In the weeks leading up to October 9, 2021, there was great excitement and anticipation in the music and computer technology worlds. These groups were intersecting in a unique and exciting way: a group of musicians and computer scientists formed a coalition to create Beethoven’s 10th symphony. Using sketches from his notebooks, the computer scientists would teach the artificial intelligence to compose, and complete what Beethoven started. (You can read more about the group here)
Like many of my colleagues, I reacted to this news with an equal mixture of interest and apprehension. I may not be an “expert” on Beethoven, but I have spent a good deal of time studying his life and playing and teaching his music, and I was distressed by the articles published prior to the premier stating that this was what Beethoven wanted, this was the fulfillment of his desires, and that people in the coalition could not discern the difference between musical excerpts composed by Beethoven and excerpts created by the AI. I also found it creepy that one of the music experts of the team referred to the AI as a student who practices, learns, and gets better.
On October 9, I opened Spotify and listened to the two movements the group had released: the third and fourth movements of Beethoven X: the AI project.
The third movement, labeled Scherzo. Allegro trio, is a pleasant piece of music. It contains elements of Beethoven, like repeated rhythmic motives, but stylistically it sounds like early Beethoven, not something he was working on at the end of his life. It lacks the passion, surprise, experimentation, thematic development, and chromaticism we expect from late Beethoven.
The fourth movement, labeled Rondo, does not sound like Beethoven at all. The music is so fragmented it sounds like a sight-reading exercise, and it inexplicably features organ as the solo instrument. The form can only be called a rondo in the loosest sense of the term, and the music jumps from clear quotations of Beethoven’s 5th symphony and Pathetique sonata to free form organ passages. Stylistically, it sounds like college composition major who is completing an assignment to compose something “Romantic-sounding.”
Many of the elements of Beethoven’s music are included: abrupt dynamic changes, lyric passages, rhythmic motives, and sudden shifts in mood, but the music shifts so abruptly from one aspect to the next it sounds like the fictitious composition student is checking off the boxes of required elements to earn a good grade. There are many aspects missing from this composition, but the main thing is something even a team of skilled musicologists and computer scientists cannot recreate: the man himself, Ludwig van Beethoven.
This work may be a triumph for AI, but it is not a success for Beethoven, nor should it be labeled as such.
The start of the school year is right around the corner! And as you watch your preschooler play and sing and dance, you are wondering, “Is this the year to start piano lessons?”
I know you have many questions about piano lessons. And, as a teacher who is Suzuki certified and has years of experience working with young children and their parents, I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
“Is my child old enough?”
Each child is different, but generally 4-5 is a good age to start piano lessons. The determining factors are the 1) ability of the child to listen and follow instructions, and 2) the ability of the parent(s) to come to lessons and help their child practice at home.
An experienced teacher will be able to help you determine if your child is ready for lessons. I am always happy to meet with interested parents and students!
“Is my child talented enough to learn piano?”
I believe that every child has the ability to learn music. Dr. Suzuki believed that children are the products of their environment. Talent, therefore, is not inborn, but it is fostered or hindered depending on the environment. I firmly believe that every child, if brought up in the right environment, can learn to make beautiful music.
“What will my child learn?”
Your child will learn to play with excellence from the very start. Using the Suzuki method, we will explore the piano and learn to play familiar songs while incorporating theory and good technique before reading music is introduced.
I make sure all students experience, play, and understand music through age-appropriate activities, and I work with you to make sure you understand what is being taught, and what should be practiced during the week. The Suzuki method is cooperative in nature; the parent and teacher work together to support the child.
I will be happy to discuss this in more detail, and answer any questions you may have!
“What kind of piano do we need?”
There are two options: acoustic or digital. The best piano is an acoustic piano. You can find acoustic pianos by looking on Marketplace, Nextdoor, or a local music store.
I realize that purchasing an acoustic piano may not be possible for every family. There are many high quality digital pianos that make good starter instruments, but be aware that the quality of the instrument varies greatly depending on the materials used to construct it. And a major factor in the enjoyment of learning the piano is the way it feels and sounds. If the sound quality is not good and the materials used to make it were cheap, then it is harder to enjoy the instrument.
If you decide to purchase a digital piano, I recommend looking for something with this criteria: keyboard built into the stand, weighted keys, graded hammer action, touch sensitive.
For more information on acoustic vs. digital, read this article: https://www.pianobuyer.com/article/acoustic-or-digital-whats-best-for-me/
“How often do we come to lessons?”
I recommend weekly lessons, 30 minutes in length. During the lesson we will play the piano, play musical games, and learn about composers.
Only you can know if this is a good time to start piano lessons, but I let me leave you with this thought: it is always the right time to invest in your child.
Now that your initial questions have been answered, what is the next step for you?
