Elaine Comparone, Harpsichordist, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lydia Seifter, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano lessson, piano pedagogy, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano practicing, piano repertoire, Piano Street, piano student, piano studio, piano study, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, Piano World, piano world-wide, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing the piano, playing the piano with a singing tone, Seymour Bernstein With Your Own Two Hands, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, teaching piano, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching piano to teens, technique, the art of piano playing, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube

The joy and value of teaching a piano student over many years

Claudia, age 6 playing a duet with me

I recall Elaine Comparone, the renowned harpsichordist having described a student she had mentored for 35 years before a move cut short a lasting musical relationship.

“She was the real deal,” the musician insisted.

Seymour Bernstein, author, With Your Own Two Hands, often shared the joy of teaching a child into adulthood, expressing pride in the work accomplished in steady increments. He proudly watched a beginner blossom into full grown maturity, often as a performer.

Quite by chance, I’d noticed Lydia Seifter, pianist, featured at Bernstein’s You Tube Channel and the name rang a bell.

I remember her as an Oberlin Conservatory student during my years there, enjoying membership in our Jack Radunsky rat pack–a group that met in the Con lounge to rhapsodize about our teacher. We’d tell jokes that rang familiar, sharing our sometimes awkward efforts to please him. If nothing else, the camaraderie was endearing.

I’m guessing that Lydia eventually wound her way back to the East Coast after graduation and began study with Seymour. Perhaps they shared a professional association for at least a decade or more. Certainly her playing revealed a depth I had not known when she was at Oberlin.


I always felt short-changed that I only had three years of study with the late and beloved, Lillian Freundlich. By an accident of fate that I would meet her in the first place. The Merrywood Music Camp in Lenox, Massachusetts produced a friendship with her young nephew, Douglas, who steered me to his aunt during my period of despair.

At the time, I was at an extreme low point in my piano studies. Frustration enveloped me due to lack of insight about how to prepare a piece of music, and where to begin in the creative process. The fundamentals of producing a singing tone and the physical means to achieve it were sorely missing.

Often, I pondered how it would have been if I’d studied with such a gifted teacher as Lillian from my earliest years, growing into blossoming musical maturity in the long term.

Murray Perahia, poet of the piano, was mentored by one teacher, Jeanette Haien from age 3 to 18, and when we met at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, he was well formed as a pianist. No doubt, it was in large part due to instruction that was consistent, inspired, and devoted in the course of 15 years.

Most piano teachers relish such a long-range opportunity to nurture a student, and in my own experience, I can wax poetic about one particular enduring musical relationship.

Paul, the son of a University Nursing Professor, came to my piano studio when he was a cute, little 8-year old. In third grade at the time, he’d previously taken about a year of lessons in another city.

Nevertheless, as Paul’s new teacher, I had a ground-up instructional challenge before me.

I remember how I set aside his method books and embarked upon a repertoire-based learning journey with integrated five-finger technical regimens in all Major and minor keys. Imbuing the singing tone was my priority and it nourished his earliest pianistic efforts.

The first book I ordered was the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto Level 1 Piano Repertoire Series. During his early months of study, Paul learned “Minuet” by James Hook, Schein’s” Allemande,” and Haydn’s “Country Dance” among selections that encompassed the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods.

After the child’s first exposure to pieces that had substance and beauty, he progressed to compositions with more technical challenges, such as Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, Op. 100. These moved quickly from late elementary to early advanced levels, appearing deceptively easy. Yet the art of phrasing and nuance had to be learned, along with cultivating a broad dynamic palette and singing tone legato to realize Romantic period expression.

Over years, Paul graduated to playing Chopin Nocturnes, and Waltzes, having a bit of a starring role at student recitals. Most other pupils looked up to him, giving the youngster an iconic status. Yet in the glow of adulation, he always remained humble and self-effacing.

When Paul left my piano studio at age 17 to enroll at UC Berkeley, it was with a gulp of emotion. By this time he’d grown by leaps and bounds as a musician and was ready to leave the nest.


Currently, I teach two adults and one 11-year old who’ve been my students for over five years. In these relationships, there is not a trace of possessiveness or smothering.

Ideally, we can grow together and learn from each other as a plethora of ideas filter in.

Such is the joy of a long-lasting association that benefits two people committed to working in harmony toward the common goal of making beautiful music.


(Claudia, having grown taller than her teacher in this photo taken October 2011)


A Piano Student’s Milestones and Memories in Photos and Video


Taking Piano Lessons: Skimming the Surface, or Getting Deeply Involved


classissima, classissima.com, My Music Life Blog spot, philosophy of eduction, phrasing at the piano, pianist, pianists, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessson, piano studio, piano study, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, Piano World, piano world-wide, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein author Monsters and Angels, Seymour Bernstein author With Your Own Two Hands, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Seymour Bernstein With Your Own Two Hands, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, studying piano, teaching piano, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching piano to teens, teaching scales, the transfer piano student, Uncategorized, whole body listening, whole body music listening, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, word press.com, wordpress.com

The Transfer Piano Student

I would hate to pigeon hole all “transfer” students in one way or another. It would be unfair, and unfortunately many piano teachers shy away from prospects who were immersed in learning environments where little progress was made over a period of years.

Some reluctant piano instructors might say, “there’s just too much work involved in reversing bad habits, so I’m not up to the task.”

In my own experience, where a student is at least on a common page, dedicated to receiving a new set of ideas that will help him improve his technique and musical expression, wedded together, of course, then I’m up for the collective journey. (even with its built-in challenges)

Just the other day, I was delighted to meet a “new” adult pupil who had studied for five years with another teacher. The shift, springing from a schedule issue, brought more than a blessing in disguise. I was pleased to discover that the young woman had been exploring the great piano literature with method books being a things of the past. (Thank Goddess!)

In fact she played a gorgeous Haydn Minuet and a Mendelssohn Children’s piece which both offered opportunities to probe the singing tone, and ways of phrasing in two contrasting musical periods. (Classical and Romantic)

Of interest was the motif of the Mendelssohn composition that could have sounded like Schumann’s famous G Major March (Album for the Young) but for the difference in notated slurs. The former had the march spirit, while the other had to be executed as if sung expressively. This second piece required yielding to the upper voice of two, and letting the common thumb go a tad early. In this way a legato melodic line was preserved. (smooth and connected notes)

What a nice entree to style and interpretation.

In the realm of technique, I noticed that the pupil needed to play with supple wrists and more freedom in her arms which we worked on from the very start of her lesson. Scales that were a bit locked by tension, gradually gave way to a curvaceous spill of 16ths to four octaves.

Had I harbored a prejudice toward meeting with a “transfer” student, I would have lost a treasured opportunity to grow as a musician along with a willing student.

Another situation, but less appealing:

I’ve had moms bring Middle school children, in the main, who’ve bounced from teacher to teacher. This can be a RED FLAG, but not always, depending on the individual circumstance. (Family relocations can require a teacher change given the high rate of job transfers and home foreclosures)

However, where the grass is greener mantra infiltrates each and every teacher consult, I tend to shy away from being the next trial and error instructor.

In the Bay area, there are an abundance of gifted teachers, and each offers a well of musical wisdom. But an instructor and a student need TIME to develop a relationship, and not be subject to espresso evaluations.

However, in the Fresno environs, the musical landscape is a bit different, and often the “transfers” are neighborhood driven, or a student has devoted little if any time to practicing, and blames it on the piano teacher. Mom keeps talking about the “right or wrong chemistry” ad nauseum, and while this could be a valid reason for a shift in instructors, it’s often just the opposite. She will insist that the turnover of pieces is too slow, and that junior has spent too much time learning one selection.

Example, an 11-year old was brought to me who had studied for 9 months with one teacher, and barely a year with another. Mom said her child was not playing enough “popular” music and needed someone to make lessons “fun.”

Upon examination of the child’s musical skills, I observed that she was barely note-reading at a satisfactory level and she couldn’t play a one-octave scale up and down. In fact, she’d never been exposed to a scale or anything resembling, including five-finger Major/minor positions.

Was I braced to be the next mentor in line, accused of NOT making lessons a bowl of cherries?

I passed up the chance.

Obviously there are all kinds of circumstances in which we meet up with transfer students, and each should be separately evaluated. One, for example, may circumscribe an emotionally abusive situation, a cosmos I explored in the following blog:

A student may be fleeing an unwholesome learning environment that has stifled his progress and reduced him to feelings of overwhelming inadequacy.

Seymour Bernstein, author of MONSTERS AND ANGELS describes this very abuse that drove him to request another piano teacher at the distinguished Mannes College of Music. The story is well capsulized in this blog posted by Harriet:


Bernstein’s experience among others must be carefully assessed, or with our cultural blinders on, we could overlook a blessed musical relationship with a transfer student that will grow and ripen with time.

If my beloved teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had viewed me as just one of those garden variety “transfers” who came through her door so ill-prepared to play what I had been assigned by a previous mentor (the Chopin Scherzo in Bb Minor, for example) then I would have given up the piano in sheer frustration.

What I heard in my inner ear, I couldn’t express as a player due to inadequate technique and phrasing. These hallmark musicianship skills had to be learned from the ground up and I needed a willing teacher to guide me. (starting with an awareness of the singing tone)

Teachers make such a big difference in our lives if we let them do the work needed. Support and respect for the instructor and learning environment must come from the pupil, and in the case of youngsters, also from their parents.

Whether students are “transfers” or not, these basic ingredients of a positive teacher/pupil relationship underlie musical growth and development.


Please share your experience as a transfer student, or if in a role as teacher, how did you proceed with students from other learning environments?


The Neighborhood Piano Teacher Lives On


How Long Should a Piano Student Stay with a Piece?


Pulls and Tugs between students/teachers/and parents in the piano learning cosmos


"Clowns" by William Gillock, Accent on Gillock Volume two Later Elementary, classissima, classissima.com, Gillock composer, mind body connection, mindful piano practicing, mindful practicing, Moonbeams and other Musical Sketches by Shirley Kirsten, MTAC, music, music and heart, music teachers association, Oberlin Conservatory, Op. 39 Children's Pieces by Kabalevsky, phrasing at the piano, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessson, piano pedagogy, piano practicing, piano recital, piano repertoire, piano student, piano studio, piano study, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, Piano World, piano world-wide, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, playing staccato at the piano, playing the piano with a singing tone, playing two musical instruments, William Gillock, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Piano Instruction: A charming, quick-paced piece for late elementary students, titled “Clowns,” by Gillock (VIDEO)

Continuing my tribute to the prolific and talented composer, William Gillock, I’ve snatched “Clowns” from Volume Two of his Accent on Gillock collection. (published by Willis Music Company)

Not to be long-winded about my approach to teaching this sprightly composition, I simply outline a step-wise practicing routine.

1) Since the melody is divided between the hands through most of the score, it would be counter-productive to separate the hands in an initial learning phase. Therefore, I recommend a continuous flow from one hand to the other at a very slow tempo and with a bigger dynamic than indicated. This allows a a deep feel connection to the notes while reinforcing fingering.

Staccato, by the way, is played with the whole relaxed arm, and supple wrist as I demonstrated in the video.

Articulation of notes, or their groupings with slurs as indicated, including staccato, accent marks should be integrated into the behind tempo playing.

2) As conscientious practicing continues, I support playing “Clowns” in the same tempo but with the added observance of dynamics.

3) If the process moves along nicely over time, I ask the pupil to advance the tempo, but not to a level where his playing becomes out of control.

4) Finally, over time, the piece should mature or ripen into the desired tempo which still remains a subjective realm unless the composer had affixed a specific metronome marking to his music. (Gillock indicated, “Rather fast, humorously” to describe the pace and character of “Clowns.”)

Here’s today’s video:

The Clowns universe is a draw for many composers. Kabalevsky created a charming “Clowns” piece that belongs to his Op. 39 Children’s Pieces.

And I sheepishly admit to having written Juggling Clowns that’s part of my Moonbeams and Other Musical Sketches collection. The attached art had been contributed by my late uncle, David Smiton.




Nikolai Lugansky, pianist, pianists, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano masterclass, piano repertoire, piano student, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano virtuosos, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, Romantic era music, Romantic music, Russian pianist, Russian piano teacher, Russian virtuoso pianist, Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien Intermezzo, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Tatiana Nikolayeva teacher of Nikolai Lugansky, Uncategorized, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Lugansky’s piano teacher, Tatiana Nikolayeva, displayed greatness in her own right

What an irony that Nikolai Lugansky, star pupil of Tatiana Nikolayeva was bestowed, perhaps by chance, the masculine form of his teacher-to-be’s last name. A prophetic link for both.

I noticed that the esteemed teacher Dimitri Bashkirov, refers to his daughter’s surname, Bashkirova, so the feminine equivalent of Russian names is often taken within a family.

But without having genetic link to a teacher, a student might play as if the fruit had not fallen far from the tree.

What insights we gain from listening to Nikolayeva’s performances, therefore, have DNA ties to her students who were, by osmosis, saturated with her ideas about phrasing, nuance, and yes, life.

I’ve heard stories shared by pupils of Russian teachers, that the experience was bigger than taking piano lessons from week to week. In one case, a well endowed, schmaltzy mentor prepared a favorite borscht recipe, handing a generous jar to the family after classes. Throw in a few bear hugs, and a reminder that piano is life, and life is piano, and you have the ingredients of a well-nurtured, eternal tie that is forever— indelibly carved into memory.

In a retrospective outpouring, Nikolai Lugansky rendered a touching tribute to Tatiana Nikoleva. (“Interviews” at http://lugansky.homestead.com/)

What did you take from the teaching of Tatiana Nikolayeva?

“It’s difficult to explain, in a few words, “Who was Tatiana Nikolayeva”! I would like maybe in ten or twenty years to try to write a book about her! She was like the sun. With her, you knew yourself much better… you could believe in yourself. She was a great musician. I was not only her pupil; we played music for four hands, we listened to music, to concerts. I was her pupil for nine years, until her death. But I was only eight when I made her acquaintance. She held an important place in my life. I recall a great many things about her, above all her love and her hunger for music. She was always listening to it. She said that she could not understand how one could be tired of it – that was impossible ! She was very open to different styles, and listened to other pianists with great pleasure. She was a great example for me, of how to be a human being, as well as a musician.”

What better way to understand the teacher and what she gave Lugansky and others, than by listening to her recorded performances.

First, I was astounded to find this particular posting on Faceboook: Nikolayeva plays the Intermezzo from Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien that’s memorialized by her student, and generously shared across the Internet.

Now it’s the mentor’s posthumous return to the stage that draws our attention, made more compelling by her teaching relationship to Lugansky:

Tatiana plies phrases, takes her time, not rushing to cadences. She milks Schumann’s inner voices, that are often tucked into a musical fabric and forgotten. She draws out the bass line as if she were playing the strings inside the piano. This reading has an Old World flavor in the best sense of its meaning, as the pianist lulls over phrases, indulging the spirit of a lingering, Romantic character. It’s a passion-infused performance that no doubt seeped into the veins of young Nikolai Lugansky, who now plays it more briskly but with memorable pathos.

Both readings below (teacher and then student) are filled with gut-wrenching emotion.


Tatiana Nikolayeva’s artistry is celebrated many times over on You Tube, and if you’re fortunate to speak Russian, here’s an interview with the teacher and a youthful, Nikolai Lugansky.

Translations are always welcomed.


Tatiana Nikolayeva (Wiki)

Early life

“Nikolayeva was born in Bezhitsa (now part of Bryansk) in the Bryansk district on May 4, 1924. Her mother was a professional pianist and studied at the Moscow Conservatory under the renowned pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser (whose other students included Grigori Ginzburg, Samuil Feinberg, Dimitri Bashkirov and Lazar Berman), and her father was an amateur violinist and cellist. She studied piano from the age of three and was composing by age twelve. At thirteen, she entered the Moscow Conservatory, studying with Goldenweiser and Evgeny Golubev. Goldenweiser, who had been friends with Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nikolai Medtner, stressed the need to develop the highest proficiency in contrapuntal playing. Nilkolayeva graduated in 1948.

“After graduation, she studied composition with Golubev. During this time, she wrote a cantata, Pesn o schastye (Song about Happiness), and two piano concertos. The first concerto, in B major, was recorded with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the conductor Kiril Kondrashin.


“In 1950 Nikolayeva gained prominence by winning the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition, part of the bicentennial marking Bach’s death. More importantly, she met Dmitri Shostakovich at the competition, leading to a lifelong friendship, and was chosen as a first performer of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. Nikolayeva made three complete recordings of the cycle.

“In 1959 Nikolayeva became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, later becoming professor in 1965. She made over 50 recordings during her career, notably keyboard works by Bach, including his Art of Fugue, and by Beethoven, but only became widely known in the West late in life. With the fall of Communism, she found herself in demand internationally, making several concert tours to Europe and the United States. She also sat as a jury member on many international competitions, including the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1984 and 1987. One of her best known recordings is a transcription of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which was released by RCA Victor in Japan. She was known to have had an immense repertoire, and many enthusiasts await the reissue of much of her Melodiya back-catalog.


“A teacher for over four decades, Nikolayeva taught many prominent pianists and worked closely with the young Nikolai Lugansky, who went on to great international acclaim.”





About teaching:


blog, blogger, blogging, blogs about piano, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano maintenance, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teaching, Piano World, word press, wordpress.com, you tube

In and out of the closet: The business and practice of private piano teaching

I once posted a blog about this very subject, then deleted it, thinking it sounded like a series of whiny complaints that would pin me as bitter and unrelenting.

Then, to my surprise, ten readers contacted me wondering what happened to the writing? They had apparently strongly identified with its content.

Well, I had safely tucked a copy/paste of it in my files for easy retrieval, but forgot the subject header, (“I’m tearing my hair out!” perhaps)

So I’ll start from scratch:

“Ouch!” It hurts to gripe about this.

For many piano teachers, some single and totally self-supporting; others cushioned by a second income-generating spouse (or partner), monthly teaching revenue may be pivotal to sustaining a private practice.

In this regard most instructors will have printed policies in place that cover the matters of fee obligations and cancellations.

In the latter, (a missed lesson planned) I usually ask parents or adult pupils for 24-hours notice, unless there is some kind of medical emergency that precludes such notification.

Since I communicate largely by email, receiving one of these that pertains to a missed class is appreciated a.s.a.p.

In the past month, one student let me know of her absence 5 minutes before her lesson. It was registered with the Subject line “feeling tired today. Had too much to drink last night.”

The following week, when monthly payment was due, the cancellation e-mail header read, “Grandkids are a handful. See you next week.”

In response to that one, I asked for more than ten minutes notice, and requested that the check be dropped off at my studio a.s.a.p. or snail mailed pronto.

You can pretty much guess that while my rent was due on that day, with a waiver margin of 3 days courteously granted by the landlord, piano fees did not arrive until the following week when the adult student finally made it to her lesson.

It took a bit of haggling to reverse the trend of Last Minute Larry cancelled lessons and late payments.

How many other private teachers, I wonder, invest time in these extra-musical dramas.

Two weeks ago a 9-year old never made it to her scheduled lesson–the parents didn’t call or send an e-mail. The student following her, a stalwart, highly dedicated adult student wanted to come earlier, but I was in the dark to heed his request.

Later that evening, I was informed, after I made the inquiring call that dad was on a video shoot, and mom had no time to bring their daughter.

Why no email or phone call?

Prior to this casual absence, the student had sauntered into her lesson 25 minutes late with no notice or explanation. An otherwise hard-working kid, who made huge progress this past year, she was yanked from lessons, when I more than whispered my disapproval of the lateness and absence without notification.

So these are the landmines of a private piano teaching landscape.


As far as payment, I, like others, charge by the month regardless of the whether such contains 4 or 5 weeks. The extra “free” lesson is credited as a make-up for future absences. This policy seems fair because during the traditional school year, at least 4 or even 5 months have the extra lesson that is defrayed against some holidays that occur on a particular day during the week. It more than evens out. (I’m not applying this practice to summer months where some students disappear for 2 or even more at a time if you count the early ending to school, and the Labor Day holiday as the start of a teaching year)

I’ve written in the past about the shrinking instructional year. Summer for sure, can make or break a piano teacher.

At the Piano World.com Online forums, some teachers post that they will not guarantee a place in the fall for students who don’t take at least one month of lessons, either in July or August. That is, they will fill the spot with another student.

For others, a deposit is requested for the new teaching year to hold a particular day and time.

Speaking of:

It can often be a challenge to keep the studio percolating and hosting students each week at assigned times if parents decide that piano is last on the priority list of after-school activities.

With yearly and sometimes, semi-annual requests for lesson day changes made by parents due to Dance class adjustments, or for Self Defense re-scheduling, the poor piano teacher sometimes has no choice but to accommodate, which involves a chess board of changes affecting a handful of other pupils.

I recently received the following e-mail from a parent informing me of her child’s new mid-stream schedule. As would be expected it was dance-related:

“These are the dates she will be competing with her dance team:
March 10
March 24
April 13
April 17
May 18”

The information had bearing on her child’s piano lessons and my end-of-year recital that I had planned for months. As expected, any number of dates that I offered, had one or more parents up in arms. These posited days apparently interfered with soccer championship, tutu dance extravaganza, tap dance finale, and or hip hop hoe down. You name it, every conflict under the sun, would be on display in the land of agriculture and Bulldog fever.

So I’m still wondering, will anyone make it to the recital in May? Replies are trickling in like molasses flowing through a sieve.

More business Woes

In the matter of monthly payments, I like, many of my colleagues, have to send reminders to some parents about fees, or I run the risk of receiving checks two or three weeks past due as happened with the adult student previously referenced.

Some teachers attach penalty fees in these situations, I don’t. I think that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. (or in Fresno, the cow’s)

A teacher out in Selma is very strict about timely payments, and she can afford to be because her spouse is a successful C.P.A.

