4 Years of Piano Keys in Downtown Bennington

In 2016, Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp did a Flash Mob scene in downtown Bennington which included piano keys made from cardboard placed in the crosswalks. Videos of us singing and dancing to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with our own lyrics went viral locally and more.

Shortly after that, there was an article in a Boston newspaper about Bennington. It focused on History, Nature and Food as a big part of our community, but it neglected a fourth element: The Arts, which is huge in this town!

It was time to make a statement to put Bennington arts on the map in a big way. I decided to approach the Select Board of Bennington (something that was totally out of my comfort level) and as if we might paint piano keys in the crosswalks of the Four Corners to add and celebrate the arts after all the praise that was received from the Flash Mob. I received a resounding and immediate “yes!”

There was a legal technicality in regard to painting the crosswalks but this glitch was remedied by the town learning that it was ok to paint the intersection not the crosswalks. So, I was told to put the piano keys in the middle of the road. That night, I had several nightmares about the project. I dreamt that I was lost and could not get out of town. This dream helped me reimagine the design to include a wind rose compass (so I wouldn’t be lost in town!) and use the piano keys as a frame. I quickly drafted my idea onto a napkin and asked my husband, Dale Cobb, if he could help me make it look more professional to get the final approval from the Select Board.

I sent the design via email to the Select Board and it was enthusiastically approved!

The arts in our community is so special – we have a huge number of musicians, writers, painters, dancers and graphic artists, etc. I wanted to honor everyone by placing this particular work of art prominently in the center of town. It is the only design of this kind in the world until a piano student of mine in India asked if he could copy it. I gave him the thumbs up to do so!

I welcome you all to consider sharing these pictures of the Piano Key Compass as a reminder to visit our beautiful town. Your first destination stop in Bennington might include seeing the piano key/compass at the Four Corners! Thank you!

Aerial Picture of the Finished Compass Piano Keys

With a project of this size, there are many people to thank who made this possible:

First off, to the young pianists at Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp who did a wonderful Flash Mob scene downtown in the crosswalks with camp-made cardboard covered piano keys. They sang and danced to “Piano Man” and so many people loved it. Their spirited performance inspired me to think outside the box when the time came to do something big and arty for the town.

The Piano Man Flash Mob that Inspired the Piano Key Compass

Next I need to thank the Sonata Piano Camp participants who so generously provide scholarships to local pianists to attend Summer Sonatina and who also shop downtown when they attend piano camp themselves.

The first individual to recognize is my husband, Dale Cobb, who put in so many hours measuring, drawing to scale, cutting and pasting, sawing templates, buying supplies and making sure that I stay calm about doing something way out of my norm. You are my hero!

Next come the three folks who nudged and reassured me that I was ready and prepared to present to the Town Select Board (you know who you are). Thank you for believing in me especially since I was so nervous about doing this!

The next group to thank in the chain of events is the Town Select Board. I will never forget how enthusiastically you said yes to the plans after witnessing the success and delight by the community of the Summer Sonatina Flash Mob scene.

GVH also had the equipment to help align some of the design features so that we could refine the template for ease of use each time the Piano Key Compass needed to be painted. They also made the compass point letters “N, E, S, and W.” Thank you, Greg VanHouten.

I want to thank the local community for encouraging me to take action as one of you. It is because I kept hearing over and over again that nothing changes in this town and that the little guy never gets heard that I decided to prove you wrong by doing something this courageous. I hope , in the future, this inspires other community members to also take action towards improving our town. Please remember that it takes patience, perseverance, communication, and a sturdy backbone to confront all the naysayers! This project from start to finish took about 18 months.

I want to thank Stu Hurd and other members in the Town Offices for working on this project with me and handling some of the legal hurdles. Your determination kept me going as well.

I want to thank Highway Superintendent RJ Joly, for his willingness to put his team onto the paint job despite some trepidation about the project. Your email to me the morning after the road was painted put the biggest smile on my face. Matt Hathaway did the paint job. He was amazingly calm and worked so patiently with Dale while we carefully placed a template down to be spray painted, one at a time. Matt did a mighty fine job and the fellow who poured sand on the paint job to give better traction also

The Painting of the Compass Piano Keys

I loved that the sheriff’s that arrived to reroute traffic, had no idea why traffic was being detoured. When I showed them the plans and pointed to the intersection, I’m pretty sure they all got a kick out of it.

Thank you to Mike Cutler of CAT-TV and Jeffrey Grimshaw and Sam Restino from BNN News, for all the videography. You captured the painting process perfectly. I also want to thank Matt Moon for the wonderful drone photograph of the intersection. It depicts the scope of the project. Hopefully, the drone image will capture the attention of Google Earth so that it becomes a more permanent landmark.

The Bennington Area Arts Council was instrumental in their support and excitement about the project. The council has great energy! I’m excited to see what the next big arts project will be.

I’m delighted the project was completed ahead of Bennington’s Downtown 2017 Mayfest so that more people could see the design in person. Both the Bennington Downtown Alliance and the Bennington Chamber of Commerce were also incredibly supportive of this project.

The Bennington Banner did an awesome job of capturing a photo of the Piano Key Compass. AP News picked this up and I heard from friends who had read the story from all over the country. What an amazing 15 minutes of fame! But, more importantly, it gave our town and the local arts organizations, a huge boost.

Finally, I want to thank all the people who engaged in discussion, wrote posts and shared so many of the photos when the Piano Key Compass was first painted. Let’s keep trending positive things in our community.

Flash Mobs at the Piano Key Compass Became a Yearly Thing

Initially, this was the only Piano Key Compass design in the world until my piano student in India asked if he could paint something similar.

