Musical March Madness

March is a frenzied month for Washington music teachers! Many teachers and students across the state participate in the WSMTA (Washington State Music Teachers Association) Music Artistry Program, or MAP for short. This event takes place at multiple venues across the state and entails teachers registering their students to play for visiting artists who travel to chapters all over the state to hear performances from hundreds of students. The visiting artists provide written and verbal comments and also work at the piano for a few minutes with each student. I am a WSMTA visiting artist and recently spent six days adjudicating students from the Edmonds and Olympia chapters of WSMTA. In those six days, I put some miles on my Leaf, stayed in hotels, and worked with 15 teachers and over 125 students- around eight hours each day.

The days zoomed by with outstanding performances from piano students of all ages! Students performed music by the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Amy Beach, Scott Joplin, and Chopin. Upon reflection, I am inspired by the dedication and high level of professionalism of the organizers and teachers, the hard work and polished performances of the students, and of course, the never ending parental support. It truly takes a village- a musically minded village. These types of events are not easy to pull off as there are many moving parts.

I barely caught my breath after the whirlwind of MAP events and headed back into my studio for my own practice and to resume lessons with my 23 private students. I also jumped right back in at the Academy for Precision Learning in the University District where I teach several weekly general music classes to grades K-12.

I eagerly await the page proofs of my forthcoming book (Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier), but am told that McFarland (the publisher) is working steadily behind the scenes and the book should be ready in the next few months. (Sigh….patience has never been one of my virtues). In the meantime, there are classes to teach, lessons to plan, and music to practice.

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Musica (Melody) by Kate Elizabeth Bunce

A “June Gloom” day in Seattle made for the perfect opportunity to visit the  VICTORIAN RADICALS exhibit at Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

The attention to detail in the array of colorful paintings, tapestries, clothing, jewelry, and pottery transported me into a romantic world of  gardens, gods, goddesses, secret liaisons, betrayals, and courtly love!  My hands down favorite painting was Musica, by Kate Elizabeth Bunce. The lovely young musician with her ornate lute, sumptuous dress, and  intricate jewelry,  posed in front of a blooming floral arrangement, swept me away.

At one point I was asked to kindly step back  from a display case (got to close).  The case held a book which was open to a poem entitled, Edward  Gray.  I was mesmerized by the beautiful poem written by an English poet, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892).   I thought to myself, someone must have set this poem to music.  When I got home, I did a little digging online and found a piece of sheet music written by Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900),  of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.  As it turns out, Edward Sullivan set Edward Gray to music.  Sullivan’s setting is operatic, covers multiple octaves, and is far too complicated for the purposes of laying down a quick track for my blog……..  so I modified the melody and accompanied myself on my Taylor guitar as I don’t have a  lute lying around the studio, I do however, have plenty of floral dresses.

Here’s my version of Edward Gray:


Here are some more beautiful paintings from the exhibit!


Sigismonda (or Gismonda), 1897 by Joseph Edward Southall


I didn’t get the name of the artist for this one… the narrative of the painting is about a young man who died in battle, the women are handing over some of his  personal belongings to his broken-hearted lover!


Couldn’t we all use more flowers, more color, more art, more music, more beauty, more love?


Cafe Flora, Seattle


Girls With Guitars


Girls with Guitars! Last week, I taught a beginning guitar day camp that introduced  these young ladies to the guitar. Thanks Ruby (my daughter), in the pink shorts, for helping me this week! We had a blast. We met for two hours every day Monday-Friday and our week culminated in a performance for family and friends on the deck.

Our songs for the week included…..  Firework by Katy Perry, You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift, This Land is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie, and a traditional camp song… Ain’t No Bugs on Me.

I’d like to give a shout out to Rob Hampton of Heartwood Guitar. I love Rob’s site and  frequently pull from his 600+ chord charts for inspiration.  Thanks a million Rob for all of the great work you do! (I’m convinced you never sleep)  These girls certainly appreciated learning such cool and accessible songs!

Here are two wonderful links to the song: Girls with Guitars who was written by Mary Chapin Carpenter performing it here.  Also check out the incomparable Wynnona Judd performing it here. Oh, to be that fierce on stage!

Everyone love guitar, including French composer, Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944), who wrote this piece for solo piano: Guitare , which I recorded a couple of years ago on Women with a Past.IMG_3776.JPG

Buckets of FUN!

Bucket Drum

Simple Equipment

The Shoreline Jam

Remember that old song, I don’t Want to Work? Well,  last week,  I got paid to bang on the drum all day!  Among my music offerings including performances and private lessons, I work in communities near and far as a teaching artist. This means I utilize my skills and knowledge as a music educator and performer to tailor music experiences for a variety of audiences. For example, I’ve crafted tambourines and danced the Tarantella with elementary students, I’ve taught singalongs at retirement homes, and I’ve taught teenage Spanish classes the  Salsa!

This past week, I taught classes in bucket drumming as part of an arts camp offered to elementary aged kids and teens through the  Shoreline Lake Forest Park Arts Council.  I was one of several teaching artists offering unique arts experiences including, movie making/editing, theater  improv, print making, fiber arts, cartooning, silhouette creation, and cooking, to name a few. The goal of the camp, according to Kelly Lie, Shoreline Lake Forest Park Arts Education manager?   The Three E’s: Expose, Experience, Experiment!  I’ll say, the campers  experienced the three E’s in a big way!

My class, Rhythm Explosion, included Latin American percussion, bucket drums,  body percussion, and repurposing recycled materials into percussion instruments.  I met with two groups of students each day for a week.  The overall experience culminated in an Arts Showcase where all participants  presented their work to family and friends. Our final performance included both improvisation and composed pieces.


The great thing about bucket drumming?  It only requires a five gallon bucket, a pair of drum sticks, and imagination.  (Ear plugs don’t hurt either!) There’s something cathartic about banging out rhythms in a group, or solo experience.

The work the students (with the help of some outstanding teachers) completed during the week was impressive.  The showcase included a professional looking gallery of  visual art  along with  a variety of  live performances.  Upon exiting the showcase, audience members were offered an icy cold fruit pop made by the culinary arts class.

Lorie Hoffman, executive director of the Shoreline arts council gave a presentation during the week about being an artist.  She told us, “Making art makes my heart sing.”   This week made my heart sing.  I can’t help but think experiences like this have ripple effects and  improve the world little by little, poco a poco.

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Steve Jobs, in introducing the iPad 2 in 2011


For more on bucket drumming, I encourage you to check out this clip:

Here are two websites offering tips on getting started with bucket drumming:




Yves Saint Laurent The Perfection of Style

Yves Saint Laurent The Perfection of Style is on exhibit at  Seattle Art Museum,now through January 8!

Spent the morning in awe and giddy delight as I took in this amazing exhibit at SAM.  Left inspired by the colors, the designs, the textures, the history, the process, the sparkles, the variety, the creative output, the elegance,  the life, the style,  and the genius of Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008).



Today’s recording:  Cordoba from the Spanish Suite Andalucia by Ernesto Lecuona


Don’t Advertise Your Man, Yellow House Salon #15














Don’t Advertise Your Man piano and singing by Laura

Here’s my awesome guy, Joe Sweeney! He does laundry and helps my daughter with her math, he also is an amazing bird photographer, very funny, extremely handsome, and the love of my life. I could go on and on, but before I do, I think I’ll take the advice of  Clara Smith who first wrote this old blues tune back in the 1920’s, Don’t Advertise Your Man. Sippie Wallace came our with her version in the 1960’s. Bonnie Raitt has also recorded a sassy version.

Be sure to check out these recordings, and remember, girls, Don’t Advertise your Man!

Clara Smith

Bonnie Raitt and Sippy Wallace

Spring Mozart, Yellow House Salon #13


Mozart Sonata K. 545, Andante, photo taken by Laura in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle.

An overcast spring Seattle day calls for a break from the Cuban pieces I’ve been working on. Time for some classic Mozart.  A Mozart sonata with its clear sonata form, lyric melody, and clean accompaniment, is always fresh and elegant.  It’s something like a trusty little black dress, a Timex watch, a pair of faded Levi’s, or a cup of good brewed coffee. This andante movement of the 545 sonata reminds me of the cat in this photo- unsentimental, refined, classic, and cool.

Creating a Studio Community

From an article I wrote for the Seattle Music Teacher’s Staccato Notes, November 2015

Keeping It Light (Leggiero)

by Laura Dean, NCTM

Building a Studio Community

After the recital, a group of students, ages 5 through 18, lingered at the piano. They took turns singing and playing while parents visited and remarked how delighted they are the kids are having such a wonderful time with their music lessons. Other students munched on refreshments, wrote on the black light wall, and joked together as our recital reception came to a close. This is the scene at my last studio recital held in an interesting venue which lends itself to a festive event. Many of these students and families have been with me for over a decade. This leads to the question: How can you build a strong studio community that keeps students coming back year after year?   

Here are a few ideas that have stood the test of time from my studio.

  1. The Photo Door. Every fall, I create a new photo display on the door of the studio featuring each student and a particular theme. This year, I purchased a bag of photo booth disguises, and students chose which disguise to use as they posed for their photo.  Currently, the door is filled with adorable photos of students sporting cardboard crowns, beards, mustaches, bow ties, and top hats. The students look forward to the new picture wall every year, the door reminds them they are not alone, that all of these other students are also taking lessons.
  1. The Birthday Song. When a birthday rolls around, students receive a piece of sheet music of their choosing. I use They usually select a pop favorite, rock classic, movie theme, or something from a video game.  The website allows us to print a one page sample which helps us determine if the student can technically handle the piece.  We make the final decision and with a click of the mouse, we download the song and instantly start to work on it. FUN!
  1. The Sing-Along.  If you’ve ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, you know the joy and power of the group sing-along. Garrison Keillor (my hero), is a master at leading the sing-along.  All of our recitals either begin or end with a group sing-along.  I print the lyrics on the back of the program and everyone joins in. We’ve sung a variety of songs from Amazing Grace, to Moon River, to We Will Rock You. Parents and students know this is part of the show and everyone looks forward to it. (Think of guests on the Ellen Degeneres Show who know they are going to dance as part of the gig.)
  1. The Theme Recital.  Each December, we play a recital featuring traditional solo piano repertoire from the major time periods. In the Spring, we produce a recital with a different theme each year.  Examples of past themes include: Jazz Standards, Movie Themes, The Beatles, Rock Classics, and Broadway Musicals. This is a real hit and lends itself to creative programming that delights both the performers and the audience.
  1. Mini music camps: In the summer and during vacations, I often offer mini camps (with a maximum of 6 students),  with emphasis on learning something outside of the usual curriculum such as Beginning Guitar for Piano Players, Finding Your Singing Voice, and Composition. This offers students a chance to get to know each other and to explore a new way of making music.

A little thought, planning, and creativity goes a long way to building a strong studio community.  This strong community means students and parents are likely to be committed to their music lessons for the long run. Now, how about a quick trip to Display and Costume to pick up some student disguises?

A Teaching Philosophy

I’m working on a certification through MTNA (Music Teachers National Association).  This is a long and challenging process, but a very good one that forces me to examine my teaching, my methods, my raison d’être.  After teaching for 20 years, here is my evolved teaching philosophy crafted over the past few months.  (this relates specifically to piano lessons).  In the words of Sergi Rachmaninoff, Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music. 

Summer time and the liven' is pretty!

Summer time and the livin’ is pretty!

My goal as a music educator is to foster a lifelong passion for music and the arts. My role includes mentoring and collaborating with students as they navigate their individual music paths. Music is a language and it is my job to teach students to read, write and express themselves artistically in this language. I tailor the curriculum and lessons to accommodate each student’s learning style. More about specific activities for different learning styles can be found below. Many of my students study with me from the early elementary years through their senior year in high school.

I use an array of materials in the studio including a variety of method books. (Piano Adventures, Succeeding at the Piano, and Faber and Faber.) As students progress, we move away from the method books as repertoire is drawn from a variety of composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Kabalevsky, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Beach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Bartok, Gershwin, Copland, Ponce, Nazareth, and Turina, to name a few.

While working with traditional repertoire, it is also my job to teach music lessons relevant to the lives and interests of my students. For example, one of my students loves playing video game music. As it turns out, video game music was the hook I needed to push him into the next level of music reading which, in turn, renewed his interest in learning traditional repertoire.

Piano lessons in the Lauramusic Studio are offered year round for ages 4 years old-adults. Lessons include technique (scales, arpeggios, chords, technical exercises), music reading, and exposure to a variety of classic piano repertoire (baroque, classical, romantic, and modern eras). We also explore folk songs, blues, lead sheets, jazz, and popular music. Our recitals reflect this diverse repertoire, for example, the winter recital features traditional concert pieces. In the spring, our recital revolves around a specific themes such as the Beatles, jazz standards, movie music, and rock ballads. During the summer, each student composes a piece of music and learns to notate their music using computer software (SongWriter by Finale).

Assignments and practice recommendations are recorded in the students’ music binders. Assignments also indicated (by post-it notes) in the students’ music books. Students are required to practice and come prepared for their lessons with books and materials in hand. Students should practice five days per week from 15 minutes a day for my very young beginners to 1 hour or more per day for my advanced students.

A typical 45 minute lesson includes the following activities:

  • Body-mind warm-up and focus exercises
  • Technical exercises and scales
  • Review of last week’s assignment
  • Introduction of new material
  • Listening to a recording or a mini music history lesson
  • As time permits: a mini concert, duet playing, improvisation, composing, games, rhythm instrument playing

Examples of music lesson activities to accommodate different learning styles:

Auditory learner activities may include digital piano with playback recording, CD listening corner (with a variety of CDs including classical music, world music, folk songs, jazz and blues), browsing websites with a listening focus including King FM’s, Explore Music.

Kinesthetic learners, enjoy the Brain Dance (a movement curriculum developed by Ann Green Gilbert), rhythm instruments, experiential games played on the floor such as the magnetic white board, music card games, and digital piano that allows students to change the sound with the turn of a knob.

For visual learner, I rely on books about music history, colorful flash cards, card games, worksheets, You Tube links to great piano performances, and games on the websites such as, Color in My Piano and Piano Morning.