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.

Photo Jul 14, 12 54 13 PM

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.

Photo Jul 23, 5 53 22 PM

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.

Photo Jul 08, 7 39 16 PM

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:

Photo Jul 13, 1 01 42 PM (1)

Moving the piano out onto the cart

Photo Jul 15, 12 12 46 PM

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

Photo Jul 17, 10 07 30 AM

The piano under wraps, ready to be brought downtown

Photo Jul 19, 3 39 26 PM

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

Photo Jul 18, 1 21 44 PM

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.

IMG_0769 (1)

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.

IMG_0766 (1)

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.

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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!


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Just do it

I haven’t posted in a long time. I’m guilty of feeling like I have to prove something with every post or that longer posts are more engaging. Rather than worry about content, I’m going to try and post short quips more frequently.

I recently had a student who was gifted online lessons with me. She hadn’t scheduled a lesson in several months and I began to wonder why. I finally sent her an email asking her about why we hadn’t had a lesson in a long time. Turns out, she thought she had to have her music 100% learned. She’s a college student and thought that lessons were like tests and she wanted to get an A+ for her efforts. I told her that lessons are a part of the process and that they should not be feared, that it’s best to get some guidance before bad habits set in and are too difficult to change. Her eyes lit up with glee, she felt free and inspired to schedule her next lesson sooner rather than later.

I was so happy to clear up that misconception. Lessons are simply, well, lessons!


True. But it’s ok to have a lesson and get some early feedback.


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I can do this!

Here’s the best-ever visual of a Sonata Piano Camper performing during the March Sonata marathon concert.

Photo by Todd Pinter

Yes! You can do it! Photo by Todd Pinter

Carrying a sign like this over her shoulders poked at her great sense of humor and allowed her to play well! Once you’re up on the stage, you CAN do it, whether battling or celebrating your inner demons while performing. You’re up there and you are DOING it!

We all can be uncomfortable on stage but sometimes you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to help you work through your anxieties. Perhaps it’s helpful to share an experience I had a few years ago traveling with my family.

Back in the winter of 2011 our family traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks of fun in the sun. Before our departure, I promised our two teen boys that I’d do everything they were going to do while we were there. I stated this out loud because I can be a chicken and I didn’t want to disappoint them nor, truth be known, myself. I knew the flight alone was going to be a challenge for me. But, off we went.

Upon our arrival, I struggled with the the van we were in taking us up and down dirt roads traversing mountains with precarious cliffs on one side of the road. Worse, there were no guard rails protecting me from what I thought would ultimately be a rollover sometime on our trip. Thankfully, the driver remained calm and I started to relax because it was so beautiful.

Heading for the mountains, note the dirt roads

Heading for the mountains, note the dirt roads

My first challenge was a zip lining excursion. I have a thing about heights. Always have, perhaps because I’m just a whisker over 5’1″. The boys heartily reminded me that I made a promise to follow through. During the orientation part of what to expect up on the metal zip line, we were all asked who might like to be taxied. I was the only one who immediately said “me, me!” I did not want to be left alone hanging on a skinny piece of twisted metal midway. I cracked up that a complete stranger was my “taxi driver” who immediately wrapped his legs around me like a monkey. After one zipline section, several people asked to be escorted like me. Maybe they liked the company I was experiencing! Challenge #1 had been completed and I managed more than a very good time. This made me feel proud.

Starting out with the gear on

The belts and helmets were pretty cool

This gave me pause

But this gave me pause


A taxied Polly (thankfully, too)

Hanging bridges so you get a sense of the heights we climbed

Hanging bridges so you get a sense of the heights we climbed

Next upon us was white water rafting. If heights are an issue for me, fast moving water is even more of a fear. The entire car trip to the riverbanks was spent white knuckling my doubts about getting into the raft. When we arrived, life preservers were handed out. I put mine on and thought to myself: no way.  The raft captain wouldn’t have any of that, he kept encouraging me and telling me to trust him and so I got in with loads of trepidation. The river started off peacefully but gradually got more wild as we continued downstream. However, something happened to me in the process. The fear totally shifted when I allowed myself to feel the raft floating on the water and noticed how calm the water felt under it even when it was going around rocks and slamming against surrounding banks. Despite water up my nose and in my eyes, I loved every moment of this despite my incredible fear of drowning. The river trip was, by far, my favorite thing to do in Costa Rica even though it initially was my most dreaded event.

Now blue helmets

Blue helmets, paddles and life preservers

Am I really doing this?!

Looks like I’m missing! Am I really doing this?

I seem to the one swallowed up

I seem to be the one swallowed up

Riding the water - what an awesome sensation

Riding the water – what an awesome sensation

Almost there

Almost there

I will try to remember the positive outcome of all the fear I worried about the next time I’m doing something uncomfortable. Hopefully those of you reading this will remind yourself to just go for it when the last thing you want to do is perform. Another gentle reminder is that performing can be like running – the first mile is no fun but once you find your rhythm, the rest of the run will go that much easier. Focus on the things that will help guide you, whether it’s the complimentary comments you received during your lessons, hearing the sounds you’re making at the moment, delighting in the meter of a piece or the rhythm of the notes or getting into the character or emotion of the piece and noticing that it’s coming across to your audience. Allowing yourself to accept the fear but at the same time be in the moment with the music will carry you far.

Right now: imagine the piece you’re going to play and get on with the show and say to yourself “I can do this!” The sky is the limit!


The sky is the limit!

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Founder, teacher, mentor, mother

That piano thing we do

That piano thing we do

A couple of days ago most children, whether young or adult, honored their mothers. It’s a special day that allows us to express what we sometimes don’t do on any given day. I suppose that’s why my own mother prefers not to celebrate Mother’s Day. I’ve never pressed her for her reasons, but, as the eldest of her five offspring, I can’t help myself in writing a little something to, at the very least, recognize her.

This Mom is always a celebration or celebrating life!

This Mom is always a celebration or celebrating life!

From my earliest memories, Mom was always the one to jump into new experiences with passion and abandon. As a youngster, I never knew what we were going to be doing or discover together as a family as there was no one direct agenda. Mom’s “free range” path of living life to the fullest has shaped me in so many positive ways.

When I was 10 years old, Mom and Dad decided to invite a couple of pianists to stay in our home in North Bennington, Vermont, to study piano with our family. The two pianists blended with our family activities from practicing the piano and preparing for informal concerts to grocery shopping, cooking and doing recreational activities. Who knew that that this little experiment back in 1969 would turn into the international piano camp that is still going strong 46 years later?

Mom in her early teaching days

Mom in her early teaching days

Since then, piano camp has moved from North Bennington’s house of eight rooms to the 42 room (counting every nook and cranny because we even use closets and the laundry room as practice rooms equipped with linens, washing machines and the obligatory acoustic piano) large gray mansion in Old Bennington, VT. Piano camp, back then, was held only in the summer for children but now has grown to include monthly ten-day programs for adults as well (it was the parents of the students who came in the summer who begged us to provide an adult camp for them as well). Nowadays, you can expect to see 26 adults and 44 children between the ages of 7 and 16, attend the piano camps. www.sonatina.com


Front and back of the house with 28 or 30 pianos (it's too hard to keep track)

Front and back of the house which includes 28 or 30 pianos (it’s too hard to keep track)

Piano camp simply evolved through the years with some nips and tucks in streamlining the daily schedule into this thing that means so much to our alums. I’m lucky that I can carry on the vision that my mother, Rosamond van der Linde, so unexpectedly created.

But, there are so many other things that Mom gifted me with. Never one to have hurdles prevent her from trying, Mom would always jump into new experiences with optimism and positive energy. Here’s a short list of Mom’s influence that still make me say “wow!”

Here's a "wow" picture of Mom!

Here’s a “wow” picture of Mom!

1) Mom brought our entire family to Holland for two six-week stints during the academic year so that we could get to know our paternal Dutch heritage and meet our relatives. We also toured all over the country, visiting every possible cathedral so Dad could hear (and often play) the various pipe organs, Flentrops, specifically. She persuaded our local public schools to accept our trip as part of our education by suggesting that our journals function as our homework, our walks around the country as our exercise, supplemented by the completed assignments that were given to us in advance of our trip.

Here's a family photo, approximately 5 years after our trips to Holland

Here’s a family photo, approximately 5 years after our trips to Holland

2) After Mom and Dad were asked to translate a German children’s cookbook by publishers in NYC, Mom was chastised by her two eldest, that she didn’t know how to write for children and therefore we were a better fit for the project. We were only 10 and 8 years old. Mom not only heard us, she encouraged us to continue the project. We matched new recipes to the illustrations and then she informed the publishers that she had other authors in mind for the final outcome. We were introduced as young authors and eventually captioned in a Boston Globe photograph with “Is James Beard nervous?” from a book convention we attended. This never would have happened if Mom didn’t fully believe that we were capable of such a crazy idea.

The cookbook that I wrote with sister, Tasha

The cookbook that I wrote with sister, Tasha

3) At age 14, Mom prepared me to audition for the Juilliard Pre-College Division program, held on Saturdays n NYC. She felt that I needed to see what was really out there in the piano world as there were not many of us classical pianists in the state of Vermont. I, together with two of Mom’s composition students, and, eventually, my younger sister, Erica, were accepted into the program. Transportation became a problem as our parents couldn’t commit to weekly trips to NYC and the bus and/or train options were simply too expensive. Mom suggested I drive at the young age of 15 with my Junior License which was legal, except for driving out of state at night. Oops! Now, as a parent myself, I’m not  willing to suggest this to my young sons. I drove the 4-hour trip 30 times per year every Saturday for 2 years straight.

4) Mom’s teaching style was all about having fun. Not only did she teach all of her own kids pianos,  she had a huge studio of local students. Rather than isolate us from our friends when it was our lesson time, she’d invite everyone in and we’d have a group lesson full of highly energized educational games using homemade equipment like wooden spoons for tapping rhythmic patterns. These lessons (and many others) from way back gave me a solid foundation and reminded me that learning styles are not always considered equal. Mom was so innovative in this regard. The amazing thing is that she herself did not start learning the piano until she was well into her teens! Yet another feather in her hat for doing something exceptional without fear. In 1998, when I bought the house and business from Mom, she came to work for me! How rare is this role reversal thing?!

Even having fun on the old and retired upright in Room 2

Even having fun on the old and retired upright in Room 2. Photo by Nadine Gaudin

5) Mom believed that being out in nature was an important part of shaping our youth. Her keenness for this is still carried out in her daily life. Our family spent years camping on Martha’s Vineyard and then when that got too crowded for our tastes, we spent summers on a tiny piece of property on Deer Island, Canada (next island over from Campobello). Here we swam, sailed, camped, read books, worked on cursive and Irving Adler math books (he lived in our neighboring town of Shaftsbury, VT), cooked food on open fires or the small green Coleman stove, went fishing and boating, and moved three walls of a house down the road onto our property. I think it was the biggest (and oddest) thing that had ever happened on the island. To this day, my brother, Tiaan and his family, own the adjacent property as Deer Island became his home away from home after all the trips we made as a family.

Second move of the old house on Deer Island (photo credit: Tiaan van der Linde)

Second move of the old house (now with four walls) on Deer Island. Photo by Tiaan van der Linde

6) Mom and Dad bought a piece of property on the island of Saint Eustatius in the Caribbean back in 1987 and spent all their winter months there until Dad’s death in 1996 from leukemia. After that, Mom continued to spend time there, constantly improving the property, enjoying being one with nature, hiking, swimming and getting to know almost everyone on the island. This year, Mom is selling the property and while it isn’t always easy to let things go, she is quick to say that she got almost 30 wonderful years out of the property. I admire this attitude.

The house on the island of Eustatia

The house on the island of Saint Eustatius

Mom doing her nature thing and wearing an original Summer Sonatina shift, designed by Michael Udelson

Mom doing her nature thing and wearing an original Summer Sonatina shirt, designed by Michael Udelson

The terrain on Eustatia. Mom's house is the highest white dot

The terrain on Saint Eustatius. Mom’s house is the highest white dot

7) Ok, one more thing to add to this list. In addition to no mention of Mother’s Day, the other word that is verboten is “retirement.” Mom, simply put,  doesn’t do retirement. Nope. Instead, she’ll continue to live her life to the fullest, enjoying her time however she wants to. Only now, it won’t include coming to Sonata Piano Camp, as she has done regularly since I bought the business in 1998. Her commute from her new home in FL is simply too far. She may pop in for a visit here or there or she’ll be the first one to log onto the livestreamed master classes but your favorite Duet Coach won’t be in the teaching chair by the side of the pianos in the living room.

Coaching duets during Sonata Piano Camp

Coaching duets during Sonata Piano Camp. Photo by Cynthia Harris

Three to a bench! Photo by Todd Pinter

Three to a bench! Photo by Todd Pinter

I can’t thank Mom enough for the gift she has not only given me personally, but, to all of the pianists who have come through the doors at 5 Catamount Lane. You’re the best, Mom! You remain my inspiration. Happy Mother’s Day and enjoy your retirement. Ha! This is my blog so I can say it!

My beautiful Mom playing a square Chickering piano

My beautiful Mom playing a square Chickering piano

Mom's and Moe's funny sign outside their new house in FL

Mom’s and Moe’s funny sign outside their new house in FL

Mom at the 40th anniversary of Summer Sonatina

Mom at the 40th anniversary of Summer Sonatina. Photo by Maureen Park

The birthday girl, back in 2009

The birthday girl, back in 2009

Love from your eldest daughter, Polly

Posted in History of Sonatina, Piano, Sonata, Sonatina, Summer Sonatina, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments