Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Ms. Cheryl Everett
e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noteworthy artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. You may not always agree with the opinions expressed, but we think you will find them interesting and informative. The opinions offered here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent those of the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, its officers, or members. (We have attorneys, too!). At the end of the interview, you'll find hypertext links to the interviewee's e-mail and Web sites (where available), so you can learn more if you're interested. Except where otherwise noted, the interviewer is Dr. John Zeigler.
The July 1999 artist/educator:
What made you go into music?
I couldnt live without it! Its my life, my passion. I love the piano. Actually, my love affair with the piano began when I was five years old. My parents and I visited my Uncle Bob who had an antiquated player piano in his living room. As I played the keys I was fascinated by the sound of the instrument. It was a memorable day when Uncle Bob gave me the piano as a Christmas present. My fate was sealed. Growing up, my friends thought I was weird because I loved to practice. The happiest day of the week for me was, and is, piano lesson day. I have continued to take private lessons my entire adult life. I love the expression on my students face when they discover that I have a teacher.
Who was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano and why?
Dorothy Munger. When I came to Mrs. Munger, I knew a lot of repertoire. However, when I looked at a score, I could not play what I heard in my head. I had no idea about tone production or technique, as evidenced by prominent cysts on my wrists. The cysts were the result of playing with tension in technically demanding repertoire. Mrs. Munger has given me the technical regimen she acquired in her studies with Josef and Rosina Lhevinne and Guy Maier. After six months of practicing her system of technique, the cysts disappeared. She changed my entire concept of playing and performance. As Mrs. Munger taught me about music and the music business, she also taught me about life. She is an inspiring mentor.
What do you enjoy most about making and teaching music?
For me, the most enjoyable part of making music is the performance. After hours of study and rehearsal, a live performance is a special moment. Not only is it the culmination of preparation, it is a spiritual moment of self-realization and purpose.
What I enjoy most about teaching is the gradual nourishing of the students from enthusiastic beginners to accomplished players. When the students leave for college, it is satisfying to know that music is an important part of their lives.
Do you use any of the "piano methods" in your teaching? If so, why do you prefer that one over others?
I use the Alfred Basic Piano Library through Level 3 as my core curriculum. My reason for using this "method" is I am happy with the progress of my students. After 4-6 lessons, I begin a variety of supplementary pieces. My curriculum is itemized by musical principles with yearly goals for the students. At the beginning of piano study, note reading and counting are priorities. Next, the focus is on dynamics, phrasing and touch. After the Level 3 method material, my students work on their technique of scales and arpeggios, with a variety of pieces tailored to develop their playing skills and musicianship.
After several decades of experience in teaching, I feel there are, in all method materials, some pieces which offer more appeal than others. I never use every piece in every book. I am having great success in developing student enthusiasm and musicianship since I began using the Hal Leonard Student Library as supplementary material. When the student has a piece at performance level, we play the duets together using the MIDI-disk accompaniment at my digital keyboard. One of the co-authors of the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library is Phillip Keveren. Mr. Keveren has conducted several monster concerts in our area. Most of my students have played in these concerts and have Phillips autograph. They love his music and are impressed to know a "live" composer.
Speaking as a music educator, I feel I accomplish more with the students when I am not locked into one method. With an enrollment of 60 private students, my creativity functions best when my focus is on musical principles, using a variety of methods and pieces.
What "deficiency" in training or technique do you most often find in students of the piano?
Most of the transfer students that I accept lack technique, even though they may know scales, chords, and arpeggios. In younger students who have taken piano lessons for 1-2 years, reading and/or sight-reading is frequently sub-standard. In addition to reading difficulties, particularly bass clef, many students lack musical language skills. As musicians we must communicate in musical terms.
Many students do not have a concept of why they are taking piano lessons. It is important for the student to understand there is more to music than a weekly lesson.
What kinds of things would you tell students of the piano and their teachers to try to avoid?
For students, avoid practicing without a specific, musical purpose. Once a student told me, "youll see an improvement in my pieces. My parents made me practice each piece 15 times every day." Yet, there was no improvement. In fact, it was terrible. The student had mindlessly played the repetitions in a hurry to finish the requirement so he could watch television. I believe it was Franz Liszt who had a sign on his piano that read, "Think 10 times, play once."
For teachers, avoid banal language. Develop a vocabulary of descriptive terms. For example, the Chopin Prelude Op.28, No.4, ends pianissimo in the lower bass register of the piano. I tell my students to create a cavernous sound, as opposed to saying "play softer," or use the left pedal. Prelude No.19 could be described as luminous. Prelude No. 16 is marked Presto con fuoco. I say to the student, "Pretend you are launching a frenzy."
I believe the teacher should demonstrate by playing. You will inspire the students as they love the sound of music and will learn by watching you play. Of course the exception to this advice is the student who will play by ear rather than read the score. Those students must learn the score first. When that is accomplished I play for them.
Change the order of the lesson each week. Keep alive the spirit of discovery and the excitement of learning together. Excitement and enthusiasm prevent student drop-outs.
What advice would you give to students of the piano?
Commit yourself to regular practice. Progress is proportional to practice.
Be patient and realistic with yourself when starting new repertoire. Music takes time.
Never put limits on yourself by thinking "this piece is too hard." As we advance, pieces do become more difficult. We must work hard, harder than we ever thought possible!
Avoid excuses for not practicing. Youre kidding yourself - and your teacher has heard the excuses before.
Keep dreaming about playing the big pieces. Be willing to take the step-by-step route of day-to-day practice to attain your dream.
What advice would you give to teachers of piano or music generally?
Teaching is demanding. Find time to recharge, to nurture your own creativity and love of music. Smile. Never loose your sense of humor. Keep a diary of your musings about your work and your students, your success and goals. As teachers, we are a work in progress, as are our students. Hopefully, as we get older we improve our teaching skills. Time for reflection can result in personal growth.
Do not let students busy lives or other excuses lower your own standards of musical excellence. Many times I have not allowed a student to play a piece for public performance. Perhaps the student has a valid reason for being unprepared. It doesnt matter. If the piece isnt at performance level, as teachers we must be truthful with the student and develop the students perception of what constitutes excellence as opposed to mediocrity.
Can you give us your reflections upon music as a career?
Its an all-consuming lifestyle! We are fortunate to work at that which we love. There are numerous aspects of a career in music. I earn my living teaching private piano lessons. I love the friendships that develop with the students and their families. Music is our bond. We are part of each other's lives.
In music, one performance may lead to another. Years ago I participated in a Piano Teachers Workshop Cruise. Nelita True and Lynn Freeman Olson were two of the teachers. I played in Nelitas master class and she invited me to play in another of her master classes at the International Workshops in Bolzano, Italy. That is where I became serious about a career in music and realized the tremendous commitment needed to succeed. I have returned frequently to the International Workshops over the past 15 years. The ever-changing exotic locations, coupled with Nelita True and a stellar staff, are a total "recharge" experience.
Another facet to my career in music is my role as accompanist for the Wabash College Glee Club. Wabash College offers a major in music. There are many opportunities to accompany student recitals and juries. I enjoy the change of menu from piano solo repertoire. A special thank you to Dr. Lawrence Bennett, Director of the Glee Club and Chair of the Music Department at Wabash College, for his musical encouragement of me.
One of the perks of being the Glee Club Accompanist is the Annual Tour. Last year we performed in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York City. This past year we traveled to San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Traveling, performing and sharing the camaraderie of a tour is musicians dream come true.
It was on the first tour that I met Roy Sexton, Alumni Affairs Officer at Wabash College. Roy is a baritone vocalist with a fantastic talent in cabaret-style musical theater. We discussed that we were both too busy; however, a two-person show was one of Roys dreams. It presented a new challenge for me. Our debut performance was "Ego," a musical exploration of individuality. "Ego" was an outrageous hit, so we needed no encouragement to continue our collaboration. We have performed "Winter," music of love, understanding, family and belonging, and "Pop Music 101," a bunch of hit songs for the end of the millennium. The repertoire of our cabaret evenings is totally unlike the that which I teach and study as a classical musician. Ive also discovered that I had some ability as an actress and comedian, or so say my blindly loyal friends.
One of my keyboard challenges has been to play celeste with the Indianapolis Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Jackson Wiley. My teacher, Dorothy Munger, has been an orchestral pianist for 32 years. She has a vast knowledge of the orchestral keyboard repertoire, which is a totally different experience than piano solo literature. (Im thankful now that I played in the concert band in high school.) Some might say all a piano teacher does is "sit at home" - not this teacher. A career in music is an opportunity to live life to the fullest.
What does it take to be a "successful" musician or music educator?
You must be possessed with a passion for music. Be committed to long hours of practice, study, teaching, listening to recordings, and attending as many live concerts as possible. You definitely need to be a "people person" with an abundance of patience and compassion. You should be a doer and a dreamer and be willing to make sacrifices and difficult decisions along the path.
What are your views on competitions and what should teachers and students expect from that experience?
I love to attend competitions and listen to the music. If many of the contestants play well, Im sad that some win and the message conveyed to the non-winners is one of inferiority.
There are many reasons to enter competitions. One should never enter with the idea the best player will win. There are too many variables. I prefer to enter my students in events that are oriented toward self-improvement and performing music correctly. We tend to avoid competitions with winners and losers.
What were your best and worst: teaching experiences, performing experiences.
My best teaching experience has been having students leave my studio and pursue music in college. Several are music majors and accompanists. Many of these spend their summers taking lessons from me. Im thrilled they come back with a hungry quest for music knowledge.
The worst teaching experience was a student I had for 8 years. As he got older he chose the wrong friends. I couldnt reach him as a person or with the music. Hes in trouble with the school authorities, his parents, and the law. He no longer takes lessons.
My worst performing experience was ten years ago. I was in Winona, Minnesota, to give a concert and master class. I received word of the death of my youngest son who was 21. I did play the concert that night, by memory. It was a commitment I wanted to honor. Im grateful to Helen Galloway for her love and support at that time. Since that performance I have been unable to play a concert during the first week of May, as its been too painful.
My greatest performing experience was this past May 2, 1999. I accompanied a former piano student, Randal Turner, who is now an opera singer in Zurich, Switzerland. Randal was home for a brief visit and wanted to do a series of concerts. Our program was Schumanns Dichterliebe, Op. 48, Poulencs Banalites and Old American Songs of Aaron Copland. I was so proud of Randal and his musical accomplishments. May I share that I am pleased with myself that I was finally able to play at this time of year and it was the best playing Ive done so far. Being pleased with myself is rare
What kinds of things can the teacher do to maintain the interest of children in piano in the face of all the distractions modern society provides?
Choose repertoire with student appeal. My students assignments include solo and ensemble pieces. Some students enjoy preparing music for church. Others enjoy popular music. Their favorite pieces will receive the most practice.
Create group activities such as a monster concert. Being part of the e pluribus unum removes the isolation of individual music lessons.
Encourage students to participate in Junior Festivals, Talent Contests, and playing for their church or school.
Do whatever possible to ensure the student excels at piano performance. I require my students to have one piece at performance level every week. Students are encouraged by the admiration of their listeners.
Do you have a favorite pianist and, if so, what attracts you to that persons performances.
I have four favorite pianists. Dorothy Munger, Leon Fleisher, Nelita True, and Steven Hough. I am attracted to their playing because their music is so beautiful and I greatly admire each pianist as a person.
What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children in particular, in good music?
Develop keyboard labs in public schools that will expose people to good music.
Present Pops Concert Convocations in our schools using appealing music such as Carnival of the Animals, Beethovens Fifth, Music of George & Ira Gershwin.
Create artists series in our churches. Encourage public and collegiate music teachers to give extra credit for attendance.
What general tips do you have for new teachers?
Interview each student and family. If your instincts tell you something isnt right, trust your instincts. You will save molto aggravation for yourself down the path.
Maintain a waiting list. Take students in the order of your list. The parents and students talk among themselves. I once called the Smith family for a week with no response. I accepted a student from the Jones family, whose mother had called three days after the initial call from the Smiths. A week later I receive a call from Mrs. Smith. Smith and Jones talked at the last swim meet to confer on dates and who called first and who was accepted first. TROUBLE with a capital T !!
Have a studio policy. Expect the students and parents to test you. At my students' interview, I explain in detail what is expected in the areas of promptness at lessons and attendance. I am also very clear that the students do not bring friends or pets to the lesson. Approximately one family in ten will test me on these points. When that happens I explain that I take their childs music education seriously and I need their cooperation in this area to do the best possible teaching.
Do not accept excuses for lack of practice. Use an attempted excuse as a catalyst to insist that piano practice is as important as a trillion other activities. Call the parents and ask for backup. Dont be discouraged if the practice lasts only a couple of weeks. The teacher must be strong-willed on the issue of practice. This is how many parents and I become close friends over the years.
The piano studio should be a friendly, safe, haven of learning for the student. Todays kids are exposed to too much violence. Not all kids live in happy homes. One of my greatest joys is to discover a kid asleep on the sofa in the waiting room or on my front porch. Many of them tell me how tired they are and that they like time at my house away from the world. Hopefully, in teaching music we can add beauty and serenity to their lives.
What are your greatest joys and greatest frustrations teaching in a private piano studio?
The greatest joy of private teaching is that I know with all my heart the work I do is important to the lives of the students and society as a whole. The joy far outweighs any frustration. If I had to pick one great frustration it would be a mindset that mediocrity is acceptable.
Do you find membership in music teacher organizations valuable? What could such organizations do to help teachers more? What should teachers themselves do to get the maximum benefit from such organizations?
I do believe as teachers we must be part of and participate in music teacher organizations. To get the maximum benefit from those organizations we must participate at some level. My current commitment is to the Indiana Music Teachers Association (IMTA) as Ensemble Concert Chairperson. There was a time several years ago when membership in music teacher organizations meant everything to me. It was stimulating and educational. I needed and enjoyed the interaction of colleagues. During our development as teachers and musicians, our needs and abilities change. Change can also be energizing.
One of the difficulties that piano students face is the solitary nature of the long hours of practice. Can ensemble playing be used to maintain students interest and, if so, how can it best be used by the private teacher?
With ensemble playing, students interest will be stimulated as the discipline of practice becomes a team activity with musical objectives. Students may practice more for the team than for themselves. Persons with low self-confidence or limited performance background often feel less intimidated and more secure in an ensemble. Players develop a willingness to practice pieces for a longer time to reach a higher level of accomplishment. The sage private teacher may use ensemble music to create a venue for the pianists to experience musical interaction and camaraderie, creating a feeling of esprit de corps among the students.
The private music teacher may use ensemble music as a tool to improve the students rhythmic and harmonic awareness. Metronome practice is essential for rhythmic synchronization. Players must study the harmonic structure of the music with careful attention to balance of melody and accompaniment. This requires analyzing how all parts work together to create a finished piece.
Ensemble playing may be a catalyst to study symphonic literature. My students enjoy Beethovens Fifth, as a piano duet. At the time I assign the piece, the players are given a research assignment on Beethoven. They must listen to five recordings of the piece and list what they like or dislike about each performance. They may do their research together or individually. Not only does this project broaden their tone palette, they develop more intensive listening and thinking skills.
Are there any special problems and benefits of teaching piano in a smaller community vs. teaching in a large city?
It is difficult for me to compare problems and benefits of a smaller and larger community as I have only lived and worked in Crawfordsville, which is a community of approximately 20,000. There are many benefits for me in my home town. Over the years I have had many piano students. When students are with you from age 6-7 through high school, one becomes friends with the family. I have a very large extended family of students and parents. Many are now married and I am currently teaching their children. Some former students who are in college study with me during the summers. I have never had to advertise that I am a piano teacher. My students love of music and their playing have created quite a "word of mouth" network.
One of our greatest small town achievements was the Presbyterian Artists Concert Series. This series, sponsored by Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church, continued for five years. We were especially proud that our guest artists included Nelita True, Chair of the Piano Department at Eastman, and Michael Belnap, a finalist in the International Pavarotti Vocal Competition.
In Crawfordsville, we are blest to have Wabash College which has a Fine Arts Center, complete with Art Gallery and Visiting Artists Series. With these cultural opportunities available locally, it has still been difficult to convince my students to include the concerts in their busy schedules.
School music and arts education programs are often among the first causalities of budget shortfalls. What can private teachers and parents do to fill in the gaps created by loss of school programs in music?
I believe in Indiana the tide is turning. More and more dollars are being funded into arts and music programs. Parents and private educators must make these programs more visible and important. As parents see how their children benefit from music study, they can pressure our system to keep these programs alive. If it appears a program will be cut parents must go to the school board to protest.
How much of a role should technology(digital keyboards, computers, software) play in a students music education, both at home and in the private studio? If it has a role, how do you find such aids can best be implemented?
Technology offers the opportunity to give our students a more thorough music education in theory, music history, and music appreciation. It is another tool in the teachers resource toolbox. My students enjoy playing their pieces on the digital keyboard. We talk about tone colors and experiment with orchestral voicing. This is especially challenging in a Bach fugue. Part of each students weekly lesson assignment is an ensemble piece. The student is allowed extended lesson time to practice on my keyboard, using headphones the midi-disk. I believe with the use of technology the possibilities are unlimited for developing their rhythmic skills, ear, and creativity.
What should teachers look for in identifying students? Conversely, what should students and parents look for in finding a good teacher?
What I look for when interviewing a new family is parents who have control of their children and who value education. Most of the students I teach begin music study at age 6 or 7. When I present the studio policy at the interview I greatly emphasize how we are to work together and structure the childs practice. The routine established in the first few months is crucial to long term success. We convey to the child what is expected and what is acceptable. If the parents tell me how busy the family is, or theyll try but theyre just not sure they can convince their child to practice, then I know this family is not for me. Parents and students should look for a teacher whose current students love music and love to play. That teacher will probably have a waiting list. My advice is get on the list. It will be worth the wait.
Many students and their teachers live in small towns or rural areas with limited access live performances. What can parents and teachers in small towns do to make sure that students are exposed to and develop an appreciation of good music?
Develop a community Artists Series program. If you city has a college or university their may be an Artists Series there. Group ticket rates are frequently attractive. Teachers can create competitions or goals within their studio with the reward being tickets to a live performance. Ultimately attendance at a live concert is determined by how far people will drive. Arranging group transportation can be the difference in going to live performances. Parents and teachers may work together to award extra academic credit for concert attendance
What tips can you give to budding accompanists? Can accompanying be useful in the training of students and, if so, how?
My first tip to budding accompanists would be for them to know the part you are to accompany as well as their own. If you accompany, you become a member of a collaboration, an ensemble. The accompanist must know how each section of the ensemble relates to the whole. As accompanists we do not possess ad libitum to make changes as the mood strikes. Depending on whom we are accompanying, we must study bowing, breathing, diction, phrasing, articulation.
My second tip would be listen to recordings. An accomplished accompanist is a sensitive listener. Accompanying can be very useful with students. During preparation of the ensemble there are discussions about tempo, dynamics, and interpretation. Performers become more aware of the importance of rhythmic accuracy. Players foster and nourish each other as well as share the joys of making music together.
As a member of a symphony orchestra, do you find that your teaching and performing activities help each other and, if so, in what ways?
For me, teaching and performing are inseparable. Each performance is a learning opportunity, not only about the music, but about myself and my preparation. Being an orchestral keyboard player is the ultimate ensemble experience. Not only must the player be in control of their own technique and instrument, one must be skilled in counting and keenly attuned to the conductor. All of these principles transfer to my teaching. Teaching is ultimately imparting that knowledge and skill to the students. It is my goal that my teaching will enable my pupils to perform the repertoire with the same love and passion for music that led them to their first music lesson.
Pretend this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say to students, parents, and teachers of the piano?
To Students: DONT QUIT. If you are bored or you do not connect with the current teacher, try another teacher. If you love music, there is a teacher for you. Be persistent.
To Parents: Your child is taking piano lessons. Go to those lessons at least once a month. Listen to the childs lesson and practice. You do not need to be musical or to have had lessons. Your presence and encouragement is like no other.
To Teachers: Always study. Find a teacher who will help you grow as a teacher and performer...
You can ask your own questions of Ms. Everett by e-mail to CherLpiano@aol.com
Last updated: 01/30/15