Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Christopher Norton Out West – Los Angeles, Vancouver Island and San Diego

CAPMT is the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. It has over 1,000 members teaching throughout the state in independent studios, private and public schools, conservatories, colleges and universities. CAPMT offers a variety of programs for the music student and educational and professional opportunities for its member teachers.

I was honoured to be the Conference Artist at the 2011 CAPMT annual conference, held this year in Whittier, a city in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area. The conference was at Whittier College, a beautiful campus with great music facilities. Here’s what the grounds of Whittier College look like:

I did three sessions back to back, the first one on improvisation, with some young (around 8 years old) students as well as teachers and parents. Using American Popular Piano Level 2 Repertoire and Etudes books, I was able to use a very well-equipped keyboard laboratory to get everyone played together, including the parents! The second session, also focusing on improvisation, was for teachers only and they loved being able to play in a big group and seemed to really like the chance to improvise. My final session was a more theoretical presentation for teachers, talking about the steps required to teach improvisation, steps that we had been experiencing in a practical way in the previous sessions.

A number of teachers were interested in a return visit to California from me, probably to run something along the lines of the improv camps for children that have become my speciality, where improvisation group work and individual master-classes lead to a public concert. When these plans come together, details will be flagged up on both www.christophernorton.com and www.americanpopularpiano.com.

And so to Canada – I flew from LA to Vancouver and then drove to Victoria, Vancouver Island, accompanied by two associates from Conservatory Canada, Victoria Warwick and Paul Coates. Conservatory Canada (www.conservarorycanada.ca) is a fast-growing examination board that has really taken American Popular Piano on board over the last couple of years. I have toured Canada for Conservatory Canada already and I’m sure that I will be doing lots more with them in the future.

The Victoria event was organized by Heather Yaxley, who is an MYC (www.myc.com) teacher. MYC is another organization with which I have close ties and their system and American Popular Piano seem to dovetail nicely, with our books an easy “next step” once children have completed their MYC programme.

Victoria was a 2-day event - a mixture of teacher sessions, improvisation group sessions and masterclasses, with a public concert at the end. The age range was quite wide, and there were some delightful very young students. Here are some pictures of students during the Victoria event:

Master class students:

Improvisation groups:

And American Popular Piano displayed by some of the students at the end of the concert:

I hope to make a return visit to Victoria and there are also plans afoot to stage events in Vancouver and Nanaimo. Watch this space!

My final stop was back in California, at the Recreational Music Center in San Diego (www.recreationalmusiccenter.com) RMC aims, as they put on their promotional material, to “cultivate the joy of making music through relevant and creative teaching methods”. Piano is taught at RMC, but so are bass, guitar and drums and the teachers are all really fine practicing musicians. All ages are catered for and there is a lovely atmosphere created by the very gifted husband-and-wide team who founded RMC, Leslie and David Gereghty. Here’s Lesley:

I started with teacher presentations - an introductory session on American Popular Piano followed by Unlocking Popular Styles, which takes APP pieces and “unpacks” them stylistically. This unique resource is on our website (www.americanpopularpiano.com) and has sound clips and music examples in 20 styles, as well as direct links to songs in similar styles on i-Tunes. I got the teachers to be drummers, with tapping, clapping and beat-box effects - they loved it.

The rest of the two days was taken up partly with improv sessions, with participants as young as 7 and as old as, well I’m not going to say (adults..) All of the participants really enjoyed playing in groups (of 6 Roland HPi-6 keyboards) and nobody missed out on the chance to improvise their own rhythms and melodies to backing tracks. Here are students obviously concentrating hard:

and helping each other:

I also did quite a lot of work on tone production, good hand positions and other technical matters with individuals and with groups and some of the results were startling. One mother said she heard her daughter playing later that day at home and was amazed by the sudden difference in expressiveness and in warmth of sound.

We did two mini-concerts on the second day, which parents attended. There was a really special atmosphere – the children had bonded with each other and with me and there was real joy in all their performances. And their accuracy in timing terms was very striking for the audience. I even got a couple of students to do simple improvisation on the spot and it was clear that the audience found this really quite moving.

Recreational Music Center were very excited by the whole event and we are hoping to arrange a much bigger event, In San Diego, probably before the end of 2011. You can read more at the Recreational Music Center Blog:


It was a very positive end to what has been a most rewarding trip out west.