The Score Awakens

I may have gone a little too far this time.

I have not been content to merely listen to the soundtrack to Star Wars The Force Awakens while driving around to all my students (let me tell you, I kind of wish my car automatically played the Star Wars Main Theme every time it turned on and, you know, blasted it from exterior speakers.  Yes, every time I turned it on.).  Over the past week or so, I’ve actually sat down and started a really rough draft of a sort of listening map for the entire score.

I don’t cite my sources in the paper, partially because some of the info is common knowledge (I mean, if you don’t know that it’s called The Force Theme or Han Solo and the Princess I don’t know if we  can be friends anymore), and also partially because I can’t really confirm an exact source.   Wikipedia has a good page on the Star Wars themes (and also doesn’t cite sources), and an article from Mashable actually helped me sort out a few of the newer themes (and confused me on a few others, ha!).

This is also far from finished and far from perfect.  I’ll actually be out at the theater tomorrow with my listening map in hand to see how my notes match up with the action on screen, and if the action can help clue me in to what some of the themes and motifs might be associated with.  (For example, I have one cue that I keep referring to as “desert music” because it reminds me of a music cue from the original trilogy whenever the characters are on Tatooine).

I’m sharing this for any other geeky music or Star Wars fans out there who may be interested in this work.  I’d be so happy to hear your thoughts and comments on the listening map!  Maybe there’s something that I got wrong, or maybe something you’ve got a question on!

George Lucas may have given us a vast universe of characters, planets, politics and relationships, but John Williams has given us an equally lush universe of music to listen to and explore.  I hope for me that this is just the first of many excursions really diving into each movie’s score.  Stay tuned folks, and may the force be with you!

A New Look and New Plans

Greetings from 2015!  I blow my own mind by making my first post of 2015 almost halfway through the year!  Life is busy when you have as many MissAdventures as I do.

But anyway, here we are!  I’ve redesigned my website to make it easier to navigate, but I am still doing a bit of work on it, so please be patient if you have a hard time with something (and if you do, please visit my “contact me” page and, well, contact me!).

If you are here because you are interested in my summer programs or registering for the fall, please visit the lessons page.

If you are here just to read, well, read on, and enjoy!

~Miss Anna~

Remembering Dean Drummond

It’s been a year, but I still have a hard time describing just how much Dean Drummond meant to me.  A year later, and his passing still touches me deeply.

Dean Drummond was just another one of my teachers in college.  I had taken classes with him, and I had been in his ensembles, and that may not sound like much.   But to me and to a good handful of students like me, he was so much more than just a teacher.

Dean was in charge of the Harry Partch instruments, and beginning in the fall of 1999 (just like me) Dean and his unique group of instruments came to Montclair State University.  Yes, we called them the Dr. Seuss instruments (go ahead and google the insane genius Harry Partch, I’ll wait), but those of us who got to know the instruments developed a strong love for both the instruments, the legend of Harry Partch and Dean himself.

When I tell you that Dean is the main reason why I remained at Montclair, it is not a lie or a stretch of the truth.  I could have studied music theory anywhere; there is only one college where a student could study on the Harry Partch instruments, and that’s at Montclair State University.  I didn’t go there with Partch in mind, but this is one happy accident that I am most thankful for.

Even after I left Montclair, I was still happy to hear about the program flourishing.   Dean once even assured me that the “Partch students continue to be the coolest students in the music school” (yes, that’s a direct quote from an email he once sent me).

To honor Dean’s memory, the university has so kindly decided to kick the instruments off campus.  Well, I guess I should be a little clearer.  It’s not like whomever makes these kinds of decisions sat down and said, “what’s the most insulting thing that we can do for a faculty member who has passed away?”  but that’s essentially what they have done, and I know I’m not the only one who is livid about this decision.

However.  I’m not going to dwell.  At least, I’m not going to dwell on the negative.  Instead, here is a roundup of articles written about Dean, leading off with my favorite.  The author, Elizabeth Brown, is a composer who wrote a few pieces for the Partch instruments.  It is my favorite of all the articles written in the last year because of her close ties with Dean.  They had a long and great working relationship, and the article is peppered with email correspondence between she and Dean.  I miss his humor.

You could, of course, read his obituary in the New York Times, or in the LA Times, or jump right to his wikipedia page. You could also have a listen to an episode of New Sounds that aired the Thursday after Dean passed last year.

