Volunteer work -- good for a teacher's soul!

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I recently started playing once a week at a local hospital, and this has been a wonderful experience for me in many ways! Since I do not own a grand piano, it is a real treat to play classical repertoire and focus on the kind of voicing and nuances that are hard to get out of an upright! The heavier action is also great for my hands. I am not writing this to brag about my volunteerism, but rather to share the many "perks" of this experience. It directly affects my teaching in many ways! First and foremost:

-- people TRULY appreciate the music; seeing a child "dance" to a minuet or hearing an elderly person reminisce about a piece is rewarding enough......BUT....

-- Keeping my hands "in shape" is a nice bonus!

-- Keeping up the repertoire helps me avoid the "gee, I don't have anything prepared" scenario when friends/family want to hear me play. (I can play over 2 hours without repeating a piece; sure this takes time but well worth it!)

-- The advertising for my studio and possible solo gigs are great! I've been asked to play at a few churches and many cards have been handed out. (again...NOT my main motivation for playing. It WAS altruistic!)

-- I feel musically/spiritually/emotionally happier when I BALANCE teaching and performing. I'm sure many of you know that sickly feeling when we ONLY teach and neglect our musical souls! This gig is also nice, since it's NOT a paying gig. I play the music I truly love, and when people request things, I can smile and say "that costs extra!". ;-) Many pieces by Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, and Bach and Mozart (et al) are perfect sounds for a hospital setting.

I hope this inspires other teachers to get out and play! (if you're not already). I can't tell you what a joy and pleasure I get from this weekly experience. Sharing music to those who could REALLY use some positive, beautiful sounds is very rewarding!

-- John Bisceglia (Bisceglia2000@yahoo.com), April 02, 2001


Oops! I DID want to start a thread here. I was wondering if other teachers would like to share some ways they volunteer musical work, and if there are other inspirational stories of getting music (esp. classical) out there for people to hear it! I know nursing homes ALWAYS have very appreciative audiences; any other venues? Local libraries also have some opportuities, for children and adults. Did I mention how unbelievably wonderful it was to see a toddler "dance" to a minuet? (above) That made my day!

-- John Bisceglia (Bisceglia2000@yahoo.com), April 02, 2001.

I too do alot of volunteer work. As a mother of young children, I help out at my children's schools. I work three days a week at the high school accompanying the high school choir. Upon occasion, I have been able to teach the class. Whenever I can, I encourage the teenagers to use their musical abilities. Some students want me to help them play piano or read music. I try to instill a love and desire to pursue music - all kinds - from classical to improvisation. I also volunteer at my church playing for choirs, church services, etc. Many of my students attend the church as well. I have been able to incorporate some of them into the services for offertories, communion, etc. Whenever I play for a service, I use a variety of music to accomodate everyone's tastes and also to introduce new styles of worship. Because I teach 5 days a week, I tend to ignore my own practice time. These opportunities keep me on track, so I keep playing and learning along with my students. Just last night I accompianied a brass quintet for a banquet. I agree it is very rewarding and has increased my appreciation for music and stretched me as a musician to improve my own abilities.

-- Becky (EHetrick@aol.com), April 03, 2001.

John, this is something I've been thinking of doing. I never thought of volunteering my playing, but was thinking that next year I would like my students to do little recitals for nursing homes and for children's hospitals. I was thinking of organizing something this summer with my students. After reading your post, I think I will include myself in the recital. This will give myself and my students opportunities for performing, for self-fulfilling, and most of for giving to the community. I think doing something for someone else for no reason other than to put a smile is the most rewarding thing anyone can.

Good for you John.

-- Cathy Morabito (cathym@videotron.ca), April 06, 2001.

Dear John! I am thinking of opening my own Piano studio. Playing in hospitals is a nice way of doing a good deed and advertising at the same time. Dont you feel you have to play the most difficult music because you dont know who is in the audience? Would you mind sharing your repertoir? Thanks Lee

-- Lee Moss (smoss@mahernet.com), March 09, 2002.


I also play a lot of other simpler pieces like Petzold’s Minuet in G major (Magdelena’s Notebook), Schumann’s Strange Lands, Fur Elise, but here is a partial list of the ones I need to keep "in my fingers":

Chopin Nocturne (Eb major) Bach Gigue (French Suite #5) Bach C minor Fugue (WTC I) Debussy's Reflets dans l’eau Brahm’s Intermezzo (Em) Debussy 1st Arabesque Bach's Allemande (French Suite #5) Mozart – K.310 ~ II Debussy Nocturne Beethoven Rondo (IV of Op.2, No.2) Debussy's Danseuses de Delphes Clementi Sonatina (Op.36, No.3) ~ I Chopin Etude (Op. 10, No.3) Mozart – K.330 ~ all Scriabin Prelude in Db Chopin Minute Waltz Mozart – K.545 ~ all Brahm’s Intermezzo (A major) Pachelbel Canon Clair de Lune Snow Flurries (Burgmuller) Ravel’s Sonatine ~ I, II Glissando Mazurka (Bohm) Schumann – Papillons Paderewski – Minuet Liszt's Liebestraum Chopin's Black Key Etude

I must stress that the level of difficulty is a non-issue here; simply go and play beautiful music beautifully. It's best to edit a few pieces (despite purist's gasps!). For example, I play Chopin's Op. 10, No. 3 and cut the intense diminished 7th chords in 6ths. I also keep the dynamic levels generally low (no fortissimo!). I know that 1 or 2 volunteers at the hospital (these misguided purists!) insisted that "we pianists MUST play what the composer wrote", blah, blah. Trust me here, the hospital staff, patients, and visitors have specifically complimented me many times on how my playing "FITS" the environment (and how others play too loud, too "intense", inappropiate, etc.)

What is important here is you create a beautiful atmosphere that calms, relaxes, and makes what is usually a very difficult day to many a pleasant one. I constantly remind myself that people walking by may have lost a spouse that day, or be wondering if a surgery will be successful. They smile as much to a simple minuet as they do to an etude (maybe MORE for the minuet).

Do play some well-known pieces. I continuously experience this scenario:

I play (what I know to be ) a difficult, virtuostic, "impressive" piece that is unknown (like Reflets).......average response.

I play Bach's C major Prelude (WTC I).....people think I'm the greatest pianist ever.

What you will get back is immeasureable; this experience can be your church, your meditation, etc., and is extremely appreciated.

-- John Bisceglia (bisceglia2000@yahoo.com), March 11, 2002.

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