The Musical Journey, our 8-level motivational system focused on goal setting and creative expression, has just been completed for the very first time! Lukas E, an Orpheus piano student, recently finished his final project and earned his Level 8 trophy along with a $1,000 check to celebrate the achievement!
The Musical Journey is the only system of its kind that not only emphasizes each student's skills, but also their creativity. All Orpheus students are encouraged to participate in it, as it helps to create focused practice along with a great sense of accomplishment. Dr. Klondike Steadman sat down with Lukas to speak about his experience with the Musical Journey, his final project, and his time at Orpheus Academy.
Klondike: Lukas it's so great to have you here!
For all of you out there, I'm Klondike Steadman, I'm one of the owners and directors here, and we have the unique opportunity to celebrate Lukas, our first student completing all eight levels of the Musical Journey!
You know, I remember you when you were just four years old, you started lessons—you were just reminding me—in this very room. Now how old are you?
Lukas: I'm 17 now.
Klondike: 17! Wow! So, 13 years of lessons and it's been quite a ride. I can remember you in recitals where your feet wouldn't even touch the floor, and now you've gone through all of our programs.
Klondike: Tell me a little bit how music lessons have impacted you as a person over the years.
Lukas: They've provided just a really, really great opportunity for me to challenge myself mentally. So, coming here after school once a week or practicing at home every single day was just a really nice respite from sort of the academic side of school, and allowed me to express creativity in other ways that I really enjoyed.
Klondike: That's wonderful!
Klondike: You mention it's a respite, how did it help you during the pandemic? During the first year of lockdown?
Lukas: What was interesting was for a solid part of that first year I was in Japan, so I didn't actually get to play the piano for about a year. And so when I came back I sort of had to start over again, and that was hard especially without lessons at the beginning, but the more I practiced the more I realized that it was an amazing way to escape and sort of be in my own little bubble and sort of enjoy it for what it was.
Klondike: Well thanks so much for sharing that, I didn't actually know that you were in Japan during that year!
"Coming here after school once a week or practicing at home every single day was just a really nice respite from sort of the academic side of school, and allowed me to express creativity in other ways that I really enjoyed."
Klondike: Can you tell us about your experience with the Musical Journey? You've done all of these amazing projects, how did the Musical Journey impact your learning?
Lukas: Interestingly one of my favorite parts of the Musical Journey was the musicianship portion of the test. The harmonics, the rhythms, and the scales. And I feel like practicing that portion with teachers really helped all of the pieces that I would then play. So I think it was really interesting to see how the integral parts of music really express themselves in the Musical Journey and how that helped me become a better pianist.
Klondike: That's so interesting that you say that, because so many kids and parents don't understand that connection: how being a great musician, understanding how music actually works, helps you learn pieces. It seems like it would go without saying, but I think most people think it's all about putting your fingers in the right place.
Klondike: Well how does it feel having completed Level 8 of the Musical Journey?
Lukas: It feels really good! It's a little bit sad because I really enjoyed the whole "journey" portion of it, but I think it presents a new opportunity as well, where now I don't have to focus so much on the testing portions of it but more I can just apply what I've learned through the Musical Journey to new pieces that I can play. And I can find more difficult pieces and maybe spend more time on that, so I'm excited for what it will bring.
Klondike: Yeah, exactly. And I hope all the skills that you've learned along the way will make that a lot easier.
"It was really interesting to see how the integral parts of music really express themselves in the Musical Journey and how that helped me become a better pianist."
Klondike: So Lukas, for your Level 8 project, you made a website that will help you promote yourself professionally as a pianist. Can you tell me a little bit about that process?
Lukas: So at first, one of the more difficult parts about it was figuring out what sort of writing element I was going to incorporate into the website. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that really I could expand a lot on that and provide not only background about my personal self, but also about myself as a musician, or other interests I had, or what I hope to do with my musicianship in the future.
And so thinking about all that, I then decided to add a couple clips of myself playing the piano as sort of an example. I had just finished learning a Chopin Prelude that I really wanted to include on my website. And I tried maybe 10 or 15 times to record an accurate or nice version of this prelude, and struggled to each time. And so I finally ended up using one that— I got home from school and I decided, "You know what, I'm going to record it once and I'm going to be happy with it and that's what I'm going to put on there." And I did and it was, in my opinion, the best time I've ever played it, so I was really glad to have done that.
Klondike: You know, you touch on having to try and try and try again. I don't think a lot of people out there realize that that's a reason that we have these projects. Because any time you record yourself, you're going to notice the things that you didn't like about your playing, and there's literally no better way to get better at anything than to watch yourself struggling, and then focus on the thing that you're having trouble with and then try it again and try it again.
Well I think it's awesome that you made this website. There's so many people who need music in their lives, and having that website up there is going to help you connect with them in really wonderful ways.
Klondike: Do you have any favorite memories of Orpheus that you wanted to share?
Lukas: A couple of my favorites were, first of all— every day that I came to Ms. Christine's lessons after school, I would sit outside and wait for my sister Adeline to finish her lessons. And during that time there was a very nice gentleman just across the hall in that room over there, who was practicing—I don't remember with what teacher—but he would play a piece and I would hear it and really enjoy it. And every Thursday I guess it was, he would come out and ask for one person to come sit in on 10 minutes of his lesson or so. And so for maybe three or four months I would come and listen to him play and improve on that piece every single week, and it was really, really impressive. And that stuck with me a lot.
Klondike: I never knew that! I'll have to look at the schedule and see who was taking lessons at the same time as you back then. But I think that kind of gets at our community vision. The reason that Wendy, my wife, and I started this business was that we've always felt like teaching out of your home— students don't get to hear other students. And when they can hear other people they get inspired by that. That's really great.
Klondike: Do you have any advice to other people who are going through the Musical Journey, about how they can get the most out of it?
Lukas: So I would say, don't just look to getting to the very end of it. Even though it seems like a long journey, appreciate all of the individual steps and everything that you learn through it because that's really what will help you become a better musician.
Klondike: Well I definitely am so excited to be presenting you with the Level 8 trophy and a $1,000 check to help with your studies as you project into the future. I know that this is going to be true for you because I know how much you love music, but hopefully this is just the start of a new musical journey for you to take music out into the world.
