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Back by popular demand, the monthly Rush Hour Concerts are starting in October. Created and hosted by Charleston Academy of Music, these performances are FREE and open to the public. The concerts showcase the talented faculty of the Academy, with occasional guests, in an hour-long program in the beautiful sanctuary of the Second Presbyterian Church at the heart of downtown Charleston. The series features a variety of music for various instruments and ensembles, with pieces representing many different styles.

The Rush Hour Concerts have been running for 11 years and became a popular staple in Charleston's cultural life. Perfect for all ages to attend, they offer a great opportunity to hear excellent music performances in the early evening before heading home.

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Meet Chee-Hang; not only he is one of our busiest piano teachers and performers for nearly 13 years, but he also wins the prize for traveling the longest distance to come to us - all the way from Singapore! Chee-Hang is an essential part of our team as he is active in teaching piano and theory classes, coaching ensembles, accompanying students, curriculum planning, plus helping to run our Sonatina Festival and Rush Hour Concerts! Check our his story in the interview below.

1. How did your music journey bring you to teaching?

I have been teaching since I finished high school in Singapore. At first, it started with substituting for my piano teacher, then teaching the children of family friends. As word spread, I began to recruit more students, and have taught in various different formats as well. It adds another dimension to what I do as a performer, and I see it as a natural part of my career.

2. What are some of the most important goals in your work of instructing music students?

I believe that music is like a language. I expose students to this “language” in hopes that they become fluent in it. Whether that means they become concert pianists, church musicians, or being able to play tunes on their piano at home, that doesn’t really matter. What is important is that they learn how to listen and read so that they can pull out this skill whenever they need to.

3. What excites you the most about teaching?

When my students grasp a concept, especially something hard that we have been working on for a while! It is so rewarding to see the comprehension set in their faces and the relief that they also feel! Hard work does pay off!

4. How did teaching online during this past year change the way you teach music?

For the most part, it has been fairly similar to in-person teaching. I do have to be a little more patient with connectivity and sound issues, which sometimes cause some pretty hilarious frozen facial expressions! I have also found myself becoming more articulate as I have to be able to describe technique and musical expression in words rather than demonstrating it!

5. How do you want your students to remember this year? What do you wish for them to learn from it?

This year has been so weird, but for many of my students, the lack of performance opportunities and other activities meant they actually got more time to work on longer pieces or long-term projects. I want my students to remember that they grew by leaps and bounds this year, and if they had the patience and perseverance to power through the year, they have nothing to fear in the future.

6. What age of students do you like working with the most?

Middle school students - they are at the point of their lives where they can start to think about their future goals, and I love helping them navigate that process with regards to music.

7. Was there a memorable moment in your teaching career that made you particularly proud and rewarded?

Sometimes, for younger students, I run through some finger agility activities away from the piano, both to help train general finger independence and to do something different once in a while. I have one particular set of game/exercise that usually impresses children since I can do it very quickly (ask me about it and I’ll show you!) One student was so determined to beat my speed, but she never said anything about it for months as we proceeded with our lessons. One day, she came, beaming, and told me, “I can do this exercise faster than you now!” And she did! While her piano playing definitely benefited from her faster fingers, I am most impressed with her persistence and discipline, which I am sure transferred to everything else she does too!

8. What in your opinion is unique about your teaching style?

While every student has different goals and improves at different speeds, I am relentless in my demands for good practicing habits and proper technique, even if it means that I sometimes appear less friendly. Whether or not my students end up as performing artists, practicing like one allows them to develop strong life skills, such as commitment, discipline, organization, and public speaking abilities. I believe all of these will give them advantages in all their other studies and future careers!

9. What advice would you give to families who are considering education choices for their children or themselves?

While music lessons and music making can be fun , you can only fully reap the benefits if you fully commit. Work with the teacher to define short and long-term goals, develop good habits, dedicate time each day for practice, and track progress, especially for children! It takes a lot for younger children to maintain their interest through the laborious and daunting process of learning an instrument, but a nurturing environment with consistent work can transform that into a fun experience. (The same goes for adults too!) Just like learning a foreign language, if you are immersed in it all the time, you will begin to pick up phrases, syntax, etc.; so do the same for music - do not just depend on the short weekly lessons!

Want to hear Chee-Hang in performing action? Click below for an excerpt from the pre-pandemic Rush Hour concert he played along with his wife and our violin faculty Nina Sandberg.

