Thursday, September 20, 2012

'Fall'ing Back Into Teaching~ A Ramble of Sorts

It's fall.... 
      That time of year when students come crunching to our doorways and let a wave of brisk, autumn air into our homes. As they come to my door, my students see the last of our ripening tomatoes, which are hanging on until the first frost rings the timer on the term "vine ripened." 

      I can't believe how fast the summer flew by! As evidenced by how long it's been since I blogged on here, it was a busy one for me and my family! While being busy, though, we had  a lot  of fun being together, serving in our ministry, traveling to various places, and taking a break from the normal schedule.

       I've 'fall'en back into teaching, as most of you probably have. I'm really enjoying my students, old and new. This year brought a flip-flop of sorts, and I have a few more adults than children. I can honestly say that I enjoy teaching every age group....well, except the pre-readers. I do find those weeks challenging, but thankfully they are short-lived!  One of my students has taken the plunge into the Royal Conservatory program, and we are enjoying the challenge together.

      My husband and I recently made a decision about our son concerning piano. Last year I taught him, and it went ok. But just ok. This year we decided to put him with another teacher. He's had a few weeks of lessons, and he's doing great. I take him and sit in during his lesson so I can stay on top of what he's learning. (A side motivation is his teacher's Steinway grand, which I get to STARE at for 30 minutes each week). :) At home, my husband or I sit with him for 15 minutes daily (usually after lunch or supper) and coach his practice time. I'm thrilled to be able to do that, and it is rewarding to watch his progress.

     This post is a ramble of sorts- just to let you know I'm still here. Hopefully in the coming weeks my blog will become more active as my studio becomes so. 

       If you're still out there, give me a shout out in the comments! 

       And Happy Fall, Y'all! 

Posted by Leah@Piano Playground

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My History Exam is History!

    It's hard to believe that just over a week ago, I swallowed the lump in my throat and attempted the History Overview exam with the Royal Conservatory! We've been on a little anniversary getaway (celebrating 7 years), which explains my delay in relaying to you how things went with said exam....I know, I've been anxiously waiting to hear how it went! lol

    When I arrived at the examination centre, I was the only one taking the exam that day. I was actually relieved not to be disturbed by the rustling of other exam-takers, and enjoyed 2 1/2 hours of mental solitude (with the exception of Margaret, the moderator).  Physically, this exam was exhausting. Not to mention the mental stretching, my often carpal-tunnel afflicted arm underwent a definite flare-up while I was writing.  Seriously, in this technologically advanced age, can they not provide us with computer screens so we can type our 3 essays, instead of insisting that we leave the exam centre and go straight to the chiropractor!? :)  And the not drinking any water after noon didn't work so well either for 'this little bladder mine.'  And my moderator was drinking water the whole did she do it?

     I'm pleased that the exam overall was easier than I expected- that's a good sign, right?!  But like with any exam, after I left the room I checked my book on a couple of things I hadn't been sure about (key signatures, mostly- those pesky things!!). 

     Now I get to imbibe myself in summer and await the 6 weeks to see my mark...and the 2 months to see the actual exam.  Studying in every spare moment had become such a way of life that I keep having to remind myself that I don't have to study!  I am so grateful for my husband, who on several occasions arranged childcare so I could have hours...even days of uninterrupted study.  It made all the difference in the world in how much history I was able to soak in.
      Even more than the mark is the satisfaction of all that I learned.  I now look for music history links everywhere I go, and judge every historical figure based on which composer(s) lived during his/her lifetime.  My husband tells me I'm obsessed.  Maybe I am....but I learned so much.  

     History 2?  A few months ago it was "no, never!"  Now....bring it on!!  .....But not until the fall. :)

Posted by Leah@Piano Playground

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why I'm Invisible These Days....

    I'm pretty invisible these days because.....

    I am taking another exam soon!  Yeah, I know I'm crazy....

    So, some of you know I took my Advanced Rudiments exam in December, and passed with a happy 95%!  I guess I was on a roll, because in January I started back with my amazing teacher, Peggy Craig (Instructor at Mount Allison) with the Royal Conservatory's History 1 course.  My exam choices boiled down to either May or August.

