What Happens in Vegas...
My first ever trip to Las Vegas was a memorable one - most notably for the excitement of being among 2000 music teachers from across the country (and around the world) for the 2015 Music Teachers National Association National Conference. The daily schedule was jam-packed with seminars, workshops, division meetings, masterclasses, competitions, and performances. Headliners for performances and masterclasses included Ann Schein, Lang Lang, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galaway, Ann Schein, The Canadian Brass, and Lang Lang. Presenters included well-known musicians, educators, composers, and researchers.
My favorite experiences included:
1. Observing masterclasses and performances by Ann Schein, Lang Lang, Alan Chow, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galaway, Ann Schein, The Canadian Brass, and Lang Lang as well as MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year Christos Tsitsaros.
2. Exploring teaching approaches to topics including musical analysis, applied theory and history, improvisation technique, sight-reading, and memorization through the following sessions:
3. Participation in pedagogy tracks:
4. Participation in seminars on arts advocacy and state/division meetings.
5. Discovering new musical selections presented by composers and publishers, and new tools in musical technology through the exhibit hall.
As Executive Director of the International Music Institute and Festival USA, I am very much excited by our 2015 program. 25 young musicians will participate in a 10-day program at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Although this program is geared towards advanced students ages 14-24, I welcome Piano Prodigies families to become involved in the program and benefit from the wonderful musical opportunities that it presents. There will be several great performances and masterclasses by faculty and staff, as well as the very talented students.
The program will take place July 17-26. I am seeking families to assist with:
Please let me know if you and your family would be able to assist. Thank you!
My friends and family joke that I hold the world-record for number of children in one family: 35 kids, currently ages 4 through… 54! They are my inspiration and motivation to improve as a pianist, teacher, and person. Guiding them in their musical development is a responsibility that I take on with great joy. Additionally, I have found teaching to be an exchange of energy and ideas: I learn as much as I teach, and am confident that I will continue to improve throughout my career.
I am excited to announce that I have applied for (and been accepted to) the Music Teachers National Association national certification program (NCTM: Nationally Certified Teacher of Music). Achieving MTNA certification would be the highest recognition that a private teacher can receive. Less than 10% of music teachers hold this certification.
The process of certification as well as the requirements for renewal (every five years) will provide me with continuing education opportunities that will benefit my growth as teacher. Through the completion of the five projects, candidates must demonstrate both theoretical knowledge and practical implementation. I will be assisted in the process by professional pianists and current NCTM teachers.
I will be aiming to complete the NCTM projects by July 2015.
Thank you for your encouragement!
Many of my students are preparing for competitions and festivals occurring later this spring. I wanted to share my recent experience as judge, and some of the actual feedback I gave to participants in the junior and senior divisions of the Barnes-Ferencz Piano Competition.
Although there is a certain challenge in communicating suggestions on a live performance in writing (as opposed to demonstrating the suggestions in a lesson/masterclass setting), I aim to provide encouragement and constructive criticism through my comments in hopes that will inspire students to dig deeper into their musicianship and technique. I was honored to have the esteemed pianist (and my mentor) Dr. Arno Drucker as my co-judge. Each student was required to perform a ragtime selection and a classical selection (memorized).
Some of my comments on the ragtime selections:
“One of the most important elements (maybe the most?) is the rhythmical integrity — a steady pulse and the hierarchy of the beats — followed by a sense of style and fun communicated by ease, humor, and contrast.”
“Explore using your entire arm (wrist, elbow, upper arm, back) for power. Develop a sense of ease in this piece. It’s a hallmark of the style!”
“Congrats on a wonderful mastery of this piece. You play it with ease and have a fantastic sense of the style. Great expression (dynamic contrast), left-right hand balance, pace, and pulse, and good musical direction throughout.”
“Great understanding of the style (especially syncopation, voicing, clarity, and ease). Secure performance - very enjoyable!”
Some of my comments on the classical selections:
“Work on developing a sense of play (joy and elegance!). Work on your physical awareness while practicing/performing. You present a lot of intensity in your performance, but it’s currently coupled with excess tension. This affects your sound and control.”
“The LH accompaniment is tricky here (Haydn Sonata). I am sure you have been working on it — don’t give up yet! It’s essential to a fluid performance and will allow you to really focus on making the right hand brilliant, joyous, and a real soloist.”
“Be assertive in your dynamic changes. Don’t hint at them… convince us!”
“Continue to work on mastering your technical work (e.g. scales, 4 octaves, hands together). You might be surprised how much you can gain from this and how it will directly improve your . “
“You looked very put-together, but I would encourage you to revisit your shoe choice for performances. High, stiff heels not only inhibit your pedaling but also your physical ease and thus your sound and overall technique.”
“I can see that you have put much time and energy into your preparation. I’d like to see you focus on your tone and rhythm. It will take your performance up to the next level!”
“Your interpretation of the Schubert Impromptu will benefit from a little more time (it feels a little fresh!). I can tell that you love the music. The A section should be faster, crisper, and more “classical” in approach. For the B section, keep the pulse steady within the expressive framework. Great job on voicing.”
“Chopin: Strive for a long, singing line in the RH and peaceful LH accompaniment that demonstrates your understanding of the harmonic progression. Listen to good recordings (and live performances!) for inspiration.”
“There is so much passion in your performing commitment to the music and to the audience. I enjoyed your playing and wish you all the best for continued growth and success in music.”
Overall, we were much more critical of the classical selections, which often required a more advanced level of musicianship and technical mastery. We were forgiving of some slips (it happens, especially amongst young musical students) — the quicker the recovery, the better. Those who displayed strong technique demonstrated their disciplined practicing under the guidance of an experienced teacher (it truly is a team effort!). Successful performers were able to convey a sense of confidence in their personal interpretation, a wide range of dynamics (in accord with the composer’s markings!), an understanding the of musical style (including voicing, articulation, rubato, pedaling), and rhythmical integrity.
Additional comment: Students were given a few moments to try the piano before beginning their selections. Although this was not judged, their technical warm-up often provided much insight into their preparations (and regular practice of technical exercises) and foreshadowed their performance.
The Department of Music observes the retirement of pianist Reynaldo Reyes with a celebration of his 50-plus years of service to Towson University and the community. The evening includes his performance of Bach’s “Chaconne in D Minor” as transcribed by Busoni, and stories and anecdotes shared by TU alumni and colleagues. The tribute concludes with an open reception, giving all the opportunity to congratulate Professor Reyes in person.
Saturday, April 11 at 7:00pm
Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall, CA 3042
Center for the Arts, Towson University, Towson, MD 21252
Piano Prodigies director and pianist Elizabeth Borowsky studied with Professor Reynaldo Reyes from age 13-21. She considers him a tremendous influence on shaping her musical, technical, and teaching skills. In preparation for his retirement celebration, she sat down to ask him about his life as pianist and teacher. Below is a sneak-preview of the interview!
Elizabeth Borowsky (EB): Tell us about your childhood, and specifically, how you got into music.
Reynaldo Reyes (RR): I come from a family that was very ambitious. My parents had seven kids, and wanted their children to be successful. I was the second youngest. They chose what we’d be: The firstborn must be a doctor. There next would be a pharmacist. There must be a lawyer…
So… you were chosen to be the pianist?
No! It was an accident. My sisters learned piano and taught me. We came from a small town and didn’t know much. The piano we had at home was not intended for me - it was intended for everyone. My sisters were my first teachers. When I was seven I started taking lessons with a real piano teacher. But she lived 17 kilometers away. How do you think I got to my lesson each week?
Bus? Hitchhiking? Bicycle?
No! I walked!
Yes. I walked! It was during the war and everything was destroyed. There was no transportation. We walked four hours each way, each week, for a one hour lesson. When my students call me and say “Mr. Reyes, I can’t come to my lesson as my car doesn’t work” I laugh and tell them this story. The challenge is not the point. Piano lessons were so important. I would never be absent, for anything, for any reason!
Were you an exceptional talent?
I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to, and that wasn’t important for me. Also, I didn’t know the word “talent” or what it means. I was… capable. I never complained when I was given something difficult. In fact, the harder it was, the more I liked it. It challenged me. I didn’t do it because I was talented or because I liked it so much. I didn’t understand those words and their complex meaning.
How do you practice now?
The variations on Bach - I’ve always loved them. But they were so hard - I didn’t even dare to start them. Until I decided that I’ll do it for this recital. So, at the age of 81, I chose to force myself to learn them… even if just to test myself and answer the question: can I still do it? I could say, “It’s hard. It’s difficult. I’m old. I cannot memorize anymore.” But I’m not going to give into this fear. I’m not going to be defeated. If I can’t learn it, I shouldn’t be playing! I’m learning with the sheer belief that I was taught how to learn, and how to compete with myself. That competition — that challenge — is making me learn it. If I can do it, it means I really can still play, and learn, anything. I’m not learning a simple piece. It’s difficult.
Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).