For others, it’s a month to month diversion of energy from the high culture pursuit of private teaching to mundane check collecting expeditions.

Fortunately, the vast majority of students make it to lessons on their assigned day, pay on time, and enjoy the musical journey. This makes all the complaining seem petty by comparison. Just the same, it may be eye-opening when the dark side of private teaching comes out of the closet once in a while.

I found this pertinent link


"After the Fall", "funeral for a cracked plate", Fresno California, Latour, Latour Sonatina, New York, New York City, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano pedagogy, piano practicing, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano studio, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, pianoaddict.com, pianorama, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, Proksch piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, studying piano, Teach Street, teaching piano, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to children, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

The most popular blog explores piano teacher/student relationships

I’ve been aware that this particular writing seems to touch a nerve, or strikes a chord of recognition among piano teachers, parents and students: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/pulls-and-tugs-two-sides-to-the-studentteacher-piano-lesson-relationship/

It’s only rival in popularity on my roster has been “Funeral for a Cracked Plate,” a real life soap opera about a piano buyer who slipped up by ordering a piano off the Internet without having requested an inspection by a registered piano technician.


Regardless of whom should have been blamed for a vintage Proksch (a lesser known Czechoslovakian grand piano) ending up with a cracked plate (or harp) the buyer was at least redeemed when the lucrative owner of a piano exporting business was nailed by the feds for illegally smuggling ivory into the country. (There are laws on the books against it)

The appeal of this writing was probably tied to old man York, a homespun Fresno piano tuner who was schlepped cross-country by the buyer to tiny-town Georgia to testify about the plate and its mishap. When the pair arrived at the courthouse, the judge thought York, at least, was “no expert” due to a legal technicality, and basically closed the case, sending the two home packing.

York thought it was a case of redneck justice.

The flashback scenes of a bare plate sitting on one of those wooden horses used at parades, was surreal. For me it evoked a rotunda in the Capitol without an honor guard. The post-mortem gathering in York’s Northwest Fresno driveway included a piano tuner hunched over the thing like he was praying, York, his wife, the buyer, her husband, and myself, the photographer.

The whole plot and its aftermath was grist for a movie.


Back to piano teachers and their often shaky vocation as fleshed out in the numero Uno Blog.

It’s hard to gauge exactly who would identify with the adventures of a piano teacher in any town USA– preferably a less cosmopolitan area like Fresno as compared to New York City.

I’m not sure the Big Apple contingent of piano instructors would run into students whose music landed in a pick-up truck headed for Texas. More than likely, an album might be left on a subway train bound for Queens or Brooklyn–a less appealing journey to write about.

Back in my early days, when I was a traveling piano teacher in New York City, I never encountered students without music because they didn’t budge from their apartments for lessons. Yet there were time old excuses for not practicing. Among them, HOMEWORK absorbed most of the blame.

Adult students

A 50ish lady who lived in an apartment a few floors above my mother in the Inwood section of Manhattan, was a hard-working, Irish civil servant who thought taking piano in her later years, would be a piece of cake. She figured it was, at best, a transfer of her typing skills.

With that impression intact, she lasted for 6 months, and then moved on to crocheting. A no drama momma, she barely registered any emotion upon her departure.

I didn’t endure any power struggles with parents during my years teaching back East. It was probably because New Yorkers were riveted to TV and other news media for the latest bulletin about a serial killer–either Son of Sam, or another lunatic let loose in Central Park to attack joggers.

Little energy was left to fight with the piano teacher over repertoire choices or time switches.

I don’t recall any beefs about fees in those days either. Parents would neatly tuck cash into my palm, and sometimes send me home with a bell jar of chicken soup, or freshly made Borscht. It felt good.

I must admit that one of my Korean parents here in Fresno, rushed over to my place after I e-mailed her tragic news that my treasured blog, “After the Fall” had bitten the dust.

And to make matters worse, tech support was at a loss to help.

So what!

Who could care less about a silly, old blog, when the economy was rapidly tanking?

Still the Korean pastry arrived like clock work, and the sugar high gave me energy and motivation to re-write the blog from scratch. It came back miraculously, paragraph by paragraph.


In all candor, my personal blog favorite is usually the newest one I’m writing, though I have to confess that “Pulls and Tugs” still tickles my fancy, and makes me laugh like crazy, especially when I get to the part about the missing music and the Lone Star State, along with a choir of parents screaming for changed lesson times.

To preserve our unique piano teaching culture, I believe we should ardently gather stories like these from around the country and publish them in an anthology.

Let’s begin…