Could Dancing Heal the World? Mamma Bear and Her Boys: Dance Flurry 2013

Could Dancing Heal the World? Mamma Bear and Her Boys: Dance Flurry 2013


I named this blog “The Piano Mistress” with the intention of sharing my experience and memoirs as a piano teacher to amuse and inspire other music lovers and educators. However, I included in the heading the phrase “for love of music”  because I truly believe that be to a good musician on any one instrument, it only increases our skill and our pleasure by appreciating and participating actively in many forms of music expression. For those who are truly “musical” in spirit…everything around us IS music!

I am a member of two dance societies at this time and each is an experience of delicious movement and patterns, exercise, co-operation and community. Irish set dance is one, and English Country Dance is the other. Periodically I participate also in the Contra Dance community, which is just a tad freer and wilder than the other two. Each have a unique energetic and expressive “flavor” and all are so much fun both to DO and to watch!

Contra is exceptionally inter-generational, free-wheeling within form and all three forms bring people together in the spirit of good will, co-creation, co-operation  and inter-active enjoyment.

This video of a Contra Dance event..”a Flurry”….is one I watch often especially when I need a pick-me-up and a prescription for smiling and laughing out loud with delight. The group performing the music is called “Great Bear” but I love to just call them  Mamma Bear and Her Boys because they are an accomplished musical family with that magical touch of “cool” and in-charge while keeping the mass of happy dancers on the beat, ultimately working themselves and those on the dance floor into a state of joyful expressive abandonment!

Mamma is there at the keys, conservatively dressed and wearing pearls and her two sons are on fiddle and guitar in their jeans and the baseball cap. As they start the music they are strong on the beat, the “tune” is somewhat unusually sensuous for contra rather than “country”  but by the time you get to 8:00 of the  10:00 minutes, the boys have entered a wild contra trance and the dancers as well…very on the beat but with a wild “flurry” and much silliness and  fun-filled ecstacy on the floor. (Keep your eyes on the guy in the black and white patterned shirt..quite a clown…and the two young college guys dancing together and having the time of their lives!)

I cannot help but think we should send this whole live crew… dancers and musicians.. on tour to war-torn countries who have themselves forgotten to dance, sing, laugh and make music together. In places of discord or violence, might they release their incessant and irreconcilable  ancient hostilities against each other, accepting the invitation to come instead to a regional dance flurry like this with those they know and those they do not know, leaving behind for just a weekend the grudges, gripes, eye-for-an-eye retributions, religious differences, and instead, become energized, inspired and connected by delight, music and dance…?  Could that be a wondrous possibility for Peace? This video makes me SO Happy!

NOTE: on occasion, the video below stalls around  8:30 min. If so, just move the video counter forward a tad to the right and it will continue…don’t miss the END three minutes…just great!




From Christine, The Greening Spirit

orange dance  My other blogs…






Teaching Piano: Making Up Missed Lessons

Teaching Piano: Making Up Missed Lessons



In my teaching practice, I am very flexible with scheduling being self-employed and a writer as well. My students pay by the month in advance with the “technical” agreement that if they miss their lesson they “eat” it and if I have to cancel, I “eat” it.

That hardy ever happens in actuality however except if they miss because of the luxury of going away unexpectedly on vacation or a pleasure trip. For the most part…we do make-up lessons, as long as they schedule it before the end of the month. (No “credit” toward a future a small independent business, I don’t give money back. Just time).

What happens when a makeup lesson for kids is too close and within the same week as their regular lesson, especially when they have not had much time to practice?

What I do for the makeup lesson usually is not at the piano but watching a special musical video, or better yet, doing a creative listening and art or writing project which involves listening to a selected piece of music while drawing or writing as they listen, hopefully inspired by their imagination to express something creatively.

In the above video and picture, Isabel and Katy are listening to new age music by Michael Genest and writing a story as they listen. They read their stories out loud at the end of the lesson time and it is always interesting to hear what the music triggered for them.

When it is possible, I try to find the music also on youtube, giving them the link so that they might listen to it again at home to expand their music-listening library/repertoire.

This is a very fun way to do a makeup lesson for both the student and myself..and parents are happy as well…and often, new music is brought into their home as a result.

Good job, Isabel and Katy!

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

Grrr  I always write to music! Check my other blogs to enjoy:

Cooking inspired by music!

Essays on Beauty, Nature and Spirituality inspired by music!

Speaking positively and magically inspired by music!


15 Kids’ Best Excuses for NOT Practicing Their Piano

15 Kids’ Best Excuses for NOT Practicing Their Piano

piano green


Uh-oh. It’s going to be a L-O-N-G lesson. And oh,  those excuses for NOT practicing piano during the week between lessons. I must say that creativity is high in the youthful telling of and hopeful absolution for the felony of not doing the required assignments, exercises and songs. Obviously NO ONE was sitting at the piano since the last lesson…

Here are a few of the most memorable excuses over my years of asking (certain) young students the question  “So did you practice this week?”  with the sometimes resultant evasive shrug that in body language means…”err, ah…”. (Followed by my feigned shock and surprise…”Oh my! What happened…why not?”)

The List of Creative Kid Excuses:

#1. My puppy peed on the music.

#2, My dog ate the pages.

#3. My grandmother was visiting and accidently took my music back to Chicago with her.

#4. The cleaning lady hid the music and I can’t find where she put it.

#5. Our babysitter took the music home with her. I think.

#6. The workmen downstairs are putting in a new bathroom and I didn’t want to disturb them.

#7. I have six hours of homework at night.

