ARTS & EDUCATION
Processing the Piano w ritten by SHERIL BE NNE T T TURNER & photo g raphed by KRIS DECKER
I don’t know how many people around my age, my husband included, who’ve told me, “When I was a kid, my mother made me take piano lessons. Then she made me practice, practice, practice!” Well, welcome to the 21st century.
o longer will you parents have to beg, plead, threaten, and cajole your children because, through one innovative program offered by Lyman native Kay Young, learning and practicing piano is not only not boring—it’s down-right fun. “My background is in education and music,” Kay says. “I started teaching piano the old-fashioned way around 38 years ago, but when I lived in California, I saw very rapidly that things were changing in education and that soon everything was going to be done on computer. I realized then that there may be a better way for me to teach piano.”
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So twelve years ago Kay founded Piano Performers, a music program based on the concept that the basics of music were better taught—and more easily absorbed—with the help of interactive and challenging specialized computer programs. Now people from ages 3 to 92 are standing in line to take piano lessons at recreation centers in Greer, Landrum, Inman, New Prospect, Woodruff, Duncan, and Tryon where the program is offered. The technology uses specially designed piano keyboards that sit in front of laptop computers. The keyboard itself doesn’t make any noise. The user, instead, listens through
ARTS & EDUCATION
headphones to music as it’s played and must hit the correct notes on the keyboard to proceed. There are various levels that the student must master, much like a video game, in order to advance. “We start off with a metronome,” Kay says, “then we play with an orchestra. At the end of the song they either get a standing ovation or it will say let’s try that again. We also teach them how to sight read really well with a particular game with a little duck that goes across the screen, like a shooting range game. If you play the right note, the duck disappears. If not, the duck isn’t going anywhere. It’s subliminal. They’re learning note positions as they’re watching the duck.” Kay believes that this program is especially effective for boys, who seem to have a shorter attention span. “Forty percent of my piano students are boys,” Kay says. “If you can get them focused, they really begin enjoying what they’re doing.” Even though there may be multiple students working at the same time on individual computers, they are allowed to work at their own pace. There’s no pressure. No one can hear them on the computer keyboard except for the student and the teacher. And once a student gets their basics on the computer—technique
and learning how to read their notes—they are ready to start working on pieces of music at a real piano. “We are really a total music school,” Kay says. “What I mean by that is we don’t just teach piano. We teach music theory. We encourage creating and composing. I want my students to know about composers—and not just Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach—so that they can compose their own music. On the computer they can even hear what they’ve composed. They go in and do the rhythm section and then they do the melody section, and when they click on the radio button, it’s combined for them to hear.” Twice a year, in May and December, each location has their own music recitals, where family, friends, and community can enjoy the student’s musical accomplishments. During the summer, students can also participate in various technique camps, such as the prestigious Juilliard Music Adventure Camp, which teaches more advanced students a better understanding of musical skills. Also once a year, Kay invites carefully selected students from all of her locations to participate in Piano Guild, a program designed to gauge the individual student’s progress and give them feedback on future musical direction. “This year the City of Greer hosted our Piano Guild,” Kay explains. “Out of my approximately 350 students, 60 competed this year. It’s not really a competition though. It’s more of a challenge. A challenge for yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else.” The program is very, very intense. Students are grouped into Beginner I, Beginner II, Intermediate, and Advanced. They come in on a Saturday from 9:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon and do nothing but technique, scales,
GreerNow SEPTEMBER 2008
and theory. Then they come back four weeks later and take a written exam on their theory. They also face three judges, this year very qualified teachers from Winthrop University, Converse College, and Liberty University. After meeting the judges and answering some questions, the students sit down at the piano and play a theory-type scale finger exercise, as well as a piece by memory. “We work with the music department at the University of Pittsburgh who grades the written exams,” Kay says. “After the grades are done and their performances are audited, the students receive their scores and written evaluations.” The top students in each division also receive a trophy and everyone receives an award for participation. Ten-year old Garrett Davenport, who won top marks in the Intermediate Division, has only been taking lessons with Kay for three years. “When I was seven,” Garrett says, “I heard my older cousin playing the piano. He was really good. That’s when I got interested in taking lessons. Composing music is one of my favorite parts but I think I like Guild the best because it’s a challenge.” Garrett’s mother, Nancy, is very proud of her son. “He’s so good and he really enjoys the lessons with Kay. When Garrett gets up in the morning, he’s on the piano. On school days, that’s what we wake up to. He sits there and hums when he plays.” Garrett’s grandmother, Sandra Turner, supplied the home piano for Garrett. “He’s starting to really think where his talent in piano might take him. He’s thinking about a scholarship to college, performing, and maybe one day teaching music himself.” Other winners at this year’s Piano Guild included Lee Harris, Beginner I, Kaylea Holombo, Beginner II, and Aaron Easley in the Advanced division. “When I started this program 12 years ago,” Kay says, “it was
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my mission statement to instill a love of music in my students. With that statement, I wanted to make sure that any student who wanted to learn could do it by working with local recreation centers and keeping my prices very low. If I won the lottery and won millions and millions of dollars, I would have my program in every afterschool program for free because I think that every student in school needs at least one year of piano. It’s been proven that a child that starts with the piano and in arts like this also improves their grades in school. They go hand in hand. And I think that kids need positive things like this to improve their self-confidence. There is nothing, absolutely nothing like taking a child, teaching them the basics, and then them sitting down to the piano and playing, with a look on their face that says, “I did it!” d For more information on the Piano Performers program, please call Kay Young at (864) 574-5967 or e-mail her at email@example.com.