Daniel Mori, Irina Morozova, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano blog, piano blogging, piano teacher, The Special Music School of Kaufman Center

Manhattan’s Special Music School/Kaufman Center has a wealth of gifted students and teachers

The Special Music School-Kaufman Center

The original vision of Vladimir Feltsman, the Special Music School, with its serious commitment to musical development, is a K-8 public school with a private endowment. Located in the hub of Lincoln Center on W. 67th, its easy access to the great concert halls of the world, and the Juilliard School make it a draw for students in all five boroughs. For 15 openings, there may be 500 applications.

front desk The Special Music School

More About the School

“Special Music School, P. S. 859, is the first and only public elementary school in the United States that combines a full academic program with performance-oriented music training within the regular school day starting in Kindergarten. The music program includes private instrumental lessons and classes in music theory, history and chorus. The academic program emphasizes an integrated learning approach that develops problem-solving skills through hands-on cooperative learning experiences. The dedicated staff and faculty are committed to helping each child realize his/her full potential musically, academically, and socially.

“The Special Music School is a public/private partnership between the New York City Department of Education and Kaufman Music Center. As a public school, Special Music School is tuition-free. The Department of Education, through tax levy funds, provides the academic program and materials, while Kaufman Music Center, through its annual fund-raising efforts, provides each student with a full, merit-based music scholarship. The School is located in Kaufman Music Center’s facility at 129 West 67th Street, west of Broadway.”

In 2013, a “new” high school was added in a separate building in the Martin Luther King Educational Complex a few blocks from Kaufman. “… Dedicated to providing talented young musicians the opportunity to pursue serious, pre-professional along with a rigorous curriculum,” this secondary educational tier promotes “the development of the student as a musician for the 21st century.”

Performanc Class The Special Music School

I was fortunate to observe three piano students in the elementary grades taught by Irina Morozova, a towering pianist and teacher in the great Russian tradition.

The first of her brood, Daniel Mori, began his lessons in Kindergarten and has musically flourished under his able teacher’s wings into sixth grade. With awards and competition-related honors amassing, the youngster approaches the piano as a singing instrument with an embedded technical fluency grown assiduously by Maestra Morozova.

In these recorded lessons-in-progress, Daniel works on the Clementi Sonata in F# minor, Op. 25, No. 5, and Liszt’s Leggierezza.

The Special Music School Website:


Links to blogs about Daniel and his progress:


During the interview below, Irina Morozova discussed her approach to teaching Daniel from the very beginning of his studies. (included is a 2012 sample of her student’s artistry)


Irina Morozova BIO:

Piano; B.M. with Honors, Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music; M.M., Manhattan School of Music; piano studies with Vladimir Shakin, Galina Orlovskaya, Arkady Aronov; performances include Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, New American Chamber orchestra; participated in Film America’s “Music in the 20th Century” series; awards include Frinna Awerbuch, San Antonio International Piano Competitions; teaches, performs at International Keyboard Institute and Festival in NY; faculty, Mannes College of Music, Manhattan school of Music, Special Music School.

“Irina Morozova made her New York debut with a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 1996 after winning Artists International Auditions. Critics raved, “Morozova possesses an astonishing beauty of sound and power of ideas…she is the sort of pianist who can turn a simple phrase into magic….”

“Born to a musical family, Irina Morozova began her musical studies at the Leningrad Special Music School for Gifted Children and graduated with honors from the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music where her major teacher was Galina Orlovskaya. Studying with Vladimir Shakin at the Saint-Petersburg Conservatory, she performed in the concert halls of Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and many other cities in the former Soviet Union. She also toured former East Germany and appeared with the Berlin Radio Symphony in the famed Schauspielhaus.

(A list of performance credits is too long to tabulate, though they encompass a variety of international venues.)

“Ms. Morozova received her Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music where she studied with Dr. Arkady Aronov. Since 1997 she has been on the faculties of Mannes College of Music and the Special Music School at Kaufman Center.”

acoustic piano, Daniel Mori, Irina Gorin, Irina Morozova, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teacher, piano teaching, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, the right age to begin piano lessons, Uncategorized

The Right Age for a Child to Start Piano Lessons (Videos)

Is there a right time in a child’s life to embark upon piano study?

The answer is not clear as I’ve discovered from years of teaching.

