Category Archives: Studio Updates

Thanksgiving ’20 Update

Hello WCS Students & Families!

It’s hard to believe it’s already time for Thanksgiving – in part because the weather has yet to finally make up its mind to turn to a truly crisp, cold autumn air, and in part because the challenges of this year have made it harder to look up from our day-to-day lives and look forward to milestones on the horizon. I think that makes it all the more important to really take a moment to celebrate what we have to be thankful for this year! As we head into a week of Thanksgiving Break (remember, no lessons from November 23-28!) here’s a few highlights that I’d like to share:

As mentioned above, we’ve had an incredibly mild Fall ’20 Semester thus far – neither unbearably hot, untenably cold, or frequently raining – and never before in my life have I been so thankful for good weather! Good weather has afforded us the opportunity to meet together for lessons and group classes outdoors, which gave us access to two things that have been hard to come by this year – in-person interaction, and safety and peace of mind. So, while the weather is usually something reserved to talk about when we can’t think up any real topic of conversation, this year it’s something I’m truly, truly thankful for.

Speaking of in-person interaction, I don’t think there’s ever been a year in which I’ve gotten to know each and every student and family in our studio better. Even those of you whom Kirby and I have had the privilege of working with for nearly a decade, I feel we’ve gotten to know much more deeply this year, as we’ve shared our feelings on the struggles of this year, learned from each other, and supported one another. We’ve also had unique opportunities to stay connected with members of our alumni community, which grows larger year by year! Every year, I’m thankful for each and every student and their family and the relationship that we share, but never have I been more thankful for that opportunity, nor has the thought of our weekly interactions brought more of a smile to my face than this year!

And on the topic of safety and peace of mind, I am truly thankful for the respect, consideration, understanding, and flexibility each of our students and their families has shown as we have navigated the ever-changing landscape of this year, and I want to thank you all for the open and honest communication that we have been able to stay engaged in to try to find the best way forward together. As we see case numbers continue to steadily rise and enter into what may well be the most challenging part of the school year, let’s keep our communication open and honest so that West County Strings can remain a safe place for students and their families to be!

Last but certainly not least, there has been one big silver lining to this year for both Kirby and myself. Most summers, Kirby and I are both engaged in teaching at half-a-dozen or so workshops, camps, and institutes. As the spring progressed into summer, we saw these engagements forced to close down one after the other. And while we were saddened by the loss of opportunity to see friends, colleagues, and students that we only get to reconnect with once every year, a new opportunity was presented to us that we haven’t had since West County Strings began, for which I am truly thankful – the opportunity to teach our own students each and every week of the summer! It was a truly special, memorable experience to work with so many of you every single week of the summer, and now to see that planting, watering, and tending leading to bearing fruit in your playing this fall!

As Thanksgiving Break draws to a conclusion, we’ll have updates on everything from our December 13 Zoom “Home Concert,” to All-Suburban and All-State auditions coming up at the start of 2021, and Missouri Federation of Music Clubs opportunities following shortly thereafter in the spring. But for now, we hope you all have a happy, healthy, restful, and rejuvenating Thanksgiving!

Fall ’20 Halloween Group Performance Recap & Upcoming Info

Hello WCS Students & Families!

As we lean fully into the second half of the Fall ’20 Semester, it’s a time to both look back on what’s been wonderful so far this school year, and to look ahead at what great opportunities are on the horizon! 

Halloween Group Performance & Party

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us for this year’s annual Halloween Group Performance & Party!  We were fortunate to completely dodge the rain and had the encouragement of the light and warmth of a campfire to keep us company.  It was wonderful to hear how much better Fiocco Allegro, and so many other pieces, sounded after a semester’s group classes, even with cold fingers!  And I’m so thankful that students who had consistently been attending group throughout the semester were able to punctuate this semester’s classes with a memorable evening. 

So, group classes for the Fall ’20 Semester are now concluded, and groups will be on hiatus until resuming in the Spring ’20 Semester.  Our original plan, when heading into the school year, was to find another location to hold groups outside from March – May.  However, with churches, community centers, and the like increasingly reopening to the public, we’re certainly going to be exploring the possibility of returning to groups indoors, whether at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd once again, or somewhere else.  We’ll keep you posted!   


December Zoom “Home Concert

With groups now concluded, it’s time now more than ever to focus on our solo repertoire, for things like All-Suburban and All-State orchestra auditions, as well as our December Zoom “Home Concert.”  Since the October solo recital date conflicted with other activities for so many students, and because generally everyone seems to have enjoyed having the opportunity to perform in MayJuneJuly, and again in October, we’re going to add another solo performance opportunity to the calendar on Sunday, December 13.

In all likelihood, we’ll hold performances at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. once again, although that isn’t set in stone yet at this point.  And since it’s so close to the holidays, it’ll be a great time to share some holiday music and merriment in addition to the normal classical repertoire!  Details will be forthcoming as the date draws nearer.  


Missouri Federation of Music Clubs “Virtuoso Club” 

This past week, I registered our program once again for the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs through which many of you have participated in the “Spring Festival” judging, and quite a few have competed in the Summer Camp Scholarship Competition and Music Major Scholarship Competition (congratulations once again to last year’s Camp Scholarship Competition winners, and well-wishes to our Music Major Scholarship winner from 2019, Wesley, who now studies at the UMKC Conservatory!).  

These events serve as very concrete goals for students to work towards, and give students the opportunity to grow and stretch themselves by participating in something challenging that still fits the West County Strings mantra of being warm and nurturing, with every event judged by fellow music educators.  The “bulletin” for 2020-2024 just arrived yesterday, which will allow us to see what repertoire each of us could work on preparing for our appropriate “class” (level) for next spring’s events! 


I think that about covers it for today.  KIrby and I look forward to seeing you all in your next lesson, and to continuing to learn, grow, and develop with you all as this school year marches on! 

Fall ’20 Play-In & “Icy Pop Social!”

Hello WCS Students & Families!

We’re looking forward to kicking off our group classes for the ’20-’21 school year with our annual “Play-In & Ice Cream Social.”  This event is for WCS students of all ages and levels and their families!  Here’s what you need to know:

Date: Tuesday, August 25
Time: 6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: WCS students & families, check your emails!

 

In order to keep our Play-In safe this year, we’ll be planning to hold it outdoors with students and their families well over 6′ apart.  So, you might also want to bring:

camping chairs / a picnic blanket
 plenty of water
bug spray
masks for tuning time,
in case you need to use the restroom,
or want to spend extended time catching up
with friends or another family

Kirby and I will be providing icy pops instead of ice cream this year, so we can serve them individually 😊

 

And finally, no Play-In could be complete without repertoire, so here’s a list of pieces to be brushing up on between now and next Tuesday!

Mozart Minuet
Rameau Gavotte
La Folia
Moto Perpetuo (vla)
Country Dance
Vivaldi A Minor, 1st mov.
Gavotte in g minor (vla & vln)
Minuet in G (vla & vln)
Hunters’ Chorus (vla & vln)
Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus
Minuet 2
Bohemian Folk Song (vla)
Perpetual Motion
Allegro
May Song
Song of the Wind
Lightly Row
French Folk Song (vla & vln)
Twinkle Theme & Variations

Happy practicing, and we’ll see you next week! 🎻

Reminder: ’20-’21 Registration Due August 15!

Hello WCS Families!

The end of summer is flying by and the start of the school year is rapidly approaching!  We’re looking forward to seeing you all for our ’20-’21 school year, which will run from August 24, 2020 – May 29, 2021.  Registration for the school year is due by August 15th, so this is the last week to sign up! 

We’re planning on starting the year with private lessons on Zoom, but we hope to be able to transition back to in person lessons just as soon as possible when we see a decline in COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County specifically, and are able to asses how schools reopening affects the student body, teachers, and the population at large. We’re thankful that Zoom lessons have been working so well for so many students, but if your child isn’t one of them please contact your teacher as soon as possible to discuss alternatives.

We’re also planning to start the year with outdoor in person group classes on Tuesday evenings, as weather allows.  Group is so vital for retaining review repertoire, developing artistic, expressive playing of pieces, and building the ensemble skills that allow students to engage and succeed in a wide variety of musical endeavors.  Plus, small class sizes in an outdoor space will allow us to have students socially engage in a time that they need it more than ever!

Due to registration being pushed back 15 days this year, we have a quicker turnaround time before the start of the school year than ever before.  If we receive everyone’s registrations by the end of registration, we’re generally able to create a schedule that comes very, very close to giving everyone one of their preferred times.  However, if we receive your registration after August 15th, we may have already assigned all of your preferred times to other families – and we don’t want that to happen!

As always, let us know if you have any questions, and we look forward to hearing from you soon!

July 25 “Home Concert” Recap!

Hello WCS Students & Families!

huge thank you and round of applause to all of the students who participated in this past Saturday’s Zoom “Home Concert,” and many, many thanks to the parents, extended family, and friends who joined in as the audience!  It was wonderful to see so many of you in one place again, and you all played so incredibly beautifully.  It’s truly inspiring and encouraging that in spite of all of the difficulties of this summer’s circumstances, you all are persevering, learning, and growing!

In fact, these “home concerts” have been one of the brightest highlights of this summer of isolation.  The fact that we’ve been able to do more performing together as a program throughout the summer is one of the silver linings of us all being at home perhaps more than ever before.  We love hearing from you all that you enjoyed the afternoon, too.  It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be able to host these events and share this time with you all!

See you on the next one!

’20-’21 Registration Reminder!

Hello WCS Families!

We are now 1 week into registration for the ’20-’21 school year, and it’s been wonderful to hear from so many of you.  Now, more than ever, open communication is key as we prepare for a school year unlike any other that any of us has ever experienced.  Many thanks to those of you who have already submitted your registration for the upcoming year by mail, or email!

Registration is due by August 15, and we know that many of you will need all that time to figure out what this school year is going to look like for your family overall.  However, if you’re able to submit your registration earlier, it helps us tremendously as we plan our classes, curriculum, concerts, and more based on the educational needs of the specific students we know will be participating!

As we’ve talked to each of you, we’ve heard that some families prefer lessons on Zoom, while others want to get back to in person lessons, and still others prefer a hybrid of the two.  The same is true for group classes, performances, and special events.  And everyone has a slightly different comfort level regarding safety precautions.  The good news is that our size and the relational nature of our program allows us to be flexible, adaptable, and to meet everyone’s needs to the best of our ability, while prioritizing everyone’s health and safety until that day we’re all looking forward to when life gets back to “normal.”

Thank you for your support, encouragement, and the relationship we share with each one of you.  We look forward to this upcoming school year with you!

’20-’21 Registration Now Open!

Hello WCS Families!

Registration for the ’20-’21 school year at West County Strings is now open and will run through August 15.  (download your registration form here)  Kirby and I are so looking forward to continuing to build on the fantastic work that so many of you have been doing over the summer, picking back up where we left off with those of you who have been away over the summer, and welcoming new students and their families into our community!  The ’20-’21 school year will run from August 24, 2020 – May 29, 2021.

We will be starting private lessons for the ’20-’21 school year on Zoom, but are hopeful this will not go too far into the school year.  This will give us an opportunity to assess how students returning to school affects COVID-19 rates.  If you or your child have been struggling in the Zoom format, please email us so that we can discuss an alternative lesson plan.  We plan for group classes to be a hybrid of outdoor classes as weather permits, as well Zoom group classes, master classes, and performance classes.  We are thankful to generous families who will make our outdoor classes possible!

In talking to each of you throughout 2020 so far, Kirby and I both feel like we have gotten to know each of you and our students more deeply.  We’re incredibly thankful for our relationship for each of you, and your commitment to music education in your children’s lives.  We look forward to this new school year with all of you, and to making it the best and brightest it can possibly be, while prioritizing the health and safety of our students, their families, and everyone with whom they come into contact!

Sincerely,

Brad & Kirby

Home Concert: Saturday, July 25 at 2:00 p.m.

Hello WCS Students & Families!

It was so wonderful to be able to “get together” and hear so many of your performances in June, that we’ve decided to host another Home Concerto on Zoom on Saturday, July 25 at 2:00 p.m.  Many of you had just started new repertoire at the beginning of the summer, and weren’t quite ready to play in June but playing at the end of July makes a good goal to work towards.

So, whether you played in June and would like to play again, or weren’t able to join us in June and would like to share now in July, we look forward to seeing as many of you as we can for another afternoon of sharing, community, and fun!  Check your emails for the Zoom meeting information as the date approaches.

June 27 “Home Concert” Recap

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Thank you so, so much to everyone who participated in our Zoom “Home Concert” on Saturday.  It was wonderful to have a group of you together again, and to be able to hear your performances.  They were so encouraging and uplifting – exactly what music should be!  We loved to hear and see all the developments in posture, technique, intonation, tone, dynamics, shifting, vibrato, musicality, and so much more that you all displayed.

For those who weren’t able to participate in this Zoom “Home Concert,” we plan to have another in late July, so you’ll have another opportunity to perform this summer.

Thank you all once again.  We’re so blessed to have such a wonderful community of students and families at WCS!  Just look at those smiles 🙂

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Summer ’20 Week 5: Keep Listening Alive!

If a student were to ask me what the #1 thing they could be doing better to improve, or a parent were to ask me what the #1 thing they could be doing with, or for, or encouraging their child to do to improve, my answer would almost always simply be: Listen more.

Listening daily to your Suzuki CD if you are a student or family in Suzuki Books 1-10, recordings Kirby and I make for you if you are a Pre-Twinkle student or family, or listening to definitive recordings of your concerto, sonata, or solo piece if you are a student beyond the Suzuki Books or working on supplemental pieces outside of the Suzuki literature is  without a doubt the easiest, and probably also the most effective, way to make progress.  Here’s a few things listening helps you do:

  1. Learn or remember the melody of your current, review, and preview pieces.
  2. Learn or remember the tempo of your current, review, and preview pieces.
  3. Learn or remember the structure of your current, review, and preview pieces (once through, repeated, A B A, AA BB, AA BB CC DD A B, etc. etc.)
  4. Learn or remember the rhythms in your current, review, and preview pieces.
  5. Learn or remember the articulations (staccato, legato, accented, lifted, brushed, spiccato, sautiélle, collé, etc. etc.) in your current, review, and preview pieces.
  6. Learn or remember the dynamics (forte, piano, mezzo-forte, mezzo-piano, fortissimo, pianissimo, crescendos, decrescendos, etc. etc.) in your current, review, and preview pieces.

The list could go on and on.  The gist of it is this: Listening to your recordings at home turns your lesson from a session about what to do and then how to do it, into a session about how to do what you already unconsciously know should be done, because you’ve heard it.  Think about how much more productive your lessons could be if that huge portion of the work was already being done passively throughout the week!

And that’s the great thing about listening: You get all of these benefits without even having to stop whatever else you’re doing and being fully engaged.  You can listen while you have a conversation in the car.  You can listen while you’re doing your homework.  You can listen while you’re mowing the lawn.  You can listen while you’re falling asleep at night.

The reason I bring this up this week is simple: I hear a lot of lessons in which the melody, the tempo, the structure, the rhythms, the articulations, the dynamics, etc. etc. of students’ pieces are clearly hitting them for the first time when I play or explain them.  To me, that says that not much listening is happening, if any listening is happening at all. And often when I follow up by asking, the answer is the same: not much listening, if any listening is happening at all.

Let’s change that starting today!  We’re all home more than ever!  The Suzuki recordings are on iTunes and are dirt cheap for the value you get from listening to them.  You can find the best recordings of concertos, sonatas, and solo pieces on Spotify for free!  There is no reason that we shouldn’t all be listening to the music we’re studying as much as possible.  Let’s start doing more listening today!