Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 NMTA Conference: Love of Music, Gift of a Lifetime

Once again, the Nebraska Music Teachers’ Association will feature wonderful musicians and educators at its annual conference next week. In past years, some of the stunning clinicians, composers, and performers have included Barbara Lister-Sink, Libby Larsen, Tony Caramia, Kurt Knecht, Dmitri Vorobiev, and Polina Khatsko, just to name a few.

The insights and sharing of ideas that these artists bring to the NMTA conferences each year have a far-reaching impact in the state. It’s not just the attendees that benefit but also their students for many years to come. To celebrate 100 years of bringing teachers and ideas together, NMTA will host Phyllis Lehrer in concert on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at the Strauss Performing Arts Center at UNO with tickets available for just $5. Besides talks and sessions with teaching and performing tips and tools, commissioned composer, Anthony Donofrio, of UNK will present and premier his composition, “Canto II,” for soprano and percussion featuring Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and Scott Shinbara, both of Omaha.
Phyllis Alpert Lehrer
2016 NMTA State Conference
Guest Artist and Clinician

Phyllis Lehrer, guest artist and clinician for the conference, and fellow clinician, Ingrid Clarfield, have been friends and colleagues since 1982 and have collaborated on a series called Classics for the Developing Pianist (Books 1-5). Lehrer describes these books as containing “20 pieces each (the 100 pieces ranging from early intermediate through early advanced) that we believe every pianist will enjoy and should learn to play.”

Lehrer and Clarfield both have a passion for teaching. In a LincolnCMN interview, Lehrer shared that she “pretended to be a teacher even before kindergarten; I remember setting up chairs in my basement playroom and talking to my ‘class.’" By 16-years-old, she was teaching her first piano lesson.

Ingrid Clarfield
Guest Clinician
Clarfield has stories about good teachers and bad teachers that helped form her into the educator that she is today a teacher at Julliard taught her “how not to motivate students” and she learned that helping her students love music, feel motivated, and be prepared was of the utmost importance. She always finds something positive to say to her students while still holding the bar very high.

Their work on intermediate repertoire by no means suggests that they overlook the importance of beginner piano students. As Lehrer stated:

“The beginner is probably our most important student. This is when we have the opportunity to share our love of music, to motivate students to discover how extraordinary our instrument is, it's many colors, it's ability to imitate moods, characters, be an orchestra, to keep us company through our own practicing, improvising, composing, to make music with our teacher, parent or friend.  Beginning teachers who have just graduated with performance degrees naturally want to share their recent knowledge and expertise with more advanced students. But with good pedagogy courses that enable interested teachers to learn about the sequences and processes of music learning, the variety of literature available, the possibilities,of group and private instruction, piano parties, chamber music, the rewards and importance of teaching beginners can convince those who are hesitant. In our pedagogy programs at Westminster Choir College, …students… have special opportunities to intern with our faculty, choosing to learn about subjects such as the gifted student, the adult beginner, pre-school music, teaching college students, and to explore all levels of repertoire, technical approaches, learning styles, and more!”

Lehrer also shared that she is “fortunate to love teaching all ages and stages. Right now I am teaching my 8 and 10 year old grandchildren who live in Princeton, the 10 year old daughter of one of my voice teacher colleagues, several teenagers, 9 college students (undergrads and grads) and adults who come on a sometime basis.”

Clarfield’s love of teaching and music is proved beyond a doubt by the perseverance and determination needed to continue teaching and sometimes performing following the loss of the use of her left hand due to a stroke in 2007. Not even a stroke could keep her from sharing her love of music—and she’ll be spreading her passion and knowledge with Nebraska’s music teachers during the course of the conference.

When asked if there was one thing she wishes every music educator or piano teacher could learn and put into practice, Lehrer shared: “I would urge teachers to constantly check that we are teaching skills, musicianship, practice habits, but above all sharing and bringing a love of music to our students. That is the gift of a lifetime."

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Lincoln's Own Chiara String Quartet: Sharing their Hearts

On Thursday, October 6th, the Chiara String Quartet once again wowed and wooed their audience. Their performance, mostly performed from memory, expressed a whole range of emotions, from the humor and playfulness of Britten’s Three Divertimenti to the sobbing of the violin in Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130. 

L-R: Rebecca Fischer, Jonah Sirota,
Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Gregory Beaver
photo credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
The Chiara has the ability to reach out across the stage and pull the audience into the music. Despite the big space they performed in, the Chiara made the experience one that felt true to chamber music: “music composed for the home… it is intimate music.” The performers make playing in an ensemble and playing from memory look effortless—flawless timing and musicality that makes you forget that they’re even playing without music in front of them. Of course, playing from memory and not relying on the music is exactly what gives them the freedom to express and communicate with each other and the audience in a way not otherwise possible. In fact, the instruments become an extension of their bodies, every part of their body conveying the emotions, gestures, and music: sharing what is in their hearts through these great works.

Besides phenomenal musicality, the Chiara draws audiences in by giving them notes of what to listen for from their own deep understanding of the pieces they perform, either with spoken listening tips or written program notes as at this performance, they give you a glimpse of what they found to love in each piece—and therefore, even for those who are not musicians, there is an understanding and appreciation born for the works at each concert.

The Britten piece might not sound like what people associate with “classical music,” which to many still connotes “boring” or “pretty background music”… instead, it is full of “breezy charm,” (as stated in the program notes,) and the harmonies, rhythms, and musical gestures grab the listeners attention especially as performed, memorized, by the always engaging Rebecca Fischer, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Jonah Sirota, and Gregory Beaver.

The String Quartet in A minor, Op. 29 by Schubert had a great deal more of the sounds and form that people associate with the idea of classical music, but the program notes pointed out the connections of this piece with the art-songs that Schubert is perhaps most famous for, and the audience could hear the first violin singing a lyrical line and listen as the “contrasting material in the movement [that is] much more instrumental in nature…takes turns throughout the group, ultimateely beating out the lyrical material to finish the [first] movement. The lyrical voice loses the battle but wins the war, as the rest of the piece is significantly more vocal in character.” (Jonah Sirota's program notes)

The last half of the program featured a piece that Sirota described as a “hallowed” work, closely related to the work and reason that he decided to devote his career and his life to being in a string quartet. Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major was written for the future—a work seen as perhaps being written by a crazed man, it instead is a brilliant and timeless piece performed by the Chiara “by heart,” memorized and as one, they won a truly well-deserved standing ovation at the close.

The Chiara String Quartet is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, and yet it is easy to see with a simple search how wide their audience and acclaim reaches like a NY Times article or various news pieces highlighting their performances in many places. Lincolnites: if you didn’t come to their performance last night, you are missing an incredible experience. Save the dates now for the rest of the Hixson-Lied Concert Series in Kimball Recital Hall all at 7:30pm: Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Wednesday, February 1, 2017, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Tickets and more information: