Saturday, December 21, 2013

Handel's Messiah: Historical Background

 All these years, I never learned the story!  A friend sent me this:


“In 1737 Handel’s opera company went bankrupt, and he suffered what seems to be a mild stroke...Once the composer for royalty, he was now threaten with debtor’s prison. Deeply depressed, Handel was visited by his friend Charles Jennens. The wealthy, devout Anglican had written a libretto about the life of Christ and the work of redemption, with the text completely taken from the Bible. A fussy perfectionist, Jennens had written it to challenge the deists who denied the divinity of Jesus. 

Would Handel compose the music for it? he asked. Handel answered that he would and estimated completion in a year. Soon thereafter, a group of Dublin charities approached Handel to compose a work for a benefit performance. The money raised would help free men from debtor’s prison...Now with a text and a motivation, Handel began composing Messiah on August 22, 1741. Within six days, Part One was finished. In nine more, Part Two. Six more and Part Three was done. It took him only an additional two days to finish the orchestration...He rarely left his room and rarely touched his meals. But in 24 days he had composed 260 pages...

When he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus, he said “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.” ...The premiere on April 13, 1742 at Fishamble Street Musick Hall was a sensation. An overcapacity crowd of 700 people attended, raising 400 pounds to release 142 men from prison.”

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) as recounted in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville: Christianity Today, 2000), p. 113-114.

Last night, Jenni and I attended Handel’s Messiah in downtown Denver. It was performed by the Colorado Bach Ensemble and directed by James Kim. It is likely that we will look back on the Christmas season 2014 and say this was the most sacred and precious memory for few experiences exalt Scripture’s Messiah with such magnificence. 

Of course we just love that Handel performed this oratorio not for personal gain for the purpose of setting people free from financial slavery. Though originally performed at Easter, it has also become a Christmas tradition because the three movements proclaim the prophecies, the passion, and the promise of Messiah, our the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you live anywhere near Boulder or Fort Collins, CO, we urge you to attend one of their final two performances on December 21 or 22, 2013. Should this be too far to travel, for about the price of a ticket, we commend to you our personal favorite three CD set: John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists, Philips 1982. Check it out on Amazon.

Generosity Monk 11318 West Ontario Ave, Littleton, CO 80127 303.888.6052 |

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Article: Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs - Russell Moore

...We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.
The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.
Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).
In a time of obvious tragedy, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics... 
Read More:   Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Food for Thought: Sacred Music

I read this interesting article:   I Don’t Like The Song In My Head… But I Might Need It
Historically, it is interesting to see that simplicity is common.  Kyrie pieces had the same two phrases over and over, often with complex musical setting.  Psalm Chant from the synagogue/monastic tradition same tune phrase over and over, often to accomodate a complex psalm. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Your Ears Are Like A Donkey's Back

That's what my piano teacher Mr. Clark would say about learning to like new music.

It's humbling to recognize that training for animals is not all that different from the training that gives us humans habits and skills.  Repetition is the mother of skill, whether you're training your dog, or learning your scales.

A commonly quipped rule of thumb is that it takes 21 days to learn to like something or form a habit.  I heard this type of reasoning used by Sesame Street characters to encourage kids to try new foods.  Try it, you might like it! And then, try it again.  Give it time!

 When it comes to music, our ears work like our tongues.  We might not like sushi or reggae at first, but with time, our body responds less and less in opposition to it.  All five of our senses are remarkably adaptable.   A new sound will  cause an excited reaction, either positive or negative.  It's up to you whether you avoid the sound so you continue to dislike it, or get used to and eventually enjoy it.  You decide what your ears like and what they don't.

If you swat the donkey enough times, eventually it moves.  If you listen to it enough times, eventually, you will like it.

Learning to love good things is a lifelong pleasure and gift from God.

"He that has never traveled thinks that his mother is the only good cook in the world."(Kenya)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Art Philosophy & Criticism ( and a New Album)

I loved reading Gregory Wilbur's thoughts on the arts.  While non-Christians may find Biblical teaching irrelevant, aesthetics are still an obvious and worthy study.

I believe that beauty is an attribute of God and is therefore a theological issue.
I believe that beauty and excellence are objective and that the Bible provides the standard for what is beautiful and excellent.
I believe...  Read more.