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It is long overdue to highlight our most experienced and versatile instructor Madeline whose passion for teaching music never diminished throughout many years and in various settings she worked. After many years of teaching music in public schools in New York and South Carolina, Madeline came to the Academy to keep sharing her love for music through teaching piano and leading our outreach Kidzymphony orchestra program in which students in underprivileged communities get to learn and experience playing instruments at no cost to them. She is an inspiration to our team. It is true pleasure to learn more about her as she shares her thoughts and beliefs she's developed throughout her music journey.

-How did your music journey bring you to teaching?

When I was seven years old, I began piano lessons with a teacher who instilled in me the joy of making music. She had high expectations for me which made me want to work hard to be the best pianist I could be. I found it very satisfying and enriching. As I got older and more advanced as a musician and pianist, I began to consider which direction the music would take me. While at the music conservatory, I had many performance opportunities and requirements to meet. I came to the conclusion that pursuing the life of a solo performer did not match my personality. Becoming a teacher and collaborative pianist seemed ideal because it would allow me to continue to do what I loved, but also to share the passion of music-making with others. Later, I became a conductor of choruses and orchestras--which is also teaching.

-What are some of the most important goals in your work of instructing music students?

My most important goals as a teacher of music are to share the joy of emotional expression through music and to build self-esteem and confidence in my students.

-What excites you the most about teaching?

I get excited about teaching when a student meets and/or exceeds my expectations on any level and for any reason.

-How did teaching online during this past year change the way you teach music?

Teaching online was a scary proposition at first because the technology was new for me. Once I got past that, I found that I liked it--despite the intrinsic limitations (such as being unable to check posture, hand position, the tension in the shoulders and neck, etc.). Some of the things I have consciously altered while teaching online:

-I work slower, checking to be sure that the student understands the directions by addressing all learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, visual).

-I must be sure there are measure numbers in the music for quick reference.

-I don't speak or demonstrate until the student looks at me and/or stops playing.

-I use the program 4score to annotate the students' music and then send it to them to copy the notes into their music.

-I keep a copy of the students' weekly agenda and send a copy to them so that we are both on the same page for the next lesson.

Some of the students that I have taught online throughout this COVID 19 year seem more comfortable taking their lessons at home, not intimidated by a more unfamiliar setting (even if they have been coming to the Academy's campus for a while, home is far more familiar).

-How do you want your students to remember this year? What do you wish for them to learn from it?

I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment at having been able to make really good progress despite the limitations they have had to face. I want them to know that "where there's a will, there's a way." I'm fond of pointing out to them where they started at the beginning of this year and where they are now--proof positive that when you set your mind to it, and you have grit, you can accomplish great things.

-What age of students do you like working with the most?

I love them all! I especially like to work with students that have learning challenges. Often music will be a pathway to communication that is unparalleled.

-Was there a memorable moment in your teaching career that made you particularly proud and rewarded?

I've always felt that the study of music is more about the process than the product. Preparation for an audition, concert, or recital is more important to me than the "product" of a successful performance. That being said, I have nevertheless felt proud of my students who were accepted to the High School of the Arts, college music programs, and professional venues due to our work together. It's always satisfying to help someone succeed at their goals.

-What, in your opinion, is unique about your teaching style?

I bring a varied background to my teaching. I studied piano as my major instrument, but I also studied violin and viola in high school and college. In pursuing a Master of Music in Education I minored in voice and learned to teach every instrument. I've been a conductor of choruses, bands, and orchestras of young children to adults. I've also studied jazz piano and played in a rock band. I've written musical arrangements for the band, chorus, and orchestra. I'm presently learning about approaches to teaching piano to autistic students. When all of these experiences are stirred together, I guess you could say I bring a widely unique and varied perspective on music to my students.

-What advice would you give to families who are considering education choices for their children or themselves?

My advice to families who are considering music lessons:

-Listen to music at home - all genres. Talk about how it makes you feel.

-Go to concerts.

-If you want to give a child music lessons, become familiar with instruments. Listen to youtube videos about each one so you can make an informed choice of which instrument you like. Go backstage after a concert and talk to the instrumentalists and see the instruments.

-Putting aside, for a moment, the intrinsic satisfaction of making music, some studies have found that kids who spend four years or more in formal music lessons perform better on standardized tests. That is assuredly not the goal of music teachers, but it's a nice side effect! There are many more studies out there that show how brain development is influenced by music-making. Check them out!

-Not every child will be a virtuoso, but through music lessons, a child will become well-rounded, find satisfaction in making music and appreciate fine music. Playing an instrument opens doors for opportunities like nothing else. Students become part of a community of musicians. Life becomes richer with music.

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