How to Kick The Blues, or, A Chance Meeting with a Living Louisiana Music Legend.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me and, I think, for a lot of people.  One day recently, I had a meeting that was really demoralizing and left me in a total funk where nothing would spark my interest.

 

Fortunately, the next morning, I had my own piano lesson (a two-hour workout on a Bach fugue, not much time to think about much else) and after the lesson, I decided I would go piano shopping, something I’d been meaning to do for months but just never actually had done. I think I was mainly trying to keep myself busy to distract myself from the doldrums.

 

At the second store I went into — where I fell in love with a grand piano that I probably can’t afford but very well might buy –there was just the owner, a man I’d known since middle school, and an elderly gentleman hanging out in the corner.  (I knew the owner because he had sold my parents their piano and because he used to let us use his store to rehearse five and four piano arrangements back in high school.)  Anyway, I’m talking to the owner and looking lustfully at pianos that cost more than my car, when the owner introduced me to the elderly gentleman in the corner as a two-time Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee(?).  The man, who introduced himself by his real name, not his stage name, told me about his music and after a minute, I asked if I could record him to share with my students and to preserve a little music history, and he said yes.

 

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t prepared to do a full-on interview, but I learned a good bit talking to him and managed to have sense to film at least a little of it.  His stage name had been Roy “Boogie Boy” Perkins and he was a singer and pianist in the ’50s.

 

Here’s a few samples of his music from back then:

Not bad, right? I have a particular weakness for this era in music, so needless to say, I was thrilled.

Here’s what Perkins had to say about his place in music history:

 

Sadly, I didn’t keep filming because he told me that when he was young, he lived nextdoor to his grandmother who had an old player piano that no one played. One day, he heard Lloyd Price on the radio and decided to try to replicate the sound and found out that he could just play. So his grandmother gave him the piano and that was his start. He didn’t mention ever taking any formal music instruction, just learning from the radio.

 

He told me his stage name was given to him by some country musician he was playing with (I’ve forgotten the name) and he later added the “boogie boy” part to make it go more with the style of music he enjoyed playing. Over the years, he made music, he also worked as a draftsman, worked offshore on oil and gas rigs, and at some point, became a minister. And, man, did he hate the term “swamp pop.” Now, I’ll think twice when I use it 🙂 [Side note: This man knew Elvis and Cossimo Matassa and other amazing artists of his day.  He didn’t care much for Elvis’ dancing, I think, but said he appreciated Elvis’ gospel recordings.]

 

After a little prodding, he agreed to play for me, even though he said he hadn’t much played in years. Fortunately, I had enough sense to record it (even if I did record vertically (oops)). Interestingly, he didn’t play his own song but played Lloyd Price, perhaps because talking about his early days playing made him nostalgic?  Hope you enjoy:

 

 

I nearly fainted with happiness, so I hope this also lifts your spirits like it did mine!

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Another day, another free worksheet. LMTA Rally Prep A free worksheet.

In Louisiana, there is a great program that gives piano students the opportunity for an end-of-year test. It’s called Rally. The students enter 4 separate parts geared toward their grade level: written test, sight reading, musicianship, performance. The Louisiana Music Teacher’s Association (LMTA) provides a syllabus to help students prepare for Rally.

For the first level, Prep A, the written test requires that students be able to do the following:

Ear Training:

Recognize highness and lowness of pitch using wide intervals.

Recognize melodic direction (up, down, same).

To help my Prep A level students prepare, I created this ear training worksheet (with accompanying answer key). It includes both skills required by the syllabus for ear training as listed above, and also includes some additional questions geared to the Prep A level.

The accompanying teacher’s key is merely a suggestion; I often forget what I’ve played for a student during ear training so it makes it rather hard to check their answers! This way, you won’t have my same troubles.

Enjoy!

Find the link for the worksheet here.

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Freebie Friday! Easy piano arrangement of Mardi Gras Mambo

It’s that time of year. The first (and arguably the best) parade of the Mardi Gras season is happening this weekend, so, as a personal celebration, I decided to create and share an easy piano version of the Mardi Gras classic “Mardi Gras Mambo.” You can hear it below as performed by The Hawketts:

As with all New Orleans’ music, the rhythm is the only thing that might be a little tricky for beginners. The music uses the triads C, F, and G , and G7  in the positions as below as shown in cadence:

C major cadence (using G7 chord)

It also includes dotted quarter notes, 8th notes, syncopation, and tied notes.

