Laura, The Tune that Inspired
My Career as a Professional Musician

When I was in high school, the piano was still my second instrument. The accordion (which was gradually being replaced by portable organs for playing gigs) was still my main instrument. However, despite the fact that I always considered my piano practice as being extra, it was quickly becoming my primary vehicle for musical expression. It did take several more years, however, until it became my exclusive keyboard instrument.

In fact, it was quite a journey to go from the accordion to the two manual Farfisa portable organ, to the Hammond B-3 organ, to the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Mini Moog synthesizers to finally the day when the piano took its rightful role as my primary instrument.

What happened in my life is so beautifully expressed by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

This was not as strange a journey as you might think at first. Because I began playing gigs with bands in high school, I always had to have a keyboard that would be reliable (most places either didn’t have pianos or they were out of tune). In addition, my keyboard needed to be amplified to match the volume of the guitar, bass guitar and drums. There were also many other reasons for the 10 years that I focused on playing the Hammond B-3 organ, but we’ll save that for another time.

Needless to say, the decision for choosing one’s particular profession often involves a variety of reasons. There is no exception this in my case of course. However, two of the high school students who sang in both our Glee Club and our school musicals just happened to be named Laura. Although they were both involved in these musical activities, their personalities and appearances were different. One was Irish with red hair and fair skin while the other was Italian with brown hair and a darker complexion.

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My Career as a Professional Musician

Angel Eyes
Seeing Your Musical Progress

When one of my adult piano students tells me that no matter how much she practices a song, she never feels like it flows as smoothly as she would like. This is true for anyone from 7 to 77 (oops-I have students who are older that that). The fact is that regardless of how many hours you practice a particular piece of music; it takes something else for it to truly flow.

This is a lesson I had to learn myself over the years. What you need is to “live” with a tune for a while before you feel confident in playing it. Then, and only then, will the smoothness and flow you seek happen.

That’s why I recommend that students (school age children to adults) select their piano recital pieces from ones that the already have been playing for a while rather than playing their latest piece (even if they are very excited about it).

If you have the discipline and focus to play a particular song that you have just learned several times per week for a period of months (perhaps 3 or even more) while learning and practicing new pieces, something “magical” will happen. Your selected song will confidently flow from your fingers. What a feeling!

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Seeing Your Musical Progress

Bringing Back Memories through Music

In the late 1990s, I went to a workshop for church musicians. One of the most important lessons we learned was that songs conjure up significant memories in people’s lives. The interesting thing about this principle is that it is universally true regardless of the genre of music from which the song (or hymn in the case of church) comes.

Here are some examples from my own life:
There have been many times that I’ve gone into Applebee’s or a similar restaurant and heard music from the 1970s & 1980s at one point or another. Every time I have heard a Doobie Brothers’ tune, an Earth Wind and Fire hit, or James Taylor classic, I immediately remember performing it in a club during my years of playing piano & organ in commercial lounge bands.

One time when on was on my long-term gig as solo pianist at the Sheraton Milford Hotel, I went into the rest room and heard a jazz recording by one of my favorite jazz organists Richard “Groove” Holmes. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised and INSPIRED to play better when I got back to the piano!

To be a bit more specific. Last week, during a lesson with one of my adult piano students, he brought in The Nearness of You. As soon I heard the title, I could immediately recall the image of the handwritten sheet music arrangement (which we played many times) by my close friend/former band mate John Dougherty.

Other examples include people’s wedding songs (my parents’ was For Sentimental Reasons), people who recall the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival when they hear Jimmy Hendrix’s Purple Haze, and even those who remember their childhood piano recital when they hear Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

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Satin Doll/Take the A Train
How Students & Different Pianos Can Inspire You

One of the wonderful things about teaching piano is that you are involved with music making on a regular basis. By helping my students learn to play a variety of wonderful songs, I find myself more motivated to improve my own musicianship. A few months ago, as I was teaching one of my teen aged students, I selected Satin Doll by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

One of the reasons for doing this was the fact that he was ready to learn the major 7th, 6th, minor 7th and dominant 7th chords which are all four note chords (rather than three note chords). These are the chords used in ii-V-I progressions in most of the Standards found in the Great American Songbook. Satin Doll is a terrific vehicle for teaching not only these types of chords but also the ii-V and ii-V –I progression.

It had been quite a while since I had even thought of Satin Doll. Part of the reason is that I played it so much in my early days as a jazz pianist and jazz organist. In fact, the first album by jazz organist, Jimmy Smith, called Organ Grinder Swing, features an extended rendition of the tune which inspired me to not only play the tune, but also to become a better musician.

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How Students & Different Pianos Can Inspire You