Team Janet: Part Five Cliburn Amateur



"You stay where I put you!" Janet said to the notes of her Prokofiev. Not out loud, of course. But when questioned this morning on the veranda, she described her Prokofiev performance last night as akin to a game of Whack-a-Mole. Swearing may have been involved.

On the back veranda having morning tea and coffee before it gets too hot to even consider being outside. 

On the back veranda having morning tea and coffee before it gets too hot to even consider being outside. 

Accompanying me on this trip is my adult student and dear friend, Kara. 

Janet has a great draw - her times are ideal. She played last night in the final group of competitors. We had time to go out for a chopped salad at The Cheesecake Factory across the street from Van Cliburn Hall while we waited for the results.  

They announced them "in no particular order" which added to the drama. Janet's name was announced 18th (I was counting) out of the 30 Quarterfinaists. Whew. 

Pre-performance shopping distraction in the Cliburn boutique. 

Pre-performance shopping distraction in the Cliburn boutique. 

We're staying in the gorgeous home of a friend of a friend in a small gated community in the Fort Worth suburbs. Our host has arranged practice time on a beautiful grand piano down the street, so Janet doesn't have to practice on the uprights pianos downtown provided by the competition. This means she doesn't have to see or listen to the other competitors practice.  

Kara whips up dinner.

Kara whips up dinner.

Yesterday at precisely 4:30 pm, Kara, (a gourmet chef) served up a delicious pre-performance dinner of sauteed salmon, brown rice and broccoli.

Even after all my visits to Fort Worth over the years, I was nervous enough to put the wrong address into my iPhone. We had a slight detour until I figured out we were three miles from downtown. Good thing we'd allowed extra time to get there.

Janet plays her next round on Wednesday, June 22nd at 8 pm Central Time. (6 pm on the west coast and 9 pm on the east coast. You Aussies will have to figure it out yourselves :) 

Detail from the front of Bass Hall at night. 

Detail from the front of Bass Hall at night. 

Waiting in the hall for the judge's decision after the Preliminary rounds.

Waiting in the hall for the judge's decision after the Preliminary rounds.

She'll be playing the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Beethoven Sonata 81a, "Les Adieux" and the "Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell" from the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet - my personal favorite in this round.

You can watch the previous performances as well as watch Janet play live at Take the time to vote for your audience favorite. 

After Wednesday night's performances, stay tuned for the exciting announcement of the twelve semi-finalists. No matter what happens there will be beautiful music. My fingers are crossed. 

Throw Out Your Ruler

"So, Diane,  tell me - is Ellen in your top three?"

Ellen, a seventh grader, was a new transfer student. She'd come from the prestigious preparatory division of a big-city conservatory. (Her parents had told me that in their first phone call.) She'd only been with me a few months. Her dad, a stock broker, was anxious to know how she compared to my other students.

" be honest, I wouldn't...

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Halloween's Magic

Leo has always loved Halloween. This year he out did himself!

A Halloween Recital can be just the boost you and your students need heading into the winter months. Because Halloween falls so early in the fall semester (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) it takes a little planning. You'll have to hit the ground running in the fall, but it's completely worth it.

The studio fireplace decorated by the students this year.

If you've never done a Halloween recital before, pencil one into your teaching calendar for next year. Spend the year tucking away pieces that amuse and charm you and in October you will be ready to have a recital experience that will :

  • Give your students of all ages a practical, substantial and light-hearted performance opportunity early in the year. This is especially useful for new transfer students and absolute beginners.
  • Afford your students a myriad of ways to explore sounds and modes in an appealing, nonjudgmental way.
  • Engage your students' imaginations and free you, the teacher, from concerns about assessments and auditions. 
  • Expose you and your students to the wide range of of fabulous Halloween music. 

Added bonus: It's hard to get worried about one's performance when dressed as a shark.

New kid in the studio meeting the other girls her age.

New kid in the studio meeting the other girls her age.

At our first master class of the year, we decorate the studio for Halloween. It's an excellent way to build community within the studio as younger and older kids help each other transform the usually much more conservative studio space.

Mary working on the cobwebs in 2015

Mary working on the cobwebs in 2015

I schedule the recital on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween, whenever that may come. We follow it with a big potluck supper. (Another chance to build community.) 

The twins in true Halloween spirit.

The twins in true Halloween spirit.

Here are some highlights from my studio's 2015 Halloween Recital. What will yours look like next year? 

Pieces in the Video:

Sabine and Iliana in 2014

Sabine and Iliana in 2014


Be sure to check out my new  Holiday Wish List for 2015 .

Be sure to check out my new Holiday Wish List for 2015.

Decorating in 2014

Decorating in 2014

The Taste of Teaching

Shanti and her husband Lachu, at Ajanta Indian Restaurant in Berkeley, CA.

I had no idea Shanti would be such a delicious student.

I knew she was a delightful person. She played well and worked hard. When she and her duet partner, Bob, came through my door last fall I didn't know anything about the rest of her life.

After judging a scholarship audition in Berkeley last Sunday, I made plans to meet Shanti and her husband, Lachu at their Indian restaurant Ajanta.  Bob (her friend and duet partner) joined us for the most amazing dining experiences of my life.

I'm a busy working mother. I don't get to eat out very often. If I do, it's usually a sandwich snagged at a neighborhood restaurant with a friend to break up my long days of working at home.

This was something else entirely.

We ate from the "tasting menu" at Lachu's suggestion. (When you're dining with the chef/owner you take their advice!) 

