My Piano Students of Yesteryear: Where are they now?

Over decades of teaching, and with relocation being the norm for students and mentors, it would have taken a bit of research to track down all my beginner, intermediate, and advanced students dating back to 1968 (NYC); and from 1979 (Fresno CA) to 2011, before my 2012 move to Berkeley, California.

What I discovered in a retro-journey to my very first students in Manhattan post-Oberlin Conservatory graduation, was mind-boggling! To think that my earliest pupils are now in their 50s!!

I’m not ashamed to admit that Naomi and Annie Ehrenpreis were 5 and 7, respectively when I set out as a traveling teacher in Manhattan. (It was by Washington Square Park, in a luxurious high-rise)

As a fledgling mentor, I shunned method books but found sanctuary in Robert Pace’s uniquely creative materials. They became the springboard for composing activities that filled one full hour of lessons, divided in half between the sisters. As little children enrolled in the Ramaz school on the East side, and as the grandkids of a great Talmudic scholar, it was natural for them to be quite attentive; to have a singular motivation to compile a decorated collection of their own pieces that had original rhyme schemes. And with words scanned into iambic pentameter, they appreciated mood shifts from “Major to minor” that kept interest aflame through our time together.


Looking back, I often wondered where these first students were today?

Would they remember me and my efforts to enrich their imagination?

I tried contacting them through Facebook but was stunned by their silence. Would their knowing I had named my first child,”Naomi” in honor of the younger sister have altered such indifference?

Without further word, I took it upon myself to check Google and Linked-in to satisfy my curiosity:

“Ann Ehrenpreis Scherzer” is a Judge of the New York City Criminal Court in Bronx County, New York. She was appointed to this position by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013, and her term will expire in 2018.

Sister, Naomi E. Voss graduated Harvard, and subsequently relocated to Israel as a Computer Software Professional.

Did one or both sisters return to the piano as adults, or had their children been music students? I would never know.


I fast forwarded to 1985, six years into my relocation to Fresno, California from New York City.

As I perused a self-published 1985 collection that contained student names attached to their individual compositions and companion illustrations, I found these entries:

composing children

Jason H. was 15 in 1985 when he composed “Scottish Highlands,” which would make him 46 years old today! I happily discovered that he’s a pediatrician in Kaysville, Utah, having graduated Brigham Young University and the University of Utah School of Medicine. Bravo J.! Naturally, a large family is woven into his many accomplishments.

Scottish Highlands crop

Michelle S. who was age 6 in 1985 when she composed “Music Box,” is now a Central Valley California-based M.D. Anesthesiologist. Her father, I recall, was a physician specializing in lung diseases.

Paul M. who is not represented in the album, but was one of my first piano students when I arrived in Fresno in 1979, (he was about 7 at the time) stayed with the piano until he entered UC Berkeley. He’s in the Engineering field, but I haven’t specifically tracked him down. His mom was a Nursing Professor and Administrator at Fresno State University when her son studied with me.

Melissa S. age 9, in 1985, and composer/illustrator of “Windsor,” is Executive Administrator of Bain & Co., previously employed at Goldman Sachs.

Windsor Pic best

Windsor music crop

Julia Dahl (real name disclosed as I’m sure she’ll appreciate the exposure) is a novelist with a commanding website.

In 1985, at 7 years old, Julia composed “Clouds.”


Becca Wong was a diligent piano student in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s who became a dance accompanist.

When we reunited as Facebook friends, I took the opportunity to interview her about her fascinating career.


Amy B., 12, was immersed in Burgmuller pieces, Op. 100, in 1990, as she continued her musical journey with dedicated practicing. Today, she’s an intellectual property attorney working in the Silicon Valley.

Valerie F. studied with me years later, in 2009, and was an entrant in two MTAC piano local branch competitions. Attached is one of her recorded performances of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” (8-12 year old competitive division). Though the video is grainy, the audio track is a testimony to her splendid musicianship.

In 2011, older sister, Stacey (also a student of mine) performed the Fugue in C minor, by J.S. Bach BWV 847 at a Baroque Regional Festival.

Valerie and Stacey are currently students at Brigham Young University.


David Su was age 6 when he began piano studies. He’s now a software developer in San Francisco, having completed his graduate work at UC Berkeley. His, sister, Stacey, not a student of mine, who won many Local Fresno-based and Statewide piano competitions, is a practicing physician in the Department of Surgical Oncology, Division of Thoracic Surgery, Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadephia, PA.

