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October, 2001
Just For Teachers

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Preparing Pianists For Service

Service for others has been demonstrated in many ways in the past few weeks as the United States and the world offer aid to the victims of terrorism. Service is not a new word, philosophers throughout the ages have referred to service for others as the primary reason we exist. Many states have a high school graduation requirement of community service in an attempt to uplift the teenagers’ thoughts from themselves to the world around them. How can we, as piano teachers, instill an attitude of service into our students’ outlook on piano study and performance?

For adults, teaching is probably the first thing that enters one’s mind when thinking of service. Occasionally concert artists are involved in service by playing in benefit concerts. But students can be involved in their community in a variety of ways, including accompanying community music groups, visiting and performing in senior citizen centers, and participating in local church services.

Even intermediate level students can realize the gift of service as close as their local church. In a time when more people are returning to weekly worship, churches across America are experiencing a shortage of musicians. Often they would welcome students to assist the worship experience, even if only occasionally. The benefits to the student include:

  • frequent performance goals for the music they are studying,
  • usually a performing environment of less stress and greater appreciation because the focus is not on themselves but the overall meaning of worship,
  • ensemble and/or leadership experience if they play for congregational singing,
  • the rewarding feeling of serving others,
  • and a developing sense of commitment if they play every week.
  • Students are never too young to train for this activity. One Washington, D.C. area teacher holds a "Hymn Festival for Junior Church Pianists" every year in which students of all ages, including first year beginners, learn a hymn to play with congregational (mostly their parents) singing, including an introduction, and then also perform a solo piece appropriate for service music, such as a prelude, offertory or postlude. Parents were amazed at the ability for youth to generate a spiritual experience, and they appreciated the introduction of a deeper dimension to playing the piano.

    Music abounds at every level that is suitable for worship. Almost every piano method course publishes a supplement book of religious pieces at every level. There even exists a method course designed around Christian music entitled "Keys for the Kingdom", published by Glory Sound, which has three hymn supplements at every level. In 1989 Alfred Publishing put out a series of three books for the intermediate pianist entitled "Classical Music for the Church Service", compiled by Maurice Hinson. And most creative teachers can find music students are already learning that would be appropriate for the worship setting.

    The style and suitability of the music depends highly upon the type of service being practiced, whether it is one of contemporary praise, gospel or more traditional, and the theme of the service itself. But I personally think that short and well-prepared classical music is appreciated anywhere, as well as well-written hymn tune arrangements. The key is thorough preparation and an attitude that performing for the service of others is just as important as performing in recital. And don't we have the best role model for this in the life of J.S. Bach!

    Young people are looking for meaning in their lives and in the world around them. Why not redirect their view of performance as one of service and enrich their perspective on life for years to come?

    written by Rose Eide-Altman
    published October 1, 2001
    copyright 2001 PianoWomen.com

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