Would you like to discuss lessons in more detail?
Are you ready to schedule a trial lesson?
Fill out the contact form below and I'll be in touch!
Emily Morgan teaches classical piano to students ages 5-adult. She has a masters in piano pedagogy and is certified to teach all the Suzuki piano literature. Ms. Morgan believes that everyone has the ability to learn music, and her goal is to make sure her students experience, play and understand music through the exploration of the great composers and their works. She maintains an active studio of online and in person students.
Today, July 23, 2021, marks the official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I will be paying special attention to the music this year because I discovered this week that America’s beloved film composer, John Williams, has a special connection to the Olympics, and a special message of hope that resonates today.
Before I share Williams’ message, l need to provide some background. George Gershwin has been the featured composer this month in my piano studio, and I have been talking with my students about his contributions to Broadway musicals and classical music. Naturally, any conversation about Gershwin would be deficient if we did not listen to Rhapsody in Blue! And then I read an article about classical music featured at the Olympic games which mentioned a special tribute to Gershwin at the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. Even though the only video clips I can find are very low quality and have significant color distortion, the tribute is still inspiring and uplifting to watch! I know the amount of effort that goes into hosting a recital for the music teachers association and putting on a performance for a community choir, so I have great respect for the people that organized and coordinated the musicians, dancers, and eighty-four pianists (not to mention getting the pianos to the stadium and onto the lifts)!
After I watched the video of the Gershwin tribute, I discovered a video of John Williams, also from the 1984 Olympics. And I was delighted to discover that the trumpet fanfare that plays when the NBC Olympics symbol appears on the TV is part of a larger theme that was commissioned by the Olympic Committee and composed by Williams for the 1984 games.
In an interview with the New York Times, Williams said, “A wonderful thing about the Olympics is that young athletes strain their guts to find and produce their best efforts. The human spirit stretching to prove itself is also typical of what musicians attempt to achieve in a symphonic effort. It is difficult to describe how I feel about these athletes and their performances without sounding pretentious, but their struggle ennobles all of us. I hope I express that in this piece.”
The Olympic games has always been a time of coming together, a rare moment of unity when athletes from all over the world unite and compete while the entire world watches. And even though this year the games look different than ever before due to covid precautions, the fact that the games are taking place at all is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. To the athletes who had to be very creative to continue training when facilities shut down last year, and to the organizers working on the ground in Tokyo to abide by restrictions and still keep the events going- well done! The fact that I can watch the opening ceremony tonight on NBC is a testimony to your grit, your tenacity, and your creative spirit.
And, as Williams expressed in his music, the human spirit has no bounds.
Emily Morgan is a Suzuki piano teacher who maintains an active studio of online and in person students. If you are interested in lessons, please fill out the contact form below.
One of the fascinating things about music is that everyone interprets what they hear in a unique way. My students listening to music of Haydn have had many different reactions. In the January issue of Piano Explorer, the featured composer was Franz Joseph Haydn. My students, especially the younger ones, are fascinated by the way his sense of humor permeated his compositions. During lessons and group class, I have been playing Symphony No. 4, nicknamed “Surprise”, and asking my students what they heard.
The answers are as unique as the students themselves:
-Walking in the park on a spring day
Of course, I tell them this work is called “Surprise” symphony because of the surprising dynamic changes, and we have a good conversation about expression in music.
Part of my role as a piano teacher is helping students of all ages and skill levels learn to listen with a critical ear and be able to analyze the music, identifying tempos, instrument(s), mood, and dynamics, among other things. Being able to recognize the elements of music not only helps them appreciate and enjoy the music they are listening to, but it also develops the important skill of listening to themselves while they are playing.
The surprising thing is the musician who listens to while playing is benefited as much as the audience member.
When I first heard yesterday that there was a newly discovered piano piece by Mozart, my first thought was, "This has to be a hoax." After all, it's not possible to find new music from a composer who has been dead for 230 years, right?
But after I realized it was in fact January 28 and not April 1, I did some research and found a video from the Salzburg Music Festival's Mozart Week, which has been celebrating the famous composer's birthday each January since 1956.
In the video, Ulrich Leisinger and Rolanda Villazon discuss the process of finding and authenticating Allegro in D major, k. 262 b/16. After analyzing the paper, ink, and handwriting, the experts determined it was an authentic Mozart composition. Comparing dates in letters and diaries of Mozart and his family led the experts to conclude this piece was composed and mailed to his sister, Nannerl, sometime in 1773.
You may be thinking, "I don't care about the historical background. What about the music itself?"
The music does not disappoint. The piece, in a standard ABA form, has all the sparkling cheerfulness we expect from Mozart.
I'll leave you to listen here while I head to my piano to learn this new music.
