Congratulations to Aruni Veluri and Philip Wang, who both earned the competitive award of "Honors" in the Sonata Festival hosted by Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association (NVMTA). This year, the coronavirus situation forced the usual in-person Festival to move online. It's great to see so many students overcoming the challenge of remote participation by preparing and presenting polished performances.
The coronavirus situation closed down many of the events in which our students often participate, but some events did arrange for alternate programming online. In particular, we're proud of our students' accomplishments in completing demanding RCM Exams, even in this unusual time. Unlike many events, the RCM Exam attempts to make a rigorous yet noncompetitive comprehensive assessment of a student's accomplishment at a given level. This involves much more than preparing one recital piece! Students present a program of multiple pieces in varied styles and also are tested on music fundamentals such as scales, arpeggios, and aural skills. A related but separate program of theory exams assesses student achievement in that field. Read more at rcmusic.com. The designation "First Class Honors with Distinction" indicates a top score above 90%. Congratulations to our participating students!
♪ Level 1 Piano ♪ Helena Horowitz ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
♪ Level 2 Piano ♪ Hannah Wang ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
♪ Level 6 Piano ♪ Vihaan Mathur ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 5 Piano ♪ Tina Hong ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 5 Theory ♪ Karthik Thyagarajan ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
♪ Level 6 Theory ♪ Vihaan Mathur ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
♪ Level 6 Theory ♪ Alex Xu ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
On March 12 & 13, many of our students were scheduled to perform at NFMC Spring Festival, a nationwide event sponsored and run at the local level by the Springfield Music Club. The coronavirus situation forced the club to cancel the in-person festival, but many students chose to participate in the alternate online programming which the club offered in late May and June 2020. The following students earned the top grade of "Superior" in this non-competitive event:
Tina Hong, Liam Horgan, Helena Horowitz, Vihaan Mathur, Courtney Nguyen, Lindsay Nguyen, Gizem Onerci, Priya Perekam (solo and concerto!), Owen Rollins, Pelin Sarac, Ian Sigler, Kavya Thyagarajan, Hanna Wang, Philip Wang, Angelina Yoha
Our annual Honors Recital was originally intended to be held at our beautiful little Studio on April 25 but the coronavirus situation forced us to move online. Still, all originally invited students chose to join us for a live recital held by Zoom, with dozens of family and grandparents all joining us remotely. To learn more about our Honors Recital and how we select students for participation, check out the short info sheet via For Our Students in the menu.
Congratulations to our performing students:
Jeffery Chen (Prelude in D-flat Major "Raindrop", Frederic Chopin), Genevieve Chin (Tarentella Furioso, Dennis Alexander), Zoe Hicks (Energetic Etude, Melody Bober), Liam Horgan (Sonatina in C Major, Theodore Latour), Helena Horowitz (Starry Night, Italo Taranta), Maya Lang (Spokane Fall, Victor Labenske), Eliana Levine (Sentimental Waltz, Franz Schubert & Romanza, Angela Marshall), Aiden Lu (Dancing Goblins, Ryan Brechmacher & Serenade, Cornelius Gurlitt), Katrina Nelson (In Church, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky), Brandon Pak (Asymmetry, Wynn-Ann Rossi), Erin Pak (American Gothic, Catherine Rollin), Priya Perekam (Minuet in g minor, J.S. Bach), Ai-Lan Pho (Mighty River, Jennifer Linn), Ryan Qi (The Orphan, Jean Louis Gobbaerts), Anne Severino (Invention in F Major, J.S. Bach), Kevin and Alex Shin (Dueling Fingers, Melody Bober), Karthik Thyagarajan (Mazurka in g minor, Frederic Chopin), Evan Thorn (Toccata in a minor, Timothy Brown & Sonatina in G Major, Muzio Clementi), Aruni Veluri (Sonatina in a minor, Georg Anton Benda), Hannah Wang (Hero Variations, Wynn-Ann Rossi), Philip Wang (Sonata in d minor, Domenico Scarlatti), Alex Xu (Pineapple Rag, Scott Joplin)
Congratulations to Katrina Nelson and Anuragi Thapliya, who earned the competitive prize of "Super Bronze" in the Golden Key Music Festival in February 2020. Participating students have the opportunity to prepare a video showing their best work, and receive comments and a score based on the video they submit.
About this post: With some months of experience, we’ve gone through some tech troubleshooting and we’ve written this Tech Tips Checklist (below) to help you get more out of your LIVE VIRTUAL LESSONS.
FIRST THINGS FIRST Start by using whatever you have. Don’t be discouraged by technical challenges. Any device that works will be OK for a few lesson and for most beginner and early-elementary students.
IMPROVING SOUND QUALITY There are two issues to consider: deliveringbetter-quality audio to your teacher; and receivingbetter-quality audio from your teacher. Audio matters more than video for our purposes, and most of the steps below to improve audio will also improve video.
There are many factors at play when it comes to delivering and receiving better-quality audio. In the checklist below, we cover the steps most likely to deliver improvements in your audio, in the order that will make the most difference. How much effort you should invest in this task varies based on your circumstances. Better-quality audio matters little for an elementary-level student taking just one or two remote lessons. Better-quality audio is absolutely vital for advancing students taking remote lessons long-term.
STEP ONE Ask your teacher how you sound! You don’t know how you sound to teacher! Your teacher may tell you that you sound great already. If that’s the case, and you are not an advanced student, skip the rest of this post! The inverse is also true: if your teacher sounds terrible to you, they won’t know if you don’t tell them.
STEP TWO Use a high-quality laptop if you are lucky enough to have one. Turn off any microphone signal processing features that your operating system may be running. Detailed directions are beyond the scope of this post. This YouTube tutorial will show you how (use the chapter markers).
STEP THREE Test your connection speed. If you are relying on wireless, take your device and sit down next to your piano. Use a wired connection (ethernet) if you can. Go to speedtest.net and run a speed test. To receive good-quality audio from your teacher, you need a minimum of 10mbps/sec download. You probably have that already. To deliver good-quality audio to your teacher, you need a minimum of 10mbps/sec upload. If you are not able to test at or above 10mbps at your piano, troubleshoot your internet connection. If you are relying on a wireless connection, keep in mind that in some cases, you can test at very high speeds but you may still experience inconsistencies and momentary drop-outs in your Wi-Fi signal which may significantly degrade your sound. Using a wired internet connection (ethernet cable) may in some cases deliver a huge improvement in your sound. You can find 50-foot ethernet cables at Amazon for as little as $15.
STEP FOUR Learn how to enable original sound in Zoom. Detailed directions are beyond the scope of this post. This YouTube tutorial will show you how (use the chapter markers). You may also consider the information on the Zoom support website. If you get distortion or static when playing or speaking loudly, adjust your mic input volume in audio settings within the Zoom app.
STEP FIVE Buy an external USB condenser microphone. A better microphone won’t make much difference if you haven’t taken care of all of the above steps first. But once you’ve taken care of those steps, a mic can really improve the sound you deliver to your teacher. The most popular are made by Blue, but there are many brands from which to choose. A pro-audio dealer such as Sweetwater Sound can provide high-quality devices and personal recommendations, at higher prices ($80-$200). But probably any USB condenser microphone selling for around $30 or more will be a huge improvement over your computer’s internal microphone. For ease of use, choose a USB microphone. Unless you already have a computer audio interface, avoid microphones with analogue connections (sometimes called TRRS or XLR).
STEP SIX External speaker(s). Even on expensive laptops, the internal speakers on your device can’t give you great sound quality. And because they can’t be moved, your internal speakers may interfere with the sound you’re capturing. The microphone will pick up the sound coming from your speakers, which can create echo effects, fuzz, and otherwise degrade the audio you are hearing and/or sending. Any decent Bluetooth speaker will give you a big upgrade. Separating the speaker from the microphone (one device points one way, one points the other way), will further improve the sound you are hearing and/or sending. Use a wired connection to your speaker if you can, but if you can’t, the Bluetooth connection will probably work just fine.
STEP SEVEN Tips and tricks. Even after doing all of the above steps, you still might need to adjust settings as you go. Unlike the steps above, these tips are all situational. You won’t need to try everything!
• Try headphones. For better listening to your piano and for hearing safety, avoid wearing headphones throughout the entire lesson if possible.
• Turn off your original sound when you are not playing.
• Move closer to your microphone when speaking. The mic settings for playing the piano may not be optimal when speaking.
• Mute your speakers when you are playing extended passages
• Mute your mic when your teacher is playing extended passages
• Move your external speakers and microphone, experiment over time to find good placement.
• Make test recordings on your device to determine what settings sound best.
AND LAST... Don’t be discouraged. Start with whatever you have. Not everyone will need to go through every step.
In a REMOTE LESSON we will use a video conferencing app to conduct a lesson of similar length and content to the student’s usual lesson. After the lesson is over, the teacher will email an updated assignment sheet.
REMOTE LESSON: BASIC CHECKLIST
♪ For the first lessons, parent help may be required.
♪ Choose a quality laptop computer with a good camera.
♪ Set it up ahead of time, and make sure it works by taking a video recording.
♪ Listen to the recording to make sure the audio quality is acceptable. Troubleshoot ahead of time.
♪ Find a stable place to put it where the student can see the screen AND the teacher can see the student’s face, hands, and keyboard.
♪ If you have EVER used a metronome before, it will be helpful to have a separate device available. You can always buy an old-fashioned metronome on Amazon or locally at Foxes Music. (Pretty much any option in the $10 to $30 rage will work.)
♪ If you have long hair, pull it back so your teacher can see more of your face!
♪ Plan to be present and engaged throughout the entire lesson. Probably your child will maintain appropriate behavior but…it can’t hurt to supervise them the first time. After the first lessons, you’ll have an idea of how much support and assistance your child needs going forward.
♪ Don’t be discouraged. Start with whatever you have, however you are able.
REMOTE LESSON: ADDITIONAL TIPS & NOTES
♪ If you can’t use a laptop, a tablet or phone will work. Getting the set-up right, so that your teacher can see the student’s hands, face, and keyboard may be harder.
♪ Placing your device on a soft surface may in some cases improve the sound quality.
♪ A wired connection is better than a wireless connection. A wired connection isn’t practical in all circumstances but use one if you can. You can purchase very long ethernet cables for $10 to $30.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERTIONS FOR ADVANCING STUDENTS
The built-in microphone and built-in speakers in your quality laptop or tablet are probably acceptable for elementary students. For advanced students, better sound quality may make a big difference in the usefulness of the remote lesson. We have a separate "tech tips" post on improving your sound quality.
On February 29, 2020, the studio hosted Rosanne Conway as our guest artist clinician. She brought fresh perspective and expert coaching to five very well prepared students! From among our many students, we selected students for this event based primarily on their preparation of challenging repertoire. Thanks and congratulations to our participating students:
♪ Caeli McIntosh ♪ Sonatina in C Major ♪ Biehl
♪ Philip Wang ♪ Sonata in G Major, Op. 49 No. 2 ♪ Beethoven
Congratulations to Elena Valdez-Torres and Karthik Thyagarajan, who earned the top rating of "Superior" in Bach/Baroque Festival, an annual event sponsored by Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association. In this event students perform two Baroque-era pieces from memory and receive a rating and comments. In addition, outstanding students have the opportunity to be selected for Honors. Plus, a harpsichord is available for all students to play! In addition to his Superior rating, Karthik was also selected for second audition, similar to an honorable mention award.
Congratulations to Helena Horowitz who performed at the Southeast Region RCM Celebration of Excellence on February 23, 2020 at USF in Tampa, Florida. Helena played in a recital alongside students from throughout Florida and the southeastern United States. Students were selected for participation based on their high scores on the previous school year's RCM Exams. Learn more about RCM Exams at rcmusic.com/learning/examinations
In the short article which follows, I describe what led me to seek sleep-away music camps for students age 12 and under. Following that, I have listed and linked five recommended summer camps. This list was developed from my own research and from personal recommendations. This article is not ad-supported and there is no sponsored content.
Each year in January...
I recommended sleep-away summer camps and festivals to some of our advancing teens. Only very rarely has anyone taken my advice and actually attended a program. It’s OK, I don’t take it personally! Plus there are good reasons why students and parents haven’t often chosen to pursue this opportunity: the tuition expense; the need to travel away from home; schedule conflicts; competing interests. And I never push very hard—I mention and recommend the possibility, but I rarely follow up with persistence.
But I suspect that there is an additional factor keeping more students from participating: the influence of what I would call anti-specialization pressure: “I’m not one of those kids.” “I wouldn’t go to a music camp unless I was really serious.” “What’s the point if I am not going to major in music?” It's OK, I don't take it personally. And I don't expect any student to major in music!
This winter, I started looking for music camps that serve students age 12 and under and I had a thought: If our older and advancing students have pre-formed ideas and competing interests and obligations which keep them from considering summer music programs, maybe there are some younger students out there who might be interested!?
I undertook a search for quality programs suitable to our many somewhat-serious-but-not-necessarily-elite younger students (age 12 and under). I looked for camps that were non-competitive or minimally competitive in both entrance process and camp environment…but that were also “real” music camps—which to me means that the program offers and requires individual music lessons from qualified adult teachers and supervised practice on quality instruments. After a pretty thorough search, I was a little surprised to find only a handful of such programs that are open to younger students. (I only looked for camps in the eastern U.S.)
These sleep-away camps aren’t just for future professional musicians and they’re not just for advancing students. They are suitable for any kid who loves music and is interested in an immersive experience. They also offer all of the traditional summer camp essentials like outdoor recreation and evening programs.
Recommended music camps accessible to students age 12 and under
Traditional summer music camp in a lake-side setting. Most instruments and voice including musical theater. Two three-week sessions which may be combined plus a shorter two-week option for ages 8/9/10.
Chamber-music focused program for strings and piano. A more focused and slightly more intense program than the others on this list. Traditional music camp experience in a rural setting with lake access. One one-week session in August for ages 12 and under plus multiple sessions for advancing older students in June and July.
One five-week session plus a shorter three-week option for ages 13 and under. Creativity and composition-focused program.
To parents and camp directors
I’d love the opportunity to expand this list. If you know of good programs in the United States, let me know about them! I’ll look into any recommended programs and consider adding them to the list.
Summer in our little studio
We sometimes dream of running our own piano day camp at the Studio…but not this year! But we’ll be open and here for you all summer, every summer, with easy flexible scheduling and no minimum requirements or monthly tuition. We post general details to the Summer Programs page of our website each year in early spring with full details and all schedules posted by May 1.
Congratulations to the students who participated in RCM exams in December 2019. Unlike a traditional festival, recital, or competition, in this non-competitive event, students prepare a comprehensive program, which includes three or more repertoire pieces, etudes, scales and skills, sight reading, and more. The program is administered by the Toronto-based nonprofit music school Royal Conservatory of Music. Exams are offered locally throughout the U.S. and Canada, with over 100,000 exams administered annually. Read more about the program at rcmusic.com.
♪ Level 5 Piano ♪ Zakariyya Scavotto ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 5 Piano ♪ Karthik Thyagarajan ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 6 Piano ♪ Alex Xu ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
What event has seven pounds of M&M's, 144 cupcakes, 300+ humans walking through our door...plus 93 students performing 120+ pieces from memory in nine different short-short performance groups? Our 2019 Open House and Winter Mini-Recital, of course! Held in our little Studio home in Falls Church on December 8, 2019.
We treasure the opportunity to see so many people and hear so many performances, all in one day. Thank you to those who who performed and those who joined us and especially to our wonderful teachers for their support in preparing all our students for the event. If you weren't able to join us this year, mark your calendar for December 13, 2020! All are welcome.
Three of our students were recently received Excellence Awards from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto (RCM). These awards are given to the students earning the highest score on an RCM assessment in the state or region during the prior school year. Congratulations to...
Congratulations to our students who earned the top rating of "Superior" at Fall Festival, sponsored by Virginia Music Teachers Association. In this non-competitive event, students prepared two pieces from memory. One in historic style, and one in contemporary style.
Jeffery Chen, Maya Lang, Eliana Levine, Vihaan Mathur, Katrina Nelson, Priya Perakam, Eliana Rougle, Pelin Sarac, Zakariyya Scavotto, Anne Severino, Elena Valdez-Torres, Aruni Veluri, Hannah Wang, Philip Wang.
A handful of students have earned our in-house Studio Award, which we call the Studio Star. TThe following students went the extra mile by completing a broad checklist of tasks and activities and have earnedTHE ORIGINAL STUDIO STAR!
Karthik Thyagarajan and Alex Xu (Year 1), Vihaan Mathur and Anne Severino (Year 2).
And a special congratulations to Eliana Rougle who completed the checklist for the fourth and final year and earned a unique-in-the-world handmade plaque commemorating her achievement!
Additional category awards went to: Karthik Thyagarajan, Priya Perakam,andOwen Rollins (Most Workshop Performances) and to Eliana Rougle and Noah Tennenbaum (Performance Achievement*).
We would so enjoy the opportunity to recognize more students next year! Check out the short info sheet and see the different award categories via "For Our Students" in the menu.
*Performance Achievement award is available to students earning honors or awards in four+ outside events. (WOW!)
On Thursday, July 25, a number of our students performed in support of MusicLink Foundation at Mosaic District, an outdoor shopping destination and neighborhood near the Studio in Fairfax County. In addition to the chance to share their music in public in a casual and informal setting, students also supported this worthy program. Read more about MusicLink at musiclinkfoundation.org/. This event was also supported by the Mosaic District and Jordan Kitts Music.
Ages of our students ranged from 8 to 18 years old! Our participating students: Noa Herzog, Helena Horowitz, Eli Lang, Aiden Lu, Keshavan Nair, Bejoy Sen, Noah Tennenbaum, Hannah Wang, Philip Wang, Alex Xu, and Angelina Yoha.
Congratulations to the students who participated in RCM exams in May and June 2019. Unlike a traditional festival, recital, or competition, in this non-competitive event, students prepare a comprehensive program, which includes three or more repertoire pieces, etudes, scales and skills, sight reading, and more. The program is administered by the Toronto-based nonprofit music school Royal Conservatory of Music. Exams are offered locally throughout the U.S. and Canada. Read more about the program at rcmusic.com.
♪ Level Prep B ♪ Helena Horowitz ♪ First Class Honors with Distinction
♪ Level 1 ♪ Hannah Wang ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 5 ♪ Carl Lechner ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 5 Practical + Level 5 Theory ♪ Vihaan Mathur and Alex Xu ♪ First Class Honors
♪ Level 6 Practical + Level 6 Theory ♪ Shreya Singh ♪ First Class Honors
We celebrated the end of our School Year with five recitals on June 8 & 9 at The Falls Church Episcopal. Our youngest performer was five years old and our oldest was eighteen. 122 students presented 169 different pieces. And no recital lasted more than 70 minutes! How gratifying it is for us to see our youngest beginners presenting themselves with confidence and our most advanced teens presenting a program full of demanding masterworks…all in the same weekend! To all our students and parents: we are grateful for your participation but also…for your support to us and to music. We thank you for making music—and our little studio—a part of your journey! To anyone else who might be reading this: you should join us next year! Our recitals are free and open to the public with no fees and no ticketing for students or guests.
Congratulations to our student Noah Tennenbaum who received Honorable Mention in the Achievement Awards contest run by Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association on May 4, 2019. In this demanding event, students perform three pieces and receive written comments from three notable judges. Noah performed Prelude and Fugue in D Major WTC 2 (J.S. Bach), Sonata in D Major Op. 10 No. 3 (Beethoven) and Gargoyle No. 3 (Lowell Lieberman).
The following weekend, Noah earned the same award in the Hartman Awards contest run by Washington (DC) Music Teachers Association on May 12, 2019.