Our interview with
Leila J Viss, Denver, CO.
MTH: Hi Leila. First, I want to thank you for the years you have been on our MTH team of bloggers. You share many articles with our members, and we do appreciate you! I also enjoy your Facebook page and website,
www.88pianokeys.musicteachershelper.com. I also had the pleasure of attending one of your recitals several years ago when I was living in Denver.
Leila, what is your experience, and the style you teach?
Leila: I jokingly say that my teaching is in direct reaction to my training. As a classically trained pianist with a Masters Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy and a full-time church organist, it has always been important to me to impart the essential skills of my background: sight reading, technique, phrasing, tone, and the discipline to strictly follow the intentions of the composer. However, life takes interesting turns and although I still highly value my classical roots, I simply tired of interpreting music of European dead dudes (no disrespect intended) and figured my students might feel the same. So, in my studio I offer opportunities to build skills in improvisation, ensembles, Christian Contemporary music, jazz, composition, arranging AND standard piano repertoire. Teaching in and outside my classical box has continued to keep me on my creative toes and I believe has shaped me into a more effective, well-balanced teacher and performer.
MTH: MTH: Tell us a little bit about your music studio.
Leila: I am drawn to discovering innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player stick to the bench for life. Customizing lessons for each student regardless of innate ability is a priority and therefore the “blended” instruction mentioned above seems to attract enthusiastic and interested students. My mantra: I teach a human being, not a method.”
When I opened my studio 20-some years ago, I was inspired to add a lab to each lesson after observing a successful, cutting edge teacher. Students (except adults) not only have a private lesson but a lab session. While I teach one, another works on a lab assignment in the same room, then they switch after 30 minutes. The lab activities include assignments using the latest music software, MIDI, iPad apps, online software and a Clavinova. Recently, the iPad has revolutionized my lab activities–I’m a huge fan and continue to blog about it here at MusicTeachersHelper.com and my own blog 88pianokeys.me.
MTH: How do you manage your studio?
Leila: With such a broad question, I’ll narrow my answer down to the area of communication management. First, thanks to MusicTeachersHelper.com’s standard feature–lesson reminders–my students rarely miss a lesson. This is important as my sessions include group lessons every couple of months in lieu of private lessons which causes extreme upheaval in the weekly schedule. In the summer, I like a change in the lesson routine and offer camps and limited private lessons. Clarity is crucial when schedule changes occur for student families so managing communication is one essential task in my weekly duties.
In addition, post-lesson feedback seems to set my studio apart thanks to the lesson reconciliation feature of MusicTeachersHelper.com. Parents as well as students are accountable for reading my emailed notes which feature a lesson rating system. Adding a rating between a 1 (do it again) to a 5 (beyond amazing) to each lesson note provides parents an immediate and updated report which gives them leverage for supervising home practice. The score serves as a powerful incentive for students as it is up to them to boost the number. When a student continues to rack up 1′s and 2′s instead of the coveted 4′s and 5′s, this gives me and the parents “raw data” on which to base the future of lessons for the pianist. This system of lesson notes and ratings seems to eliminate surprises and keeps the communication pipeline open between parent, teacher and student.
MTH: What are your plans for the future?
Leila: In 2012, I decided to try my hand at my own blog, 88pianokeys.me as posting once a month at MusicTeachersHelper.com/blog just wasn’t enough. I have found a new “love” of writing about whatever comes to mind at the moment and especially about iPad apps. All this writing has led to a book that will be released in September called “The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps.”
After coordinating the Pop/Jazz Track at MTNA’s 2013 Conference with Bradley Sowash, he and I decided to continue our efforts to promote creativity so we founded 88 Creative Keys. This joint venture with Bradley–a jazz pianist, educator, composer and author of “That’s Jazz”–became a reality this summer in Denver as we hosted our inaugural “Play it Your Way” camp for kids and creativity clinics for teachers and adult pianists. From the feedback we’ve received after our first year, we plan to host more events next summer.
It seems the tides are turning the “Queen Mary”–the traditional style of music teaching–on to a new, more creative-based course. I’ve jumped on board and have found myself in some exciting positions for upcoming conferences including MTNA 2014 and NCKP 2015.
It is a unique time to be in the music profession. I’m thankful for a career that continues to provide flexible hours, online global support from friends and colleagues, opportunities to perform regularly, room for creative thinking and the chance to daily nurture and develop the growth of budding musicians. I look forward to many more years of the same.
MTH: Thanks Leila for the interview. We wish your continued success with your studio and blog.
We invite teachers who are interested in having their studio showcased in the newsletter by sending me an email at email@example.com.