With technology creating an environment in which children as young as two or three are propped up at electronic keyboards hooked into big-size computer screens, the whole area of learning “piano,” or a toyish substitute for it, can be clouded with ambiguity.

So let’s start with the premise that piano lessons involve teaching a child to play on an acoustic instrument. A hammer-weight digital, comes in a distant second, since the nuances of touch and tone can’t be explored in depth.

That said, I usually recommend that a child begin weekly private piano lessons between the age of 6 and 7, but in some instances, after a preliminary interview, I might advise an earlier or later start.

Since I’m not a Suzuki teacher who follows the paradigm that piano learning is closely allied to language acquisition, and therefore incorporates a model of imitating the teacher’s playing without awareness of notation and musical symbols, I would decline students as young as 2 or 3. In essence, I don’t want children to “play by ear” as their primary learning vehicle because of its tendency to become habit-forming.


Rina, 5, a poster child for an instructional jump start, proved to me that a 4-year old (the age she began) could integrate cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic processes in a healthy, ever-growing piano-learning experience.

As an advocate of the playground as music teacher, I drew upon my staircase, for example, placing letter names of notes on each step, and had Rina romp up and down to “Frere Jacques.” Her spatial understanding of the tune, preceded its physical transfer to the piano and aided her learning.

In a capsulized journey, she had a cognitive sense of the music alphabet going forward in step-wise and skipped motion, and the kinetic experience of getting from one note to another in a prescribed space that was marked off with flashcards. Singing accompanied the activity with letter name recitation.

(Her knowledge of the alphabet was a given, and was well-embedded before lessons began)

It’s now been about 10 months into her instruction, and she “reads” a pre-notational form of music, knowing how to play quarter notes (“short sounds”), half notes (“long sounds”), eighths (“running notes”), whole notes, (“whole note hold down”) and the dotted-half note (“half note dot”)

We’ve placed cardboard notes on the piano rack so she can clap their value in a horizontal sequence even at her tender age.

Spatially, this 5-year old, sees floating notes on a page of paper, and comprehends which way is up and down. (Hand signals assist)

The best transfers ensue from playing activity away from the piano, to the instrument itself.


Back in the 70s, the ideas of Francis Webber Aronoff as expressed in Music and Young Children became popular. At the core of her teaching were play activities that sprang into rhythmic forms, subsequently transferred to instrumental study.

Likewise, a book titled, The Playground as Music Teacher by Madeleine Carabo-Cone revolutionized ways of teaching music to very young children. They were urged to clap, tap, run, and skip to a rhythmic stream of quarter notes, eighths, and rapidly, light sixteenths.

Three forms of “knowing” were identified: “kinesthetic” (physical), “cognitive” (analytical) and “affective” (emotional). In the total creative musical process, all were meant to fuse together.

On a kinesthetic level, the child had abounding energy that begged for release in movement.

In this spirit, Rina warms up with a relaxed flowing, improvised beginning to her lesson. As I play “Harmony of the Angels” by Burgmuller, she moves gracefully to the music. Her activities are age-defying.

When she sits at the piano, she emulates the tranquility of a weeping willow tree, having supple wrists and relaxed arms to evoke a graceful eagle. These images can be preserved in the imagination of a very young child, reaping benefits for piano study at its most basic level.

In all fairness to this discussion, there are children who can’t sit still long enough to benefit from a minimum dose of instruction. They might have a five to ten-minute attention span. In these instances, piano lessons might be postponed, or parceled out in small segments.

Irina Gorin, a piano teacher in Carmel, Indiana who’s created her own unique method book, Tales of a Musical Journey, takes students as young as 4-years old, especially if they have older sibs enrolled in her studio.

“With such young children, I give 15-minute lessons, twice a week, not requiring them to practice at home. Later, when a child is ready he graduates to longer periods of instruction.”

Gorin believes that teacher preference plays a strong role in the choice of one age group over another.

“I love teaching young kids even though it can sometimes be nerve-draining. When I raise a student from a young age, it’s an intensely wonderful relationship that evolves over time. And it should be emphasized that the beginning stage of learning is the most important one for a developing musician.”

Eddie, Gorin’s 5-yr. old student plays a Russian folk melody:


Irina Morozova an esteemed teacher and concert pianist who instructs young children at the Special School of the Kaufman Center in New York City weighed in on piano study and the right time to begin.