I normally write about things pertaining to piano lessons and music education, but today I am branching out and sharing my thoughts about some holiday movies I have recently watched. If you are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, there is still time to watch one (or two) of these before January 6!
Top pick: Christmas Angel (2011), available on Amazon Prime
Honestly, I was not expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. The blue collar storyline focuses on a young lady who has been out of work for a while, and she accepts a job working as her neighbor’s personal assistant. The neighbor is not who he appears to be, and a handsome reporter starts asking questions. It is a low budget, slow paced film with relatable characters and a moral that could’ve been written by Dickens himself. The dialogue is awkward and realistic, and the fact that the movie lacks the flawless decorations, designer clothing, and obligatory cookie decorating scene that fills most holiday movies was refreshing. If you are looking for a heartwarming story that is free from the classic holiday movie tropes, you will enjoy this one!
Runner up: A California Christmas (2020), available on Netflix.
I liked this movie in part because it actually portrays a somewhat realistic view of a life on a farm. The movie is about a spoiled young man who is sent to purchase a struggling ranch in CA, but is mistaken for the ranch hand and ends up working on the ranch and falling for the young rancher and her family. I grew up on a farm in East TN, and I spent much of my childhood collecting firewood, chasing chickens, and milking goats. (Unlike the characters in the movie, we did not have a vineyard, but we did have a wild blackberry patch that we picked from every summer). The movie, created by and starring a real life married couple, has many funny and tender moments and although there are some baking scenes, it once again manages to tell an interesting story without throwing in too many holiday tropes.
Runner up: Midnight at the Magnolia (2020), available on Netflix.
This is a sweet and funny story about two radio hosts who have been friends since childhood who pretend to be engaged for a publicity stunt and (surprise!) actually end of falling in love. The movie has more holiday tropes than the ones mentioned above, but the writers used these tropes to build the characters and move the story along in a natural way. And it was refreshing to see the beauty of healthy family and friend relationships, in a world where so many relationships are unhealthy or fractured.
Skip this one: Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020), available on Netflix.
I love musicals, and I normally enjoy cheesy, quirky movies. But this movie is terrible. Let me preface this review by saying I grew up in East TN and spent many, many days at Dollywood. Like many of us, I consider Dolly an honorary grandmother. I have listened to the podcast Dolly Parton’s America, and I genuinely enjoyed the movies about her life and her previous Netflix film, Dumplin’ (2018). So I write this statement with love: Dolly, you can do better.
The characters are incredibly one dimensional, the music ranges from terrible to mediocre, and the set is obviously fake. The narrative is all over the place, jumping from character to character with dizzying speed.
The story is about a small town that is owned by one woman, and in the opening scene she announces she is selling the entire town to a developer who plans to build a shopping mall. The townspeople are understandably upset, and while they hold hands and sing inspirational songs in church, Dolly visits the town owner and tries to convince her to change her mind by singing songs with lyrics like “light your lamp.”
I am not sure why the writers, producer and director who worked with Dolly gave this film a green light. It would have been better for everyone if they had said “This is not the same level of quality we have produced before.” Hopefully before Dolly’s next project starts production, someone has the guts to look her in the eye and say, “We can do better.”
That’s a wrap for the 2020 holiday movie reviews. Now you can skip the deliberation about what to watch and use that time to bake some sugar cookies. Save me one with icing, please!
Reflections on gratitude during a pandemic year
2020…what a year! As I have been reading Thanksgiving posts of social media, I have noticed a similar theme of gratitude and grieving. This mixture of emotions was especially poignant in my heart while watching the Macy’s Day Parade yesterday. On the one hand, it was encouraging to see the detail and creativity put into creating and decorating the
floats that would only be viewed through a screen. But the emptiness of the floats and the streets, the quietness resulting from the absence of cheering crowds and marching bands and
Broadway singers was a stark reminder of the toll this disease has brought upon
this country and the world.
I have similar emotions of gratitude and grieving every time I watch a virtual choir or orchestra performance. How wonderful it is to see musicians practicing and recording in their own homes, and to hear the finished product! But I am also sad because I know that, no matter how good the technology is, it will never replace being in the same room and hearing the music live. I miss singing with my choir. I miss going to recitals at the university and local churches.
But in the midst of sorrow, there is much to be grateful for.
I am grateful for sound engineers and camera operators and people who have spent hours learning how to use video and sound editing technology to put together the virtual choirs and orchestras. I am grateful for opera companies who are using baseball stadiums to put on operas, and orchestras that are putting up plexiglass partitions and streaming their performances online. I am deeply grateful for the wonderful community of teachers around the world who I have connected with via Facebook, who have shared ideas, videos, and resources online. Connecting with other piano teachers around the world via weekly Zoom meetings was so encouraging professionally and personally during the spring and summer months. (Many thanks for Zohara Rotem for hosting these meetings).