One last thing I’m going to do, and I hope you will do as well, is visit this fundraiser on Indiegogo.  It’s not specifically for anything directly Dean related, but it’s for Partch, and Partch is what Dean devoted much of his musical career to.  There is a production of one of Partch’s bigger pieces, The Wayward, planned for Carnegie Hall, and they additionally are filming a documentary on the production as well.  It is my hope – and probably the hopes of many others – that this documentary will have a positive impact on the music education world, and the Partch instruments will find a new home where students can continue to learn about and explore the magical world of Partch.

It’s what Dean would have wanted.

In Honor of St. Patrick’s Day

The year was 2008, or maybe it was 2009, and I was at the annual Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild’s Spring Festival – a weekend long event that prominently features competitions for music students of all ages from the NJ/NY/PA/CT (and beyond) area, among a few other interesting activities.  And by “interesting activities,” of course, I mean, “accordions.”

For reasons that will only detract from this absurd narrative, there is always a high concentration of accordions at this event, and I always strongly encourage my students to go check them out.  I mean, when is the next time you’re going to see an accordion, let alone this many all at one time?  I, too, check out the accordions when I get a chance, and that is exactly what happened in the Spring of 2008.. or maybe 2009.

Competitions take place on Friday night, all day on Saturday and on Sunday morning.  Late Friday evening and Saturday night are left for pure exhaustion (depending on how much time one may have spent at the competition that day) or a little bit of socializing with colleagues you only get one chance out of the year to see.  On this particular weekend, there was an accordion performance on Saturday night that featured both soloists and an accordion orchestra.  Please, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the idea of an “accordion orchestra.”  It is kitschy.  It is glorious.

I had nothing else on the agenda that night, so after dinner, a coworker and I went to the concert, to see what was up.  What was up was too much nerdy musical awesomeness for one room.  I texted another of our coworkers, one of the guys that works in our store and repairs instruments.

“Do we have an accordions on consignment right now?” (sometimes, this is, in fact, a thing).

The answer came back.

“Are you drunk?”

“That’s irrelevant!  Do we have any accordions or not?”

“No, sorry.” (I think he still thought I was drunk)

This sounds like a sad ending to a weird tale, but I have to tell you.  This is not the end of the story.

The following Monday morning, I get a text.

“Were you serious about that accordion?”

“Of course, why?”

“Because a guy just came in and gave us one.  Didn’t even want any money for it, just wanted us to make sure it went to a good home.”

“IT’S MINE.”

By that Tuesday night, she was home in my apartment, and we have been terrorizing the poodles and confusing small children ever since.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how the one and only Holly Scandalli came into my life.  This is how ALL accordions should enter their players’ lives, in a slightly mysterious and absolutely zany fashion.

The one, the only, Miss Holly Scandalli.

The one, the only, Miss Holly Scandalli.

Who I’m Thankful For

There are many things I am thankful for, both personally and musically.  I have spent a lot of waking hours so far this year, thinking about who I am thankful for, musically, and today, on Thanksgiving 2013, I want to tell you about a really awesome person in my life, who unfortunately, is never going to know the impact he has had on me.

I started college in the fall of 1999 at Montclair State University.  I was a music therapy major at the time (something that lasted only about a year).  Our freshman class was split into two sections for Theory I and Aural Skills I.  I just so happened to get the class with Dean Drummond, who was also new to Montclair State University that semester.  If me-from-now told me-from-then that this guy would become the most influential person in my college career, I probably would have laughed at you.  At the time, I think I wasn’t even sure if he was going to give me a passing grade in those two classes.

On a whim, I decided to try out the ensemble he ran, on the instruments invented by himself and by Harry Partch (another story, for another time).  The students in the music department mostly referred to them as the Dr. Seuss instruments.  Of course I was interested.

Over time, the instruments, and Dean, became the true constant of my college career.  Through deaths in my family, through a personal health scare, through FOUR changes of major (one of which Dean personally helped to make possible), there was always Partch ensemble.  It wasn’t just an ensemble for me (and for many of the students who participated over the years), it was my main form of socialization (Partch kids became some of my closest friends), it was a place for me to hang out, it was a place for, sometimes, hiding from the world.  Through the Partch ensemble, I got to premiere a few awesome works of music, and I got to perform off-campus (which was, and is, still a big deal for any ensemble).   I got to learn about a teeny, yet infinitely awesome niche in American music history.   The kind of thing where some people say, “You play the Cloud Chamber what?” and other people say, “OHMIGOSHYOUPLAYTHECLOUDCHAMBERBOWLS!?”