Monday, November 4, 2013

YouTube Sensation: Kyle Landry
This pianist and arranger (perhaps composer too?) is one of my new favorites.  His performances are stellar, though every time I see him sitting so cramped up and close to the keys I just want to give him a pull back so he's not so uncomfortable!  He offers many arrangements for free, so go get some free sheet music!!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Method Books I Use

Method books vary according to age, music styles, and teaching strategies... oh, and price.   The two main categories are adult and children.  Between children's methods there are some variations, and I enjoyed surveying many methods in my pedagogy studies.  I bring in elements of these other methods to my students to supplement the method books I use.  I also use whatever method books students may have on hand.

Students under about 6 can start with this:

Step by Step Piano Course - Book 1 (Step by Step (Hal Leonard))   (like this: )

 These are the first two books for older beginners:

Schaum Notespeller  - a workbook.   (like this: )

M. Aaron Lessons Book One - method book (
Belwin Piano Method Book One  - method book   (

 Add note flashcards.

After completing Book 2 of either method book, introduce:

Dozen a Day Book 1 - Technique / Finger agility (

I generally introduce chord symbol and playing by ear around intermediate level note reading, since the reading takes the most discipline and sets a student solidly in a mindset of hard work.   I demarcate intermediate level as my teacher did, with Bach's Minuet in G.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Musical Activities for Toddlers

Since I have a 12 month old, this has been a recurring theme of late.

Movement and Music Activities for Toddlers:

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

  1. Sit on the floor across from your child, legs spread far enough apart so that you can hold hands.
  2. Pull your child toward you, then lean forward and have your child lean back.
  3. Continue the rocking motion, forward and back, as you sing the familiar song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or other rocking rhymes. 

I Hear Thunder

This is sung to the tune of "Frère Jacques," or "Are You Sleeping?"
    I hear thunder, I hear thunder, (Drum feet on the floor.)
    Hark, don't you, hark, don't you? (Pretend to listen.)
    Pitter-patter raindrops, (Flutter your fingers for raindrops.)
    Pitter-patter raindrops,
    I'm wet through, (Shake your body vigorously.)
    So are you! (Point to your child.)

Read more on FamilyEducation:

  • Singing and vocal play along with Story Time, chants, and finger plays all help stimulate language development in a fun and pressure-free way.
  • Vocal Development – For toddlers, learning to use their voices starts with imitating sounds, playing with the many sounds our voices can make, singing short songs, and chanting simple rhymes – all with you as a model and inspiration.
  • Cognitive Development – You’ll be able to enhance your child’s growing comprehension and cognitive skills through happy classroom routines like coming to get instruments and putting them away, musical activities that invite clapping and tapping to music, and themes that engage the toddler’s delightful sense of curiosity and imagination. 
  • Gross Motor Skills – Toddlers on the go love all their Kindermusik classes – we’re never still for very long!  From holding and shaking instruments to running and jumping to stopping and going, you will enjoy being part of helping your child’s skills blossom through a wide variety of creative movement.
  • Fine Motor Skills – At a child when your child is becoming more and more independent, a little practice with smaller-sized instruments, finger plays, and turning pages ...means that the hand muscles learn to cooperate more and more with the brain.
  • Social Emotional Development – There’s no doubt that your toddler is becoming his own little person, but he still needs you as his anchor of security.  Kindermusik ensures your child’s healthy social and emotional development through predictable routines and special rituals, being around other children, practice with sharing, and best of all, play time with you.
  • Musical Development – Toddlers are delighted by music, and there’s no better time than in these early years to inspire what will become a lifelong love for music....from drumming to singing to dancing together.
Activities I thought of from reading this: 
Musical Chairs
Musical Red Light Green Light:
Play music, children dancing, using instruments (drums, rattles, recorder)
Freeze when music goes off.
imitating sounds ( animals, hi, lo, long, short, fast, slow, happy, sad, instruments)
songs and fingerplay

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Classical School and Music by Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson's plenary talk from the 2013 ACCS Annual Conference. One of the great challenges faced by ACCS schools is the vexed question of musical training. We are dealing with a shortage of qualified instructors, an ocean of pagan filth, a lake of Christian schlock, the persnicketiness of many of the qualified instructors we do have, the normal resistance to anything new, the school day is already full, and the budget is
already limited. But other than that, everything is great.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Toddler / Very Young Beginner Lesson Plans

With the very young (preschool), the key is to be quick to give them short things to do.  They are incredibly energetic and the hardest part of teaching them is to keep them interested and busy.  I would go through as many of the following concepts and exercises until one third of the way through their lesson time, then go back to the beginning.

 I like to approach their lesson as visiting categories of learning: aural training, visualizing keyboard/ keyboard awareness, tactile (finger dexterity/technique), vocalization, rhythm, and notation.  Combinations of these categories are inevitable, especially the physical aspect, which the child craves. In the beginning, relationship is of utmost importance: develop mutual trust, appreciation, and optimism.

Some method books have activities for the very young.  There are so many methods, and so many different activities, since teaching the very young is challenging.  They have less skills and basic understanding then an older child.  You can't take much for granted (e.g., ability to distinguish loud and soft on different octaves).

 Here are some ideas from the recently post video and my experience:

First Lesson:

Sitting in Front of Piano - quickly ask to sit with feet in front.  Repeating this frequently is unecessary; if child moves, it is usually because you aren't keeping guessed it... interested and busy.

Find groups of 2 black keys.
Play together, separately, with index fingers only.  Repeat in all octaves.

Copy game:  Play same key as me.  As many times. Loud, soft, short, long. 
 I copy you!

Finger Exercise - Discover if child is right/left handed.  Teach R and L.   Count fingers. Show me 2, 3, etc. 
Simon says touch the piano with finger 2, 3, etc. Switch hands.

Play hi and lo keys.  Tell me too!

Teach Hot Cross Buns

Second Lesson

Student claps, teacher counts 1 - 2, by twos. Switch.

Aural/Visual : Play and ask questions about Loud, soft, short, long. 

Watch and Copy game on 2 black keys.

Use previous finger exercise game.

Hot Cross Buns with both hands

Chinese Chimes

 Third Lesson:

Student claps, teacher counts 1 - 2, by twos. Fast, slow.   Switch.
Hot Cross Buns

Repeat in all octaves.

Repeat with teacher accompaniment.

Repeat  using E, D, C.

Finger Exercises on 2 keys, copy teacher

Find groups of 3 black keys.
Teacher counts 1 - 2, by twos, student improvises. Switch roles. 

Fourth Lesson

Introduce posture and hand position.

Learn Hot Cross Buns with 3 Fingers

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Toddler / Preschool Piano

Three year old, four years, five....
This video has some ideas ("Physical and aural connections!")

I love how the teacher pretended to make a mistake, and he's taught the child mistakes are ok, and funny.  Of course, we want to enjoy the right notes more!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Quick Reference for Very Young Students

3-5 years old -  Use braced 2nd fingers.

I've ordered these songs by degree of difficulty, but of course, each student is different!  Appropriate for 3-9 years old.

Black Keys:

Hot Cross Buns on 3 black
Chinese Chimes on black
 Fist Play
Mary Had a Little Lamb

In C :

London Bridge
Ode to Joy
Twinkle Twinkle
Old McDonald
Chop Sticks
Happy Birthday in C

Transpose to different key areas: B, G, Gb, C

Review old pieces as duets.

Copycat on black, then white keys:

intervals, rhythm, dynamics, using different fingers (23154)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cello Cow Call

This is what you get from imaginative musicians.  Love it.

Imagine what animal sounds other instruments can do!!!!!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Article: Music Teaching Philosophy

 A parent shared found this interesting article on Music Teaching interesting from the The Parents' Review,  A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, edited by Charlotte Mason.   A philosophy of music teaching that is worth reading! 
And teaching in general, as seen from the  motto of the magazine

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beginner Students and the Three Ways to Play

I was considering how to begin with students, especially young ones of about 3 or 4, and came to the conclusion that I need to think more about when to introduce the different ways to play.  For years I've seen the wisdom in beginning the young with ear training.  This is generally done in Europe more than in America.  Especially in Eastern Europe, it is required that the child learns aural skills simultaneously with note reading.  Perhaps with older people, whose eyes and hands are more developed, starting with note reading and chord symbols first is better.   Just some thoughts (and questions too, it seems)!   I think I'll bring this up with some music teachers soon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Girl Plays Piano with Missing Fingers

Reminiscent of Joni Erickson Tada's drawing abilities.  People are amazing.