As always, it’s available on my website here. And here’s a preview:

Mardi Gras Mambo

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Free Piano Concert at Tulane this Friday

Tulane Classical Piano Series Presents

            Alexander Korsantia

       Friday, January 30, 8:00 pm

        Dixon Hall, Tulane University

                Free admission, open to public

Alexander Korsantia

Program:

Fifteen Variations with the Fugue in E flat major, Op 35                  L. V. Beethoven

Sonata Op 7 in E flat major                                                                   L. V. Beethoven

  1. Allegro molto e con brio
  2. Largo, con gran espressione
  3. Allegro
  4. Rondo: Poco allegretto e grazioso

INTERMISSION

Pictures from an Exhibition                                                                  M. Mussorgsky

More details here.

Dixon Hall

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Helping Your Music Student Practice – 10 Tips for Parents

One of the things that teachers might forget is that a beginning music student needs to learn how to practice – a process that takes some many years. When the student is young and under a parent’s care, help from a parent is vital in helping the student in that process. Unless the student’s parents took lessons themselves, parents need a little help helping their student. And even parents who took as children might need a refresher. So here’s a easy guide that you can point your parents to.

1.  Practice area should be free from outside distractions.

Make sure the piano is in an area of the house that is free from distraction, at least while the student is practicing. TVs and radios should not be audible.

2. Take away the tech.

Take away their smartphone, their tablet, their laptop, and any other devices that might distract them while practicing unless the teacher instructs otherwise. The constant texting, etc. breaks concentration and therefore makes practice less constructive. To that end, buy a real metronome rather than letting them use an app, at least until they are mature enough to not allow the phone to be a distraction (which may not occur until college with some). Metronomes vary in the way their controls work, so it’s a good idea to bring your student’s metronome to lessons until he or she understands how to use it.

3. Schedule practice appointments.

Schedule practicing in your student’s daily routine. Making appointments in their calendar is the best way to insure that practice becomes a habit. For example, I practice every night between 9 and 10pm. Make it part of their routine.

4. Practicing should be done regularly.

No fewer than 4 times per week. Preferably every day, including lesson days. Practice after a lesson reinforces what was learned during that lesson.

5. Act as a coach for your student while she learns to practice.

This may take several practice sessions and may require you to sporadically check in on her practicing. As much as a teacher may try to tell them exactly how to practice, young students routinely simply play the piece from beginning to end over and over again which is a highly ineffective method of practice. They also tend to take shortcuts. If you have questions about how the student should practice, make sure you communicate with the teacher – ask if you can sit through a lesson or come in for a chat during the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson. (Don’t try to chat after the scheduled time is over – the teacher likely has another student or has a short break which he or she needs).

6. Check your student’s work to make sure they’ve completed it.

Make sure your student completes ALL of their assignment each week. Students often fail to refer to their written assignments and come in without having completed all the required tasks. This is a waste of time and your investment in lessons. Verify that she has indeed practiced everything on the list and done all written work. Students especially love to neglect their music theory homework.

7. Enforce practice time goals set by your teacher.

Make sure you know how much your student is expected to practice weekly and you make sure that the student does it. If the student is not practicing enough, he or she is wasting your investment and will not progress very quickly. If the teacher assigns the student to practice a total of 60 minutes during the week, make sure that 60 minutes are completed. Of course, be gentle in enforcing these goals. You may have to “trick” younger students into practicing through various methods of encouragement.

8. Don’t allow students to cram practice.

If 60 minutes of practice are assigned, the student should not do all of it the night before. An ideal schedule, assuming the lesson is on Monday, would be to practice 15 minutes on 4 different nights – T, W, F, Sunday – for example.   Or don’t divde the time up exactly evenly and practice T, W, Th, F, S, Sun. Frequent repetition after periods of rest is vital to allow the material to “sink in.”

