Where You Might Meet Me

In 2016 I’ll be attending the MNTA Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in early April. I’ll be speaking at the conference about Repertoire-Rich learning (aka, the 40 Piece Challenge) on Monday morning, April 4, at 10.30am, and I’ll be attending the Tuesday Intermediate Masterclass where one of my Little Peppers pieces will be performed and “masterclassed” by Barbara Fest. (I’m a bit excited about this!)

And, fresh off the press (in fact, I don’t think it’s actually gone to press yet…!):  in May I’ll be speaking at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music as part of the new “About Music Education” course. Dates and specific topic to be confirmed.

2015 began with a fantastic IRMTNZ conference in New Zealand. The conference celebrated the life of Douglas Lilburn and explored his impact on music education. My sessions looked at the craft of creativity and how that craft can manifest and be developed at the piano and in the instrumental lesson. This conference is the first ever conference I attended (as a young piano student) and I really felt as if I was ‘home’; this was a very special conference experience for me.

I was at NCKP (the US National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy) at the end of July, 2015 (I’m a member of one of the committees involved in organising elements of the program). I presented two sessions at this conference, one on using repertoire as a teaching resource (for so much more than just performance material!) and another, co-presented with Diane Hidy, on taking a 21st century approach to teaching 21st century children who are increasingly demonstrating issues with distraction and learning disorders.

In late August I was anointed administrator of the truly extraordinary piano teacher’s Facebook group “The Art of Piano Pedagogy” when Irina Gorin announced her retirement from the role. You have probably met me there already; these days I’m there a lot…

And, if you’re in the print music business in Australia you may well have bumped into me in November at the Hal Leonard Australia 20th Anniversary party held on the Yarra River in Melbourne. I’ve been associated with Hal Leonard Australia since 1999, two years after my first print music book hit the market, and it’s both an extraordinary and exhilarating thing to have been along for the ride!

In 2014 
no one much met me because I was quite ill with respiratory problems that saw me cancelling conferences, seminars and lessons with depressing regularity. Doctors were about the only people I was meeting in 2014, other than these few exceptions:

You may have met me in April at the West Australian Piano Pedagogy Conference in Perth where I was talking about working with students who present with learning disorders and processing dysfunctions (diagnosed or not!) and at the end of June you might have met me at the MTAC Conference in Los Angeles where I presented a seminar about Australian piano music appropriate for use with piano students (with the fabulous Diane Hidy at the piano!).

On the last weekend of July I finally made it over to Christchurch as a guest of the Christchurch/Canterbury branch of the IRMTNZ, to present a seminar entitled “Is There Madness in Your Method?”, an exploration of structuring the learning experiences of beginner piano students.

In early December you might have met me at the AMEB Series 17 launch held at Federation Square. David Lockett’s wonderful selections were launched with Larry Sitsky, Elena Kats-Chernin, Sonny Chua and myself present performing our compositions from the new series. A great night!


Where you might have met me in 2013:

In January 2013 I presented a new seminar, “Miracles on Mondays, Transformations on Tuesdays, and ideas for all the other days of the week as well” at Bernies’ MusicLand Educator’s Day in Melbourne on the 21st and 22nd at 9.45am each morning.

In February you could read a much-shortened and somewhat edited version of my A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts post in Limelight magazine (the issue with Dame Joan Sutherland on the cover).

In March I attended (but did not present at) the MTNA Conference being held in Anaheim, California from the 9th to the 13th. I blogged a little about the experience:  And for what it’s worth – I can hardly wait to have a new excuse to return to Disneyland.

Also in March 2013 I was one of three keynote speakers at the ADMIS annual conference, held in Healesville, Victoria on the 21st and the 22nd.

Between May and September I presented workshops  in Victoria for AMEB Victoria about teaching beginners/working with P Plate Piano. I had the joy of returning to regional centres (Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Traralgon) where I have had wonderful seminar experiences before, as well as speaking at Monash and Melbourne Universities in Melbourne itself. AMEB Victoria are always a pleasure to work with!