     Seriously, who wants to spend the summer cramming while everyone else is swimming, biking, sunning, gardening, and all sorts of other things that end with "ing!?"  NOT ME.  So May it is, which leaves me with about 6 weeks left to get ready for this. For those of you who think that sounds like a long time, it's not. I have been in "information overload" mode for weeks and still don't quite know how it's all going to come together for me.  My teacher tells me that hardly anyone gets an A on this one....hmmm, knowing that fact really takes the pressure off, eh? Not. ;)

     So, although I'm busy teaching and learning, much of it will have to be invisible until this history cloud passes by. :)

     Have any of you taken this History exam? Did you find it hard? Any tips on helping all those facts come together in your mind?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Salty Notes Practice Game


I have an unusual number of students who play by ear.  One of them is a young girl who reminds me so much of myself when I was her age!  She spends hours playing on her piano at home- improvising, making up arrangements…..just using her ear to her heart’s content.  My goal with such students is to balance their skills by bringing their eye skills to match or even exceed those of their ears.

Students who are strong in ear often have trouble connecting the note position on the staff with the actual piano keys.  A drill to learn where notes are on the piano is sometimes a waste of time. But  they need  lot of reinforcements on the staff. 

Enter the “Salty Notes” game, which was actually inspired by Pinterest.  The original pinner used it to review ABCs with Kindergarten students in a school setting.  When I saw the picture, I immediately thought “That would be GREAT for piano students too!”  So here is my version of this game, created especially with my dear “ear” students in mind.


I half-filled a sturdy tray (actually the top of one of those heavy board photo boxes) with salt.  Why did I use salt?  Because I knew my little students would be tempted to eat the game! Open-mouthed smile


On one end of the box, I attached one of my nifty curly paper clips, to hold the flashcards.


Here’s how to play:
Teacher puts a card in the clip, and student writes the letter of that note as quickly as possible. There are many variations for playing this game. Last night I did all treble notes, then all bass notes, then treble and bass combined. Once the student got the hang of it, I put the timer on to add a bit or pressure. 

The only complaints I had were from students who didn’t like the feeling of salt in their fingernails…..maybe they wouldn’t mind so much if it were sugar, eh?! Smile  Over all, it was a winner, and one I’ll keep handy for some impromptu note review!

Have you designed any new teaching aides/games lately? Leave a comment and share them!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Outside The ‘Music Box’: A Different Sort of Piano Lesson


        This past Thursday I gave a piano lesson that was unlike any other I’ve ever given….and it was so rewarding that I want to share it with you!

     While I am a firm believer in keeping lessons professional, I don’t ever want that to stop me from being sensitive to the needs of my students.

     I teach several students from the Bible Institute at our church.  One of these is a sweet young lady who spent her whole life in Brazil. This past September she came to Canada to attend college.  She has has been a delight to teach, but lately more and more I’ve seen evidences of the culture shock that she is going through.  In talking with her mother recently, I realized just how difficult being in Canada has been on her. She is a strong young lady, and has never complained. But she has struggled.

     In thinking of how I could encourage her,  I began to realize that while it is important to be professional, sometimes it’s good to let even our students know, in a practical way, that we really care about them and about what’s going on in their lives.

     So what was this “outside the music box” lesson like?  Well, my student came to my house as usual.  I greeted her as usual and opened her assignment notebook as usual.  I asked her to play her scale for me, as usual.  Then I told her that the lesson was on me, and asked her if she wanted to go to the mall with me.  I needed to go to Bath & Body Works, of course!   She reluctantly happily agreed.


     It worked out perfectly since she was my last lesson of the evening. We drove by her dorm and picked up her roommate (who is also my student) and  headed to Wendy’s for a bite to eat. Then we hit the Bath & Body Works store (new to our part of Canada and our mall) where I treated them to some girly stuff.  We had a great time!  I did a bit of shopping too- you can’t let those 3 for $10 and 3 for $5 deals go when you have a party of 3 people!

     I don’t know if or when I’ll get the opportunity to have a “lesson” like this again, but it sure was rewarding to try something different and connect with my students on a different level. I do realize that this is impractical from the standpoint of a busy studio and professionalism….and it probably wouldn’t work with kids.  But for me it was one of the outcomes of striving to see each student individually – when they are on my bench, they are my world.

How do you show individuality to your students? Have you ever had a lesson that was “outside the music box?”  Leave a comment and share your idea!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Piano Valentines For Students and Staff

     This is the first set of the little Valentines I made for my students this year. I thoroughly enjoyed making them, thanks to Joy at Color In My Piano, who shared her super-cute idea and even gave us the printable and instructions! 

I decided to use Hershey kisses for the candy part, and was surprised and glad that they don't weigh so much that they close the lid of the tiny baby grand. ;)

This is what I wanted to do originally- use kisses as the legs of the piano. But I couldn't figure out how to get them to stay, so I just enjoyed looking at it and then scrapped the idea!

     While making them for my 10 students, I thought of some other people for whom these would be perfect- our church pianists!  We have about 7 pianists who rotate on the piano schedule I make every 3 months or so.  I really appreciate all the effort they make to be at their respective instruments when they are scheduled. So on Sunday, 5 of them found these little pianos in their mail boxes at church! (The other 2 pianists are my husband, who is the music pastor, and myself, so I think I'll leave us out this time) :)

I was having a little fun with this first "batch" of Valentines....I arranged them in concert order for another photo shot. They were unbelievably patient while I photographed them.....they are just oh, so cute!

Posted by Leah@Piano Playground

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From My Heart: My Tribute To Grandma

     This might be the hardest post I've ever written. At the same time, it comforts me to share my memories with you, my readers. This post may be longer than most of the ones I write, but I need to share my heart this way today.

     My Grandmother, Eleanor Maxwell, went to be with the Lord on Sunday around noon. She was 94 years old!  And I'm thankful that I, her granddaughter, got to be a part of the last 30 years of her life.  I have so many memories of being with her and being at her house, that it would take a ton of blogs to write about everything. So I'll just highlight a few special things about Grandma:

*Her Faith:  Grandma always talked about the Lord, and made sure to involve us in her conversations. If we were at her house for breakfast, she included us in her daily devotional reading. And she always, I mean always had her short wave Christian radio station playing in her kitchen. Many times when I was over to her house, she wanted me to play the piano for her.  Her piano was never tuned, but she didn't care- she just liked hearing me play. I usually ended the "concert" by spinning till I was dizzy her piano stool. 
      As we grew up and made spiritual decisions in our lives, she was always excited to hear about them and to encourage us.  She was so happy when she found out that my husband to be was going to be in the ministry. And I'm thankful that she was alive when my son, her great-grandson, got saved last Christmas.

*Her Hugs and Kisses: The hugs were tight and the kisses were wet. We used to rub them off and then she would say "You just wiped my kiss off!"  As soon as we came in the door her arms opened wide for a hug.

*Her Food/Cooking: Grandma grew much of her food, cultivating a large garden every year and canning hundreds and hundreds of jars (that is not an exaggeration). She had a row of Rabbit Eye blueberry bushes that yielded large quantities of fruit each year. Our job was to pick them, and as you can imagine, we ate more  as many as we picked for her.

   Who doesn't remember Grandma's cooking? I could spend an hour here, but I won't for your sakes. I'll just say that she made the best cornbread ever (that's Johnny cake for Canadians) and always had a bag of homemade cookies in her freezer.  We got to have one...or two or three....after we finished our chores.  Grandma was always health conscious (the Vitamin Queen!) and made healthy soups and breads.

*Her House and Land: Her house was up on a hill with a knoll. The knoll had a swing on it. Her driveway curved around the house and up a steep hill. There was another swing by the side of the house that we spent hours on, until the tree that held it up for us died. Parallel with the driveway was a bubbling creek, where we loved to play- splashing, building dams, making mud pies, and catching crayfish. 

     We spent time each week working around Grandma's house- cleaning, gardening, raking, bird-tending, whatever needed to be done. After we finished, she would press some money into our hands and say "The labourer is worthy of her reward!"

*Her Birds: Grandma had a unique love for birds. She always had her binoculars and a bird identification book on her kitchen table, ready to grab if she saw a beautiful fowl.  Much of her backyard was bird cages, where she raised different types of chickens and quail. She had a bird that was rare and from another part of the world. And always there were the peacocks- she loved peacocks and kept her own little brood of them. When the eggs started coming from her birds, into the incubator they would go, and in about a month there were baby birds in cages around the house and porch, being cared for.

    One time she got her hands on a triplet of Canadian Geese. I don't know if she wanted them, but we children fell in love. We named them Winken, Blinken, and Nod. Those 3 geese followed us everywhere for an entire summer. We gave them baths in a tin tub outside, and we loved to walk down the driveway watching their little wings flap as they tried to catch up with us!

*Her Husband: I never knew Grandma's first husband, my Dad's dad. He died around the time my sister was born. I remember when Daddy told us kids that Grandma was getting married again. I wasn't too happy. I don't know why. But when our family moved to NC and got to know Mac better, I grew especially close to him.  He was an excellent wood worker, specializing in carving birds so that they looked life-size. He had a "shop" out by the garage where he did his work, and I used to love to go out and help him. He made a wooden rocking horse and told me it was mine. I helped him finish it just days before he died. He also made my bowed psaltery, a Biblical instrument that I still like to play. He bought one at a show and proceeded to make on exactly like it. It is one of my treasured possessions, as is the rocking horse.

    Oh, my, I got caught up in memories of Mac! The real reason I mentioned him is because Grandma took such good care of him. He had arthritis so bad that he was completely bowed over. He didn't let that stop him, though, and he and Grandma had some good years together. They would finish dinner and Mac would say "Good dinner, Hun."  I'm thankful to Grandma for giving us a grandfather for about 9 years. 

*Her Communications:  Once I got married and moved to Canada, phone calls and letters were the new way to communicate. I always loved to hear her soft voice when I called and said "Hi Grandma...It's Leah." She would say "Oh Leah!! Hi Leah!" And we would chat for awhile.  Right before we hung up, she would say "I love you very much!"  I treasure those memories of her voice. And I treasure the files of her letters and cards, chock full of newsy bits of bird visitors to her yard, the latest thing she had been baking, and always ending with a verse or a blessing from the Bible.

     I don't want to stop writing. My heart is full of sweet memories. I'm sure after I post this, I will have so many things in my mind that I'll wish I had included. 
     I have never known life without Grandma. But I'm so happy that she's in Heaven now and that I'll see her again. What a blessed hope we have in Christ!

These pics are from our visit with Grandma in November:
Charity giving Grandma a hug
Grandma loved my husband and children

     I would be remiss if I did not mention my Daddy, who faithfully took care of many of Grandma's needs for 20 years. She was active and mentally sharp until the last little while of her life, but her property required much upkeep through the years and she had many needs that we all pitched in to help meet. But no one did as much as Daddy, who gave up his own time to go and take care of her needs. I'm thankful for the quality of life that Grandma was able to have because of Daddy's commitment to her.  He is a great example of a devoted son, and I pray that God blesses him for being that to his mother!

     Today at 2:00 Eastern time is Grandma's funeral. It's killing me that I can't be there- for my Dad, in the loss of his mother, and for my Mom,  with the overload of responsibilities she has right now.  I'm praying for my Uncle (Grandma's other son) who will be hearing the Gospel clearly presented several times. I know she wants to see him in Heaven.

     I'm thankful for the comfort of God's Word, and for a loving husband who held me Sunday night while I cried my heart out and shared my memories of Grandma. He even woke up through the night to check on me and put his arms around me while I slept. I am so blessed.

     If you have read this whole thing, I truly appreciate you. Thank you for taking the time to share in my memories and for caring enough to read about a lady you've never met. Thank you for letting me share my heart- it really helped ease the pain. I've been amazed at all the memories that have come flooding back- ones that I haven't thought about in years. And I've been thankful for how healing it is. I've been blessed to be Grandma's granddaughter.

Posted by Leah@Piano Playground