#8, My little sister sits at the piano and bangs on it and won’t let me practice.

#9. My parents watch the news in the same room as the piano and I can’t practice then. (or ever)

#10. I can’t find the “hand position”.  (aarggghhhh)

#11. My mother forgot to remind me.

#12. The batteries ran out on my keyboard and my Dad hasn’t bought new ones yet.

#13. I have soccer, track, basketball, tai-chi, karate lessons, play practice and get home too late.

#14. I hate practicing.

#15. And the most difficult one of all to solve, usually the ploy of 9-13 year old girls…. the battle of wills between mothers and daughters having to do with just about every other parent/pre-teen power struggle issue but manifests in resistance to practicing the piano assignments if you can’t win on other fronts.  If it is not possible to win against Mom on clothes, curfews, watching tv etc…. resist the piano practice which of course irks Mom to the max!

How this slackin’ on piano practice and resultant motivation is resolved by the input of the teacher depends on the student, and the commitment of the parents to valuing and funding the continuation of lessons and the musical education of their child. I have often dialogued with parents about who is responsible for what. My teaching, coaching and cheerleading takes place at the lesson..that’s my sphere of influence. What happens at HOME is their job, not mine,  which is a delicate but definite thing to communicate when I am asked to make a child follow through at home. The best I can do is provide interesting and engaging music to play, share my interest and excitement with them and encourage them to feel good and accomplished when they can play a song to their pleasure.

BUT in a few cases in which the study of music and the piano was a non-negotiable virtue, value and commitment within a family and a young student was consistently avoiding practicing as a power play…this was an effective solution: For each un-prepared lesson, the youngster had to dig into his or her piggy-bank of birthday money or allowance to PAY several dollars towards the lesson themselves.  I must say, that perked up attendance at piano practice times in most instances to the satisfaction of Mom and Dad.

It is important to note that learning to keep a student interested in their piano “homework” does have to do with the quality of the music…boring music and poor arrangement are BORING to study and to play by the student AND the teacher. There is a lot of music out there and many songs in a book series if that is what is being used. Some material is engaging interesting and lovely to play and listen to. And some music is simply NOT. I always take into account the song and the student..are they a good match? Would I like to have to play a boring song?

Not all of my students are/were youngsters. Adults have their “excuses” too for not practicing also…but I must admit, I resonate with the validity of their tales which include a sense of frustration at not being able to get to the piano for their special time.

A Short Lists of Adult  No-Practice excuses:

#1. It’s summer (or the holidays) and we have had non-stop family and guests…and now I’m exhausted!

#2. We are re-doing the downstairs and sanding the floors…everything is on top of and around the piano. I can’t even FIND the piano!

#3. The flu/throwup has gone through the whole family this week. No music in this house….except flushing.

I’m sure there are many other good excuses out there. For the most part however, I am delighted that most of my students over these long years of teaching piano to students ages 6-90 have been at the piano regularly and have taken pleasure and pride in their accomplishments. It’s a rewarding and happy profession to share music with others.

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

Piano MCS (2)

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Teaching Piano: Garden Peppers and Christmas Carols (Nov 3)

Teaching Piano: Garden Peppers and Christmas Carols (Nov 3)


Piano peppers

I returned yesterday from a visit to Cape Cod, having had to stay an extra day since we were experiencing a minor hurricane there with 50 mile hour winds, rain and SNOW….a rather unusually early weather event as we begin to move into the winter season on the calendar..

I did get home yesterday mid-day, in time to meet a student for her weekly piano lesson rescheduled a day late and at 4 pm in the afternoon, giving me time to unpack.

It is always good to see Susan and share our time together at the piano making music. There she was in the doorway with her usual smile..AND a of little bag of green Italian cooking peppers, the last from her garden, picked just last night because of a predicted first frost..

She also had her music folder and two Christmas Carols that she was so eager to start working on. One “The Ukranian Bell Carol” and the other, a copy of a holiday season song she had once played and loved when she was a teenager (she is almost 60 now): “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.

The last of the garden peppers in one hand, a copy of Winter Wonderland in the other. The crossroads of the seasons.

I often lament the commercial push for Christmas in the stores now simultaneously displayed alongside Halloween, with Thanksgiving paper plates and napkins and plastic turkey table decorations squished in between. But when it comes to Christmas Carols, we do have to start bringing out the repertoire at this time because the season is so short and the music so lovely, historical and full of special memories..we need a good six weeks or so to enjoy them and add some new material.

I have an electronic keyboard as well as the piano, but it only gets set up during the month of December to use the pipe organ and choir settings for our Christmas Carol Duets, it sounding like Chartres Cathedral in my little studio space. We love it…and for that we do the “baby duets” in the Alfred’s Christmas Series which are truly baby but easy with lovely arrangements for 4-hands at the piano…even my more advanced accomplished piano students love to do these just for fun because they  sound so wonderful with the pipe organ and choir settings…kind of a tradition to do these while working on way more difficult pieces appropriate to their levels. I particularly enjoy he Christmas series by the FJH composers/publishers.

I myself am working on quite a challenging Christmas piece right now… The Ukranian Bell Carol arrangement by Jarrod Radnich… very beautiful and different and true to his compositional style…complex and rich…and challenging… none of my students at this time are ready for that one! (music can be ordered from  )


So here we are at the crossroads between seasons… the dwindling warmth of the Autumn harvest and the too sudden surprise of winter’s cold. Garden Peppers and Christmas Carols on the same day, November 3.

If you are a piano/music teacher reading this, do you start your holday season repertoire this early too? What are your favorites?Winter

oooh…it’s coming

and btw: cooked those garden peppers with onions and garlic, eaten over pasta last night. And turned up the heat here to take the chill off the room too.










From Christine, The Piano Mistress

self Oct 2 (2)

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A Musical Spell on Halloween- Potter/Radnich


A magical day today! Happy Halloween!

What could be more magical today than the Harry Potter theme by virtuoso pianist Jarrod Radnich?  Not an easy piece to play even in an easy version by other arrangers…but you could sure cast a spell if you can master this one.

Jarrod is a wizard of  music for sure.

Sheet Music for this can be ordered at:

Happy Halloween/Samhain!

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

orange me



In Celebration of Music: Sunday Afternoon Bell Choir!

In Celebration of Music: Sunday Afternoon Bell Choir!

Bell choir

The Piano Mistress loves the piano of course. Playing it, teaching it, listening to it. But I do believe that to be a good musician one should listen to music beyond your chosen instrument, because the realm of music is the realm of Soul…and Soul-Space is vast indeed. One of the most wondrous ways to do this is to give yourself the pleasure of an afternoon or evening concert where you live. There is nothing like being in the middle of community music and performance whether you are a player or an audience. Stepping out of the fast-paced world of demands and busyness, into the world of music and the arts is a special time, a magical time, a healing time for spirit, emotion, body and the mind.



This past Sunday, I was in attendance at a lovely Bell Choir Concert at St. Luke’s, a fine old church in a nearby town. It was this season’s offering by the St. Luke’s Bell Choir, and the St. Cecilia’s Childrens Choir, both under the expert direction of legendary music teacher/educator Priscilla A. BellsRigg who at 85 years of age is still at the podium guiding, directing and inspiring many generations of people to participate in the making of music.

The story of Priscilla whose life has been dedicated to the love and teaching of music will be saved for a later time, but it was inspiring to learn yesterday that earlier in her life, she opened many of the rooms of her home to teachers teaching music to a number of students.. actuality making her home a music school itself.

I am sure she will eventually be retiring from this active life in the arts and so I was happy to catch this little private moment of her coming up the hallway into the hall as she has done countless times to meet her choirs before a performance.         bell choir 4


The whole concert was engaging, enchanting and delightful, but the most magical moments were when the bell choir entered from that same hallway from behind the audience, seemingly coming from nowhere, with the very faintest sound of soft bell ringing in the ethers, and then moving and through the center aisle to their places…all, except Priscilla in Halloween costumes in honor of this season of playful mischief and mysteries.

Bells, Priscilla’s softy humorous explanations of each piece and the charming St. Cecelia’s Children’s Choir singing a medley from the Sound of Music filled the gymnasium/theater with the sweetness of Soul, Community and the uplifting vibrations and energy of Beauty. A wonderful way to spend several hours on a Sunday afternoon!

Bells 2

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

Happy Pre-Halloween!


*****Other ways to spend a Sunday afternoon:

Cooking and eating!

Being in nature and inspired:

Learning to manifest a positive life experience:










The “Nadia Boulanger” of Wakefield


Young Piano Teacher

Picture: The “Nadia Boulanger” of Wakefield and young student Holly on Recital Night


Coming from a family of musicians and theater people it was just an accepted way of life to grow up having music lessons. In my childhood circle of friends in the inner city, I was however the only one I knew who was doing that. Even later when moving upstate to a small community and attending high school and college, I was the only one in my neighborhood to be studying music and for sure I never thought for a moment that music would be my career,  going off to college to be an English/Literature Major instead.

Life and its mysterious and surprising turn of events. Having relocated as a young adult to the coast after marriage, I found, 10 years later, that I was in an urgent crisis situation to suddenly maintain myself and my two children as a single parent. I had gone back to school to now study music (piano major) at the local University as a “SOTA” (Student Older Than Average) though I was really quite young. The unexpected turn of personal life events cut that short and I needed in a HURRY to create work right then and there for immediate survival.

What “then and there” manifested was to offer myself as an independent piano teacher at a local private Catholic school with a very tight budget. I would contract directly with parents who wanted their children to have piano lessons, teach the children right at school, the school didn’t have to pay me because the parents did..but they could proudly announce “Piano Lessons” as a special, in their publicity brochures. A win-win-for all.

Certification at that time in a small parochial school was not a necessity. I knew I knew enough to teach beginning children piano and music. But I wanted to be a GOOD teacher, A GREAT TEACHER! The BEST  TEACHER I could be in that time and place even though I had not been able to finish the music education program and certification at the University.

I had heard about great teachers who had influenced students to become the very best at what they were studying. I grew up in a family that celebrated the arts, literature, music and dance. I had had several teachers who had guided and mentored me with love and care and I wanted to follow their modeling. I had heard about “Nadia Boulanger”, a famous and beloved French piano teacher and composer who inspired so many creative musicians over the course of her lifetime (born Sept. 16, 1887, Paris, France—died Oct. 22, 1979, Paris) leaving a wonderful legacy behind her. I made a decision right then and there. My standards were very high, even if I had not yet finished the credentials necessary and valued by academic standards.


I decided in my heart to become the “Nadia Boulanger of Wakefield”! 


Over the 26 years of teaching in that little school, I mentored and taught so many students and often their parents as well in music and piano studies. I drove to the homes of many public school kids as well after the school day. At the end of the year there always was “The Recital” …actually two night of recital to allow all of my students to play their masterpieces that spanned a 10-note performance of ” The Yo-Yo” to a top speed Bach “Solfegiett0” (by a brilliant student who eventually became a Rhodes Scholar) to an impressive teacher/student duet of any number of  Dvorak’s Slavic Dances for piano four-hands.