In early May I was fortunate enough to attend TEDxSydney at the Sydney Opera House as a member of the 2000-strong audience. It was an amazing day, but I’m not sure the Opera House is built for TEDx style networking! The crowd-sourced lunch was *just amazing*, and I’m still mulling on ideas presented on that day.

Also in May I attended an Anatomy of Music event run by Musica Viva for high school students, at City Recital Hall (Angel Place), which broke several moulds and/or expectations one might have of a classical chamber music presentation body. Bob Evans (singer-songwriter, equally well-known by his real name, Kevin Mitchell, and for being the lead singer of band Jebediah) was interviewed by Musica Viva’s John Hibbard about his song-writing, and students workshopped their own song-writing skills prior to presenting the songs in an inspiring impromptu performance.

In July 2013 I attended the NCKP Conference in Chicago from July 24 to 27. I was part of a panel discussing the process of interviewing transfer students, I introduced the wonderful Nancy Bachus before she gave her presentation on technique, and I also had the privilege of being on a panel with teachers from around the world, discussing the differences in piano pedagogy in different cultures as well as the common bonds between different teaching traditions. This conference was a whirl of meeting fabulous people and being terribly jet-lagged. [Note to self: in 2015 allow more than 24 hours to adjust to Chicago time!]

You might also bump into me at various musical/theatrical/ events in Sydney. I rather enjoyed seeing Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz hamming it up in Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead (back in August). And I loved The Wharf Review a few weeks later. But my absolute favourite theatre event of the year was Waiting for Godot, with Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh – a production that continues to resonate with me a few months on. If you see me at a show please don’t be shy about saying hello!

And of course, you may find me tweeting about music education, Australian politics, journalism, sport, apostrophes, literacy and goodness knows what else, under my Twitter handle @elissamilne; and some days I spend just a little too much time on Facebook (I’m the only Elissa Milne there, so far). Feel free to follow, friend, tweet and message me in either of these places.

And once my health returns – so will the blogging. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Where You Might Meet Me

    • Yes! And I had the joy of meeting Greg back in 2010 at the Classical Music Futures Summit, too. One of the biggest joys of social media has been discovering like-minded people, such as Greg Sandow!

  1. Hi Elissa, Really enjoyed all your presentations at the WA Pedagogy Convention. I thought it was great to hear you speak your mind so openly about helping students to learn and understand the “theory” of current musical styles/conventions first before moving into the realm of “old, dead, dudes”. I found it very refreshing and rather closely aligned with my own evolving thoughts in this area. I have to admit I’m a bit scared to move off the printed page, but really would love to start to be able to experiment with improvisation and on the spot creativity. Your talks were inspiring.

    • Thanks, Dawn! I always, always love coming to the WA Pedagogy Convention, and it was wonderful to be a part of it again this year – can hardly wait to get back to Perth again (maybe January?).

  2. Dear Elissa
    I love reading your articles and find them very helpful and informative. I’m just wondering if you would be interested in doing a workshop up on the Sunshine coast of Queensland. I know our our Music Teacher’s Group of the Sunshine Coast would love you to come up our way.
    Talk to you soon

  3. Hi Elissa, you don’t know me, but I was appalled about an article published two days ago in AMT…American Music Teacher…part of MTNA that argues falsely against using the 40 PIece Challenge and sites you and Tim Topham and Wendy Stevens by name. I wrote an editorial response to the journal. I hope they publish it in the next issue. But just in case, I am sending it to you (I sent it to Tim and Wendy as well.)
    Response to American Music Teacher August/September 2020 Magazine, an article written by Karen Gerelus, “The 4-Piece Challenge, questioning the Culture of Speed in Music Lessons.”
    July 24, 2020

