Category: Music Appreciation

Classical music: sacred or scary?

People have a general misconception about classical music. 

“It’s boring.”

“It’s for the elite.” (“high-class”).

“It’s old. Who wants to listen to that?”

“I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t play an instrument, so I don’t get it.”

Classical music is just another music genre, like jazz, hip hop, rock, pop, world. 

Of course, in the hearts of “classical people” – meaning the classical musicians and connoisseurs, classical music is “unique”, “pristine”, even “sacred”, like the untouchable.

I like to think there is something special with classical music of course, with my own background of years of classical music training and study. Even I like many kinds of music, classical music does have a special place in my heart, there’s no doubt about it. But I also like to share with people who are interested in learning and listening to it more, because there’s nothing “scary” or “boring” about classical music at all. In fact, once you get a hang of it, you would start to be able to appreciate it more and bathe and rejoice in the beauty of it, that I can assure you of.

Now, where do we start?

Let’s start from singing.

Who doesn’t like to sing? Who can’t appreciate a good singing voice, even one thinks they cannot sing?

I enjoy listening to vocal music, be it solo or choral. I am quite inclined to listening to choral music though -perhaps due to my training as a choral conductor – from a cappella to chorus with a full on orchestra. My favorite choral music would be gregorian chant and mass, then followed by some beautifully harmonised “modern”choral songs.

Now how do you listen to the music here?

  1. listen with your mind open – forget about what kind of music it is. Just listen and feel. And ask yourself, “do we like it? why?”
  2. find out more about the music – google it, who wrote it? who sang it? is there any story to the music/about the composer – there’s always some story, at least if there’s lyrics, you can appreciate the words.
  3. if you know how to play an instrument and understand some music theory, then you can find out some basic structural information about the piece. Or simply, listen to the ebbs and flows of the music. Or, if there’s more than one instrument, can you hear what’s there? How do the different instrumentation come together, and how do they interact with each other?

So here are some of my favorite, please enjoy:

First, some good old fashioned piano solo music, everyone’s favorite! : s famous nocturnes by Chopin:

Now, some choral music with piano accompaniment, some more harmonized, easy listening and “modern”:

And here is some unaccompanied (“a cappella”) mass, it’s for me very healing and almost spiritual experience listening to this kind of music:

If anyone wants me to talk about these genres, like the background and things like that, I am happy to write about them in the future. Just send me a message and let me know!

Much blessings in music,

Teresa x

Please don’t “teach” piano

I can’t start writing this post without talking about my own learning experience.

I wish I had better teachers right from the start. I do. But I didn’t – that’s why I always wanted to be the best teacher for my students, but that’s another story.

Now, being a “teacher” is different from an “instructor” – those who “instruct” give you “instructions” to follow. It implies that you as a student do not have to think about what to do but just to do it regardless. It’s the rule: how can you not do it when your “teacher” tells you to? (I really mean “instructor”)

To teach means something rather different. The word “teach” means the following:

To impart knowledge to someone
To cause (someone) to learn or understand something by example or experience.

Although the word “teach” also means to instruct, it means so much more than giving directions just to be followed strictly. I would focus more on the “knowledge” part.

To have a knowledge in a topic is very meaningful and powerful. I don’t know if you know anyone whom you would refer to as someone very “knowledgeable” in a field/topic (think about it now), how would you describe that person when s/he talks about that field/topic? Isn’t it like s/he knows every single thing in that topic, the details, the questions, the answers, the problems, the solutions, and s/he is genuinely interested in conversing with you about it, and is eager to show you what’s there?

That’s the power of knowledge. And you can find it in any topics, any skills, and any fields. In case of this piano thing, a teacher is there to “impart knowledge” in a student, and that would require first of all that teacher knows that knowledge (at least a lot of it) before s/he can deliver that knowledge to the student.

Knowledge is not fixed however. And it should always be growing. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. That’s knowledge. And for me, that’s exciting news, because it’s always interesting to be more knowledgeable in a topic I enjoy learning about.

People think that it’s easy to be those who are talented and famous, because they are talented and famous. But do you know how much time and effort they put into honing their skills in whatever fields they are in? I am not saying everyone wants and needs to be that in one field in particular, certainly not in piano playing or teaching! What I mean is, it requires effort and skills. And if you learn smart and efficient, you will have better skills in shorter time.

I always tell my students, “start thinking!”, “start reading!”, “start creating!”, and “start training!”. You can waste one more day to not hone that skill that belongs to you, but why?

Teresa Wong

P.S. Oh, I seemed to have derailed from my topic. Well, people, don’t teach if you don’t want to teach. Don’t teach if you don’t know how to teach. If you dont’ know how to teach well, please learn more to improve your teaching skills and have more knowledge in music and piano and playing, you owe this to your students, you really do. The last thing I hate is to see another student ruined by a so-called “teacher”.

P.P.S. Hey “students”, you are there to learn from your teachers.If you have a found a great teacher, please do not waste his/her time. Tell her/him you can’t have lessons anymore because you are “lazy, “don’t have time for lessons and/ practice, “don’t have money for lessons/a decent piano”, “too busy at school/work/sleepover/parties/travel/celebration/family gatherings/holidays/valentine’s day/dragon boat festival” etc etc. Just make up an excuse to leave. Thank you very much.

New Short Courses 2017

We are introducing new short intensive courses this year:

Sight reading
Ear training
Song writing
*Piano teacher training

Whole course duration: 10 classes
Format: group courses, 3-6 people
Original Fee: $3600.
New student special price: $3400.
*Piano teacher training ($6000 whole course 10 weeks)
**sight reading + ear training ($4600 whole course, special: $4400)

Schedule

*1030-1145am piano teacher training level I (Teresa Wong)
*12-1245pm fundamental sight reading training (Teresa Wong)
*1-145pm fundamental ear training (Teresa Wong)
*715-830pm sight reading + ear training (Teresa Wong)

Saturday
4-445pm fundamental sight reading training (Teresa Wong)
445-530pm fundamental ear training (Teresa Wong)

Wednesday:
4-450pm sight reading for kids (Carol Yip)
5-550pm ear training for kids (Carol Yip)
6-650pm church pianist training (Carol Yip)

Contact us today at twsomusic@gmail.com for registration and questions!

The Desire to Succeed 

I hope you all had a good holiday. 

During my holiday, I did a lot of reading and thinking (besides resting and exercising!). I found a lot of focus and clarity when I could do these two things with clear head (thanks to my regular meditation practice). 

One thing I want to talk about today is the desire to excel, and of course here I would apply that to piano playing and teaching.

Many say that passion is the key to success. I agree with passion – love for the thing we do – certainly helps a lot in motivating us to keep doing what we are doing. But only passion is not enough, as I will explain below. 

During my many years as a pianist and teacher and mentor, I have met and taught students from all walks of life, whether they be amateur or professional musicians. When I first heard someone telling me that they want to “study abroad”, “go to Germany/Vienna/France”, “take a diploma exam”, “become a great piano teacher”, I warm heartedly encouraged them and gave them a lot of advice on how to proceed with that goal. They all looked very enthusiastic and genuinely interested in pursuing that goal they held dearly on to. However, after a few months/a year, there were no signs of no follow-up actions and the enthusiasm seemed to gradually fade away. 

I thought about how I made things happen for myself in terms of piano performance or teaching career or building a business. Certainly there was a lot of passion involved. It’s the passion that prompted me to start with everything I did. I did more than having a passion. There was also the desire to succeed. And then I looked at how others succeeded in what they pursued, it’s the exact same way as I did only in different arenas. 

So what is the desire to succeed? 

There are two keywords in this question: “desire” and “succeed”. 

Let’s start with the word “desire”. Desire is a very strong sentiment and commitment to the passion one has, whether it be playing the piano well, maintaining a harmonious relationship, making a decent living, or simply, having a nice meal at a fine restaurant. 

When you have a very strong desire in anything you have in mind, you will figure out a way to achieve it, no matter how hard it is. 

Now what would you do to fulfill that desire? There are steps you would make to “succeed”, which is the second keyword of our question. 

Let’s say you want to have a nice meal at a fine restaurant, the procedure would be firstly you research about which restaurant you want to go. Then you have to make a reservation. You might even have to book very early in advance if the restaurant is very popular. You would do all that to have the nice meal you so strongly desire to have, right? And you also make sure you have enough money to pay for that meal, to make that goal complete smoothly. You might even buy a new dress/suit and bring someone you really fancy to make this fine dining experience more wonderful. Then you would feel you have “succeeded”. 

It’s the same for piano playing. In order to have some pleasant outcome out of the time and effort we are going to spend in our lessons and our practice, we must have the desire to succeed before we decide we want to pick up our playing/practice/teaching again. You must have a very strong desire to make that happen for yourself but it for anyone else. You must feel very strongly that is absolutely something you are willing to spend time/effort/money/training in for a considerably sustained period of time. Otherwise all your time/effort/money/training are wasted for nothing. 

So what exactly is the definition of having succeeded in fulfilling that desire and passion? That’s up to you. It might be learning to play one of your favorite pieces really well in three months, or attaining a piano diploma in a year, or becoming a great piano teacher in two years. The point is to make your goal as specific as possible. The time frame is for reference only. Of course it’s important to meet that as much as possible and do not create an impossible goal for yourself in a short time, that only adds to your detriment of being actually able to achieving it. And even more important is that you stick to that goal no matter how hard and challenging you find it is. If you truly have the desire to succeed, you will find help and adjust how you do it along the way. 

You must commit to what you have started. That differentiates those who can achieve what they are passionate about and those who cannot and blame others for their failure. 

People think talent/innate ability is the key. That’s only part of the picture. Most often than not those who succeed in what they do have put tremendous hard work with absolute perseverance constantly. It’s not that they don’t struggle or even at times fail, but they just bite their tongues and keep on moving forward. 

I hope you all have a great start to the new year and find what you desire to succeed in in your brand new journey ahead. 

Teresa Wong

The First Time, The Last Time And The Precious Moment.

The First Time, The Last Time And The Precious Moment.
 
Tonight I had this wonderful chance to share music with my wonderful student in this wonderful piano lesson. I told her that in order to be fully engaged in the music she is playing, she must think about one of these moments/situations:
 
Think about this moment you play as if it’s the FIRST TIME. It’s like the first time you see this person you really like, this pair of shoes you really want, this place you really enjoy visiting, this activity you really enjoy doing…
 
Everything is fresh and new.
 
OR
 
Think about this moment you play as if it’s the LAST TIME. It’s like the last chance you would ever have to feel this music, to play the piano, to see this person you love, to do this thing you really like to do, the place you really enjoy going, the food you really like eating…
 
You savor it. Every single note you have. You touch it, you taste it, you feel it, you listen to it, you breathe it.
 
OR
 
Think about this moment you play as if it’s the ONLY TIME, in the HERE and in the NOW, this ONE PRECIOUS MOMENT in the present. You will never have the same moment ever again.
 
BE PRESENT IN THIS MOMENT OF NOW. BE ENGAGED, BE AWARE, BE FOCUSED AND BE MINDFUL.
 
ENJOY YOUR PLAYING AT THE PIANO!
Teresa Wong

Piano Connecting Lives

Life is about connecting with others, through something deeper and more meaningful, to touch others’ lives.

Music can do just that, and more. Through teaching, learning, playing, listening, performing, we connect with others – teachers, parents, students, fellow students, friends, public – through music learning and piano playing.

Therefore, piano lessons are not just a routine we go in week in and week out. They are many sessions of precious moments for us to share, explore and enjoy via the wonderful tool we call, “piano”.

Teresa Wong

 

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Music is for healing

I believe everyone likes music.

Everyone listens to some kind of music, whether it be pop music (western or local), R&B, rock, electronic, blues, folk, country, band, classical, world, jazz… Or you simply listen to some good music regardless of what genre the music is – the most important element in music is that you like it. That’s it. It is not other people’s choice but YOUR own choice.

The same should go for music learning, or more specifically here, piano playing. You should play the piano only when you want it. And then you would probably practice because you want to get better at the piano.

***

What is the first thing students usually say when they come in? (I am sure all of you piano teachers have this experience once in a while or too many a times.)  They say, “I didn’t practice (much) last week.” or similar version of this line. Now, what is your response and what would you say to them? You might be like this, “no, no again!”, either say in silently inside or voice this out loud to your students. Trust me, I get that “frustration” sometimes, I understand that completely.

I also understand why students don’t practice (enough) sometimes. And it’s not because they are lazy – it can be but I usually give them the benefit of the doubt. I like to treat people innocent before “charged” guilty (ok, it’s not like that serious like a crime, but you get what I mean).

Depending on the situation would I ask them why. They would tell me there has been a lot of “homework/work/test/exam/activities/weddings/social functions/business trips/projects/meetings”. I get it, I really do. But I would also stress to them it is of utmost importance that they keep their regular practice sessions in albeit less frequent or shorter than desirable. Let’s say you want your students to practice 1 hour every day, would you think it’s plausible for the lifestyle they have? Would you rather set a more realistic goal for them to follow and actually keep up with, for example, 30 minutes for 4-5 days a week? Or 20 minutes for 3-4 days a week? Depending on the level and age and time of each student?

I usually negotiate with them, especially when they are adult students who have a very busy work life. I say, “ok, well, I understand that you are pretty busy, but let’s try this, try to log in 15 minutes for 3 days first, use the timer on your phone, set it to 15 minutes and just sit down and go with it. Let me know how that goes in our next lesson.” Usually they would do more that those 3 15-minute sessions if they really want to improve their playing.

Of course, there are times when a student really has no time whatsoever that week to do any practice at all. Then what do you as a teacher do? You just have to be patience sometimes. Sometimes when we push the students too hard on their learning and practice it might get an opposite effect that they might not even want to continue learning! We all want to progress, we all do, whether our role is teacher or parent or student. But there is a life we are making right here right now. I think being considerate – I use the word “compassion” – for the student we truly care for is important. There might a lesson that might not be as productive as we want it to be, and that’s ok. If the student turns around, looks back at his/her own progress and says “oh maybe I should work harder”, then wonderful, let’s do it. Certainly the teacher always has to be there to remind the student of his/her practice and encourage him/her to learn more/better. I believe it’s always two-way street (or even three in case with the parent for younger students): both the teacher and student put in effort and work together. Then the student’s learning will definitely blossom.

I find more than often though, it’s that instead of the students having not done any practice at all, it’s rather they are afraid they didn’t get the practice done as well as the teacher want them to have. So nowadays when I hear the line “sorry I didn’t practice much”, I just smile and gesture them sit down and tell them to start playing right away. “I shall be the judge of it.” Most of them do much better than they thought they would.

Giving students more precise pointers and specific directions as to how to make an effective and efficient practice session is also a great way to guide them to not be afraid of practice and get more done on their own. I shall write more about this which I find a lot of students and teachers are not too familiar with this concept.

You all have a blessed weekend of music teaching and learning,

Teresa Wong

(中文) 什麼是「好聽」? (一)

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Adult Piano Beginner Learners

Adult Piano Beginner Learners

This year we have quite a number of adult students who have come in to learn to play the piano for the first time. I am very glad to see this phenomenon.

I still remember we had this amazing student who came in last year, and the first line of his email wrote, “I am a 51-year-old man who has never learnt to play the piano…”. My eyes beamed with joy when I read that line. I couldn’t be happier! Someone at this mature age wanted to play the piano! Why would that be a problem?

Any age is a good age to learn something new. Any age is a good age to challenge oneself and do something fresh for the first time. Any age is a good age to be nice to oneself and give oneself a Gift.

I believe Music is such a Joy for anyone of any age, and playing the piano is a great gift to receive that joy.

I understand the “awkwardness” for adults to pick up an instrument (or simply learn some new skills) for the first time:

“Can I actually do it?”

“What if I can’t? Would I look stupid or embarrass myself?”

“Am I too old to do it?”

“It’s okay, I don’t really have to do this. Why bother, why waste time and money to do it?”

The list of doubt goes on and on.

I get it. I have that moment too.

Like I couldn’t swim or bike for most of my life – I learnt to do that just a few years ago. I am not good at it, but I can move! And I enjoy them.

Or I remember the first time I saw people run on campus when I was studying for my graduate degree in America. I thought to myself, “Oh! People RUN here.” I never exercised when I was in Hong Kong, almost never. No one told me I had to exercise! I only knew I had to study and practice a lot of piano. So I started running on campus too, and went to the gym and took cycling classes and did circuit weight training. I didn’t know how to do it but I just followed the instructions and that’s it! It was a lot of fun and so I never stopped exercising ever since.