One winner of China's Got Talent was an armless young man who played piano with his feet...and sang.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tips: Care of Pianos

This was sent to me back when I was a student at the University of South Florida's School of Music.  I didn't know some of these tips about caring for pianos...

Dear Music Students,

Four reminders:
1. Please remember to close the lid and the fall-board of the pianos in the practice rooms
2. Always cover the pianos in the Recital Hall and the Rehearsal Halls. If you have to move the piano, make sure it is covered.
3. Do not put anything on top of the concert grand piano located in the Recital Hall backstage area
4. Keep the thermostat at 71-72F - pianos go out of tune if the temperature keeps changing.

Thank you,
Svetozar Ivanov

Friday, August 23, 2013

Claude Debussy gets honoured with Google Doodle

Yesterday, Google honored  Claude Debussy with Google Doodle....To mark 151st anniversary of French composer's birth, an animation is set to Clair de lune, one of his best-known pieces...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stellar Review on Pianos

I would not hesitate to by a Japanese piano manufactured in Japan... I have seen them age beautifully through rigorous use. 

A digital piano like I have is a wonderful instrument as well, with many advantages.  However, if you can get a good acoustic, get it! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Repertoire Template

A nicely organized (updated!) repertoire or repertory (can't we just use English? ) is a super inspiration to any student.  He keeps a list of his pieces to refer to on a rainy day, a nostalgic day,  a day when folks are around and ask to hear music, or a day when it just feels nice to play something easy and relaxing.  Those are just some occasions when a repertoire is handy.  It's also useful for students to show new teachers and school/college applications.  Hey, it's even a nice to refer to when teaching.

So here's mine... and, yes, it needs some updating!  It's a nice template, and I'm sure there are others available online.  I only included pieces that I spent a significant time learning, not smaller pieces or ones I just sight read and never bothered polishing.

 I have not listed Sacred, Jazz or Popular music as of yet, but those are other legitimate categories!  I also like to keep a list of my memorized pieces, compositions, and pieces I learned by ear.  All wonderful projects for sometime in the far future, I'm sure. ;)


2009-- Classical Piano Repertoire

B a r o q u e


Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, HWV 67 symphony from "Solomon," transcription for piano solo, arranged by Fabrizio Ferrari.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, transcription for piano solo.
Two-Part Invention No. 1.
Prelude No. 1.
Prelude and Fugue in C minor

C. P. E. Bach:

Canon in D, transcription for piano solo.

C l a s s i c a l

Ludwig van Beethoven:

Piano Sonata, opus 13 no. 8 ‘Pathetique” Movements II & III.
Piano Sonata, opus 27 no. 2 “Moonlight” Movements I, II, III.
Fur Elise – WoO56.
Rondo a Cappricchio, Op. 129.
Six Variations (opera La Molinara).


Piano Sonata in A, K 331"Alla Turca." Movements I, II, III.
Piano Sonata in C, K. 545. Movements I, II, III.
Phantasie in D min. K. 397.
Phantasie in C m

R o m a n t i c

Frédéric Chopin:

Prelude in E minor, opus 28, no. 4
Waltz in Db, opus 64, no. 1 (Minute Waltz)
Polonaise Militaire, opus 40, no. 1
Nocturne in Eb, opus 9, no. 2

E. A. MacDowell:

To a Wild Rose, opus 51, no. 1

Felix Mendelssohn:

Consolation, opus 30, no. 3.
The Venetian Boatman, opus 19, no. 6.

Johann Strauss

Blue Danube Waltz, opus 314.

Franz Liszt:
Etude no. 4 in D minor
Liebestraum, Notturno No. 3.

Franz Lehár:

Waltz (The Merry Widow)



Claude Debussy:

Clair de Lune
Duet (edited by Joseph Prostakoff): from the Petite Suite – En Bateau and Cort`ege


M o d e r n

Aram Khachaturian:
        Saber Dance from the Gayne Ballet
Sergei Rachmaninoff:
        Prelude in C# minor, opus 3, no.2.
       Concerto #2, opus 18, (themes).

Erik Satie:

             Trois Gymnopedies

Jan Sibelius:


George Gershwin:

Rhapsody in Blue

Ernesto Lecuona:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Note Flashcards

You can order note flashcards as part of a larger set of music flashcards here.   I've never found a set of just notes, so when you order you get more cards than I teach with.

Or you can make your own and not have the extra.

 I searched "printable music note flashcards."  Below is what I found, click to see larger.  These documents have more notes than I use, so my students can just bring the sheets to lesson, and I'll tell them which to cut out.  

click to see larger

click to see larger
click to see larger
If you want to make your own, trace the computer screen.  I've never done this, so proceed with care! :)

 It's 15 or 16 cards depending on if middle C is repeated in the treble (higher) and bass (lower) staves (plural for staff).  

Both clefs should be visible on each card.

I use card stock - regular paper doesn't flip!  Index card size is great.

Flashcards in lessons:  I assign students six years old and up to learn to identify the note from note flashcards for the middle two octaves of notes, from C to Middle C and up through the next C.  It is preferable to have Mid C with up and down stems, so 2 cards with same note, just stems are different. When they can flip through all 15 - 16  cards in 20 seconds, they advance to playing them.  Then the goal is 25 seconds.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Noted Story ;)

My dear, uproariously funny husband posted this to my facebook. :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Truth about Genius - Quotes from Great Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach - "There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."

Franz Joseph Haydn - "Young people can learn from my example that something can come from nothing. What I have become is the result of my hard efforts."

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."

 Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky - "I sit down to the piano regularly at nine-o'clock in the morning and Mesdames les Muses have learned to be on time for that rendezvous."

Johannes Brahms - "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."

Ludwig van Beethoven - "To play without passion is inexcusable!"

 Frederic Chopin - "Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

 George Frideric Handel - "Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows."

Ludwig van Beethoven - "To play without passion is inexcusable!"

 Frederic Chopin - "Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

 Felix Mendelssohn - "Even if, in one or other of them, I had a particular word or words in mind, I would not tell anyone, because the same word means different things to different people. Only the songs say the same thing, arouse the same feeling, in everyone - a feeling that can't be expressed in words."

 Franz Schubert - "Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same."

Friday, July 12, 2013

ALL Music symbols Source Document

Here you go, if you are in a pinch, and have no way other than drawing and taking a picture, you can snip and paste an obscure symbol off of this chart.   Since I like using for typing up music, or at least get a start on there, I have not used this "music symbols source document" yet.

I've played from a lot of sheet music, folks, and I can tell you, about 3/4 of these symbols you'll never encounter! Unless your specialty is modern atonal and avant garde instrumental compositions from obscure academic composers. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dealing with Broken Pianos

Here are two sites to help:

It was neat to read some of the information from these sites.  For example, I never would have guessed that the best pianos were manufactured from 1920 to 1960.  Now, in the last couple of decades, the quality has mounted significantly.  

A peak in the life of a tuner:

Cut out the noise:
I tuned recently in a nice home. The folks there were not noisy because of rebellious teen agers, nor because of fighting New Joisey oldly weds (for noise, they is the woist). This home had a cockatoo that screamed a flat E all the way through the tuning, the lady of the house tried to vacuum the house in C# while I tuned, and the daughter turned on musical cartoons while I was trying to do the treble.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

World's Largest Piano

Twice the size of a modern concert grand.
19 feet long.
85% built from recycled materials.

I'm impressed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dvorak's Largo - Again

I went to the Piano Guys channel to find out what they've put out lately.... and guess what?
 I can't get enough of the Piano Guys.  Maybe someday I'll buy their stuff...?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Oh yes! Dvorak's Largo with Hymn Lyrics

It was meant to be: sweet words for this sweet classical melody.  So many hymns are thus set, and how amazing they are!

Dvorak's Largo -  Goin' Home
This has been added to dear daughter's lullaby playlist!  
And by this I discovered Sissel... how lovely she sings!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


It's been an intense few months, so it took two very special inspirations to restart my blogging.  First, a former student (moved to another teacher when I  moved to VA) performed and I wanted to share it:

Friday, March 15, 2013

On the Chopin Block

My darling husband is always sending me sweet messages through any and all media.  And he sends funny ones to make me smile, too! :)