Dr. Stella shares her insight and memories from her time growing up as a student, a performer, and now as a teacher!Read More
Opus 1 is proud of Teacher Michelle's voice student Sophie Lyons who will be performing the lead role in Graham Middle School's Seussical the musical!Read More
Teacher Kiersten is a new face at Opus 1 Music Studio. Learn more about her life growing up with piano at age 7 and performance experience that every student and musician can learn from!Read More
Teacher Juju is a new face at Opus 1 and we're proud and excited to have her teaching piano with us. In addition to private teaching experience, she has also prepared students for the ABRSM exams and performances. She earned her B.A. in Piano Performance from Wuhan University and M.M in Piano Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Read below to learn more about Teacher Juju!
We're excited to have you joining us at Opus 1. Can you share briefly where you are from originally and what inspired you to pursue music and teaching?
I am originally from China and fell in love with music as a young kid. I chose to pursue music so that I could share the beauty and my own passion with others.
You've worked a lot preparing students for the ABRSM exams. Do you have any tips for our Opus 1 students as they prepare for the next round of exams?
A few good tips are to never wait to start preparing - always prepare well in advance. Also, take time to polish the piece and learn it accurately from the beginning. It's much easier to build a piece well from the start than to have to spend extra time trying to fix mistakes later on.
Can you share your most memorable performance experience?
It's always a pianists dream to play a piano concerto with an orchestra - it's as difficult as it comes for a musician. I'm fortunate to have played Prokofiev's difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 with an orchestra. It felt bump at times but it was an experience I'll never forget.
Aside, from music, what do you enjoy doing in your free time？
Music inspires a lot of creativity and that creativity reaches into other interests of mine. In my free time, I really enjoy studying and learning about interior design.
What is one suggestion for all of our students that you believe will help them as they continue their music education?
One suggestion I have is to have close supervision from parents. Having help from someone who is making sure you're doing work and is around all the time helps to keep you on track.
Dr. Tyler Harrison tells us about his latest composition, Symphony for Wind Ensemble. We discuss what it takes to be a composer and how lifes challenges can provide an opportunity for creativity and expression.
What led you to become a composer?
I was a shy child, but I was involved in music from a young age. When I was four years old my parents asked me to sing for a group of people. I just stepped forwards and suddenly I wasn’t shy anymore! From that point on, I was always performing. I started piano at 8 - I played a lot of Billy Joel and Elton John until I was a little older. Then I heard a recording of Vladimir Horowitz and I was mesmerized by his playing. I became fascinated with piano concertos. In my teenage years, I started to hear music. What really drew me to being a composer was that it was the most powerful expression of myself that I could achieve in this life. I can express myself wholeheartedly in my music.
You’ve become a largely successful composer. Can you share what education and experience helped you achieved at this point in your life?
When I was in high school, I went to the local community college to study composition. I showed the professor an early piano concerto. It was obviously very elementary in its conception, but I was dead set on writing for orchestra so I came to him with a full score. By the time I got to Manhattan School of Music, I got to play one of my concertos in a recording session with a live orchestra. That really made me euphoric for days! Ever since, I have been addicted to that feeling. My greatest influence was David Maslanka, who recently passed away. He was my mentor for 8 years and he started me on a path to writing music that was from a point of peace and hope. Many of my compositions now are about my journey from a place of angst in my younger years to a point of inner peace and joy. I try to convey this peace to an audience so that they will experience the happiness and fulfilment that I experience through music.
Students hear about Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart as composers. What is it like being a modern-day composer?
Being a composer is tough. I’ve been lucky in that my college professors were able to help me network and form connections with conductors over the years. It’s a very tight knit community but it’s not easy to get performances. For example, I’ve had 3 performances of my piano concerto. That is a huge time commitment for an ensemble to play a piece that is 26 minutes long. It can get a little disheartening at times because with a symphony or a concerto, if you are not constantly promoting the piece, it dies. I probably relate the most to Beethoven since his music is very much the story of his life and demeanor. So in some ways, composition hasn’t changed.
Compositions are very personal pieces to their creator. Is there any info you’re willing to share about your motivations for composing your new symphony?
I was living in LA when I started this piece. I was really struggling there not only with my career in film music, but also with understanding what I wanted out of the music. I realized that what I wanted was an expression of me. I didn’t want to express someone else’s ideas through my work, so my heart just wasn’t in it. That’s one of the reasons I started teaching. I can walk into a piano studio and teach someone of any age. Even if I am tired or distracted that day, I am happy and calm by the end of the lesson because my heart it in it. Composing my own music lets me have my own voice. And what I have to say is something.
What suggestions do you have for students who’d like to be composers someday?
I would let them know that nothing about composition is convenient. To start, you have to learn counterpoint, write a melody, understand harmony, how to write chorals. Even if you can hear the music and you find a teacher, you can’t be a composer if you don’t work at it constantly. You are the only one who can advocate for your work. You have to work at it daily, just like piano or any other pursuit in life. Composition to a full score is an especially big process. Most importantly if you want to write for orchestra or for a large ensemble, you need to get in front of them. Go to a conductor at your school or college, find someone to give you a reading. And then, if the sound doesn’t match what you wanted, go back to the drawing board. It may be an inconvenience but you have to do it if you really want it. At the end of the day, your music ceases to matter if you give up. If you want it, you can’t quit.
Thank you for sharing Tyler! Schedule a trial piano lesson and get to know Tyler today!
From winning a national TV music contest, to traveling internationally with a choir as a kid, teacher Michelle gives us an inside look into her life and tips that will help every music student!
What made you want to learn to sing and how old were you?
When I was 7 years old, a student of my grandfather volunteered to teach me piano lessons. I’ve been playing ever since. A year later I auditioned and was accepted into a prestigious choir, where I sang until high school. I traveled internationally with the choir and participated in competitions. Through these activities, I became more secure and independent, which lead to my choice to study music in Germany after high school.
Tell me about a performance that sticks out above the others. What made this so unique?
When I was 8, my choir teacher suggested a TV competition. I went without knowing there were 5 levels you had to pass before the finals. I ended up winning! I was instantly famous in my school - I was someone who had been on tv! I still remember all those lights and that big stage! I worked to do my best and just enjoy singing and ended up going home with a lot of prizes. It was a lot for a little girl.
Can you tell me what skills you learned that helped achieve your success?
Knowing how to perform is an important skill. The more you do the better you get. We all get nervous, but by doing more of it you can overcome your fear. You must really, really believe in yourself and resist the temptation to be too critical of yourself. My recipe is to prepare really well and do everything you can to be ready. When the moment comes, focus on enjoying it, don't worry about any mistakes, and have fun!
Another important skill is how to teach. Every singer has a different "instrument" - a different voice, face, mouth, teeth, and body shape. Singing is also acting, performing, and storytelling. I think that performing and teaching are a good combination for me. That’s why I am an active performer - I give concerts to stay relevant and my students push me to keep growing.
If you could give only one recommendation to all music students, what would it be?
Learn music and stick with it! Regardless of what you want to do with your life, music is a key to communication, discipline, and to your creativity. Music enriches your life. You may not always love every minute, but everyone who sticks with it ends up grateful and appreciative. Who knows - maybe someday you'll have kids and you can share music with them!
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your experience with us!
Our Administrative Staff Mei talks about what she loves most about Opus 1 Music Studio.
How long have you been with Opus 1?
I started with Opus 1 on March 18th, 2013. That’s almost 5 years!
What has changed the most since you started working with Opus 1?
I have had the pleasure to watch many students grow. I have also realized that I have changed myself. Working with Opus 1 has helped me grow and understand that I have skills that I didn’t necessarily think I had 5 years ago.
What do you like most about working with Opus 1?
It’s nice when you don’t have to get up early in the morning! But seriously, I love the environment that Opus 1 provides. It’s great to see the parents and students when they come for their lesson each week. This gives me a chance to get to know them, and to see each student grow and improve. There are some students who have been taking lessons here for years. It’s very rewarding to watch someone develop a passion for music.
What is your favorite kind of music?
I love to dance! Rock-and-roll is so much fun. Anything with a good beat that you can dance to. I love to listen to live music in a night club - they have such good energy!
What are your favorite spots in the Bay Area?
There are so many fun things to do in the Bay Area! I love to go to Monterey and Carmel. They have wonderful seafood restaurants that overlook the beautiful Monterey Bay, and awesome shopping of course! Clint Eastwood’s Restaurant at Mission Ranch in Carmel is great too. I also like to cheer for the Giants and the Golden State Warriors!
What are some fun things that our students might not know about you?
I love to go to Las Vegas! They have great shows and food, and its fun to play the games. I like to travel to Napa too, for the wine testing of course! Many people may not know that I belonged to a bowling league at Homestead Rd, Cupertino for a couple years - my high score was 205.
What advice would you offer our students?
Practice! Most importantly though, enjoy your time in your lessons. Enjoy the gift of learning music.
Thank you Mei! See you at the front desk!
Our piano teacher Andoni explained how Jazz influenced him and his teaching style.
Why did you pick Jazz as your specialization?
I came from Gilroy where Jazz music was not very popular. At the time, throughout the country, there were Jazz bands at High School level. In Junior High, my music teacher said “We have a Jazz band and we need a piano player”. I had no idea what Jazz was so I got into it. What I like about Jazz is that you can improvise, while in classical music you need to follow notes on a page. I fell in love with that kind of freedom. So I decided to learn more and more about it and became a Jazz player. In my opinion, the classical music that we know originated in Europe, while Jazz is the classical music of America - a music form that is more relevant to me as a modern American. I like the way Jazz trains musicians. It trains them to hear it not just to read it, being able to play it by ear and being able to “jam” (improvising).
Do you think anyone can play Jazz or is it about a personality match?
I think anyone can play Jazz. I think we are all musicians. When you go to concerts, you see people get up and dancing. That is an example of playing Jazz, where the music and the audience start corresponding together. Of course, there are some people who are more gravitated to Jazz more than the others.
How do you incorporate Jazz into your teaching?
Sometimes, I teach music not just by notation, but also by ear training. What I do a lot with my students is singing along with them and tapping the beat, while they're playing.
What are the stereotypes or misperceptions about Jazz music that you always hear?
Some people don’t quite understand Jazz. Because it's all about improvising. Music is like languages. You can only understand it if you speak it. It’s the same thing for Jazz. It was a music that is designed and played for a certain group, you have to be able to hear it. Even if you don't know anything about Jazz, just try it, perhaps you will like it and be influenced by the music.
Who are your musical inspirations?
There are so many that you can't just pinpoint it to one. It's a whole body of work, it's a language. For example: Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, just to name a few.
Your teaching style in two words?
If you could call Andoni of 10 years ago, what would you tell him?
I would tell him like I tell any of my students now: practice, practice and practice! At least 30 minutes everyday. And to be very focused and live in the moment.
Your favorite music hubs in the Bay Area?
About Andoni (Level II Piano Teacher):
Andoni is a member of MTAC. He has over 10 years teaching piano to all ages and all levels in classical, jazz, and popular music. He specializes in developing a structured approach for each student to learn the foundations of musical performance. He is experienced in CM and ABRSM exam preparation.
M.M. from San Jose State University.
Schedule a piano trial lesson and get to know Andoni now!
Our Piano Teacher Christine just came back to the Bay Area after a year in Erbil, Iraq, where she taught Music and Music History to middle school and high school students. Today, she is here to tell us about her story.
Can you tell us more about your time in Iraq? What motivated you to go there?
When I heard about the current situation of people in the Middle East, my heart sank. All I could think about was the young generation in dire need. I asked my two teenage sons whether they could go and stay there for a year. Thankfully, they agreed with that.
Looking back, it took time to adjust to a different culture but the people there made my transition easier. I don't regret the decision that we made. In fact, we are deeply grateful for the time in Iraq. Life is once and I want to live a true one.
What positive changes have you noticed from your students in Iraq when they gain exposure to liberal study?
Iraq is currently at war and has been under instability for the last 15 years. This led to limitations in every aspect of life for the young people. The war took away their smiles. I believe in the power of music, which connects people and release positive emotions. That’s why I brought music to the children in Erbil.
And how did it change you after the trip?
My two sons learned to appreciate what they have in America. And I will continue to reach out and help others.
Were there any challenges in teaching Music for children in Erbil and how did you overcome that?
It was a bit hard to teach music to them because they have different music languages and concepts. Nowadays, through the media many young people in the Middle East listen to pop songs or raps which are made of Western music foundations. On the other hand, few have learned Western Music Theory, or have played the piano or any other instruments. Moreover, in their culture they love to dance but singing is not a free thing to do. However, my students were so eager to learn and I tried simple approaches to keep them interested. It worked out wonderfully! Many students loved to sing and learn the piano after my lessons.
What is something that you will never forget about Erbil?
Iraq is located between Persia and Arab, so there is a great diversity of people, cultures and so on. Erbil is a good place to experience diversity in every aspects. A majority are Kurds but due to the current situation you could meet Arabs from Southern Iraq and Assyrians from the Northern part like Mosul and Syrians. I will never forget the people and friends I’ve met in Erbil, Iraq.
After what you've seen in Iraq, is there a message you would like to send to Opus 1 students?
In this world—I want to call it a community—there are so many people who are suffering. Life can not be completed nor meaningful if we are just concerned about ourselves. In my opinion, to make the community better, we should reach out to others and share their hardships. I hope that Opus 1 students will share the same belief and have a meaningful life. First, be thankful for all the opportunities you have. Second, learn diligently and use all the knowledges and resources to help the people around you. Lastly, when you do that, never give up and have the confidence that the people around you will see the changes!
