Once a year in August, the Hibiscus Coast Music Teachers Group hold a competitive music festival to provide our students with a chance to perform and receive valuable feedback from an adjudicator. This is a great opportunity for the younger pianists to experience what it is like to play on stage, and for the more mature students to practice polishing their performance skills and often use this occasion as a “test run” for any upcoming exams. Often students and teachers work incredibly hard for weeks and months ahead to get the most out of this experience.
Our festival this year was scheduled to be held on the 15th of August. Regrettably, three days before the festival Auckland went into its second Covid-19 lock down. As most students prepared for a long time leading up to this event, many students were disappointed they did not get a chance to perform their pieces so close to the scheduled date. Fortunately, modern technology means we could come up with a digital-age solution.
Our committee of teachers decided to turn the festival into an online event. We asked our contestants to record and upload their best performance and submit their entries to a dedicated Google Drive Folder. We then shared these video files with our wonderful adjudicator, Susan Smith, whose name a lot of the NZ piano teaching community would be familiar with! I vividly remember Susan adjudicating some of my own piano competitions when I was a teenager and I was always fond of her warm appearance and appreciated her detailed reports.
After Susan has given her verdict and completed the reports, I then uploaded all award-winning videos to our Youtube channel. This includes all 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes, Very Highly Commended awards and Highly Commended awards. The festival also gives out a Scholarship Award each year, along with a special Neville Neilson Musicianship Cup for the most musical performance.
I then created the following poster for teacher and student distribution:
And here is a playlist of some of my own students who played in the festival:
I am so proud of those who participated in this festival. Going through a second lockdown is tough on many kids, having to adjust almost every aspect of their lives in a short time, and making recordings without the help of their teachers meant they had to be extra diligent with every single detail.
I know some of my students made dozens of recordings before they were finally happy with the results, so this little project really helped many fine-tune their self-critique skills!
Congratulations to the following students:
Under 8 Class
Luna Tan, 2nd prize
Aldwyn Miller, Very Highly Commended
8 and under 10 Class
Oscar Wu, 2nd prize
10 and under 12 Class
Sunny Chung, 1st prize
Benedict Thomas, Very Highly Commended
12 and under 14 Class
Felix Xie 1st prize 12-under 14
16 and under 25 Class
Fern McClean 1st prize
Felix Xie Winner
Sunny Chung Very Highly Commended
Neville Nielsen Musicianship Cup:
Here in New Zealand we have been in nation-wide lock down for almost a week now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and most of us have switched to online teaching and learning.
After testing out several different video conferencing softwares including Wechat, Facetime, Skype and Zoom, I have found Zoom to be the most effective when it comes to teaching my students online. I am able to engage the students a lot more with its screen share function which allows me to mark up the score and for the student to see my notes in real time on their own screens!
Here's a video I made showing how to enable and use this function:
I hope you find this helpful.
Please take care and stay safe everyone!
This article was republished from the Ritmico Journal of IRMTNZ in August. Thanks Ruth for such a positive review of my presentation earlier on this year!
"At Conference 2019, Melody Deng, gave a
Analysis involves the student learning the basics of a piece, then at a later lesson listening to Melody play it, before working out ‘characters’ via phrases, dynamics and articulation. Initially students need considerable assistance, but they soon get into the swing of imagining, for instance: their heroes (loud dynamics, major key); an enchanted forest or sandy beach (major key, soft dynamics); a wicked witch (modulation to a minor key with loud dynamics). Interrupted cadences can provide comic relief, while modulations add drama to a piece. Interpreting the music through storytelling is fun and quickly understood.
Her belief that sonatinas offer excellent training for technique, passage playing, phrasing, form analysis and a pathway to harder repertoire, is not always met with enthusiasm by her students! However, Melody noted that sonatinas do not generally have imaginative titles – indeed, often no title at all beyond Sonatina, so she reasoned this means they are open for interpretation, aka storytelling.
The presentation was well accompanied by video and audio recordings of a few of Melody’s pupils demonstrating the process. Melody also gave examples at the piano of how she shows students that the left-hand accompaniment can give an idea of the activity e.g. the steady pulse of Alberti Bass is like walking or riding in a carriage.
The goal is that, in time, students become autonomous at analysis and
interpretation, transforming music into their personal storytelling journey, and eventually extending this method to other genres and longer pieces e.g. sonatas.
Melody shared a ‘cheat sheet’ with us that helps students create narratives and characters in a sonatina or sonata. We were invited to visit her website -
www.ecbpiano.com - for regular blog posts and resources on teaching through storytelling and other creative teaching ideas.
Ruth Stilwell has her own piano/theory teaching business, The Noteworthy School of Music, in Cromwell. She particularly enjoys playing baroque, modern and show music. Ruth's students perform regularly at retirement villages and other concerts.
Incorporating sensor-play into the teaching of piano technique
I have been teaching a lot of Baroque music in my studio lately, and one of the things I find really hard for students to grasp is playing mezzo-staccatos. Almost every one of my students who first start to play Baroque pieces will see staccatos and play them super short, as they would do with music in their previous learning.
Inspired by Graham Fitch's masterclass on articulation in which he says portato articulation is like a "sticky staccato", I decided to try and introduce this idea to students with a hands-on game approach.
I have found using a jar of Play-Doh has by far been the best way to show my students how to play mezzo-staccatos or portato, and teaches them the correct technique, sound and length of these notes. It can also be really fun!
As the goal of the game is for the student to carefully lift the ball of Play-Doh off the keys and let it stick to the finger, it teaches them a slower descent and ascent speed while playing and can be a memorable way of introducing this type of articulation on the piano.
I have tried this technique with students of various levels and abilities, and I have found all of the students have loved this game. I also get the students to try and "beat" me in this game, by having more Play-Doh balls stick to their finger tips than me!
It was an honour to be interviewed by Australian music educator, entrepreneur and author, Paul Myatt.
Paul is also the director of Forte School of Music, as well as co-owner of Blackrock Music Shop.
This blog post is by Melody Deng