Changing Your Outlook is the Quickest Way to Change the Outcome

As many of you already know, I recently finished a Masters degree in Piano Performance at Loyola University New Orleans; a masters degree that I in no way planned for and am still surprised I finished.  While I have recently decided that going back to school was probably the best decision I have ever made, I think it’s important that I discuss some of the less popular subjects that got me there.

Many pianists and musicians in general have, at some point, been led to believe that talking about our injuries or physical setbacks is taboo.  It is exactly this outlook that can lead to more serious or prolonged injuries, as we are told to just “tough it out” and keep going.  The irony in this mindset is that, as musicians, we all rely on our bodies and the health of our bodies in order to make a living, so what are we doing promoting the idea that we shouldn’t be taking care of them?  It’s imperative for young people to understand that physical pain is not something to be ashamed of, but rather a signal from your body that something is not right.

Over the last 10 years, I have struggled with a torn ligament in my dominant hand that resulted in two surgeries, a pin in my wrist, and most recently, arthritis in both thumbs.  Needless to say, I think I pretty much covered all of my bases.   A large part of my decision to go back to school stemmed from a desire to rehabilitate my hands.  I needed a goal to work towards, and the graduate school audition served that purpose.  Following my unanticipated acceptance, I was thrown into a Master Class full of undergraduates who were outplaying me and out-practicing me.  At this point, I really began to question my abilities, wondering what a voice major with a hand problem was doing in graduate school for piano.  I struggled with the possibility that I may not be able to finish the degree due to my physical limitations, and I really became my own worst enemy.

After a pretty miserable first semester of school, I was able to sit down and remind myself why I had chosen this path.  Before I auditioned, I made a promise to myself that grad school was for me, and only me.  The only person I had to prove anything to was myself.  By comparing myself to others, I had quickly lost sight of my goal and had gotten in my own way.  I had given myself reasons not to succeed.  In accepting my own limitations, I was able to set myself free.  No, I will never be someone who can sit down and practice for 3 hours a day; however, I have learned how to accomplish in 1 hour what I used to do in 3.  I let myself off the hook and found that the only true limitations that I have are mental.  The physical can be circumvented, but only if the mental application is there.

Attitude is everything, and it’s something I have to remind myself of everyday.  There are many times when I get frustrated with a student for repeating mistakes, realizing that I am actually frustrated with myself for not having found a better way to explain what I am trying to fix.  In these moments, it’s important to stop and realize that not all mistakes are created equal.  If it doesn’t work one way, then we try it another way.  More often than not, problems arise from our inability to look at the issue from a different perspective.  This is true in both life and in music.  In this light, I always strive to help my students understand that there is no “fail-proof” method of learning or fixing anything.  There are only people, and people are certainly not “fail-proof.”  Instead of holding ourselves to some lofty standard that we have set based upon unrealistic goals, let’s all let ourselves off the hook, for a change.  Why constantly push against our own limitations when we can work with them and find that we actually never had any to begin with?  I am a true believer in the idea that hard work can get us anywhere we want to be, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to work smarter, either.

The Value of the Teacher/Student Relationship

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on the importance of the relationships we build, specifically the bond that forms between teacher and student.  This year has brought many changes, both personally and professionally.  I have had the great pleasure of watching one of my own students begin her teaching career and appreciate the pride that she takes in her work and the positivity that she brings to each situation.  Recently, I also experienced the loss of a teacher and mentor and the challenges that come with absence of such a strong, positive force.  Finally, the completion of a degree that I began on somewhat of a whim comes to a bittersweet end, as my current teacher retires to another state, and I am faced with the terrifying prospect of doing this all on my own.  This has been a year of change, but it has also been a year of growth.

As I have gotten older, or more “mature,” as I think it is more acceptable to say, I have started to realize the importance of the role that we, as teachers, are charged with.  It is our responsibility to motivate, educate, and guide our students through their musical careers.  As young teachers, I think that many of us begin with the idea that we are to “get better.”  We are excited by the prospect of proving ourselves to our teachers, each other, and our students.  Teaching is an excellent motivation for growth.  However, as each year passes, I find my focus shifting to the relationships involved rather than proving my worth as an educator.

I have realized that the people who have made the biggest impact on my life as a teacher were those who taught me about my relationship with myself.  I have been lucky enough to have had teachers who have taken a personal interest in me and my career and have provided me with the support I need when I have been unable to find it within.  In this same light, nothing makes me happier than helping a student find something in themselves that they did not know existed.  Nothing is more rewarding than hearing a student say, “Hm…I never thought about it that way.”  This is the point.  Opening our eyes and ears and expanding our horizons are the reasons we begin anything.  Helping someone else get there is just icing on the cake.  At the end of the day, teaching music isn’t really about teaching someone how to play as much as it is about teaching responsibility to oneself.

