How to Prepare for Piano Competitions | The Discipline and Attitude You Need to Know -Alicia Shirley
How to Prepare for Piano Competitions | The Discipline and Attitude You Need to Know -Alicia Shirley


so welcome and to another edition of
applause the musician those of you that have been following us for about the
last six months understand that the the message and the what we do and the why
we do applause the musician is really to support musicians and teachers and those
that have dedicated their life to the art and craft of music we have a lot of
fun doing this and that we invite all different types of musicians to really
share their journey and you can certainly follow all of the interviews
past interviews and upcoming interviews on our website which is ApplasuetotheMusician.org
we’re all over social media that’s YouTube and Instagram and of
course Facebook and we look forward to your comments so today we’ve invited
Alicia Shirley who is a master and helping with that pedagogue pedagogue
okay is the noun and then now and we’ve invited she’s also a teacher she
has a wonderful practice a faculty member and a former faculty member at U
of H right yes yes Moore School of Music yes he has an incredible background I
think it’s very very interesting to share her story in terms of her practice
and her discipline and you know how she’s taken and built that over the
years so Alicia welcome to applause a musician thank you and I know it’s gonna
be here it’s a rainy day in Houston and we got you to get you out and thank you
for doing that so let’s just start a little bit Alicia let’s go back and kind
of bring us back to I know you’ve got some awards when the Texas Teachers
Association Award Teacher of the Year let’s go a little bit but something a
bit about your background as a faculty member at this Moore School of Music and
then of course we’d like to talk about the dissident impact the practice of
pedagogy you write on pedagogy pedagogy again okay and we’d like to share that
with the other so let’s start there and we’ll kind of work our way into some of
the other questions that we have as well okay that sounds great I first became a
faculty member well actually the very first time I was on faculty was when my
boss who was the boss of my teaching assistantship that I had teaching class
piano at the University of Houston when I was in graduate school and she had to
take a sabbatical because she had developed breast cancer and so the
University of Houston called me and asked if I and my roommate could take
over the class piano program for a semester while she was on that
sabbatical so it really started with that that was just that one semester but
I thoroughly enjoyed it even though class piano is not really my thing now I
really enjoyed it when I was doing it as an assistantship and then I was hired on
I believe it was 1999 sometime in the late 90s to teach the undergraduate
pedagogy program for well seniors was that a discipline that you’ve studied
prior was it something that you well not really now when I was at TCU my teacher
there Donna Edwards was very schooled in pedagogy and she was actually very
schooled in the Suzuki method okay and she had even taken a sabbatical where
when I had to study with another teacher at the time and she went over to Japan
and studied with the assistant to mr. Suzuki and I don’t remember her name but
she was the one that was really in charge at the piano part of Suzuki and
so when she came back I did take pedagogy with her that next semester and
so I benefited from all of that knowledge that she had received you know
studying through those issues is a key for a correlation between the Suzuki
method and the pedagogy method the discipline I mean there is because it’s
a teaching method I mean it’s it’s a specific technique it’s a specific
method of teaching I am NOT a Suzuki teacher and you know there’s a lot of
debate about whether Suzuki really works for piano it works for string
instruments no question of course lauren Haley is a accomplished yes she wrote a
book and that was the method that she learned on this well Suzuki yes but you
know I was able to teach Suzuki when I first moved to Houston because I was
hired by a school that implemented the Suzuki books along with some other
traditional method books and so I I definitely was able to call on that
knowledge that I received at TCU in order to teach Suzuki but I moved out of
that pretty quickly when I left that school and sort of embarked on my own
and I haven’t really implemented Suzuki since you you do master classes
in pedagogy don’t you I do yes yeah I’ve given several master classes
throughout the state of Texas and even traveled on the troubles yes well yeah
when I was younger I don’t travel so much out of the state of Texas anymore
but when I was younger I travelled outside in the United States and well we
don’t think about classes yes great so when did you start playing and what was
kind of the first musical inspiration for you was it a family was it it was
definitely that happen for you well it happened for me because my mother was a
piano teacher okay and so that was where the connection was yeah and I’m sure
that when I was young I showed some kind of interest you know in the piano
playing it when I was a toddler like so many kids do whether they’re musicians
or not and so I kind of played around a little bit when I was five but I didn’t
begin structured lessons until I was six and I began them with my mother with mom
Isis she taught me for one year we almost killed each other and so I was
shipped off not really but shipped off to study with another teacher who I had
