Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some highlights from the 2007 Collaborative Conference in Toronto

Although this weekend was one of the busiest I can remember, with workshop performances of The Shadow with Tapestry New Opera Works and trying to fit in my full teaching schedule, I nevertheless had some time to check out some of the offerings at the MTNA Collaborative Conference at the Sheraton Centre. Doing the conference full-time is something I'll have to leave for future years, but of the workshops and products I did have a chance to see, here are two that that definitely stand out:

The Piano Workbook

Barbara Siemens is a fellow graduate of the University of British Columbia. Her brand-new Piano Workbook (published only a few weeks ago) is a wonderful tie-in with the curriculum for the Royal Conservatory Examinations system. In ten volumes keyed to each RCM grade, this workbook is a one-stop compendium of the skills needed to excel at each grade. Each volume includes sections on goal-setting, practicing (including info on learning new repertoire, methods of working on repertoire or technique, and preparation for performance), general musicianship, technique (I particularly like her one-page technique charts and fingering cheat-sheets), and a weekly lesson record for both lesson assignments and practice tracking. This series will be a welcome addition to my studio, especially for the higher grades where keeping track of a mountain of examination requirements is a continual challenge for senior students. You can buy the series either through the website or through retailers as this new offering becomes available.

Christopher Norton Connections for piano

Of all the products and workshops I saw, this one is definitely the killer app of the conference. Graded to follow the Royal Conservatory Examinations system, each volume contains popular selections in swing, lyrical, latin, and character styles. Each piece is well thought-out and integrates skills and musicianship in works that will be a lot of fun to play. You can bet that this series will be highly integrated into the upcoming 2008 piano curriculum.

But perhaps the greatest selling point of this series is that each piece is not only a solo one, but has an orchestral accompaniment that can be downloaded. Each book comes with a password that can be entered in the members area of the Connections website which allows you to download sound files for either practice or performance tempos, both with and without piano. The kick that students will get out of playing with orchestra and rhythm section on each and every track will in my opinion be something that gets both kids and adults coming back for more and more in this series, and in piano instruction in general. Although many methods and publications now come with CDs or the works, Connections is one of the first to actively use free downloads as part of its learning process. I'm particularly pleased that playing along with the orchestrations can give students a genuine taste for playing in an ensemble situation and will help build skills that can be used in collaborative playing. This is definitely a series that will have a longstanding influence once it becomes adopted by teachers and students in the coming years.

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