Of course, any time we take on something new, there is a responsibility involved.  There is a responsibility to the others involved in the activity, those who help finance us, teachers, coaches, parents, etc.  Most of all, there is a responsibility to ourselves that whatever we do, we give it our best and create an environment that fosters that motivation in others, as well.  After all, music is supposed to be about sharing, and the best way to get others to share is to start by sharing yourself.

Festival Times

I just received the students’ Festival times for next Saturday, March 2.  Please plan on arriving about 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled time.

Kyle Chung – 1:30pm

Paris Creel – 10:10am

Sarah Fath – 12:35pm

Devon Lee – 10:30am

Hannah Lorio – 10:45am

Rimi Mandal – 9:20am

Priscilla Moradel – 12:45pm

Patrick and Elizabeth Murray – 12:05pm

Hala Raslan – 10:50am

Destiny Sanders – 11:55am

Ava Schexnayder – 12:55pm

Kaitlyn Tholen – 12:25pm

Alex Thomas – 11:45am

Sabrina Yang – 1:25pm

Wendy Yang – 10:05am

Jessie Troxler’s Senior Recital

Voice student Jessie Troxler will be performing in her Senior Recital this weekend along with several piano students of Peggy Fransen. Jessie is both an accomplished vocalist and pianist. I hope that you can attend this fantastic event!


JESSIE TROXLER'S SENIOR RECITAL
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2013
3:00PM

ST. CHARLES AVENUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
1545 STATE ST.
NEW ORLEANS, LA 70118

Jr. Philharmonic Performance

Big congratulations are in order for voice student Jessie Troxler. Jessie, a soprano and senior at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, LA recently performed in the Jr. Philharmonic Society’s December 9th concert.

Jessie’s Program:

Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun – Roger Quilter

Deh vieni, non tardar from Le Nozze di Figaro – W. A. Mozart

 

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Emily Fransen (left), Jessie Troxler (middle), and Peggy Fransen, accompanist (right)

New Student Teacher

Student Kaitlyn Tholen is a new student teacher! Kaitlyn’s student, Jenna Thomas, has been in lessons for about a month, and both Jenna and Kaitlyn have been catching on quickly! Congrats to both teacher and student on a big achievement!

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Kaitlyn Tholen and Jenna Thomas working on a new piece

Romantic and Contemporary Auditions

Congratulations to all of the students who participated in NOMTA’s Romantic and Contemporary Auditions at Loyola University last weekend!  I am proud of everyone’s performances!

Special recognition goes to Kaitlyn Tholen, Devon Lee, and Sarah Fath for receiving medals following their performances this year!

Piano Tuning and Maintenance

It’s important to maintain your piano over the years, as it helps your instrument’s quality as it grows older.  A piano’s sound adjusts with changes in weather and consistent use, so the piano should be tuned at least once a year in order to keep it in its best condition.  Start the school year off right with a tuning and regulation request through Hall Piano Company!

Tuning and Regulation

Student of the Month

JULY STUDENT OF THE MONTH

Rimi Mandal

Distant Bells – Streabbog

Rimi attends the 7th grade at St. Martin’s Episcopal School where she has been on the Honor Roll and won the Middle School Music Award.  In addition to her piano lessons, Rimi participates in tennis, school plays, and has recently started taking voice lessons.  She has been enjoying her summer with her new puppy and swimming pool.

Rimi has been taking piano lessons for about 6 years, and she has participated in many competitions and recitals over the years.  Rimi has always been a consistent performer and has made significant progress in her sight reading and memorization skills this summer.  Congratulations on your progress, Rimi!  Keep up the good work!

Student of the Month

APRIL STUDENT OF THE MONTH

Patrick Murray

Waltz – Kabalevsky

Patrick is 11 years old, attending Christian Brothers School where he is a 6th grade student. Patrick is very involved at his school where he participates in swimming, chess, soccer, and the kayak club.  He is also on the Honor Roll at Christian Brothers and likes to bike and play soccer for fun.

Patrick enjoys playing piano, particularly learning the blues.  Patrick has had an excellent year in piano, earning a Superior rating in the LFMC Festival in March and a Superior Medalist rating in the Romantic and Contemporary Auditions in November.  After 3 years of lessons, Patrick is continuing to progress in piano, and I am looking forward to many more productive years ahead.