Most students come to their piano lesson alone, practice alone and perform alone. Not the most exciting hobby when there are all the team sports and dance groups around is it? So our solution? Piano ensemble camp! It allows us to still teach private lessons as we build our studios and names in our communities, yet once a year we introduce our students to the joys of playing together in duets, trios, quartets, and more at the piano!
While we were finishing our graduate degrees at Texas Christian University, we had the opportunity to use the piano lab and a few professor’s offices to hold our first Piano Ensemble Camp. It was a wild success so we have continued the camp in several shapes and forms. The first year all three of us were able to teach and coach the ensembles. We had mostly elementary to intermediate students who played everything from duets to octets (8 piano ensembles)! It was a blast! The next year, only two of us could teach and coach so we had a helper in the lab to carry out the games and practice time when we couldn’t be there.
This year, only Julia pulled everything together to hold the annual ensemble camp. To make it work with just one teacher, she had a few student helpers (advanced students who were too old for the camp but wanted to participate for fun). They set up three areas: one grand piano for her to coach duets on, one nice keyboard in another room to practice with her student teacher, and the lab where they could play games and rehearse. Now Julia only teaches private lessons right now but she was able to ask friends and parents to share their keyboards for one week while she held this camp. Such a resourceful idea for teachers who want to do this idea but don’t have the technology resources on hand right now!
Our hours have varied from 2 to 2.5 hours, 5 days a week with a concert on the final day for parents to attend. We agreed that 2 hours is perfect for the students’ attention span and the teacher’s energy level. When all students come from the teachers running the camp, it’s a lot easier to prepare their repertoire beforehand so the concert is full of high quality performances! Ensemble skills are difficult to teach in private lessons so our students always love this opportunity to play together all week! For many of them, it also motivates them to practice more during the summer to keep up with their friends at ensemble camp.
Stay tuned for a list of our favorite ensemble repertoire! We have a few amazing pieces we have come to love and hope to hear about a few of your favorites to add to our collection for next year.
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com