In 2012, my friend and piano teaching colleague, Leila Viss casually mentioned by phone, “You ought to come out here to Denver and lead a workshop on improvisation.” My reply was, “It’s too big a project to do alone. Do you want to work together on it?” A few polite laughs, something about being so, so busy and we dropped it. A few months later, having discovered our mutually compatible working styles by both serving on the Pop/Jazz planning committee for Music Teachers National Association, the idea resurfaced and this time, we decided to go for it.
An Idea Takes Shape
Dubbing our endeavor 88 Creative Keys, we began generating ideas about how to co-teach the first ever workshop focused solely on keyboard improvisation with tracks for pianists, adults and music teachers. My contribution as a veteran jazz pianist/composer and author of the top-selling That’s Jazz series was to design a creative music-making curriculum. To this, Leila added her incredible organizational skills and keen sense about how to teach groups using visual aids, presentation slides, “manipulatives,” and other “off the bench” activities. Since neither of us had much experience with event management such as logistics, lining up sponsors, registrations, medical/liability forms, logo/branding, and marketing, we just had to figure out the nitty gritty (with a few bumps) along the way.
The Perfect Setting
In July 2013, the day before Denver based workshop began; I walked into the location (a huge, comfortable room in a local church) sort of astonished to see how our idea had become a reality. I knew it would happen but somehow seeing the 16 digital pianos stacked in the corner, a registration table, custom handout binders, dry erase board, drums, boom whackers, visual aids, snack bar, and signage still surprised me.
Six days later, tired and hoarse from teaching and demonstrating, we felt proud and happy to have been able to share a teaching philosophy of balancing the eye and ear in such an intense but fun setting. And we felt grateful for our business partnership ti which we each bring unique skill sets along with relentless energy and enthusiasm for all things related to creative piano pedagogy. unique set of teaching and organizing skills to the table along with relentless energy and enthusiasm for the whole project. But most of all, we were very appreciative of the students and teachers who dared to sign up for this historical, first-of-its-kind workshop to focus solely on keyboard improvisation.
Onward and Upward
Did it happen again? Definitely. Limited by the number of pianos we have available, we’ve sold out every workshop. And we are always changing it up, keeping notes on things to tweak as we progress. For example, participants told us they wished getting food was easier, so we now have a light breakfast, full lunch, and snacks catered. Returning alumni wanted variety so we divvied up our curriculum by ability level and now include a guest teacher. Recently, we added online clinics to our offerings and have been amazed and excited by the response. This is definitely an area we will continue to expand.
Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,