Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Concert Performances 2014

The season for celebration is almost here! We are excited to announce our 2014 Holiday Concert Season with some returning favorites as well as a new concert! We hope our students, their families, friends and loved ones all plan to perform at or attend these excellent performances.

Yuletide in Sewickley  Friday, December 5 — 5:00-8:00 pm

Piano, cello, violin, guitar, and voice students of all ages present a festive mini-concert     
series inside CYM Sewickley at 437 Beaver Street. Don’t miss our  Chamber Light 
Players performing at Penguin Bookshop just a few doors down at 6:00pm!

PPG Wintergarden  Sunday, December 7 — 3:00-4:30 pm

Piano, guitar, and voice students perform among the annual gingerbread house and         
Santas of the World display inside iconic PPG Place in downtown Pittsburgh.

Phipps Conservatory  Sunday, December 14 — 3:30-4:30 pm

Phipps Conservatory’s holiday flora creates a gorgeous backdrop to enjoy hearing our       
student cellists & violinists performing selections for festive strings and more.

Concert  by Candlelight  Friday,  December 19 — 6:30 pm

A new tradition, join us for a lovely evening of seasonal and classical favorites in the gallery at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside at 605 Morewood Avenue in Pittsburgh.

Happy Holidays from CYM!

Monday, November 10, 2014

What is Music Therapy?

“Did you say music therapy?? What is that?” This is a question I hear on a regular basis. The answer can be as simple as using music in therapy. But what exactly does that mean?

The official definition of music therapy is, “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” (

Music therapy interventions can be designed to:

  • Promote Wellness
  • Manage Stress
  • Alleviate Pain
  • Express Feelings
  • Enhance Memory
  • Improve Communication
  • Promote Physical Rehabilitation

Ok so that’s great but this definition still leaves you to wonder…what is music therapy? What do you do?

Music therapy can be difficult to definite because it encompasses so much. Music therapists work with a variety of individuals. I have worked in nursing homes, hospice facilities, preschools, high schools and rehabilitation programs.  Music therapists also work in hospitals, correctional facilities, special education programs, halfway homes, wellness groups…the list can go on.

To gain a better understanding of music therapy I’m going to focus on music therapy for children with different disabilities. There are many similarities between this focus of music therapy and the teachings of Suzuki and CYM.

As you probably well know it is not just about learning an instrument here at CYM. There is so much an individual gains from active participation in music and learning an instrument.  Mr. Ryan shared a quote with you all in his article “Points for Parents” that truly resonates with what music therapy is all about.  The quote comes from the man himself, Dr. Suzuki:

            "Teaching music is not my main purpose.  I want to make good citizens, noble human beings.  If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance.  He gets a beautiful heart." 
When I first read this quote it struck a special chord with me (pun intended!). I knew that I was working for a center that understood the “back stage” of learning an instrument.
            This “back stage” includes developing the following abilities: to listen, observe, concentrate, perform, and persevere. Above all this back stage includes developing abilities of the heart: the self-expression and creativity that goes into music. (Jeanne Luedke Parent Education Newsletter)

Music therapy makes it possible for everyone to work on these abilities. The traditional music lesson is not suitable for every child. This is where music therapy comes into play. A music therapist is able to meet the needs of the individual by adapting music experiences. These music experiences are varied and involve the children in creating music.

Music experiences may involve:
·         Moving to music
·         Playing different instruments
·         Singing
·         Playing as a part of an ensemble
·         Writing Songs/ Creating musical stories

Utilizing music in this way creates the opportunity for these children to discover, search, relate, explore and learn.  Music therapy is different for each person because everyone is unique. How each of us responds to and relates to music is different. Music therapy takes the time to respect and recognize these differences to help children in reaching their full potential, to continuously develop and grow in their abilities.

Music therapy doesn’t look like a music lesson, but there is one similarity for sure. Music is being created.

Please feel free to contact me at with any questions you may have about this article and/or music therapy at CYM!

-Ms. Kate Schneider, MT-BC and Early Childhood Music at CYM

Can everyone learn how to sing?

“Can everyone learn how to sing?”

In a word, “Yes!”

