Mary WilliamsPiano Studio

Studio Restructure

After being in motion for six years, it’s time to change up the studio a little bit. Here are some changes you will be seeing beginning in January of 2014:


One Hour Lessons

Students will have the option to take one hour lessons starting Spring Semester 2014. If you prefer forty-five minutes, this option is still available, but beginning Fall Semester 2014, all lessons will be one hour in length.

Why one hour, you ask? Well, it’s simple. You work harder, you get better. We do a lot during our weekly lessons: technique, solos, duets, improvisation, composition, listening, theory, etc., so in an effort to not lose the creative side or the technical side of being a pianist, we simply need a little bit more time.


Competition/Festival Fees

The cost of competitions and festivals continues to rise considerably. Currently my Studio Policy states that I will pay all event entry fees, but beginning Spring Semester 2014, students will be responsible for paying for the competitions and festivals that they participate in. I will continue to pay the teacher fee, but students will be billed for their registration fees. Generally the fees are between twenty and twenty-five dollars, sometimes more or sometimes less depending on the particular event. The cost of registration for each event will be listed on my website along with other pertinent information about the performance. You will be billed for these events on your Book Bill invoice.


Book Bills

The students cruise through their materials so quickly, meaning you are writing checks left and right. To ease the flow of my bank visits and lessen your reordering of checks, you will now be billed for all books near the end of the semester. This Book Bill will also contain the costs of any festivals or competitions the student had entered in that semester.


Weekend Warrior

Most of you have participated in A La Carte Lessons at one point or another, but now you have an additional option: Weekend Warrior! Weekend Warrior lessons are an hour and a half in length, and you can be a Single, Double, or Triple Weekend Warrior, meaning you can come one day, two days, or three days during the weekend. It’s like a mid-year piano camp for students who really want to get some serious work done! As with Lessons A La Carte, Weekend Warrior lessons are subject to availability.

Please note: Lessons a La Carte will still be available for $54 per forty-five minute lesson.


Backyard Studio

Yes, it’s actually happening. The carriage house will be finished just in time for our Spring Semester to begin. So, when you come for your lessons in January, head on down the driveway and through the doors on the side of the building. This will be our new little home!

Charlie Creates a Tool

One day there was a guy who made some kind of chopping, axe-like tool. This tool changed mankind forever. And then came Charlie.

You may remember Charlie from an earlier post. He's the student who decided to carve a pumpkin. (Side note to budding pianists: NEVER NEVER NEVER carve a pumpkin.) Well it was Charlie versus the knife, and the knife won. Luckily, after a super amazing surgerical procedure and months and months of dedicated physical therapy, Charlie is back at the piano, and that pinky is right there with him.

So these days instead of using a knife as a tool, Charlie has created a different kind of tool: The Measure Generator. Good news --- you can't hurt yourself with this tool, so kids, go ahead and use it with frequency.

The Measure Generator is designed to choose random measure numbers to create sections for practice purposes. Can you start from anywhere in your music? This tool is designed to help you know your music better.

Here's how it works:

1. Click on the animal icon.

2. Type the minimum measure number you want. (i.e. Type in 1 if you'd like the start from the beginning of the piece.) Then hit Enter/Return.

3. Type the maximum measure number you want. (i.e. Type 15 if you want to focus through measure 15 in practice.) Then hit Enter/Return.

4. Now click on the animal icon again and he will begin generating random selections of music for you.

5. If you'd like to start over with a different section of your piece or a new piece, click the flag on the top right of the box and implement steps 2-4 again.

See? Simple! Thanks to Charlie, mankind has a new tool. And this tool could possibly change piano practice forever!

piano student
This is a picture of Charlie, banging out some jazz.

Little Studio in the Backyard

In case you are wondering why I am adorning my front stoop with piles of door mats, it's to keep the mud out of my house. In case you are wondering why there is so much mud in the driveway, it's because I am ripping apart my backyard. And in case you were wondering why is ripping out my backyard, it's because I am BUILDING A NEW STUDIO!!!

In 2008 the plan was to build a carriage house in my backyard to accommodate a piano studio on the lower level and Blake's video studio on the upper level. But if you remember 2008 well, then you remember the economy left us for dead. No loans = no building. So we waited. And waited. Then this summer we started the ball rolling again. After our contractor spent endless hours in the offices of the City of Atlanta, the project is finally starting.

And if it ever stops raining, someday we might actually see the finished product. When you come for your lessons, take a peek back there every once in a while, and witness the progress.

Grace Goes to Camp

piano student
This essay was written by rising sixth grader, Grace K.

Over the last week, I was at a camp called Summer Sonatina. This is a piano sleep away camp in Bennington, Vermont. You wake up at 7:30am and practice for three hours a day, every day, except for on weekends, on which you are allowed to sleep in an hour and practice only two hours. It may sound like a lot, but it feels like nothing, especially since you have lessons on most days. There’s a piano in every room, except for bathrooms and the game room. There are even pianos in the dorm rooms! But that means you’re not allowed in your room during your off shift, which is kind of irritating sometimes.

In your spare time, you go to either the game room, a room with air hockey, foosball, and ping-pong, along with a cabinet full of games such as Jenga and Clue, or to their backyard, an enormous grassy area good for soccer, dodge ball, or just hanging out. You also have the opportunity to take place in other activities such as arts and crafts, swimming, master classes, composition, ukulele, and historical hikes, such as the one to Robert Frost’s grave, which I took part in. On Wednesdays there is a movie night, on Thursdays you go into town (wonderful bookstore and chocolate shop), on Friday we had a dance party, though that might have been a one-time thing, and on Saturdays you get to make an ice-cream sundae. If you get homesick, you also get 10 minutes of e-mail time a day. I lost a few pounds while there, too. There are two performance opportunities a week, two master classes, which are live streamed onto their website so your parents can watch it, and also a piano performance you attend.

This experience improved my playing a lot. I really enjoyed it and became very close with my roommates. It’s the perfect opportunity to make new friends, learn new things, musical and otherwise, and have fun! It really is like they say: a grand and upright experience.




