Monday, July 27, 2015

Artist/Teacher Bios: A Look At Who's Doing It Right And Why

I've had a lot of subsequent input from my article on rethinking artist bios. As a followup, I wanted to look at a few artists who are doing it right, why they are effective, and how artists can better frame their life in order to create a magnificent bio.

First, the bio that is moving, compelling, and the best that I've seen. Here are the first few paragraphs from James Rhodes:
James Rhodes had no formal academic musical education or dedicated mentoring until the age of 14 when he began to study with Colin Stone. In 1993, mental health issues stopped him taking up a scholarship to the Guildhall and he stopped playing the piano entirely.

A chance meeting, 10 years later, with Franco Panozzo, agent to Russian concert pianist virtuoso, Grigori Sokolov led to James having a brief tutorage by the renowned piano teacher Edoardo Strabbioli in Verona Italy.

Suffering further setbacks due to health issues it was not until 2008, when Rhodes met his present manager, Denis Blais, that he was encouraged to record his first CD. This enabled him to bare his soul and put many of the ghosts of the past to rest.
Wow. Genuinely moving. James takes what is generally considered to be a weakness (mental illness) and spins it in such a way that it creates an immediate engagement in his journey as an artist. Read James' bio and you will be compelled by his personal story, and desire to know what his work is all about.

From Zoë Keating's bio:
Zoë Keating is a one-woman orchestra. She uses a cello and a foot-controlled laptop to record layer upon layer of cello, creating intricate, haunting and compelling music. Zoë is known for both her use of technology - which she uses to sample her cello onstage - and for her DIY approach, releasing her music online without the help of a record label. 
I want to explore Zöe's work after those first two sentences. You can't ask for more in a bio page, and Zöe's site thankfully directs you to the next steps.

Ted Dykstra of 2 Pianos 4 Hands makes you chortle from the outset:
TED DYKSTRA (co-writer) started playing piano at age six, and peaked at age 12, when he had a particularly memorable string of firsts competing in the Edmonton Kiwanis Music Festival. His acting career began at a young age in St. Albert, Alberta, playing the 2nd Bird in Once Upon A Clothesline, but his breakout role was Bilbo Baggins in his school’s Grade 8 production of The Hobbit.
Sarah Butler of the Millwinders could easily say that she is one of the greatest rockabilly voices of her generation (she is), but prefers to take a humbler approach:
Sarah starting with piano lessons at age five and music has been a constant influence in her life. She soon discovered that belting out ABBA songs into a candle stick microphone was an effective way to both entertain her parents and enrage her older sister at the same time. Growing up with Patsy, Roy and Elvis blaring from the stereo on weekend mornings, Sarah had the classic voices imprinted on her DNA from the get-go.

As a teenager, she got herself a 12-string and began writing songs. Longing to play the upright bass in her high school jazz band, Sarah was instead forced to settle for the baritone sax. It wasn't until many years later that she approached her old high school music teacher with an offer to trade her sax for the beat up jazz band upright. Listening to the greats, she taught herself to play, and continues to use her voice and the bass as a way to express her deep love for music. Sarah's dream ride would be a '32 Ford Highboy Roadster.
Liz Parker's teaching bio grabs you from the first sentence:
In the Parker household, talk of quitting piano wasn’t casual dinner-time conversation. It meant a SUMMIT MEETING in the LIVING ROOM. Liz graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music at 15 with a Gold Medal for the top mark in Canada and she holds her Licentiate from England’s Trinity College of London and her Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia. 

Teaching since 1985, Liz loves working with kids to achieve great marks in the RCM exams. She combines a sense of fun and instilling discipline for maximum results. No slouching or flat fingers! To compensate, treats are handed out after student recitals. She teaches in the Queen/Bathurst area, meaning coffee/shopping options nearby for parents to while away the lesson time. 
Liz's bio might seem a little unstructured, but it's written with a very specific order in mind:
  • groovy but strict
  • credentials
  • focus of instruction
  • specific location
All the critical boxes are checked, with an extra helping of fabulous. Liz (pictured above!) also operates the LIZPR agency in Toronto, and here's what she had to say earlier today on Facebook about what a publicist can do:
This is part of my image make-overs I do for clients. I will read the standard bio, chat with the client, get to know his or her personality, and inject that into the bio. I think the more entertaining the bio, the better. You're too close to your own materials; get someone with experience and perspective to do it.
Because at the end of the day, as an artist you have to answer the question about why we should actually care. There are thousands of first-rate "sought-after" classical musicians who are "compelling performers", "thrilling audiences", and "emerging as significant artists". We all occupy the same space in an art form that is perhaps dying. What makes you different?