About Christine (Level I Piano Teacher):
Christine has been an accompanist for various musical performances such as choirs, musical, vocalists, ensembles, and instrumental performers for over 30 years. Since 1993 she has been teaching piano and music theory. During the past few years, Christine and her family stayed in Iraq to help Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
B.M. Musicology and Music Theory at Korea National University of Arts
Schedule a piano trial lesson and get to know Christine now!
There are two types of learners: the “learn for fun” type and the “serious” type. Although the pressure levels are different, we all want the same thing for them: progress. In this post, we look into little things with magical impact on your child’s musical performance.
According to our Master Piano Teacher Doris, attendance is important for music lessons. It is important to establish a routine for young children, such as showing up on time for weekly lessons unless they really cannot make it (e.g. sick, family emergency). This way, even if your children do not practice at home as frequently as the teacher suggests, he/she still regards weekly music lessons as an important commitment.
2. Practicing the assigned pieces
Young children sometimes want to play the music that they like at home. However, it is important that they practice the pieces that were assigned by the teachers first, before moving on to other pieces of preference. According to Teacher Doris, there are various reasons why teachers assign certain pieces, often it is a new concept or new technique in the piece that needs to be learned. That being said, students should follow the recommended lesson plans for optimal results.
3. Increasing musical exposure
Treat the music that you want your child to learn like a new language and increase exposure to those types of music (Classical, Jazz, Pop, etc.) whenever and wherever you can: at home, in the car, etc. It’s also a good idea to see how different performers approach the same piece differently. For example: take a look at two students of Opus 1's, playing the same piece Lullaby by J. Brahms at our Spring Recitals 2017.
Jungsoo (performing with her Dad) at 1:29
Luiza (performing with Teacher Lynn) at 1:08
4. Parent involvement
According to Professor Gary McPherson — Senior Executive at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, “Parents who provide early encouragement and gentle ongoing support, are far more likely to see their child succeed with music”. For more than 30 years, his researches focus on how individuals develop wide-ranging musical skills and support the viewpoint that musicians can be made, not just born.
At Opus 1, we also share the same belief. That is why we offer Music For Young Children group classes - which build music foundation for young students with no prior music experience and parent participation is vital to the success of the program.
5. Timely reward
It is recommended that compliments and rewards are given when real progress is made. Take some time to talk with the teacher during or at the end of the lesson about your child’s progress. Our teachers always make time to share with parents their recommendation that tailors to your child’s musical profile.
It’s that time of the year again! The sun shines longer, signaling summer around the corner. And our students, like little stars, will shine in the upcoming June recitals.
Below are some recital tips from our amazing teachers, so you can keep calm and shine on.
Teacher Ian: Breathe and don’t over-practice
The most important thing to do is to breathe. When we get nervous, we forget about the basic things like taking a deep breath. To be honest, the nervousness never goes away but I trust in my preparation and that helps to keep me calm. That’s why I don’t practice on the day of of the performance. I will make sure that I warm up but not over-practice my recital piece.
Plus, don’t try to fix your instrument before recital day. For example, if you want to change your guitar strings, do it at least 3-4 days before the event, so you get some time to get used to the changes, and deal with anything unexpected. I also like to get some sort of exercise on the day of (but not right before the recital) to chill out, like a hike or a run.
Teacher Roger: Find your routine and stick to it
If you have a routine on the day of the performance, you can rely on it and won’t have to worry every single time. Even the pros get anxious before the show sometimes, but they always stick to their routine. For example: for me, I don’t eat 4 or 5 hours before the performance so I can access my breath better. A friend of mine likes to have chocolates and cookies before the show. Another still enjoys heavy meals and can still pull off his best. Everyone is different, so find the routine that works for you and repeat.
Teacher Chaz: Banana - the power food
Practice sitting on the couch, walking to the piano. Practice your bow. Have your family or friends be there so you can practice under pressure. The amount of practicing needed depends on each student. Avoid foods high in carbohydrates, and too much caffeine. Carbs can make you tired, and too much caffeine can make you more anxious. A banana is good, as it’s packed with potassium and is a natural stress reliever. Try a strawberry banana smoothie!
Teacher Joseph: Practice in acoustic places
I was 16 years old when I performed my first formal recital. I had a piano accompanist and the stage all to myself! I wish I knew the things that I am about to tell you, because I was pretty nervous back then. For example: practice playing in acoustic places that resemble where you are going to perform. Do everything you can to make the experience feel similar. Usually before I practice, I do scales - playing notes on the violin to warm up. Taking a few minutes to observe your breath also helps.
We hope you found these recital tips from our teachers helpful! We can’t wait to see our students shine on the stage!