Storm clouds with silver linings

A personal account of my trip to the MTNA conference in Salt Lake City, March, 2003

What had promised to be a romantic weekend for two in a frosty, sparkling Salt Lake City had turned into five days in a bitter cold, rain-drenched city, enclosed in a hotel room with a bird’s eye view of - yes, you’ve guessed it- a parking garage. Still, often the most inauspicious beginnings can have remarkable endings.

Pedagogy Saturday at the MTNA conference was filled with lectures and seminars on the topic of motivation. Sessions entitled ‘I taught it but did they learn it?’ and ‘motivating through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards’ had pertinent ideas from psychologists as well as experienced music teachers. For me, the most fascinating learning tools were the short video clips of teachers in their own studios attempting to motivate their students. Presiders and audience were not afraid to criticize techniques and I found many useful, hand-on ideas to put into practice with my own students. Dinner that night was at Don Shulah’s famous steak house where the steaks come in 12, 24 and 48 ounce sizes. The menu was embossed on a football that was passed around the table!

On Sunday morning I witnessed the national high school performance competition. It was great fun to see if I had the same views as the judges. Stopping to grab a cup of coffee on the way, I was off to experience a Balinese gamelan workshop. Following Bruce Cook’s lecture at our branch’s December luncheon I had signed up for his World Music class at DVC and had spent every Thursday evening immersed in the music of non-Western cultures.  Here was my chance to participate in a vocal gamelan with the charismatic Michael Balkan – did I hear ‘extra credit’ there, Bruce?

Jane Bastien’s showcase took the form of a master class featuring four of her own students in various stages of study. One student was her own granddaughter who has her weekly lesson at 7 a.m. (gulp) Jane shared her secrets of how to teach a child to lift their hands efficiently at the ends of phrases. It’s all in the counting!

A quick dash from Jane’s class took me across Temple Square where I was just in time to hear the daily organ recital in the tabernacle. I was last here on my first trip to America in 1981 and I remembered little of the city apart from the sound of the organ. But I really don’t go for the light show.

What a pity there were only eight people in the audience for the high school woodwind competition next morning. These students have gone through many rounds, are celebrities in their own communities and yet only a handful of people watched the national finals!

The piano master class, by Misha Dichter, on the other hand was very well attended. This was my first chance to see the stunning Abravanel Hall, adjacent to the convention center. The three students demonstrated a wide range of accomplishment, which Mr Dichter handled tactfully. He was not afraid to give effusive praise when the occasion warranted it.

Next morning’s events began for me at 8 a.m. with a showcase by Robert Vandall. I have taught his music and found some of it very motivating for students. It was fun for me to meet him in person and to be able to put a face to the ‘Bagatelles.’

I always look forward to the Collegiate Artists’ performance at the MTNA conferences and this was no disappointment. I was particularly impressed by the guitar finalist, whose prize was an all- expenses paid trip to the Gibson guitar showroom in New York city to select a guitar of his choice. The winner of the piano division won a Steinway piano!

Tuesday night, however, was the icing on the cake – a return to Abravanel Hall to experience what was for me, and the person sitting next to me, an event of a lifetime. Van Cliburn had been scheduled to play for one night only – an event unconnected with the music convention. I had seen the concert advertised in the ‘What’s On in Salt Lake’ in my hotel room the afternoon I’d arrived. A quick phone call told me that there 3 tickets left, 2 in the 6th row. I’d taken 4 CD’s with me on the trip and two were Cliburn, and now, here he was in person. Who better to share your piano dream with than your piano teacher. So there Keith and I were, hardly able to contain our excitement. It was an all-Tchaikovsky concert, conducted with grace and supreme musicianship by Keith Lockhart. When Van Cliburn came onto the stage he was given a standing ovation, and as the took his seat to play the Tchaikovsky concerto, ‘his’ concerto,  the atmosphere in the hall was electric. The sound he produced was big, never harsh and his control of phrasing was eloquent. His poise and dignity were overwhelming. The conductor assisted the master performer at every nuance. After the encores we rushed out to try to greet the star back-stage but he was only receiving invited guests. Disappointed on that front – but I still have my ticket stub, so I guess the evening wasn’t just a dream.

© Heather Morris 2003