Here is Ash Vaderaa’s story:

Footprints to the Piano Keys in New Delhi, India

Footprints to the Piano Keys

This is story of Polly van der Linde who besides other things is also my Piano teacher from Bennington, VT. She conceived an idea for her home town which would reflect art and culture for it. We, in New Delhi , India, modified and adopted her idea at one of the 18 centers of DCCW which deals with children of special needs. DCCW is one of the big charities in this part of the world, directly benefiting over 3000 children from the underprivileged section of the Indian society. Very soon we are also going to introduce music therapy for teaching our special needs children, hence footprints and piano keys are so symbolic of this.

Her paintings at the intersection were so impressive that I decided to emulate it at one of our DCCW centers however adding footprints of our children to her concept of the piano keys and the compass.

I thought that I was crazy owning 4 pianos and a flute in my family but Polly is crazier as she has about 32 pianos in her house and teaches over 500 people through online lessons and piano camps.

To me the world is just a large village. It was while we were finishing our online piano lesson on 23rd May 2017 that Polly said that they were going to paint the Four Corners at Bennington with piano keys and by 14th June, 2017 we had adopted and modified her idea at one of centers in New Delhi.”

I want to thank the Bennington Banner for following up with this international story as it proved that Art is Powerful because this project definitely put Bennington, VT on the map!

Some articles on the subject:



Posted in Flash mob scene, History of Sonatina, Sonatina, Summer Sonatina | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

3 Generations and Counting

My parents, Rosamond and Rein van der Linde, started Sonatina in 1969 when I was 10 years old. As a family of seven pianists (4 siblings and my parents), we were nicknamed the Vermont Von Trapp family of pianists. Growing up with piano camp in my life every summer, I played numerous roles at Summer Sonatina, from camper to counselor to director, until eventually, I took over the ownership of the business in 1998.

As the years went by, and I had two of my own children, I had this little secret hope that one of my own might take an interest in Sonatina to continue the family tradition for another generation. It was nothing I ever expected or requested, much like how my parents never had the conversation with me. Things moved organically and we all morphed with the flow as was customary in our family.

Bringing up my own two boys, Taylor and Austin, I required them to know about what I do so taking piano lessons was a part of their daily lives. Both of them got quite far in their playing ability but neither of them wanted to go into music. Both went to college studying fields other than music, and I was therefore not confident that either would be interested in joining the family business. Until this year, the boys have been involved in the business as campers, Junior Counselors and Junior Faculty for Summer Sonatina.

Summer Sonatina Campers: Young Austin and Taylor on the left with Polly.

But then last year COVID-19 hit. Sonatina needed to speedily move our operations online. While I had been offering one on one online teaching since 2013, I had never given master classes, group classes or discussion groups with a collective number of people. I knew I needed help at home and to find someone to help our participants with the new technical aspects of having camp run remotely.

Austin stepped up to the plate to work for the business as our resident chef for these past few months. Being pretty much tied to the piano bench 16 hours a day during online camps, I had no time to make meals. Austin enjoyed the work so much, he has offered to cook for the in-person children’s camp, Summer Sonatina, this coming June which will give me time to hire a new chef for our forthcoming adult camps running in-person from August through November.

While Taylor had a mechanical engineering degree, he had hesitated about making engineering his full-time career. Suddenly there appeared to be a perfect confluence of circumstances for Taylor to help our business. He had always been very quick with computers and technology and so we leaned heavily on him during the infancy of us going online. Our participants were ever so grateful that they could call upon him for any technical advice. Taylor became quite excited and felt truly valued as a regular part of our business beyond his experiences with Summer Sonatina. 

For months now, Taylor has ironed out technical snafus, done the enormous task of scheduling a massive number of online lessons on seven different Zoom channels, coached our participants in getting the most out of Zoom by working on microphone and camera placements and being on call throughout the day for the online camps. Our participants have stated that without this peace of mind of having tech support, they would not have opted into joining us for our online camps. Taylor was the key to us managing the challenges of online piano camps!

Need tech help? Taylor has your back!

Around this time, Taylor also revealed to me that he liked the idea of being a more central part of our business. He had been aware that for several years I had been concerned about my energy levels during Summer Sonatina, the camp held in the summers for children, and whether I could keep on directing it. My parents had passed the baton onto me to run the children’s camp when I was 23 years old so considering Taylor for this position at this time was a natural one.

And with that, he is our new Summer Sonatina Co-Director as he will be running the 2021 season together with Claire Hamilton, who has been a Co-Director with me for many years.  This will allow me to step away from the day-to-day running of summer camp and focus on hiring faculty, teaching masterclasses, and coaching kids with new music selections in the capacity as Artistic Director.

Claire and Taylor, our new Summer Sonatina Director Team

I will continue directing and teaching the adult piano camps and Taylor will continue helping with any tech work needed for those. We anticipate hosting in-person camps this coming summer and fall season but will continue to have online options during the colder months as I can teach remotely from my winter home in Florida. This seasonal streamlining of having camps run from April to November will alleviate the challenges of the hiring process as in the past there was limited work between late January and mid-April for certain positions.

Taylor will also be taking charge of livestreaming all the masterclasses and concerts for our in-person camps. I have no doubt in my mind that he will find multiple ways to contribute both his technical and amazing people skills to all our camps as he is one to give the most of himself in making sure everyone is happy. I am enjoying sharing and teaching Taylor all of the aspects of running our piano camp business.