Lukas: Thank you very much.
Klondike: So here's the Level 8 trophy and a $1,000 check!
Lukas: Thank you!
Klondike: Thank you Lukas.
Klondike: And to everybody else out there, I just hope that you will invest yourself the way Lukas has in building your skills, doing amazing projects, transforming the world, and bringing joy to everybody through your music. Thank you so much to everybody participating in this Musical Journey!
As a teacher, I'm always thinking about creative ways to keep my students motivated. There are many different forms of motivation though. For instance, the fear of getting a bad grade or being punished is a motivator (though not a very effective one), at the same time that earning a reward like a trophy can also be a motivator. Each can be successful in its own way, but extrinsic motivators like these can be somewhat superficial and lose their value over time. That's why I always try to motivate my students by helping them connect to a deeper sense of meaning in what they do.
In music, one of the simplest and best forms of motivation is the opportunity to play music with others. Not only is the sense of connection and camaraderie super rewarding, but you also feel a sense of accountability in wanting to do a good job for your band mates. Unfortunately though, most young musicians don't get the chance to play in groups until they reach the middle or high school level.
So when I found out that three of my students not only go to the same elementary school, but are in the very same class, I invited them to perform in a guitar trio together! Of course, just me telling them to play together isn't enough motivation in itself, the kids also have to be involved in some of the decision making in order to feel a stronger sense of ownership and accomplishment. In this video, I sat down with the newly formed Orpheus Junior Guitar Trio so we could discuss our goals for the group. You'll get a chance to see how Orpheus students are involved in the learning process every step of the way. I hope you enjoy!
Johnny: My name is Johnny and I'm playing the Russian national anthem.
Klondike: [hums melody].
Klondike: [hums melody].
Johnny: “Drunken Sailor.”
Klondike: And the “Drunken Sailor,” that's right.
Mabel: My name's Mabel and I'm playing the “Drunken Sailor” and “Ai Bolubolum,” German national anthem, “Auld Lang Syne,” “Love Somebody,” the “Bear Song.”
Klondike: Lots of songs, very cool.
Lizzie: My name is Lizzie. I’m playing “O Canada,” “Joy to the World,” and “Ai Bolubolum.”
Klondike: That's right.
Klondike: I really appreciate you guys meeting with me today. I'm super excited to get this trio started. And so I thought it would be interesting to share how you guys met, because it's really funny, you guys all met each other at school, but you didn't know you were all taking guitar lessons with me. Mabel and Lizzie, would you share how you found out that you were taking guitar lessons with the same teacher?
Lizzie: Well, I was humming “Ai Bolubolum” at school and Mabel heard me and she asked if I was humming “Ai Bolubolum” and I said, “Yeah, how did you know?” And she answered, “Because I play guitar.” And then I asked her, where did she go [for guitar lessons]? And that's how we figured it out.
Klondike: Very cool. And Mabel, since you've got your guitar out, would you play “Ai Bolubolum” for us?
Mabel: Sure! [plays song]
"Mabel heard me and she asked if I was humming “Ai Bolubolum” and I said, “Yeah, how did you know?” And she answered, “Because I play guitar.” And then I asked her, where did she go [for guitar lessons]?"
Klondike: Johnny, how did you find out that Mabel and Lizzie also took lessons from me, is it because I told you or did you find out at school?
Johnny: I knew that Lizzie was and then Lizzie told me that Mabel was playing.
Klondike: Got it. Yeah, because you and Lizzie come on the same day, so you kind of sometimes see each other at Orpheus, huh? Johnny, did you want to play something for everybody? I am just so proud of you for your own composition. Would you mind sharing your composition with them?
Johnny: Well I made up this song, and Klondike thinks it’s really good.
Klondike: And what's it called?
Johnny: “Lurk.” [plays song]
Klondike: I love that because you play so many cool different things on the guitar with slides and harmonics and everything.
Klondike: Lizzie, did you want to play a piece, or just show us the chords you know how to play? Because I think that's something super cool that I didn't even teach you, you went to a summer camp and you learned your chords. Or any piece you want to play.
Lizzie: [plays song]
Klondike: That was awesome, that was a great start. What was that piece, Lizzie?
Lizzie: “Joy to the World.”
Klondike: “Joy to the World,” awesome!
Klondike: Let's talk about what we want to do as a trio since it's super cool that you guys already are in the same classroom. And then of course we can all play together in the Orpheus Friendship Concert. There's so many different choices of what kind of cool music we can play together, and I want to get everybody's opinion so I can know which type of songs to pick for you.
So one choice is, we could have you all play on guitar some of the songs you already know. For example, you could do “Ai Bolubolum” and we could have one of you playing the melody, another one of you playing the bass, and another one of you playing chords, just like in a rock band. So you'd all together make it sound like a bigger song. And then you could play it again and a different person would play the melody. So that would be with known songs.
Another possibility would be to do popular music. Music by The Beatles or music by, I don't know, Ariana Grande or some other artist that everybody here likes their music.
And a third option would be to do songs from a movie, like sometimes my students like the music from Coco, or sometimes they like the music from a TV show that they all are into, or sometimes they're all into Avengers or something like that.
Klondike: Johnny, is there a song that you would like to do that would sound really cool with three guitars playing?
Johnny: My best guess would be like a national anthem or something.
Klondike: Well you've all done different national anthems and that's a really good idea. So Mabel and Lizzie could play the accompaniment while you do the Russian national anthem, and then you and Mabel could do the accompaniment while Lizzie plays the Canadian national anthem, and then while playing the German national anthem.
You could do your own little national anthem project for your school, and that would be a pretty cool project. Do you know why? Because you'd also be teaching all your classmates about what flags they have and where those countries are on a map and stuff like that. So you could basically be teaching geography, I bet your teacher would love it if you would do that.
Klondike: Does anybody else have a song they'd like to suggest that we could do?
Johnny: What about “Ode to Joy?”
Klondike: “Ode to Joy” is a great example, yeah we could do “Ode to Joy.” And you might not be playing the melody because it would be very boring if everybody's playing: [plays just melody]. But if it sounded more like this: [plays melody, bass, and chords], that sounds a lot cooler doesn't it? Sounds more like a symphony.
