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Music Works: An El Cerrito Mom and Pop Charmer is worth a visit

A quaint music shop with decorative window dressing caught my eye during a walk from Del Norte Bart to a Mosier Avenue copy center. A red wooden treble clef, like the swirl of a barber shop icon, wooed me across the street for a closer look.

My curiosity was rewarded by reams of ukeleles hanging on hooks in neat and appealing rows. It was a perfect opportunity for a photo shoot.

Enter a hospitable store host named “Carlo Lacsina” and I bubbled over with questions.

“How did this establishment thrive with so many ukeleles?” (properly pronounced “OO-ka-le-luhs?” in Hawaiian)

I said, “YOU KA LAY LEE” like a foreigner, barely hiding my flush of embarrassment.

Once corrected, I would not make the same mistake.

From my conversation with Carlo, I gathered that Music Works was a resilient business in a competitive climate of instrument establishments. Swarming with Yukes or “OOKS,” not to mention guitars, it had managed to survive the recession.

Corporate heavyweight, Guitar Center located just a half-mile or so down the busy street wasn’t as fortunate. It hadn’t much clout or appeal and subsequently closed.

But Ifshin’s, the violin specialty shop on Fairmont near the El Cerrito Plaza was one of those places doing well in hard times.

For the record books, Music Works owners, Joanne and Duane “Pudgy” Wong boasted a thirty-year stay at a former San Pablo location, and 25 at its most recent one at 11225 San Pablo Avenue. (cross streets, Cypress and Portrero) Within easy reach of the “new” Safeway, it was an outflow of El Cerrito commerce and government.

In fact, if you walked a few blocks south, you’d pass City Hall, the DMV and Police Headquarters.


A Store where a Picture was worth a Thousand Words

Panning around Music Works with my Sony Cybershot digital, I captured its colorful environment.

With a glut of ukeleles of every shape, size and form fueling the psychedelic imagination, store proprietors had still reserved space for piano instructional materials and sheet music. (Hooray for a piano blog tie-in!)

Add in a petite room that housed a Kawai console for piano lessons, and the triad of ukeleles, piano books and instruction was COMPLETE.

(Music Works also offered percussion classes. With its snazzy display of drum sets mounted high and advertised instrument rentals, the place was percolating with rhythm)

So If you happen to be in the neighborhood, visit this unique ukelele plus hub and enjoy a splash of color. While you’re at it, don’t forget to take advantage of a 10% teacher discount on all music purchases.


A fine ukelele player:

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A Piano Teacher’s Worst Nightmare!

In a routine Yahoo e mail search for a Kawai USA technician I had spoken with a year ago, I stumbled upon a document that I had drafted out of sheer desperation.

It related to the decline of my sustain pedal which had been mercilessly pounded by a student who had serious impulse control problems. It wasn’t just the pedal that was affected. Lessons had become a free-wheeling carnival, with anything goes, serendipitous events. I never knew what to expect.

One memorable Monday, as I was approaching my El Cerrito studio about a half-hour before my first scheduled lesson, I was greeted by the antsy student sitting on top of his mom’s SUV about to make a death-defying leap to the concrete sidewalk.

Holding my breath, I watched him land safely, but without his music. (A common problem teachers encounter and learn to take in stride.) If we had one dollar for every time a pupil came to lessons without materials, we could all retire to a villa in Spain and luxuriate in the sun.

The troubling lesson environment worsened with a non-stop ringing cell phone brought by the highly charged student’s tag along friend. He danced in and out of my small studio with minute by minute messages relayed from divorced dad to mom to wired student. I couldn’t figure out the roundabout communication network. A text message would have been the least intrusive.

Since dad had the kids on alternate weeks, he drifted in with older sister one afternoon and sat right behind his fidgety son. Not five minutes into our session, he repeatedly arm wrestled his screaming daughter to the ground making the brother’s lesson an impossible feat to accomplish.

The tour de force should have been the icing on the cake, but instead, it was an algae snack finale. It made perfect sense. California kids munched on organic strips of seaweed instead of Reese’s pieces. Times had changed. Picture the oil spots on my vulnerable furniture fabric, not to mention a slippery slope of piano keys.

I forgot to mention out of control tops spinning in and out of the studio when brother switched lesson times with sister.

The closest rival to this scenario, was the student who compulsively punched my Steinway grand piano rack whenever he happened to hit a wrong note. On automatic pilot, he landed a blow so hard, it sent his music flying in all directions!

Finally, in defense of my sanity and property, I issued a Declaration of Independence from all this chaos. It was a well thought out “Code of Behavior for Piano Students” that required the signature of student and parent, co-signed by the teacher. This version of the document was tailor made for the edgy pupil who took the risk taking leap from the SUV. (By the way, since his parents were both attorneys they welcomed my pseudo legal contract without amendments)

*Footnote: In protection of my sanctified pedal that was repeatedly abused by the testy pupil previously mentioned, I enlisted a Fresno adult piano student, a ceramic artist, to build a custom designed, pedal guard made out of thick cardboard and styro foam.







Teachers could consider this a confidence building, smack proof, gadget—-a prophylaxis against encroaching threats to their precious pedals.

Back to the Code of Conduct:

Piano Lesson Behavior Code
1. I understand that taking piano lessons requires that I abide by the rules of proper behavior in the piano studio.
2. First and foremost, I must respect the instrument that I am playing each week.
a. This means that I play the grand piano only when asked by the teacher, and not before.
b  That I follow directions carefully delivered by the teacher….
I will not pound on the keys or get up from the bench either before or after I am instructed to begin my piece.
c) As part of my commitment to taking lessons, I will listen to instructions from the teacher about whether I can use any of the three piano pedals.
d) If the teacher tells me not to the use any of the pedals, I will abide by her request.
e) If I am told to use the pedal, I will not pound on it with my foot, snap it, or
stand up and slam down on the pedal.
The three pedals on the grand piano are regulated when the piano comes out of the factory where it is made, so if these pedals are not treated with kindness and respect, they will not work properly. To fix them will be expensive, and other students will in the meantime not have functioning pedals.
3)  When I come to lessons, I will bring all my music with me. This includes my Primer Lesson, Performance, and Theory Book. I will also bring sheet music my teacher gives me including Calliope or any other additional pieces. These should be placed in a presentation book that has small plastic rings and plastic inserts for the music’s safekeeping. (can be purchased at Office Max, Staples, Office Depot)
4) If I am waiting for my lesson, I must sit quietly in the studio and not distract another student who is trying to concentrate on his or her assignment.
If I choose to sit outside the studio before my lesson begins, I cannot go back in the studio or out during another student’s lesson. I must wait until a lesson with a student is over.
If I am waiting outside, I must not raise my voice, spin tops, or run in the area in front of the studio. Doing so interrupts or disturbs the concentration of another student taking a lesson.
5) Food is not allowed in the studio. I understand that snacks must be eaten at the table outside. If my hands are sticky from snacks or finger foods, I must wash my hands in the bathroom and dry them with a paper towel before I begin my lesson.
6) Finally I will look at my assignment that is emailed to my parents each week and I will make sure I am practicing all my pieces as instructed.
I will try to find 30 minutes each day to practice what I have been assigned for the following week. If I have any questions, I will write them down and have my mother or father contact the teacher for the answers, or I will make sure to ask the teacher those questions at my next lesson.
I have read the Piano Lesson Behavior Code and I agree
to abide its stated rules.
Signature Student_______________________Date_____________________
Signature Teacher______________________  Date____________________
Signature Parent(s)______________________Date_____________________
PS The student who signed this document no longer takes piano lessons.

RELATED: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/the-iphone-invades-piano-lessons/