December 30, 2017

The Secret Facts of Composers

Piano teachers need to know their music, and it’s useful to know about the composers themselves. Tomoko likes to read biographies – especially those of composers. And she relates stories about them to her students, providing context for the compositions as well as making those composers more human. Here are some of the lesser known facts about some of them.

Vivaldi became a priest when he was 25, and served as a master of violin at an orphanage. Vivaldi suffered from bronchial asthma throughout his life, which kept him from playing wind instruments.

Liszt was very popular when young, and he was quite the playboy. One of his illegitimate daughters become Richard Wagner’s wife. Nevertheless, throughout his life he considered becoming a priest, and took four minor religious orders when 54.

Schubert was famous for his musical parties, which sometimes lasted until dawn. Yet he was very prolific; he wrote more than 20,000 bars of music, including 600 songs. He wrote 8 songs in one day. 

Rachmaninoff's fingers could span 12 keys.  On the other hand 😉, Schumann ruined his performing career by practicing with a homemade finger-stretching device; then he would plunge his hands into slaughtered animals’ entrails to heal himself.

Frederic Handel loved rich food and wine. He would order enough food for three people – for himself. The food caused him gout, and the wine may have caused him lead poisoning. 

Johann Sebastian Bach frequented Leipzig’s Café Zimmermann where he would drink several cups of coffee (which was a luxury beverage at the time). He liked coffee so much he wrote the Coffee Cantata about a woman who was trying to stop her coffee drinking habit.  Bach was also an amateur mathematician, which is evident in his compositions, especially his canons.

Speaking of coffee, Beethoven was so meticulous that he would measure exactly 60 beans when making coffee.

Mozart’s life included many interesting facts. He could write music before he could write words. He could listen to a piece of music just once and be able to write it down from memory perfectly. He wrote half of his symphonies between the age of 8 and 19. was a big cat fan. He would imitate cats when bored during rehearsals. In fact, he liked cats so much that he wrote a song called "The Cat Duet,” in which the husband asks his wife questions and she answers back in meows.

December 15, 2017

I have confidence

Tomoko doesn’t mind waiting in the airport, if she can buy a cup of coffee and eat a croissant in the dining area. There’s a certain pleasure. “They have a different taste than at home,” she says. It could be that it feels like a treat: not having to fix it yourself; “Maybe you are paying for the taste,” she says.  It reflects a sense of leisure and luxury, even if it is at a small scale. “It is like buying self-confidence.” 

Self-confidence can happen every day. Having a clean house, making a nice meal, wearing a well-made comfortable outfit, all make one feel good about oneself.

And music can bring self-confidence. Of course, a well-performed recital can exude self-confidence.  But doing a good lesson also gives one self-confidence. Being disciplined in practice builds confidence. Sometimes a challenging section of a piano piece can test one’s self-confidence, but patience and perseverance can help overcome the difficulty – and improve one’s self-confidence, which comes from pride in “conquering” that musical challenge. 

Once in a while, self-confidence can get in the way of music appreciation. “Listening to music in a concern is like judging,” Tomoko feels, especially if it is a piano performance. Being self-confidence can lead to comparisons and dissatisfaction with that concert: “I am better than the performer.” Instead, Tomoko prefers watching skating or enjoying an opera; it’s a way to not feel obligated to judge. Rather, Tomoko can appreciate the skater’s or singer’s own self-confidence. 

Tomoko helps her students develop self-confidence by both challenging them and supporting them so they too can master a piano piece. “The best self-confidence comes from self-competence,” thinks Tomoko. In that respect, self-confidence is no luxury: it’s a vital part of one’s self-identity.

December 2, 2017

Off to a Good Start

“The piano is an excellent instrument to play,” asserts Tomoko. “It’s widely available, flexible, and offers so many opportunities to play great music. It’s like an orchestra in one instrument.” 

Parents may want their child to learn how to play the piano. But the interest should come from the child – or whoever is considering starting to learn. Here are some ways to expose you and your child to piano playing:

  • Listen to piano music on the radio or online.
  • Watch piano performances on TV or online (such as YouTube).
  • Go to a music store that sells pianos, and have the staff talk about, and demonstrate, the piano – and the pieces of music to choose from.
  •  Find a relative, friend, teacher, or classmate who enjoys playing the piano, and share that experience.

When is a good time to start taking piano lessons? Tomoko recommends age 5 because children develop their small motor skills between ages 5 and 7. Tomoko also says, “At this age, children have no fear.” On the other hand, one can start at any age. "Interest, willingness, and perseverance are the main considerations."

As for talent, Tomoko says, “All students have talent. They just grow at different rates.” 

What should you expect? Tomoko knows that the beginning time is crucial: “The first experience needs to be fun. The teacher needs to be welcoming.” Of her own approach, Tomoko says, “I open the door. I am their passport to visit the country of pianos.” At the same time, first year piano is a learning process. Tomoko cautions: “The piano is not easy to play; you need a long time and patience. It’s a long-term investment.” 

Tomoko also states that learning how to play is a physical process; “The brain and the body need to be coordinated.” Tomoko uses this analogy: “Young children don’t know how to use pencil. Some teachers say you can’t be sloppy; try to be neat and clear. Where finger should be positioned? Posture is important. All those details need to be considered when starting out.”

Right from the start, students need preparation and discipline. They should practice at least ten hours a week. “Every lesson should have a challenge; you need to improve and grow,” claims Tomoko. “It is better to stretch than relax.” At the same time, Tomoko cautions, “Too much challenge is not good. I encourage students to try; I want them to keep their confidence.”

With a strong start and a trusting relationship with a knowledgeable and caring piano teacher,  beginning piano students can look forward to a lifelong skill and love of music that enrichens them.