Irish Ukulele Hooley: going with a group

Subtitle: how to plan a group trip to the next Irish ukulele festival

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Namesake concert: getting to know your audience

We musicians categorize our audiences based on age group and demographics. At one glance, you can usually tell which group they belong to. Is it possible to get to know them individually?

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Have ʻuke, will travel

Tiny Tenor of Romero Creations (mahogany)

This past January, I introduced myself in Joel Katz‘s intermediate ʻukulele class by announcing that I was downsizing from the nine foot grand piano to the less than two foot ʻukulele. People laughed.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t giving up the piano by any means. Rather, I was embracing the ʻukulele. It has my namesake after all: KU in ʻukulele.

In truth, I didn’t know what I was getting into. A few of my music students had shared their love of the instrument. One even gave me a hand-built ʻukulele stand as a parting gift. Eventually I succumbed to my usual thirst for novelty and variety.

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Guitar and mandolin duo and trio at Great Falls Coffeehouse, Massachusetts

The guitar duo of Mark and Beverly Davis gave a memorable performance at Great Falls Discovery Center in Western Massachusetts, featuring the beloved “Lass of Patey’s Mill”

Robert and I were thrilled to see the announcement of Mark and Beverly Davis’ Duo concert on Facebook: Friday August 14th, 2015 at Great Falls Coffeehouse, in Turners Falls in Western Massachusetts. We were in Boston, five years after we first made contact with Mark on Skype from London to book our concert in their home in Connecticut. In planning our road trip, we remembered fondly of their hospitality and their beautiful CD which accompanied us on our long drives in autumn in New England through our five week concert tour that ended in Maui on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.

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Concert reviews Maui Arts and Cultural Center

College students who attend classical music concerts for the first time give impressions of the concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).

Every semester I require all my music students to attend an approved concert and write a review. The review must demonstrate they actually attended the concert. They can write about the concert-going experience, their impressions, feelings, thoughts, and anything else that resonated with them and for which they wanted to share. I then select the most relevant passages from their written reviews and write a so-called “Review of reviews” on this blog.

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Music from Movies Concert

When choosing music to play for a concert, it’s important to have a theme, tell a story that not only introduces each work but also links them to each other. Balance the familiar with the unfamiliar; slow and fast. Variety is the spice of life.

For the record and to avoid repeating the same program in the future, I’m documenting what I played for the concert I gave on Friday 28th February 2014. I had contemplated the possibilities of piano music from movies a few days earlier.

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Piano lessons: individual or group?

Whether to take individual lessons or a group piano class depends on the time and money you’re willing and able to spend to get the results you want.

“Should I take private one-on-one piano lessons or should I take a piano class with other students?”

This is a question I get asked from time to time.

The answer: it depends on the time and money you are willing and committed to spending on lessons and practice. It also depends on the results you want to get. In other words, it depends on your goals.

The traditional private individual piano lessons once a week may be outdated by today’s time-challenged adults who have to balance the demands of work, study, and other responsibilities.

In individual lessons, you develop a relationship with the teacher. You set the pace. Except for improvisation classes, all my piano training has been individual lessons with a teacher. I must say that group lessons were unheard of when I was growing up.

Nowadays, because of time and financial constraints, group classes are not only a possibility but also a growing trend. Digital pianos also make group classes possible as everyone can put on headphones.

For beginners, the progress may be faster in a group setting, because of the effect of learning from and with others. The social aspect of learning in a group causes accountability and responsibility. You practice. You show up to class. You participate. You have a benchmark. If you miss a class, you have to catch up.

I say this because I have witnessed the positive results from teaching adult group piano classes for four consecutive semesters. My goal is simple and two-fold — get my students to

  • be able to read music and sightread new music
  • to experience “flow”

Being able to read music notation opens a world of possibilities, for the repertoire for piano is greater than any other instrument. Once a person experiences “flow” he or she will want to do it again. This is the adrenalin-kicking, endorphin-releasing natural high that performers and athletes experience. It’s what keeps us going.

Why does learning to read music work well in a group setting? Short answer: it takes less time and is more effective.

Before playing a new piece of music, I get my students to analyze the patterns and discuss what they see. Everyone gets to participate. By the time we finish and are ready to play the music, most of our anxiety about tackling an unknown piece of music is gone. It takes more time in an individual setting to discuss a new piece of music.

From a financial perspective, it may be more affordable to start with piano classes and continue with individual piano lessons after you’ve reached a level that requires more one-to-one time with the teacher.

At University of Hawaii Maui College, Hawaii residents pay $106 per credit per semester. Consider a 2-credit piano class that meets once a week for 2.5 hours for 16 weeks (or twice a week for 1.25 hours each) versus private lessons that range from $60 to $100 per hour on Maui. You can get up to 6 credits this way (i.e. 3 semesters at 2 credits each).

How big are the piano classes? We need a minimum of 10 students per class for the classes to happen. Check the Spring 2014 music course schedule for class times and availability.