A Legend at Lunchtime

The other day, I was privileged to meet Katinka Scipiades Daniel, an eminent piano teacher and almost solely responsible for introducing the Kodály Method of music education to America back in the 1960’s. Katinka, now in her 90’s, joyful, sprightly and alert, welcomed members of the Kodály Association of Southern California for a potluck lunch, where we had chance to hear stories and reminiscences of all kinds.

Katinka’s own history is interesting– her husband Ernö Daniel was an eminent concert pianist in Hungary, giving concerts internationally, when the Communists took over Hungary in the 1940’s. As he happened to be abroad at that time, he decided not to return, although Katinka and her children were still in Hungary. Ernö went to America, accepting a position first at Wichita Falls and then at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and eventually after twelve years, his wife and children were permitted to join him.

The family all flourished in America– both parents becoming renowned as teachers, their son and daughter eventually becoming well-respected and successful doctors. Katinka has made an interesting video on how to combine the Kodály method with piano teaching, which also contains valuable examples of her technical methods. She has also written excellent books on teaching Kodály from Kindergarten upwards. However, her most lasting impact has been the training of some wonderful Kodály teachers in California, who are now passing on her legacy. I’m excited to join them.


Creative Discipline, Creative Freedom

As a teen, I remember being woken daily before dawn, so that I would be able to fit in part of my piano practice before school. I would slouch downstairs in my robe, dress shivering before the gas fire, eat a quick breakfast and set to work.

Up to the age of fourteen or so I had been an early riser anyway, always waking full of energy, ready for anything. But when puberty struck, something catastrophic must have happened to my biorhythms, as almost from one day to the next, I seemed to need a lot more sleep and felt horribly jet-lagged and grumpy when woken.

I was thinking about this earlier today. Despite how wretched I felt, my mother obliged me to practice. How I felt simply was irrelevant (unless I was actually ill). And so I learned a huge amount of discipline, first imposed on me, but later self-engendered. I know how to ‘carry on regardless’.
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Intuitive Improvisation And Some News…

American Music Teacher Magazine CoverI am delighted to announce that my latest article on intuitive improvisation has been published in the December/January issue of American Music Teacher, along with a number of other great articles on improvisation. I chose to focus on games and exercises for teachers who may not have ever improvised themselves. I give practical approaches that will enable them to not only encourage their students to improvise, but to also enjoy the process alongside them. I based it on successful experiments with many of my own students over the years. It was a fun article to write.

I apologize for not having blogged in a while — I am in charge of a pilot program in Kodály musicianship for Kindergarden through second grade students, and conducting two middle-school choirs — teaching three hundred children per week. It has been extremely absorbing and energy-consuming. The program is going well, and we hope, with the help of the Ojai Music Festival Education Committee, to expand the Kodály program to all schools in the local district.

Young children are wonderfully responsive and enthusiastic. It has been amazing to see how rapidly they are progressing. I am excited at the prospect of so many young children receiving a solid foundation in musicianship and enjoying music making so much. My intention in the coming semester is to regain more balance in my life, so that I can once again have time to blog, make music, write articles, and actually have a social life as well!


Miraculous Music-Making

OK, I guess I blew it. I was in London during the Proms a couple of weeks ago and I missed Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela. There has been such a buzz around this orchestra and “El Sistema”, the miraculous music organization that has literally saved so many poverty-stricken children from a life of drugs and crime by offering them the chance to learn a musical instrument. They then become part of an amazing national network of after-school instruction which is producing thousands of wonderful musicians. Dudamel himself, who at 26 has just been appointed principal conductor of the LA Phil, is a product of El Sistema, and by all accounts an incredibly talented and inspiring musician.

Here’s Dudamel being interviewed by the BBC during the interval of the Prom

And here’s a clip from the performance in question.

Astounding musicianship, relaxed confidence, utter joy and playfulness. How did a performance this miraculous take place? I’m honestly not sure. What fascinated me about the interview is Dudamel’s emphasis on the importance of humility, and also the sense in which he feels himself to be very much part of the orchestra, rather than a ‘maestro’. But there’s so much more going on …

Food for thought as I work with the choir I’ve just taken on.


Ten happenings

Ten happenings:

I’m on vacation in England with Robert.

I’ve remembered just how much I love being here.

I met up with a friend I haven’t seen in 17 years, although we’ve been friends for 37 years! Since we last met, she got married and had two girls who are now 11 and 13. We still get along like a house on fire.

I saw close friends I haven’t seen since I moved to the States five years ago.We still click.

It’s been raining for the last nine days and neither of us minds.

We’ve seen fabulous art and centuries-old palaces. I appreciate them more than ever, having been living in California.

I haven’t been keeping up with blogs (mine or others), because so much has been happening in real life. I remembered how cool real life is.

I’ve reconnected with a part of myself I’d lost touch with. A part I really like.

I’m appreciating each part of each day.

I’m now Choral Director of Matilija Junior High School, starting next Monday. As well as teaching Kodaly, starting on Tuesday. It’s going to be a busy week.

P.S. For travelog and photos, click here.


A Key to Great Musicianship

I’ll be taking on a new enterprise this fall besides my coaching clients– teaching the Kodály Method to 5-8 year olds in a local school. I’m being employed to train teachers alongside kids in the method, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Two of my best years of musicianship training took place in London starting about twelve years ago. I’ve always been able to do aural exercises extremely easily, as I have perfect pitch, but had never found a great way to assist others in learning dictation, sight-singing, being able to hear music inwardly, etc. Now, with the help of the great teachers David Vinden and his wife Yuko (who both trained in Hungary, the birthplace of the Kodály Method), I learned all of this and more, using the Kodály technique. And the best part about this training was that I could feel my own aural abilities being stretched to the full– being asked to play a single line of a Bach melody as a three part-canon on the piano, attempting to tap an ostinato whilst sight-singing using the alto clef and sol-fa syllables (do, re, mi, etc.)…. and having tremendous fun in the process, thanks to my wonderful teachers.

Of course, I’ll be starting much more simply with my Kindergarteners. The idea is to start with two notes only (soh and mi) and introduce new notes and concepts gradually. I’m hoping I have as much fun with the kids as I did in my own studies. And I’m hoping to give them the very best start as musicians. Of course, five years old is the best time to start, but it’s never too late. If you’d like to know more, one great place to start is http://www.oake.org/ .


One Small Step


I’m reading a wonderful book at the moment, which is really giving me pause for thought. “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” by Dr. Robert Maurer puts forward the idea, based on the ancient Japanese principle of kaizen, that we can achieve much more by taking tiny incremental steps than by waking up one morning and deciding to make huge changes. Maurer explains that when we decide to make a huge change in our life we often become afraid, which can trigger the “fight or flight” response in the amygdala, and then this slows down or even stops rational or creative thinking.
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Plunging in with enthusiasm

Placido Domingo has invited Woody Allen to direct his first opera in ’08– Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” for Los Angeles Opera. Yesterday, Allen was quoted on NPR as saying:

” I have no idea what I’m doing, but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.”

N.B. Don’t try this in your next audition/interview.