In all her work the emphasis is on empathetic listening
My approach stresses the student's active engagement in sound at whatever level is meaningful for that individual. Its long-term goal is to nurture interactive multiple intelligences rather than compartmentalize music as an area of specific achievement, though any child interested in technical prowess is encouraged to pursue it, with the understanding that the training would be respectful of the individual hand and ear and not determined by regimentation. While standard pedagogy tends to simplify elements of music notation and generalize about the hand, in this approach these critical perceptual elements are kept variable.
Improvisation figures heavily as the basis for sight-reading, for ear-training, and for ensemble playing. Students are free to practice or not, as is appropriate. Among the reasons why some opt not to practice are awareness of adult ears listening for wrong notes, and because the instrument at home is not in tune. Just as practicing does not ensure pleasure, not practicing is not necessarily the same as not making progress. Fooling around is for many children, as it was for me, the best kind of practicing.
The environment is non-competitive, the tone one of mutual learning in which parents, children, and teacher observe and learn from one another, with the result that children tend not to quit even after graduation from high school and even college, and that individuals surpass themselves within the prevailing climate of empathetic listening. The approach reflects the needs I encountered over 35 years of coaching adult amateur chamber musicians. The rigidity with which most of those adults had learned rhythm, for example, made it difficult for them to adapt to playing together with others.
Age range: Children can begin this instruction at any age; 4 1/2 is not too young. As many essential skills such as rhythm and spatial awareness are based on gross-motor coordination, lessons are kept within a developmentally sound range.
Parents often wonder why a professional performing pianist teaches young learners. The most difficult skill in music, perhaps in life, is listening. The eminent musicologist, psychologist and philosopher Viktor Zuckerkandl demonstrated that musical logic is inherent in the human soul and that that logic makes itself apparent at every level of training. I found that observation so compelling that I made it my life's work to support the musicality of students of every age by listening for and supporting their innate musical minds at work. The rewards have been surprising for all concerned, extending far beyond the strictly musical.
As the skills involved in satisfying music-making are essentially communicative, each child is ideally scheduled for two meetings each week, one private, the other in the company of others, not necessarily of the same age or level. Ideally one meeting is on a weekday, the other on Saturday. Children studying instruments other than the piano may sign up for just the ensemble meeting, in which improvisation and movement figure centrally, and reading skills are reinforced without pressure.
Former child students with whom I remain in contact have advanced degrees in various subjects: Neuroscience, Art History, Rhetoric; one irrepressible practicer became a Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition who, while supporting himself primarily as a programmer, teaches theory and/or composition from time to time at Columbia University. He went into music because he loved it more than anything else, ultimately opting for a doctorate in the field because, in his words, "It is harder than everything else."
Fees depend on the family circumstances: Music and the child come first.
A former student writes:
"I took piano lessons from Nancy for twelve years, and over the years I learned much more than how to look at little dots on a piece of paper and press a corresponding lever. Nancy encouraged and drew out from me emotional involvement and conscious thought about music, both in general and specific to certain pieces. Essentially, she taught me how to listen, one of the most difficult skills there is both to teach and to learn."
Her mother writes:
"I would say that the biggest benefit for C. from your method of teaching is her tendency to question and push back. If you tell her she has to do x, she will definitely do y out of contrariness. By giving her space to find what spoke to her in music first, it allowed her to be open to more disciplined instruction when she was ready for it. You have to get her interested; then she will work at something and maybe even listen to suggestions.
Also, I would point out that for years she didn't seem to be "learning anything" and then all of a sudden it came together, which seems to me a more logical reflection of the real learning process. It's not a straight line. At least, not if you really want to get anywhere meaningful in the end.
Teachers seeking guidance in integrating ear, eye, and fingers for developmentally sound pedagogy
Integrating learners with special needs into a receptive musical community
Rehearsal Strategies for Individuals and Ensembles
Her teaching career began in her native Chicago at age 13. After a semester teaching piano at Oberlin Conservatory (196o) she returned to New York where she built a career as an experimental teacher of piano, chamber music, and music in connection with general curriculum in several public and private schools. In 1975 she inaugurated a people-oriented chamber music program at Mannes, which she coordinated until 2007. In 1983 she founded Alaria Chamber Ensemble for the purpose of team-teaching that program, described in "Experiments of a Chamber Music Coach" in Chamber Music Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2010. She also taught chamber music techniques in Mannes Preparatory Division and Chamber Music Pedagogy in the College Division for several semesters.
Her piano methods, based on sound developmental principles, are interpersonal, including wherever possible siblings working together, parents working together with their children, and children working in pairs as well as individually. This learning community is open to children with special needs. Some of this work is described in "Teaching Rhythmic Flexibility to Young Learners" in Clavier Companion, Nov. 2011. Other articles have appeared in Music for the Love of It, Prism: A Learning Journal, Flying Together, Transformations, and The Piano Quarterly.
She maintains a daily blog on matters musical.