MAMTG Spring Festival 2017 is fast approaching!

The Mid Atlantic Music Teachers Guild Spring Festival is fast approaching!  Here’s what you need to know if we haven’t already had this discussion!

The deadline to register is February 1, 2017.  That means all registration forms and associated fees need to be handed back to me no later than January 25.  Everything will be mailed out in one big packet by me.

Students are invited to participate in Standard Competitions (on either piano, voice or guitar), which is where all students in a given category perform the same piece and are scored based on their performance.  Students may also participate in Evaluations, which can be a really helpful learning experience for students.  Students perform a piece of their choosing (though I always suggest using the Standard piece appropriate to their level, even if they are not competing in a Standard category) for a judge who then gives them feedback – both praise and critiques.  Top scoring students in competitions have a chance to earn a trophy or medal.  All students who participate in evaluations earn a trophy.

For my more advanced piano students, there is a Sight Reading competition to try out, which is MOST exciting and a true test of musicianship.  For older students who can sing and accompany themselves on an instrument – either guitar or piano, there is the Talent Showcase.  Even if a student is interested but not ready to enter that competition, it is a great and inspiring event to watch on Saturday night.

If a student is very new – if this is their first time participating in the competition – I always suggest doing just an evaluation first.  If they are more adventurous or this is not their first time, I suggest students participate in both competition and evaluation.  Of course, you are free to participate how you see fit.

The competition is the weekend of April 1.  Most events my students would be participating in take place on the Saturday of that weekend, while the awards ceremony, which students are welcome to attend, takes place on Sunday afternoon.  The festival happens at the Hanover Marriot on Route 10 East.  In addition to the categories your child participates in, there are many other competitions to watch, competitions for different instruments, competitions focusing on different styles of music, higher level competitions that take place on Friday and Saturday night, and even an ensemble showcase that was a ton of fun to watch last year (and I expect more of the same this year!).

The festival always hosts a vendor selling cool music gifts for your budding musicians, everything from the cute – like socks and suspenders – to the very nice – like jewelry.  The hotel features a great breakfast, a cool Irish pub (with authentic decor and great food), an indoor pool and an outdoor walking trail.  If you are a family with siblings who will be participating in the competition, and even if you’re not, you may want to check out MAMTG’s packages page – where you can register for a hotel room PLUS get a discount on your festival registration.

Additionally, if you’ve got a teenaged student (or an older sibling to a student) who could log some community service hours working at the competition, we can always use the help!  Specifically, we are looking for students who are 16 or older who can work as room captains or assistant room captains throughout the weekend.  A room captain takes attendance, fields questions, keeps the flow of each competition running smoothly, assists the judge if they need it, and communicates with festival staff (like myself) if a problem arises.  It’s a pretty important, yet actually pretty easy job, and it always seems like we can use an extra pair of hands on deck with something.  I wouldn’t expect a teenager to volunteer all weekend long, but if they did, they’d be able to log almost 20 hours total from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, so if they are looking to pick up volunteer hours and also have an interest in music, this would be an excellent opportunity for them. If you have a student or their sibling who is interested in volunteering, or if you yourself as a parent can give a few hours of your time that weekend, please let me know.

How does one register for the festival?  I’ll have registration forms for parents to fill out starting this week which need to be filled out and returned with payment by January 25.  Payment can be sent in either cash or check to me (make checks out to Miss Anna Lawrence, as I will be sending them one big check instead of sending along 985438723754957366 little checks).

The MAMTG Spring Festival is an amazing event that I really hope you and your child will attend.  It’s fun and exciting to prepare for a competition, a thrill to participate, and a ton of fun afterwards (once the pressure is off) to do some shopping, see some other competitions, or just hang out at the beautiful (if somewhat noisy) hotel.  I hope to see you there!  And of course, if you need more information, please check out the MAMTG website.

Beware the fog

As the big MAMTG Competition has finally arrived, I have one last thing to say to my students.

Beware of the fog.

No, not the actual kind of fog you see. The kind of fog you feel. The kind of fog that is all too often ever present, lurking just in the shadows, that only ever really seems to appear at the darkest of times.

Worry. Doubt. Fear. Nervousness. That fog.

Nervous – I don’t mind that one. Nervous means you care. Nervous means you really want to get it right. That one, I’m ok with.

It’s when nervous turns into worry that I start to get concerned. A little bit of nervous energy is great. A whole lot of cloudy worry can be terrible.

So tonight, tomorrow, Sunday, forever, don’t let the fog take you. Don’t let the fog cloud your inner vision. Don’t let the fog lead you astray.

Close your eyes and remember you know the way. You know what to do, what to sing, what to play, how to feel. You’ve got it all inside of you. Don’t let the fog keep you from seeing that.

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.”


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.


First of all, I have to start out by saying that up until about five years ago (or whenever it was that I started sending my kids off to the Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild’s annual Spring Competition), I was pretty much dead set against competitions.  In fact, that first year,  I only sent maybe half of my students, and didn’t even attend the competition myself.

Maybe it’s because I was an only child.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got pretty decent self-esteem.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like getting put on the spot.  Maybe it’s something else entirely.  But the whole concept of a competition just seemed so foreign to me.

