My experience with the harpsichord, and the baroque recorder 

Today. Met a old friend of mine for lunch. This person plays piano, harpsichord, baroque recorder and more. 
So after out drinks, I took a look. And it was quite difficult to play actually.  For starters, this ,instrument was a copy from before Bach’s time, and had a shorter keyboard apparently. Because it was tuned so the bass notes a  fifth below, this made playing very frustrating! But I did manage some Ach, trills are absolchten delight and just spring off the keyboard. And the voices in a fugue are so clear, and literally unfolded itself. It was magic!  
The baroque recorder as next. The only experience I have is from playing it in grade 4. So ow we shocked how hard it was to play the basic notes. It’s an exact science. Those holes have sobered perfecbbfor for cleanness, except when above the first octave, there’s all sorts of technique required for that. Of course, I. Used harmonics to do it, overblowing it a bit to get the note. But believe it, it’s much more in tune when done correctly! 
A good play I could do some basic tunes, but kept struggling with some of the fingerings. 
My friend also had a flute she is not using and said I could have it. To my surprise, I can still play quite well. At first I couldn’t get any low notes, but after warming up with the upper octaves I found I could play all 2,5 octaves. I played a Mozart piece I remembered from years back. I’m going to take it up again.     

Why teaching? 

This will be my last instalment on my story… Next blog will get to more important things, like actual music related stuff. 
Anyway, I thought I would share why I started teaching. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would teach. In fact, I was quite against the idea as I thought I wouldn’t be good at it. But life has a way of changing you… 
I actually wanted to become a concert performer but realised in high school that was not for me.  Then I thought with my passion for music history, I would be a musicologist.  The only problem with that idea was that I could not look at scores etc so I decided not to do that. So I studied no position instead… and left that after 2 years. I got married, had kids etc. But in 2010 I started thinking about my life. I thought if I was going to do something with my music, now was the time. What did I want to do? Teach piano so I can excite my students with the same passion as I have. 
So here I am… I have taught for 4 years now. I haven’t ever had a full studio yet, but every single student I have taught has given me experience. I’m hoping this year will be the year where I start to gain students. 
So far, I have someone posting content on my facebook page and twitter feed daily. I am also going to try and run facebook ads. I’ve decided to target adults and homeschoolers, and students with special needs. Both online lessons and in person. 

How I came to love all things early music 

I cant believe I am blogging at this insane hour, but I cant sleep. So here goes… 
My love of  early music probably happened before I even knew it. I was about 12, and listening to the classical music radio station. We were on holidays, and I remember they said it was Handel and I remember loving it. The next day, it was the Talis Scholars, and that was even more moving. I don’t know why, but it touched something deep inside. 
I also remember thinking that was playing  music by someone called Bach, and heart his music also. But the real passion began in high school. During my final few years, I studied privately with a music teacher. He was probably the best one I ever had as he understood my blindness, and also my hearing issues. I have fond memories of him turning up the jazz extremely loud, so the vibrations could be felt through the floor. And I remember putting my ear up to the stereo, while it played Bach harpsichord suites at almost unbearable levels for most. 
But this teacher wanted to foster that passion that he knew was there 5 years earlier when he taught me piano for a few lessons. He also lent me cd’s. All sorts of music, from Mozart, and even Mahler which I hated.  We went to the odd concert too… Such fond memories and I will thank him one day if I even see them again. Don’t ever think you aren’t makinimpact on your students, because you probably are. It’s just that as a kid it’s hard to express it! 
Anyway, mn year 10 I started learning flute and my flute teacher loved early music. She gave a recording of the Bach  ortestral suites  on period instruments. I was blown away, and also loved it, because unlike the modern strings, I can hear these perfectly. I asked for more, and I heard the Bach flute sonatas on baroque flute. 
Then I heard an interview by Rinehard Google, and I was hooked! I started saving, and my dad started buying cd’s from the classical music shop of period instrument performances. Then I started listening to more of the TaliScholars, branched out to many more different groups and before I knew it, I had almost 1000 cd’s of early music alone! 
Recently, I read some articles on a website that I found because I was up late one night. I decided to google “authentic performance practice baroque” as my friend  gave me some finis for thought, and I wanted to research it. I found http://www.baroquemusic.org and was once again blown away. 
My passion is renewed and I’ve started listening to recordings of music from 1200 to about 1800. 
And with that, I am going to leave you all to discover for yourself the world of early music. Just try a few recordings, and see what you think. You may come to love it like I have. 

How my guide dog has changed my life. 

I have been out and about today with my superb guide dog Gypsy so just had to write about how much easier it is with her around. Until I trained with Gypsy 4 years ago I would not have had the guts to attend any piano teaching events. Just getting around those ,huge places can be a challenge even with a dog! 
I will write about how I plan my journey and the way Gypsy helps.  
First of all I work out where the location of the event is using the gps on my phone. I then work out the best Way to get there. Since most of the time I have to go some where in so city, that’s one or more training then a cab the rest of the way. I also try to find out via google earth and asking people if there is grass etc near by, so that I can toilet my dog some where. 
Once I start my journey, I’ll ask the staff at the train to let the driver know where I am getting off. I have a staff member meet me at my stop if it has staff there, and ask them to direct me to a cab. I tell Gypsy to follow the person. 
Once I get to my event it is very easy with the dog. I just try to interact with people as est I can, get the dog to follow others if I need to go somewhere. Sometimes my dog will remember details, like where I was seated, where the door is etc. It’s brilliant! No more fumbling about! 
I can teach Gypsy a hotel in less than a day. First I hang something on my hotel room door, like a bit of string, so I know we are at the right room. The first time I go there, I will give Gypsy a treat and praise her. She will remember the next time. Same with the lift. I will tell Gypsy to “find the lift”. She might take me other places, but often now she will get it first go. But when she does, I will give her a treat. She will remember it from then on and every time I stay at that place. I also ask staff to help me around, but after a few days Gypsy will take me most places. 
I used to get lost in hotels etc but not so much any more. I know eventually Gypsy will find something I can use as a landmark get back to where I had too. 
There’s only one disadvantage with having a guide dog. And that it have to find places to toilet. Dog, which can be a challenge and some times a little embarrassing because you have to ask people. Most of the time there is plenty of grass, but some times it’s just bark or dirt, which Gypsy may or may not toilet on. 
O, and since I know people are probably wondering how I know if she needs to go? I take Gypsy out  every 3 or 4 hours. She will not do her business until I give her a command to do so.  
I this gives you all  a small window in to travelling with a guide dog. 

It’s every where… and you cant escape it 

Yes, it’s all over the place. Music that is.  It doesn’t matter where you are  music is there even a whisper of it. I thought just for fun I would blog where I heard music today… Just because I can and because I’m a little crazy… 
I woke at 8 am to the soft chime of my Apple Watch as I took it off charge. Then as I walked down the hall to start my morning routine my feet pounded out a 4/4 beat until taking my guide dog Gypsy out. The dog collar made a really nice bell-like noise as she went, and the back door added it’s e-flat squeak. I went to eat breakfast, and the spoons decided to clank, I’m not sure exactly which note; more like some harmonics I think. 
As we set of for our adventure with the kids, the car starts it whine, and the motor sets itself in to a constant f 2 octaves below middle c, while the  road noise was some percussive noise but also an a flat. Lots of things hum in flat keys. I don’t know why that is. 
So, that’s just small taste of what music is like for my daily. I’m talking the John Cage version of music, which is basically any noise at all can be classed as music. Of course, I think melody and harmony are needed as well… But having perfect pitch, I can literally hear notes coming out of every where… And just like a computer, my brain works out all the notes and noises. It’s like a constant computer programme that tells me every note, every chord every key change and more.  Some times I think it would be great to turn it off so I can just listen with out being bombarded with constant information. It’s a blessing, but some times I wonder what it’s like for those who don’t have this? 

Onwards and upwards 

So my journey continues to this day… I left music school 2 years in to degree. At the time, I was going through a lot of personal struggles and also hated the compositional devices I was using. I wanted to transfer to piano teaching but my teacher said I would have to study more to get my skills up.  I deferred for a semester but never went back. Instead, I moved interstate, got married, had kids… 
But music never completely left during that time. I decided to make a cd of my own songs, which I started composing while still at college. I remember the day I decided to do it; I played and sang a song of mine in beg classes, not knowing that my lecturer and some students were listening. The comment I got was “well, if you have so much passion like that, maybe you should leave here and make a cd” And I did, although I didn’t plan that straight away.  But in 2003, I did just that. It was a great experience. I also performed my own music at a local christian cafe which is no longer. Those were fantastic days… I have fond memories of that time… but I wouldn’t do it again as my interest has changed. 
I didn’t do too much for the first 5 years after my first child was born, but then I realised I had to get back to it. God has given me a gift, and it seemed a waste not to use it. It was also something I loved. So i joined our church choir, started lessons again and the rest is history… 
Teaching was not something that came naturally to me. My first few students were my own kids, and I learnt quite a bit from them before test driving it on other students. I find beginners challenging as they cant always read well and need help.  I spoke to my blind teacher  from years ago about it, and she told me this is why she will not take children under 7 years.  Our students need to be able to read well so we can work out  where they are on the page if we need too.  
Having said all that, my first real student was only 4, and I knew that music reading was not going to happen. Why should it if she couldn’t even read the written word yet? I thought I would teach her by rote, and then introduce music reading later on. We had a lot of fun during lessons, and she loved coming. She could play lots of small pieces most of which I made up myself, or things like “Mary had a little lamb”. We also played duets, and I would play  along with her, making up a left her part. I also made sure she always got to play my assortment of percussion instruments, chimes bars and the like, doing echo games, rhythm games and also jam along to what ever I could make up on the piano. It was like magic and I loved every moment of it. Unfortunately, she left 12 months later never to be seen again. 
Since then I have taught mostly adults and students who already could read some music. A few worked towards exams, learning the exam pieces. Some just wanted to play a bit of classical or pop music for fun. I biggest challenge in doing these students was getting a hold of the materials they wanted to learn. I can get all the AMEB piano series 17 from vision Australia (i think) but pop music is another story. There is very little a part from old songs like “love me tender” etc. I’d be in heaven if I had access to the stuff teachers have. So with those pieces, I ask the student to email me some song ideas they would like to learn. I then go crazy with YouTube, listening to versions of the song. I then write  out the melody line, and the chords that go with it as best I can. This means I can work the the student. ! Times it works and some times not. Sometimes the song is too complex for me to transcribe quickly in which case I just go with the flow. 
Right now, I only have a few students but hope to really get things moving this year. I have had as many as 7 in one week at one stage, so I know it is possible. I’m also hoping to target the online learning space, as well as disabled students. 