I no longer teach music in the classroom, but in the studio one-on-one only. I do teach/lecture in the classroom at the University periodically in a totally different field of creativity.

But always still, my hope is for excellence..for sharing and hopefully inspiring the minds and creativity of my students. The Nadia of Boulanger of Wakefield.

The Encyclopedia Brittanica writes of the ORIGINAL Nadia Boulanger:

Nadia“Her influence as a teacher was always personal rather than pedantic: she refused to write a textbook of theory. Her aim was to enlarge the student’s aesthetic comprehensions while developing individual gifts”.

My kind of girl, that Nadia!




From Christine, The Piano Mistress

Young Piano Teacher






Music from the Soul



Music can be a conduit bringing the radiance of the human spirit into the world. Even without words that are understood, when we receive a message from the Soul, those who recognize it are transformed. The defenses of the false ego go down, the heart opens and we are connected as one in our humanity.

I do not understand the spoken language here, but I didn’t need to. The beautiful chant-like  music and the Voice of a tenderhearted young man, told me everything I needed to remember about Love, today.

Jon Henrik has an unusual lineage and life.  Adopted from South America and raised in Sweden, he works as a traditional reindeer herder. After his best friend died, he wrote this song in remembrance of love, kinship and relationship of the heart that sustains us through the varied weather of life’s experiences.

What a tribute to a beloved friend. And what a pure example of how music emerging from the depths of Soul, can move us to see what Beauty the human spirit can bring into an often cold, materialistic, and mechanistic world.

Sweden’s Got Talent wrote this  for his performance:

Jon Henrik Fjallgren is a reindeer herder from Sweden, and this is his audition for ‘Talang Sverige’ (Sweden’s Got Talent). His best friend passed away a few years prior to his audition, and he says that the song he chose to sing came to him while he was praying for this friend. As the judge says, it’s wonderful that although this song does not have lyrics, we can still be moved by it. At SF Globe, we love unique talents, and Jon’s song is so beautifully unlike what we’re used to hearing that we had to showcase this amazing piece of music”

Thank you, Jon Henrik for sharing your story and Soul with us.

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

Me Turqoise

Musical Angels Amongst Us!


The previous series on Teaching Piano: Elders and Accommodations hopefully encourages the study of music at any age.

There are many ways to live a life.

“Natalie” is a total Mystery. A musical Angel amongst us.

Bravo, Natalie!!!!!! A flower for you!!!    Flower july 2





With love and admiration for Natalie from Christine, the Piano Mistress


Piano Lessons in the CAR!!!!… PRESTO!



****Listen to the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata by clicking on the youtube link at the end of this essay as backround music while reading


Teaching piano for over 30 years, starting as a young independent teacher,  initially and somewhat un-prepared professionally but having to create work in a crisis, in a hurry, pronto, PRESTO!!!  led to many interesting adventures in my long career: private lessons in many homes, creating the formerly  non-existent role as the singular member of “the music department” in a small Catholic grade school, running an independent piano teaching business there in between classroom teaching, taking on the role as choir director and pianist for monthly liturgies and a chorus, driving all over my home area to teach privately to whole families taking all had me fully engaged in community as one of the primary accomplished piano teachers in this area during those years. And no, I am NOT a concert pianist.

To become a primary teaching force in a community…one must have a passion, a sense of adventure, creativity, enthusiasm, a sense of humor and the willingness to entice and excite students into a love of music and all its wonders. You must follow your instincts to teach and engage creatively…whatever works,  and often and especially not” by the book”!

Kevin was a very interesting young student…his parents were firm in that he would be taking lessons until he was about the age of 14, no say in the matter from him. One of the main forces in his life was his father, who was an enormously intense and strong-minded man who believed in tough discipline with little room for kiddy compromise on issues like..”do you think you’d like to take piano lessons with Mrs. Green?” No choice. YOU WILLL TAKE PIANO LESSONS!

Kevin (and I) pretty much hung in there week after week, year after year (I think he started with me in first grade, me going to his house for lessons after school.) Often  we made progress, but sometimes however, his spirit flagged, or his spirit rebelled against the strong wishes of his father, wills battling boy vs. man. And our piano times together momentarily became an arduous chore for both of us.

IMG_8482Kevin was about 10 and we had been working on Schaum’s easy arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which I really like and which students really enjoy because it  does capture the themes moving  up and down the keyboard, no “hand position”, and with the famous  repetitive 3 note theme everywhere. It was a personally tough time for Kevin finding his personal  “boy/man” autonomy and he was faltering when Beethoven could have given him inspirational power and strength in this particular time.  I had to do something drastic  but I wasn’t quite sure what.

I was driving to his house for a summer vacation lesson for him and his his little sister, Kyra. I was listening to WGBH, our Boston classical channel and as I pulled into his driveway, it was announced on the car radio that after the commercial advertisements, they would be playing the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. PRESTO I jumped out of the car, ran into their house, not even knocking and yelled to them…and their startled parents who had been waiting for me…”QUICK! NOW! PRONTO! PRESTO! We are having an important piano lesson in my car! Quick! We are going for a ride…NOW! Kevin and Kyra!!! Let’s go!!!!!  Get in the car!!!!!”