    I write in response to the article titled “The 4-Piece Challenge, Questioning the Culture of Speed in Music Lessons.” This article puts forth thoughtful proposals for teachers to use when planning individual curriculum and goals for students. Written with a sense of urgency, the author Karen Gerulus sets out the need for teachers to question “the culture of speed” in our society, influenced by the amount of screen time our students use in their daily lives and “instant messenger, fast food, line-jumping, pre-ordering and fast-tracking.”* I’m sure we can all add to this list the things in our society that have increased our expectation of immediate response and quick fixes such as mail order shopping with same-day delivery, instant downloads, the amount of information we receive daily to be quickly scrolled and sorted, the number of communication services and apps demanding our immediate responses on our phones that leads to information overload, etc. It’s exhausting just thinking about how we move through our day and how our students now move through theirs. Jam-packed schedules make us feel that we have little time to think, relax, dream, discover, and create. Thus “Slow Movements” have sprung up all around the world, beginning in Italy with the “Slow Food Movement.”**

    I think we all understand the need to create a different atmosphere in our music studios, one that is tangible and real. In such an atmosphere, students can immediately start to breathe deeply, relax their shoulders (even while sitting with good posture at the piano), and take time to think about the piece of music before playing. They can then enter a world of heightened focus in which both teacher and student lose any sense of time so that when the lesson is over both are surprised how quickly the time went! To me, this is a mark of a good “slow” lesson experience.

    There is a wealth of information in Gerelus’s article about the worldwide slow movement and how this thinking might be helpful in the music studio. But do we really need to make the “40 Piece Challenge” (thoughtfully created by Elissa Milne in Australia, adapted by Tim Topham, also in Australia and Wendy Stevens here in the states) a straw man argument for questioning a “culture of speed” in the music studio?

    I have used the Stevens “30 Piece” challenge in my studio for years. This is the one place in my studio where I offer rewards: students can go to a prize box and choose a token for every ten pieces that they play during the school year. But the 40- or 30-piece challenge was never meant to replace the in-depth study of a few pieces during the teaching year. In fact, the value of the 30-piece concept is that, while our students may only learn a few recital-ready memorized pieces during a school year (what I call the “Triple-A Repertoire List”), a shortlist of 5 pieces that can be played (“Anywhere, for Anyone at Anytime”),*** students also become good sight-readers by completing the 30-piece challenge.

    It is very clear in the directions of the 30- or 40-list, that pieces can be as short as 8 measures and can be derived from any level. They just have to be played correctly even if quickly mastered. My students love to go back to their early books and pick up pieces we never studied or relearn favorites, use sight reading apps like Piano Maestro or sight-read an entire Christmas book for a good 10 pieces in December. Isn’t it best that students have a variety of levels in their music work each week? Along with pieces for sight-reading that can be learned independently, there is also “just right” leveled pieces that can be learned in a few weeks, in which we can ask for advanced means of expression and pianistic control. Then there is simultaneously the “reach” piece: pieces that are above a student’s current level. These pieces we break out into specific sections that start out as technical studies. For example, when a young student asks to play Für Elise by Beethoven, I won’t give them the melodic A section to start with! We start with the scales in the B section of this rondo form. Then I ask my students to count in and out loud all the different beginnings of the main theme so that they know when the extended trill is called for or the first melodic notes are shortened to just three. This is the biggest stumbling point when working to memorize the piece.

    Our profession is robust with ideas, methods, and pedagogical philosophies. There should be little need to single a few respected teachers to set up a false argument. There is room in our teaching for both the 4-piece challenge and the 40-piece challenge. The 30- or 40-piece challenge was never intended to represent a style of teaching. Its usefulness is in making sure we don’t set aside sight reading or independent learning skills in favor of only teaching four pieces in a year.

    *Gerulus, The 4-Piece Challenge: Questioning the Culture of Speed in Music Lessons, page 22.
    ** Gerulus, page 22.
    ***I use two repertoire lists in my student’s practice notebooks: one is the 30- list Piece Challenge shared by Wendy Stevens. The other a page I have called “The Triple A-List, Pieces that can be played Anywhere, for Anyone, at any time.” In my studio, our goal is to eventually work up to 5 pieces that are maintained throughout the year. I have been using this list for so long that I do not remember who first suggested this creative title. But I’m guessing I picked it up from an author in the early years when Piano Magazine was known as Keyboard Companion.

    Penny Lazarus, NCTM

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