San Antonio 2016: A Conference to Remember

The 2016 MTNA National Conference in San Antonio is one that will go down in the books! The location was perfect, the weather perfect, and the sessions as always, applicable, and rejuvenating.

The long days (generally up by 5:45 am and not back until 10:30 pm!) were made easier by being able to walk outside and soak up some vitamin D3 at any given moment.


In this post, I will share a quick run-down of all the sessions I attended each day. However, more than sharing my notes and information, I especially wanted to share the people I came into contact with and the memories that impacted me the most. I always walk away with tons of extra applicable knowledge but feel even more blessed to walk away with more colleagues who I can now call friends.

Also, because good food brings me joy, you’re going to have to put up with seeing photos of all the food I ate!


Friday, April 1


My friend Joy and I were blessed to be able to stay with Susan Hong, a teacher in San Antonio for the week. It was fun getting to know her and see her experience an MTNA conference for the first time! She was an excellent host and knew all the hot spots!

After getting settled in Friday afternoon at her house, we had a delicious lunch at a small local authentic Mexican restaurant. I realize this photo does not look very appetizing but the Barbacoa was absolutely delicious and tender, and I ate homemade flour tortillas for the first time! They were incredible!


We spent a couple of hours back at her house talking and resting then drove downtown to register and had a special dinner at Fogo de Chão. Their buffet is incredible and full of unique salads and veggies.


I was able to get some photos of the Alamo after dinner.

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Pedagogy Saturday (April 2)

  • 08:00am | Advanced Pianism Isn’t What It Used to Be (Robert Duke pictured below; and Robert Weirich)
  • 09:15am | Getting Started on the Right Foot: Establishing a Strong Foundation with Beginning Students (Fay Adams, Curtis Bristol, Michelle Conda)
  • 10:30am | If We Learn Like That, Why Do We Teach Like This? (Robert Duke)
  • 01:00pm | Hear That? Integrating Theory and Ear Training into Performance (Hsing-ay Hsu)
  • 02:15pm | Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to Be a Child (Wendy Stevens)
  • 03:30pm | Music Teaching in the 21st Century – Changes and Challenges (Pete Jutras and Steven Levy)



One of the highlights of the whole conference was getting to hear Robert Duke, the author of Intelligent Music Teaching speak at two sessions.

A few hot points:

  • We must strategically create productive/effective confusions for others. We see ourselves as confusion eliminators, but we need to allow our students to “muddle,” which then leads to opportunities for self-learning and discovery. Don’t let correctness lead.
  • If our only goal is to be perfect, then all we can experience is relief. Joy should be our ultimate goal.
  • A 5-year-old’s brain is not a mini-adult brain. The last area of a brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex which affects judgment. Children’s brains do not have the capability to think through implications (of not practicing for example). They are only in the “now.”

We had lunch at Maria Mia with several of Susan’s Texas friends, of whom we got to know well this week!

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Joy and I had dinner at Schilo’s Delicatessen with two of my Indiana colleagues. Dr. Lori Rhoden of Ball State (my mentor and professor during my studies), and Karen Thickstun, a professor at Butler University and Vice President of Membership for MTNA.

Their homemade root beer was amazing and I enjoyed the traditional Reuben sandwich.


The opening concert was better than I could have ever imagined with Time for Three performing a concert that rocked me to my core. I wanted to jump up and move to their music! Their attention to creativity, color, absolute musicianship, and their unique ability to blend popular with classical is what drives their popularity.


If you want to see what I’m talking about, check out one of the pieces we got to enjoy live; a mash-up of Katy Perry’s Firework and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.



Opening day (Sunday, April 3)

  • 08:00am | Publisher Showcase: The Royal Conservatory
  • 09:15am | Plenary session: Entrepreneurship – talking with Time for Three
  • 11:00am | Intermediate Piano Master Class with Bruce Berr
  • 01:00pm | Publisher Showcase: Frederick Harris
  • 02:15pm | The Wild West of Marketing: How Do You Know What Really Works? (by ME!!!)
  • 03:30pm | Exhibit hall 


I attended the Royal Conservatory’s showcase and am really excited for their new Theory series to come out.

Time for Three had a delightful conversation with the audience during the opening day Plenary Session, sharing how they came to where they are today. They have contagious energy not only in their music but in their testimony of creativity, hard work, and thinking outside the box for musicians of all ages.

I hope they can continue to be an incredible inspiration to the younger generation through unique endeavors such as Happy Hour with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.


Sunday was a big day for me and one I will remember for a lifetime as I gave my first-ever national session. Can you tell I’m excited?!


I had a great audience and we quickly ran out of handouts. You can download it here.



It was great to spend time after the session speaking with teachers about their similar marketing experiences and struggles.


Many states hold a dinner on Sunday night. Indiana did a late get-together after the premiere of the Seymour Bernstein film. I’m so blessed with a wonderful group of colleagues and friends!


Pairing well with a glass of Merlot, I had “White Wedding Pizza” with Gruyere béchamel, roasted cauliflower and pulled mozzarella, topped with baby kale tossed in truffle oil…um, yes, please!



Monday, April 4

  • 08:00am | Publisher Showcase: Piano Safari
  • 09:15am | Hacking the Piano Lesson: Discovering the Advantages of Limited Lesson Time (Courtney Crappell)
  • 09:55am | The Varsity Musician’s Playbook: Commitment-Building Strategies from Team Sports to the Studio (Christina Whitlock)
  • 10:30am | MTNA Certification Meeting
  • 11:10am | Teaching Students to Talk about Music (David Cartledge)
  • 02:15pm | More than “Do-Re-Mi”: How Awareness of Solfege Styles Supports An Inclusive Classroom (University of Texas at Austin Collegiate Chapter)
  • 03:30pm | Exhibit Hall


Piano Safari, one of my current favorite methods, unleashed Level 3! I’m excited to try it out, especially the technique book. I have a ton of students just finishing up book 2, so it was ready just in time – I purchased ten copies – yes, I have that many students ready!


My friend, colleague and Indiana State President, Christina Whitlock gave an excellent 20-minute session called The Varsity Musician’s Playbook: Commitment-Building Strategies from Team Sports to the Studio.

I’m excited to implement some of her ideas. I few I want to share with you quickly:

  1. Create roles for students to have a sense that they are contributing to a team such as handing out programs or giving the opening welcome at the recital.
  2. Hold a “select performance”. Christina had older students perform the whole Burgmuller 100 and younger students created images for each piece.
  3. Create legacy in your studio by displaying a piano teacher family tree, a plaque of students who are in your studio 5-8 years with their name engraved on it, or displaying a photo board of all students continually.



It was great getting a chance to have lunch with and get to know Tim Topham. I’ve been following his blog and podcast for awhile now. It was also nice getting to have a bit of “Aussie chat”. It’s been seven years already that we’ve been back from Australia, but the memories will be there forever.

We ate at Boudro’s with some other teachers (forgot to get a photo!), and I was thrilled to get some guacamole, made table-side…



…and a famous Prickly Pear Margarita of course!


Blue Crab Tostada – rich and tasty!

I was also privileged this week to meet and spend a lot of time with the famous Susan Paradis! She is just a darling!


A group from Piano Teacher Central got together to have dinner at a great BBQ place, County Line. Look at the smoke line on that brisket!


The 40+ teachers then piled in for a Riverboat tour around dusk.




Tuesday, April 5

  • 08:00am | Publisher Showcase: The Royal Conservatory
  • 09:15am | Piano Master Class with the illustrious Seymour Bernstein
  • 11:00am | Creative Strategies for the Worship Pianist
  • 01:00pm | Publisher Showcase: Alfred and Kjos
  • 02:15pm | 130 Strategies for Effective Teaching



Seymour Bernstein gave a masterclass to two very talented and delightful students. The older girl, a senior in high school, learned in three weeks and performed by memory, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in Gm. Incredible!

Julie Knerr, the co-author of Piano Safari, gave a great session talking about the wealth of teaching strategies we can use with our students. It was delighted to realize I have implemented many of these (mostly thanks to reading a lot of their mini-essays), but it was nice to be refreshed and to get some new ideas. You can download all 130 152 Strategies from the Piano Safari website.


Joy and I, enjoying the last couple hours outside on Tuesday afternoon followed by dinner with Susan Hong, Susan Paradis, and Elizabeth Gutierrez at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio.




After attending the first half of the Emanuel Ax piano recital that evening, we wanted to catch the historical light show at the courthouse a few blocks away. Tuesday is the only night of the week it runs! We were joined by Tim Topham, Lynette Barney, and James and Eik from Fun and Learn Music = Fun!


my conference Purchases!

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my conference Freebies!

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Book Recommendations

Several of the presenters recommended books in their sessions I’ve already tagged on my “books to read” list.


see you next year!

Facebook is blowing up right now with all of us connecting with each other, sharing our experiences, and winding down from the whirlwind of fun, sun, and learning.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already anticipating next year’s conference in Baltimore!

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