Musical Mysteries

Okay, so I just found this fun website:  Kids will enjoy the game, and the Irish accents don’t hurt either. ;) Let me know what you think!

I’m going to do more exploring on this site…

All the best,



Mozart’s Handwriting

Mozart, the famous child prodigy and composer of the Classical era, is the winner of my poll!  Please have a look at my handwriting analysis of him.

1. Mozart’s writing seems (though it is hard to tell from a picture and not a hard copy) to be heavy, especially in his signature.  It is dark and would probably leave indents on the other side of the paper on which he wrote.  This is a sign of emotional intensity.  Writers with this trait tend to feel all their emotions deeply and intensely.  Their emotions last for a long time, whether they be feelings of anger, love, excitement, etc.

2. Mozart must have had a quick and analytical mind, as evidenced by his pointy and v-shaped ‘m’s and ‘n’s.  This is a mark of a highly intelligent person who picks up information easily and sifts through it logically and skillfully.  These types of people are also very curious.

3. The figure-eight ‘f’s in Mozart’s writing reveal fluidity of thought. This is a common trait in writers, speakers, musicians, and dancers.  People with this stroke formation move easily from one thought to another without losing track of where they are, how they got there, and where they’re going.

4. Mozart’s lower-case ‘d’s look like Greek deltas: they form a circle at the baseline, flow upward over and to the left and do not retrace back down.  This trait is called the desire for culture and those with this trait appreciate and enjoy the finer side of life – they eat finely, dress finely, and of course have excellent taste in music, literature, etc.  (For an example of this, see the middle of the third line in the longer sample or what seems to be the same word in the second to last line.)

5. Notice the ‘y’s in Mozart’s signature: their down-stroke below the baseline veers out toward the right before curving back up instead of coming straight down.  This reveals a need for variety, especially in material and physical activities.  Those with this trait will never be happy doing the same thing day in and day out.  They seek a life of adventure, change and variety.

Thank you for reading!  Please feel free to ask questions or make observations.  For handwriting analysis of more well-known figures, go here.

All the best,


Rain, Rain Go Away Variations

The rain this evening reminds me that this morning yet another kindergartner mixed up words in a very humorous way during class.  You know, I never realize what certain students think the lyrics are to a song until I call them up and have them sing it as a solo…and I’m often very amused at what I hear.  I actually can’t even remember what today’s variation was today, but I know it was in Rain, Rain Go Away.  Here are some favorites from past classes that I do remember:


Original: Rain, Rain Go Away, Come again another day

A boy student’s version: Rain, Rain Go Away, Come again on Mother’s Day


Original: Hot Cross Buns

A girl student’s version: Cross Off Doug


Original: Bow wow wow, Who’s dog art thou?

A girl student’s version: Bow wow wow, Who’s god art thou?

There are many more, but these readily come to mind at the moment.

All the best,


Surprises and Concertos

Holywell Music Room on Hollywell St. has been the focal point of classical music in Oxford since 1748.  Haydn and Mozart have both performed on its stage, and now well-known musicians from all over still congregate here.  In late July, Chelsea and I decided to attend a concert here on our last day of four in Oxford.  The Adderbury Ensemble and pianist Viv McLean were to perform.  We walked in to buy our tickets and as we were paying, a man in black concert dress to the right of the ticket counter looked at us and said, “Oh, and you’re going to be turning pages for us during the concerto too, right?”  He had a smirk on his face, so I played along, “Of course!”  “Really?” he asked.  Again, I jokingly assured him, “Sure! I can do that.”  “Great!” he exclaimed, “We’ve been looking for someone to turn pages all day!”  At this point, I began to realize that perhaps this wasn’t a joke.  A series of confused questions and answers took place between this man and I, and before I knew it, he was saying, “Can I take you backstage to meet the pianist?”  I was taken through the hall, across the stage and through a door into a room where I was introduced to Viv, a handsome man who took my hand and bowed slightly, making me feel as if I were in a Jane Austen movie.  Both men kept thanking me profusely for being willing to turn pages, like it was a matter of life and death, when really it was I who was so thrilled to even be there!  I went back, shaking slightly, to take my seat and enjoy the first half as an audience member.