 If you can talk, speak any language or repeat something back, you can be taught to sing. Much like playing a musical instrument, producing good vocal technique is an involved process that requires repetition and practice.  As string players, you learn to use your bow, we learn how to train our muscles to release the appropriate amount of tone so we don’t strain. We build muscle memory from repeating different mouth positions to shape our tone or perform music in different languages and styles, in which we study phonetics and diction. This is much like any other instrumentalist who learns different fingering patterns, bow holds, or any other technical challenges. Is singing difficult? Yes, but can everyone do it? Yup. Some people, like anything else are more anatomically inclined to have a larger sound or a more resonant sound, a high sound, a lower sound, or just plainly stated “a better singing voice”.  This is what makes us all indivuals and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some of us can play for the NFL and some of us can sing opera. Facts of life.…. However, we can all be taught to play football, just like we can all be taught to match pitch and sing basic songs like Christmas carols or folk tunes.

I get asked this “Can we all sing” question almost everyday. The longer more scientific answer is the brain function that is involved in vocalizing is similar to the one you use to talk or speak a language. Like most things, we learn easily while we are young. We learn how to form vowel sounds and words as babies from the sounds our parents make. Therefore children who grow up in a home rich in any musical tradition, with excellent vocal models, will have an easier time singing and matching pitch. This is why it is so important to expose your child to music early on.

“But think I am tone deaf”.
“My chorus teacher told me to sing quietly in High School”

First of all who was your choir teacher and where does he or she live? I am about to ruin their retirement.  I hear this all the time as well. Your music teacher was lazy. Everyone can be taught how to sing and singing in a large group is a wonderful experience. I am sorry they never took you aside a showed you how to breathe and shape your vowels. Everyone has a different brain and a individual sound and it is our job as teachers to nurture that young sound into a confident one.

As for the tone-deaf question. You are not tone deaf. I promise. If there is nothing physically wrong with your ears, brain, or vocal function, then you are not tone deaf.  However, if you are an adult and you have trouble matching pitch, you might not have learned from an early age how to relax your voice and support it with air, or how to train your ears through sight singing or recognizing and repeating different interval patterns aurally. That’s ok! You can still learn at any age, but just like learning French at the age of 50, it will be difficult and you must immerse yourself in it to see the results. But yes, you can be taught and it is never too late.

Like anything else in life, singing is a learned behavior that can take years to master. That’s ok.  You wouldn’t want your cardiologist to just “be naturally good” at it after a few tries at heart surgery and you wouldn’t want to pay to hear a chorus or vocalist who was untrained either.  The good news is, it is relatively simple and fun to vocalize and if you stick with it the results will create that life long commitment to music that we encourage here at CYM.  I hope to hear all of your voices soon!

-Ms. Anna Elder, CYM vocal department

A Note About the Importance of Ensemble Skills for All Young Pianists

A Note About the Importance of Ensemble Skills for All Young Pianists

Each year, our piano students here at CYM spend the late summer and early fall working on duet pieces to be performed at the Ensemble Recital, and, each year, without fail, I hear this very valid question from a handful of students: “Ms. Sonia, why do we have to do this?  I’d rather just work on my solo piece.”

Admit it – you and your child probably chose the piano as an instrument of study because of its appealing solo-istic, stand-alone nature.  I know I did.  An instrument that allows a soloist to play not only lyrical melody, but also countless styles of accompaniment at the same time – how wonderful!  Then, why do we have to spend time each year treating the piano as an ensemble instrument?  The answer is this: through duet practice and performance, the performer develops the valuable skill of being able to actively (as opposed to passively) listen to more than one thing at a time.
Why is this listening skill desirable?  In any pianist’s musical journey, the following opportunities may present themselves: chamber music, accompanying or collaborating with another instrumentalist or vocalist, or, hopefully, the chance to perform a concerto with an orchestra.  In any of these musical situations, the pianist must be adept at listening to not only their own music-making, but also the music-making of their collaborators, as the combined music should be speaking as though from one source – unified gestures, phrases, and sentiments.

“What if I prefer playing in solo settings, though?  Why do I need to learn to listen and adapt to other people?” - a question I’ve heard countless times, as well.  Even in solo piano music, the previously described combination of melody and harmony is reason enough to warrant the necessity of active listening – listening to two different parts simultaneously, and then adjusting, accordingly, how each part is played, oftentimes with a different touch and sound in each hand, but with the end goal of revealing one clear story.  This sounds like A LOT of work, but how else can the pianist achieve the desired character in a Chopin Nocturne, where the correct balance between a lyrical melody in the right hand, and meditative accompaniment in the left hand, is so crucial?  How else can we as pianists invoke true Baroque polyphonic style in, say, a 4-part Fugue by J.S. Bach, where a hierarchy between the voices is essential?  Or, even at the very beginning of this musical journey, how else does the pianist play the “Twinkle” theme with a singing tone in the right hand, while playing a quiet, understated Alberti Bass accompaniment in the left hand?  The answer: adjustments brought on by active listening.

So, once a year, through the ultimately fun and rewarding process of working on duets with their peers, CYM piano students are asked to focus on this active listening – listening to their own duet part, as well as that of their partner, and combine their efforts to make these two different parts tell one story.  The hope is that this listening skill bleeds into their solo music making, and that, as soloists, they become better able to listen to and adjust the many voices between their own two hands to more clearly convey the coveted “one” story.  

 ~Dr. Sonia Tripathi, CYM piano department

Why are learning musical fundamentals and musicianship so important for children?

Why are learning musical fundamentals and musicianship so important for children?
As someone who always loved music as a child I did not start playing an instrument until the relatively late age of fourteen. Then, it wasn't until I was in my twenties and studying music at a university that I began to realize how important musical fundamentals really are and how much I missed out on compared to people who had been studying music from an early age. In fact, fundamentals are so important that they what I currently spend the most time practicing and improving still at the age of thirty-two.
            I will share some of my experiences with musicians who studied fundamentals from a very young age which served as eye-openers for me.
            When I was twenty-two years old, I had the fortunate opportunity to play in a Master Class with the fantastic guitarist Lorenzo Micheli from Italy. During our lesson, he could sight-read even the most difficult sections of the piece and solfege any voice of the music with perfect pitches and in a very musical way. It was like he could instantly hear all of the music in his head and absorb it just by looking at the page. I later spoke with him after his concert and he invited me to a guitar festival in Italy where they give lessons for interested students.
            A year later, I was returning to the festival in Cervo for the second time and was taking a train from Milan with some of the guitar students I met there the previous year. One of them asked me which pieces I intended to work on with my lessons so I showed her the music. She sung the entire piece with Solfege from start to finish just by looking at the music and then remarked 'I like this piece very much, it is beautiful!'. I was amazed because I'd never met a young person in the United States who could do that.
            Then later on in my life, after I'd finished my first degree in music, I was staying with a friend in North Carolina and we were just enjoying the summer and learning to play and sing our favorite songs on the guitar. It was very difficult for me to learn how to play and sing guitar at the same time. My friend, who doesn't even consider himself to be a musician and rarely ever picks up any instrument to practice, could figure out the songs much more quickly. In fact, he could recall entire songs from memory and figure out the chords on the guitar and start singing the melody with all the correct pitches - all with very little effort. I said to him 'Alright Mozart, how can you do that? I'm jealous.' He said that he had studied violin with the Suzuki approach on the violin when he was a kid and it improved his ear so much that it carried over into his later life even though he never practiced anymore.
            In Italy, it is common to have classes in elementary and middle public schools where music fundamentals and Solfege are taught to children. And children who show interest in music are often able to attend professional conservatories at a low-cost, where they learn fundamentals very well from a young age in addition to playing an instrument. My friend in North Carolina was lucky enough to have had parents who gave him the gift of Suzuki training as a child. Even though he isn't a professional musician, music has always been one of his absolute favorite things in life.
            The more fundamentals are studied and practiced, the more clearly a person is able to hear pitches and subtleties when listening to or playing music. And this is incredibly beneficial to both professional musicians and non-professional musicians who love music. By teaching kids fundamentals, they will better appreciate and more clearly hear music, regardless of their path in life.
            Studying the musical fundamentals, like solfege, sight-singing, sight-reading, pitch and chord progression recognition are important for enjoyment and success in general music and instrumental study.  Solfege trains the ability to hear pitches in a person's head just by looking at the music.  Sight-singing is beneficial for all musicians because all music – vocal and instrumental music - has melodies intended to be shaped to resemble a sung voice.  Harmonic progressions provide the foundation and support melody. 
            As a guitar teacher, and musician in general, I always try to teach the fundamentals and emphasize their importance to my students, in addition to guitar specific skills such as proper technique.  Any great work, composition, or performance is built upon a good foundation - and having a strong foundation in musical fundamentals improves their musicianship for any instrument that they might end up picking up throughout their lives in addition to improving their ear and listening experience everytime they hear any genre of music from throughout the world.  

-Mr. Shawn Satler, CYM guitar department