Dean wasn’t just a musician who also happened to be a teacher, he was the kind of person from whom you  could learn something every time he opened his mouth or just did.. anything. I have been thinking a lot this year about him.  From my dedication to practicing, to the way I run rehearsals with my students, I have learned a lot, musically, from Dean.

I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from Dean, too.  I’ve learned it’s never too late to learn something new.  I’ve learned that you just don’t have to iron your shirts if you don’t want to.  I’ve learned that if you truly love what you’re doing, you will never dread going to work a day in your life.  I’ve learned to keep a great sense of humor about everything and all things.  How did I learn these things?

Because one afternoon, Dean asked me to show him how to do a pirouette (also, he was just getting into karate).  Because Dean Drummond plays a kithara, and in his mind that means he doesn’t have to iron his shirts if he doesn’t feel like it, and I play kithara so I’m not ironing my shirts, either.  I witnessed the fact that Dean Drummond had dedicated his life to pursuing new music, and exploring all the possibilities of sounds to create, and I saw how that took him all over the world, and to my little corner of it, and how, no matter what the university threw at him (and anyone from MSU can tell you that Montclair can throw it’s fair share of curve balls and put up road blocks), he was living a life to be proud of, to be satisfied with, to be happy with.  I’ve also witnessed Dean leap like a frog across the room, attempt to walk through walls.  I’ve seen him wear ridiculous hats and make silly faces, all in the name of music.

I’ve been thinking about Dean a lot because Dean had been sick, and Dean finally succumbed to his illness in April of this year.  I, like many students, was actually pretty devastated.  I think I still am.  With the tears welling up in my eyes as I type this right now, I think I was under the impression that Dean was going to live forever.  I mean, hey, he could walk through walls, so it was absolutely possible.  Until, of course, it wasn’t.

But I am thankful that my life’s path crossed with that of Dean Drummond.  I won’t get too existential about it, but the only reason I came to Montclair was for a major I completely lost interest in, and in many ways, if it weren’t for Dean, I may not even have eventually become a musician.  If he hadn’t ended up at Montclair, I don’t know where I would have ended up.  So for that, and for so much more, Mean Dean the Theory Machine, I say thank you so very much, wherever you are.

Dance Accompanying: Who am I and what do I know anyway?

Yes, if you’re here, you probably do already have some sort of acquaintance with me. Maybe we’re friends, maybe I teach your kid, maybe you’ve seen me perform. But I wanted to talk a little bit about a certain facet of my life before we keep going here on the blog, as I’ve already written a bit about a certain subject, and anticipate a few more posts before the summer is over.

I’m a piano teacher and an accomplished player, yes. But I’m also, a few months out of the year, a piano accompanist as well, and this isn’t just any kind of accompanying, this isn’t me getting together with some of my other musician friends to work on some solos. No, this is ballet accompanying, which is another beast entirely. This will be my third time accompanying for this group, the first being many years ago, the second being last year. Both the first and second time I felt like the whole experience was very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and I didn’t really know what to expect, what to do (well, to a certain extent I did the second time) or how it would all turn out in the end. This year I am going into this experience much more well prepared than I was the first two times (more on that later). We’ll see if that changes anything.

I do also have a strong dance background. As previously stated, I accompany at a dance camp, where classes are every morning for about three hours, camp is two weeks long, and there are three separate sessions (so it’s six weeks of work total). I also attended this camp in my youth, and have 20 some odd years of dance experience – ballet, tap, and Ukrainian folk dancing, plus a little belly dancing tossed in for good measure.

I have never FORMALLY trained as a dance accompanist. So I guess this is a bit of a disclaimer type of post. I did have to take a class on accompanying in college as part of my music major, but that really didn’t prepare me for this specific kind of accompanying. What I do have is a strong music background and a strong dance background, so I suppose that gives me a very unique perspective on this whole dance accompanying thing. I only really talk to one other accompanist on occasion, and he’s got no dancing history whatsoever (but he’s a terrific, terrific player!), and I have a feeling he is more the rule and I am more the exception when it comes to dance accompanists.

Because here’s the thing. I really only know that one accompanist. I know plenty of piano players. I know plenty of performing musicians in general. But I personally know very few (aka, one) other dance accompanists. Even finding resources online for accompanists is hard for me. There are actually some pretty great resources at the Royal Academy of Dance’s website, but as far as people talking about it? Not many, and not recently.