Not to overlook, Mark C. an adult student who studied piano with me in Fresno for over 6 years! At the time, he was a Federal Attorney, who managed to sandwich in practicing between jaunts around the country.

Most recently, he sent me an email about his promotion to Judge, an appointment made by Governor Brown! A big Congratulations!


There are many other pupils whom are not as easy to locate given the passage of years, but it’s apparent that many have carved out successful professional careers, perhaps owing in part to their piano study.

May the love of music embrace them for a lifetime!



Shrinking Degrees of Separation in the Music World

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The Piano Primer transition to early repertoire selection

Creative music mentors know innately that NO Primer Package with its sequence of red, blue, and purple levels, A, B, C etc. will meet the needs of most piano students. That’s because each pupil is an individual with unique talents, abilities, strengths and weaknesses which demand a flexible, singularized plan of study.

By example, my student, Liz, age 8, having had about 4 or so months of study, is at the crossroads: from her Primer Method book, (Clark’s Time to Begin) to early repertoire study, and unfortunately, I’ve not found any one collection amidst the vastly published pedagogical materials, that embodies music with ear-catching
melodic/harmonic/structural and synthesized technical value.

This is why I’ll continue to OUT-source this post-Primer journey drawing on pieces from various collections that have been carefully evaluated.

Repertoire transition


Flashback REFERENCE: Liz’s music-learning journey in its earliest stages


In the following two videos (Part 1 and 2), I begin by summarizing my pupil’s journey to the present, describing the creative excursions we’ve made, since I refuse to be regimented by any piano METHOD, but instead I use the basic material as a SPRINGBOARD to self-realizing CREATIVE activities.

Composing, transposing, etc. have been well-integrated into lessons, along with theory and harmonic analysis on a very fundamental level. Since this student has unusual cognitive and affective abilities that are combined with her natural musical instincts, her path might be carved differently from those of other students with an altered set of gifts and capacities.

Finally, in my TWO Part tutorial or overview, I’ve drawn on the works of Kabalevksy, Gillock, Tansman, Paciorkiewicz, Lubarsky, Poole, Beyer, but also recommend a host of composers for this early bridge to repertoire study. The list includes Turk, Gurlitt, Reinagle, Peskanov, Randall and Nancy Faber, Rebikov, Bartok, et al.


Gillock is a particular favorite!

Here are further Gillock samples played by various Beginner level piano students, including infusions of my instruction: (I think Level 2 is misapplied to ACCENT on Gillock–Blue, as many of the pieces in this collection can be taught to students not rigidly categorized)


My Gillock inspired concert for Aiden cat:


Many teachers will add to the mix, a big serving of modern, jazz style works by contemporary LIVING composers that add a spicy dimension to an enriched musical adventure.

In this example, Fritz plays a well-known Boogie, and then plays his own composition!

DUET playing

The teacher/student duet playing experience is also invaluable in this post Primer transition as evidenced by some of these older videos with relevant samples. (This particular student, Fritz, age 8, had a potpourri of repertoire experiences)

A Primer flashback sample duet from Faber Piano Adventures:

The Repertoire-based journey should be fun, enlightening and packed with enticing musical adventures if selected pieces are the right fit for the student.

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Scenes from MTAC Los Angeles! What you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!

I’m safely nestled, if not sequestered, “Under Surveillance,” in my all-purpose, webcam-wired piano room following a two way Mega-BUST ride between West Oakland and Union Station, L.A.

me under overhead cam

Quite unexpectedly, my daughter and I were stranded on the Freeway, 20 minutes from destination, with our bulging baggage, roadside, after a double decker demise. (Transmission shutdown) And from the dust-ridden, smog zone, (following a dung heap passage through the Central Valley)dung zone it was a pricey $50 cab ride to the Airport Hilton in rush hour traffic!

Seven hours earlier, I’d texted my piano students that I was seated in the LAP of LUXURY with Wi-Fi perks and push back seats.wi-fi bus

Go figure!


The journey south was sparked by my scheduled appearance at the MTAC State Convention in a High-Tech, break-the-barriers, ONLINE music lesson framing. I was slated to “BRAVE” the cyber-energized SKYPE and FACE-TIME MUSIC-learning cosmos with its techno-bundled trimmings, in an encapsulated ONE HOUR. This demanded significant NIP and TUCK in the illustrious MAKE-OVER capital.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 8.08.40 PM

Once settled into the Airport-based Hotel room with its amazing 9th floor panoramic view of plane landings and take-offs, I headed to the LOWER LOBBY for a gym workout in prep for my 12-hour intense program review.


me at gym


As it turned out, the set-up in the Carmel Room was perfect: The computer podium, Steinway piano and Big Screen were nicely arranged, with outstanding access to tech support. I couldn’t have asked for more!

setup in Carmel room

Aviva, my traveling companion and assistant (daughter), scoped out the space for nifty hand-held Camcorder angles before she stopped off at the Steinway piano for a test run.