I particularly like the way Julie L. Rogers puts it:
As an artist or band, you’re going to be repeatedly forced to explain yourself. And if you are incapable of communicating – in words – who you are, what you sound like and why someone should care, you’re not going to go very far. In short, you’re going to need to write a bio.

The most important thing to remember is that your artist bio is not a rambling autobiography or the introduction to your future memoirs: Your bio is a professional sales tool. But many new or emerging DIY artists cannot necessarily afford to pay a high-quality professional bio writer and are tasked with writing their own. When you sit down to write your bio, you need to know that it is just a small part of a much bigger picture: your marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy must communicate what you have to offer to your fans. And you need to show your value in terms your fans can understand.

If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career. 
What are some other particularly effective artist bios that you've noticed? Leave a message in the comments.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rethinking the Artist Bio

The best way to write a convincing online bio is to craft it in a concise manner, with a view towards who is reading about you.

Nikki Loney writing in The Full Voice lays down the hard truth:
A poorly written teaching bio can actually deter people from wanting to study with you.
She continues:
Shorter bios using “I”, “me” and “my” rather than stuffy third-person seem to be the trend now. This works better for online bios that tend to be more conversational and have a limited number of characters. Try including a “fun fact” about you to grab the reader’s attention. Remember, most people will never read your full bio if it is too long. There is a fine line here between divulging too much information and establishing trust by providing enough information for people to feel they know you. 

In other words, you're going to be better off formulating a shorter statement that parents, students, presenters, or listeners can identify with, and which will resonate with them.

Nikki in her workshops mentions David Story's About Me page as one of the most successful teaching bios ever written. Here's his first paragraph:
At 14, I began my piano studies, an enthusiastic, motivated, but somewhat unfocused teenager. Luckily, my determination at the piano overcame my inefficient practice habits. 
David, in his confessional approach, spins his unfocused teenage years into something that parents and students can universally identify with, thus turning a weakness into a marketable strength.

The reader is everything. It might be useful to have a separate bio that lays out a fuller picture of your performance career (see picture above) geared to recital audiences, as well as a separate online bio or About Me page that lays out what you're about, but in a more concise manner, and with relevant links so readers can take next steps, either to check out your content, contact you, or sign up for your services.

Disagree? Take a look at About Me pages from successful online personalities such as Penelope Trunk, Merlin Mann, Myke Hurley, David Seah, and Ryder Carroll. The upfront honesty and engagement is what hooks people online. As musicians we are no different.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Free Technical Requirements Charts Available for the 2015 RCM Piano Syllabus

Joy Morin over at Color In My Piano has assembled a fantastic free resource for teachers who will be using The Royal Conservatory's 2015 Piano Syllabus over the next few years: a PDF download with complete technical requirements charts for the new syllabus.

This is by no means a unique resource, since each technical requirements book already contains a technical requirement chart. However, Joy's PDF will be an excellent on-the-go resource for students and teachers who need a quick reference while playing or teaching.

The Gryphon Trio's Elements Eternal is Available for Streaming on CBC Music Through July 13

The award-winning Gryphon Trio's latest album Elements Eternal features works of Brian Current, Michael Oesterle, and James Wright, whose Letters to the Immortal Beloved uses texts taken from Beethoven's still controversial Immortal Beloved letters found after his death. Here is an excerpt with the Gryphon Trio and mezzo soprano Julie Nesrallah:

The entire Elements Eternal album is available to stream on the CBC Music site until July 13, and if you dig the Gryphons' latest work, please consider buying the CD or MP3.

The Gryphon Trio are:

Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin
Roman Borys, cello
James Parker, piano

Sunday, July 05, 2015

10 Things You Need to Know About the 2015 Royal Conservatory Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus

Every seven to eight years, The Royal Conservatory revises their materials for their Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus, which provides the teaching materials for thousands of teachers and their students across North America. These books also provide the foundation of The Royal Conservatory's enormously popular examination system in Canada and the United States. The last revision of the series happened in 2008, so 2015 is the year that the materials are due for reissue in revised form.

But this time it’s different.

Much different. Rather than a small, incremental change, the 2015 Celebration Series is a compete reboot of the series, with a huge amount of new and innovative material. Starting in 2010, hundreds of teachers were contacted for their input regarding how the 2008 Piano Syllabus could be improved in the next edition. In 2013, the RCM initiated a call for submissions for repertoire to be included in the new syllabus and Celebration Series. As a member of the repertoire committee, we personally went through over 600 piano works for inclusion in both the syllabus and repertoire/etude books.

A considerable number of compilers and reviewers were assembled, resulting in over 40 sequenced books of repertoire, etudes, technique, and musicianship skills. I was involved with multiple aspects of this huge project, so I can appreciate the immense amount of writing, reviewing, coordination, negotiation, design, and editing that went into such a huge series. Now that the series has finally come out, I'm proud to have been a part of this initiative, which represents the input of literally hundreds of teachers and composers across North America.

