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One More Time, With Feeling! (By Piano Teacher Stefanie Watson)

One thing that always caught me off guard when I was in schoolstefanie watson, piano teacher flemington was seeing teachers outside of the academic setting. "What? Teachers live at school. They don't do things like go to the movies or go shopping!" Well, brace yourself. Miss Watson swing dances.

The point of that statement is not to prove that teachers have social lives (gasp!), but rather to lead into discussing some of the music I've encountered as a result of rediscovering this hobby. In particular, there's a song that's used for a pretty popular group dance whose lyrics resonate with me every time I hear them: "’T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)" by Melvin "Sy" Oliver and James "Trummy" Young, most popularly recorded by Jimmie Lunceford. The song more or less expresses that same sentiment ("if you're going to do something, do it convincingly") for its duration; deep lyrics they're not, but an important message nevertheless.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating laziness or relying on panache rather than preparation. But I am advocating committing to what you're doing and living "in the moment," so to speak. There are volumes written about this concept, not the least of which is Timothy Gallwey's The Inner Game of Tennis. In his extremely useful book for athletes (but also for anyone whose vocation requires any sort of public performance...like musicians!), Gallwey discusses how to focus the mind to allow for optimal performance and redirect our thoughts so we can be mentally present in crucial moments. But what does this have to do with my song? This: as performing musicians of any age and experience, we are constantly striving for the conditions most conducive to a successful performance. In other words, if we can find the "way that you do it," the "what you do" part will often follow.

This idea is especially pertinent around the time of HAA's two annual student recitals. The students put so much hard work into preparation for these recitals, what with learning their pieces, practicing how to bow and clearly announce who they are and what they'll be performing, and getting accustomed to playing in front of people. In this preparation, I always try to instill in them a sense of confidence through the knowledge that, if they slip up in some way, as long as they keep playing, it's extremely unlikely that anyone in the audience (besides me, maybe) will recognize that there was a mistake. Performance isn't about being 100% perfect; I've heard some extremely prestigious musicians make some extremely big mistakes in performance. But do I remember what the mistakes were or where in the pieces they happened? No!  Why? Because those musicians were so convincing in their interpretation that even with a few blips, whatever piece they were performing still retained its integrity and musicality. There were no frustrated faces, no exasperated sighs. Just beautiful music, even if it wasn't quite the music the composer originally intended.

So, whether playing tennis, dancing, speaking publicly, playing an instrument, or just living life, I invite you to consider the way that you're doing it. Are you so focused on being precise that there's no spark in what you're doing? Or are you throwing a little caution to the wind with the knowledge that even though there might be a flub or two, you're going to enjoy the ride all the while? Because after all, I've heard that it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing...

Stefanie Watson, Piano Teacher

In It for Life! (By Piano Teacher Rose McCathran)

One of my earliest memories as a piano student includes my firstpiano teacher flemington Rose McCathran piano recital. I was five years old at the time. My parents had brought me to my piano teacher's studio on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I sat down amongst the other students. My teacher, Mrs. Pughe introduced herself and gave a lovely welcome to the audience. Just afterwards, she turned to me and sweetly said, "Rose, would you like to play now?"   I said, “No.”

To this day I chuckle at my honesty as a five-year-old. I remember genuinely not wanting to perform in a room full of people (bigger than me) whom I barely knew. Mrs. Pughe politely invited another student to begin the recital and somehow successfully came back around to me later.

I enjoyed my lessons but sitting down to practice at home was a struggle. I remember the arguments I would have with my mother about how I did not want to practice daily. One day they reached quite an angry level. “I want to quit!” I screamed. My mother said, “Ok Rose. You can quit, but you have to call your piano teacher and tell her. You also have to tell your grandfather.” His name was Vito Mason and he was an amazing and celebrated choral conductor. I never had the temerity to do either, so I stuck with it. Though Mom must have slipped my struggles to Grandpa because one night I got a very good pep talk about how I would one day thank my mother for her incredible determination and encouragement in fostering my musical talents. My mother is a smart lady. She never forced me to continue but rather knew that if I really wanted to quit I would have told Mrs. Pughe and Grandpa myself.

To make a long and rich story short, over the years I absorbed wonderful knowledge of music and became more and more inspired and motivated to practice and meet goals. My lessons became more enjoyable, I benefitted from the process and notion of progress, and I gained more performance experience, which helps immensely in combating performance anxiety. I never again said “No” when asked to perform. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life dedicated to music the moment when I accompanied my middle school choir and was congratulated at the end with a roaring applause. I had worked so diligently for months on this piece of music and during the applause this incredible sense of happiness and accomplishment overcame me. I glowed all evening and from then on I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Now I have successfully completed my Bachelor of Music and Master of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College, where I studied with Ingrid Clarfield. Professor Clarfield became another incredible mentor in my life and has deeply inpired me to love teaching and to experience the profound artistry of pianism.

I am happy to be on the piano faculty at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, working with my students and cultivating their motivation, love, talent for music. My grandfather (a life-long mentor) was right; I am thankful to my mother and also my father for being so supportive when I was young.

Rose McCathran, Piano Instructor at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts

How to Become a More Confident Musician (By Chris Saponara)

One method for music students to reduce performance anxiety is to do what is called a Practice Performance.  A practice performance is designed to replicate the experience of a musical recital before the actual recital occurs, usually in the weeks leading up to a performance. 

The practice performance can be done in a student's home for hisguitarist performing or her family.  I tell my guitar students to make it as formal as possible, including setting up chairs in the living room, introducing themselves as well as their piece of music, and taking a bow both before and after their performance.  In short, the student should do everything they are expected to do at their actual recital. 

It is usually best to invite a family friend (or friends) with whom the performer is not as familiar, as this will enable the student to be in a more serious state of mind.  If the parent feels that a younger brother or sister will distract the performer during this practice performance these younger siblings may stay in another room, as it is important to reduce negative experiences for our young students.      

The student should remember to work towards performing their piece from beginning to end, without starting over if possible.  The student may also want to identify several points in the piece where he may restart playing should a mistake occur, as this will be another tool to reduce performance anxiety the day of the recital.  If available, a video can be made of the practice performance, so the student may hear the piece and adjust any issues with tempo, phrasing, etc.

Sign up for a Trial Lesson with Chris at no cost to you!

Chris Saponara, Guitar Teacher

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