The ensemble played Divertimento in D by Mozart excellently.  Though they had no conductor, they moved together  effortlessly.  Then Viv McLean played a favorite of mine, Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, followed by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the pieces I can’t imagine anyone being able to memorize, but he had.  After that was the “interval” in which I nervously made my way backstage to wait with the musicians.  Whereas the ensemble and the pianist had played separately during the first half, they were now to play Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor together, and I was to turn pages for Viv.  I chatted with them for a while, and they were so pleasant and enjoyable that I was sad to have only known them for one evening.  Eventually we were all out on stage and the concerto had begun.  The music was absolutely beautiful, though I could hardly concentrate on it because I was so concerned with turning the pages at the right time, my fingers digging into my thighs, keeping count like my life depended on it.  Each of the three movements had probably 15 page-turns, some of them easier to keep track of than others.  Thankfully I only lost my place right near the very end during a 4-page-or-so-long period of triplet after triplet after triplet in the piano part, and Viv seemed to have it all by memory at that point anyway.

I was so honored to have been of assistance in this concert that I didn’t feel I needed anything in return, but I was given my 15 pounds back and also a free copy of the Adderbury Ensemble’s recent cd of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which has been a favorite of mine since the time of doing “ballet” and “figure skating” in the living room when I was little.  Below is a picture of me with the ensemble members on the left (some of them had already changed from concert dress), and Viv nearest me on the right.  I miss Oxford already!

All the best,


Meat-and-Potato Music

Sometimes my piano students ask me why they are required to play classical music.  Why not stick to pop, jazz, movie themes, etc?  Classical can “boring” or “laborious”, while the other types are “fun.”  There are several metaphors I like to use in answering this question, and I’ll give two here:

1. Classical music is great literature, while pop music is modern youth fiction.  It may take concentration and in-depth study to read through and grasp all the themes of Paradise Lost or Pride and Prejudice, but who in their right mind would replace these with Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy both of the latter book series – it’s when you want to shove the tested and true literature, known as “great” since long before you were born, that the problem shows up.  Your mind grows and becomes sharper through reading stories sculpted and refined by Milton and Austen (and many others), even if they may seem heavy and tiresome when first encountered.  Stories of an a slightly more inferior nature meet your mind where it is for the most part and entertain rather than expand.  A Chopin prelude is like a great work of literature and may be challenging but extremely rewarding.  A Taylor Swift song arranged for piano is just fine for on-the-side learning and is no detriment to healthy practicing, but it probably won’t enhance your musicality in a significant way.

2. Classical music is meat, fruit, vegetables and a rich apple pie; pop music is Twinkies and Oreos.  I love a good Oreo.  Eating only Oreos, every meal, every day, though, is obviously not the smartest thing one could do for one’s diet and health.  Same for your musical health.  If you’re not getting heavy doses of meat-and-potato-like music by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, you’re missing out, and your musical health is going to spiral downhill in no time at all.  Eat a hearty Scarlatti Sonata for lunch and save the pop tune for a tasty midday snack.

Basically, if the core of your piano practice is consistently fed and fattened by the superior quality of Classical music, adding some elements of pop is a great idea – it can display your variety and offer a nice brain-break and is just plain fun.  But don’t feed primarily on Cheez-Its without your dose of chicken noodle soup, and be sure to read Tolkien along with your Rowling.

All the best,


Is This Relevant?

When teaching classroom music, a very common thing for me to see are many, many hands raised above faces that threaten to just burst if you ignore them.  40% of the time, however, the comments/stories/random facts/odd questions, etc., that come out of hiding when I actually call on the student do not pertain at all to the lesson or activity at hand.  I acknowledged one such eager hand two days ago, and was asked this question by a boy student: “Have you ever taken out a frog’s brain??”  “No,” I said.  “Well, I really want to!  Its brain…or maybe its heart!”  This then led another boy to pick up on the theme: “Well, I’ve seen a chicken’s heart!  And its stomach!”  Needless to say, none of this was part of the first music lesson of the year in my planner.  So I mentally reminded myself that I must ask the student with his hand raised (and hope he answers honestly), “Is your question important…or can it wait until later?”