Because I was known to be exceedingly trustworthy, their parents shooed them out the door with me, tho looking quite confused,  we three ran to the car, I assigned them PRESTO into the back seat, hit the gas pedal and roared off up onto Route 1 north towards “The Tower” just as Beethoven’s 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata came on…turning up the dial almost full blast and yelling…”Kevin! This is Beethoven!!! He is AWESOME! Listen to THIS!!!!!!” . And away we sped up and down the highway listening to this piece of music with periodic excited comments from the teacher….Moi!

These two kids were so shocked and wide-eyed…I could see them in the rear view mirror thinking…”this is surely weird…but it’s Mrs. Green so it must be important…”.

We eventually made it back to their living room and had a kind of mixed up lesson, but I KNOW wherever Kevin is today…that is a piano lesson he never forgot…and I must say, after that he did quickly finish the Schaum arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifith Symphony and was really quite puffed up about it.

Moral of this Teaching Piano Story: Do whatever you have to do to create excitement !

NOTE: Now that I think about it, Beethoven up there looks a little like Kevin’s Dad.


**** As I have been writing this memoir, I have been listening to Valentina Lisitsa’s performance of Beethoven’s 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata. PRESTO!!!!

Link! Exciting performance!:  PRESTO!!!!

From Christine, aka “Mrs. Green”, The Piano Mistress


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Piano Teaching Elders: Heads, Hands and Hearts! (Part 6 Friendship and Community)



Ours is such a commercially youth-centered culture and unfortunately so.  There is a wealth of experience that comes with years of life lived with courage, integrity, meeting and working through challenges of relationships, partnering, parenting, economics, professionalism, health and spiritual growth. Often in times of cultural speed and change, there isn’t opportunity to sit still long enough to be the beneficiaries of that wisdom. My time spent at the piano with students between the ages of 58 to almost 90 is and has been so rewarding and opportunity for all of us together!

There are stories to be told, kvetches to be aired, laughter to be shared, mutual support and encouragement older-to-younger and younger -to-older going back and forth constantly at the keyboard. It has just happened in my professional life though some admonish against it, that my professional and personal life mix all together with ease..teacher/student at the keyboard, focus on the task of learning and playing music….and IMG_8451friends away from the keyboard, sharing garden vegetables, being gifted fresh eggs, being available to give a ride into town when needed, receiving or giving invitations for an afternoon field trip or holiday celebration.

It’s about making Music, but it’s also about Community, Friendships Helping hands, and Connecting. It hardly seems like “work” at all.

From Christine, The Piano Mistress










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Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 5: “OUT” Lessons)

Stevie and The Piano Mistress

Stevie and The Piano Mistress


Many years ago in my music teaching career,  I taught many mini piano lessons in a school setting where I was also the Music Teacher for the whole school. I taught piano lessons before school, during school and also after school, driving to the homes of students for regular half-hour lessons. I could be seen driving around in my little car all over this area where I live going from house to house until 6 pm and in the summer, even on a wider track for summer lessons from 8am until about 1pm during the vacation season.

I have not done that for a very long time, teaching now in a studio where students come to me. Except….for the Elders, occasionally for reasons, usually physical, that keeps them from driving comfortably. When serving this age group, it is possible that sometimes one must make the choice for a valued student to do “out-lessons” driving to their home instead of their coming to you.

Stevie is one of these students who is an “out-lesson” . I love driving to her home full of warmth and welcoming, as it helps her, and also it gets ME up and moving about away from my familiar patterns…and I shop for groceries on the way home, eliminating a special extra trip in my day for that task.

IMG_8449Stevie is a wonderful enthusiastic student, her music full of intense personal expression, choosing music from her favorite stage plays, films and romantic songs from the past that have deep meaning and memories for her. She is sometimes not fussy about the EXACT counting on the page as she plays with such passion and emotion, employing rubato freely… I tease her and tell her that she plays the piano like a chanteuse sings and that I should bring a feather boa to drape over her shoulders while at the keyboard.  I love her LOVE of the music she plays and her individual renderings of the pieces she selects on her own. I respect her choices, and I respect her personal expressions “off-the=page”… and her interpretations “according to Stevie”. It is a joy to be with her!

Tooling around in my little car for out lessons for so many years and having taught piano lessons to so many CHILDREN and FAMILIES for over 30 years has had  its advantages away from the keyboard. Several summers ago, I was driving to a summer vacation “out-lesson” for one of my teenager students who did not yet drive. I took a back road to avoid beach traffic and I guess I was going faster than the speed limit of  25mph (easy to do, right?). As I came around a bend in the road, out stepped a police officer from his parked police car, parked on the side, lights flashing.  “Uh-oh”   I thought as he flagged me over and sauntered up to my car in the way that they do that. I rolled down the window and he peered in and said “License and Registra………..?? ????   AH..MRS. GREEN?? I’m Sarah’s Dad!….”  I had taught his daughter piano for many years both at school and privately at their home!

Needless to say, I did not have to supply my license and registration nor did I receive a ticket. Just a gentle caution that the road was windy and to be careful.

In any case, as a music teacher these days we must make the personal choice to teach either home or studio based, or to drive to our students where THEY are in this day of working parents, after-school activities and dwindling populations of willing students to begin with. Making a living at this craft is often a challenge. For me, many years of being on the road to get to students is pretty much over, but for the occasional elder student…it is also a delightful time out for me also, even while “working”.

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

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Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 4 Accepting the Challenge!)

Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 4 Accepting the Challenge!)

Leyla and Pirates

 At last week’s lesson, Leyla and I were laughing more than usual with delight as we worked on her new eagerly chosen piece of music, “Pirates of the Carribean” arranged by the awesome virtuoso pianist, composer and music educator, Jarrod Radnich. This piece of music, performed by Jarrod was introduced on youtube several years ago, receiving well over a million hits as well as now being studied and performed by students of all ages around the world!

Many of those students appear to be enthusiastic young musicians who are working hard to master this challenging piece and accomplishing it.

Elaine and "The Pirates of the Carribean" (Radnich)

Elaine and “The Pirates of the Carribean” (Radnich)


In my studio however, tw0 of my mature students, ages 71 and 75, have enthusiastically chosen to do this piece of music after watching the video, fearlessly undaunted by the stunning speed of performance by Maestro Radnich. Eagerly they have entered this arrangement with a delightful decision to give a hearty GO!


Perhaps they will not match his speed (actually nor will I), but the challenge of deciphering the puzzle of counting and phrasing is very exciting for them and for me as well as a teacher…and especially with older hands and sometimes stiff fingers, the large three or four-note open octave chords, though taking a bit of time to lay down, are WONDRERFUL for increasing blood flow and flexibility to the digits on each hand..exercising mind and body!









I will add that one of my younger dedicated and hardworking students, Addie, age 13, has also chosen this piece with excitement after watching the video and my playing page 1 for her quite a bit slower. “I LOVE this!” she said, eager to go home and practice it, even though with this year’s heavy homework assignments, she has been having trouble fitting in her usual daily piano practice.

I hope Jarrod Radnich knows how far and wide his music is circulating and inspiring musicians of ALL ages! Many thanks for the beautiful gift of his creativity!

Jarrod Radnich’s performance on youtube:

Music for this can be ordered and downloaded from:

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

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Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 3: Wite-Out!)


wite out

Accommodating the challenges of aging when teaching piano to Elders is a necessity in order to make musical study and appreciation a pleasurable experience for them. As I have assisted my older students , many of them staying with me and the piano for 5-10 years, I have been able to witness the changes that occur over time in the years between 65-86, cognitively and physically. Although my elder students are bright of spirit and enthusiasm, verbally quick-witted in humor and expression, and quite active in life,  there is sometimes a slowing down of processing mind-eye-hand co-ordination and implementation at the keyboard, or a little confusion at using the outer registers of the piano and coming back to center. It takes a little longer to settle into big chords.

But I insist that we can  make music at any age and accommodations to the aging process must be generous and patient! One of my students lost part of a finger and has a prosthesis that looks so real that you would not even notice! It is on the middle finger of her right hand. It does not have “feeling” and is not as strong as a real finger. We always need to adjust fingering for that when using thirds and thirds in a chord in the music. All older students benefit from simple exercise books for flexibility of fingers stiff from arthritis in some cases. (I prefer the Schaum Fingerpower series because the printing is larger and darker for older eyes, and the exercises are short and specific. No Hanon here for the most part)

wite-out 2And Wite-Out! Always on the piano especially for Marian, going on 86 who sometimes gets confused when there are too many notes in the left hand in accompaniment.  It is my task to discern which notes get whited out but still retaining the essence of the music. And yes, that goes for whiting out notes in Bach too! Sacrilegious ? Oh yes!  BUT why would we deny Marian the PLEASURE of Bach and a “flow” if looking for the 2nd or 3rd left hand note in a 4/4 measure stops her cold in confusion. Simplify! Move through and enjoy the essence!

All students come and go eventually…kids move on to tai-chi lessons, teenagers take part-time after school jobs or join 5-days a week practice in sports, busy daddies and moms have to insert longer work-hours..these days life is so complicated for those who are challenged by the culture to have time for music and the arts. In a way, those  of younger age who move on move on to busier lives. Elders who move on, well…they move on from lessons because they can no longer drive, get a pace-maker, relocate to Florida, break a hip,and in one sad case, began the slow decline into early altzheimers and could no longer sit at the piano without great confusion and frustration. IMG_8262But my older students who come at this time, between the ages of 65-85 are so vibrant, enthusastic and fun-loving, that any accomodations we have to make for making music together are just fine! We have so many good times together! A joy!



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From Christine, the Piano Mistress




From Christine, The Piano Mistress



Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 2- Adaptations for the “Mostly Mature-or just under”)

Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 2- Adaptations for the “Mostly Mature-or just under”)


There was a time when between teaching mini- piano lessons in a school and regular lessons privately I had abut 70 students a week at the piano. Those times are long gone now and my practice although continuous for over 30 years has become quite a bit smaller due to life changes and also changes in the culture. At least where I live, interest in personally studied music for kids has waned, due to technology and the emphasis on sports. Over these years, my teaching practice has evolved into one that services mostly elders and retired adults who have time to fulfill a lifelong dream to make music or return to music they loved and left as they entered busy early “grown up” lives.

It has been a very interesting and fun experience working with an older generation who are at the piano with anticipation and enthusiasm, if not excitement to be starting something new at this time of their lives. I named my “program” for working with those age 60 -85 “Music for the Mostly Mature…or just under” because I have found those  of this age group who find themselves at our piano and  are open to continuous learning have a spirit of youthfulness and mirthful curiosity and are fun to work with…our lessons a mutual time of learning and sharing. IMG_8272

However, teaching elders requires a different perspective than that of working with youngsters who because of their youth and the assumed many years ahead of them could potentially..who knows..evolve into a musical career as a performing artist or a professional music educator. There is a different rigorous teaching program to employ here if they can withstand it that leads to the possible professional lifelong experience of  and participation in music.

Music for the Mostly Mature has a different focus, an immediacy that is not about shaping the future, but a sense of accomplishment in the now…and  for the most important word…PLEASURE!  The seniors I meet at the piano come not so much for the theory and rules of music, but to MAKE it for the sheer pleasure of it. In many cases they also come for someplace interesting to go to to make their day have meaning, and for the social interaction and human connection. However it IS a music LESSON and so it is important that learning pertaining to music is continually going on, but we approach it differently. For instance we do” analyze” our pieces of music, but not so much analyzing according to the rules of music theory, but rather as to the emotional impact of a piece, how the composer “speaks” to us through his/her particular style of composing using notes and phrases instead of words, or as a series of exercises for toning the mind and the flexibility of fingers…

And speaking of fingers, leads me to mention elders and “fingering” which is the task of writing out for the student penciled finger numbers over the notes. This is  in order to move through a passage of notes smoothly and in the most efficient way so as not to have awkward breaks in musical phrases or “run out of fingers” at an inopportune time in performance. Fingering is SO important..and as my students hear me say over and over again like a mantra…”Fingering is not for the note you are ON, it’s for where you are headed!” When working with the elders in their 60’s-almost 90 (!) I find that in many cases..if not in most just have to let fingering go once you have written it in, except for the most necessary of instances for practical ease. I feel that if the fingers of a hand of a 72 year old person has worked a certain way for all those years, it is pretty ingrained, hard to retrain and only causes more slow-down and frustration when a piece is being learned and played….for PLEASURE! Most of my elder adults read quite well and get where they are going by rather odd fingering that strangely enough…serves them just fine in working through a piece. There are some fingerings I really encourage them to try  because IT WORKS without arduous thinking and looking for the notes,  and once they try it in a tricky spot, they like it.

Working with elder adults at the music lesson is “by the clock” timewise for the actual teaching but because of the social aspect of the lesson, I find that it is important and rewarding to allow an extra 15 minutes or so of free time to hear stories of family, grandchildren or concerns. Elders are a richly knowledgeable  and life-experienced group with interesting stories to share and I am able at this time in my own life to make room for that as part of the human need for community.

This was supposed to be a 2-part topic. However there is more to say… in part THREE, I will share a couple of examples and stories of  several of my elder students and how we work with the situations of aging that need to be compensated for during our lessons and the music making process so that always it is an experience of accomplishment and PLEASURE!

Check back in a day or so!

From Christine, The Piano Mistress


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Piano Teaching: Elders and Adaptations (Part 1-The Players)



Last spring I attended an exciting 6 week course at the University of Rhode in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on “Growing Old Gracefully” where I am also a guest instructor/lecturer on various holistic  topics. It was a fabulous series, except the descriptive word “gracefully” suggested to me ” quiet, polite”  and somewhat, you know  “well-behaved”!  In truth it should have been called “Growing Old(er) Vibrantly” because there was nothing mousey or shy about the attendees whose ages as “elders’ spanned 50-93. What a fascinating, intense, lively and humorous group of people. Curious, challenging, intelligent, vocal and excited to talk about the possibilities of this time of life shifting from defined roles in the family and the workplace to a more unstructured schedule. It’s all open now..and it’s all a surprise! A time to try new things, to travel, make art or music, join a theater group or English Country dance. It’s time to take PIANO LESSONS!

Successful, engaging music/piano teachers know that you cannot teach the same program or method over and over again the same way to all students who are individuals with different modes of perception, different learning skills and different physical abilities right down to the way their fingers move. And it is not possible to teach the same program in the same way for different age groups either.

The young have impatient minds, quick and agile fingers that make many mistakes due to speed, and have many excuses for not practicing (homework, tai chi lessons, sports etc) and sometimes are at the lesson by assignment from their parents without their initial consent! Sometimes the youth are there because they love to play their instrument and it is a joy to work with them and shape that abundant enthusiasm and ability into accomplishment.

Elders come to piano lessons with intent…to try finally to fulfill a lifelong dream to play an instrument, or to come back after many many years of being away from it. Often they come back with one piece of music…usually the one they were working on when they stopped their lessons to go to college, get married, start a career. It is the one song they play over and over whenever a piano momentarily shows up in their life on their travels to the next responsibility. When elders finally come to piano lessons, they come because they WANT to…sometimes a little hesitant and shy, but always with eager anticipation and good humor and they are FUN to be with! It’s a true adventure!

The purpose of this two-part essay is to talk about some of the adaptions that are necessary to implement in your teaching program when working with an older student population to accommodate changes due to the aging process. These will be discussed in Part 2 in the next day or two here on the Piano Mistress site. The mature student population I work with right now spans ages 65-85. And in the past I have piano students who were closer to 90…and “doin’ it!” The name of my program is “Music for the Mostly Mature (or just under!)”.

But for now, I introduce three of my favorite piano students with whom I spend some time each week. We work at their skill level, with their supposed “retired” schedules (they are busier than ever), and with their physical and mental capabilities. We have much laughter at our lessons, always with 15 minutes extra tacked on to the lesson, no charge, for talk about grandchildren and ailments! A total delight!!

With their permission for this article, introducing:

IMG_8279  Leyla, age 75, has been with me for piano lessons for almost 10 years! The quickest fingers that move faster than her mind (hint: Whoa! ), she is an accomplished pianist who tackles every genre of music offered to her..classical, show tunes, new age, dance music, duets etc. She is an avid music lover and also plays bells in her community Bell Choirs here in the Northeast and in Florida. We laugh so much together and have so much fun that I hardly feel like I am working! (Well, we ARE  literally “playing” together).