“Based on my 30 years of teaching experience, some kids are ready to study an instrument at as early as 5. Most, not before 6. I started at 7 myself and do not think it was too late. A few of my best students started at 8-9 and caught up with kids who had been playing for much longer.”

She asserts that “good students are those with a high IQ, a good ear, and self-motivation. Everything else she “considers much less important.”

Daniel Mori, a Morozova student plays in a recital at the tender age of 6:


From my perspective, a child beginning once per week lessons for a full half-hour to 45 minutes should be mature enough to assimilate musical symbols, such as clef signs, the grand staff, notation, meter, etc. introduced gradually through materials that are creative and innovative. It helps if the child can read his language and have expressive writing skills.

But the ingredients of the singing tone and how to produce it must be at the core of early exposure to piano study. That’s where Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey excels.

For those using the Faber Primer Piano Adventures books, the Lesson and Performance albums show a small map of the keyboard, and begin with notes floating in space with up and down movement. Words imbue rhythm and the student would do well to have a first grade-level reading ability, basic coordination skills, and a good attention span.

A positive feature of the Faber series is its introduction of black-key combinations of two and three groups at the outset with significant playing experiences using these notes. The white ones are then easily identified by their proximity to the black keys, but they stick around a bit too long without black key relief relief. It’s a backslide in the learning sequence.

A 6 or 7-year old can gradually acclimate to the feel of the piano, using black notes; acquire basic rhythmic awareness through the word-driven music, and slowly but surely progress to putting the floating notes on the staff with letter names attached. Along the way the teacher and student will play duets that bring even two-note melodies to life through harmonically rich accompaniments.

But to re-emphasize, I believe a child should have some basic readiness to digest what the Fabers have offered.

One youngster, for instance, may have unusually good coordination skills, but not have reached a maturity level to focus on printed-page lesson material. Another might possess greater strength in cognitive areas but need more time to improve technique.

This is why each prospective student should be evaluated individually without any hard and fast rules governing his so-called readiness.

Even before lessons are undertaken, I advise parents to surround their children at home and in transit, with good music in many forms and styles: classical, folk, ethnic, jazz, etc. and I recommend that they attend children’s concerts in their area that are specifically geared to capture the interest and imagination of young people.

In many cities there are music appreciation-based groups for very young, pre-school age children that provide singing activity, and pitched, non-pitched percussion exploration. (The Orff Schulwerk and Music Together are prime examples)

These can be wonderful experiences that prime a child for private piano lessons.

“Music Together,” in particular, “is an internationally recognized early childhood music program for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, along with the adults who love them. First offered to the public in 1987, it pioneered the concept of a research-based, developmentally appropriate early childhood music curriculum that strongly emphasizes and facilitates adult involvement.” (http://www.musictogether.com)

I’m familiar with a local powerhouse Music Together teacher who engages so many little ones and their parents in kinetically-driven musical experiences, integrating folk-based themes from all over the world with classical and jazz idioms. It’s an exciting musical potpourri that my student Rina sampled for at least 3 years before she started private piano lessons.

In conclusion, the guidelines I addressed with respect to age appropriateness and developmental readiness for piano lessons, should be a working model for parents who are considering private instruction for their children. An open mind is needed along the way.


NY Times article link:


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"Tales of a Musical Journey", Daniel Mori, Frances Clark A Time to Begin, Frances Clark Music Tree, Irina Morozova, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, playing piano, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano lessons should be tailor-made for each student (Videos)

I’ve come to the conclusion that no full-proof piano method, or method book can be applied across the board to beginning students or those at any level of study. Each pupil is so unique that an individualized growth and development plan is needed.

By example, I faced a dilemma when a new adult student who had a few months of private childhood lessons and recent classes at a music school came for her initial interview.

After she’d read through a few pieces that were contained in a loose-leaf binder, I had to decide whether I’d be an automatic pilot teacher, recommending the Faber Older Beginner Lesson and Performance Books, or head in more creative directions.

The easy way out was to plod through the method book, which had some enticing selections, but came with lots of FILLER pieces that were so trite I could barely wait for the last note to trail off.

And while the student might grin and bear it for a time, the mundane repertoire could send her scurrying out the door sooner than later as a newbie dropout.