My students and I have also benefited from the composers who took it upon themselves to write new music that would be interesting to play and accessible to teach online (thanks Wendy Stevens, Diane Hidy, Keith Snell, Carol Matz).
Because of the pandemic, I have become a better teacher.
I am learning to be a better business owner.
I have a deeper appreciation for the way music connects us, even when we are physically apart.
I have made new connections with teachers all over the world.
And so, even though I cannot be thankful for the pandemic itself, I am grateful for the way it acted as a catalyst to encourage me to grow.
May we all continue to view obstacles, large and small, as opportunities for growth.
Recently, I have been having conversations with parents and students in my studio about goals and expectations. When the older students have more homework each school year, or the beginning student is resisting practicing at home, it is normal for parents to ask, “Is continuing with music lessons worth it.” The answer is yes, and and the reason is because the musical skills and life skills are worth the investment.
When you invest in music lessons, and your child invests time in practicing, it is just that: an investment. And the investment is not only into learning the skill of playing the piano, but it is also an investment into the life skills of setting long and short term goals, cultivating daily habits, critical thinking, and perseverance, and many others.
Like monetary investments, the return you get from piano lessons depends on how much you invest. If your child only practices once or twice in between lessons, they will not get much enjoyment out of lessons and their musical progress will be slow. For a visual reference, look at this chart a teacher created and gave me permission to share:
You may be reading this thinking, “I agree with these reasons, but I am overwhelmed and don’t enjoy the power struggle when I suggest practicing.” Here are some practical suggestions for parents and students who are trying to fit in daily practicing:
You may be reading this
thinking, “I agree with these reasons, but I am overwhelmed and don’t enjoy the power struggle when I suggest practicing.” Here are some practical suggestions for parents and students who are trying to fit in daily practicing:
Please, do not allow your child to quit because things are difficult. The rewards of playing music are worth the investment.
The fall semester has been going for about a month now, and I have had a wonderful time hearing about all the summer adventures from my returning students, and getting to know my new students. Several of my students were not able to take lessons over the summer, and so I have been coming up with creative ways to help them access their long term memories. I know from learning about the brain that nothing we learn is ever truly forgotten, but the information may be stored in a way that makes it difficult to access. So, I have pulled out rhythm games, note naming games, chord identifying games, and the half and whole step cards to review pentascales, major scales and minor scales. I am thrilled to report that the review games have worked, and my students have not only remembered what they learned last year, but they are excited about moving forward and learning new concepts.
What is the connection with review games and the title of this blog post? It is simply this: every child moves at their own pace. This is one of the Suzuki philosophy points, and it is important to constantly remind others (and myself) of this idea. I may play a game twice with one student before they understand the concept and we move on. With a different student, we may revisit the concept (through the game) 10 or 15 times before they understand the concept. Each child is a unique person with a different learning style and there is no magic number of repetitions that guarantees understanding.
Our culture is obsessed with competition, and not all competition is unhealthy. But in the realm of private music lessons, we all need to remember that learning music is not a competition or a race. Studying music is an incredibly personal and individual journey. And each person gets to set their own pace and move as slow or as fast as they are comfortable. My job as a teacher and your job as a parent is to walk alongside them, encouraging, leading, guiding, and sometimes just enjoying the view.
I’ve been pondering on musical milestones during the past few weeks Recently, one of my students, Charlee, played her book 2 graduation recital. A graduation recital, in the Suzuki world, is an important milestone to celebrate the culmination of learning all the pieces in a book. At the recital, the student plays through all the pieces from memory. To prepare for the recital, the student and teacher spend time reviewing and refining the pieces to make them as musical and historically accurate as possible.
To learn all the pieces in a book takes countless hours of practicing, and great mental concentration. The skills of persistence, hard work, and attention to detail are skills that students begin to develop from the first lesson. The attention to detail required to learn Bach minuets is developed as the students learn to play Honeybee and Lightly Row with Alberti bass.
A graduation recital is a wonderful achievement, and I am very proud of Charlee’s work and dedication. I am equally proud of my beginning students when they can play Variation 1 from beginning to end with high bounces, switch from the C major chord to the G major chord, or play the F major scale hands together. As my students and I approach the spring recital, I am reminded that we would not be celebrating the milestones if not for the patient, dedicated practicing of students on a daily basis and the parents who come to lessons and listen to their children practice at home.
Several years ago, one of my teacher friends reminded me, "A recital is a celebration, not a test." It is a celebration of the persistence and commitment put forth by the student, parent, and teacher. So let's celebrate!
I am a piano teacher who loves teaching music and discussing personality styles. I also enjoy playing music with others, whether that is chamber music, piano duets, or singing in a choir. My favorite composers are Bach and Haydn.