave a comment below. 

(Image courtesy of Michael Jasmund on Unsplash)

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Bebop Mädchen: Effective Practicing, Optimal Time Management, and Pomodoro for Musicians

One of the areas that musicians continually need to improve in is the art of managing our time, including with practicing, studying, and admin work. On a recent edition of the Bebop Mädchen podcast, Jens Emil Jensen talks about his experiences managing his time as a musician:

For those who aren't familiar with the methodologies that Jens talks about:
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a system of breaking down units of work into 25-minute blocks, with a 5-minute rest between them. Every four Pomodoros, take a longer 15-30 minute break. 
  • GTD is a system developed by David Allen that helps us manage our commitments with a five-step process of capture, processing, organizing, review and engagement. Here's a quick intro to the system
I've been using GTD since 2006, and have found it to be incredibly useful over the long term to organize my inputs and manage my projects. The Pomodoro system is a bit newer to me, but using it has resulted in a noticeable increase in my ability to focus on important stuff and get it completed. 

What can be frustrating is setting aside time but not getting to it, as well as overshooting the time we estimate and getting done way too early. To Jens' excellent explanation of the Pomodoro Technique, I would also add the importance of planning the estimated Pomodoros over the day and reviewing whether you achieved them, undershot, or overshot your estimates, and why. This daily reflection helps to create better estimations over time. Also check out Mike Sturm's The Today System for a related methodology. 

(Image courtesy of Thanos Pal on Unsplash)

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Summer 2022 Collaborative Piano Institute at LSU

Ana Maria Otamendi sends along some information about this summer's Collaborative Piano Institute at LSU:

It is my pleasure once again to invite your students to apply to the sixth edition of the Collaborative Piano Institute, which will take place between June 5th - 25th 2022 at Louisiana State University. Our program is open to all pianists who are interested in the collaborative arts, from undergraduate students to professionals. 

NEW IN 2022!

CPI, the Vocal Academy, and the Collaborative Strings Institute are accepting applications for duos, trios, or larger pre-formed groups! Click here for more information.


We are elated to welcome an even larger roster of collaborative piano superstars: 
Anne Epperson (Director of Collaborative Piano at Indiana University) will join returning faculty members Martin Katz (University of Michigan), Howard Watkins (Juilliard School, Yale, MET), Kathleen Kelly, (Cincinnati College Conservatory, former Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna Staatsoper, and former Head of Music/Music Director at Houston Grand Opera), Jonathan Feldman (Juilliard, NEC, Music Academy of the West), Elvia Puccinelli (UNT), Christopher Turbessi (Rice University), Elena Abend (University of Wisconsin), Ana Maria Otamendi (Louisiana State University), and Elena Lacheva (Louisiana State University) among many others. For more information please see the attachment or visit our website and our Facebook page and also check out the Testimonials of our alumni. 

Click here for Vocal Academy Faculty and Collaborative Strings Institute faculty.


We continue to offer the intensive learning experience which we are known for, tailored to the individual needs of every pianist through individual lessons, collaboration with seasoned professionals in recitals and masterclasses, and over 50 group classes, lectures, and performance opportunities. To see how a day at CPI unfolds, check out our Daily Schedule page.


We have a higher number of scholarships available, and the scholarship decisions would be made based on the audition recordings and demonstrated need. 


NEW IN 2022:
 Early Bird Application due February 15th, 2022 ($35)
Regular deadline: March 15th, 2022 ($55)

For any questions, please email us at