Faber Primer Performance at least wooed players with black-note pieces wrapped in harmonically rich teacher secondo parts. “Wind in the Trees” and “Shepherd’s Flute” kept pupils on track until a white-note version of “Hot Cross Buns” derailed them. It was mostly downhill from there.

Where would I go at that point? Did I need a methodical flow of pages to teach piano? And who decided what should come next for each student who was herded into the same procession of progress?

This was not how we learned as toddlers or pre-schoolers and well beyond.

Upon reflection, it was a no-brainer that hunting up engaging repertoire at the early elementary level could be a springboard to teach the basics of piano playing–like the SINGING TONE.

I could start with a two black-note piece for tone sensitivity, a supple wrist, and a range of dynamics. Throw in framing rhythm and we were on our way.

Abracadabra, I dug into a pile of music and unearthed The Music Tree, Time to Begin by trail-blazer, Frances Clark, and played a few duets with my daughter, Aviva.

Together, we relished three harmonically appealing selections: “Take Off,” Landing,” and “In a Canoe” (5/4 time)

Using two black notes, we explored up and down note motion, nuance, and the singing pulse. As teacher and role model, I could shape the phrases, sing them, and demonstrate the supple wrist and relaxed arms. The printed page had its own reinforcing landmarks.

Time to Begin spent 24 pages on BLACK notes and very gradually approached the whites on an abridged staff.

The shortened staff was likewise used in Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey, Book I at a point when a child was ready. His receptivity should not be programmed in to meet a fixed learning deadline.

It made sense that a beginning student at a tender age, or even older, should not be overwhelmed with five lines and four spaces when he needed exposure to capsulized line to space movement of notes. This cognitive understanding followed ample physical space exploration of the keyboard with its repository of mood and emotion. (kinesthetic and affective knowing)

Part of the problem was that students and parents expected learning to be acquired in specific doses on a predetermined schedule in a one-shoe-fits-all package–the equivalent of a method book panacea.

Perhaps as alternative, a diverse sample of pieces, materials, and creative explorations such as composing would enliven and enrich the piano teaching environment at all levels of study.

As example, I worked with Fritz, age 8, who was playing Gillock , a sprinkling of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, (“Introduction and Lion”) and selections that I choose from Faber’s Developing Artist, Elementary (We added the parallel minor for each) Skipping over the weaker pieces, we dashed back to Gillock’s “Clowns,” and “Argentina” and The Toronto Conservatory series Level I that included Telemann’s “Dance” and a Hook “Minuet.” I would not use all pieces from any one book.

In this spirit, I chose compositions based on their musical value, synthesized with what they might teach in the realm of phrasing, articulation, etc.

Such repertoire-based learning, even for beginners like Fritz, would be supported by Major/minor five-finger positions around the Circle of Fifths.

More advanced students played keyboard-wide scales, arpeggios, and various permutations of them in the company of rich and diverse repertoire. Technique was not off on an island, it wove into the pieces studied.

Irina Morozova, concert pianist, and faculty member at the Mannes College of Music and Special School of the Kaufman Center in New York City described her individualized approach to teaching Daniel Mori, a very gifted 8-year old.

“Daniel is just one of several excellent and promising students I teach. Although he is small and immature (even for his age), he nonetheless demonstrates a rare musical talent, a remarkable devotion to his piano studies, and incredible patience.

“I approached teaching Daniel about the same way I would approach teaching any other student.

“In the early stages I usually pursue three areas simultaneously: developing musical expression and imagination, reading notes, and laying the technical foundation (we call it “building the house from bricks,” where the bricks are various technical formulas).

“We played very simple pieces, many of them duets (kids enjoy them as they sound like “real” music with a few notes in the student’s part). Daniel sailed through many of these easier pieces and I never wanted to skip important stages. Studying works of diverse musical styles, learning musical “vocabulary” of different composers and times has been an important goal from the very beginning. 
While not giving him “mechanical” technical exercises, I have introduced different types of technique, carefully choosing pieces and etudes.”

I’ve come to the same conclusion embodied in Morozova’s mentoring style.

It’s that each student has his own tempo of learning and a unique set of needs and talents. To try to box a pupil into a method book mode of study will most likely stifle the natural flow of his musical development and deprive him of the rich pianistic journey he deserves.


Interview with Irina Morozova