As of writing this, ten days have passed since the 15th SAA Conference, and I am still living on cloud nine!

I seem to be talking about the conference to anybody who is eager (or seems to be eager to me) to listen: students, parents, fellow teachers, musicians and non-musicians. Not even the suggestion by my seventeen-year-old student that his under-practiced g minor Ballade will take me down from cloud nine in no time did the trick. I stayed there, on that cloud, oblivious to his many wrong notes and in love with the exquisite turns of his phrases.

I will try here to describe what propelled me on that cloud; I hope I will find enough words to describe it.

Master Classes

Suzuki Repertoire Master Classes with Fay Adams, Christopher Liccardo, Marina Obukovsky and Mary Craig Powell

I would describe it as nothing short of three hours of teaching and observing bliss.

Fay Adams worked with Alec Krishnan, student of Sara Kotrba who played a beautiful rendition of Granados Spanish Dance No. 5. The fiery, capricious, and, at times, quiet piece, already played so exquisitely by Alec, received even more fieriness and more shapely phrases under Fay’s guidance and her beautiful demonstration of the Dance. Fay also provided a wonderful hand out for teachers which can be found on SAA conference website.

I have known Christopher Liccardo for more than ten years and have always admired his teaching and his musicianship. In his master class he worked with Grace Sheeba, student of Janet Buhler, playing Bach Gigue from B-flat Major Partita, and Meaghan Rhodes, student of Gail Gebhart, playing Bach Invention in F Major No. 8. His love of music, children and teaching permeates every phrase he plays and every sentence he directs at the student. It was such a treat to watch him teach and demonstrate.

Marina Obukovsky worked with two students, Aidan Schmitt, also a student of Sara Kotrba, who performed Chopin Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, and Max Mossberg, student of Malgosia Lis, who played Bagatelle by Tcherepnin. Marina is a true musician and passionate about music, with the ear of a superhuman, able to distinguish the most nuanced of nuances. It was feast for the ears!

Mary Craig Powell has long been for me an ideal of what a teacher should be. She is not only an incredible pianist and musician but she has the way with students of all ages which renders them in love with her in about thirty seconds after meeting her. Kirsten Mossberg, student of Malgosia Lis, playing Grieg Notturno, was no exception. She was drinking in every word of Mary Craig’s, intently listening to every demonstrated note and phrase, following every suggestion of beautiful rubato, and had, in her words, “the most amazing thirty minutes of my life.”

Master Class with Ann Schein

Ann Schein and Malgosia Lis

Ann Schein and Malgosia Lis

Image by Malgosia Lis

The incredible Ann Schein worked with four students: Stephanie Hua, student of Tamila Humphreys, playing Bach Prelude and Fugue in B Flat Major, BWV 867; Austin Wade, student of Rita Hauck, playing Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2; Gavin George, student of Mary Craig Powell, playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in c minor, Op. 37,; and Serafina Oh, student of Maria Pereira, playing Chopin Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 69, No. 1.

Watching Ann Schein teach was like going back in time and watching the “old masters.” It was all about the music—what to do with your body, fingers, your thoughts and ideas, to get the composer’s message out for everybody in the audience to understand. Those were two hours filled with passion, energy, singing, excitement and love of teaching. Some of my favorite phrases from those two hours were “Celebrate this moment, you are in major!!!!”; “Mesto, it is a very special word, used once in a while, tragic”; “Liszt rubato is like a tree standing strong with branches swaying this way and that”; and “keep track of your key changes, they each have their own character!” In the middle of the Beethoven Concerto, in one of the quietly intense moments, it hit me that I was witnessing the teaching of the student of the great Artur Rubinstein, a person whose art was, and still is, revered in Poland, one of Poland’s greatest. It was quite an emotional moment for me and a few more in the audience. It is never to be forgotten.

Books 1-3 Class with Annette Lee

What a joy to have such young students join us for the conference! Thank you to Annette, the McPhail piano students and Malgosia’s student from CT who participated in this class. We heard Christmas Day Secrets, A Short Story, Minuet in G Major (formerly known as Minuet 2), second movement of Kuhlau Sonatina, and the first movement of Clementi Sonatina Op. 36, No. 3, respectively performed by Michael Luo, Clara Miller, Stefano Giovlanelli, Nina Werger and Abigail Sunde. This was a “teaching class,” a presentation designed to show all teachers how certain things could be accomplished: how do we put hands together in Short Story, how do we accomplish that special “secretive” sound in Christmas Day Secrets, how do we make a phrase in Clementi more interesting.

Annette has a way of talking about music that awakens students’ creative side. She merely suggests that something could be done with the particular phrase, then she demonstrates with her beautiful tone and the many ways it can be done. The student, gently guided, comes up with the idea independently. This creates a performance that is firmly “owned” by the student. What a wonderful way of building a true musical ear, confidence and natural musicality.

Lecture Recital by Ann Schein

Ms. Schein gave a lecture–recital about the influence Bach’s music had on the great Romantic composers: “Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Bach. Bach Through the eyes of great Romantics.” We listened to her stories about composers and their composing techniques, learned about and were introduced to some Ms. Schein’s favorite books on the subject, heard excerpts from Schumann’s Carnival, Op. 9, Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses, Op. 54, and more. The lecture recital finished with the stunning performance (at 9:30 a.m.!) of the fourth movement of Chopin Sonata in b minor!


The piano sessions were varied and covered a multitude of topics. Hand-outs on many of the sessions are available on SAA website. Thank you to all the gracious session hosts: Nightingale Chen, Gail Gebhart, Linda Gutterman, Sara Kotrba, Bret Serrin, and J.B. Taylor.

Tom Lee gave a very informative presentation: “Group Lesson with One Piano? Show Me How!” It was full of brilliant ideas on how to conduct group classes with one piano! I know I will be using many of Tom’s ideas in a few weeks at institute

Susan Crosser, Anne Marie Olson, Renee Robbins and Bret Serrin gave us a very informative panel. “Different Strokes for Teenage Folks: Teaching Adolescents Where They Are and Keeping Them Going.” It was an often funny and often very touching panel on how to work with our overworked teenage students, how to keep their love for piano and music going, and how to understand better what makes them tick.

I have never encountered a funnier uptake on Bach’s music than in Tamara Goldstein’s presentation “Building Basics with Bach.” The presentation was modeled on the video game Angry Birds, and included, as most video games do, levels, tricky trivia questions that would get you to the next level, and awards (T-shirts!). It was funny—we all felt like children playing games—but very informative. Bach, who was known to be a humorous person, would have loved it!

Choong-ha Nam presented an incredible talk on “Producing a Beautiful Tone at the Piano—From the Very Beginning.” She compared Matthay and Taubman methods of producing a tone and talked about arm weight and the workings of a finger. The presentation included PowerPoint as well as videos of students.

Saturday afternoon was spent at the special presentation on “Doris Koppelman’s Special Contributions to Suzuki Piano Pedagogy.” It was a touching tribute to a pioneer of Suzuki piano, to the teacher who touched many, to a trainer that mentored many of the finest teachers of today, and to a true friend of many present in the room. Susanne Baker, Caroline Fraser, Dilva Sanchez Mejia and Connie Almond shared their memories and the videos of Doris’ teaching, her thoughts on piano pedagogy and her students’ performances. Many times during the forty-minute presentation there were teary eyes in the room. We miss Doris greatly, and I am personally honored to have had her presence in my life and teaching, if only for a few short years.

What’s a better way to end the Conference than with a Twinkle presentation?! Five experienced Suzuki teachers talked about teaching Twinkles through senses of hearing, touch, and more in their “Awaken Your Senses, it’s Time to Twinkle” presentation. The presentation was enriched by videos of teaching and of students performing. Thank you to Marilyn Andersen, Joan Krzywicki, Gail Lange, Caroline Fraser, and Leah Brammer for this wonderful Twinkle journey. Many of us needed the reminder of the limitless possibilities that come with learning Twinkles the right way!

Lunch for Newcomers

This year, we planned a special lunch for those pianists for whom 2012 was either their first conference or their first one in many years. A few “old-timers” were invited to help break the ice and answer questions. Twelve people responded that they would be coming. You can imagine my surprise and delight when arriving at the assigned meeting spot in the hotel lobby, I saw not twelve or more attendees but twenty-three! My delight turned to a slight concern when, after arriving at the Key’s at the Foshay, I realized we had, in our short walk from the hotel, acquired more people and had now about thirty in our group! The management and waiting staff were wonderfully helpful and accommodating, and despite the full house, managed to find us all tables and serve us a delicious cuisine. “The Pianists’ Lunch,” as it was dubbed, was a happy, joyous, loud and relaxing hour with many “old-timers” and newcomers mixing together in the most wonderful camaraderie. Thank you to Gail Gebhart, Mary Craig Powell, Fay Adams, Linda Gutterman and many others for making this a memorable event for us all.

Pam Brasch, Debbie Moench, the Entire Conference Team, and SAA Staff!

Thanks to you all, I have experienced the camaraderie, teamwork, helpfulness, intelligence, patience, and the workings of caring human hearts at their best. Thank you for this unforgettable weekend.

Last, but certainly not least: Gail Gebhart, Assistant Coordinator and Coordinator for the 2014 Conference

I knew that Gail and I would have a wonderful professional relationship and that we will work very well together—after all, that’s what the Suzuki people are famous for! What I did not expect was the true friendship that developed between us. Gail’s help and guidance and her intelligent, thoughtful, humble and quiet way of dealing with many issues was a true inspiration. Seeing her radiant, kind, beautiful face, always with a smile and always ready to help was one of the most welcome sights for me that special weekend. I can see now her face cringing as she reads all this (“you really are exaggerating, Malgosia!”), but I know she is going to make 2014 a spectacular year for pianists, so I hope that you will be there to see it and to experience being on cloud nine by yourself! I know I will!