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.



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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

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Article in the Rutland Herald today

I’m proud to share this article that appeared in the Rutland Herald today, April 6, 2015.

Our town of Bennington, VT has been hit by a number of difficult headlines that has tarnished the image of its beautiful artsy and charming nature. I intend to keep chipping away at changing the tune of this town, making it sharp rather than flat.

Puns aside, apparently the adult pianists who attend the Sonata Piano Camp here in Bennington also care about the local youth of our town, wanting to give them the gift of music by offering scholarships to our very own Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp (see http://www.sonatina.com for information on all of our piano camps).

So far, over $32,000 has been raised by the adult pianists. There’s a matching gift of up to $28,000 which has inspired many to give and make it to the matched $56,000 goal.

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of these pianists – over 68 have contributed to date. It is my intention to try and make this an annual gift to and for the local schools of Bennington, VT so that a music student may attend the very piano camp that the adult pianists love and come back to year after year.

Here’s the article: http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20150406/NEWS02/704069969

Thank you, Patrick McArdle, for Playing It Forward, too!

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The love of music

Love this blog post from Michele Bernstein. Had to share since it mentions piano camp prominently!


In 2000, DH sent me to piano camp as a birthday gift. We were both taking music lessons (piano for me, guitar for him), and read Noah Adams’ book, Piano Lessons: Music, Love and True Adventures. The description of Adams’ week at Sonata Piano Camp as an adult student inspired DH to surprise me with the same.

music quilt detail

It turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. I went many more times after that. I made great friends, and even improved my piano skills. One of my new friends attended with her mom, Betsy. Betsy was my duet partner in 2001. She was an amazing woman: A college math teacher, marathon runner, downhill ski racer, knitter, quilter.

music quilt 2

When Betsy was dying in 2012, I sent a note along with a CD of her playing at Sonata, including the duet that we played. It arrived the morning she passed away…

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