Pictures from the (not-too-distant) Past

It's been busy around these parts lately, and my blog has suffered. But in my blog-absence, plenty has been happening, and luckily I've been snapping some pictures! So here you will find a small review of the last months of 2012 through early 2013, in picture form. Enjoy!

candler park fall fest
Several students from Mary Williams Piano Studio
participated in the LINapalooza portion of
Candler Park Fall Fest. Little people, big stage!

piano performance Candler Park
Lena backstage, about to make her debut!

piano performance Candler Park Fall Fest
Charlie waits his turn. Those fingers are about to play very quickly!


piano performance Candler Park Fall Fest
Davi takes a big bow!

piano performance Candler Park Fall Fest
Margaret accompanies a friend vocalist for Adele's Someone Like You. I think they
represent the studio well with those pink pants, don't you?

piano lessons
Charlie learned the hard way why all piano teachers
recommend AGAINST carving pumpkins. But a severed
tendon in the right hand does not mean we can't play the
left hand! (Charlie did, thankfully, make a full recovery!)

bach competition North Dekalb Music Teachers Association

bach competition North Dekalb Music Teachers Association
Olivia receives Superior rating with her performance of
two pieces from A.M. Bach for the North Dekalb Music
Teachers Association Bach Competition.


piano performance Georgia Music Teachers Association
I assist fellow piano instructor, Carol Payne, demonstrate piano
concertos at the Georgia Music Teachers Association Conference
at Young Harris College.


piano recital Georgia Music Teachers Association auditions
Ava, second from the left, represents the studio well during her performance
in Georgia Music Teachers Association Winner Recital. Ava won the
4th grade division of GMTA's State Auditions, and was asked to participate
in a Winner's Recital where she performed Bach masterfully.


piano recital
Stuart performs during the Performance Party in
preparation for the Winter Recital.


mary williams in concert piano
My debut performance of my new singer/songwriter
material.




piano recital England Pianos Atlanta Music Teachers Association
While waiting to perform in Atlanta Music Teachers
Association's MusicFest, Margaret and Lena
demonstrate that they can follow each other perfectly
in their duet, even when the sound for this digital
grand is not turned on.


Performances are Everywhere!

Mary Williams Piano Studio gives each student several opportunities throughout the year to perform, but that's not much considering how much else is available. Grandma's coming to town? OOOO! Let's give her a concert! Going to Arizona to visit family? Maybe they only have a keyboard or a clunky out-of-tune piano, but still, the show must go on!

Schools are a really great spot for kids to get in an extra performance, for the best crowd, their peers. In order for kids to really get into playing the piano long term, they have to identify themselves as musicians. And it is easier to identify as a musician when everyone around identifies you as a musician. For instance, "...Do you know Grace?" "Yeah, I know Grace. She's the one who's really good at the piano, right?" Or, "Mom, James played piano for us in music class today and was REALLY good! Can I take piano?" This second example happens all the time. The idea where "my friend sounds really good on the piano and has inspired me to play, too." What a great compliment!

I guess what I am trying to saw is, no performance is too small. These kids work really hard to achieve their musical abilities, so they should be performing as much as possible. Each performance is going to bring them praise, and also gives them practice performing in various environments -- and you all know how much I like practice!

This is the season for school talent shows. Seek them out. Get the kids excited to perform. Once they do it, they'll be begging for more, and that's when we have true success.

piano performance talent show
Veronica on her way to perform in Fernbank
Elementary's spring talent show. This is a
look of confidence, wouldn't you say?




Close Quarters

You can take a girl out of Wisconsin, but you can't take Wisconsin out of the girl. So every time the weather in the ATL starts dropping below 50°, I start reminiscing about cold gray mornings and long dark nights. In other words, a lot of indoors time. Whenever we are forced to spend a lot of time indoors, we start noticing how others indoors with us start to, um, get a little trying to be around. BUT I HAVE A CURE FOR CABIN FEVER!!!! Go to the person nearest you, tap them on the shoulder, and ask them to make music with you. They don't have to be a trained musician to participate --- most people are perfectly capable of singing or banging on a pot to the beat of Auld Lang Syne.

I'd like to thank my family for making those winters something to remember. Thanks to Aunt Gerri and her plethora of musical instruments, each Christmas as a child was a jam session. I wouldn't say we were the Partridge Family or anything, but in my mind, we were the greatest.

Make memories with music.

(Sometimes I just love to end with a really cheezy line, then sit back and chuckle. Heeheehahaha! But seriously, I actually mean that about memories and music.)


Piano Duet
You're probably looking at this picture and thinking
that I made them smile, but no, I did not. Cousins Davi
and Luca were giggling and having the greatest time
while playing their duet, Swanee River Blues. Hopefully
you made it to the recital to see it in person!

Piano Puzzler

Performance Today on Atlanta's NPR station, WABE, hosts the Piano Puzzler. This is the Mary the Geek saying: The Piano Puzzler is a weekly highlight for me.

Last week, I was charmed by
Bruce Adolphe's rendition of "_______________". (You must listen to fill in the blank. No spoiler here!) What struck me was this piece made an appearance in this year's Winter Recital. This rendition is beautifully pianistic.

Have yourself a little listen, and see if you can decipher the melody. When you
click this link, listen to the December 21 edition.

Mr. Adophe has arranged this piece in the style of 20th Century French composer,
Olivier Messiaen. His piano preludes are contemplative and mysterious, beautiful and reflective. For a quick listen, check him out on Spotify. (What's Spotify, you ask? Download it for free right now, and ask questions later.)

Speaking of puzzlers, if you didn't attend this year's Winter Recital, that's puzzling, because, as some report, it was the best recital yet! Thanks to Robin Bernat and Jon Ciliberto of
Poem 88, and Cooper Piano for making this event possible. Music needs community to thrive, and these people are helping to nurture a beautiful thing.

The participating students should be thrilled with their performances, and their parents are free to whisper those sweet, proud words, "That's my child..." Thank you all for another wonderful year of piano music!


Piano Recital Poem 88
Piano lessons teach children to focus. Charlie is one of the many children whose focus generated an
unforgettable performance at this piano recital.


Give the Gift of Music... La Dee Dah...

Surely you are in over your head thinking about the upcoming holidays and all the gifts you need to buy to pacify your loved ones. Luckily, I have a gift idea for you that is very reasonably priced, fun, educational, and possibly life changing: MUSIC.

You are spending a small fortune when you enroll in piano lessons, this is true. My promise to you is that it may be a small fortune now, but will pay itself back in so many ways down the line, that it actually ends up being priceless. If you are a parent sending your child to piano lessons, the child, unfortunately, will not see these lessons as a gift (yet).

What they will see as a gift, however, is a shiny new book of piano music! Whether it is holiday music, Harry Potter, Star Wars, or favorite TV theme songs, a book of music is an inexpensive gift, but will make a lasting impression. Or, not sure what music they would really like to learn? Give them a gift certificate to a local music store. Roaming through a bin of piano music is like digging through a basket of chocolates at a candy store, only much healthier and longer lasting.

In this area, I recommend two stores for you to visit:
Opus Winds and Hutchins and Rea. Opus Winds Music Store is located in Decatur, and carries a lot of popular music. They have big bins of piano books and sheet music sitting out in the open, so browsing is very simple and fun. Hutchins and Rea is located in Doraville, right off of 285. If you are in that area, Hutchins and Rea is famous for having a huge supply of piano music, from big name standard repertoire masters, to obscure 20th century composers.

David Highsmith of Opus Winds and Roxanne and Bill Rea of Hutchins and Rea are all extremely helpful and accommodating when it comes to finding the right music. Also, if they are out of stock or if you are looking for something very specific, they will gladly order it for you.

When looking for music to buy, let the store owners know what level you are reading at (i.e. Music Tree 2B), and they will be able to direct you to find something comparable to that level. If there is more than one piano player in the house, I suggest getting duet books. Four hands at the piano can really brighten up the holiday season!

Happy Holidays!



atlanta piano dog




2011 Romantic Festival and Competition

Atlanta Music Teachers Association presented its 3rd annual Romantic Festival and Competition on Sunday, October 10, at Southern Pianos. There were five students from MWPS performing in this event, and a total of about 200 students from the Atlanta area participating.

Each students must play two pieces from the Romantic era, and are judged based on their expression and interpretation of the music. Those who are chosen as "Winners" go on to perform for the Winner Recital, and receive a cash award.

Congratulations to Asena, Ayla, Charlie, India, and Matthew for putting in the extra effort required to participate in such an event. To prepare for a competition takes a lot of extra practice, and help from the families to support their efforts.

The next time you see Matthew, give him an extra pat on the back for winning his division! The judge for this category said of Matthew's playing, "His expression was very imaginative and improvisatory. He played with emotion that you don't usually hear from a child his age." That's pretty cool, right?

The feedback the judge gave to all the students is priceless, for both me the teacher and the student. The constructive criticism gives us more direction on moving forward with these pieces and gives us deeper insight into the music we are working on. Overall, these judged performances put each student on a brand new plateau of musicianship.

When you come to the recital, you will be able to hear a few selections from this competition, and hopefully you will be just as impressed as the judge!

Here are some judging highlights:

Atlanta Piano Competition

Atlanta Piano Competition

Atlanta Piano Competition

Atlanta Piano Competition

Atlanta Piano Competition

Atlanta Piano Competition

Sonata Competition

October could be called Piano Competition Month. Saturday the 15th was the Sonata/Sonatina Competition presented by North Dekalb Music Teachers Association, and Saturday the 30th is Atlanta Music Teachers Association's Romantic Competition. So there are tribes of piano students all throughout the metro Atlanta area gearing up to play their best.

For the Sonata Competition, I enrolled Ava to play Mozart's K. 545 Sonata in C Major. She performed all three movements for the judge. Her mother, sister, and I waited outside the judge's door to sneak a listen to her performance. She nailed it! Congrats, Ava! Her performance earned her a 2nd place in her division, giving her bragging rights, a spot in the Winners Recital, and a check for $75. So maybe practicing does pay off...!...

Atlanta Piano Student
Ava waits patiently for her turn to perform for the judge.

Thank you to North Dekalb Music Teachers Association for making this event possible, Ava's family for their support, and of course Ava, for putting in all the time it takes to become a successful musician!

Next up: Romantic Competition. Visit the Events page to see who's playing!

Hitchcock-ian


IMG_2452
Of course you remember that scene in Psycho when the lady gets attacked by that creepy guy and in comes those screeching violins: WREEET-WREEET-WREEET-WREET!!!!

Pretty scary, right? Well, so is my fear of your piano being completely out of tune. Here are some examples of what students say during their lessons:

"This song sounds different on my piano."
"There's a ringing in the high notes of my piano. It hurts my ears."
"I practiced this piece an octave higher at home because that D doesn't work on my piano."
"I'd practice more, but my piano is so out of tune, I don't like hearing myself play. I should probably call a tuner"

Yikes! It's like trying to run from those pecking beaks in The Birds. You can't hide an out of tune piano behind a closed door.

Each piano is a little different and every home climate is its own, so I cannot tell you exactly how many times a year you should tune your piano. My recommendation for most pianos would be twice annually. Think of it as getting an oil change in your car -- it's imperative to maintaining a clean engine and keeping you on the road.

A piano is an investment, so you must take care of it. Forget about Dialing M for Murder, Dial T for Tuner instead so we can keep the blood curdling to a minimum.

Even in Hitchcock movies, the piano's in tune.

A Mind to be Jealous of

Just when I thought I was super smart for coming up with this summer's Piano Camp idea (more on that later), I run into this podcast about a man's mind who has more layers than my winter wardrobe. Please, take the time to listen to this RadioLab podcast.

Hot and Bothered

IMG_2066
Skip, rocking his Ray Bans, like the true hipster he is.

HOTlanta. Let's not kid ourselves -- we don't glow, we sweat. It's been 90º and above since we were wagging our Memorial Day flags. And with all that sweating, there is bound to be thirst.

This summer, kids have been showing up to their lessons, red cheeked and defeated. They come from the soccer fields, swimming pools and these crazy use-every-last-ounce-of-your-energy summer camps. They come sweaty, muddy, stinky, and 9 times out of 10, thirsty.

I think it was that famous ancient Jewish man, Jesus, that once said, "Let the children come to me." I wonder if they had Academy soccer camp back in that time, because if they did, I think he may have worded it a little differently, like, "Let the children come to me, once they have changed their socks and had at least a gallon of water."

In all seriousness, water is so important. If we are dehydrated, we lose energy, our brain becomes slow, and ornery is soon to follow. Before coming to piano lessons, take the time to drink up at the watering hole, and maybe stop by the cantina for a little snack. It'll make you feel better, I promise.


And speaking of fueling up, check out the video of this poor, hungry dog. If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for a treat!

Pulling Your Load


practice piano


Sometimes I feel like one of those big rig trucks that carries several cars on its trailer. Like The Little Engine That Could, I continue to tell myself, "I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!" as I'm pulling my students uphill to the Spring Recital. "I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!" as I start each lesson, trying to keep a fresh face and new energy for every one of my students. "I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!"

But unlike The Little Engine That Could, this is a Big Engine That Must, and we aren't just pulling a load of toys over the mountain –– we are taking months worth of intensive musical training and channeling it in to one performance experience. There's a lot on the line, most notably, pride.

It takes a lot of courage to get up on stage and pour your heart out through the piano to a quiet, tuned-in audience. This is why we work so diligently day after day, week after week, to mold our craft into something we are proud of and willing to share with others.

So please, in these next two weeks to come, put your engine into high gear and let's make the most out of every minute we have to smooth out every wrinkle and polish every passage of these pieces we have been working on. You owe it to yourself to play your very best. You are my pride and joy!

And if you are ever curious about what makes me so excited to greet each one of my students with enthusiasm and an intense level of commitment –– here's a peek into little moments that made my heart soar this week:


best piano teacher

piano duet

music is life

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Fred Rogers couldn't have said it better when singing the simple words, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." Atlanta is where spring comes to life like no other, whether your sinuses are ready for it or not.

I've just returned from a fantastic Lake Tahoe trip for an adventurous ski week. While I was there I thought to myself, 'Maybe I should live in California where I can be at the beach one weekend and skiing the next. And not just any skiing, by the way. This skiing was picture perfect! Fresh powder every day, filling the bowls and lining the trees for some of the most fun I've had in years.

IMG_1777



And then I came back to Atlanta. To this:

IMG_1794


O yeah! That's why I love Atlanta!

Well, that's one reason, at least. After vacationing for ten days, I am ready to get back to the piano and all my students. I hope you all are ready! I've got a brand new energy that I'm ready to share with all of you! Spring recital -- here we come!

I'll share another picture with you. This is Kasey. She is waiting to be picked up from lessons. And what better way than to wait outside, on this beautiful day, working on some theory!

Piano theory





Basketball + Piano

Today I was in the YMCA gymnasium running lay-ups. Yes, as in basketball. It beats the heck out of running on the treadmill, which for me is the ultimate form of boredom. So here I am, sprinting back and forth across the empty court, shooting a hoop on either side, enjoying the polyrhythms created between my feet and the ball, all the while deep in thought... I need a new performance for my students... I need a new performance for my students to take place in the summer... I need a casual performance for my students to take place in the summer... I need a casual performance for my students to take place in the summer that involves our community... I need a casual performance in the summer that involves our community and gives back... I need a casual performance in the summer that involves the community and gives back to something the kids can comprehend... I need a casual performance in the summer that involves the community and gives back to something the kids love, like Skip... I need a casual performance in the summer that involves the community and gives back to animals like Skip...

And then it came to me: A PIANO PLAY-A-THON TO BENEFIT THE ATLANTA HUMANE SOCIETY. This thought process took up about the first ten minutes of my thirty minute lay-up ritual, so I still had twenty minutes to conjure up some details. It goes like this:

Some Saturday, toward the end of June, we have the Piano Play-a-thon to benefit the Atlanta Humane Society. This performance will be a few hours long, an open-house kind of setup, where kids come, play as much music as they want, and entertain the people who have stopped in during that time. Think of it like an art opening, but with music.

Prior to the performance, kids get pledges from friends and neighbors to raise money for the cause. Hopefully we can make 100% of the proceeds go to the shelter.

Some logistics to work out:

1. Where to hold this event. I would like to hold it in the Candler Park area, walking distance for students, friends, and neighbors. Somewhere that would open up their doors for free and either have a good piano that can be set up for the event, or...

2. Find a piano sponsor. We need a good piano, and maybe we can find a piano vendor to supply us with a piano for the day, free of charge.

3. Obtain sponsorship of food and beverage. It would be nice to have food and beverages for performers, their families, and visiting concert goers. And since the goal is to allow 100% of the donations to go to the shelter, it would be nice to have a local business sponsor the food and beverages.


This idea is still very fresh. Please, email me or talk to me at lessons about ways you think we could make this happen. Perhaps you know of a food vendor? Maybe you know of the perfect venue, and have a way for us to use it for free? Etc, etc, etc.

I am very excited about this idea and hope you are, too.

As an aside, as I was finishing the last leg of the lay-up workout, an older white-haired gentleman began walking laps on the lofted track above the court, iPod in hand, singing along to Cole Porter tunes in a wonderful falsetto. The sound of this stout man's voice gently proliferated the otherwise mute gymnasium. It was just his voice and my polyrhythms.

What a good day.



Adult Recital

Our Adult Recital was held this Saturday. It was very informal, very casual, and more of a "sharing" than a recital. Both students were first time performers and the nerves were out of control. But they did it! And sounded great in the process. Of course, they complained of their mistakes, but that's what we do as adults. We are never satisfied!

I'm a proud teacher. That's all I have to say about it!


Adult piano recital
Michael plays a little Chopin, Gurlitt, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.



Adult Piano Recital
Bob, our host, entertains us with three themes from favorite movies, such as Schindler's List.



Adult Piano Recital
Look who it is! Blake sits down to show off a little Bach.


Skip Gets Dogbooties

Okay. This is completely unrelated to music, but since all of you know Skip and how funny he can be, I had to share this video with you.

A little backstory... We demoed our backyard in the fall so we could replant in the spring. Due to all the rain and snow we've been having, it's turned into something of a mud pit. And Georgia clay is not something that is easy to deal with.

When we let Skip out in the backyard, his feet get so caked with this clay, it's nearly impossible to clean off when he comes back in, so we finally bit the bullet and purchased dog booties. This video is his first trial, and may be his last.

Warning: Get a tissue. It's so funny, you may be sent to tears.


New Release

Piano Recitals 2010


The 2010 DVDs are in! Be sure to pick them up at your lesson this week. You will find them by the front door.

Looking for a good way to spend a Saturday? Get out all your recital DVDs and watch each of your performances in chronological order. You will see yourself transform in minutes!

Studio Mascot

Skip, the studio mascot, has found a new best friend.

Piano Student Walks Dog
Asena walks Skip, even on rainy days.

While waiting for her sister, Ayla, to complete her piano lesson, Asena walks Skip. It's a good way to kill the time before her lesson, and has made Skip so happy that he can barely contain himself when they approach the house.

One really amazing thing about this: the girls used to be a really intimidated by dogs when they first started their lessons. Completely understandable, as dogs have huge sharp teeth and can make a lot of noise with their bark. Skip, moonlighting as pet-related stress therapist, helped these girls and others get over their fear of four-legged fuzzballs.

Skip plays many roles in the studio, including:

Entertainer. Whether he is doing his prairie dog pose, snoring to the music, or curling up at the toes of those playing, Skip always offers a little comic relief during every lesson.

Skip works as consoler. Not having the best day? Give that little stinker over there a good pet and some snuggle time, and things will start looking up.

Getting a little frustrated? Hold on a second . . . Get up from the bench and go scratch Skip's belly, and when the steam has stopped billowing from your ears, come back to the piano and try it again.

Here's the reality: I'm pretty sure if it weren't for this cute little fuzzbody we call Skip, most kids wouldn't be that excited about coming to their lessons. So this blog posting is a way for me to say, "Thanks, Skip, for making piano lessons more enjoyable for my students."


music notation
Ayla diligently notating her piece while Asena walks Skip.


For a little more pleasure, check out this video. It's so provocative that Skip had to come into the room to see what was going on. In Skip's [humble] opinion, he thinks the dog should save the singing for the shower, but I think he's just a little jealous.





Is There a Middle Ground?

I've been able to do a lot of reading, partly because I haven't left the house in a week due to Ice City.

In my reading I stumbled across this article entitled, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, and admittedly, I was a little offended by the title alone. Obviously, my mother wasn't Chinese and I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world. But I read it anyway. It really scared the b-jesus out of me in the beginning, but I began to warm up to it by the end.

Don't stop reading when you get to that scary list of things Chinese mothers never let their children do. The rest of the article has some really valid points. For instance, "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." Okay. Who can't agree with that? So you must remember, as she states, that in order to be good at something it takes a lot of hard work.

Well anyway. I'll let you read it and draw your own conclusions. Let me know what you think.


Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, from the Wall Street Journal.





How Have You Been Spending Your Snow Time?


Mary Williams Piano Studio

Because of these treacherous roads, we have to start piano lessons a week late. I'm sure all of my school-age students are terribly disappointed. I've seen some of them walking around in Stay Puffed snowsuits, trudging makeshift sleds.

What have I been doing, you ask? Keeping busy is something I'm really good at. Here's a peek at how I have spent my snow days:


Mary Williams Piano Studio
Baking, before I ran out of eggs.


Mary Williams Piano Studio
Taxes. Yuck.

Mary Williams Piano Studio
Making my own 'tv' dinners.


Mary Williams Piano Studio
Walking. Lots of walking.



Mary Williams Piano Studio
Organizing.



Mary Williams Piano Studio
Chopping.



Mary Williams Piano Studio
Reading. (The last book of V. Woolf's that I haven't read. And then it's all over. *Sniff*)



Mary Williams Piano Studio Practicing
As if I even had to say it...



I'll be interested to hear what you have been up to. Be safe.

Calculations for the New Year

It's easy to let a practice day slip by, isn't it? What's one day, anyway?

Well, let's think about it. What is one day?

Practicing the Piano

Above you see a simple list of days one could practice in a year. Of course, one would need to factor in vacation and all of that, but let's pretend your New Year's resolution is to save money this year and have more staycations than before. As you can see, every day counts.

So when it comes time to perform, the student that practiced the required five days a week is probably going to feel much better about performing than the person playing only three days a week. The student playing five days a week gets almost a whopping 100 more days of practice a year!

A little math. A big deal.

Stephen Hough: Pianist, Composer, Human

Sometimes it is easy to forget that our most admired celebrities are real-life humans. They sleep, they eat and drink, they use the bathroom when they need to, and sometimes they even forget to brush their teeth.

Stephen Hough is one of the greatest piano players of our lifetime, so naturally, if you see him on stage, you may forget that his playing doesn't come naturally, as a butterfly spreading its wings for first-time flight, but in fact, he spends countless hours practicing and studying the music he is performing. And then one must also remember, that's not all he does.

I was turned on to Stephen Hough's blog some time ago at a conference far away, and now I can't help but peek in on him from time to time to see what he is up to. If you do the same, you will be quick to find that most of his posts are not about playing the piano, but about every day life for him. It serves as good insight into a concert giant.

Below is a link leading you to a practice tip from his blog. Just a reminder that every little bit counts.

Waiting for my carriage: practice tip no. 13

And if you have a few extra minutes, this little ditty is well worth your while:

Brave the "Cold"

Being from Wisconsin, this Atlanta weather isn't really cold, it's just a little cool to allow you to wear that neat sweater that's been sitting in your closet all year.

Sunday is our annual Winter Recital. (Click here for details.) I invite you all to put on your best holiday sweaters and come on out to root on your favorite piano player. We have a very interesting program this time around. Aside from all the standard repertoire that's typical of a piano recital, we have original compositions and arrangements of popular tunes.

Our newest 21st Century composers featured in this recital are Veronica, Owen, Asena, and Olivia. And Charlie and India have taken their favorite tunes and created piano arrangements using various recordings and videos from the internet for reference. It's been a good experience, and it will be interesting to see what you think!

