What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Today is the first day of school. I’m sure many of you had to write the usual essay on what you did on your summer vacation.

For me, summer is a time of renewal. I always try to learn something new on my summer break when I am free from my rigid teaching schedule.

This summer I taught rudiments and music history in a compressed format to prepare some students for the August exam session. It made for a heavy homework load for the students and me! But it was enjoyable to be immersed in the subjects.

There are many parallels between elite music performance and elite sports performance. We musicians benefit from what the sports psychologists know. I read a great book called Power Performance for Singers. While definitely geared towards vocalists, it contained many concepts that will be useful for piano students.

I was behind on some of my own piano repertoire, so I practiced and had a checkup lesson mid-summer. In between I squeezed in some voice lessons. I regularly accompany vocalists, and my students and I often sing at piano lessons for ear training and melody shaping. I have a new perspective on the instrument of the human voice.

Teaching starts again next week, and I’m almost ready to go! I’m still reaping the benefits from last summer’s project, and I’m already thinking of what I’d like to work on next summer… Oh, and I did take some time off from all things music and visited my family in B.C.


O Canada

If you visit Parliament Hill around mid-day during the week, you will hear the Peace Tower Carillon ringing. This large instrument of tower bells is played approximately 200 days a year by the Dominion Carillonneur. From September to June each year, the carillonneur performs from noon to 12:15, playing a different programme each day. In July and August, the recitals are a full hour, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. each weekday.

The Peace Tower Carillon was inaugurated on July 1, 1927, the 60th anniversary of Confederation. It was commissioned and installed by order of Parliament to commemorate the Armistice of 1918 and the sacrifice made by Canada during the First World War. The inauguration ceremony was a major event and also marked the first live coast-to-coast radio broadcast in Canada.

Between 1925 and 1927, the world famous bell foundry of Gillett and Johnston in Croydon, England cast and tuned the bells. The carillon is comprised of 53 bells, ranging in size from the bourdon, which weighs over 10 tonnes, to the smallest bell, which weighs only 4.5 kilos. Each bell is tuned to produce a specific note of the musical scale. The bells are stationary, and are rung by the movement of their internal clappers. Each clapper is connected through a series of direct mechanical linkages to the carillon keyboard. A carillon’s mechanical playing action, like that of a piano, allows the carillonneur to vary the sound by changing the way he or she strikes the keys.

Dr. Andrea McCrady is the current Dominion Carillonneur, having assumed the role in November 2008. On Tuesday this week, I was one of the lucky guests to attend her noon recital. Here’s a peek inside the playing room. May 8 was the birthday of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), and here is the program Dr. McCrady performed:

  • O Canada
  • Valsa-Chôro, by Heitor Villa-Lobos, arranged by Liesbeth Janssens
  • Gracias a la vida, by Violetta Parra, arranged by Andrea McCrady
  • La Savane, Ballade Creole, by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, arranged by Marco de Goeij

After the recital Dr. McCrady answered questions, and let each guest strike the 10 tonne bourdon bell. I wonder what the visitors outside must have thought!

More information on the Peace Tower Carillon may be found here. Check out the upcoming recital programs. You may enjoy some of the selections!

Create your JUNO moment!

Ottawa is hosting the JUNO awards on April 1. As part of the celebrations, JUNO pianos have been placed in locations throughout the capital. Bring your talent to any of the 12 public JUNO Piano locations between March 28 and April 1. Record your performance on photo or video and share it on the JUNO Pianos Facebook page.

The JUNO Pianos are located at:

  • Canadian Museum of Civilization
  • Canada Science and Technology Museum
  • Carleton University Art Gallery
  • Casino du Lac Leamy
  • Centrepointe Theatre
  • University of Ottawa Tabaret Hall
  • Conservatoire de Musique de Gatineau
  • La Nouvelle Scène
  • National Art Centre
  • ByWard Market
  • Shenkman Arts Centre
  • Le Twist Café-Restaurant Bar

Share your moment and be a JUNO star! More information on all the JUNO activities can be found here.

That was easy

I’m sure you’re familiar with Staples’ “that was easy” button. I just got one, and it sits on top of the piano.

My students just played beautifully at a recital on the weekend, and now they are all ready for some wonderful new pieces. As we look over the new music, I point out the most difficult sections, and I ask, “How can you make this easy?”

While we discuss the best strategy to deal with the problem, I remind them that the practice section needs to be small enough and slow enough to be easy. The results have been amazing. Perfect note reading after one or two attempts. Perfect hands together after one attempt. Perfect fingering after two or three attempts. Confidence. Enthusiasm. Anticipation.


That was easy.