Sparking the Creative Genius Within

This summer, during a trip to Boston, my eldest daughter and I had a discussion regarding achievement, encouraging growth in students and parent perceptions of how their children achieve.  My daughter suggested that I spend the summer reading and contemplating the following authors:
David Schenk’s The Genius in All of Us
Angela Duckworth’s Grit
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow

After a visit to The Brookline Booksmith, I jumped into my reading program with both feet.  The ideas put forth by the first two books on the list, The Genius in All of Us & Grit have been the inspiration for my studio theme andColorado Composes with Friends2017-2018 academic year.  

I have discovered, from my time as a music teacher and co-coordinator with Colorado Composes, that the only way to achieve anything is by good old “Elbow Grease”  We are all impressed by talent but know so many in our circle of friends and studios who have not achieved all they can because they just won’t work to achieve what seems so obvious to all of us.  Most of us tend, as Angela Duckworth so eloquently puts it, ...”get distracted by talent.”  Angela talks about how we become so enamored by the concept of talent that we forget about effort.  She wants to let us know that, “the main thing is that greatness is doable.  Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”   

Angela quotes the great philosopher, Nietzsche, “With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be.  Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.  No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become. That is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool.” (Nietzsche)  “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking.”  (Angela Duckworth)

Angela makes a further case by saying that “we want to believe that Mark Spitz (or any other accomplished person) was born to swim (compose, play, write) in a way that none of us were and none of us could.  We don’t want to sit on the pool deck and watch him (her) progress from amateur to expert.  We prefer our excellence fully formed.  We prefer mystery to mundanity.  

What Angela was trying to say is that talent (what ever particle of natural gift we were given) is only 1 part of the equation.  It takes talent x effort to equal skill.  Then as your skill increases and you times it by more effort you equal achievement.  
            talent x effort = skill         
            skill x effort = achievement

As we begin our new academic year, there will be lots of opportunity to take your raw talent and with effort turn that talent into skill.  You will be asked to take on board the Japanese saying, “Nana korobi ya oki.”  In English the saying goes something like this, “Fall Down Seven, Get Up Eight”.  It really means, if you fail, try, try again.  You will only accomplish good things if you are willing to work for them.  

You will be asked to find a practice process that helps you learn the pieces/compose the pieces/improv the pieces you want to play then go back to the drawing board and find a practice process that allows you to perform these pieces to share with your family, friends and the world.  

As Will Smith point out, “The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things.  Talent you have naturally.  Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

I look forward to giving us plenty of incentives to hone our musical craft.  

So with that being said, welcome to the 2017-18 Mile High Music Maker Academic Year.

Sparking the Creative Genius Within You



Spring events and the KEYBAND! USA YouTube Festival 2015

Spring events and the KEYBAND! USA YouTube Festival 2015

It has been a wild ride for our KEYBAND! USA YouTube entrants.  Spring was a great time to prepare piano pieces and ensembles using digital technology for the first ever YouTube Festival for this organization.  The opportunity to build pieces and share those pieces with family, friends and evaluators created a feeling of participation in a different sound space.  


Music and Poetry...What a Combination

What is your favorite song?  Why is your favorite?  Is it that special combination of music and lyrics that bring back a special memory, inspire you or make you shed a tear or two?


Words set to music is the most powerful force on the planet.  The lyrics/music combination moves nations to great things, inspires athletes to achieve the impossible, makes movies suspenseful and church/synagog goers commit to a higher way of living.  Without the lyrics/music combination some of us would never remember our multiplication facts, the books of the Bible or the names of the Presidents.


In just a few weeks, our Mile High Music Makers will be premiering in Colorado Springs (It is always a premier when we do something for the first time.) The Simply Silly Song Book with Lyrics by Ken Nesbitt and Music by Kevin Olson.  We will play selected pieces from songs about music and songs about school.  This collaboration shows what can be done with music and words.  


Press the links to read about these two fine creative individuals.   As you come into the studio the Week of September 22, books by Ken Nesbitt will be available to browse.  I would suggest heading to your local Pikes Peak library and checking out Ken Nesbitt’s books.  You might find that you want to work with someone in our Elementary or Teen Theory Class to write your own song about something funny or delightful in your life.  You all have access to Noteflight, so log in and start your creative journey.


Most of us are familiar with Dr. Olson’s music.  We have played his pieces for NFMC Festivals and used his composition books.  Some of you are unaware that Jason Elliott , a former Mile High Music Maker is now studying with Dr. Olson at Utah State University.  Our linkage is closer than you think with this fine composer.


As an inspiration to those of you who are on the road to improvisation, take a look at the YouTube Video link attached to this blog posting.   Dr. Olson is playing with the Piano Guys on a dare from Dr. Olson’s son.



Playing Your Own Notes

Improvising is a relatively new thing to my personal playing and studio teaching life. As a young pianist, too many years ago to count, I was not encouraged to improvise and not given many opportunities to create music in either the worship environment nor in the performance world.


For the past two years, with encouragement from Andrew Eales, I have been venturing into the world of teaching improvisation to students.  It has been a hunt and peck kind of existence as most improvising musicians tend to be self taught, play by ear for the most part and exploratory by nature.  They tend to expect you to just ‘get it” because they did.  As a very concrete and sequential person, just jumping into the whole improvisation thing without a guide book is a crash course to failure for me.


Thank heaven for the workshop held in Denver at the end of July by 88 Creative Keys.  Bradley Sowash and Leila Viss put together a marvelous three day learning experience that taught the teacher how to improvise, teach improvisation and feel confident about the process.  My mind was just buzzing with ideas.  The class exceeded my expectations.  


After much thought and some curriculum changes, the studio is tackling improvisation at every lesson and during our group theory/keyboard ensemble lessons for the new academic year.  We have been improvising but not to the extent that every lesson deals with some aspect of improvisation.  


For my fourth and fifth graders I see this new direction as having a huge impact on their future musical life.  Not only will they have a very clear understanding of musical theory but I just might have a little time to prepare a whole crop of jazz players who can, should a band director ask nicely, play alone or with a combo using their own notes.  I can only imagine what this will do for our future Mile High Music Making composers.  


I have started using Andrew Eales Keyquest and Bradley Sowash’s Jazz method to introduce chord structure, use of the ACMP feature on the digital keyboards and playing short familiar melodies by ear while adding chords in each key.  I did some of improvisation during the 2013-2014 year with the Premier Keyband but not to the extent where every lesson focuses on some element of improvisation and the use of chords in root and inversions to harmonize a melody.  


This week, I started with primary chords in the key of C with the Elementary and High School theory group this week.  We will utilize one piece for each group to encourage playing in each key.  I think it might be wise to keep a video record of our progress.  As students become more at ease with the process, we can look back to view our progress using the video diary as our guide.  


Wish us luck.  We are off on a new adventure.


Music Wanted! Dead or Alive?

Have Music. Will Travel

Have Music. Will Travel

For the past few weeks, it has been a pleasure to observe the musical life of a number of communities at home and in Germany.  With all the talk in the US about the death of classical music, the dropping of music programs from public schools and the lack of solid commitment of young people in their private music study, you would assume the funeral and wake for all things musical in the US was a done deal.

However from what I have observed, music is still alive and well in at least three places on the globe.  Let’s take a look at Edmond Oklahoma and  The University of Central Oklahoma.  UCO offered two camps/seminars in music for young and old in June.  A Jazz Camp  took place right along side a Keyboard Ensemble & Music Technology Seminar.  Improvisation was a part of both events.  UCO supports an active Jazz Lab program, bringing in local as well as well known Jazz musicians.  The key to all of this is support from those who listen to the music.  The Jazz Lab was full of active listeners making it hard to find a seat for the out of towner.   Summer Season Music Theater is a huge part of the Oklahoma music scene.  Peter Pan happened to be on the docket during my visit.  It was quite obvious to the visitor that Edmond was in attendance with hoops and hollers to favorite members of the cast.  

There is a general mind set amongst Americans that Europe loves their classical music and is not much interested in anything else.  This statement is only part of the truth.  On our small walks around Amberg, during rest periods for our daughter who is recovering from surgery, we have found young people walking to and fro with their musical instruments strapped to their backs.  The organ at St. George's was very pleasing to listen to at the close of afternoon Mass.  Regensburg is also filled with young people carrying musical instruments.  Signs advertising local concerts were everywhere.  I wish we could be in this area longer as a once a week organ concert in St. Peter’s Cathedral would be quite a treat.  

A very well established music store in Regensburg had a constant flow of patrons.  Musik Wittl, a Yamaha and Schimmel Piano Dealer does a brisk business in both acoustic and digital pianos.  It was in this shop that I delivered a gift from the musician, teacher and writer, Leila Viss. A copy of her new book iPad Piano was given to Sebastian Wittl, Klavierbaumeister at Wittl Music.  What is even more amazing is Sebastian’s age.  When you think of an owner of a shop, your mind jumps to someone who is older, with more experience and tons of gray hair.  Sebastian is a young man who obviously has made the shop a huge success.  

With Sebastian Wittl at Musik Wittl in Regensburg

With Sebastian Wittl at Musik Wittl in Regensburg


Even with all the hype about the world cup, Germans are just as apt to watch the world cup game and then spend the rest of the night singing in groups, reliving the win through song.  We often think of sports and music as mutually exclusive endeavors.  What a shame to think you can have one but not the other.  

What is amazing to the troops stationed at the various bases around Germany are the number of radio stations that carry American/British rock standards.  The playlist on most of the stations frequented by the troops have been American/British oldies as well as new songs with a more melodic flair. (AFRTS is not the only show in town.)

Our troops are active participants in music making as can be seen by what has been on US TV lately.  It was during Memorial Day on US television that a tribute to the troops was held by a number of Country Western artists.  The unique thing about this special is their desire not not just entertain the troops but to highlight those talented military members who sang and composed music themselves.  Obviously, American Music is still alive and kicking!

Colorado Springs offers so many summer music events for families to share.  The Philharmonic gives free concerts during the Fourth of July week.  Colorado College has a summer music festival that features some of America’s finest musicians for a full month.  A free, Thursday at noon organ concert at the Civic Center is just made for family fun.  The gigantic theater organ is rolled out and plays while you eat lunch.  A silent movie is often shown while the organist creates the sound track by improvising during scene change.  Concerts in the various parks around town allow you to pick and choose a concert to match your musical taste.  There is nothing like live music from musicians playing real time.   

When you have a minute this summer, think about the music that touches you. Think about a piece of music that recreates a special moment in your life and try to find an artist that is playing that piece at a local concert.  We want music to live a long and healthy life as part of the American dream.


Teachers Taking Time to Learn

iPad Ensembles with Dennis Mauricio and the KETS team of teachers.

iPad Ensembles with Dennis Mauricio and the KETS team of teachers.

All during the academic year, teachers are giving their very best to music students across the country.  In summer teachers come together at State Music Teachers Association Conferences, NFMC National Conventions, seminars and workshops at colleges/ universities around the US and abroad to learn, becoming recharged for the coming school year.  

The hot topic for 2014 is how the iPad can enhance student learning with concepts that need constant practice in order to take root. Leila Viss has been at the forefront of educating teachers about integrating iPads into music lessons or as part of lab time.  Dennis Maurico takes the iPad a step further as a real music making tool with iPad ensembles.  

The studio will now have a composer station with both a Macbook and iPad to give students an ideal place to work on compositions or concepts that need drilling.  iPad we come.

Our Real Musical Heros.

Bringing parents into the loop is not always an easy task for teachers.  We are task driven, constantly looking for ways to get the student on board and overlooking one of our greatest assets, the parents.


As music teachers and musicians, we are used to working alone to achieve results.  But students can’t progress without the most important element of lessons, practice time with a parent who supervises the practice at home.


When a child has an objective to meet, the teacher is only part of meeting that objective.  The student and parents play the biggest role in reaching any goal.  I provide the instruction and then it is up to the student to put that instruction into practice.  One day of lessons can’t make up for six days of half hearted or incomplete effort.  


Our National Music Week Celebration was a huge success because students were encouraged by parents who have decided that hard work will ensure a good outcome.  

Jane Bastien used to say that talent was only 10% what made a musician successful.  The other 90% was just plain old elbow grease and hard work.  Focus and having the time to be curious and experiment with music is also one of the factors that allow for success.  Parents are the gatekeepers who make sure focus and practice are part of the daily routine.  A huge thank you to the real hero in the musical success of our children. 


As our academic year comes to a close, I look back on all of the many successes our Mile High Music Makers have accomplished.  I am not talking about competition winners or those who have reached a certain level in exams.  I am talking about the quiet victories; about the child who is able to play in a KEYBAND! ensemble and keep the pulse.  I am referring to the young person who could played at Saturday’s concert like a pro and held us in awe over their ability to take command of the piano when six months ago they could barely get through a piece of music.  I make mention of the little one who finished a piece of music, no matter that it took many months to learn that piece.  


We all had quiet victories this year.  You have all been winners in one way or another.  Way to Go!  Now go give your parents the hug they deserve. 

The use of Sound Cloud

Composers all over the world are using Sound Cloud as the means to share their music with others.  Andrew Eales, a friend who shares so much of his music with those of us in the USA has composed Dances With The Daffodils.  In collaboration with his lovely wife Louise, he has created a piece that reminds us that spring will eventually come.  

New Finds at MTNA Conference

New Finds at MTNA Conference

One of the many reasons to attend the Music Teachers Association Conferences is what you learn at the many sessions and showcases.  This year was particularly rewarding.  A full day devoted to improvisation, teaching improvisation and learning from some of the greats sparked the creative juices for the rest of the conference.  

A session on iPad apps for the studio was particularly useful.  I have an iPad, have used it for YouTube aural models and for