was that mom said there your idea I think well I wasn’t I was too young to
make decisions they were made for me so it was definitely mom’s idea but I was
very happy with it okay worked out well yes yes so I really
was a very undisciplined child in the sense of self discipline now my parents
disciplined me yeah so I wasn’t undisciplined in that sense was father
brother anyone the siblings oh yes I have one sister she’s younger than I am
and she also was a pianist an or is a pianist and as a singer as well oh wow
yes so she took an influence in the family whatever and some come from
absolutely no music background they just listen to music and just gravitated to
it but we find that when you pursue a music career it’s generally because
there’s something in the background the family the siblings somehow that’s true
in this case it was really my mother that pushed me I did not really show
much interest in practicing I showed no interest in practicing
now I I think it was just that I didn’t like the discipline and structure of
practicing I was that way in school I hated doing homework I just wanted to be
outside playing I was a tomboy I’ve loved climbing trees playing sports
and that was what I wanted anything that kept me indoors and structured I didn’t
like what exchange huh yeah a real change like 100 degrees yes who could
have predicted my mom she probably predicted to have any specific musicians
or composers that you admire I I do now composers
I love Hyden and Mozart okay I love Chopin of course I love 20th century
music as so many of the composers in the 20th century era I really I really love
musicians I of course really admire my former teacher at the University of
Houston both of them actually Ruth Tom forty and Abby’s most elective at the
University no mrs. Tom forty retired and then she has since passed
I believe she passed two or three years ago Abby is going to turn 100 on January
the 8th so he retired from the University of Houston last year in the
middle of the year and went back to Geneva Switzerland where his home is and
that’s where he is and he’s gonna turn 100 January in plastic that’s great
that’s good good good good good we talked a little bit about like
competitions and what I want to go talk a little bit about you know the practice
and your teaching methods but how do you prepare your students for competitions
because that’s that’s a task in itself right discipline and then you’ve got to
prepare them and how do you take students to a level of getting them
psychologically and motivated and inspired to to to perform at
competitions because it’s got to be stressful right it can be I mean it
definitely can be because there’s a lot of pressure you know a lot of it falls
on me because I’m one I’m the instructor I’m the one that they’re looking to and
learning from so you know it is pressure I don’t really think of it so much that
way but if I have to take a step back I do realize it you know it is a lot of
responsibility for sure and I do take it very seriously no we interviewed Lauren
and she wrote a book you know that children are not lazy and it’s a
wonderful book she’s a strange she’s a violinist and one of the things she said
the motivation was just having the student take the inch to open the open
the case right that was the first step for them getting just motivated and then
rather than trying to fit the discipline into like a daily schedule after school
or after dinner they would they would try to get them to practice in the
morning before the day started and things got you know conflict that is a
great time to do it it’s hard to get students to practice in the morning
because they have to get up so early for school of course I do have students that
have done it that way that was how I practiced my mom because my mom taught
in the afternoon so the piano wasn’t available right and so both my sister
and I would practice in the morning now for competitions it’s really so much of
a mental preparation of course the performing in the competition is just
part of the development of being a pianist so you’re developing the
students play at the highest level you can possibly pull from them hopefully at
all times of course so I mean that’s sort of a given that you have to develop
that part of it and prepare them to that level to play but the mental aspect of
it is what I really hone in on and try to work on that’s the pedagogy using it
really kind of the discipline and it is the practice it’s pedagogy and there’s a
lot of psychology involved just getting them to recognize first of all that the
competition itself and and the results from it do not define them at all that’s
not as a person the artist and musician right and the most important part of
competing is the preparation that you do prior to the competition so I focus on
that that’s where the growth comes now of course you want to get better as well
as you can you want to play when the pressures on and when you have that one
moment to play you want to do your best but you have to realize that even if
things don’t go your way that doesn’t in any way shortchange the level of growth
that you achieved on your journey to that competition part of it yes that’s
it and I really changed my attitude some
point in my career probably somewhere in my
late 30s maybe early 40s where competitions I just tried to give off a
better attitude towards my students about what the results were from a
competition I’d showed no disappointment no anger it you know if my students
didn’t win I was very positive I focused on the journey there and how proud I am
of how they the level they prepared too because I don’t want my students to feed
off of my anxiety or my reactions from things like yeah choose the competitions
for this I do okay yes because I’m the one that knows what my students are
capable of and what I think they’ll have the best experience in I don’t ever want
my students to compete in something that is way over their head right there’s
just no nothing positive to be gained from that that’s great and I think that
that’s an reinforcement as in the development process right yes because
even if they’re young they’re playing and I noticed bad or it’s off or they’re
just having a maybe a bad day right it’s not something that you discourage right
it’s something that you enforce and say okay we’ve got to go back and we have to
work on this right absolutely that’s another thing too I am I’m a real
taskmaster when I’m getting them ready but on the day of the competition I am
nothing but supportive and relaxed I don’t want to be one of those stage
teachers you know where I’m yelling things at them at the last minute I’m
just and then however they play all I do is
tell them I’m proud of them and then I wait until the next lesson and if
there’s things I need to go over I say all right now let’s get let’s get busy
because this is what happens let’s talk a little bit about how many students you
have and what’s the process for you do you select the students and they select
you what’s that process both I select them they select me it has to be a
mutual decision I interview I don’t accept any students without interviewing
them because the student or the parent or well the parent really if it’s an
older student then yes the student will be included because I do want to know a
little bit about where they are mentally in terms of the piano do they like it
how do they feel about practicing those sorts of things but really with
beginners and young students it is all about the parent that’s what I’m
interested in so I relate that almost to like dog
training right and then it’s a bad example it’s true it’s and child and
we’re raising a child right absolutely it did it’s a it’s a collaborative
effort right it is how many students do you have currently in your practice
right now I have 18 I had two seniors that graduated last year and I had one
student that left and so that left me with and I’ve replaced that one but I
have a couple of openings probably I never really am actively in pursuit of
students or searching for students I’ve never been that way I just feel like
that you know they’ll come to me when the time is right and that’s just how
I’ve always handled it that’s amazing you know because some of our teachers
you know they’re they struggle to build their practice right yes and it’s great
to hear that you you have a practice that’s ongoing and just built our
reputation I would have yes yes do you so you’re not actively looking for more
students no and where are your students now in development I mean do you have
different age groups and different development processes so that as they
you know as they progress share their and their you know their their their
music ability sure absolutely I will teach students as young as three
I’ve worked with preschoolers I used to teach preschool classes okay and I did
that even at the University of Houston through the preparatory and Continuing
Studies program when it first opened and I also taught kindergarten and first
grade classes through the charter school system they came I’m not an educator and
in the sense that I don’t have an education degree I’m not certified but
they wanted the description of my preschool classes okay so I guess you
know whoever the principal was read the descriptions of what the prep school was
offering and they called the director who was Kathy Lai singer at this time
and said we want this this is what we want one thing because I’m have you
catalogued or do you have course material that you’ve sure that you’ve
written as a faculty member at U of H where you you know you went through the
process and then you have something actually that this is the process that
we use yes I mean my own syllabus you know and and course description yes I
definitely use that we’re required to but I had that too just to let the
students know what we’d be discussing you know when you start the way you
would teach a preschooler you have to use a lot of different or implement a
whole lot of different I hate to use the word tricks but just you know ways to
make them understand you know things like that then what you would do if you
were starting a first grader you know who’s more developed and of course
teaching all the way through middle school is always can be a difficult
transition to work students through and then on into high school usually by the
time they graduate I don’t teach post graduate except for at the University of
Houston my classes okay but I don’t teach college-level musicians apply to
piano I guess I should teach adults as well
I teach adults if they’re teachers and they’re wanting to learn pedagogy from
me if they’re wanting to come to me to work with me to become better teachers
that I do yes that seems like a very smart vertical for you to teach that as
well absolutely it’s it’s my wheelhouse it’s what I love right I taught adults
you know when I was younger and of course as you said before you’re trying
to build yourself make money support yourself and so I did teach adults at
when I was young but really children are my forte pre-college

1 thought on “How to Prepare for Piano Competitions | The Discipline and Attitude You Need to Know -Alicia Shirley”

  1. Allison Conkel says:

    Alicia Shirley is such a WONDERFUL teacher!

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