9. Don’t make practice or participation in lessons optional.

Once you have committed to lessons, stick with it. There will certainly be times when your student wants to quit from fatigue or lack of interest or because he or she wants to pursue something else. Make sure to decide before they start that you will give it 3-5 years before you allow them to quit. So many adults seek me out for lessons who didn’t take it seriously as children – I hear over and over again that “I only wish my parents had forced me to stick with it.” Don’t let that be your child. Worst case scenario, let your student take a few weeks off in lieu of quitting.

10. Reinforce that learning their instrument is important.

Praise the student for accomplishing goals, such as memorizing a piece or learning a new scale. Take time to listen to them play when they want to show you something and act really enthusiastic. Also, giving little rewards for completing practice assignments doesn’t hurt either (ex) ice cream.

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Happy Friday! Watch this 6 year old play Boogie Woogie with Count Basie

As a Capitol Records recording artist, circa 1950. (via wikipedia)

Sadly, he is not one of New Orleans’ native sons. But you can’t win ’em all. Quite a talent though!

From Wikipedia:

Frank Isaac Robinson (born December 28, 1938),[1] known in his early career as a musician as Sugar Chile Robinson, is anAmericanblues and boogie-woogie pianist, singer, and later psychologist, whose career began as a child prodigy.

Robinson was born in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age he showed unusual gifts singing the blues and accompanying himself on the piano. According to contemporary newsreels he was self-taught, and he managed to use techniques including slapping the keys with elbows and fists.[2] He won a talent show at the Paradise Theatre in Detroit at the age of three, and in 1945 played guest spots at the theatre with Lionel Hampton, who was prevented by child protection legislation from taking him on tour with him. However, he performed on radio with Hampton and Harry “The Hipster” Gibson, and also appeared as himself in theHollywood film No Leave, No Love, starring Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn.

In 1946, he played for PresidentHarry S. Truman at the White House, shouting out “How’m I Doin’, Mr President?” – which became his catchphrase – during his performance of “Caldonia“. He began touring major theatres, setting box office records in Detroit and California. In 1949 he was given special permission to join the American Federation of Musicians and record, his first releases on Capitol Records, “Numbers Boogie” and “Caldonia”, both reaching the BillboardR&B chart. In 1950, he toured and appeared on television with Count Basie, and appeared in a short film ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet. The following year, he toured the UK, appearing at the London Palladium. He stopped recording in 1952, later explaining:[1]

“I wanted to go to school… I wanted some school background in me and I asked my Dad if I could stop, and I went to school because I honestly wanted my college diploma.”

Until 1956 he continued to make occasional appearances as a jazz musician, billed as Frank Robinson, and performed on one occasion with Gerry Mulligan, but then gave up his musical career entirely. Continuing his academic studies, he earned a degree in history from Olivet College and one in psychology from the Detroit Institute of Technology. In the 1960s, he worked for WGPR-TV, and also helped set up small record labels in Detroit and opened a recording studio.[1]

In recent years he has made a comeback as a musician with the help of the American Music Research Foundation. In 2002, he appeared at a special concert celebrating Detroit music, and in 2007 he traveled to Britain to appear at a rock and roll weekend festival.[1] In the last Dr Boogie show of 2013, Sugar Chile Robinson was the featured artist, with four of his classic hits showcasing amid biographical sketches of his early career.[3]

Here’s a lagniappe video:

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Freebie Friday: Another round of free sight reading exercises!

The stuff of nightmares . . .

I’m getting obsessed with getting my students to sightread, so I imagine these types of posts will just keep coming for awhile.

But let’s make it more interactive, in order to get access to these two free exercises, comment below and answer the following questions:

1. Do you work on sight reading in your lesson?

2. What resources do you use to practice sight reading?

3. How important do you think regular sight reading is? 

4. Say something random about your feelings about sight reading!

I realize this might seem like a big ask just to get two easy exercises, but the point is to start a conversation to see what we can learn from one another. So please participate!

Once you’ve made a good faith effort at commenting, I’ll probably just email you the exercises, but maybe i’ll figure out a better way. Let’s just see what happens.

Oh, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! I was thinking about leaving you with a snowman, but since we don’t get snow down here, this is what I’ve come up with:

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