Finding Inspiration for Young, Female Piano Students
I often talk to my students about playing music with feeling and about how moving their bodies can help in that regard. Last week, I noted the short and choppy movements of one of my female high-school-aged piano student. This made what she played sound choppy, too. Of course, some pieces should feel that way, but this was a Hanon exercise I knew she could play five times faster if she just changed her movements. I wondered if I could help her find inspiration by providing examples of well-known piano players who move their bodies with the music, adding depth and feeling to their performance.
The Search for the Great Piano Players Begins
I sent her away that day promising I would send her YouTube links of great piano players who move while they played. Searching first for “best keyboard players” returned an article called “25 Best Keyboard Players of All Time.” While they were certainly all great players, they were also mostly old (or dead), and mostly white (23 out of the 25). The only exceptions were Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock.
My First Inspiration in Live Music Performance
When I was in elementary school I had no idea what a musician was or looked like. But I clearly recall a young woman visiting my class and playing guitar and singing for us. I even remember the song she sang: “I Can See Clearly Now.” Her playing and singing were so beautiful to me, I thought to myself, “What!? A person can do THAT!?” I was hooked for life. I am not sure her being young and female helped, but I do remember feeling that what she did was somehow attainable.
Well-Known, Non-Lead-Singing, Young Female Keyboard Players Are Hard to Find
So back to Google I went, firmly resolved to find a contemporary, young, female keyboard player to inspire my students! Results were not unexpected: Sarah Bareilles, Norah Jones, Sarah McLaughlin, Alicia Keyes. But I noticed they were not merely piano players: they all sing lead and have beautiful voices.
Now, most of my piano students coming over the last 20 years have NO INTEREST in singing; some are completely mortified by the sound of their own voice. While my particular student that set me on this quest is willing to sing, she is currently uninterested in pursuing a singing career. So, I’m still left with how to INSPIRE!
I Find Inspiration for Myself
I dig through the internet and YouTube some more. I go on Facebook and ask my musician friends for help. Thank goodness for Tom Knapp who introduced me to Hiromi Uehara. Whoa! A jazz composer from Japan, she is the breath of fresh air on the music scene many of us need. Nobody has more fun playing piano than she does. She is posting short video clips on Instagram and Facebook where she hosts virtual jams with one other musician. Excellent and inspiring! I think, rather than finding inspiration for my student, I found inspiration for myself.
Watch her Trio Project (below). She’ll blow your socks off. And you know what else? She plays that piano with her whole body. Ha ha!