Though everything was delicious, the most memorable morsels were the Tandoori Scallops, the Lamb Rib Chops - the best meat dish I've ever eaten, the Tandoori Portobello Mushrooms and the spectacular Kulfi which is a dessert is hard to describe. The best I can do is  "Superior to ice cream and more complex than any sweet you've ever eaten."

I came home with a few tasty bites that we couldn't quite finish.

My daughter, Evie, ate a bite of the Eggplant I'd brought home and immediately threw her arms around me.

"Mom," she said, " I LOVE your job!"

(She'd gotten a tour of the Astrophysics Lab at Stanford University a week earlier because the mother of one of my students is a brilliant scientist there.)

The inside of Shanti's Spice Box. I bet you can smell the heavenly aromas from wherever you are.

I came home with two other special treats. The Ajanta Cookbook which will allow us to make all of the dishes they make in the restaurant. It's beautiful, clear and inspiring.


And almost more wonderful, Shanti's Spice Box. This splendidly designed collection (which won a design award and I can see why) contains each of the spices needed to cook everything in the book. They are carefully packaged in the proportions you'll need to do your cooking. The aroma of the spices themselves made me remember how valued spices were when they first became a part of trading. They're almost magical. Certainly powerful and desirable.

For me, one of the greatest joys of my job is meeting and working with such fascinating people. 

Last Sunday's feast was pure unexpected pleasure.

I never knew teaching could taste so good.

Behind the Scenes at Diane Hidy's Studio - a Gallery of Photos and Videos

  • Click on a photo to enlarge it into a light box.

  • Click the left and right arrows to scroll through the pictures. 

  • Hover over a large photo to read the caption.

This little video is one of my favorites. Gabriella is learning about skips and stairs on my studio steps. When she decides she wants to try "stepping" the song with her eyes closed, she doesn't see her mother coming in the front door. 

My adult students get together about four times a year to play for each other. This time we met at my student Sandy's beautiful house in Noe Valley here in San Francisco. We heard performers ranging in age from 28 - 82 years of age. We heard everything from Bach to pieces by the fabulous Australian composer Elissa Milne. The food was delicious and the company was enjoyed by everyone. I love how music brings such diverse people together. Scientists, psychiatrists, tech professionals and grandmothers. 

The Feel of the Keys

"You don't think you really feel like doing it," Emily said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.


"Well...." she hesitated. "It's just like taking a bath. When you think about it, you don't think you want to do it. And you keep saying, 'I don't want to take a bath' and then you finally go and take a bath. And you know what?" she asked.

"No, what?"

"It feels really, really good. Yeah, practicing is just like that."

Emily, age ten, was just starting to love to play the piano. She couldn't quite figure out why it felt so good. So physical. So pleasurable. When she equated it with a warm bath it suddenly made sense.

The best musicians revel in the physical sensations of playing. I love the feel of the keys, the shape of a chord, the contour of a phrase. 

Remember to teach the love of the sensation of playing the instrument. The importance of a gesture. The joy of an interval, a staccato note, a first chord. These are all new, treasured experiences for our students - both young and old.

Take the time to enjoy them with your students. 

One of my adult students just left. On his way out he was chatting with his duet partner about why he and his wife hadn't accompanied her and her husband on their recent trip to India.

"I didn't want to go through piano withdrawal," he said.

I'll bet it wasn't the intellectual part of playing he didn't want to be without. It was the joy of the piano. The wonderful, physical, delight of making music.

That's what we all need to teach today. And every day.

Bath Photo by WickerParadise

Just an Arm Around Their Shoulder

This morning as I was watching a lovely video by Irina Gorin, I was reminded of the words of Attention Deficit Disorder expert Edward Hallowell, the author of Driven to Distraction. (And eighteen other books including one on Worry that I am going to read next.)

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Hallowell speak to a small group of teachers a few weeks ago here in San Francisco. I've been reading his books and following his writings for many years, but this was the first time I'd seen and heard him in person.

Ferrari and Bike.jpg

He described a person with ADD as having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. Haven't we all taught a student like that?

Or a student with these symptoms?

  • Distractibility
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Unexplained underachievement

He talked about how people with ADD only have two concepts of time: Now, and NOT now. As NOT now approaches, they self-medicate with adrenalin to get the job done. They live by chronic procrastination. 

Too often teachers don't stop to remind these students of what they're good at. Instead, they diagnose them as stupid and their treatment plan is to "try harder." Often these spunky kids have nowhere to shine. They get the good stuff beat out of them with the bad stuff.

Hallowell, who has ADD himself, told us a sweet story about his first grade teacher, Mrs. Tabor. As he sat in his first grade reading group, struggling to focus on the task at hand, Mrs. Tabor kept her arm around him. Her arm just stayed there letting him know that he was needed and loved. That powerful connection was all he needed.

He challenged us to mentor someone. To put our arm around them, figuratively AND literally, and THEN challenge them to demonstrate long-term achievement. With the support of a warm, personal connection, anything is possible. 

Irina Gorin is one of the warmest, loveliest teachers I've ever seen. In the video I linked to above, you can see her smiling as her student exuberantly plays straight to the top of the scale. (He should have turned around and gone back.) She smiles and gently shows him what he missed.

Irina has more than 600 videos on Youtube. Pick any one. In it, you will find that teacher Hallowell described. My favorite moments are when she almost imperceptibly redirects a student with a tiny touch on a shoulder or the lift of a hand. She's both subtle and brilliant. 

I hope we can all aspire to that. To mentoring someone. To being that kind person with our arm around a student's shoulder to help refocus and reassure them.

I know that I'm going to try. 

Which brings me to Irina Gorin.