IMG_8272 Susan, age 68 is the “baby” of the the Elders Group. A very enthusiastic former classroom teacher, she is very organized with her music papers, keeping a lengthy list of each and every song she has  ever played (And she has played SO many of them, classical, popular and show tunes) . She has THE MOST   neat and organized music folder. I was a wandering “specials” classroom teacher and am much more messy than she. Susan has been taking lessons for almost 5 years and her favorite “excuse” when not practicing as much as she would love to (and she does practice) is being busy as a spectacular Grandmother attending all the special events of her awesome grandkids!  Susan also has a partially amputated finger and wears a prosthesis which requires some changes and acommodations at the piano.


IMG_8263  Marion is the elder Elder of this Mostly Mature group. She is 85 years old, drives herself each week to her lesson from a town 30 miles away. Sometimes her knees bother her, but it’s not a dancing lesson so we can work with that. Sometimes her fingers are extra stiff and we can work with that too so that music is still under her fingertips. A former professional nurse, she knows that piano is good for exercising the brain and she knows that joining a swimming class two times a week now is good for her body as well to keep fit. She enjoys going to lunch with her daughters and her delightful young granddaughters. She’s adventurous in her music selection…little pieces by Bach, and easy versions of music and songs from the 30’s and 40’s.  I keep a bottle of “white-out” on the piano to eliminate notes on the page that confuse her or that she can’t reach to make reading easier.

It is never too late to study music and the piano. It requires the desire, good humour, patience on the part of both the student and especially the teacher when the going is slow, and it requires flexibility and creativity to alter the music when necessary to meet the abilities and challenges of the aging process.

Some special hints for teaching Elders will be offered in Part 2 of this essay.  Click “Follow” so you will be notified or come back and check!

From Christine, the Piano Mistress








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Role Reversal: PianoTeacher in the Hot Seat!




Music 2

Forty years ago, I attended a concert and heard La Cathedrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) by Claude Debussy. It took my breath away and I vowed that one day I would play it. Over so many years as a music/piano teacher, I have periodically gone back and looked at that particular piece, starting it and then stopping on the 2nd page with its huge clumps of chords filled with sharps and notes up or down on many ledger lines and I would drift away into life with little time to figure things out and perfect it.

It has also been part of my personal psychological/emotional history that when dealing with certain life challenges, I would experiences blockages in my music, perhaps because my focus was elsewhere, or perhaps as an indicator that I needed to tend to issues before they made me ill. The inability to complete a desired but complicated piece of music has been a personal alert that something  needed to be tended to and more importantly, healed. I remember the summer that a piece of music I had been working on, never quite completing was finally and gloriously finished…after 21 YEARS!!!!  What a feeling of triumph when the last measure and a ffz !  of Schubert’s  Impromptu Op. 90 No.2   resounded in my living room at the same time a long term personal crisis was released and all was new!

Along with commitment now to serious daily writing as part of my work, I have a brand new BOLD printed copy of Debussy’s Engulfed Cathedral, and it’s now or never to decipher and master itMuisc.

Pencil in hand I am counting the ledger lines and marking the notes so I don’t have to stop and hunt for them each time (like, don’t I have my piano students do that???) And to make sure I don’t drift away from this goal, I have made arrangement to have the assistance of our wonderful choir director at church who is also a concert pianist..someone for ME to be accountable to for making sure I practice. Role reversal…not too proud after TEACHING piano for over 30 years to be a “student” for this piece. Which btw, since I made the “commitment”, over the past three nights, I have figured it all out anyway..all those huge chords and clusters of “guest sharps”  and I know what to do. Still I am looking forward to assistance/collaboration with our church music director Michael , a piano teaching colleague to be in the hot seat and stay on task.

I love the triumphant feeling of success!

And while I am at this, I now have a small list of beloved piano pieces that had fallen by the wayside. No excuse this time.. this is going to be FUN!

Never too late to be a student, even when you are a teacher as well.

From Christine, the Piano Mistress

grrr 4

*** When not involved at the piano, I may be in the kitchen. Please check my foodie blog for cooking memoirs and recipes to build up your strength for practicing your music!

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RI Piano Lessons for Music Lovers with Christine Phoenix Green


The Piano Mistress loves her Music!



            with Christine Phoenix-Green


                   Southern Rhode Island

      (Charlestown, Westerly, Wakefield

         Richmond, Hope Valley, Kingston)

   All ages of beginning or returning students but  ESPECIALLY adults :

    “Music for the Mostly-Mature- (or just under!)

 The Music Mistress (Christine Phoenix-Green) has been  joyously teaching piano for over 30 years to students ranging in age from 7-82! For the past 10 years, she has been especially focusing on teaching and coaching the mature student (age 50 and up) to fulfill their dreams of playing an instrument for pleasure and for sharpening the mind as we get oler, using creative techniques especially suited for the needs and processing changes of the elder years.

Lessons are scheduled during the days for adults…some scheduling for children after school is available, but limited at this time. No evenings or weekends.

 Payment for the month-in-advance is paid at the first lesson of the month. Necessary changes in the weekly scheduling to accomodate the complexities of life, are available. No refunds for missed lessons …makeups when mutually possible at the convenience of both of us.

To inquire further about lessons and scheduling, please contact me, The Music Mistress (Christine Phoenix-Green) thru e-mail, leaving your phone number and I will get back to you promptly. Please head your e-mail with the words : PIANO LESSONS!

please click on the post title for information about Christine, The Music Mistress or to leave a comment. Thank you!