NCKP 2017 Saturday Sessions

Conference, Misc., Tips

Willis Showcase

It was the last day of NCKP and Glenda Austin was the perfect person to kick it off. The theme to this showcase was “Happy Birthday Mr. Gillock!” showcasing many of Mr. Gillock’s pieces. If you are you are friends with Glenda on Facebook then you probably have seen her little video “snippets” that she has shared. She decided to take those snippets and create a complete book called Holiday Encores which include those short Christmas pieces. This was a fun surprise and I’m so excited to play through them.

One could not celebrate Mr. Gillock’s birthday without a birthday treat, right? On our way out, the Willis Music Company gave each teacher a piece of dark chocolate salted caramel candy. (So good!) If you missed it in the showcase, you may have been one of the lucky teachers to try a piece at their booth afterward.


The Compelling Connection Between Improvisation and Reading from Birth by Marilyn Lowe

I was looking forward to attending this session by Marilyn Lowe. I have heard many wonderful things about her from bloggers, Joy Morin and Amy Chaplin.  Marilyn was one of the trainers for the Music Learning Theory training they both did last year and blogged about.

Marilyn begins by explaining that improvisation is a spontaneous creation of music, using what you know.  There are 5 sequential steps to the music learning process.

  1. Listen
  2. Speak (in music: sing, chant, move)
  3. Think and converse (audiate and improvise)
  4. Read
  5. Write

The largest growth period of the brain happens in the first 18 months of life. Audiation is to music what thinking is to language. The ear develops before birth. We should be building a familiar music tonal and rhythm pattern vocabulary.

We are largely a major tonality and duple meter society.


The brain needs categories for retention.

  • Tonal pattern vocabulary.
  • Two learning styles: Informal guidance and formal guidance.
  • Rhythm Improvisation: Apply to notation.
  • Tonal Improv: Apply to Notation

She had us stand up and feel the pulse in our heels, that is the large (big) beat, then split the pulse into two parts (duple meter) or three parts (triple meter) with hand touches. Above the PULSE movement in the heels and the METER movement in the hands, we chant short rhythm patterns (ie: “ba”, “du”), moving with FLOW.

You can have 3 students at the piano and do something similar. Bass- meter; Middle- inner pulse; rhythm Top- improvise.

Once a child learns a piece have them change it in some way (tempo, register, form…). My roommate Lynnette went to the piano and played a Lion piece. Marilyn asked her “How can you change this?” So Lynnette would change the register, then the dynamics, and so on…

This actually made me reflect on how some of my students might react to that simple question. Would they get stuck or would they be able to figure out different ways to change a piece?


Teaching Demonstration with Marvin Blickenstaff

My very first music conference was at MTNA when it was held in Salt Lake City, Ut. That was the first time I had ever seen Marvin Blickenstaff present and do a master class and I was in such awe. (And still am) I was really excited to see this particular teaching demonstration most of all.

When he introduced his student, Nina, he called her his best friend and shared how he could not retire until she graduated from high school. You could really feel how much he loves teaching.

He had Nina begin with some finger stretches. This was very interesting to me as I don’t remember seeing these stretching exercises anywhere else before. Nina would play a note while keeping a finger on the key, wrist comes all the way down stretching the finger out. Then they did some rotation exercises in different tempos and keys as well as some scale exercises.

Here are some quotes during his lesson time with Nina…

“Think about how legato you can make that by simply passing one tone to the next.” (when playing scales)

(Marvin singing) “Go to the long note (long is emphasized) with a drop in dynamics on the note.”

“Sighing, “Help Me” for an example of dropping dynamic and feeling from the top note to the note it is going to.”

Robert Duke (moderator) suggests we video tape our teaching and observe and evaluate themselves.

Robert noted that Marvin knows the pieces he teaches intimately. It’s in his bones.

Student when asked how the process of learning the piece over the last 6 months have been with progressing. “At the beginning, it was just learning how to play the piece, and now it is turning it into a work of art.”

“I’m desperate getting my idea across to the student.”

“I firmly believe we need to tell our student why we do what we do in music.”

“Every pianist that is artistic in what they do, is thinking vocally.” Robert Duke


Chicago Midway Aiport Escapade

(Read if you want an entertaining story…)

It was time to come home. NCKP was officially over. My roommate, Lynnette and I hopped on our Lyft ride to the Chicago Midway airport and arrived an hour before boarding. After checking our luggage and going through security, we saw Charlene, (another teacher friend) who we found out earlier happened to have the same flight coming home. After chatting for a bit I noticed that boarding would probably start soon so I made a quick stop to the bathroom.

After coming out, Lynnette told me that they had called my name and asked if I left a bag? I looked down and first thought, no, I have my purse what could I be missing? Then panic hit as I realized I didn’t have my laptop bag.

I rushed over to the desk where the lady had called my name and she let me know that they had my bag over at the ticket counter. The problem? The ticket counter was at the very front of the airport and boarding had just been announced. I asked her if they would hold the plane for me? No. I asked if there was a way they could bring it over. No. If I missed the plane, I could do stand by for the next flight. The only option was to run and hope that I can get back in time before they closed the doors.

Now let me make this really clear. I am NOT a runner. Running and me have never mixed well. MAJOR panic set in. Lynnette and Charlene were so awesome encouraging me that I COULD do this! My state of mind was, I will DIE trying! So off I went while Lynnette and Charlene were behind me rooting me on. As I passed by security, I noticed how long the line was. There was NO way I would get back in time with that line. It looked like a good 45-minute wait or longer. But I kept on going. Lynnette explained to one of the workers at security the situation and they told her to have me go to the far lane when I came back. (Thank you, Lynnette!)

When I got to the ticket counter, I was a wreck emotionally and physically. I tried to explain as best I could in between wheezing, hacking and trying not to cry that I was there to pick up my laptop bag. The lady didn’t have a clue what I was talking about but finally found my bag. While she was looking for it, Lynnette called me to tell me where to go when I went back to security. So I grabbed my bag and off I went running down the escalator.

Here’s the thing… I’m directionally challenged, which was another reason I was super panicked about this whole ordeal. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it back let alone make it to the ticket counter in the first place. I get down to the first set of escalators and instantly was lost. I stood there in the middle of the floor and had no clue where to go. I saw another set of escalators and couldn’t remember if I should take them or not so I decided to go for it.

About halfway down I spot the sign that said, “Baggage Claim”. Shoot! I shouldn’t have gone down! I processed my situation and noticed that nobody was moving on the down escalator and looked over to the up escalator and saw how busy that was. Again, nobody was moving. It would take far too long to keep going down right? So I turned around and headed up the down escalator. Did I mention I was not thinking clearly? AND there were people behind me! They all saw that look in my eyes that I was going to be heading up the down escalator and scooted over. Up I ran. Now I was already exhausted from running but I was determined I was going to make it. About 3-4 steps left to go (which were the hardest by the way), I hear some guy rooting me on, yelling, “go, go, go, you can do it!” With focus and determination, I am happy to say I made it! (By the way, if you see any videos of this on Facebook, let me know because I want to see it. Who knows how many phones were recording at this point. Ha ha!)

I reach the top and again had to find my bearings because I was still lost. I look forward, nope. I look to the left, nope. I look to the right, nope. The only thing left was to look behind (where the escalators were) and then I looked UP… GATES!

And off I ran again. I run over to the far security lane where it said “Employees” and got to the front where I frantically explained my situation. He asked for my ID, marked my boarding pass and let me in the front of the security line where you take off your shoes and put all your stuff in the container. (I imagine they see this kind of thing on a daily basis) A wonderful lady saw how distraught I was and let me in front of her which was so awesome. Then it was time to go through the scanner and of course what did I do? I didn’t take out my phone from my pocket. So… it was time to give me a full pat down. The funny thing is, I didn’t care at this point. Just pat me down so I can get on my way, already. So while she was patting me down, I was explaining how I’m not thinking clearly and telling my story which I’m sure she is just thinking to herself, yep…

After gathering all my stuff up, I see Lynnette waiting for me at the end of security. I can’t tell you what a bright light she was! She grabbed my laptop case and we both started running. Then stopping so I can breathe and then running again. We get to the gate and hear them doing their last call for the boarding pass A group. We run up waving our ticket and saying, “We are A!” The lady looked at us like we were some nut jobs because we were acting like we just won the lottery!

Charlene had gotten and saved us seats on the plane so we sat down and took a deep breath. We made it! She was very impressed how quickly I was able to make it back and frankly, so was I. It was an absolute whirlwind and something I never want to experience again. I developed an annoying wheezing cough from my escapade that I still have and hope it will go away soon. Before taking off, I grabbed the Southwest Portfolio in front of me and read “Southwest: You’re now free to relax.” and couldn’t help but laugh.

So after it was over I was reflecting and trying to figure out how I left my laptop case at the ticket office. I realized it was due to distraction. After my luggage was weighed, our ticket guy had left his station to the front of the desk. Lynnette and I asked him if we were done so we were now facing to our left. He said, yes so we asked where we go to get to the gates. So as he is telling us our body turns to the right and our focus is now straight ahead away from my bag. And off we went.

Moral of the story: Don’t get distracted. Take the time to double check you have everything before you take off. (I know you were waiting for the moral to the story…)

Coming next is NCKP photo highlights (away from the sessions)!


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  1. Angela Jacob

    Thanks for the post and the information.

  2. Marilyn

    Hi, Jennifer. Thank you for the wonderful review of my session about Improvisation/Reading. Please make a correction. We feel the pulse in our heels — that is the large (big) beat, then we split the pulse into two parts (duple meter) or three parts (triple meter) with hand touches. Above the PULSE movement in the heels and the METER movement in the hands we chant short rhythm patterns, moving with FLOW.

    • Jennifer Foxx

      Thank you, Marilyn, correction made. 🙂 Enjoyed your session!


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