So while I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, I do know that I am pretty knowledgeable, and pretty experienced (yes, I only do it for six weeks out of the year, but it’s the most intense six weeks of my life. Also, anything I read in the RAD’s book on accompanying I had already figured out on my own in just six weeks of accompanying, so there), and I just want there to be more of a discussion, just more words committed to it out there in the blogosphere (if that’s even a word people still use).

If there are other accompanists out there, I encourage you to share your experiences. Let’s band together and start a discussion! Exchange some ideas! Boost each other up! I don’t mind sharing tips with tricks with accompanists from other continents – it’s not like you’re going to go to my dance studios and get a job there before I could!

New Direction

I’ve been neglecting this blog for quite some time, and for that I apologize, but I’m back (with a vengeance)! I’ve been taking some time to research some new things and develop some new things and I’m ready to share it all with you, whether you are ready or not!

Who is the new direction of this blog and this website for? Lots of people. Private music instructors, private music students, parents of private music students. Continuing students who may be studying on their own, like teens and adults. Any teacher or caretaker of children who may want to inject a little more music into their routine. Anyone who has decided that they just don’t feel like growing up, anyone who understands a healthy dose of fun and play can be just as important as research and development, quality control, or good old fashioned elbow grease.

Ill be sharing tips on teaching, learning and practicing, and how parents can help, too. Ill be sharing tips on productivity and creativity. Ill also be sharing fun and/or beautiful things that I find inspirational. And on a more or less completely unrelated note, I will be sharing tidbits on what it’s like to accompany ballet classes on piano. As I’ve previously stated here in this blog, it can be quite stressful and also very awesome, and there is also a bit of a black hole on the Internet when it comes to dance accompanying; I would like to change that.

So stay tuned for music, creativity and missAdventures! It’s going to be a wild ride!

Dance Accompanying: How Dance Camp Turned me into a Ballet Accompanist

As a Ukrainian American on the east coast, I have had the distinct pleasure of really getting to experience, learn about and grow into the culture of my grandparents. Ukrainian Americans in the NJ/NY area have at least a dozen established churches they can attend, there are a multitude of festivals and dances throughout the year to attend across the tri-state area, and a little Ukie child has their choice of which group to learn traditional folk dance with.

I first started Ukrainian dance lessons when I was very young, maybe when I was 8 or 9, and I studied with the legendary Pani Roma Pryma Bohachevsky. She came to my elementary school (my Ukrainian church’s kindergarten – eighth grade school), and we had class once a week, and a performance at the end of the year. By the seventh grade, I was SO. WAY. INTO. UKRAINIAN DANCE. and I asked my mom if I could go away to this dance camp that Pani Roma ran every summer at the Ukrainian resort in upstate New York (near New Paltz, in Ulster county) called Soyuzivka. I would go to camp for the next four years, and every year, it was the hardest, and most awesome two weeks of my life. And for the ensuing six years, when I was no longer a dance camper, I felt a twinge of regret every time August would roll around, and I was not making my pilgrimage to study folk dancing.

But I stopped attending dance camp because the real passion of my life was taking over. The summer of 1998 was when I started preparing for my college auditions. I practiced piano a few hours every single morning, and taking two weeks off to dance just didn’t seem like an option.

A few years later (after successfully getting into college as a music major, and then going and changing my major to English with a journalism minor, haha) I was back at Soyuzivka, during dance camp time of course, and was doing a little practicing in the dining hall. The dance camp accompanist, Ada Helbig, was there, and came over to chat with me. Would I be interested in accompanying ballet classes next year? Why yes, yes I would!

The following summer, in 2001, I came to the New York mountains once again for dance camp. I would be staying for two sessions’ worth of camp, an entire month. It was a life altering experience, with a little bit of trial by fire thrown in. I did not have much preparation or coaching before I took this job. Pani Roma, while she was an excellent teacher, was not so clear in what was expected of me as the accompanist, and since these were pre-Facebook days I don’t even recall if trying to get in touch with Ada for advice even felt like an option. I was handed some music that I was expected to learn – I still have the book, but the task of learning a daunting 15-20 songs in just under two months was something that I at that point in my life just couldn’t do. The first few days of classes were rough, but we hit a groove and I made it through the remaining time, with only one trip to the ER because of such severe pain in my wrist we thought I had possibly broken something. I didn’t end up breaking anything, but I did get a very painful case of a carpel tunnel flare up.

After such an experience, what do you think I did? Switched my major back to music, of course. I dove back into piano playing, and finished school as a music theory major (which I liken to learning how to be a mechanic to help me be a better driving instructor). Though it was a painful and hard experience – and even though I wasn’t really ready as a music professional for it – I grew and learned a lot my summer as a ballet accompanist. It was probably one of the most influential summers of my life.

Dance Accompanying: Seeds

This summer I got back into accompanying ballet classes on piano again (it’s a thing, which is awesome, and preferred, if you didn’t know, which I will have to explain at some point in its own post because I foresee it popping up a few times in the next few articles I have simmering on the back burner). And I came to this amazing realization.

I would not be accompanying ballet classes if it wasn’t for a friend of mine, Stefan Calka (an accomplished dancer and choreographer in his own right), requesting that I accompany his classes a few weeks ago during a dance workshop I was working at (mostly I was there to help wrangle kids, I was not actually there for music).

I would not have even been able to accompany his classes had I not been heading home (and therefor able to pick up my music).

(I would not even have had ballet accompaniment music had I not already done this once before, about a decade ago.)

I would not have been playing piano for him to overhear me if I wasn’t working on a secret and awesome project with another dancer/teacher/choreographer, Orlando Pagan.

I would not have started working on this project if I hadn’t worked at Ukrainian dance camp last summer.

I would never have worked at dance camp, if I had never attended dance camp in my youth.

I never would have attended dance camp if I hadn’t been taking Ukrainian dance lessons at home.

And, of course, none of this could have even been set into motion if I was not a lifelong piano player.

I sit here in my proverbial flower garden, and I am amazed at all the little seeds that had been sown here through the years. I am right now enjoying an amazing blend of two of my passions in life – music and dance – not because of a chance encounter in the summer of 2012, but because of a series of actions put into motion in 1986, 1987, 1994, 2001, and 2011. The winding path that has brought me to the moment I am in right now is absolutely astounding.

Shiva Nata Powered Hanon

This may come as a shock to some of my older students and their parents, but I wasn’t always a fan of the book of exercises officially titled “The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises for the Piano,” composed by Charles-Louis Hanon (which we affectionately refer to as just Hanon).  This was during my difficult teen years, some of which I didn’t even spend taking piano lessons (and look at me now!).  I even resisted Hanon (and the advanced exercises by Czerny) in my first few years of college.

And then I injured my hands one summer, and my doctor told me, first, that I had to take probably about a year off from playing to fully heal (if I could avoid using my hands for, say, a month, maybe that’s as long as it would have taken to get back into the game.  But since you pretty much can’t be a functioning member of society without hands, the recovery time was much longer).  It was actually closer to two years before I started training again on my level (as opposed to playing music at my students’ level), and one of the first things I picked up was my copy of Virtuoso Pianist.  It was around this time that some of my students started progressing to a point where they could handle the exercises themselves, so Hanon became pretty much a few-times-a-week – if not daily – occurrence.

Because I guess a part of me still resists Hanon, I don’t ever practice much further than a few ahead of where my students are in the book.  My most advanced student currently is up to Hanon 10, so I practice to around 12.

Generally speaking, I practice until I start to get frustrated, that is, until all the musical doodles become too much for my fingers or my brain, and I start stumbling over myself at whatever high speed I have chosen to work at (I pretty much play through my exercises at about twice the speed of my students, give or take about 20 bpm).

Up until yesterday.

Because of Christmas-time recitals, I really haven’t touched my Hanon since about mid October, and at that time, I was working steadily up to Hanon 14.  So yesterday, I have to note, was the first time in two and a half months that I even opened the book.  And yesterday I flew through the first, oh, THIRTY exercises. I repeat – the first 30 exercises.  In 2.5 months of not practicing, somehow I got better at 18 new exercises.  As the kids like to ironically say, “no big deal.”

This year, I started to study this wacky form of brain yoga called Shiva Nata.  Shiva Nata is basically eight hand positions that you combine in increasingly complex patterns, the learning and execution of which actually strengthens the (or creates new) neural connections in your brain.  It’s crazy stuff.  It’s crazy hard.  And it’s the only thing that I can figure is the explanation behind powering through 30 exercises (18 of which I have never played before).

That’s kind of big.  Shiva Nata has helped me to realize and understand a lot of things about myself, and I have felt its influence in teeny ways in my piano playing, but it has never been this tangible or measurable.  So I just had to share.  I mean, there may be another, perfectly legitimate reason for this breakthrough in my playing.  But I can’t figure it out, so for now, we’re going with this.

You can read more about Shiva Nata and Me (it sounds like a play, or a cheesy sitcom), at the blog I have devoted to my own practice and my own teaching of it.