National Music Teacher Conference 2023

The National Music Teachers Association holds a conference every year in different parts of the country. The conference includes master classes, technology and informational sessions, pedagogy sessions, an exhibit hall, evening concerts, association meetings of various types, opportunities for networking, and awards banquets. The conference also features competitive performances of students in all instrument areas, as well as composition. This year’s conference was held in Reno, Nevada and was the first totally in-person conference since the pandemic. I think the welcoming speech by MTNA president, Karen Thicksun summed it up well when she said that having an in-person conference felt like “coming home”, and for me, a return to normalcy.

So, was the conference quite normal? I would answer, almost. The overall attendance was a little down, there weren’t quite as many exhibitors in the hall and the exhibits weren’t quite as grand as previously, but it was still quite a lot of fun for a piano teacher and “lifelong” student like myself. I attended 24 sessions in 3 full days (plus an evening and a 1/2 day), mostly on topics like practice effectiveness, piano pedagogy and techniques, performance anxiety, piano repertoire, and improvisation. Some sessions were fantastic, some were merely good, and some made me wish I had chosen a different session.

My favorite sessions in no particular order were:

  • Seeing the new “player” pianos from Yamaha and Steinway
    • This is an area of piano technology that I don’t see everyday as a private piano teacher. I mean who can afford to buy a $100,000+ piano for their studio that is both acoustic and totally digital other than University music schools. However, it was very fun to see this technology in action at the conference. Basically these new “player” pianos from Yamaha (Disklavier) and Steinway (Spirio) are a true acoustic pianos, so they can be played just like a regular acoustic piano, but in addition, they have the ability to make “high resolution” recordings or transmissions to other similarly equipped pianos. During the demonstrations, they were able to remotely play these pianos and also play previously made recordings on these pianos. It was amazing.
  • You Be the Judge – An Adjudication workshop by Clinton Pratt and Siok Lian Tan
    • I am not an adjudicator, but I think every piano teacher “adjudicates” their students performances every week at their lesson. So, a session on adjudication is especially helpful. I really liked how well-organized and useful this session was to me personally. The presenters provided an overall framework for adjudication concepts, gave a great list of evaluation criteria, summarized stylist criteria for different time eras, talked about vocabulary and tone when writing comments, gave advice on time management when adjudicating, and then went through video playing examples and then provided example adjudication comments. The vocabulary list for describing performances alone was worth attending this session. The presenters also provided their handouts for downloading which is always a great feature. I’m sure I will go back to my notes and handouts from this session and study them for use in my own studio when “adjudicating” my students in their lessons.
  • If You Like That, You’ll Love This! Piano Repertoire Alternatives for Overplayed Pieces by Kate Boyd
    • Learning new repertoire for students is always helpful. Kate Boyd’s presentation was very well organized and included a QR code for downloading her presentation which included the score of the music suggested as well as YouTube recordings of all the repertoire. In addition, all the lesser known repertoire was categorized by era and/or technical challenges. This is an incredibly useful list for piano teachers and I will be checking this list for repertoire for my students.
  • From Heart to Hands: How Mindfulness Can Revitalize Your Teaching by Laura Amoriello, Fernanda Nieto, Danette Whelan
    • This session was scheduled for the last half day of the conference and I didn’t have high hopes for the session, it just seemed to be a bit more appealing than the alternatives. However, this session turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire conference probably because of the presenters gave creative, concrete, and very useful ideas for how to deal with student stress levels in the studio and during performances. After the session, I immediately bought a packet of the mindfulness cards and the expanding ball for my studio. I’ve started talking to my students about practicing and playing confidently to make sure that they are always playing with confidence, even in practice. In addition, there were great ideas about how to use improvisation in the studio as therapeutic stress relief for students. It was a terrific session and I was glad I stayed the extra half day to attend.

I saw a lot of my fellow piano teachers looking a bit overwhelmed by all the information that was being presented at the conference. I personally like to take a lot of notes so that even if I can’t absorb everything immediately, I can at least go back and look over my notes later. The last time I attended the national conference, I tried to bring my laptop to all the sessions and take notes, but I had trouble with running out of power, incorporating handouts into my notes, etc. This time, my notetaking took a totally different approach. I took all my notes on paper during the sessions and then scanned my notes and handouts into pdfs using my phone. After scanning, I sent the pdfs to my computer and sorted them into my teaching resource topics folders on my laptop every evening. I also made a list of all the sessions that I attended at the conference, so I can remember everything that I attended and find my notes. Then, I just threw all my paper notes and handouts into the bin. This method is so much better then my previous note-taking method, thank goodness for my phone’s Scannable app.

One more thing, the performance Tuesday night by the young pianist, Drew Petersen, substituting at the last minute for Yefim Bronfman (suddenly unavailable due to illness) was amazing. Drew was the 2017 American Piano Society Pianist of the Year Winner and has the following website:

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