2014 Celebration of Excellence

A lovely time was had by all at the Music Development Program Celebration of Excellence! The evening featured a recital by students who had earned top marks in the state of California on Practical assessments, remarks by Dr. Janet Lopinski who came all the way from Toronto for the occasion, and a presentation of certificates to all those who earned top scores in Practical as well as Academic subjects.


Congratulations to Diana, Rebecca and Sarah who earned top scores in California on their piano assessments last year, and to Riona and Julianna for earning top scores in California on theory assessments!

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Studio News: Hooray for Theory!



A big congratulations to the five students who took Royal Conservatory Music Development Program Academic Assessments last winter session. The exam scores are in and everyone earned First Class Honors with Distinction! What an achievement!

Sophie and Kelly earned First Class Honors with Distinction on their Intermediate Rudiments Theory Exam.

Liam and Diana earned First Class Honors with Distinction on their Basic Rudiments Theory Exam.

And an extra huge congratulations to Sarah who not only earned First Class Honors with Distinction on Basic Rudiments, but had a perfect score! WOW!!!

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In Praise of Studio Class

I love seeing my students interact with each other as peers and musicians, hearing them develop the skills of critical listening, and marveling at the connections that they are able to draw. And this is why studio class with my SFCM Pre-College students has been such a joy for me this year.

We were a small group last Sunday—only four students were able to make it on account of pre-Thanksgiving travels and such, but everyone had pieces ready to play. I try to put together at least a loose structure for the 2-hour block of time, based on the music being presented that day. With a somewhat random assortment of repertoire, it is fascinating to see where the discussion will lead and what threads will bind the whole experience together. We started by hearing a performance of the Grieg waltz from the Opus 12 Lyric Pieces followed by Tchaikovsky’s Song of the Lark from the Album for the Young. With both pieces, I asked my kiddos to listen for form. The “A B A Coda” was very clear in the Grieg, but took a little longer to notice in the Tchaikovsky. Realizing that the similarity of thematic material obscured the contrast between the A and B sections, my helpful students gave suggestions to the performer on ways to emphasize the structure using timing and tonal color. A performance of Christopher Norton’s “Play It Again” led us into a discussion on what makes a piece sound “jazzy”. Cue the clapping of syncopated rhythms and writing out of blues scales. Another student played the Bartok Rumanian Dances and Robert Starer’s “Pink” from Sketches in Color. I had found some of Bartok’s field recordings from the Hungarian countryside (thanks YouTube!) so we listened to those and tried to pinpoint the stylistic qualities that give this music its special flavor.

Oh, and how could we talk about Bartok without hearing some of the Concerto for Orchestra (2nd movement)? With its “presentation of pairs” it is a perfect piece for identifying orchestral instruments!

Having started with a discussion of form, we came back to it with a performance of the first movement of Diabelli’s Sonatina in F, Op. 168 No. 1.  All of the students in attendance already had some experience with sonata form, but class was a great chance to get a better understanding of this ubiquitous structure and connect it with the simpler ternary forms we heard earlier. After the Diabelli, I let Leonard Bernstein do the talking. We watched excerpts from one of the marvelous Young People’s Concerts, in which he effortlessly explains sonata form using Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the Beatles and finally Mozart’s K. 545 (Video 2 of 4 is below–this is the one with the priceless rendition of “And I Love Her”). We then heard the Diabelli again—with totally different ears!

Ultimately, studio class is about conversation and community, a space in which my students can learn to trust their musical instincts and develop curiosity and independence. And it is really fun (especially for me.)

Can’t wait for our next class in January!

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She Tweets Again!

I’ve been on Twitter for a while now, and enjoy following all sorts of lovely, hilarious, brilliant people and various illustrious organizations. However, as with many forms of social media, it feels so diffuse. I have non-musician followers, who likely don’t care about which Bach Sinfonia I am practicing. And then the music folk who likely don’t care about what I am cooking and/or knitting. I’m all for a healthy mix of everything in my own Twitter feed, but I rarely ever tweet myself since it seems that the great internet void is hardly interested in the disparate minutiae of my life. So, in an attempt to create order out of chaos, I’ve decided to start a separate twitter account that will just be music related.


Come follow me! No knitting or food photos. Really. (I’ll be keeping all of those fun tidbits over at @MissLuba). Just tweets about what I’m practicing, what I’m listening to, and the really funny things my students say!

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A little pre-exam cheer…

It is that time of year…I keep reminding my students as they go into recitals and exams to trust their preparation and to remember that playing the piano is something that they love to do! (See this great post on the subject)

And here’s a little something that made me smile…Anne Crosby Gaudet made this a few years ago, but I just came across it now and it makes me happy. Watch how he bops his foot along to the beat!


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Studio News: Congratulations!

A big round of applause for Jason, Diana, Picabo, Jack and Rebecca!

These young pianists received top scores in California on the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program exams in 2012 and have been invited to perform at the CAPMT Conference in Glendale later this month. All of these students received scores above 90 and were among the top three scores in California for the their grade level. What a fantastic achievement! Bravo!

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Jeremy Denk on NPR’s Fresh Air


Ok, internet. Fess up. Am I the last person in the world to discover Jeremy Denk’s blog? How have you kept this from me? Even in this amazing age of technology I still manage to find out everything on NPR.

So, in the car the other day, I happened to catch part of Terry Gross’ interview with pianist Jeremy Denk. Luckily, the internet and good ol’ fashioned radio do team up, and it is possible to hear the entire interview here. Denk’s latest album pairs the Ligeti etudes and Beethoven’s final sonata. He discusses the four week, 7-hour-a-day process of learning the Ligeti etudes (dear piano students, go back and re-read those numbers!), the vagaries of the recording process, and the commonalities of late Beethoven’s “vast infinity, and Ligeti’s bite-sized bits of infinity.” Oh, and he throws around charming phrases like “circling down the drain of tonality.”

Then it slips out in this interview that Denk has a blog- Think Denk. Just a few posts in, I adore his somewhat hyperactive writing, and now intend to waste lots and lots of time going back and reading through the archives. Thanks radio, and yeah, you too internet…

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Steinway Factory Tour (Who needs Willy Wonka?)

With so much to reflect upon after the MTNA conference, I think my best bet is just to go backwards! In this case, it is kind of like starting a meal with dessert…The Steinway Factory Tour!

I am really excited!

I had been looking forward to this part of the trip with barely contained excitement, and after some delayed-subway drama that resulted in me attempting to run 6 blocks and just barely making the bus, the day did not disappoint. The early morning group was small, and our “guide” was John Marek, Manager in Charge of Fabrication. Saying that this was an “inside look” barely begins to describe it.  John spent over 90 minutes taking us through the factory, in and amongst the workers going about their daily production. I came away with a head full of facts and statistics, but even more so, a sense of awe at the time, care, detail and craftsmanship that goes into the creation of a Steinway piano. The factory currently produces about 5 grands and 1 upright a day. Not unlike a baby, the process of building a single piano takes about 9 months.  Here are a few snapshots!

the newly bent rims, ready to cure

matching wood for the soundboard

Steinway has very strict specifications for the soundboard: the grain of the wood should run at 90 degrees, with a 15 degree deviation acceptable in each direction. There must also be no fewer than 10 tree rings per inch. About 50% of the wood for soundboards is rejected because it does not meet those standards. (Did I mention all the statistics?)

carving the bridge by hand (by hand!)

stringing by hand

our guide was not as interested in this part, but we sure were!

In light of all the economic doom and gloom of the last several years, it made me feel rather warm and fuzzy to see the very blue-collar inner workings of the Steinway company (an American company through and through– this was mentioned many times during the tour!) Most of the materials are sourced within the US (wood mostly from the Northwest, wool for the felts from New Hampshire sheep, strings made by a company in Kentucky) and many of the highly skilled workers come from several generations of Steinway builders (and are members of United Piano Workers Local 102).

So, I highly recommend that all piano geeks (and manufacturing geeks, at that…) take a bit of a detour on your next New York trip and head over to Astoria, across the Queensborough Bridge. The Steinway factory does tours on Tuesday mornings, but you must schedule in advance by contacting info@steinway.com

If New York is not on your upcoming itinerary, the marvels of the Steinway factory can be experienced through the 2007 documentary Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037. I saw the movie back when it came out, and the DVD was one of the several souvenirs I came away with from New York. I’m excited to finally own a copy so that I can lend it to all my piano students!

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In one week…

…I will be on my way to New York for the MTNA 2012 National Conference. I anticipate being in a complete “kid-in-a-candy-store” haze the entire time I am there. The other day, I was starting to figure out the schedule of sessions, master classes, etc. and ended up cutting and pasting together a sloppy Word Document of the schedule since there was not a convenient format of it to be found on the MTNA site. Today, however, while poking around on Twitter, I discovered that MTNA (@mtna1 on Twitter) is actually being quite tech savvy and has the entire conference info available for the Guidebook App (A free app available both on Android and IPhone). Once I downloaded the app, my initial searches for “mtna” and “new york” did not turn up anything, but upon looking under the main “Trade Shows and Events” heading, sure enough, there it was! From the app, it is possible to view the daily schedule (with room specifics listed), maps of the hotel and both exhibit halls, a listing of all the marketplace exhibitors with their booth numbers, and even add specific events to your own “schedule” within the app.  Quite convenient! So, if you are headed to the conference, get Guidebook, and follow @mtna1 on Twitter, and maybe follow me while you are at it…@missluba. I’m usually pretty quiet over there, but I think my conference excitement is likely to manifest itself in the Twitter-sphere!

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Studio News: Bravo!

Congratulations are in order! On February 18th, Sophie, Karen, Sarah, and Picabo had the opportunity to perform at the CAPMT state conference as part of the Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program 2012 California Celebration of Excellence Recital. The girls were invited to participate in the event because they each earned one of the highest scores in California for their exam levels last last year! Dr. Peter Simon, president of the Royal Conservatory, was on hand to give the keynote address and present the students with their certificates at the conclusion of the program. It was a big honor for the kids to meet him, as well as Dr. Jennifer Snow, the Chief Academic Officer of The Achievement Program.  Here we are with Dr. Snow after the performance…

While the conference was just a short drive away for me and for my students’ families, it was wonderful to hear some great performances by kids who had traveled from all over the state. Also, it is exciting to see that The Achievement Program curriculum is beginning to take root in California and throughout the United States!

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