Author Archives: Brad

Community Building Assignment #2

Before continuing on with Community Assignment #2, make sure you’ve completed Community Assignment #1 – Practice Tip Videos!  Here’s a snapshot from Abby G.’s submission – clip your fingernails!  A simple, but super important element of being able to practice effectively and with good technique.  Thanks, Abby! 

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Now, once you’ve done that, on to Assignment #2:

All over the world, people are in their homes and physically apart from one another.  So many people are choosing to connect with one another through music.  I am loving some of the music coming from Italy.  Let’s check them out together.  I encourage you to watch the next few videos.  

A powerful opera singer

A whole neighborhood of Italians

A lone saxophonist (and a dog)

A fabulous violist 

I’d like you to think of one thing:  WHY are these musicians choosing to express themselves in this way.  WHY are they playing from their balconies? *Please write your responses to me via email.  I would love to share your responses next week in class. 

*If you already answered this in group class last night, please take the time to write out your thoughts and share them with me in an email.  

After you listen to the videos and share your thoughts, it’s YOUR TURN.  Think of some creative way to share your music with others. This could be people in your home, a driveway (or balcony) concert for passersby, a FaceTime call with a loved one, a facebook live, a youtube video sent to friends, or whatever you can think of!  Please record in some way and share with me. If there is a reason your form of sharing does not allow recording, let me know.  

Happy listening, and we will see you SOON!

Summer ’20 Registration Now Open!

Hello Everyone! 

The 2019-2020 school year got off to an incredible start, and has been filled with some truly inspiring and memorable lessons, group classes, recital performances, and accomplishments by our students.  The past month has unquestionably been filled with unforeseeable and unprecedented challenges, but the learning, growing, connecting, and sharing have continued nonetheless, and I can honestly say that Ms. Kirby and I have never been more thankful for our relationship with each and every one of our students and their families and more proud of the creativity and adaptability of our community, which has allowed deep learning to continue on unhindered! 

So, it is with great excitement that we can now share with you that registration for our Summer ’20 Semester is now open!  As always registration for the summer is flexible, and you can choose to sign up for only the weeks you know you will be in available.  With that said, consistency and continuity over the summer are vitally important to maintaining progress from school year to school year, and we always look forward to seeing each of our students for as many lessons as possible over the summer.  

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This year, there is one unique factor to consider: As we have seen more and more music camps, academic programs, and activities of every kind cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Kirby and I are saddened for the loss of enrichment opportunities for our students and our community at large.  More than ever before, we see children in front of us who are eager to learn and have a void of time, energy, and interest to fill. Throughout the world, there are people turning to music as a comfort and strength during this time when character, beauty, and expression are especially needed. With this in mind, Ms. Kirby and I encourage you to make lessons a priority this summer, and we are committed to continuing to create as engaging and creative a learning environment and as much community for our students and their families as possible.  To help make this all possible for all of our students, and in light of the economic impacts of the coronavirus, we have decided to keep tuition rates the same this summer, instead of giving them their scheduled annual increase. We hope this helps provide some relief! 

Registration will be open from April 1 – April 30, at which point Ms. Kirby and I will sit down and create our summer teaching schedule, which we plan to have back to you by May 15.  The Summer ’20 Semester will kick off on May 26 and run through August 21.  We will be in touch with each of you individually as soon as possible to discuss what lesson length best suits your child’s age and level of advancement, as many of you have graduated to new heights this school year!  We’re incredibly optimistic about what the future holds for each of our students, and look forward to taking the next step in that journey of learning, discovering, and growing together this summer. 

SU20 Registration

Oneperbar – Reger Suite No. 1, mov. 1

I have loved to see the many unique ways that people are thinking creatively about how to be “together” – and in this case play “together” – even when we can’t physically be together with our friends, classmates, and colleagues the way we normally are.  This is one particular expression of said creativity that struck me today and I wanted to share it with you.  I hope it inspires you, as it did me!

– Brad

MFMC Camp Scholarship Competition Winners!

Today, Ms. Kirby and I are very proud to share with you that Kaya McNurlen, Alan Song, Aaron Wolz, and Nathan Zhou have all been announced as winners in the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs “Virtuoso Club” Camp Scholarship Competition.  The competition had its largest field of participants to date, and is awarding a total of $5,000 to the 10 overall winners.  We are thrilled to have 4 of those 10 students be from West County Strings, and for them to be able to use those funds to further their music education this summer!

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Kaya McNurlen (8th grade) performed Concerto No. 1 in A Minor by J.B. Accolay.

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Alan Song (9th Grade) performed the 1st Movement of Concerto No. 2 in G Major by J. Haydn.

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Aaron Wolz (9th grade) performed Spinning Wheel by N. Rubenstein and the Courante from Suite No. 1 in G Major by J.S. Bach.

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Nathan Zhou (9th grade) performed Concerto No. 1 in A Minor by J.B. Accolay.

Kaya, Alan, Aaron, and Nathan each worked exceptionally diligently for months to prepare for this single opportunity, and we are so thrilled that their hard work earned them each a victory.  But even more importantly, the competition served as a goal, and that goal fueled focused learning and growth that I don’t think we could’ve accomplished without something concrete to look forward to on the horizon.  This competition is open to anyone grades 7-12, and we would love to have even more of you participate in it next year!

But for now, make sure you congratulate Kaya, Alan, Aaron, and Nathan next time you see them.  They’ve earned it!

Creating a Productive Practice Routine

It often takes losing something to realize how valuable and important it was to you.  These days, I’m realizing just how valuable and important the daily structure and rhythm of school was and is for many students – and parents!  Some of us gladly accept routine, others of us “buck” against it a bit, but whichever type of person we – and our children – are, we all benefit in profound ways from the predictability and security of having a daily routine.  These days, with many schools sending assignments for students to do on their own time, creating our own structure and our own routines is all the more vital.

Here are a few ideas for creating your own practice structure and routine, so that these days of “social distancing” can be more productive, not less!

  1. Set a time of day to practice.  Students might look at their day and see 12 “free” hours, and think that it’ll be easy to fit in plenty of practice somewhere in there.  The reality is, though, that if we approach the day this way, the whole day will slip by without ever doing any really productive practice.  So, sit down with your children and a calendar and schedule their practice times like you would any other activity.  And then (here comes the hard part) stick to it!

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  2. Map out your daily practice sessions.  What order will you practice the elements of your teacher’s assignment in?  Warm ups, then scales, then etudes and exercises, then review, then working piece, then polish piece, then sight reading?  Or will you mix it up?  Warm up, then working piece, then a review piece, then some more working piece, then some scale work, then your polish piece, then some more review, and finally some sight reading?  The sky’s the limit, but it’s important that you think through your daily plan, write it out, and think about how much time you’re going to devote to each element.
  3. Create a practice space in your home.  A public space is best.  Students may like to practice in their bedrooms, but in these days of technology in the palms of our hands, it is all too easy to get distracted without the watching eyes and listening ears of parents to help stay on task.  Set aside a corner of a living room or family room that is the designated practice space, and keep it free from clutter and other activity so that it can really become the “music space” in everyone’s minds.
  4. Pick a place with good natural lighting, if at all possible.  The beneficial effects of natural lighting and being outside in nature are incredible.  We think more clearly and more deeply, and are more connected to ourselves and our emotions when we are able to take in nature.  Putting your practice space in a place where the natural light streams in and the outdoors can be taken in will creative a more positive, productive practice experience.

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  5. Keep your instrument, music, and supplies out, day-to-day, if at all possible.  The biggest hurdle to actually putting in some good practice is often simply getting started.  If your instrument, music, metronome, and pencil are out and ready to go, you’ll see them throughout the day, keeping your upcoming practice session in mind, and you won’t be hindered by the hurdle of getting everything out and ready every day.  I know that may seem like a little thing, but seeing your instrument and being able to simple walk over, pick it up,  and get started can lead to many more productive practice sessions.
  6. Listen to your Suzuki CDs or other recordings throughout the day.  With “social distancing” in effect, there’s never been an easier time to listen to your Suzuki CDs for hours a day while you go about your other tasks.  If you can sing a tune (or hum it), you’ve taken a major step towards being able to play it.  I think we could see the whole studio take leaps forward in their repertoire if we use this at-home time to listen to our CDs more!

So, there you have 6 tips for making this de-structured time in our lives a little more structured, and a lot more productive.  Happy practicing, everyone!

Tweaking Zoom for Optimal Lessons

One of the reasons that we chose Zoom as our primary method of video conferring with all of you, our wonderful students and families, during this period of social distancing and distance learning, is that Zoom has better audio features than any of the other popular video conferencing programs or apps.  And because what we do as string musicians has so much to do with the quality of our sound, being able to hear each other as well as possible is really, really important to make the most of our online lessons together!

One of the concrete, tangible ways that we can achieve the highest quality of sound is by adjusting a few settings within Zoom.  Here’s what the following video explains:

  1. Open Zoom on your computer (it has to be on a computer – you won’t be able to adjust these settings and achieve this quality on a phone or tablet)
  2. Click on the the settings “gear” in the top right corner of your Zoom home screen
  3. Go to “audio” settings
  4. Switch off the feature “Automatically adjust microphone volume”
  5. Then go down to the bottom right of your screen and click “Advanced”
  6. Within “Advanced” options, click on the feature “Show in-meeting option to ‘Enable Original Sound’ from microphone

Following these steps allows you to get rid of “speech codex” that Zoom defaults to, which will allow the long, sustained tones of your instrument to come through at a much higher quality for me and Ms. Kirby to hear.  Let us know if you have any questions.  We want this period of distance learning to be of the highest quality that it can be for you!

Community Building Assignment #1 – Practice Tip Videos!

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for group class over Zoom last night!  It was wonderful to see you all, and to learn and play together in way that this unique time in our lives allows.  Speaking of which, this time in isolation is the perfect time to reflect on what is really working in your practicing – and then share it with the studio. 

Please make a “Practice Tips” video by next Tuesday, March 31 and share it with us by uploading it to YouTube and sending us the link.  The video should be anywhere from 1-5 minutes long. You can explain your practice tip, show your practice tip (with a short explanation), create a helpful diagram for your practice tip, act out the practice tip with a parent or sibling or anything that clearly portrays your point.  The practice tip can be specific to a certain kind of passage (ie: fast 16th notes for left hand clarity, speeding up a passage, tackling a tricky rhythm spot, coordinating a shift, etc.) or it can be a tip about a practice habit that works for you!

We look forward to seeing these and sharing them with our studio and the greater music world (if we have your permission).  

Happy Practicing!