2 Years: Highlights, Lowlights, Strobe.

Two years ago today I began this blog. My expectation was that this would be a catch-all repository for whatever was on my mind and to a certain extent that has turned out to be true. But the reviews of children’s books and the commentary on local media have given way to a fairly specifically-focussed series of posts about piano teaching and music education, plus occasional reviews of performances of contemporary art music, and discussions of classical and contemporary art musics and their audiences.

One of my first blog pieces, Scales As Propoganda, was linked to and recommended by some wonderful bloggers in the world of music education (most notably Wendy Stevens), and this was my first experience of how material written in a blog can ‘go viral’ (even if this version of viral was more like a preschool outbreak of the sniffles, rather than a pandemic). This was an unexpectedly exhilarating introduction to the speed of conversation and connection in the social media-enabled world.

Five months into the experiment I decided to blog each week about a different scale. Of course, I decided to do this at a time when I was also running around Australia launching the P Plate Piano series, and well before the middle of 2010 I’d completely given up the scale-a-week project. Despite the fact the series of fresh posts were petering out, people continue to read these pieces, and it is the post I wrote about the melodic minor scale beginning on the 4th degree that has been better read than any other one of my posts in the two year history of this blog. Scale of the Day: The Simpsons Scale draws readers nearly every single day, underscoring one of the most basic rules of the tabloid – hook your story upon celebrity/popular culture and people will be want to read more.

More recently I’ve taken a different piece of writing advice on board, and it’s one I should have cottoned onto years ago (I mean, I’ve read High Fidelity): people love a list, especially when it purports to be the best 5 reasons or the lamest 12 excuses or the 9 hardest contrary motion scales, and so forth. A list gives people a chance to think about whether your priorities are their priorities, and to what degree their priorities are more important than yours! Much positive discussion ensues. This theory seems to be bourne out by my most recent post 10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons, which was posted less than four weeks ago but is the second most-read piece behind my Simpsons Scale entry, and another oft-read post from this year, Top 5 Reasons It’s Taking So Long.

Many of my published piano works are included in examination syllabuses in Australia and in the UK (and being included in an ABRSM or Trinity Guildhall syllabus means students around the world have the option of playing your piece from the authorised examination publication), and having a blog gives me the opportunity to provide my very own teaching notes for these pieces. To my shame I’ve not managed to blog on each of these exam-listed pieces to date, but I’m working my way through them. Recently I blogged about Safari, which is on the Australian Music Examination Board Preliminary (Piano for Leisure) list, but the most popular of these teaching-notes-posts has been for Mozzie, the ABRSM Grade 2 exam piece from 2009-10. Next on my to-blog list is Vendetta which has long been on the AMEB syllabus (Grade 4 – which is crazy, by the way) but during 2012-14 will be an option for Trinity Guildhall Grade 5 students.

But I’ve much enjoyed having this blog as an opportunity to vent about music education in a more general sense, from a detailed dissection of what was wrong with the definition of music in the 2010 draft Australian national arts curriculum (so detailed I needed 5 posts to wrap it up) through to a 5000 word analysis of Richard Gill’s recent TEDxSYDNEY talk on the value of music education. My favourite posts of this kind were early ones: Unconvincing Arguments for Music Education, and its twin Convincing Arguments for Music Education, and it amuses me no end that the Unconvincing Arguments post has been read more often than the Convincing Arguments post!

A surprise hit (comparatively speaking) for a while there was a most unusual entry I posted when the local Sydney tabloid decided to run a half-page story somewhere around page 9 or 11 entitled Radio Wives Go To War. I was bemused to discover that I was one of the wives purported to be engaged in combat: I was touring Australia at the time with Dan Coates and Gayle Kowalchyk, having an absolutely wonderful time running full day seminars for piano teachers in the capital cities of various Australian states. The interest of the broader media in this headline convinced me to highlight the egregious fabrications in the published account by putting the letter I’d sent to the News Ltd journalist up as a blog post, which post duly received 250 reads that very day.

Moving from crazy to surreal, it happens that the journalist referred to above shares her name with a retired page 3 starlet from the UK who now, aged 23 or so, works as a glamour photographer. So all these randoms seeking information/pornography google her name and read my blog. Imagining their bewilderment brings me great joy, and in every way I have Rupert Murdoch to thank.

The broader aspects of this story in The Daily Telegraph (being contacted via facebook and twitter by total strangers to be told what a horrible person I was, for instance!! – and I use the words ‘horrible person’ as a massive euphemism) did make me think about the way music can teach us how to lead better lives, and the posts Piano Lessons for Life and Piano Lessons for Life: Don’t Correct Mistakes were a direct response to this unsolicited unpleasantness and some ensuing legal advice.

But for a post that summarises the value piano lessons bring to life I give you  What Are Piano Lessons For?, my own personal manifesto. I’ve been teaching since I was 14, in the 1980s, and it’s taken nearly 30 years of teaching for me to feel ready to make my own declaration of intent as regards my teaching practice. Having written this manifesto, every lesson I teach now begins with me reminding myself “piano lessons are for learning how to do cool stuff at the piano” (the first item) and every lesson ends with me reviewing how well that lesson has reflected “piano lessons are about joy” (the eighth and final point). It’s possible for teachers to think lessons are about preparing for exams, and for parents to think lessons are about securing examination certificates; horribly wrong and deeply unethical.

Also imbued with affection is the post entited Anita Milne is My Mother. Being a composer daughter of a piano teacher mum is one thing, but it turns out my mum is more of a composer than she ever imagined. Beyond that, Anita has an exceptional editorial/curatorial eye/ear, and my composing has been so much the better for it.

My personal favourite, perhaps, is The Dominant Is Daggy, where I engage is a piece of speculative music theory regarding chord V. This post has provoked responses from disparagement (and I quote “I would pay no attention to this blog; the writer appears to be some kind of piano teacher”) to songwriters checking their catalogue and being relieved to find an absence of dominant chords! The social media-blog nexus allows for these kinds of extremely niche conversations in a way that conferences and academic papers don’t, and this kind of post has been another of the joys blogging has afforded me.

One thing I do know: whatever I tell you I’m going to blog about next will probably not be the thing on my mind the next time I complete a post (and since August 28, 2009 I’ve made too many statements of intent I’ve not followed up on), so no promises for the next two years, apart from the promise that I’ll keep on blogging!

3 thoughts on “2 Years: Highlights, Lowlights, Strobe.

  1. Yes – do keep blogging! I love reading your posts – I particularly enjoy your writing style, no matter what the topic.

    Your paragraph on your “personal manifesto” post strikes a chord with me. Since I started blogging (close to a year ago) I’ve realized that I’m teaching differently. It has forced me to focus my thoughts and think about the whole purpose of everything I do in the lesson. Just thinking about what I could be putting it into print for others to read has been so beneficial for me and, hopefully, my students.

    On a different note, one of the best pieces of advice that I got from another blogger’s post, was to avoid stating your intentions: http://colorinmypiano.com/2011/02/25/tips-for-making-your-blog-reader-friendly-part-2/
    It’s so easy to announce a goal, and so difficult to actually do it!

    So write on! I’ll read it – no matter the topic, and no matter the length.

    From another “some kind of piano teacher.”

  2. I’m glad to her you’re going to keep with blogging! Your thoughtful, funny posts are a boon to the (admittedly tiny) piano blogging community. Thank you for two years!

  3. When I read the title of this blog my first thought was OH NO Elissa is going to stop this blog. Thanks for continuing I really enjoy reading it, it is always informative, easy to read and just so real world it is a breath of fresh air. Don’t worry that you don’t get to do everything, it gives everyone something to look foward to.

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