Or I love traveling on my own, a lot. People say, “Oh but it’s dangerous (for a woman) to travel solo” or, “Oh but it’s so boring to travel alone”. I never feel any danger at all. A woman can protect herself just like a man does. And when you travel alone, you can talk with the locals and meet new friends. It’s a lot of fun and a different kind of traveling experience. When you travel alone, you would notice a lot of things you might not otherwise.

Or I never wrote a book. And now I did. I am happy that I finally published it, now I can make it better for the second edition, and work on the Chinese version. And also the course books. I never thought I wanted to or could write an instruction manual (it sounds so boring!). But I did, and I am glad I endured the boredom at the beginning of drafting it.

What I am trying to say is there are a lot of things we thought we didn’t want to do and tried to make a lot of excuses not to of them, and the main reason is most likely this:

We are scared.

We are scared to fail.

We are scared to make mistakes.

We are scared to be ridiculed.

But, what if we make it?

What if we succeed?

What if we are actually good at it?

Or what if, what if we actually enjoy doing it, regardless of how good or bad we are at it?

Isn’t that the most important point of we doing something, that WE ENJOY DOING THE THING WE DO?

Yes, that’s the whole point of we learning to play the piano.

Because PLAYING THE PIANO IS FUN.

So, Adult Piano Beginner Learners, keep coming! We are ready!

Peace,
Teresa Wong

Piano Duet Concert

Our piano duet concert, “80 Minutes Around the World”, will be held on October 16, 2016 (Sunday) at 730pm, at the Recital Hall 8/F of Hong Kong City Hall. This is a very fun and creative piano concert, and we would love to see you there!

Canon in D by Pachelbel (piano duet) D大調卡農鋼琴二重奏

Balance is the Key

“Do we have to take exams for our piano lessons?” My student of 9 years’ old asked me today after finishing his lesson.

“No, of course not.” I was surprised to hear him saying that. Sometimes this little boy would give the most intelligent comment unexpected of for his young age.

“Why did you ask that?” I asked.

“Well, I have a friend who now lives in America, and he is also taking piano lessons there. He told me he never had to take any piano exams, and at his school they only taught two subjects: English and Maths.” He explained.

“That’s interesting.”

“You know, you also don’t have to take exams too for your piano lessons. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But everyone here loves to take it. And it’s actually not a bad thing.” I continued.

My student has taken grade 5 exam recently and received a merit result, which made him and his mother very happy. But that happy effect didn’t stay long and didn’t help him with realizing the fact that he’s capable of doing more and that he’s not playing the piano just to fulfill his “duty”. 

***

I do think there is a merit to taking some tests for a subject you have learnt and worked hard on,  just to see how well you do it so far, but it’s only good for the student if it’s just part, and not all, of the whole learning process. What I mean is, for example, if we learn to be good at English only because we can pass the tests that we are given, we would focus on how to get a good score instead of how to be good at English. By the same token, when we learn to play the piano, if we focus on how to achieve a good score in piano exams instead of learning how to understand music and play the piano beautifully, we have already lost the essence of music learning and piano playing. 

I do see there is a phenomenon that if the student is not expected to take any piano exams for their piano lessons, they have a mentality of taking the piano lessons very lightly almost as if something they can throw away anytime they want. Certainly that goes a long way by tying a close relationship between piano lessons and piano exam results. If they are children, then it is because the parents focus way too much on getting a good result in piano exams and so the children are heavily influenced to think the same way as well. If they are adults, they have had this idea of “achievement equals to exam scores” deeply ingrained in their mind long time ago and it is sadly hard to be erased. I certainly do think there are high hopes for such eradication of false beliefs and new development of positive and growth mindset in each and everyone of them, only if they believe in it /me. 

***

My student happily received the photocopy of a new piano duet I assigned to him.

“Go work on this, and be brave ok?”

I said with an encouraging smile as I handed over the copy to him. 

“Sure thing!” He returned with a big smile and left the studio. 

Teresa Wong

J.S. Bach: Italian Concerto, second movement, “Andante”

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