I am beyond delighted and thrilled that my son Taylor will be the 3rd generation working at and for Sonatina year-round. Bravo Taylor – you are going to love the work I have enjoyed (and my parents before me) for so many years. It is the best job in the world as we make so many pianists, young and old, play and learn the instrument they love with the friends they make at camp forever. That feeling of accomplishment can’t be beat!

Posted in History of Sonatina, Summer Sonatina, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

What a Year This Has Been

A little over a year ago, I started hearing reports about this new disease that was beginning to spread all over the world.  Within about two weeks’ time I went from planning April Sonata as usual, to thinking about how we would accommodate people while cleaning every piano key in the house between practice sessions, to recognizing there was no way for us to safely have a gathering of pianists at our venue.

Now we are a year further and we have a full year of canceled and remote programs behind us.  While the end of the tunnel seems to be in view, Sonatina is still some months away from (hopefully) resuming business somewhat as usual at the end of June. 

Polly’s virtual camp set up.

When we realized remote camp was our only option, I was extremely anxious whether we could do so successfully. All the video conferencing platforms I checked had serious sound issues with music that would make an online piano camp impossible and most of our participants had little experience with technology. As luck would have it, one of our Sonata family members connected us with the Zoom team. Zoom was eager to improve their sound issues but had a security breach and needed to focus on that. At this point I had nightmares about our pending zoom doom. But, somehow, Zoom agreed to keep working on this very important project, using Sonata as one of their beta testers. Their improved sound launched precisely 7 days before our first online camp was to begin. I will be forever grateful for their making this a priority and of course musicians all over the world benefitted.

Suddenly there was a need to have my son, Taylor Cobb, join our staff to work one on one with each individual so that there would not be any worries about how to connect to Zoom, set up cameras and microphones.

With our reassurance that Taylor would work patiently and individually with them on any technical issues, twenty brave pianists agreed to join our first remote program during the April Sonata time. While remote camp wasn’t the same as being all under one roof, sharing practice space, dorm rooms and delicious gourmet meals, we were able to replicate the camp feel and make the best of things. On the last day of program, in saying our goodbyes, we all cried, thankful that we were able to be together the best way we could given all the hurdles.

The first virtual piano camp.

After the April Sonata Piano Camp, we held remote camps in June, August, September, October, November, and January. We had to cancel all the Intermezzos and May Sonata but about 50% of our regular participants joined a remote program. While this does not sound great, it was much better than I had dared hope at first and with some help from our friends and our government, it kept Sonatina afloat in 2020.

Jeffrey Biegel in one of many virtual faculty concerts this past year.

Summer Sonatina, our summer camp for children, was our hardest disappointment, especially for the kids who had been doing remote school for months already. We held out until May 30th, thinking COVID would be over (who knew back then?) but it became apparent that we could not do an in-person camp.  Only 10% would join the one week of remote Summer Sonatina camp. For those who did join us, our excellent Sonatina staff and faculty did an amazing job ensuring that everyone had fun learning, practicing and having classes. The students practiced piano on muted zoom with their fellow campers all at the same time, just like the practice wheel indicates when to practice during in-person camps. We filled each day with piano lessons, theory classes, room mate times, and enjoyed online activities such as origami, playing virtual catch, drumming classes, musical bingo and jeopardy.

Summer Sonatina Origami Activity
Summer Sonatina campers practicing together

In addition to our regular Sonatas and to help fill the gap left by the absence of Summer Sonatina, we created a few one to four-day a la carte virtual camps. By special request and with some trepidation, we hosted six teens in person, asking them to mask, social distance, sleep in single bedrooms, practice on a designated piano, eat and gather only outside and follow our strict rules. Their lessons were all held remotely but they were able to be on site to give them a careful break from their isolated lives. 

Sonatina’s new offering: 2-4 day virtual camps, which will be offered in the winter months.

The a la carte programs have now become a new and permanent part of our offerings. We have named them Virtual Bagatelle Camps and they will be available during the winter months, to tie pianists over until our season opens from April through November. This is yet another positive from having had to contend with new ways to hold camps during COVID. Once again, our creativity has allowed for new ways to learn piano!

In June, a fundraiser was started on our behalf by a group of January Sonata participants with the goal of raising $150,000. This figure was our anticipated financial gap to be bridged due to lowered enrollment.  Amazingly, over half of this was raised by our friends and another close to 50% came in from VT government grants.  Earlier, in April, we had received a PPP loan which had given us the faith to start remote programs knowing we would be able to pay our faculty and staff during the early part of the pandemic.  We couldn’t wait to help our faculty and staff as we knew they were musicians also struggling with no performances or in-person lessons. After that initial PPP loan there was incredible uncertainty about any more help coming so it was the funds raised by our wonderful piano community that kept me from despair. I will never forget you were there for us when we needed you!

Fundraiser by Sonata members to help Polly and Dale through the pandemic.

I continued to find ways to keep our Sonatina friends engaged and eager to learn as well as thinking of ways to bring in more revenue. I decided that I’d provide monthly virtual master classes and these will also continue for years to come. Once again, COVID helped shape these new ways to do business.

So that brings us to today.  More and more of us are receiving vaccines (I got mine the other day!) and if all goes as planned, by summer, all adults who want the vaccine can have one. 

It is too soon to reinstate our spring programs so we added a Bagatelle in May and an extra Sonata in the fall so that our spring group would have a place and time to join us.  We are planning and hoping that all the summer and fall programs can take place in-person in 2021. We can’t wait to be together as we have all been so patient. We will keep you all posted as we check mandates from the VT state on a daily basis.

