Tag Archives: teacher

Composer Q&A: Getting to Know Martha Mier

Blog-MarthaMierInterview_April2017_BG_Proof4 martha mier

Martha Mier is an internationally recognized composer and clinician whose educational piano music for students of all levels has made her one of today’s most popular composers. Students worldwide enjoy playing her music, including the popular Jazz, Rags & Blues series and the Romantic Impressions series. We had a chance to catch up with Martha and learn more about her start in music and teaching, her favorite compositions, and her biggest inspirations.

How did you get your start in music?
I grew up with 5 older brothers, each of whom took piano lessons, so I could hardly wait until it was “my turn!” My oldest brother was playing Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and Chopin Waltzes when I was only 3 or 4 years old, and I was so inspired by his playing, and was greatly influenced by him.

Do you remember your very first piano lesson?
I can’t say I remember my very first piano lesson, but I remember several of my early pieces which thrilled me! One was a little waltz where I got to cross over with left hand to high C! Fun, fun!

When did you know you wanted to teach?
After teaching music in a Jr. High School for 1 year, I decided I would prefer a one-on-one relationship with students, thus began my piano teaching career. It was a wise choice.

Do you have any advice for a new teacher, or what is something you wish you knew when you started teaching?
Treat students as individuals, and tailor a curriculum to fit that particular student. Attend workshops and join local music groups to continue your education. Always be enthusiastic about the music, and your student will pick up on that enthusiasm.

Tell us about a memorable teaching moment?
Memorable teaching moments come when a student understands a concept and can then apply it to his or her playing. Those “AHA!” moments are satisfying and memorable.

How do you motivate students?
Students learn to love music by playing music that they love. I try to select repertoire that will appeal to the student, then I will know he will practice it. Studio contests and rewards are helpful, but true motivation comes from within each student.

What is one of the biggest challenges you overcame as a teacher?
Learning to be totally organized in order to stay within time limits. Planning each lesson is helpful and essential.

What inspired you to start composing?
I began composing in high school just for the fun of it! In my teaching, I would write little pieces for my students when I could not find a piece that presented what that student liked or needed.

Do you have a favorite composition of yours?
A couple of my favorite compositions of mine are 1) “Lady Brittany’s Ballad” for its romantic, modal sound, 2) “Celebration Scherzo” for its rhythmic vitality and fun octaves, and 3) “The Purple Hills of Heather” for the romantic sounds.

Do you have any advice for young composers?
My advice for young composers is to keep writing. Continue to explore and create.

What do you love about jazz? What drew you to it?
When in high school, I discovered “Blues in the Night” and “Basin Street Blues,” and I was hooked for life! It speaks to my heart.

Who are your jazz inspirations?
I am inspired by the older jazz pianists, such as Count Basie.

Do you have a favorite piece or type of music to play for fun?
I love all styles of music, and play from Classical to Jazz.

If you could have dinner with any musician, past or present, who would it be, and why?
I would like to have dinner with Chopin. I would love to learn his personality to know where his beautiful romantic style came from.

You Want Me to Teach What? Transitioning to the Elementary Music Classroom

By Mari Schay and Michael TolonSchay

You’re a secondary instrumental or choral specialist, newly assigned to the general music classroom. What now? First, take a breath, calm down, and then read this book. Two experienced teachers who conquered this challenge offer practical advice with great care and wit. Chapters of the book address attitude, school environment, classroom management, curriculum and assessment, and student performance. Read on for an excerpt from the opening chapter.

Director/Conductor vs. Teacher

Many middle and high school music educators refer to themselves as “director” or “conductor” as in, “I’m a high school band director” or “I am a middle school choral conductor.” When you move to elementary school, though, you become a teacher. The key difference between a director/conductor and a teacher is that a director is refining existing skills and working toward beautiful performances, while a teacher is developing new skills so a director can eventually take over.

Elementary music is not just pre-band, pre-orchestra, or pre-choir training. Your primary job is to instill a love of music, as well as to develop musical skills, in kids who may walk in the door with no musical experience whatsoever. Singing a simple song may be a completely new experience. Keeping a steady beat may take time. This can feel overwhelmingly slow to a teacher used to conducting nuanced ensemble literature; however, if you plan well and deliver lessons with joy and enthusiasm, the kids will love music … and, as their music teacher, you will begin to see the necessity of a great teacher in the early years.

The importance of professional development cannot be stressed enough. I will admit that as a high school band director, I did not seek out colleagues or attend my state music conference often enough. I learned the hard way that by skipping professional development opportunities, my effectiveness as a teacher was lessened. Not only did my skills suffer, my standing with my fellow directors was hurt. My sense of isolation was of my own doing.

The ability to attend a conference, find professional development opportunities, or simply sit and share with another colleague will become vitally important in helping you gain new skills, sharpen old ones, and meet fellow music teachers. Ah! Yes, young grasshopper, you are not alone in the universe. Inspiration will come in many, many forms.