Portrait of the Artist as a Teacher, Yogi, Writer, and Music Therapist

I got a chance to sit down with one of our instructors, Janelle, to pick her brain about her multitude of talents, her views on teaching, and her own personal life as an artist. She’s all about versatility and flexibility (pun intended), and a music lesson can mean anything from a conventional lesson, to a songwriting sesh, to a study of body awareness, and everything in between.

What do you love most about teaching? 

The best part about teaching music is bonding with students and helping them reach their musical goals. It gratifies me when my students work on an audition piece with me, and then land roles in musical theater performances, because I know I had a little part in their successes. Similarly, I get warm and fuzzy inside when I see a student, who knew nothing about piano on the outset, accompany his/her own voice on a pop song, or complete a classical song like Fur Elise.

One particularly rewarding instance was when I helped a student learn to compose music on the piano, write lyrics, and subsequently complete a full song. I then got to coach him in recording technique when he recorded the song he wrote. He played the instrumentals, sang the song, and got a pretty sweet demo out of it.

How does your diverse background (yoga, creative writing, music, music therapy) tie into your treatment of music education?

All of these activities definitely intertwine in the way I treat teaching music.

Music therapy helps me deal with all different types of students, and I found I’m able to relate to, counsel, and coach just about anyone. It particularly helped me with patience and empathy.

Studying music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton was paramount to my later treatment of music education. I was trained in classical voice and piano and traveled in choirs, while also studying ear training, music theory, and sight singing on a daily basis. In my opinion, studying voice on a deep level and learning music theory is the most essential aspect of teaching music, because having that knowledge provides the fundamental structure of lessons. I add aspects of music theory like rhythm, tempo, harmonic structure, and dynamics to both piano and vocal lessons.

My yoga certification stands out as a black sheep skill at first, but it really does help with teaching. I’m working on a sing and stretch music class, because gentle stretching would help relax students’ bodies (and consequently larynxes) for singing. Yoga also heavily focuses on breathing and body awareness, and both of those are essential to singing.

Creative writing is a passion of mine and I have a poetry book called The Power of Silly Putty and Lipstick Kisses. This has really helped me with teaching music because Not only can I help a student learn to compose music, I can help them structure their thoughts into lyrics too. The whole process is perhaps the most rewarding part of teaching. The student, parent, and I derive a lot of pride from a completed song.

As a gal with a background in both performing and recording, which do you prefer?

I prefer recording to performing simply because I am shy. I do sometimes enjoy performing at coffee shops, and for me, the main push is to share my creations with other people. As an artist, it is important to create whenever you can. Sharing (performing) is satisfying whether or not you become famous.

Recording, however, is more my realm because I can focus on one song and perfect it the best I can, and the outcome of the song is always gratifying to me. I like hearing my songs brought to life with full ensemble and meticulous mixing. It changes the whole sound of the original song. That being said, sometimes that raw piano and voice sound is all you need.

If you could give one tip to students pursuing musical excellence, what would it be?

Practice daily! Practice is the most important element to developing as a musician in addition to regular weekly lessons. For voice, the vocal exercises are key to improving tone, range, pitch, and power. For piano, you need to develop muscle memory to progress, and that doesn’t happen if you’re attending your lesson once a week, and not doing anything else.

Currently listening to: 

“Superman and the Invisible Girl” from a musical called Next to Normal. Previously on the playlist was Adele’s new song “Skyfall”, and Joni Mitchell’s album Blue.

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