Of course, our biggest challenge is Summer Sonatina again, as kids will not be vaccinated by late June and July.  We are taking this day by day, with our fingers crossed, currently planning a modified on-campus experience with reduced attendance and mitigating adaptations.  It is hard to plan when there is no data yet about the prevalence and risks of COVID but signs are pointing in the right direction and we have every intention to offer in-person summer camp if it is safe to do so.

We hope to be back in person this summer!

A year into the pandemic, we are facing a few more uncertain months but are hopeful to put COVID behind us soon.  This has been a tough and anxious year for Sonatina and for me personally, but I believe we came through it in good health and thanks to creativity, hard work, and lots of help, Sonatina is still going strong.  I feel lucky as it could have been so much worse and has been for so many others. I have gone through a mix of emotions from sad to grateful. I fervently hope that you have made it through these trying times relatively unscathed and that music continues to be a source of healing and hope for you. It has for me and I’m ever so thankful that we remain connected and inspired. May we look forward to much more joy-making in person soon!

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Piano Roles



Not these kinds of piano rolls

I chose this title for my blog because of all the roles I have played inside and outside of this home that houses so many pianos and has had so many stories associated with it. It begs the following question:

I keep reading about documentary films on pianists and their potential to have a career, family support or non-support, the sacrifices made, (i.e. La Calle De Los Pianistas; Seymour; the Olga Samaroff Story, and many more). But, has anyone ever done a film (or written a book) on living in an over-sized house chock full of 30 pianos, living with either 26 adult amateur pianists (or 40+ pianists between the ages of 7 and 16) and trying to have a normal family life?! I had my first baby during a piano camp, my father died during piano camp, my husband was ill for years with chronic fatigue syndrome and we still held the piano camps.


This house in China is making a piano statement!

9/11 occurred just days before a piano camp and the pianists still found a way to get to the September Sonata from as far away as California, finding flights at the last moment. Hurricane Irene ripped through VT in 2011 and tore at the hearts of the pianists who worried about the town in which their piano camp exists so they gave generously to the Town of Bennington in support of fixing a broken water pipe. Weddings have sprung from those who met at piano camp (someone told me that we should charge a premium for the added bonus of matchmaking!). Third generation children of piano camp are now attending Summer Sonatina, keeping up the piano camp bonds that last a lifetime. Flash mobs happen spontaneously in downtown Bennington because the young pianists love having fun, even if only for a few minutes.

My own piano history is pretty wild. At age 15, I commuted to NYC in an orange VW bug, driving myself and my youngest sister to the Juilliard School for our piano lessons and other classes. Public transportation was too expensive and so this was the only alternative. Mom and Dad stayed awake to make sure we were safely back the first trip and from then on, appeared nonchalant about the driving routines.


The Juilliard School as it looks today

Our family and about 7 pianos at the time, moved into a former convent in Old Bennington after having outgrown the small house in North Bennington. I remember that the pianos got moved first before all the furniture. I stayed at the house as I had a big performance coming up and needed to do a lot of practicing. It was freaky sleeping all alone in such a large house with hissing steam radiators going off at all hours of the night. The pianos seemed not to notice!


A newer orange VW bug now graces our driveway!

In short, what happens at piano camp does not stay at piano camp! My incredible extended family of pianists (over 4000 pianists have come through our doors) have enriched my life but what I have also found is that the people who have come to piano camp have had their lives indelibly changed forever as well.

Please feel free to share YOUR story about how piano camp has impacted you. Thank you!

Posted in History of Sonatina, Piano, Sonata, Sonatina, Summer Sonatina | 1 Comment

Sonatina to Intermezzo

Several weeks ago I received an email from a Francis Ricci, inquiring about the Intermezzo Piano Camps that we offer. These are 5-day immersive camps for adults, the shorter version of our very popular 10-day Sonata Piano Camps.

I wrote Francis right back saying we’d love to have him join us. You see, I knew Francis as a young pianist when he attended Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp as a young pre-teen. Francis came every summer between 2006 and 2011, first as a student and eventually as a camp counselor which was a common progression after aging out of camp.


Francis at Summer Sonatina in 2008

I loved that Francis was inquiring about the Intermezzo and that I’d be able to work with him again after a 7 year hiatus. I remember Francis was a very fine pianist. As a young camper, he played the Second Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody and other very technically challenging pieces. He loved playing duets and was a quick study when asked to join other young pianists. I recollect a wild rendition of Gershwin’s First Prelude that he had arranged with another camper in a hilarious Victor Borge style of crossing hands and jumping around the bench as well as the Rachmaninoff’s Elegie in E-flat minor, Op. 3

(2010) Rachmaninoff Elegie, Op. 3

(2009) Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

While it’s common for a Summer Sonatina camper to go from a student to counselor, it’s a little more rare for them to return to the adult piano camps in their 20’s. Most young adults haven’t established firm jobs yet and even if they do, may be too busy with their lives to slip away for a couple of days of piano camp. So, it was an added treat to have Francis team up with us.


Francis during sports at Summer Sonatina 2008

Francis was embraced by all of the other adult campers during the Intermezzo camp. They were in awe of his playing and marveled that he was so modest in regard to his own playing.

Personally, I can’t wait to host other former Summer Sonatina campers who are in a place in their lives to come back to camp no matter how long their hiatus is from attending or even playing the piano. It is my hope that I can welcome someone back when I’m in my 90’s and they might be in their late 30’s or 40’s. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?!

I invited Francis to share a little history about himself:

“Growing up, there was an old upright piano in my house which had been “gifted” from some relatives who didn’t want it anymore. After lots of persistent begging, my parents finally let me take lessons when I was 7 years old, and I started studying with Kathy Burns. At that age, I was too short to reach the pedals, so I used to ask my brother to sit under the piano and I would kick him once to press the pedal down and again to lift it back up. Fast forward to middle school, when some of my friends started going to band camp over the summer, I decided that I wanted to go to a piano camp. A quick search online brought up Summer Sonatina, and as soon as I saw 3 hours of un-interrupted practice per day, I was sold!