Mabel: What about “Ai Bolubolum?”
Klondike: I think that's a great idea. So “Ode to Joy” gets a vote, “Ai Bolubolum” gets a vote.
"One of the coolest things is that you guys are getting to play in a group at a pretty young age, compared to most groups. I didn't get to join my first band until I was in high school."
Klondike: All right, does anybody else want to share anything else about what we should do this semester when we're playing together as a trio? Like maybe book a rock venue and play for thousands of people and the crowd goes wild and there’s glitter and lights and you're– No? That's maybe not for this semester, we'll save that for maybe next year.
Johnny: Maybe we could all camp out at one person's house and we can play the song and the three families can be there.
Klondike: That's a very cool idea. I've never been to Lizzie's house. Lizzie, do you have a backyard or anything?
Klondike: I know Johnny has a big backyard, I know that Mabel has a big backyard. We could all have backyard concerts, and all three families could come, right?
[Johnny, Lizzie, and Mabel nod]
Klondike: Very cool. All right, those are really great suggestions and if you think of anything else, of course, you could tell me in your guitar lesson.
You know, one of the coolest things is that you guys are getting to play in a group at a pretty young age, compared to most groups. I didn't get to join my first band until I was in high school. I don't know if you know this, but my daughter, she plays in a group with other kids mostly in high school and they have gone and played around the country. They won first prize in a competition last year, so there's all kinds of things that you can do if you play together for a really long time.
All right, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me today and I can't wait to see what we get accomplished together. Have a great week!
Imagine that you've spent weeks rehearsing together as an ensemble, fine-tuning your skills and playing in sync until you are in perfect harmony with one another... then the whole world shuts down and you can no longer meet up in person. Now, you suddenly have to grapple with new technology and try to replicate the ensemble experience online, as you deal with internet lag and audio problems.
That was the experience for the Orpheus Honors Quartet, which is made up of four high-level guitar students: Allen, Brandon, Mei Yin, and Michael, as well as their teacher, myself!
Together, we rehearsed virtually for many months, and learned some tips and tricks for how to collaborate effectively along the way. Our hard work paid off when we participated in the Southern Guitar Festival and Competition in May, where the quartet took home 3rd place!
Following the competition, we spent time preparing for the Southern Guitar Fest's showcase in North Carolina, and I truly believe all four members of the quartet could now be considered experts in working together online. I took the time to interview the Honors Quartet about their collaboration, and what advice they have for others looking to connect and make music with others virtually.
Stephen: You're all experienced performers and you've participated in many, many ensembles being at Orpheus for so long. What is the difference between rehearsing with others in person versus virtually?
Allen: Well rehearsing virtually, there's just a lot of problems that come with it. You can't really play together. There's also all the problems with like wi-fi, mic quality, noise cancellation, echo, “Original Sound.” It's kind of just hard to hear good guitar playing over Zoom calls.
Brandon: Online, it's a little bit harder to communicate with everyone. If you're communicating offline there’s at least better synchronization because we can all see each other well, and therefore a better performance.
"Being aware of every aspect of your playing and your setup before you enter a group situation. Yeah, everyone as individuals, your preparedness and how set up you are and ready to go really has a big impact on the dynamic of a rehearsal, especially when it's online."
Stephen: Being the high-level performers that you are, and working together virtually as long as we did, what advice would you have for other students who want to collaborate or play virtually?
Allen: Try to listen to your playing as much as possible when you're having those online rehearsals. Sometimes your mic can have problems or your wi-fi could go out and stuff like that, and you might not hear some problems with your playing. So if you see something just address it, you could get it fixed or [otherwise] you could just have it as a bad habit for a long time until an in-person rehearsal. Also, turn “Original Sound” on.
Stephen: Yeah, so “Original Sound” and a little bit more self-aware practice. Being aware of every aspect of your playing and your setup before you enter a group situation. Yeah, everyone as individuals, your preparedness and how set up you are and ready to go really has a big impact on the dynamic of a rehearsal, especially when it's online.
Stephen: Mei Yin, have you or the group encountered any technical issues while rehearsing over Zoom, and what workarounds did we find?
Mei Yin: Internet connectivity problems, and we used ethernet and yeah, usually ethernet and stuff and sometimes upgrading wi-fi to get better connections. And then also playing individually, so our sounds wouldn't overlap and sound bad and distorted because there’s usually lag.
Stephen: Yeah totally, upping our internet connection, I think. Having a good internet connection made everything more fluid, and microphones I think. Pretty early on Mei Yin you all invested in a nice microphone, and Brandon and Allen too have nice audio setups. Definitely helped.
Stephen: We rehearsed virtually for a recent competition for many weeks, if not months, and then finally we were able to actually meet in person and rehearse outdoors. What was that like, being able to come together after all that time?
Mei Yin: I think it was a lot easier and more connected and fluid when we came together in person, because we could all play together, as opposed to online when we each had to play individually.
Stephen: Yeah, totally. Was it weird having your part learned and knowing how it fits into the ensemble as a whole, but never having played it in person? And then all of a sudden, being in person and able to play it with everyone, and everyone else knows their parts. Was that kind of strange?
Mei Yin: I wouldn't say it was strange, but I thought it was nice to hear all the parts together as one in person.
Stephen: Allen, this question is for you. What were some of the things that you did individually to keep up the energy while we were rehearsing online?
Allen: When someone else's mic is unmuted and they're playing I would just play with them with my mic muted, so I could get a sense of what it would sound like in person.
Stephen: Interesting, so you had the opportunity to play along with other parts without affecting that person. Because we had the option of muting/unmuting, that gave you a little flexibility to practice along with other people or practice your parts during a lull. Whereas otherwise I would get a little mad at you if you were practicing your part while I was talking [laughs]. Good!
Stephen: Brandon, can you tell us about the process of preparing for the competition and what pieces we played?
Brandon: Well, getting ready for the competition for me was a little bit uneasy, but eventually yeah we pulled through. We played the songs “West Side Story” by Bernstein, and “A Poem” by you.
Stephen: Allen, this is for you. What was it like working with the composer of one of the pieces, myself, while we were rehearsing. From your point of view was I more picky with that song in particular, or was it different? And no pressure, you can say whatever you want about working on my piece, my feelings will not be hurt.
Allen: Okay. You weren’t pickier, but I feel like you just had a more clear view of what you wanted the piece to sound like. Like in other pieces, you would experiment more to see what sounded better. But you generally knew what you would intend for the piece to sound like.
Stephen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I hadn't actually thought about that difference myself, but I guess it makes sense that when you write a piece you generally have a pretty good idea of how you think it should go.
Stephen: Mei Yin, another one for you, can you tell us about the Southern Guitar Fest that the Trio, now Quartet, recently participated in?
Mei Yin: So it was originally held online, and we submitted videos. Yeah, I guess it was practice of running through it many times. Then, I also think listening to each other and listening to our playing to help us improve the recording for the next time.
Stephen: I think that's big. We did two back to back recording sessions: do one and then listen and then do another one after having listened and made a bunch of notes. And I think both of the times, the second one was always better because you guys made so many improvements.
We did two back to back recording sessions: do one and then listen and then do another one after having listened and made a bunch of notes. And I think both of the times, the second one was always better because you guys made so many improvements.
Stephen: Mei Yin, how did you feel the competition went? What was it like waiting for the results to come in after we had submitted our videos?
Mei Yin: I think the competition went pretty smoothly because it was online. We just submitted the video and there wasn't much, like hassle to it or anything. Personally for me, waiting for the results wasn't that bad. Like I don't find it as bad when it's online compared to in person, because in person you have to like, sit there through the concert before they announce the results. I personally didn't find it that nerve-wracking waiting.
Stephen: Brandon, how did you feel coming in third place, and how did you celebrate after we got that great news?
Brandon: It was very exciting when I heard that we received third place, when so many people participated in the competition. So I celebrated by being happy for around one to two hours.
Stephen: That's a great way to celebrate, it lasted one to two hours, that's it?
Brandon: Yeah, that's pretty long for me.
Stephen: [laughs] So two hours and then just back to normal?
Stephen: What's next for the Orpheus Honors Quartet, what are you currently working on and what's the next goal? Michael, maybe you can take this one.
Michael: I know we're working on two pieces right now, I think “La Follia.” And then there's the Vivaldi one I think. There’s another one called “Quest.” And then we're obviously playing in [North] Carolina for the performance thing.
Stephen: You joined the group fairly recently in the last couple months. You had to learn a lot of music really fast. What was the process of learning all that music like?
Michael: I took it like how I take any new piece: I don't think about the whole piece, I think about just certain sections, like a few measures, play them really slow and try to make every single note perfect. And when I feel comfortable, I just speed it up. I repeat that for other sections and then eventually I put them together and then get them up to speed.
Stephen: Great. Those are all great practice strategies: doing slow practice, working in small sections, and just doing everything very gradually.
Stephen: The Quartet has played a few different styles of music. We’ve played Baroque music in “The Telamon,'' we've played some contemporary music in the “La Follia” and “The Quest.” What kind of pieces do you enjoy playing the most with the group?
Michael: Probably right now it's “La Follia,” just because I feel like it's different than anything I play. It kind of tells a story if you think about it, and then there's so many different types of textures. Just sounds really different, in a good way.
Stephen: Michael, I like what you said about it telling a story. That piece does kind of morph over time and change in beautiful and unexpected ways, like a story.
Stephen: Another one for you Michael. What aspect of ensemble music is most enjoyable to you?
Michael: Probably a little bit of everything. I've been in previous ensembles like a few years ago, they weren’t anything compared to this. All those other things were just like a few weeks, maybe a few months I think. But I mean we kind of just played and then kind of got it over with. There wasn't really any bonding. [Now] it's kind of enjoying what you play rather than just playing it to play.
Stephen: Totally. That is so cool.
Stephen: Okay, and this is the last question for everybody. The four of you were invited to perform live at the North Carolina festival called Southern Guitar Festival and Competition, after receiving a top prize in an ensemble competition. Is there anything that any of you are looking forward to in particular about that trip?
Mei Yin: I always like to travel for competitions, I think it's fun. Yeah I think it will be interesting to go to the festival as well, because I usually like going to other festivals and going to master classes and stuff and seeing other people.
Allen: I'm looking forward to just listening to the other people play, since they were extremely good at guitar, the ones that we competed against.
Following this interview, the Orpheus Honors Quartet performed at the Southern
Guitar Festival, where Allen, Brandon, and Mei Yin each entered the festival's solo competition and all won prizes!
Aylin has been a vital part of the Orpheus community for over a decade! She strongly believes in music’s ability to make a difference in the lives of others, and understood the isolating effect of the pandemic and social distancing, especially for senior citizens. As a result, Aylin created the Musical Postcards for Seniors initiative to organize virtual concerts for seniors in retirement homes, which united many Orpheus students, teachers, and families toward a good cause.
Now that Musical Postcards has come to a close, Aylin’s guitar teacher and Orpheus director, Dr. Klondike Steadman, spoke with her about the project, her time at Orpheus Academy, and her advice for others in using music for positive change.
Klondike: Hi Aylin, thank you so much for being here today!
Aylin: Hi, thank you.
Klondike: I can't believe you're getting ready to go off to college. I just think about that ambitious little girl who came-- I don't know, were you four or five when you first came to Orpheus?
Aylin: I think I was like six years old.
Klondike: You were just so focused and intense. You're still a really focused person, and you just wanted to be so good at everything you did, and you put your whole heart into everything you did here at Orpheus. I almost can't imagine Orpheus going forward without you. You've been such a big part of Orpheus for 12 years, is that right?
Aylin: Yeah, 12 years.
Klondike: It's really incredible. I had you in some of my earliest Musicianship classes, when you were just six years old. And now you're graduating high school! How awesome is that?
Klondike: Looking back at all of those years, and it's way too many things to even mention in one interview, what are some of your favorite memories of Orpheus, and accomplishments from your time here?
Aylin: I have so many amazing memories, it's really hard just to pick a few to discuss here. But I think a lot of my favorite memories come from making music together with other students. I was part of a guitar quartet for around five years, and I really enjoyed practicing and performing together.
We played a lot of fun pieces, and one of my favorites was "Kalimba" by Kindle I believe. A kalimba is like an African thumb piano, and so to imitate the sound of a kalimba we each put a handkerchief underneath the strings of our guitar, and I’d never done that technique before, so it was really exciting to try. The piece "Kalimba" is based on like African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and I really loved exploring different cultures while also learning and playing new rhythms with the quartet.
And last summer, I started Musical Postcards for Seniors to inspire Orpheus students to record concerts for seniors to help ease their isolation during the pandemic. And the dedication of the Orpheus community to do social good through music and the positive feedback from seniors is something that I’ll forever cherish.
Klondike: Yeah, and we'll talk a lot more about the Musical Postcards, that’s such an amazing thing.
But I just want to share with you that one of my cherished memories is when we traveled down to Brownsville together. And we had to rearrange "Kalimba" to fit because one of our members of the quartet couldn't make it, and so you guys all took on the extra burden and you took home first prize in the guitar ensemble competition, the small ensemble. So that was really an added bonus, but the main thing was just sharing that time together, eating out together, traveling together, it's really something I’ll hold close to my heart for my whole life.
Klondike: But you mentioned the Postcards to Seniors-- how did you get the idea to create this amazing program of videos that get sent to retirement communities?
Aylin: So last year when COVID-19 hit, my in-person ensembles, lessons, and concerts came to a halt. My fellow musicians and I found ourselves in a Kafkaesque nightmare: isolated at home, sequestered from each other, and unable to make music together in a surreal new reality.
And meanwhile the media reported dire problems for isolated seniors. And talking with my grandparents, who were quarantining on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I really sensed their gloom in losing human connections. And so to lift up their mood in a Zoom call, I played some classical guitar pieces for them, and it instantly lit up their eyes. I was really exhilarated by that connection.
"Talking with my grandparents, who were quarantining on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I really sensed their gloom in losing human connections. And so to lift up their mood in a Zoom call, I played some classical guitar pieces for them, and it instantly lit up their eyes."
Klondike: Well it was so awesome, and you know I think it's one thing to have an idea-- but you actually took it and put it into action. What did it take to bring that idea to fruition?
Aylin: So I started out by making sample recordings of mini-concerts, and I emailed them to nursing homes. To my surprise, some nursing homes called back immediately to learn more about the idea.
I sensed that my recordings alone would not be sufficient, so I pitched the idea to Orpheus students and invited them to record music and greetings for seniors. And students loved the cause and went out of their way to dress up, practice, and compose new pieces. And I was able to edit the recordings into Musical Postcards, and share the links with nursing homes.
To scale the project up, I reached out to Orpheus leadership and secured support for engaging more students, teachers, and staff. We developed a system where students upload their recordings to Google Drive for a team of teachers to review, and then I would arrange the individual recordings into 10 to 15 minute Musical Postcards. And I collaborated with staff to manage the supply of Musical Postcards and we emailed them to nursing homes weekly.
Klondike: Wow such an amazing operation that just [whoosh!].
"I pitched the idea to Orpheus students and invited them to record music and greetings for seniors. And students loved the cause and went out of their way to dress up, practice, and compose new pieces."
Klondike: So, can you just share with us some of the notable statistics about Postcards to Seniors?
Aylin: Yeah, so our concerts of over 100 students reached over 760 nursing homes in 26 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and three Australian states.
Klondike: It just blows me away. It's one of the most impactful initiatives we've ever had at Orpheus, and I just am so grateful that you did that. Not to undercut the amazing work that you've done changing the lives of seniors, but I also want to say, the students themselves that probably were just on their screens all day long-- they need a really good reason to feel like what they're doing has meaning.
Klondike: Can you talk a little bit about your experience changing lives, and then how it felt to see those wonderful videos from the other students?
Aylin: Yeah, so for me, giving back to my community through Musical Postcards gave meaning to my life. We're inherently social beings who crave social connections, and I think our communities can really give us courage, help us overcome life's challenges, and make the journey worthwhile.
So I saw that we could really alleviate social challenges by working together and uniting. And with the help of the Orpheus leadership, students, and teachers, we all worked as a team to put this together, and I think it brought out the best in people and enabled us to stay connected. And hearing the positive feedback from seniors was very meaningful. Many of them commented on how the concerts have brought a smile to their faces and sparked a memory of their own children playing instruments and performing in school concerts.
One senior, I remember he commented like, “I love this so much that I watch it every morning, it gives me hope and brings sunshine to this dark time.” And helping to bring joy to even one person is very meaningful and rewarding.
Klondike: Wow, again it just really touches me so deeply. You may not even be aware of this Aylin, but concurrent with the Musical Postcards, all the teachers and staff at Orpheus were kind of exploring what our deepest values are as an academy, and we decided to settle on “Collaborate, Play, Engage, and Create,” and I think that Musical Postcards-- You just hit on all of them. You came up with a great idea, it was very creative, and then you collaborated with the teachers, staff, and students, and also the people at the nursing homes, to get people playing and get the engagement up. So I’m just so proud of his project.
When Wendy and I started Orpheus like 18 years ago, it was mostly because, even outside of a pandemic, music lessons, classical music lessons particularly, can be a very isolating experience: “Practice by yourself, go to a private teacher, go home and practice what the teacher told you you did wrong, go back for another lesson.” And we wanted the opportunity for kids to come together and be able to be in group classes, and like you said, that experience of playing in ensembles was already really meaningful, and I think that you then took it to this whole new level, which is just so inspiring.
"Our concerts of over 100 students reached over 760 nursing homes in 26 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and three Australian states."
Klondike: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your future plans, I hear you're going to Harvard?
Klondike: That's amazing, and tell us a little bit about what you hope to study and research, and maybe even beyond your undergraduate years, what you hope to spend your life doing.
Aylin: So I'm really grateful to have the privilege of attending Harvard, and I'll be studying neuroscience on a pre-med track. So my hope is to become a medical doctor and researcher.
Klondike: Awesome. That's a field that I just find so exciting, I wish I could have had the opportunity to study that.
Klondike: And I know you're going to be so busy at Harvard, but are you gonna try to play guitar a little bit?
Aylin: Yes, you know my life has always had dualities and one that I’ve really embraced over the years is the science and art duality.
And so I definitely want to continue playing classical guitar while I'm studying neuroscience in college. I think expressing myself through music brings me a lot of joy and it's profoundly meaningful to perform and share that joy with others.
Klondike: Wonderful. You know, I don't get the chance to ask this, and be as honest as you can be-- not many students get to see Orpheus for a full 12 years, because you have to get started really young like you did. Have you noticed any changes over the years?
Aylin: Well I think over the years Orpheus has really built a family of engaged students and teachers, who are all eager to learn and develop together. Through private lessons and group musicianship classes, we've learned to read music, play our favorite songs, and create music with friends, and we've also had opportunities to play in public recitals both solo and with friends.
Orpheus has developed so many more initiatives over the years to further its social mission and has also been receptive to the ideas of students like me, and it has just been such a joyful experience and I'm so excited to see how the Orpheus community continues to grow.
Klondike: Well thank you, I'm so glad that they were all positive things. You're not like, “Oh you guys got so big and…” [laughs]. I really hope that as we’ve grown, we grow closer and we get to share more.
"Orpheus has developed so many more initiatives over the years to further its social mission and has also been receptive to the ideas of students like me."
Klondike: Those experiences of being a family, or the challenges that you overcame at Orpheus, are there any of those that you wanted to highlight that helped you in your amazing journey?
Aylin: Yeah, well I think Orpheus has not only taught me music, but also fundamental life skills such as self-discipline, grit, and self-esteem. And those skills have really helped me thus far in my education, and I'll carry them with me to college and beyond.
I think Orpheus has also taught me to follow my passions and collaborate to achieve meaningful goals, and really use my talents and capabilities to benefit society. And that has really inspired me to make a positive social impact wherever I go, and do it with love.
Klondike: Well that's exactly what I would want for any student. You really exemplify what we would like all students to take away.
Klondike: Do you have any advice for younger students about how they can make positive change happen?
Aylin: Yeah, well I would say no matter what your age is, you can definitely create positive change. If there's a cause that you're passionate about, even if people tell you that you're too young and you can't make an impact, I promise your opinions matter. And you can take action now to make a difference. So my advice would be to be proactive and ask for help when you need it. There's really no shame in asking for help, in fact it's a sign of strength.
I would recommend finding a mentor who inspires you and is available to support you, reach out to people in your community and online like on social media who share your vision and collaborate with them, but do so with your parents permission to be safe. And read relevant books and credible articles about the cause you're interested in.
I also want to emphasize that, while it can be great to have a big vision, it's okay and normal to start out small, see where the project goes, and then gradually expand it. And you don't have to do this alone. There's so many people to help, I'm one of them, and there might also be teachers, family, or friends who are willing. So take advantage of all the opportunities and support around you to do social good.
"If there's a cause that you're passionate about, even if people tell you that you're too young and you can't make an impact, I promise your opinions matter. And you can take action now to make a difference."
Klondike: Well thank you so much Aylin, and I know you've already inspired so many, and you will continue to do so as you go out into the world and make a big, big difference. So thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you've given to Orpheus!
Aylin: I couldn't have done it without the Orpheus community, so thank you so much Orpheus. Thank you!
Sophie is an extroverted piano student who has found music lessons and life in general to be more challenging without in-person interaction. With her mom Sarah's help, Sophie discovered new ways to connect with other students, make new friends, and create meaningful performances and experiences online.
Georgia, Sophie’s piano teacher, took the time to speak with Sophie and Sarah about Sophie’s initiative, and how online education platforms can be used for significant connection and collaboration.
Georgia: Sophie, how old are you and how long have you been taking piano lessons?
Sophie: I'm 11 years old and I've been playing piano for six years, so I started when I was five with my mom and then I moved to you.
Georgia: What was the process of when you had to transition from in-person lessons to online lessons?
Sophie: Because of COVID I couldn't really see you, so I wouldn't see you every week in person. It's hard at home because there's a lot of background noises, because the piano’s right next to the kitchen.
But I'm really glad that we could still have Zoom.
Georgia: Sarah, what would you say was the most challenging thing about transitioning to online lessons?
Sarah: I think for Sophie in particular it was hard for her not to get out of the house and be with people and to work on the Friendship Concerts. It's probably her favorite thing, is working with people, and so we've had a couple frustrating moments with trying to put duets together.
But we learned from the process. There was a lot of back and forth, you know, there’s just a lag time. So we've learned, since we've been doing this for a while now, how to keep it simple. And do things like how you suggested. Like let's just make one recording that they both can play together with, so it's steady, and then we can work from there.
And then there's some video editing that has to go into it as well that helps, that makes us feel like, “Okay, this isn't too terrible.” [laughs] “It’s not too hard, it came together at the end.”
I think you have your similar challenges when you're in person too. I think that's one of the most challenging things about being a musician is playing in an ensemble, and when they get a little bit older it's so good for them. It's good for them to be challenged… You have to use your ears more, and you have to adapt, and you have to be flexible, and I think those are all things that we've learned a lot about this year.
Georgia: Well it's so funny, I've been working on a duet for the Faculty Concert that's coming up, and I'm playing the duet with myself, and even that is hard [laughs]. I go to the video editing and I think, “Okay, I played with the metronome for the first video, I played with myself for the second video,” and when I get to the editing software it doesn't line up! It’s like, "What happened?"
Sarah: Yeah. You have to let go of some perfectionist tendencies also and be okay with it, and say, “Okay, you know we did the best we could,” and I think people understand. It's not meant to be a perfect production, it's just, you know it's a new learning experience, so I think that's good for the kids overall.
"Music I think is one thing that has really flourished a lot since our kids have been home."
Georgia: Sophie, what new technologies and technical skills do you feel like you've learned by doing online lessons?
Sophie: I had to pay attention a little bit more and listen, because I wasn't right next to you. And I also had to learn how to put all my duets and stuff together.
Georgia: Yeah! What was your motivation to learn all those new skills?
Sophie: I think it's really cool-- well especially with the duets, where I get to meet new friends that I haven't met before. And practice with them.
Georgia: Yes, well I've been super grateful to you in particular with the way you responded to my Flipgrid. And the way that you not only posted so many videos of yourself playing songs, but you've also been just such a source of encouragement for my other students, like when they see comments from you, they talk about it all week, and when they see your videos. They'll even ask me sometimes, “Did Sophie make a new Flipgrid this week?”
So that's been a really neat, special community that I never would have imagined before COVID all started and shut us down in normal circumstances. I think in some ways, more of my piano students know you now than they did before.
Georgia: How have you shared your music online? What platforms have you used to share your music?
Sophie: I’ve used Flipgrid mostly, like where I get to share pieces and meet with your other students, and then the Flipgrid from Musicianship that we also get to do.
Georgia: That's good. It's helpful to still be able to reach out and feel like other people exist beyond our home walls.
Georgia: Do you have any tips for other people who might be new to using Flipgrid?
Sophie: Well if you're using Flipgrid, then you should try to focus on what your goal is, so playing your piece. Because sometimes I focus too much on all the effects and stuff.
Georgia: All the effects are so cool though. I've actually watched your videos and some of my other student videos and I've honestly learned so much from you guys, because I feel like you are more inclined to just explore and investigate all the filters.
Georgia: Could you share a story about how you used Flipgrid to interact and stay in touch with another student and play duets?
Sophie: With Malka, since we're doing the Friendship Concert together and we're playing pieces, we've never really seen each other in person, but you introduced us to each other, and I got her phone number so we could stay in touch and every Friday or so we get together and talk about piano or just life.
Georgia: That's so cool. It's like this year has been really fun in that regard for me too, because I have these students, like you and Malka would be a great example. For years, I’ve thought you two guys should get together, and there's some way you needed to know each other, but your schools are completely different, you live on complete opposite sides of the city. And so it's been really neat to watch you guys get to know each other finally.
Georgia: Now last semester, when we did the Friendship Concert, you worked so hard with a violinist to get that [recorded]. Can you describe some of the things that you guys did over Flipgrid to stay in touch and to make that concert piece come together?
Sophie: Yeah, we gave each other a lot of advice, like just recorded some short videos on Flipgrid. And yeah, I knew her a little bit from dance, but I got to know her better with doing that piece together.
Georgia: Well that was really cool. And then, you even edited that video together right?
Georgia: I think that's amazing!
Sophie: Yeah, it was a little bit challenging since there was two different instruments and we were at kind of different levels, but we put it together and it sounded really good.
Georgia: Yeah, it absolutely sounded great.
Sophie: We couldn't wait to put it together because we wanted to hear what it sounded like.
Georgia: Yeah. In a way the Friendship Concert this year-- it's like a gift because so many people have never heard their two parts come together as one whole. I almost more eagerly await the Friendship Concert, because even I haven't heard the two pieces put together until the concert actually airs.
Georgia: Why do you enjoy playing and sharing music with other people?
Sophie: I think it's fun to give suggestions for other people and receive feedback, and showing your really good pieces off to other friends and stuff.
One example that I wanted to tell is that I've had like one or two pieces that I've heard people play on your Flipgrid that I really wanted to play, and I play them now. So yeah, I got some really good pieces from them.
Georgia: Yeah, I always find it so amazing when you come to your lesson and you're like, “Hey, I heard Kent playing “Take Five,” can I learn that? That was great!”
It's just such a neat thing. I think that we like our music better when we care about the music we're making, and feel more motivated to work harder when we like what we're playing. And so that's always been this thing for me as a teacher, is to find the right pieces.
But when someone like you goes out to Flipgrid and just listens to everybody, and then you come to me with those ideas, it's awesome. I love it.
Georgia: Why do you think music is such a good tool to connect and collaborate with others?
Sophie: One time we did this thing called Postcards for Seniors where we all recorded a few pieces and then Orpheus sent them to a home for seniors. I knew they would really enjoy it.
Georgia: Yeah, that's so neat. I think just being able to watch the videos anytime anywhere is just such a neat thing. I think that has so much flexibility.
Georgia: Sarah, does Sophie share her music with you and your family?
Sarah: Music is always in our family, so my husband and I both play music and we have a music room and our house is always filled with music.
Sophie does a really good job sharing her music. At home, I mean music I think is one thing that has really flourished a lot since our kids have been home. And it's been a huge benefit just having the time and capacity and margin to play, to sit at the piano and play. So there's people hopping on and off and on and off.
I feel like the kids go up to the piano and play all the time, like when they're not asked to just because they like what they're playing, and they've been playing duets together and they call each other to “Come over to the piano and play with me.”
Georgia: I think that's so cool. That's just what music should be, is family hanging out around the piano and playing together, and I think historically that's what pianos were. So I love that that's a part of your modern family too.
Georgia: Sophie, I know you have two brothers who also play the piano. Have you had a chance to collaborate with them more, since you guys have all been at home?
Sophie: Yeah, we did a lot of mixes or duets and trios, and also we included me, Jeremy, Gabe, and Susie on a recording and it was fun to be able to play on the same piano.
Georgia: Yes, definitely.
Sarah: I mean it takes time to get there though. You know, when you have really young kids there's a lot more hand holding and a lot more discipline that has to go into making sure it becomes a daily part of your routine.
But as they're older, we've got some teens and preteens in the house now and so, for their birthday they'll get a-- like we gave Gabe a cajón, and he doesn't play a percussion instrument, but it was so fun because everybody wanted to learn how to play it. So it's neat to just have things around, opportunities for them to try something new. And since we have the time at home, it's neat for them to be able to just sort of play off each other and enjoy music together.
"Orpheus having so many online events provides such a wonderful platform for people to share with each other and helps with that goal setting."
Georgia: Sarah, how have you seen Sophie's musical ability specifically develop over time?
Sarah: Well she loves having lessons with you, first of all.
Georgia: Aw, thank you.
Sarah: A big part of it is you've been a good friend to her, as well as a teacher, and she just enjoys seeing you and so that's been a huge blessing.
I think being home too, just because she is such a people person, she wants to connect with people. She's had the challenge of setting some goals for herself like, “What can I accomplish in this next week?” or “How long will it take me?” Because we've learned, if we spend too much time just playing, playing, playing, and we don't really know where it's going, then we'll end up playing the same piece for eight weeks and it gets kind of tiring, and then it's hard to persevere through those things.
So I think for her she's done better when she's found pieces she really enjoys, and then sets little goals for herself and says, “Let's accomplish this, let's finish this, and let's start a new piece in two weeks.” I think that's helped a little bit.
Georgia: Yeah definitely, and I think Orpheus having so many online events provides such a wonderful platform for people to share with each other and helps with that goal setting. It's like, “Well here comes Postcards for Seniors, let's do that. Oh, here comes Friendship Concert, let's do that.”
Sarah: Even just having a performance class, or just saying, “Your lesson is coming up, let's see if you can learn all the notes and rhythms up to this page for Tuesday.” Even little goals like that have been helpful.
Georgia: Being that connecting and collaborating with other musicians is so important to Sophie, when did you see this start to develop in her musical education?
Sarah: This girl takes the initiative, so she bugs me a lot if I'm not on top of things like, “Mom, did you text this person's mom? Mom, did you call her? Can we set up a time?” And so that helps. And I can tell what she's excited about, I can tell that she likes to work with people, she likes people a lot.
I think Sophie's at the age where she's been able to take some independence with accomplishing a goal and accomplishing a piece with somebody, and she's become pretty proficient with Flipgrid and things like that. That's been helpful because she helps her younger brother and sister a lot with Flipgrid also, and so I say, “Sophie, go!” [laughs] “Jeremy’s got to turn something in, so can you go help him take a video?”
Georgia: Would you have any advice that you would give for other parents in creating or finding safe social opportunities online?
Sarah: Everyone's got a different perspective on what's safe out there I guess, and so it's always best just to connect with the parents first and see how involved they want to be. I mean as parents we just know, “Okay our kids, in our minds, they have this goal. They need to accomplish this piece.” Or, “We've been told that they need to perform this together, so how are we going to do it?”
It's easy to put two kids on a device and say, “Go at it!” and then nothing really happens, or it's hard, and it can get really frustrating. And so I had to step in and just help a little bit, and help with the recording, and tell her what to communicate with the friend and say, “Let's just work on this part.” Or “Let's see if we can play along to this same recording and then we'll put it together for you.”
Of course, it just depends on how old the kids are and how much they want to do.
"Give comments and advice to your partner, and don't be afraid to receive some yourself, or for your friend to correct you."
Georgia: Sophie, you have shown so much initiative in sharing and meeting up with other students. What advice would you give to a student who maybe wants to do that, but hasn’t figured out quite how yet?
Sophie: To give comments and advice to your partner, and don't be afraid to receive some yourself, or for your friend to correct you.
Georgia: Yeah, that is so important. I know, like when I was younger, I had it in my mind that anytime anybody told me any kind of constructive criticism I would take it really personally and be like, “Oh no, they think I'm not good.” So I love that you shared that advice about hearing other people's responses and feedback as an encouragement and a way to grow.
Georgia: Sarah, what strategies would you say you've learned from this period of online lessons that maybe you'll take with you and keep doing even when life goes back to in person again?
Sarah: I think first of all, probably going back to the goal setting. I think when all of the normal activities start pouring in it's going to feel like we can't do everything again. So I’ve enjoyed the restful period where we don't— I'm not in my van all day, dropping kids off and picking them up. And we actually have time to practice.
So it's just being able to plan ahead and set some goals. I mean it's just like with anything, you know it could be a sport, it could be your dance, or whatever it is...
Music is something that’s always going to be a life lesson sort of thing. I don't know if it's something they'll carry with them forever, take lessons forever, that's less important to me. It's more that whatever avenue they're learning, just to work hard and set some goals, and then being able to accomplish them and feel good about it.
"Music is something that’s always going to be a life lesson sort of thing."
Sarah: It's sort of something you have to grow into… they're getting used to like being on camera, for example. Like this is not really a big deal for Sophie to be on camera because she's had to do it all year long with her school and then her teachers.
You know you kind of take what you're given. It's not the best situation this year, it's been tough for everybody in some ways, but they've just learned to adapt and try something new and figure out how to go along the way, and kind of make lemonade out of the lemons.
Georgia: Well thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this interview and to just kind of chat.
Sarah: Kudos to you for making it through a really tough period, and I know there's gonna be some more challenges ahead, but yeah you've done a really good job teaching these kids even though you're limited in what you can see and hear, but you've kept her motivated so that's good.
Georgia: Yay! Excellent. [laughs]
At some point, we’ve all had the experience of learning something new and wondering, “When am I ever going to use this?” Students can struggle with learning math for instance, because it isn’t always clear how those math concepts relate to their daily lives. The solution isn’t just more word problems, it’s using motivating, real-world projects to keep students engaged in a learning process that matters to them. When a student needs to use algebra to build a birdhouse for their mom, or convert measurements for a cookie recipe for their friend, they become more motivated to learn, and they're more likely to retain that knowledge and have a deeper understanding of the material.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that this same idea applies to learning music theory. Pieter, an Orpheus guitar student, has developed his understanding of music in large part by writing and experimenting with his own compositions. These original pieces give him the chance to put theories like melody, harmonization, and instrumentation into practice, and apply them to something he really cares about. Pieter’s teacher, Jesse, spoke with Pieter and his dad, David, about Pieter’s compositions and the role they have played in his musical education.
Jesse: Pieter, how long have you been playing the guitar?
Pieter: At least three years.
Jesse: What’s your favorite part of playing music?
Pieter: I suppose it’s performing.
Jesse: Does it make you feel a certain way, or do you like preparing for a big special event?
Pieter: I suppose I like showing off.
Jesse: Fair enough. You acquire a skill, you want people to see you show that skill off, so I understand that completely.
Jesse: What is your favorite kind of music to play?
Pieter: Music that I’ve played over and over and over again. Because it’s really easy for me to play.
Jesse: Yeah! Well so that means just about any style of music is fun for you to play once you feel comfortable, confident playing it?
Jesse: What first made you interested in composing music?
Pieter: I suppose it was just… I was shown it one time and I wanted to try it. I was shown a tool to make music and I suppose I just liked it.
Jesse: Is there a particular style of music or instrumentation or instrument you like composing for?
Pieter: Well, I generally compose pieces that have multiple different instruments in them actually.
Jesse: Yeah, what is it you like about that?
Pieter: Seeing how they might fit together, I suppose.