As many families head back to school this fall, with some returning to in-person learning for the first time in a while, it can be overwhelming to deal with new schedules, activities, and the uncertainties in life that a continuing pandemic may bring. Music can be used as a tool to navigate big transitions such as these however, and the simple act of practicing your instrument can create helpful feelings of joy, calmness, or energy!
So, how can you ensure that your music lessons are a source of positivity in your life rather than just an additional source of stress? Here are some useful tips!
Maintaining the Joy of Music
When we are feeling stressed and over-scheduled, often the last thing we want to do is sit down and work hard at a difficult activity like learning piano or guitar. I know, because I've been there too.
It is essential to assess when we are starting to experience this kind of burnout, and actively work to mix things up a little. Take a break from the scales, the technique, or the music theory, and focus on playing non-difficult songs that bring a smile to your face. Once you rekindle the joy of playing some easier, beautiful pieces, you will likely find that you want to play something a little more challenging, which is the perfect time to start building up your technique again. I use this approach for myself and my students all the time!
Making Time for Music
Making time for the things that matter most in life can be a big challenge for anyone. Yes, playing music in a way that satisfies our need for self-expression requires regular practice, and this can be extremely difficult to carve out of a busy week filled with school, sports, tutoring (and hopefully a little down time!). It can feel that much harder when we're adjusting to a new schedule. That being said, making time for music probably doesn't take as long as most people think.
Set aside as little as 10-15 minutes a day, and stick to it for a few weeks. The specific timing doesn't matter, as long as the student isn't hungry, tired, or frustrated. For some students, this means practicing in the morning before they get ready for school or work, whereas other students are freshest just after getting home for the day, or right before dinner time. If you're still wondering where to find that 10-15 minutes in the day, think through a typical day and note any periods of natural downtime. You might discover that you're not as busy as you feel. For instance, many parents have expressed that limiting screen time is a major step in freeing up some time for their child to dedicate towards music.
Once you've started to create a habit, it won't feel as difficult to get to the instrument, your songs will flow more easily, and you will find yourself feeling naturally drawn to practicing. A mistake is to assume that inspiration comes first, and that dedication then follows. It's actually the opposite: once we regularly do something well, we become inspired by the possibilities for our own self-expression!
Dr. Steadman is the executive director and co-founder of Orpheus Academy of music with his wife, Wendy Kuo. In addition to teaching guitar at Orpheus, he is the father to a teenage daughter, who is also an accomplished musician. He has authored several books including The Complete Guitar and The Complete Guitar For the Older Beginner, as well as Loving Practice, Developing Discipline. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family, playing tennis, and hiking with their corgi dog, Momo.
I am very proud to present Caleb as the student of the month. Caleb has shown impressive progress since the first day we met. He is sensitive to music and works hard to achieve his goals. I am especially grateful to see his discipline, perseverance, and spirit of curiosity. This month, Caleb was able to consistently learn one new song (these songs are not easy for him!) each week and had meaningful explorations of music with me. I feel honored to have nominated him. -Mr. Benjamin
The joy he brings to his lessons is so uplifting and always brings a smile to my face. There is not a challenge he will shy away from. It is clear that music means so much to him and is a big part of his life. I am honored to teach him at this point in his musical journey.
I am excited to announce Eleanor as July’s student of the month. I am nominating Eleanor because she shows up everyday enthusiastic to learn and brings so much laughter and light to our lessons. She is always asking questions, focused on finessing her technique, and is reflective and perseveres when she struggles. I look forward to Wednesdays to see what stories she has to share and what revelations she has had over the past week of practice. Keep up the great work Eleanor, you’re becoming a fabulous violinist!
In this abridged first episode of their conversational series, "Pickup Notes," Jesse and Douglas speak about the purpose and goals of Pathways Through Music, as well as what comes next and how to support their mission.
Douglas: Hi everyone, welcome to "Pickup Notes," a sit-down with the directors of Pathways Though Music. My name is Douglas Stefaniak, I'm the Program Director at Pathways Through Music.
Jesse: My name is Jesse Crites, I'm the Executive Director for Pathways Through Music.
Douglas: What is the need we are fulfilling in the community?
Jesse: Well we are serving the Williamson County community. We know that Leander does not have a dedicated music teacher for their elementary school students, and they don't have string programs, that is, orchestra or guitar. So we're really looking to address those needs for Leander. We also serve Title I schools that we have in Round Rock, and we also look to provide private lesson instructions for students involved and enrolled in our after-school programming.
Douglas: Why did we create Pathways Through Music?
Jesse: Well I think you and I sat down, along with a lot of other colleagues of ours, and we just noticed that nobody else was doing this, nobody else was really focusing on these specific needs. So we felt the calling to do just that, to provide these programs for those schools.
Douglas: Yeah. And on a personal note I know that I moved to Austin because of the thriving music scene, and there's so much to do with guitar. But then in the district just north of the city, there doesn't seem to be as many opportunities.
Jesse: Yeah, I mean if you think about-- Williamson County is right next to Travis County, and Travis County boasts one of the most iconic American music scenes: Austin, Texas. And yet just north of that county you have a school district that doesn't provide a specific music teacher for their elementary kids, and doesn't even have string programs. To me that's a bit of a travesty, and something that I know you, and I, and this organization can help address.
"Travis County boasts one of the most iconic American music scenes: Austin, Texas. And yet just north of that county you have a school district that doesn't provide a specific music teacher for their elementary kids, and doesn't even have string programs."
Douglas: What is it that we are currently working on? What kind of programs are we starting, what schools are in contact with?
Jesse: Funny thing, I thought that was going to be another challenge: "So we started this non-profit, is anybody going to want to take advantage of what we offer?" Surprisingly, it has not been a challenge. In fact, we have had to limit our number of schools.
We are going to be starting our programming this fall with C.D. Fulkes Middle School and Voigt Elementary School. Both are in Round Rock, both are Title I schools, and both are very excited to have us. A challenge that pops up there is providing instruments for these students, and that's something we're currently working on. We're working with other non-profits to help get instruments into those two schools.
We're anticipating anywhere between 6 students to maybe 24 for the first year, but with the capability of teaching up to 32 students in each classroom.
Douglas: Right. And all of those students are eligible for the private lesson scholarship, right?
Jesse: Yes. Of course part of our mission is to eliminate barriers. The most obvious is financial, some of the less obvious include transportation. You may have the actual financial means to do something but no actual resource to get you to that lesson. So providing scholarship money for students to pursue private lessons with an instructor of their choice. It's not dedicated to one school, so instead the idea here is that they'll find a qualified teacher that is within their travel resources, within their community.
Douglas: I think it would be great if we could let everyone know kind of what we're doing next and what our plans are for the future. So could you give us an update on what we're going to be doing moving forward?
Jesse: Yeah, quite simply put: grow.
Jesse: Extending our program into more schools and more school districts. So right now we're just in Round Rock and just in two schools, one elementary and one middle. Our big mission is to get into Leander ISD, and of course Hutto, Cedar Park, Georgetown as well, they're all within Williamson County. The vision is to expand into those school districts where the need is as well.
Developing our donor network and funding sources. Obviously a non-profit cannot be successful without a dedicated and supportive network of people giving time, finances, donating instruments, and probably a number of other ways that people can help out as well.
Sharing our mission with other organizations, whether it's non-profit or for-profit. And the goal is really to become a staple in the community. When people think of music and Williamson County, I want them to think of Pathways Through Music as well.
Douglas: Yeah, I agree. I think that's fantastic.
To those of you who have supported us so far, thank you so much, I'd like to say that. It's been really great hearing how supportive everyone is, and I'm looking forward to continuing to grow those relationships.
Jesse: You know I just want our audience, young and old, to just know this: You have a voice and it's worth hearing.
Watch the full episode: https://pathwaysthroughmusic.org/2021/06/18/pickup-notes-episode-1/
Please consider donating: https://pathwaysthroughmusic.org/donate/
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!
I am nominating Akshar for Student of the Month because he is consistently prepared, works super hard, and is always excited about guitar. Akshar and I recorded his Level 2 project earlier in the semester, and he also just took his Level 3 Musical Journey Test and did extremely well! Each and every week, Akshar shows up to lessons ready to go, and we have been able to make steady progress for years because of this. He also thoroughly enjoys music, and is often playing pieces that he teaches himself. I am so excited to see where his musical journey takes him. Congrats Akshar!
Micah Gervey has been a very disciplined and talented student. His piano playing is improving day by day, specially musicianship. His piano lessons are always very productive and exciting!
Micah is an incredibly enthusiastic and dedicated student. She has shown great patience in her learning, taking into account that she started lessons at Orpheus during the middle of the pandemic. I look forward to meeting Micah when we go back in person!
Sahana has been steadily building her musical theater repertoire with great enthusiasm. At the beginning of the Spring semester, she prepared intensively for the Hal Leonard Musical Theater online competition and made it to the semi-finalist list! She is working hard to hone her vocal and musicianship skills, and I love to see her creativity shine from lesson to lesson.
Solan has been working very diligently in his practice to reach our goals. He has been giving weekly performances for his family and shows constant growth in his playing and musical understanding. He has amazing questions and comes into the lessons each week with great enthusiasm and a drive to learn. His sense of humor and personality is top notch. Solan’s curiosity is inspiring!
We're so proud of the thoughtful way in which these student composers reflect on the meaning of music, and the creativity and artistry they regularly demonstrate.
Check out the student compositions and visual elements from this showcase in the video below, and in this interactive e-book!
We’re so proud of all that these students have accomplished throughout their education at Orpheus Academy. They have performed in amazing concerts, composed beautiful music, mastered challenging techniques and musical concepts, collaborated with friends in ensembles, and some have even performed at Carnegie Hall! Perhaps most amazingly though, these students have persevered and accomplished so much through this past year in a time that has been difficult for all of us. They've stuck with practice and grown their skills even when it's been challenging, and have used the power of music to brighten the lives of others.
A big congratulations to all of our graduates!
With these concerts being virtual, many students also took advantage of the opportunity to explore their creativity in unique ways. We asked them to explain how each song sparked their imagination, and some students even submitted a visual element to accompany their performance.
Watch these special concerts and celebrate the Orpheus community!