In high school, I transitioned from a student to a counselor at Summer Sonatina, and really started to get a lot out of the instruction I got from the faculty there. It was also the time when I realized that although I loved piano, I knew I didn’t want it to be a career for me, but that I still wanted to fill my life with as much music as I could. I jumped on every musical opportunity I found – organist at my church, rehearsal accompanist and pianist for musical theater productions, choir and jazz ensemble accompanist, NY State Fair talent competition, and so on.

While studying chemistry at Princeton University, I studied piano with Dr. Jennifer Tao and kept up with some performances and accompanying. One of the most rewarding experiences I had in college was performing Mozart’s double piano concerto with Dr. Tao and the Princeton University Sinfonia. After graduation, I began working as a software engineer for Facebook, and kept up with music as the organist at two small Catholic churches, and by accompanying some middle school and high school musical theater productions.”

Francis performed the Liszt Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude for a master class during the May 2018 Intermezzo. He was the last one to play so I didn’t get a lot of time to work with him. But, you can see and hear the wonderful comments from his colleagues and enjoy his first performance of this piece. I hope that he gets to play it a couple of times now that he has it under his fingers as it truly is a very difficult piece to play. Here is the master class video:

(2018) Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude

Thank you, Francis, for allowing me to feature you in a blog post!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp Op. 49


Room 21

We have 57 days until we open up our 49th season of Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp.


Room 23

What kind of preparations have been done so far?

We’ve hired a staff of 48 faculty, junior faculty, junior counselors, and staff to help us with our day to day routines.


Room 22


We’ve planned our Friday evening weekly away trips to include the following:

Week 1 – Saratoga Opera Company in a production of The Merry Widow

Week 2 – Laumeister Art Center with Duo Pianists Joel A. Martin and George Lopez blending classical, jazz and improvisation

Week 3 – Tanglewood with Paul Lewis playing a Mozart Concerto

Week 4 – NYC Ballet at SPAC with a production of Romeo and Juliet

Week 5 – Laumeister Art Center (on Wed night) with Mackenzie Melemed, pianist in a program of Bach, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and Schumann


Room 33


We are booked weeks 1 and 2 but have a few openings left for weeks 3, 4, and 5.

Keeping this notice short so you can share this with friends and family.


Room 34

Go to http://www.sonatina.com to learn more!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Amateur vs. The Professional

I haven’t posted on my blog in a long time. Part of the reason is I tend to be a perfectionist and don’t trust my own writing skills. Carry that over into my piano life and I might as well stop doing what I do: teach piano, to a wide swath of skill levels. From the very beginner “amateur” adult to the scary talented “possible future professional” 7-year old pianist.

Today I’m going to post without any fancy schmancy photos because I want to focus on what is being written here.

Yesterday, a FaceBook colleague of mine posted an article on the topic mentioned in the title of this post. Please spend two minutes reading this:

The Difference Between Amateurs and the Professionals

I purposely posted this on the adult Sonata Piano Camp yahoogroups for open discussion, knowing that it’d bring out quite a conversation. I adore my “piano peeps,” for whom, some have spent 10 days a year for 30 years in a row, coming to my home to study piano. I am aware of their burning desire to learn more.

Here are some of their responses:

The premise of this article is a bad one. The issue is not black and  white, good versus bad, professional versus amateur. Setting this up as a dichotomy is just a bad idea, especially given the pejorative nature of the description of amateur.
No one I met at Sonata qualifies as an amateur according to this author’s definition. We were there because we are dedicated to the art, open to criticism, willing to be vulnerable and grow. And we were not trying to become professionals. Like ______, I saw the episode of Mozart in the Jungle where Rodrigo said amateurs do it for love. We were all the epitome of that particular definition, whether or not it was the source of our income (and for some of us it was). 
A couple of my “professional” musician friends (paid to play) admitted to me that they might hesitate to take the risk of that kind of an experience. And they don’t have the time. We made the time.
So I would like to suggest a third word that we might find more comfortable. (If someone has already suggested it, I apologize. I may not have read all the responses, I was getting too angry at the author.)
I think we are STUDENTS of piano, all of us, whether we are paid or not. We don’t know all that we want to know, we are not as good as we want to be, we want to do justice to the beautiful music we have grown to love. And so we take lessons, admit our incompetence, leave ourselves open to corrective instruction, and practice. As someone else suggested, the amount of time we can give to practice is really a better gauge of whether or not this is our life’s principal work.
And yet, not completely. I practice at least five hours a day because I have that luxury and I am in love with the piano. (My husband often accuses me of “finding a mistress”) I take theory courses at the local community college. And I have no desire to be a professional. I am literally terrified to play for anyone, and if friends ask me, I always respond “You couldn’t pay me enough to play.” So definitely not a professional. But not an amateur by this author’s definition.
I am a student. And “in my own little corner, in my own little chair,” to borrow from Oscar Hammerstein, I am getting better every day. 
I suspect that is true of a lot of us.
I found the article “The Difference Between Amateurs and
Professionals” to be ridiculous and insulting.  To take just one of
many examples of falsehoods in the article, consider this one:
“Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a
person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out
thoughtful criticism.”  People who attend Sonata certainly
don’t follow this stereotype; why else would they sign up for
ten days of intense scrutiny and feedback?Or how about this one: “Amateurs think they are good at everything.
Professionals understand their circles of competence.” The more I play
the piano, the more I become aware of how much I don’t know.  Watching
a YouTube video of Evgeny Kissin or Emil Gilels (or trying to play a
Chopin Etude) tells me instantly how far I have to go, and I’m well
aware that I will never get anywhere near that level.
No doubt the author wanted to make his point, but he could have done so without all that arrogance. I’ll try not to think about his off-base contrasts while investing an hour trying to get just 3 or 4 bars of a Brahms poly-rhythm into my hands and brain. As a rank amateur, why should I even care?
I find very little in this article to be actual.  I am a professional piano teacher, with a degree, but I know of many amateurs who play better than me.  They have the time and dedication to practice more than I do.  However, I have continued my studies at our local university, which has a music department.  There is always more to learn.  No one who goes to Piano Camp (Sonata) would be there based on this authors definitions of an amateur.  I rest my case!
This shows the limits of language. He describes two things, amateur and professional but then freezes his observations and those two words, making them static, unchanging. But we are more than that. Every moment we are changing, moving, learning, exploring,crossing from one state to another. So I say hooray for the gerund. Let’s all make music!

Wow. Talk about creating causality where there’s no evidence it exists! Looks like he just grabbed a bunch of attributes and assigned them to one group or the other. And he is generalizing to life in general.

Here’s something my teacher has said about the difference between piano amateurs and professionals that I’ve found very interesting:

An amateur practices something till they finally get it right.
A professional practices it until they can’t possibly get it wrong.

He also said that one of the main differences between an amateur and a professional is TIME. If you had the time to practice as much as a professional, your playing would reflect that. Since you have other priorities in life, you do as much as you can and know that you’ve given it your best…for your situation.

Note that he didn’t say the difference was any of those characteristics listed in this article. It wasn’t approach, or talent, or mindset. Quite often it’s just time.



OMG, is this timely for me! I’ve been struggling with this issue for some time now and been wanting to write about it but not sure how to approach it, so I’ll just brainstorm, I hope this makes some sense. Although I’m talking about myself here, perhaps this could be useful to somebody else:

I’ve always considered myself “just an amateur”, and qualified my playing as “not bad for an amateur”, which are, in reality, ways of putting myself down. That started to change after my first Sonata, and later, while watching TV,  “Rodrigo” from Mozart in the Jungle gave me something to really think about, which is, the word “amateur” has the root “amor”, which means love, so, it means somebody who loves something, or does it out of love. We even have a Spanish expression, “por amor al arte”, which translates to “for the love of art”.
However, loving something is not necessarily enough, as there are the technical challenges that must be learned, conquered, and overcome, and the more I try to stretch my limits, the more challenges come up, so sometimes it feels like I’m hitting the wall constantly. But then, the fact that I’m “just an amateur” gives me a convenient excuse, a hiding place, since there are no repercussions, like, say, losing my job, if I perform poorly. On the one side, it does take the pressure off performing, but on the other hand, it feels limiting and constricting. While being an amateur is a wonderful experience, there are things that are beyond my reach unless I can get the training so I can get the skills to become a professional. But do I really want to go through all of that, and for what?
Although I’m now retired, I have been a professional in another field, and one thing that I know is that it’s not the same looking at something from the outside, than to actually making a living out of something. The grass is not always greener on the other side, and sometimes it all becomes just work. It’s harder to enjoy something when there are professional pressures to deal with.
The article seems to talk a lot about discipline, and while I could use a little more structure in my practice, I think it’s possible to be a disciplined amateur, so maybe I would venture that there are two types of amateur, what I would call a “recreational” amateur, vs a “serious” amateur, I think that I have been making the transition between the former and the latter.
I’m not sure I would like to be a professional musician, if that means becoming a concert pianist, or teaching, I can’t see myself doing those things, but would love to play like a professional, but not sure how far can I go as an amateur. But where do I really want to go?  Ultimately, I would say that the label that we attach to ourselves may be less important than how we feel about it. So, if I’m an amateur out of my love for music, that’s as equally wonderful as becoming a seasoned, wise professional. I also think it’s not necessarily an “either-or” situation and that some overlap may be possible.
I hope this makes some sense. I’m not sure how much of what’s going on for me is typical or not, but I hope it helps somebody.
It would take an incredibly myopic person to come up with such sweeping generalities. Of course, it is within the writer’s prerogative to define “professional” and “amateur” as contrasting mindsets, and this is stated at the outset of the article. However, such labeling strikes me more as eliciting sensation than offering insight. Just consider a performer at the Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition and it becomes obvious that the writer is writing about stereotypes rather than something realistic.
I am at _______’s house on the Jersey shore with my good friend and piano teacher (when I was taking lessons).   We thought this was interesting and it provoked a conversation.  What is a professional – for example, she has been teaching students and is a very good pianist.   She is definitely not an amateur but she doesn’t make a living as a professional musician.   Does give recitals. We ate dinner last night with Yuja Wang and tonight with an early Martha Argerich.  Rachmaninoff in both instances.   Professionals in spades.
I thought there were plenty of good pointers toward improving any aspect of your life in this article, but I wanted to strangle the author by the time I was done reading it.  There are more effective ways of teaching than name-calling, which is what this amounted to, ie, substitute “jerk” for “amateur” and re-read.
Too many specific points to address one by one.
It is better to think of these comparisons in terms of approaches rather than people.
Strictly speaking, an amateur pursues hobbies; professionals pursue vocations. Even that oversimplifies.  After all, one can be a professional as a performer, and approach hobbies like an amateur.  Thus did many a famed entertainer perform professionally in Las Vegas, only to lose all at the gaming tables!
One isn’t either or … I’m an amateur at piano, overhauling engines, writing stories, … but I’m a pro at the areas I where I made my living.  I suspect all of us are both, and know what each means…..
The distinctions are much to general. Are these attributes of particular professions, personality/psychological/genetic traits, culture, family etc. I have no question about fitting into the amateur category re musical talent. Yet, in my former profession, I probably would be defined as a professional. I can make the same case for my adult children and various former colleagues.
I think he chose the wrong words for comparison. There are amateurs who act in a professional manner and professionals who don’t. Really the blog is more about attitudes that can help or hurt, and those attitudes can apply to either a professional or an amateur. I object to his use of the “amateur” and “professional” to differentiate the mindsets.
My thoughts on this:
I believe what distinguishes adult amateur pianists from the professionals they look up to is their incredible desire to learn and their wish to get better at playing or performing the piano.
It is deep within them to keep pushing because of their love for the instrument and how it makes them feel. Some have chosen to play because they want to get back to the routines of their youth; some to prove that they can play despite having been knocked down in the past; some to soothe wounds; some to challenge themselves.
As amateur pianists they don’t need to prove anything to anyone else beyond themselves. For they can make their own terms in regard to how much time to spend, to keep their fingers moving or the brain working, to perform or not, to choose the repertoire they want to learn or learn the pieces that inspire them. In Alan Rusbridger’s book “Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible,” he sets a goal to learn the First Chopin Ballade by a given deadline. Many Sonata Piano Camper’s read the book and were inspired.
I am often asked how I can stand teaching adult amateur pianists with a limited skill set of technique, theory and understanding of the music. Every time I’m asked, I wince. I’m driven by how much these individuals want something so badly and if I can be the person to give them some direction, some hope of improving, I’m going to do it 100%. Some bite off more than their chops will ever allow them but isn’t that true of professionals as well? The desire to learn is what advances the amateur as well as the professional.
I’ve worked with professionals too – they want feedback from a colleague. These lessons tend to mean spending less time with work on technique and the mechanics and more on phrasing and interpretation. But, as seen by a response, above, some pros are rusty and may need technical help as well. I don’t care what is put in front of me as long as there is a mutual desire to learn. You know, sometimes I learn more about teaching from beginners than any other subset because I have to think about what they don’t know. This keeps me on my toes!
As an amateur athlete, I have done a number of races or rides on my bike. In fact, I have bragging rights for having done a crazy double-century bike ride in one day, aptly named “The Longest Day” as it was a 218 mile ride for the entire length of New Jersey. While it took me 14 hours to complete, I know that there are many cyclists who couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to finish the course. My point being that my cycling form probably wasn’t pretty but I got the job done and I can still freak people out by mentioning this achievement. Not bad for being an amateur!
Amateur pianists are like the Little Engine That Could. They have drive. I’m driven by them and won’t stop because they’ve hit a wall. In fact, I’m going to help them climb it so they can feel good about themselves and then I can smile with them.
I want to thank all the of the Sonatafolks who responded to my query.
Posted in Amateur, Performance anxiety, Piano, Piano challenge, Piano practice, Practice, Practice incentive, Sonata, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

48th year of Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp


Photo Jul 18, 11 14 00 AM (1)

Busy painting piano keys under the big tent

Full disclosure here. Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp is turning 48 this summer. This will be our Opus 48. Piano Camp started by my parents Rein and Rosamond van der Linde when I was 10 so now you know my age.

Piano camp originated in North Bennington, VT, a mere 5 miles from where we’re located now in Old Bennington. We moved our family to this big house on the hill because back in 1976, we simply had no more room to tuck a piano in a mudroom, garage or basement area. Here in the large gray mansion, we’ve upgraded to closets, the laundry room, bedrooms and larger rooms perfect to host a grand piano. Somehow we’ve managed to cluster 30 pianos into a house that has 34 numbered rooms.


Laundry room piano. Plenty of space!


The grand pianos in the living room. This room is much larger than the laundry room!


An upright in a bedroom (note the unmade bed!)


Grands even fit in some of the bedrooms!

The joy of piano camp is the cacophony of sounds that emanate from every nook and cranny of this non-soundproofed house full of 40+ pianists from ages 7 – 16. The scope of repertoire that can be heard from first to third floor can range from learning middle C, to a boogie woogie or a Chopin Etude played at a frenzied tempo.

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Piano Monsters in Room 3!

The beauty of this piano camp is that there are no auditions. You get to come as is. Imagine that?! Whatever skill level you’re at will be matched with our outstanding faculty (check out the bios on our website) and junior faculty (those still in college). Only play by ear? Not sure you can practice three hours a day? No problem! We’ve got you covered. Counselors are paired with you, to be your practice buddy, if you struggle with the 3 one-hour practice sessions per day.

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A bunch of counselors, who double as piano buddies!

Not only will you enjoy meeting friends exactly your age but you can be assured that you’ll have some of these friends for life. How do I know this? I see spontaneous Summer Sonatina Reunions on social media with those that attended piano camp from as early as the 80’s or 90’s! Yay to piano pals!

Photo Jun 22, 7 04 50 PM

Playing air piano at the Bennington Monument.

Did I mention fun? That’s a given. In addition to piano lessons, master classes, concerts, music classes, duets, ensemble playing, composition and chorus there are recreational activities like swimming, arts and crafts, bowling, flash mobs, walking downtown, putting on original music and acting productions, croquet, and more. The highlight of the week is hopping on a bus to Tanglewood Music Center to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra or going to Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see the New York City Ballet.

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Summer Sonatina at Tanglewood.


Actual staff members!

Behind the scenes, we’re always preparing for something. Here are a few pictures of getting ready for our Annual Flash Mob:

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Moving the piano out onto the cart

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Cart made and designed by Dale Cobb. I had to make sure it was safe!

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The piano under wraps, ready to be brought downtown

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Measuring the size of the keys on Catamount Lane in preparation for downtown

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Adding our own words to the tune of “Piano Man”


Laying the keys down on the crosswalks at the Four Corners in Downtown Benningto


Each week Siena Facciolo followed people around to capture the highlights of the week. The following video is edited by Michael Cutler:


And, if that isn’t enough for you, here’s week 3. Video again by SF and editing done by MC


This is a Summer Sonatina tradition. Tiffany, the moose, at the Bennington Center for the Arts, helps us all get ready to perform:


Each week we had a special focus. During Week 1, everyone learned the music to Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky and some of the students acted out parts as well. Choreographed by Peter LeRay and parts of it performed on the piano by Tim Jones, the grand finale was such a wonderful surprise!


One week a group of students created words to go to the Hamilton song “The Room Where it Happens” but we know it’s Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp where things really happens!


Group hugs happen spontaneously on the last day of each week of camp.

Photo Jul 17, 11 39 54 AM

We all love group hugs


Got you curious now? There’s more information on the Sonatina website at www.sonatina.com or an online application form can be found at: http://www.sonatina.com/typeform_sonatina.html

Photo Jun 22, 7 08 53 PM (1)

These smiles say it all


I hope these little snapshots and videos of Summer Sonatina uplift you, as it does for the 150+ students who come to camp every summer. We’re not counting, but, there have been over 40,000 fingers who have tickled the ivories in our 48-year history.

We hope that you add 10 more!


The experience is GRAND and UPRIGHT!





Posted in Flash mob scene, History of Sonatina, Piano, Piano practice, Sonatina, Summer Sonatina, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Piano at Madison’s Brewery

Two nights ago I brought my son down to Madison’s Brewery in downtown Bennington, Vermont, to celebrate yet another college acceptance letter. Despite my son’s unplanned green shirt, I had neglected to remember that it was St. Patrick’s Day. We were escorted to a small dining table up rather close to an old upright piano. I felt right at home as I’m accustomed to (more often than not) sitting directly in front of a piano.


My chair near the piano and underneath Mona Lisa

After ordering a delicious locally-crafted IPA, my son and I observed a somewhat disheveled elderly man with a piano key tie sauntering towards the piano with some difficulty. It seemed as though he was trying not to draw any attention from the staff at the restaurant as he pulled himself up onto the platform with his cane and over-sized bag draped over his arm.

Setting his bag down he noticed that there was no piano bench so Austin and I suggested one of the dining chairs nearby. In the meantime, we discreetly pushed our table a little further away from the piano so the fellow would have enough room to span the lower keys.

In between bites of my Tavern Burger and conversations with Austin, I whispered to the pianist that he might want to sit on his coat so that his elbows wouldn’t be hanging down so low. He muttered back while continuing to play: “You’re smart.” I quietly revealed to him that I am also a pianist. His eyebrows raised but he forged ahead, with another tune, quite unfamiliar to me but sounding like a dirge.

A few more songs, still played at an Adagio clip on the out of tune old upright and I had to ask:”Isn’t there one in major?” He responded with a giggle: “The Irish don’t do major.” But, the next one sounded happier and I praised him for it. He laughed and said it was his own composition and then segued into “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to again appease my need for a more cheerful tune.

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Reconstructed picture of music book on the keys

Moments later he reached into his big bag and brought out a small lamp, informing me that his eyesight was going. I helped him plug it in as leaning over was not an option for him. Then out came a thick book of Irish music. With some hesitation, he decided to prop the music onto the keys. At this point, I couldn’t have him continue without my intervention since his next piece had several black keys indicated in the key signature and the book was clearly in the way. This was a hopeless situation.

With that, I got up and shoved Marilyn Monroe from the music rack to the leprechaun as he was too polite to help himself accordingly.

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Painting of Marilyn Monroe by Michael Madison, brew pub owner

Finally, he craned his neck around to ask what kind of music I play? Strictly classical, I said. Off he went on a fast romp with his newly attained nimble fingers, playing by memory Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca followed by Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith and Paderewski’s Minuet. I think he was testing to see if I knew these pieces and got a kick out of me shouting out the composer names and titles one after the other. At this point the entire restaurant was fully engaged and clapping after each piece.

Somewhere in his youth he had had some good training (he mentioned some nuns from Massachusetts) and his chops are still working. A local businessman, John Shannahan, from the Better Bennington Corporation (BBC), scooted up to the pianist and insisted he learn who I was and that I run international piano camps. We all had a belly laugh about our impromptu and serendipitous seating arrangement .

This kind and unassuming gentleman was the quintessential entertainer, wanting to charm his audience of one…and all. My son, though originally the one being toasted, enjoyed observing how the evening twisted and turned into something magical and musical. I’m still smiling.

Posted in Piano, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Blue Skies


Take note!

An amateur adult online piano student of mine had his scheduled lesson the other day and told me that he was practicing his piece very slowly (so as to get it right) while the plumber was working on some dripping pipes. The plumber exclaimed that it was the saddest version of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies he had ever heard. My student responded that he was simply relieved that the piece was even recognized!

I like students who keep chipping away at getting better at the piano and can smile at themselves. It’s the healthiest combo, really.


Enhanced version of the blue sky!


Posted in Piano, Piano practice, Practice, Practice incentive, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments