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The MTAC Celebration Festival, Anna Magdalena Bach, and Meeting Keith Snell (VIDEO)

Last weekend I journeyed to the Fresno State University Music Building to monitor Room 1 for the Celebration Festival sponsored by the Fresno branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

Every February students from our city and surrounding areas are invited to play one or two pieces in a selected cubicle, (basically a music department practice room) that serves as a mini stage beside an audience of one. A branch teacher sits nearby with a simple evaluation form, jots down notes about each performance, and renders an overall rating of “Fair” to “Superior.” Each category has assigned points.

“Excellent” and “Superior” ratings bestow a handsome engraved Medallion, while only those earning “Superiors” play on one of many ongoing Honors recitals that are scheduled over the course of two weekend days. No one goes home empty handed. Lovely grand piano pins are more than a booby prize.

This year I had ten participating students, and most received the coveted Medallion that was tightly embraced like an Oscar, minus the heart-wrenching acceptance speech.

Nayelli, age 10, managed to eek out a “Superior” for her dazzling Performance of “The Juggler” by Faber, Lesson Book One. And with her honor came the hot news that rippled through my studio like lightning. First thing I heard from Sakura and Mai, two sisters who’d performed selections by J.S. and J.C. Bach at the Festival, was that “Nayelli” had scored a victory at the mini musical Olympiad. While all three students proudly wore their colorful ribbons with attached medals, the HONORS recital appearance seemed to carry the most prestige.

While I enjoyed swishing down the hallway from time to time with envelopes delivered to the front registration desk from an adjudicating teacher, I was most excited by a serendipitous event that occurred in the break room where mounds of croissants and bowls of fruit awaited Festival helpers.

Who should turn up but Keith Snell, composer, performer, and editor of the very prestigious Fundamentals of Theory course, not to mention a host of other publications including Selections from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook.

Snell’s Anna Magdalena edition was definitely a significant improvement over Schirmer’s, the mainstay of most piano teachers back in the 50’s and 60’s.


By a quirk of fate, I’d been practicing a few Minuets and Marches from the collection, and appreciated Snell’s thoughtful editing. Teaching these pieces to fledgling students was made easier by having enlightened phrase marks, intelligent fingerings, and a dynamic landscape that conformed with the style of the Baroque era.

But I wondered what this renowned individual was doing in Fresno? I would have tied his visit to judging a local solo competition.

I quickly learned that Keith had moved to the Valley and was actively involved in our Branch’s diverse musical activities. On the side, he flew out of the area to his sanctuary in England with stop-offs in other European venues–the life of a jet setting musician.

Following our convivial conversation, I paused to hear Nayelli play “The Juggler” in the big university recital hall before returning to my monitor post in Room 1.

The Festival ended at 4:30 p.m. while students trickled home with their awards.

By Thursday following Celebration 2011, I had already received a thick manila envelop with Certificates, and detailed performance reviews to share with my students. All but one had received an Excellent or Superior rating, which showed a curve of improvement since last February’s MTAC Celebration.

In any case, my pupils plan to be back next year, each one hoping to earn a coveted gold cup worth a minimum of 15 points. It may not be an Oscar to most, but for these kids, it comes pretty close.

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