Aviva at the piano

The Hotel glittered with colorful exhibits: a repository of sheet music displays, YAG RECITAL POSTERS, PROGRAM highlights, instrument galleries, and hands-on electronic keyboard stations to drive sight-reading improvement.

Exhibit Hall

I made sure to whiz over to the Frederick Harris exhibit to peruse its new Preparatory samplers, while I chatted amiably with Editor, Nancy Rusk.

Frederick Harris

I couldn’t skip the Steinway Pianos display in the adjacent room. After breezing over the keyboard of a resonant Steinway ‘B,’ I collected the business card of Beverly Hills Sales Rep, Nancy Dovan. She was an over easy connection to Justin Levitt at the Walnut Creek Steinway Gallery. (It’s a small musical world!)


Following an early Friday morning spree through the Exhibit Hall, I made final preparations for my 4 p.m. presentation! (It had been about 24 hours since the grueling MEGA-bus calamity with its lingering after effect.)

For the trip to L.A., I had encased my big iMAC 21 computer in a newly bought hard shelled, Chinese-imported BRIGHT RED expandable piece of luggage, and with its revolving wheels, I schlepped the monster to the second floor for unloading. (Don’t ask how many elephant-size elevator excursions I took, and why the heck the room key card was not working?!) Repeated staccato strokes in the narrow slots skinned my fingers!

red luggage

After TWO intensely concentrated PROGRAM DRESS REHEARSALS, I placed dozens of hand-out packets on a music stand by the Carmel Room entranceway, hoping these would be taken by Program attendees. A few people ran off with them, before being apprehended. I guess they were trying to be at more than one event at a time.

Still, despite competing program offerings, we had a GOOD turnout with the inharmonious drone of two blasting pianos seeping through thin walls.

What emerged in the aftermath of my event was an abridged 15-minute filmed overview without many of the sample lessons-in progress that I’d inserted. Just the same, the footage well-summarized the effort.

**NOTE: For reference, these two blogs below contain an outline of what played out during my presentation.


….Finally, it was nice to meet up with Facebook Friend Sophie, from Australia, who was my Online cheerleader. We posed together for this wonderful OFFLINE photo!

Crop Sophie and I

Such a warm and fuzzy musical connection ushered in a Social Hour in the Hotel Courtyard that was the evening finale to a long, but satisfying day.

courtyard reception

reception panorama

reception filled

Thank you, MTAC for great hospitality, planning, and inspired events!

Convention booklet

Post Script:

I was sad to leave before the Convention’s end, but the Mega-Bus ride back home trumped my attention, and as feared, the journey North was anything but smooth.

As foreboding, the bus driver announced:
“I have nothing to do with the A/C or Wi-Fi.”

Good thing I brought my winter coat, mittens, and a muffler or I would have froze to death!


It’s always great to be back home!

Shirley Kirsten guest artist

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Lights, Camera, Action in Los Angeles!

In a few days, I’ll find myself at the MTAC Statewide Convention in L.A. sharing my Online Music Lesson journey in a LIVE high-tech universe exploration. (I gave a comparable program to the Alameda Branch last May 2015, but I was not hemmed into the impending ONE HOUR space.)

The scope of this event begs for TWO FULL HOURS!

As PREP, I’ve been UP-dating my blogs on the subject; embedding the latest photo technology: overhead and side angled keyboard views made possible with an Alzo Horizontal mount (adding a tutorial on how to install); checking perspicaciously on LIGHTING as it affects visual key clarity; and interviewing students about their ONLINE lesson setups.

It might as well be an Entertainment Tonight feature with students giving Testimonials, (not INFOMERCIALS) RE: their Skype and Face Time romps.

Alameda Branch presentation

This North Carolina student’s offering below will steal the show by her comparison of LIVE and CYBER-driven instruction. She made a touchdown visit to Berkeley last February that was recorded in my living room with a second LIVE pupil on hand to join the exchange. It was riveting!

After the teaser, I’ll CROSS FADE into the Call Recorder cosmos, showing the TEACHER, FULL SCREEN, shooting back a Summary Lesson video with three different camera view options (REMOTE: the Pupil, LOCAL: the Teacher; and Split Screen: Shared keyboards)–A resounding TRI–umph of eye/ hand coordination!

Skype Call Recorder

Next, I’ll CLICK the Asterisk as three webcam angles are set in motion:

Skype Call Recorder Settings

WARNING: CALL RECORDER technology is not to be CONFUSED with the basic AUDIO/VIDEO SETTINGS that relate to the initial SKYPE SIGN ON where the teacher chooses the basic keyboard camera view that’s altered with a savvy, staccato-centered mouse click.


Audio Video Settings

Did I lose my audience after I shuffled through the webcam views?  Will my colleagues be drowning in a sea of confusion?

Put it this way, a VIRTUAL INSTRUCTOR has to have supple wrists, relaxed arms, nimble fingers and shifty eyes, with GOOD MEMORY RECALL at COMMAND CONTROL.

MULTI-TASKING without skipping a beat or losing a priceless teaching moment, takes PRACTICE!

(REMINDER: DON’T USE THE FULL SCREEN if you want to enable CALL RECORDER during a lesson. It will otherwise disappear until you click the VIEW tab and bring it back down. And Beware of activating the WEBCAM mic that has a low HOT ZONE threshold! Choose the INTERNAL mic, or YETI Blue USB!)

Yeti Mic crop

Through myriads of do’s and don’ts, I hope Convention registrants will not get snowed under by the weighty details of ONLINE transmission, even as temps are rising in the region!

And PLEASE: NO POWER outages during my program that will cause it to go up in smoke as So. CAL wild fires rage out of control.

To cut tension, I might choose a stand-up comedy framing.

Maybe humor will be the best segue way to the presentation itself.

How about this opener to break the ice: (Did I say ice, when L.A. natives will be shedding layers and running to malls for A/C)

“I want everyone to know that I’m under constant surveillance with three webcams monitoring me 24/7. That means I’m a security risk, placed on the NO FLY/HOME LIST.”

Oops! The audience might evacuate!

Perhaps my intro will elicit a sprinkle of chuckles, or dead silence?


THE SETUP: I’m holding a mic, squeezed between two tripod mounted cams, careful to avoid a catastrophic wire-tangled, slip-up. Can you imagine the sirens approaching, with paramedics unraveling USB cable extensions and webcam wires around my neck!

Perhaps I’ll project an OLD Piano Room/Living Room/Kitchen/Bedroom photo on the Big Screen before I deliver my LATEST wham-mo image of the tech-burdened, wired-up, unlivable cubicle in the PRESENT.


piano room, spacier

NOW–My piano room latest

A mid-range music stand mounted webcam, inserted between grand pianos, gives a third keyboard view. If you add the INTERNAL CAM of a PC or MAC, that amounts to FOUR confusing possibilities!

music stand cam mount between pianos

Let’s just say my Program might be a sky-rocketing success, though I’m NOT scheduled for PRIME TIME.

They’ve assigned me the 4 5 p.m. slot on Friday, July 1, Day ONE of REGISTRATION, as I’m encapsulated in the Carmel Room with three competing presentations vying for attention.

L.A. Convention coming up in July

Well, FACE it, ONLINE lessons are not yet in the mainstream and too many TRADITIONAL TEACHERS are rolling over in their graves at the very notion of displacing the “LIVE” MENTOR with a multi-cam image of one.

I can’t change consciousness overnight, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Oops…Remember to evade those surveillance cams and DON’T PANIC at the sight of 3 Logitechs staring you down!

Logitech best face forward


IMPORTANT BLOG LINKS upon which my PRESENTATION will be centered:

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“I don’t care” means letting go to bigger physical energies

While most traditional piano lessons include a tedious focus on CONTROL with premeditated, prescribed planning in a layered learning sequence, a hyper-methodical approach that aims for note-perfection, will often impede a liberated, whole arm gesture that can emancipate boxed-in, tight-squeezed playing. (Once activation of uninhibited physical energy is harnessed, then centering is easier to achieve while preserving projection and accuracy.)

To this effect, the very idea of LETTING GO and NOT CARING, framed simply as a self-directed, “I don’t care,” is enough of an auto-suggestion to prod a student to loosen up and throw fate to the wind.

One of my most influential teachers, Ena Bronstein, demonstrated the unthinkable when I briefly studied with her in Central California.

Here’s what she recommended in order to unshackle my playing of its inordinate constraints that naturally trickled down in an advice-giving format to one of my students. (Incidentally, Maestra Bronstein was a protege of Claudio Arrau and his assistant, Rafael De Silva)

Video sample:

In summary, stretching pedagogical boundaries to allow for the funneling of spontaneous epiphanies into the learning environment, (though sometimes defying convention), can positively increase freedom of motion and musical expression. And what might seem to be in opposition to sound teaching, is frequently quite the opposite.


Shaking out Bach Ornaments and the Influence of Claudio Arrau

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Don’t Choke through peak sections of a Chopin Nocturne

Many adult students get bent out of shape when a piece of “night music” blooms with “improvised,” decorative passagework at peak expressive levels. Add in prolonged trills with lower notes tied (held down) leading to a decisive crescendo through a tricky chromatic scale, and many players will shrink from the challenge. They’ll prefer to skip over what appears to be never-ending land mines.

I’m very sympathetic, because I’ve been in the thick of Chopin’s impassioned outpourings trapped by a frenzy that inevitably interrupts a smooth journey to full blown expression. As remedy, I’ve learned how to stay centered, relaxed, and in touch with my breath as my primary musical underpinning while I try to create an effortless “improvisation” that intensifies without a struggle.

This is why I selected Chopin’s Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1 as my point of departure in the Keeping Your Cool universe of playing.

Measures 31 to 38 meander in improvised fashion to a resonating chromatic ascent to B minor. And while there are many Forte level measures in this section, one NEVER stays at a fixed dynamic given the ebb and flow of harmonic rhythm. The player has to poetically shape the ornaments, trills, and fancy filigreed passages with an understanding of harmonic dissonances and resolutions, and how various melodic meanderings invite nuanced, dips in phrases.

Chopin Nocturne, 31-

In particular, one of my pertinent epiphanies surrounds the lengthy trill spanning measures 36 and 37 in the E minor Nocturne. The first part of the trill is a suspension (Harmonic 2nd) that relaxes into a Harmonic third, even as the repercussions spill into a heightened chromatic ascent. By “relaxing” into the trill as it has resolved into a minor third, the player can take a new breath to impede CHOKING into the decisive B minor CADENCE.

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Creating a seamless, singing tone legato through arpeggios and scales

My students are often amused by my prompts that frequently include “oohs,” “ahhs,” and “wah’s,” among other spaced out sounds, to prevent consonant sounding notes or hard-liners from interrupting a smooth, “sighing” stepwise descent to the tonic. And from this universe of impromptu effusions, I’ve created a self-styled language, that, at times, has incorporated barnyard vocabulary to the smiles of impressionable pupils (The “cluck, clucks” of Black note passage in staccato arpeggios, for instance, will assist students who tend to give the thumb more assertion than it deserves: i.e F# minor, Eb Major, etc.)

But for a seamless legato, (smooth and connected playing), the clucks are replaced by a soft and responsive cushion of keyboard support that precludes finger-poking or incongruous accents.

To think “slower” into notes by “dragging” them are a few of my favorites. Naturally these suggestions are meant to acquire “density” in the playing and to discourage a hard turf beneath the hands. They’re also employed to inhibit anticipation and note crowding. In this vein, a note coming a “hairbreadth too soon” can imbalance a phrase. (Mildred Portney Chase, author of Just Being at the Piano, poetically frames a singing tone legato through pages of inviting prose.)

Listening for the “decay” from the previous note to the next is another effective prompt. It invites a particularly riveted attention to sound as it “floats seamlessly” from one note to the next. (Singing, of course, is of great assistance in producing the imagined sequence of notes with shape and beauty) Often when a student sings, he can better imagine the sound image before playing the very first note.

All the aforementioned suggestions are, naturally, not enough. If a student is tense in the wrists, arms, fingers, he/she has to be made aware of barriers to a free-flowing, stream of scales and arpeggios that should transfer fluidly to compositions. If tension is tied to faulty breathing, then the BREATH must be explored as a partner to musical expression. Breathing deep, but natural breaths should infuse all music-making while weight transfer, or energy coming down relaxed, “buoyant” arms into supple wrists must be synthesized into fluid playing.


During recent piano lessons, two of my adult students separately explored the challenge of playing arpeggios and scales in a smooth, legato stream. (One of them “snipped” her improved legato arpeggio into a “horizontally” pleasing staccato.) Some of these prompts and suggestions seemed to be a springboard to a deeper imparted vocabulary that nourished limpidly played phrases. And the “memory” of these prompts partnered with a physical sense of the legato has continued to advance musical growth and development.

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