January 24, 2020

Tomoko and the San Francisco Notables

As a new California resident and student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tomoko enjoyed attending San Francisco Symphony concerts. Not only did the symphony play in acoustic halls but they also held summer outdoor concerts in San Francisco’s Stern Grove.

In 1965 Tomoko made a more direct connection with the San Francisco Symphony when she auditioned for the symphony’s foundation. She was chosen as a winner by Maestro Josef Krips. That April she performed with two other winners, both violinist, at the San Francisco Symphony Association Foundation Members’ Concert at the Masonic Auditorium.

Here is some background on these famous names and places.

The San Francisco Symphony is world renowned for its music performance. Its  1911 beginnings rose from the ashes of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The city leaders wanted a symphony to rekindle the areas cultural life. The symphony also provides the most extensive educational program of any orchestra in the U.S.: giving concerts to  children since 1919, providing tickets and supplies to schools, offering online music education resources, teaching grade schoolers music, coaching teen and adult musicians, and giving young musicians pre-professional training in their Youth Orchestra.

Austrian Josef Krips was popular in Europe and the U.S. because of his stellar performing and recording career. He was a conductor for several orchestras and opera companies, first in Europe; he escaped the Nazis but returned to perform after World War II. He led the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Stern Grove, situated in the Sunset district of San Francisco, is a 33-acre recreational site. The park, which was donated to the city in 1931, was named after philanthropist Sigmund Stern, who was a nephew of Levi Strauss (of blue jeans fame). The Grove is now most known for its 80-year old music festival. In the summer, musicians perform weekly in the open amphitheater to crowds of up to twenty thousand.

San Franciso’s Masonic Auditorium’s predecessor dates back to 1861.  That first Masonic building was destroyed in the San Francisco 1906 earthquake, and another building was completed in 1931.The current auditorium opened in 1958 as a meeting venue for Masons, and holds concerts the rest of the year.

These notables all reflect triumph through culture, sometimes overcoming great odds, a motif dear to Tomoko’s heart.

January 8, 2020

When Should Children Start Piano Lessons

Tomoko asserts, “You can start learning how to play the piano at any age.” However, starting piano lessons too early can be a waste of money. Here are some guidelines.

First, the child should WANT to learn how to play. If there is a piano or electric keyboard around, does the child show interest and gravitate to it? Pushing a reluctant child into piano lessons invites frustration and family fights. 

Is the child emotionally ready? Can the child follow directions? Is the child willing to accept instruction – and criticism? Does the child have a long enough attention span to sit still, practice and persevere?

Is the child physically ready? Can the child place his hands parallel to the ground when seated so he doesn’t have to strain when reaching the piano? Does the child have enough finder strength to press the piano keys down effectively? (A good way to tell is if the child can hold onto objects without dropping them.) Does the child have sufficient fine motor skills; for instance, can he color within a picture’s lines and draw letters accurately? Does the child have enough stamina to last through a 20-minute lesson without getting tired? 

Is the child cognitively ready? Can the child tell between her left and right hand? Can the child count? Does the child know the alphabet? Can the child learn how to read notes?

AND are the parents ready to encourage and support the child? 

Even if children aren’t ready to take piano lessons, they can still be encouraged to become familiar with the piano. They can explore how sounds are made on the piano. They can discover the relationship between the sequence of the keys and the associated pitch from low to high. They can watch people play the piano, and enjoy the music that is created. The piano player can also point out how a piano score notes correspond to the keys, just as letter shapes correspond to sounds (generally). 

Just as there is reading readiness, there is musical reading and performance readiness. And a lifetime of learning and enjoyment.