And then I attended a competition.

And you know what?  It was chaotic.  And stressful.  And tiring.  There were people everywhere, and some of them were lost.  Kids were tuning instruments in the middle of the hallway.  There was nowhere to sit.  People were running late.  Some of the other students were not so great.  Some of them were amazing.  It was kind of scary, I could see how some of my students might feel kind of intimidated in this environment.  But also… it was completely exhilarating at the same time.  It was amazing.  It was like everything that I try and do with my students all year long, wrapped up into one compact weekend.  IT WAS AN ADVENTURE.

The next year, and every year since, I have encouraged all of my eligible students to attend the Spring Festival, and to participate in as many competitions as they can.  Not because I want to scare the crap out of them, but because it is exciting.  And a little bit scary.

Because events like this focus you in a way that a recital doesn’t.  Events like this push you just a little bit out of your comfort zone, in a way that nothing else does.  I have come to love the Spring Festival so much, I don’t even mind waking up early for it.  It is a great weekend.

So here are the nitty gritty details.

the light fixture in the marriot lobby.. i realize now this picture makes the place scary, but i assure you, there is nothing to be afraid of!

The Spring Festival is hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild, a professional teachers’ organization with membership in New York, New Jersey, Connecticutt, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. (What did Dela wear?  Her New Jersey! BWAHAHA I SLAY ME!) Last year and this year (and hopefully many years in the future), the competition is held at the Hanover Marriot on Route 10 in Whippany, which is an absolutely gorgeous hotel.

And I also kind of just love that the competition is in Whippany.  For myself and most of my students, it is just far enough away that you can do it in a day and it’s not to annoying to drive to and yet, you are in the car just long enough to really feel like you are going somewhere different and special.. like on an adventure!  (I will probably use the word “adventure” at least twice more in this post)

The festival takes place the weekend of March 31st – it runs from Friday to Sunday.  The majority of my students (solo piano or guitar students) will be participating in competitions and evaluations (more on that in a minute) on Saturday, and that could be at any point from 9am to about 3pm (though most of it is done in the morning).  Some of my students will hopefully be participating in the talent showcase competition, and that will be taking place on Friday night.

Possible categories that my students can participate in include the competition on their instrument (standard solo in piano and pop solo in guitar).  Students are given a piece of music to learn, and they are scored on their performance.  This is as close to a standardized test as one can get in the music world, I feel.  If an actual competition is too much for a student (say, just a beginner), then there is the evaluation category, which is non-competitive.  Students perform for the judge and they are given both compliments and criticism.  Being able to take a healthy dose of criticism is important for, well, everyone (and because I feel it is important for a student, from time to time, to play for someone who is not actually me, I encourage everyone to do evaluation, in addition to the competition).  Certain students can also participate in the talent showcase category, where they accompany themselves while singing any song of their choosing.  I am going to STRONGLY SUGGEST that students accompany themselves on their own guitar, as this situation involves the least amount of variables.

Students participating in competition categories will receive a huge trophy if they win first, second or third place in their category, or they will receive a medal for fourth or fifth place.  All students who participate in the evaluation category will receive a small trophy (being able to graciously take criticism of both the good and not so good variety deserves an award, don’t you think?).  Winners in the talent showcase category will actually receive a cash prize (DUDE, I WANT TO ENTER!).

On Sunday, winners will be announced at the Awards Concert.  This is the first time they are doing a concert, so I have to admit, I am not quite sure what the event will entail.  It is usually in the afternoon, the performances are from the first place winners of the virtuoso categories, as well as the musical theater categories and battle of the bands competition.  During the ceremony, they do announce every child that wins, and if the student is present, they get to go up and get their award themselves!  It is a great and exhilarating feeling, and it is a great way to wrap up the weekend (and yes, if you stay at the hotel that weekend, either for just one night or the other, or from Friday to Sunday, there is a discounted rate for festival goers).

There is a $5.00 registration fee for all students who enter, and then an additional $30 per competition/evaluation and $35 for talent showcase.  Yes, this means that the minimum you will be paying for your child to participate is $35, and it could be as expensive as $65 (I will not even do the math for multiple children per household).  And yes, I know that is expensive.  When your child is still smiling at the end of the weekend, it will have been worth it.

Because in the end, this weekend is not about getting that trophy (although it is nice!).  It’s not about being the best one in the bunch.  It’s not about showing off to the world.  It’s about showing off to yourself.  It’s about being the best you that you can be.  It’s about setting a goal, working diligently towards it, and then attaining it.  It’s about going outside of your comfort zone, to an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people, and THRIVING.  I know these are tough economic times, but if you can afford it, I assure you, it is worth it.  It’s not a learning experience, it is a learning adventure, and when we set off on this adventure together, we come back from it different people, stronger people, better people.  And oh yeah, we spent a whole weekend hanging out together, being a little chaotic and crazy together, and showing to ourselves that we can be absolutely awesome musicians.

In the end, it’s really just about being as awesome as you can possibly be, no matter what adventures you take in your life, musical or otherwise.

Whoops.  Said “adventure” three more times, not twice.  Haha!  Do I know myself, or do I know myself??