Category - Favorite Performers

What We Can Learn from the Parents of Condoleezza Rice, Pianist and Politician

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Condoleezza Rice give the keynote address at the MTAC (Music Teachers of California) conference where the theme was “Breaking Barriers.” It was an honor I soon won’t forget; first, of course, because of the spectacular story of inspiration Ms Rice wove and secondly, because I took notes! Not copious notes but, enough to build an outline to share.

After a week of musing over Ms Rice’s speech, I made some insights about her story and parenting styles. I hope you’ll read to the end as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Here’s a link to a free download of the article if you’d like to share a hard copy with your families.)

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Wynn-Anne Rossi’s Timeless Tips on Composition

Wynn-Anne Rossi and I first met at an MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) conference years ago. I attended one of her Alfred showcases and was so impressed with her poised yet lively presentation of her latest pieces. She even danced the tango for us!

Wynn-Anne and I connected during the conference and enjoyed comparing notes about technology and creativity and the importance they both hold in our studios.

It was wonderful to see Wynn-Anne and her success as an Alfred composer featured in a recent blog at JW Pepper.  My students have been head-over-heels about her Musica Latina series of books. I’m so thankful Wynn-Anne pointed me to this post as JW Pepper also includes videos of Wynn-Anne and her experience as a composer and teacher of composition.

In the blog post (read the full article here) it states:

Wynn-Anne Rossi is particularly passionate about teaching composition to young musicians. She feels that one of her greatest talents is the ability to simplify complex ideas to a single “grain,” thus allowing any level learner to understand them. This was the inspiration behind the “Counterpoints” in her Creative Composition Toolbox series. Rossi believes that anyone can learn to write music if given the freedom to find their own voice.

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Children and Chamber Music: Marie’s MTNA 2016 Report Part 4

Thank you, Marie!

Thank you, Marie!

In her final report from her quick trip to MTNA’s 2016 conference in San Antonio (find the others here), Marie Lee, good friend and guest blogger, shares how she was inspired by a unique session called “Children and Chamber Music: an Easy Solution!  

We have gained so much from Marie’s reports. I hope you enjoyed them. At the end of this post, it’d be great to let her know of your appreciation and which report inspired your teaching the most. 

When reading the class description, I completely expected this class to be for string teacher but thought I could use variations of the ideas with my piano students. Imagine my delight when I found out in the first two minutes that this was to be demonstrations of young pianists playing with a professional chamber ensemble! Read More

Time for Three Concert: Marie’s MTNA 2016 Report Part 2


Marie with Ms Becki and her red hat from JoyTunes

It’s been like Christmas around here as I unpack Marie Lee’s reports from the MTNA 2016 conference in San Antonio. All of them come full of information and pleasant surprises. This time she’s back with a rousing post about the concert that she claimed “was worth the entire trip!”

This is Marie’s second in a series that she is generously offering to me and the loyal and greatly appreciated readers of! The first one (find it here) offers some great group lesson tips and her thoughts on the RMM track. -Leila

Take it away, Marie…

If you’ve attended a few music teachers’ conferences, you’ll know that traditionally, most opening concerts feature classical pianist playing classical music. While I have the utmost respect for these artists and their talent, I find it difficult to sit through 90 minutes of classical piano. Read More

A New Favorite Christmas Arrangement for Piano OR Organ!

Merry Christmas pic

Thanks to the wonders of social media, I stumbled across Paul Sweet’s dynamic arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful” a couple of months ago. When I heard his captivating performance featured in the video below it struck me that this piece could be a possible hit on the organ as well.

Here’s Paul’s performance of his arrangement on the piano

Here’s my performance of his piece that I arranged for the Allen Renaissance organ

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Terrific Promo for the Savvy Church Musician from James Koerts


James Koerts, composer, arranger, church musician, father and….

With a regular church keyboardist position, it’s an ongoing task to find fresh, appealing and accessible sacred arrangements for services. I stumbled across one of James Koerts’ books published by Alfred Music a couple of years ago and found myself drawn to his work because of his fresh, idiomatic writing. A while ago I discovered Koerts on Facebook and visited his site featuring even more arrangements, and now I faithfully buy everything he pumps out which means I purchase frequently as he is a prolific composer!

In 2013, Koerts expanded his library to include sheet music in digital download format (PDF) through his website. It’s his goal to maintain a high level of musical quality in addition to providing a fast (nearly instant) method of delivery in a modern, flexible format. Perfect for scrambling church musicians–don’t we all have a few of those moments where we need something NOW?

Koerts’ digital sheet music mecca has resulted in a rather large folder of his works stored in the forScore app on my iPad. Interested in learning more about how to use THE top app for viewing your digital sheet music? Click here for complete instructions. If you are a visual learner, here’s a video on how I use my favorite forScore features with Koerts’ digital sheet music. Read More

History in the Making at MTNA 2014! Part One

If you want the complete rundown about all of MTNA’s conference sessions this year, you’ll have to rely upon 2014_logosomeone else. (Check out Bradley Sowash’s blog about it here.) I was privileged to be part of some extremely exciting events and found myself too occupied to attend as many sessions as I would have liked. I did manage to capture a few pics AND some priceless videos. Let me fill you in.

Part One: Improvisation Saturday

With a dream team headed by George Litterst and MTNA Jazz/Pop Track Chair Bradley Sowash, Saturday was a day of HUGE, HISTORICAL firsts for conference goers and MTNA.

Three simultaneous streams of sessions within the improvisation track led by world-class improvisation experts made it mighty tricky for attendees to choose. As I obviously could not attend all of them, let’s hope others who attended will share what they learned.

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A Piano Duo Concert at the Broadmoor Hotel


Posing with my good friend and incredibly gifted pianist, teacher and CEO of USIDPC, Linda King.

It has been a privilege to count Linda King as a friend, fellow choir member, neighbor, and also a mentor. She is known photo 5around these parts as an outstanding piano teacher boasting award-winning National Federation of Music Club students for years, even decades.  In addition she is CEO and President of the United States International Duo Piano Competition.  The past two years I’ve been exposed to this side of King’s reign over the duo piano realm as I was recruited to hear and evaluate all entries to be considered for the unique event.

Part of this duty includes an invitation to attend the competition held at none other than the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. If you’ve been privileged enough to stay at this 5-star, historic hotel, you’ll know that I, along with my husband, are not suffering.

After a delicious dinner at the Summit Restaurant, we attended the first concert of the 4-day event featuring piano duo team Julia Amada Kruger and Victor Bunin. photo 2 I figured I’d write a synopsis of the entire experience upon my return home but this evening program was more than tolerable, more than admirable. It was good and spurred this post. It was so enjoyable, my husband–who was given the option to leave between numbers if he wished–remained for the entire concert. Why? Partially because the duo invited a flautist, Mario Puerini, to join them on a couple of numbers which provided a variety of textures and also because the selections were relatively brief. However, what captivated our attention and kept us in our seats were the pieces composed by Alexander Rosenblatt.  Oh my, what fun to hear  his quirky quotes of classics within a contemporary flair.  Spicy and unpredictable harmonies combined with snippets of familiarity all within a creative framework served to please both performers and listeners alike.

The performers themselves were adequate. Julia Amada Kruger was especially fun to observe but those pesky sheets slipping from the piano rack and music stand along with tricky page turns were distracting. In my humble opinion, an iPad score reader would serve them well along with a Page Flip or Airturn :-).

More to come but in the mean time, enjoy listening to Rosenblatt’s “Carmen Fantasy” on themes from the opera by George Bizet, one of the featured selections of the evening concerts.

The Eye Ear Revolution™ Lands in Denver

“Talk to the hand”, “doo bah zee dot”, “squared scales”, “safe notes”. This is a sampling of the lingo I’ve learned thanks to my exposure to and friendship withEyeEarBanner2Med my colleague Bradley Sowash.

When I attended my first NCKP (National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy) Conference in Chicago years ago, I had the privilege of attending a session led by Bradley featuring his That’s Jazz books. By sheer coincidence, I found myself sitting next to him that evening during a large-group happy hour. Not one to miss a moment to learn something new, I began picking his brain about the 12-bar blues and returned to my hotel room with a bar napkin full of his scribbles providing advice about how to teach the pattern.

Years later we met again at the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) conference held here in Denver. Again, never one to miss an opportunity, I enjoyed a pizza lunch with Bradley in the exhibit hall and yes, returned home with a napkin full of notes.

Fast forward to 2013. Bradley was appointed the Chair of the MTNA 2013 Conference Saturday Pedagogy Jazz/Pop track (that’s a mouthful) and he invited me to serve alongside him. Details about the day and handouts are available here. The fact that there was standing room only demonstrates that the tide is changing and many are seeing the need to expand piano education beyond the repertoire of European dead guys AND beyond the page–in other words, both current and creative.

While working on this project, Bradley felt the need to carry on with the goal of promoting a balance of eye and ear skills past the MTNA conference. He has coined his goal or movement the Eye Ear Revolution™. As we discovered we worked well together, we developed a branch of the Eye Ear Revolution called 88 Creative Keys. This summer in my home town of Denver, will be the first annual (yes, we hope to make it annual) 88 Creative Keys Camp for kids ages 10-18 and clinics for adults and teachers.

teetertotter3To set the stage for the upcoming 88 Creative Keys events, Bradley flew out to Denver and presented at CU Boulder and Rockleys 531905_10151415097373907_73602421_nMusic Center. As his appointed taxi driver, it was my pleasure to shuttle him to each location and of course listen-in on his savvy tips on promoting creativity beyond the page. What I witnessed (yet again) is that Bradley is not only a sparkling jazz artist but an extremely dedicated educator and author who knows how to teach his craft. While attending both sessions, I also learned that my note taking could be better. Revisiting my notes, I realized that most of my sentences were left uncompleted. With one bright idea after another coming at me faster than I could write, here are just a few nuggets of wisdom I salvaged:

  • Bradley’s favorite visual for the eye/eye revolution = a well-balanced teeter totter of eye and ear skills.
  • He believes that in order to develop comprehensive musicianship, students need instruction in  both.
  • Students are crippled by a “read only” curriculum that fails to honor both sides of their brain.
  • The number one thing Bradley hears from teachers interested in musical creativity: “I don’t have the tools to improvise or to teach improvisation.”

To demystify the art of improvisation, Bradley discussed the five myths about improvisation. My notes can’t compare to his brief video:

A good portion of his sessions focused on his That’s Jazz books. Bradley explained that many supplementary jazz books on the market are written out–so when reading these pieces you are playing jazzy, but not jazz.

His series of books include original compositions along with:

  • A warm-up page before each piece that forewarns the improviser about the “traps” to be found.
  • A going-further page after each piece which provides specific improvisation tools to be rehearsed.
  • An improv challenge that assigns students to plug in newly acquired improv skills into the piece.
  • Plenty of step by step and easily digestible directions.

When using his books in lessons, Bradley suggests the following (among many other things):

  • Sell the idea of improvisation as a reward to your students: “You played the written music so well that now you get to play it your way!”
  • Accompany students constantly and use a small hand drum or automated accompaniment to keep them on track with a steady pulse.
  • Never criticize–remember you are blowing on tiny creative embers that can be easily ignited or snuffed out depending upon your approach.
  • Always ask questions when guiding improvisers. For example, instead of saying “That was too loud”, ask , “How would it sound to vary the dynamics?”
  • Encourage with these words: “If you don’t like how something sounds, you are always only one note away from a better choice.”
  • Take away tip: The two most useful 7th chord positions: the “Bird” (7th chord in 2nd inversion) and root position.

What I’ll save for another blog: his incredibly savvy advice on teaching chords and chord symbols. If you want to know more now, go and purchase his Understanding Chord Symbols booklet. This is worth EVERY penny.

With a full-time church position, I’m always looking for ways to make my job easier and to offer some variety from Sunday to Sunday. So I took advantage of a colleague in town. A colleague who happens to be a concert jazz artist (I’m no dummy!).  His prelude ignited the congregation and the choir couldn’t help but swing along while singing Bradley’s anthem. It was thrilling for me to play with him on a couple of numbers as well. With a “power” lesson and some practice under my belt, I kept up with Bradley on the postlude showing some newly developed comping and improv skills.

Taking advantage of face time, Bradley and I spent leftover hours of the short weekend planning for the 88 Creative Keys events. I’ve learned a great deal about his teaching style thanks to his blogging. (NOTE: If you haven’t yet, now’s the time to check out his blog articles as they are jam-packed with tips and demonstrate his stunning success with his students.) As we continue our plans, it appears we balance each other well with our unique backgrounds and teaching styles.

We are extremely grateful for those who have seen the value of what we will offer. Spaces are filling up fast but there is still room, so if you are interested in learning to teach and play more creatively, we’d love to have you participate. Events run from July 29-August 3. Please check the site for exact dates, tuition, etc.

  • Learn more about Bradley Sowash and the Eye Ear Revolution at
  • Learn more about the 88 Creative Keys Events here.
  • Learn more about and purchase Bradley’s #1 best-selling  jazz method That’s Jazz here.
  • Learn more about and purchase Bradley’s Understanding Chord Symbols here.
  • Learn more about the 88 Creative Keys Events here.

I’ll leave you with Bradley’s performance of “In the Moment” one of many favorites featured on his CD In the Moment.

Interested in staying in touch with the latest news from 88 Piano Keys and the 88 Creative Keys Events? Now you can text to join our mailing list!


In Moments Like These It’s Good To Have Music

I’ve had, for lack of a better term, an interesting week. Won’t go into too much detail now as the events of this week could be photo 2divvied up into a number of blog posts. The combination of incidents listed below has a point, bear with me.

1) It’s been “group lesson week” which means more planning but less teaching hours. I always enjoy this fresh format, a reprieve from the normal private lesson/lab session routine and a chance for students to catch up with piano peers. Less teaching time allows me to brainstorm and plan for upcoming spring events. This means a great deal of time in front of the computer.

2) If you hang around my site at all, you may recall that I have recently joined forces with Bradley Sowash. As business partners and colleagues, we’ve discovered we both desire to spread the “good news” of creativity. As we get this project underway called 88Creative Keys, a good deal of brain power has been needed to carve out a path for this unique endeavor. We’ve been pounding out ideas and spent a productive week of shaping things to come. Again, this meant more time at the computer.

3) This week a situation sparked quite an upheaval in my studio. Perhaps a post will appear later when it doesn’t feel so “raw” however, I learned that I can no longer be a marshmallow inside. I must be the strong, firm business woman who I’d really rather not be, but need to be, to protect myself from this circumstance happening again. This meant a good deal of reflection on my part with some sleepless nights.

4) A strong immune system is a gift for a teacher and I have prided myself in warding off most bugs. However, I acquired something that has stolen my voice, literally swiped it, for the past three days.  The highlight of it all, when two bros showed up for a lesson the other day and I was whispering and showing and not telling instructions, they decided they would whisper as well. It’s never been that quiet in here before! In addition when I asked to students to play the teacher role and read instructions, etc, they pulled out their best “teacher” voice, while others used some spot-on accents–British, Southern, even Bostonian! This resulted in a great deal of laughter at group lessons… but NO TALKING (for me) when at all possible, so plenty of quiet time.

inthemomSo where am I going with this string of events? While planning, typing, blogging, reflecting, having more alone-and-no-talking time,  I’ve been playing one of Bradley Sowash’s CD’s called In the Moment. I inherited a number of albums from his scratch and dent pile a while ago. What struck me was how much the 12 tracks kept me moving along, inspired me and even provided a bright outlook from day to day. His music has immediate appeal and just when it sounds like it might get predictable, Bradley turns the corner and keeps you on your listening toes. My favorite is number 12, “Ash Cave“.

What’s incredible to me is that he is not only a superb pianist/artist/composer, Bradley is an excellent teacher and has a heart for sharing his love of creativity with others.  At he’s even been willing to video himself teaching his students and openly share his tricks of the trade. Not too many artists and teachers are so generous. So although this may sound like a pitch for promoting him because I happen to be a colleague and business partner, it is much more than that. This is a nudge, no, I’d say a push for you to enjoy his music, and take advantage of his teaching tips. Check out his latest blog  Trading 4’s with the Blues. I’ll be describing how I used this idea for group lessons in an upcoming post.

In a nutshell, with the array of unknowns a week may bring there is always solace found in music. How nice to have found exceptional music to accompany me on this week’s unusually interesting trek, thanks Bradley.

Ok, I’ll put on my marketing hat again.

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