Where did the journey begin? 

It’s been a long time since I have taken the time to update this blog. At the time, it was a journey… A journey of a short period of time as I prepared for my grade 8 piano. Now, I have moved on from that, and am teaching piano to a few students, listening and reading all I can about baroque and early music performance, all while recovering from 2 major surgeries from last year and family life. 

But some may be asking… How did that journey begin?  How does a blind person learn music? So I thought  I would write a little about that here. 

Music has always been a staple of my life, even before I can remember. Mum said I would pick out tunes on the piano at age 3. My first memories of music was spending hours at the piano during daycare, just mucking around and playing. It was a way to find something to do when I needed too. It must have been limited before aged 7, because my hearing impairment was not discovered until then.  I didn’t speak much back then so it’s interesting I can grab what I could musically, although I don’t know what as with out my hearing aids I can nearly hear anything an octave above middle c. 
My grandma apparently suggested to my parents I start lessons. I was about 12 at the time, and I learnt from a blind teacher. My experience of classroom music was not a good one as I couldn’t do the group work. There was also a requirement to learn violin, but I couldn’t because I cant hear a lot of the notes on the violin.  I do remember Tata titi though but that is about it. 

Anyway, I basically skipped most of the beginner stuff as I could already do it all. My teacher started me at the grade 1 level, and recorded the music, along with the fingerings on  to tape. She also started teaching me braille music, and I also started reading the manual and teaching myself extra signs and composing my own work. I did grade 1 and 2 in one year. 

I learnt my way around the keyboard by using the black keys as a reference for all the white notes. I use the pedals also as a reference, before playing any notes of the start of a piece to make sure I am orientated correctly.  A part from that, my musical  brain works a little differently.  Our  braille music uses octaves not lines and spaces as in printed music.  So the C below the treble stave if fourth octave, an octave about that fifth octave, the c below middle c is third octave. We have no clef signs, just right and left hand symbols. We also don’t have the sharps and flat written out for the key.  For example, our music will have 1 sharp sign, and the time signature. I know that music with one sharp will mean it is in the key of g major or e minor. And that I will have to look at the score  to know which. I learnt the circle of 5ths very early on out of necessity.  This helped no end with theory as it is automatic to me. 

Another challenge for me is jumps. I have to practice those slowly and carefully as feeling around that quickly is not possible. Added to that, because I can not hear the  top 2 octaves of the piano, I have to be even more careful. I well remember the time I performed the k545 Mozart with some runs a whole note out and I didn’t realise until later in the piece!  I will play things down an octave, feel with one hand while playing with the other to make sure the notes are correctly positioned, and pray from muscle memory will work when I need it! 

After  high school,  I studied composition at the school of music which created more challenges. We used time brackets etc, which I had to write out using text, as there is no braille music  notation for that.  I wrote a code for transcribers so they could transcribe my music from braille to print. For example, here is a simple bar  of music.  A4qb4qc5q.  That’s a on the second space, moving up to  b, then a c All lasting one beat each.   A lot of my composition lessons were spent transcribing music, working out alternatives For writing scores  etc. And to top it off, I did a year’s worth of music history in 1 semester as the braille materials had to be transcribed. Talk about burn out. 

Now days, technology makes that side of things much easier. I can scan most non-graphical things in to my phone; i can send music via email to be transcribed in to braille.   The challenge still remains how to get my  compositions from braille music form to print. I don’t have money to pay a reader, and as yet I have not found accessible music notation software. Although there are developments in the works. 

I hope this small post has given some ideas on how a blind musician functions.  As always, comments are always welcome, and I always am open for questions… Stay tuned for my next post on teaching as a blind person.