Sunday: High of 41º, low of 19º, with a chance of flurries. But it will be warm inside. I promise!



Get Your Piano On!


Piano Duet
India and Kate banging away at Blackberry Rag.


Today was the Performance Party, which is a casual run-through of the recital at the studio. Play the piano first, eat pizza second, fight over cookies third, and last but not least, run around like crazy animals. During each phase of the party, a different personality of each student shines through. By the end of it, I'm not sure I even recognize them.


Piano Party
Is that you, Grace?

Anyway, I think it's safe to say they had a good time. But next time remind me to get more pizza. These kids can eat!!!!

But You Should Still Practice

Sometimes I get really mad at Thanksgiving for being so close to our Winter Recital. Didn't the pilgrims have any sense to do this a little earlier, like in September, say, a couple of weeks after school starts?

Well, anyway, we are stuck with it. So here I go, begging and pleading for my students to "practice over the holiday" (she said in a nasally librarian tone), so that when the recital rounds the corner, everyone will be ready and really EXCITED to rock and roll on the pianer.

Piano Lessons

With the holidays on our heels, let me remind you that this is a great time to sneak in some mini performances. Going to Grandma's? Step right up to her out-of-tune piano and show her what you've been working on! Are your cousins coming into town? Show them that song you've been working on, and make them jealous that you are so good at the piano!

If you are away from home and a piano, but would still like to show everyone what you are made of, go to the Gallery page of this website and show off your past recitals. If you need to be reminded of the login and password, send me an email and I'll happily send the information your way.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I hope it is not too cheesy to say how thankful I am to have a job that I LOVE and students that make me happy every time they walk through the door! Thank you everyone for sticking with it and proving that that ancient piece of furniture in the corner can be what keeps the house happy and ALIVE!

Darling Dali

Do you ever get sick of the phrase, "Fun for the whole family!" If so, then I won't use it in this blog entry. How about, "An interesting event that is inclined to heighten the artistic sensibilities of child and adult alike."

The Dali Exhibit at the High is well worth the cost of admission, and free if you are a member! (If you are not yet a member of the High, go ahead and buy yourself a membership for Christmas.) Before my first visit to this exhibition, I admittedly was not a big Dali fan. Maybe because it was so overly "trippy, dude" that I kind of wrote it off as being kitsch, but after seeing this huge exhibit, I couldn't help but become a changed woman. And then I visited it for a second time, this time with the audio tour (yes, I'm one of those dorks), and it broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding of the artist.

While strolling through the exhibit the second time with headphones intact, I would sometimes sneak a peek at the "kid friendly" audio tour (look for the numbers under the mustache), and found it to be really quirky and fun, almost more enjoyable than the made-boring-for-adults audio tour.

So the point here is: go to the High, get a membership, and for an entire year you can enjoy this and other events for 'free'!

Salvador Dali Fellinis Pizza
My dad was in town for a visit, and that Dali exhibit inspired many photos like this one.


I Can Barely Contain Myself!

Halloween is rapidly approaching! And aside from it being my birthday, it's a time for everyone to enjoy themselves, no matter how young or old they may be.

While I am readying myself to be a member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a group of my closest friends, children are showing up to lessons dressed slightly differently than normal.

Policeman Piano Player
Officer Bennett reporting for duty!

Okay. So aside from dressing up and forgetting who we are for the evening, there is something very important happening on Halloween on the Atlanta area piano scene. The Atlanta Music Teachers Association is holding its annual Romantic Competition and Festival. This year, four students from my studio will be competing against others in their age group. The amount of work it takes to get to the point of performing for a competition is intense, especially considering these students are all in elementary school.

Asena, Ava, Grace, and Mikalah will all be showing off all their hard work on Halloween day. They are playing so beautifully that if you close your eyes and just listen, it's very easy to forget that their median age is eight and a half. Thank you, girls, for making me proud to be your teacher!

...Stay tuned for results...

Meanwhile, this week when you enter my home, please excuse the massive amounts of fabric and foam piled in the corner. I've been very busy!
Crafty Piano Teacher
Myself and friend, Sarah, crafting our costumes.



Call to Action

Just a reminder that to be able to live in a desirable world, we need to create it.

Interim Recital

Every year, we have two big recitals at the studio. Winter and Spring. Additionally, throughout the school year, we have different performance opportunities such as area competitions and festivals.

But, I decided, that is not enough.

As far as piano teachers go, I am very fortunate. I have a vibrant studio, with budding pianists working very hard and accomplishing a lot. I'm constantly searching for new repertoire music, as my students swallow the pieces I give them with the energy of a hot dog eating competition, minus the yucky aftertaste.

In addition to teaching repertoire music, we do a lot of talking about theory and incorporating it into our music. The goal is to mold pianists to not only be able to play beautifully, but to be fully aware of what they are playing, and be able to talk about it theoretically.

With this in mind, I created the Interim Recital.

This recital takes place between big recitals, when students are performance ready, but there are no big performances in the near future. And this is how it goes:

Each pianist prepares one piece, and plays it for the other students who are participating. Before the piece begins, they are to introduce it, give some background on the piece, and explain how they went about learning it, what challenges they faced, what new things they discovered, etc. Then they play the piece. Upon finishing the piece, they take questions from the other students. These questions varied greatly, such as when was the piece written, did it take you a long time to learn this piece, what does the title mean, what is your favorite part of the piece, etc. Then, when all the questions have been answered, the student plays the same piece one more time, allowing for the others to hear it in even more detail the second time around.

What an experience! I was very excited to hear students using the vocabulary they had been taught. (Sometimes, as teachers, we never know what is sticking to the brain, and what is going out the other ear!) They behaved in such a mature, educated way, each being courteous to the others performing, asking sophisticated questions, and speaking eloquently about their own pieces. Quite impressive!

Thanks to Margaret, Ava, Olivia, and Charlie for making our first Interim Recital one to remember. Your progress as musicians is incredible, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for you in the future!

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Olivia rehearses her Scherzo for the Interim Recital. Dressed appropriately, of course.

Love Your Neighborhood

Mary Williams Piano Studio came to Lake Claire in the summer of 2007. As you come to the Studio every week, you pass beautiful homes and gardens with their own unique qualities. Do you ever wonder what these homes look like on the inside? Ever want to see exactly how they made those plant beds come to life? Well, now is your chance.

I've been working with neighbors of Lake Claire for the past several months in an effort to revitalize the home tour, which hasn't happened in six years. After a lot of hard work, it is
finally all coming together.

Please help support the neighborhood who happily supports our Studio. You won't be disappointed!

TOHG+Final+poster

"...A Coupl'a Million Years of Wacking Two Rocks Together"

It is understandable that my students think I am out of my mind as I continue to enforce the posturing of their pinkies, or the shaping of their hands as their fingers descend onto the piano keys. But it is how our hands and fingers work together that have lead us humans to the life we lead right now. We can enjoy playing music because our fingers have enough dexterity to almost have a mind of their own. And people are able to beautifully mold these instruments because our primitive ancestors learned to make stone tools, which of course lends itself to creating perfectly carved instruments that we enjoy playing.

So, if we evolved beyond other mammals because of how intricately we are able to use our hands, what does that mean for piano players? I'll let you draw your own conclusions.


This blog title comes from a quote by NPR's Christopher Joyce, and his story on the human hand.




Champions!

In the words of the great Freddie Mercury,

"I've paid my dues
Time after time
I've done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I've made a few
I've had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I've come through

We are the champions, my friends!"

The recital was a hit, in other words.

We kicked off the performance weekend with our Performance Party at the studio. All the kids had the opportunity to play in front of one another and have a preview of the recital. Then we shared pizza and ice cream, and did some old-fashioned running around. It was a party of shrieking laughter plus sugar highs, which equals loads of fun.


IMG_0635
The Performance Party run-through.

Then on Sunday we traveled to Holy Trinity Parish in Decatur for our Spring Recital. The kids paraded in, full of excitement. Performer after performer played, and one by one, they all put another positive performance experience under their belts.

IMG_0653
The much anticipated Giant Candy Bar Award.

The program was very diverse, from baroque to modern, including pieces composed by the performers themselves. There were also several duets, many performing duets for the first time, which turned out to be fun for everyone. Music together is better than music alone!

Can you sense my pride? My students continue to amaze me. Little fingers making a big noise. So I guess all there is left to say is, "Can't wait for the next recital!"

Are You Nervous?


With the Spring Recital just around the corner, I've been reminded of something I often hear from parents and other teachers, "Are you nervous?"

So I ask you, "What does it mean to be nervous?"

We are gearing up to perform. Our hearts are beating faster than usual. We may have clammy hands. We may be breathing more shallow than usual, and our actions may be more fidgety. This is what most people might refer to as being 'nervous'. But when do we learn what 'nervous' is? Does it start when we are little, by our parents or teachers asking us before our piano recital, "Are you nervous?"

In my mind, 'nervous' has a negative connotation. If I'm nervous about something, it makes me less likely to want to participate in the event that is causing the nervousness.

For the average adult, I think this:
Nervous = YIKES! And when a child is asked by an adult, "Are you feeling nervous?" what the child hears is, "Are you freaking out yet? Because I would be!" --- even if the child has no reason to be freaking out because they are about to perform something they have been working on for a very long time.

So can we change the way we present 'nervous?'

What if kids everywhere never heard the word 'nervous?' When kids experience these adrenaline spells, what if we said, "Are you feeling excited?" 'Excited' to me mean anticipation for something upcoming. "My best friend is coming over for a play date this weekend. I am SO excited!" I have definitely heard that from my students before. "I'm so excited for my birthday party on Saturday!"

When we feel excited, don't we also get a similar adrenaline rush to 'nervous?' So why do we have to use different words for these similar bodily reactions?

Nervous indicates that there is something on the line. One might become nervous to present a new item at the board meeting because one may fear the item may not get accepted. One might feel nervous on one's first day of school because everything is new and one may not meet friends right away.

One may become nervous for a piano recital because one may make a mistake while playing a piece and 'everyone will notice." Well . . . so what? As piano players we are always making mistakes, but we must continue to go out and perform again. And again. And again. So what's the point of being nervous?

Well, the truth of the matter is, we cannot help it. It is our body responding to the idea of performing. Which is why I say, "Why not get EXCITED?" We are going to perform whether we like it or not, so let's get EXCITED about it! Let's throw away negative 'nervous' and opt for positive 'excited,' which to all of us means something good is about to take place.

So from now on, let's change our language. Let's put our faster pulse and our fidgeting fingers to use. Let's pretend we are Olympic athletes, and use our adrenaline rush to perform to record breaking achievements.

I'm excited just thinking about it!


Yes We Can!

Whether you are politically minded or not, certainly you have experienced that not-so-nice feeling in your belly when you hear something you are passionate about is about to get thrown by the wayside.

This happened recently to me when I heard that the Georgia Council for the Arts was going to be abolished. Economic times are tough right now, as we all know, but I could not understand how Georgia could be so bold as to completely eliminate GCA, and be the only state in our entire nation to not have an arts council. Not only is it disrespectful to our culture, but is also really embarrassing. To salt the wound, without a state arts council, we would also lose millions of dollars in federal funding.

I am one of those privileged people who works in the arts for a living. Every single day I see how the arts impacts people of all ages and walks of life. Having the arts in our lives enriches not only us personally, but the entire culture of our community.

So on April 19, I biked over to the State Capitol to march with my fellow lovers-of-the-arts. There were dancers, musicians, painters, actors, sculptures, performance artists -- you name it, and it was represented. And maybe most importantly, there were people marching who were not artists or musicians, but simply patrons of the arts, who know the devastation that would take place if we were to lose this funding.

And on my return home, I found myself locked out of the house, and nearly had to cancel my lessons for that day, but it was worth it, I’d like to think. Because the funding was restored to the Georgia Council for the Arts that day. At least for now.

When we cast our ballots in the future, let’s not forget to vote for the continuation of the growth of our culture. Art and music is what makes us who we are.


Save the Arts from Proper Medium on Vimeo.

You Are Not Alone.

Is there something that draws you to the piano? Well, you are not alone.


What Are We Doing?

How much time do you spend checking your email on your iPhone? How much time do you spend searching for your long-forgotten friends on Facebook? How much time do you spend watching your favorite television show, tivo or no tivo?

The answer: a lot. It’s amazing that we human beings ever get anything done nowadays. Sure, we no longer need to plow the fields or handwash our linens, but still, there seems to never be enough time in the day.

Recently I was having dinner with a musician friend of mine, and he said that his trumpet playing was not as good as it should be because he just seems to be so busy lately. Suddenly this image came to mind of him rocking out on a plastic guitar while staring at a tv blasting Guns ‘N Roses. Come to think of it, this is how I remember him spending many of his evenings. So I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow. If you spent half of your Guitar Hero time into your real instrument time, you would be virtuosic!’

But of course I didn’t tell him this. And I couldn’t. Personally, I prefer Rock Band, because for me playing the drums is so much more entertaining than the guitar. But video games aside, I really started to analyze how I spend my time.

For me, my brain can only do certain things at certain times of the day. Take practicing the piano. Mornings and only mornings. Ask me to sit down and try to learn a passage of a Chopin nocturne past noon, and results will be minimal. But at the same time, I do my best composing at night. Both practicing and composing are musical tasks, but for me, each has its own time of day.

And I have found that doing things in small increments can be very beneficial. Think about checking your email. It’s kind of nice to check your email for about fifteen minutes, but if you had to do it for an hour it would become a chore. I find this is true with playing the piano. If I find myself working on a piece for too long, my mind starts to wander, and I end up wasting time.

So I’ve come to think that there is enough time in the day, if we can find out how to use it correctly. And everyone’s brain works differently, so a routine might work for some that does not work for others.

So we must experiment. Do you love your DS? Well guess what -- Just because you are taking piano lessons does not mean you need to give up your gaming for piano practicing. When you find yourself working endlessly on a difficult musical passage, and can’t seem to make headway, get out your game, veg for fifteen minutes, and come back to the piano after you’ve let off some virtual steam.

How do I break up my practice time? I take Skip for a walk. Which kills three birds with one stone: 1) A much needed piano break, 2) Exercise, 3) Dog Walk. And we all get what we want. All in one day.

Something You Never Hear

You never hear adults saying, “I just wish I would have given up on the piano a little sooner.”

In fact, as a piano teacher, full grown humans are frequently confessing to me that, “I wish I would have stuck with the piano,” or, “I wish I would have practiced more, so I would remember how to play.”

Here’s what it boils down to: Parents. It’s usually our parents that get us into this mess of piano study in the first place. They want to give their children culture. They want to hear the sound of the tickled ivories floating through the house. They want their children to be more successful musicians than they were. But how should parents go about making the most out of their children’s piano education?

Well, admittedly, I am an extremely lucky piano teacher. For the most part, the parents of my school-age children are my co-consipirators. I may receive a phone call or text message or email saying, “Help!” In other words, they have gone as far as they could as practice motivators at home, and need my intervention. So I will call the child and give them a little over the phone pep-talk, or help them though a sticky musical passage so as to alleviate some frustration. And it usually works.

But without the help of the parents, my work with children is obsolete. The parent may not know a lick about music, but a simple,“Hey! That sounded great! Let’s hear that again!” or, “Whoa whoa whoa... It sounds like you are playing that way too fast,” or, “O my! You have practiced so well this week! Let’s go get some ice cream!”

It’s the little things that are important.

For parents, waking up in the morning to another full day of running kids to school, sports activities, music lessons, and working eight hours on top of that - WHEW! That makes me want to stay in bed. But just a little extra time encouraging their children at their instrument will make all the difference in how they approach the piano.

As a piano teacher, I would love to take full credit for the success of my young piano students, but, believe it or not, it is the parents who make the difference. My mother never used to sit with me while I practiced. In fact, if she had, I probably would have thrown a tantrum. But, while practicing, I would hear a voice from the kitchen, “That sounded beautiful, honey.” Ooo... That was all I needed to keep my fingers rolling over the keys.

Thanks, Mom.

It is the parent who signs the child up for piano lessons. It is the parent who pays for the piano lessons. It is the parent who drives the child to and from piano lessons. Isn’t that enough?!?! Shouldn’t the child be grateful for this selflessness that the parent is showing?!?! Well, you guessed it - no. But just wait! Someday, I promise you, they will.

As Easy As iMovie

Sometimes what we see and hear as pianists is different from what others see and hear. Example: When you are speaking, you hear the voice in your head as one sound, then when you hear your voice on a recording, you may think, ‘Is that really what I sound like!?!’

When playing the piano, there is so much to focus on, so why not ask for a little help? This is where your computer comes into play. If you have a laptop, then chances are you have a tiny little built-in camera at the top of the screen. And if you are an owner of a Mac, then you have iMovie. (There is probably a PC equivalent, but I am sorry to report that I am not educated in that field.)

iMovie, with the click of a button, can record yourself playing the piano. In my studio, I often resort to iMovie as a method of self-evaluation. Within an instant, you have a visual and audio recording of yourself. This will easily allow you to view your playing, and analyze it from the perspective of a third party.

iMovie is just one of the ways we can incorporate the use of the computer in piano study. This is not only easy, but is also really fun. My students love seeing themselves on ‘TV!’

The New Website

Thank you for visiting the Mary Williams Piano Studio website. Whether this is your first visit, or you have been here before, as of July this site is new to everyone.

Special thanks to Blake and Chloe at PROPERMEDIUM for putting together such a great video for the home page. Also, thanks to those participating in the video for graciously allowing us to capture a piano lesson in action. This involved a lot of time and energy for everyone, and the end result was even better than I had imagined!

This new website is more than promotion for the piano studio. This site is here to inform you of important information pertaining to the piano studio, such as times and dates of events and when to reregister. Additionally, I have added this blog which will inform you of practice advice, offer important articles on music and piano from other sources, give reviews of recordings and concerts - - well, anything I may find amusing or interesting. The possibilities are endless!

So please do check back on this blog from time to time. Perhaps there will be something here to interest you...