If you’re teaching with the RCM system, here are some of the key changes that you need to know about:

1. There are both book and online version of the syllabus. We all work in different ways. Therefore, teachers will have the option of either using the syllabus in book form or as a PDF file.

2. A huge number of new selections have been chosen for the repertoire and etude books of the Celebration Series. There are 22 books of repertoire and etudes in the series, which have been meticulously chosen, levelled, and sequenced for both enjoyment and pedagogical value. The 486 works in the series consist of around 75% new selections, taken from composers from around the globe, including a significant number of Canadian and American composers. You'll also see a huge number of works by living composers - this aspect in particular has always been dear to my heart as a musician, and I'm glad to see the works of so many active composers included from around the world.

In addition, the repertoire lists in the Piano Syllabus contains a huge number of repertoire selections that can be chosen for exams that aren't found in the official repertoire books. Take a look through the rep lists for each level - you'll find a lot of gems.

20063167 look inside Celebration Series: Piano Repertoire 1 (2015 Edition). Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. For piano. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series!. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century and 21st century. Elementary (Level 1). Method book & listening CD. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5R01).

3. All the recordings are brand new. Over the course of several months, pianists such as Michael Esch, Robert Kortgaard, Janet Lopinski, Lang Ning Liu, Peter Longworth, Benjamin Smith, Li Wang, and Dianne Werner assembled in the studio of legendary producer Anton Kwiatkowski to record all the repertoire and etudes in all levels of the series. As Artistic Consultant, I had to ensure that all of the pianists adhered to a high level of artistry while maintaining complete faithfulness to the score. This will ensure that pianists learning the repertoire will always have a reference-quality recording to listen to while learning the music.

Important note: if you buy the first edition of the 2015 Celebration Series currently in stock, you will receive both the compact disc and a download code for the recordings. The reason for this is that CDs are rapidly becoming obsolete, and many young students aren't exactly sure what CDs are for or where to put them. After the first edition is sold out, all subsequent editions of the 2015 series will only include download codes.

4. Technical Requirements are streamlined.  One of the main complaints about the 2008 technical requirements was that they were too complex and arcane (Grades 4 and 7 in particular come to mind). With the new series, the RCM listened, and the technical requirements are now streamlined into a much more effective sequencing. In addition,  the technical requirement books now have sections on Understanding Keys and Patterns, Practice Tips, Keyboard Theory Activities, and Looking Ahead in addition to the full requirements. There's even a progress chart at the back of each book so that students can keep track of their skill development.

18354952 look inside Technical Requirements for Piano: Book 3 Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. For piano. Technical Requirements for Piano. Technique. Early Intermediate (Level 3). Book. 16 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.TEC03U).

5. Ear Training materials and requirements are revised. The changes to ear tests for 2015 are numerous. The clapback exercises from Preparatory A through Level 4 now require the teacher or examiner to identify the time signature and count in one measure before beginning the example. Intervals are also presented differently at different levels: ascending and descending from Levels 1 to 4, melodic ascending or descending and harmonic from Levels 5 through 9, and melodic or harmonic, ascending or descending at Level 10 (which now includes the major and minor 9th). Chord identification is now introduced at the Preparatory Level, and the sequencing of chord identification is considerably different. Cadences have been replaced with chord progressions, with specific chord progression options from Level 5 onwards. For more specific information, please consult the 2015 Piano Syllabus.

6. Sight Reading materials and requirements are revised. The philosophy of Boris Berlin's original Four Star books was that the craft of sight reading is a teachable skill, and that its component visual, aural, tactile, and analytical skills could be taught. The new Four Star books stay faithful to the original philosophy, with several changes. Sight clapping exercises now will require that you tap a steady beat for one measure before clapping or tapping the actual rhythm. In addition, sight reading examples at Level 5 and above are now presented as a single example, with a boxed subset of the entire selection acting as the rhythmic example.

7. Online ear training is now available for each level of the Four Star books. Here's how you access it: when you purchase a Four Star book, look on the inside back cover - there will be a unique code that you enter at the website listed below it (one for Canada, one for the US, but offering identical content). That code will enable you to access the online ear training content that corresponds to that level's ear training requirements. One of the genuine benefits of the online ear training is that they are all played on a grand piano in a recording studio, by a human (namely, me). Having genuine and aesthetically pleasing acoustic samples will be immeasurably better for students' aural development compared to the relatively tasteless MIDI samples to be found on most ear training apps for the iPad.

20063162 look inside Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests Level 7 Composed by Boris Berlin and Andrew Markow. Edited by Laura Beauchamp-Williamson. For piano. Ear Training. Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests. Intermediate (Level 7). Book and online audio. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.4S07).

8. The substitution policy is expanded. One of the important things that we learned through the development process of the syllabus is that teachers want flexibility to assign students material that they believe is both fun and has pedagogical value. With that aim in mind, substitution policies are considerably different, and allow for Syllabus, Teacher's Choice, and Popular Selection substitutions from Levels 1-10. For more specific information, please consult the Substitutions Summary on page 10 of the 2015 Piano Syllabus.

9. There are small changes to the marking scheme for most levels. To reflect the changing priorities of the repertoire, the mark totals for some grades are slightly different. From Levels 1-7, the current 18-18-14 repertoire marking scheme will now be 16-18-16. Levels 8-9 repertoire marks will change from 16-16-12-12 to 14-16-14-12. Memory marks for Preparatory levels will be in line with levels 1-7: 2 marks each up to a maximum of 6 marks for playing from memory. Memory mark deductions for Levels 8-10 will now be 1 mark each (as opposed to 1.5 marks for Lists A and B in the 2008 Syllabus). For more information, the 2015 Piano Syllabus is your best resource.

10. There is a cross-over policy that is in effect from now until August 31, 2016. The cross-over plan this time around is different than in previous years. From now until August 31, 2015, students can freely mix and match from the 2008 and 2015 repertoire and etude books. From September 1, 2015 until August 31, 2016, some elements will immediately move to the 2015 Syllabus, while others will be in a cross-over period. Your best bet is to look at the specifics of the RCM's official cross-over plan to ensure that you're preparing the correct elements for upcoming examinations.

Stay tuned for more follow-up articles that dive more deeply into the details of the 2015 Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus. I'm honored to have been asked to participate in so many facets of this enormous project, and I look forward to hearing how students across North America progress with this new method over the coming years! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I would be glad to get back to you either on the blog or on the Collaborative Piano Blog Facebook page.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Simon Lepper Talks About the Accompanying Program at The Royal College of Music

Over the last few months, I've been in correspondence with Simon Lepper, one of Britain's top accompanists. He was recently featured on a CPB article on what it takes to be an accompanist and why the British are so awesome at it, and reached out regarding a possible profile of the accompanying program at London's Royal College of Music, which he coordinates. Simon is a recipient of the Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Parsons Awards, and has an incredibly active musical career, including serving as official accompanist of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. If you would like to contact Simon regarding the RCM's accompanying program, you can find a contact link on his website. (A note for all you Torontophiles: the "RCM" moniker in this article refers to the Royal College of Music in London, not the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.)  --CF

The Royal College of Music in London is uniquely situated opposite the Royal Albert Hall in the heart of Kensington’s museum district. The 2-year Masters piano accompaniment course at the RCM equips our students with the skills to give them the best possible chance of a long and fulfilling career as a musician after graduation.

There is a great tradition of British accompanists stretching back to Gerald Moore and beyond. At the RCM, we are proud to have had many of the internationally famous collaborative pianists train and teach here including Geoffrey Parsons, Julius Drake, Malcolm Martineau and, more recently, Gary Matthewman.

The course balances teaching in the art of song accompaniment with lessons in instrumental accompaniment. These two areas are taught in group-lessons by internationally renowned song pianist, Roger Vignoles, and in one-to-one lessons with a professor of your choice. We offer additional classes in “accompaniment skills”. These include the “art of vocal coaching” through to continuo and orchestral piano playing, quick learning and an “introduction to conducting”. A close relationship with the vocal department allows our postgraduate accompanists to play for language classes and opera scenes. This provides invaluable training should a student want to develop a career as a repetiteur or opera conductor. For those students with a greater interest in chamber music the RCM provides extra tuition from any professor chosen by a registered chamber music group.

Each year we take only a small number of accompanists on to the course. This allows for our piano accompaniment students to have a greater choice of instrumentalists and singers with whom to collaborate at the RCM. Many of these musical relationships forged whilst at the RCM will continue on into a professional working life. The students are encouraged to play for singers and instrumentalist’s lessons as well as the many internal and external competitions. Recent student successes have included those in the Maggie Teyte Prize, Royal Overseas League Prize and Kathleen Ferrier Award.

I would encourage those interested in studying piano accompaniment at the RCM to take a look at the website. Please do write to any professor you might be interested in studying with and, if you have time, arrange a consultation lesson. The RCM experience is a rich and fulfilling one but don’t just take my word for it - feel free to get in touch with a former piano accompaniment student, Ian Tindale (ian [at] iantindale dot com). He’ll tell you exactly what it’s like from a student’s perspective.

Hope to see you at the auditions in December!

Simon Lepper
Professor of piano accompaniment and co-ordinator for the RCM piano accompaniment course.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Photo of the Day: Telemann Fantasia in D minor

Sometimes you need to explain things to students in the most visual way possible. This is from the middle section of the Telemann Fantasia in D minor: