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Teacher Feature: Erin Hales

Meet our new piano teacher Erin Hales. She currently services the Fountain Hills, Scottsdale and Phoenix Areas. You can learn more about Erin on her website ErinHales.Com.

When did you begin studying? What was your motivation?

I began studying music at the age of three and started focusing on piano at the age of five. While none of my immediate family members are professional musicians, both of my parents came from households that emphasized the importance and the impact of classical music. Thanks to early exposure to great recordings, the patterns inherent in music began to fascinate me, as did its ability to communicate with just about everyone regardless of age, background or primary language. I decided early on that music was a “language” I wished to learn.

Did you have a teacher that made an impact on you?

I cannot thank my first piano instructor, Ms. Zhu Hong, highly enough for her commitment to her students, flexibility in teaching style, and incredible wisdom both inside and outside the classroom. Additionally, my mentor in graduate school, Maestro William Grant Naboré, rekindled my love of Baroque music and staunchly supported my musical development, even during a time when I had many doubts about my abilities. His advice and assistance were both instrumental in the release of my first album: a compilation of the first 24 preludes & fugues in J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Why did you choose your instrument? What do you love about it? What do you find challenging?

I started with the violin at age 4, but soon switched to the piano because of its ability to play multiple voices at once with ease. At the time, I wanted to become a conductor, and the idea of having a “portable orchestra” on which to play full scores appealed to me a great deal. I still love that about the piano, and I still prefer to play pieces with a lot of counterpoint. Oddly enough, I have found one of the most challenging aspects about the piano to be its unbelievably vast repertoire. Sometimes it is difficult to choose pieces for students or for oneself simply because of how many options are out there. Good repertoire planning therefore requires extensive research and study - more so than for an instrument that only has a few specific pieces written for it in the canon.

When did you begin teaching?

I began teaching in college and took a break from it when I moved to Europe for graduate school. After I returned to Arizona, I started teaching again, and found that the years spent honing my own abilities and playing concerts gave me valuable perspective I had lacked in the past.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

Each student provides their own perspective on the repertoire – a completely unique interpretation – and it is so rewarding to be able to give my students tools with which to communicate that perspective more clearly.

Were there any challenges that surprised you?

I often find that my students are involved with a full complement of extracurricular activities in addition to the piano, which makes it difficult to maintain steady progress. However, if music lessons are sufficiently important to the student (and, when applicable, their parents), this tends to be less of an issue.

What aspects of music education do you find most important to your instrument?

In 2010-11, I developed ulnar nerve compression as a result of practicing in an unhealthy manner. Physical therapy visits, seminar attendance and independent research helped me mitigate the problem in my own playing and recognize similar issues in my students’ playing. As a result, in my classes I tend to emphasize healthy practice habits and relaxed technique – if these fundamental skills are lacking, then there is too little of a foundation upon which to build musicality.

One other aspect that really does not see as much emphasis in the States is tone quality. In my classes, I spend a lot of time discussing dynamic contrasts, richness of tone, and good sound projection. Just because it is easy to produce a decent sound on the piano does not mean that we should stop trying to produce a truly beautiful one. It is often the difference between an average performance and an outstanding one.

What do you want your students to ultimately learn?

Music is just another language, albeit one that we are all born understanding on an instinctual level. In many ways, making music is our birthright as human beings. However, in order to become a musician of significance, one first has to have something significant to express: therefore, it is important to have life experience outside of the practice room as well as time spent within it.

If you could do anything in music what would it be?

I have been learning the harpsichord for about three years now, and would love to become part of a Baroque orchestra or chamber group at some point.

What kind of music do you listen to? Like to play the most?

I listen to just about everything, but my particular fondness is for Baroque harpsichord music and Indian classical music. For the last few months, I have been taking jazz lessons and am really enjoying playing old Dave Brubeck pieces.

Who are the musicians and artists that you admire most?

My biggest influence, both in teaching and in playing, is Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska (1879-1959). At a time wherein nobody was terribly interested in early music, she almost single-handedly revitalized the study and practice of it. Listening to her recordings, it is easy to see why: she has a formidable conviction and such clear communication with her audience. Glenn Gould might be more well-known for his Bach interpretations, but hers are more than worthy of notice as well.

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