RMM really is for everyone!
The Recreational Music Making movement is all about inclusiveness and creative self-expression. Embedded in the RMM philosophy is this statement: No matter what music background you may or may not have, no matter what physical or mental limitations present themselves, you can participate in the joy of music making and express yourself creatively!
The statement above comes from Lori Frazer, one of the tireless pioneers of the RMM movement. She is a well known music clinician who specializes in creating learning and performance opportunities for the young, the old, and even individuals with severe physical or mental challenges. If you have ever attended a national conference for piano teachers—such as MTNA or NCKP—you have probably seen her. If your students have ever participated in a Clavinova Festival (www.clavinovafestival. com), you may have encountered her in your own community.
I never know for sure where I might find Lori on any given day. She could be just about anywhere in the country giving a technology workshop to music teachers, assisting with the establishment of a new recreational music making class, teaching a group of children or adults with special needs, working with a group of soldiers recovering from battle trauma, or even teaching her own piano class at a music dealership in Tucson, AZ. The one place where I rarely find Lori is at home.
The many faces of RMM
RMM means different things to different people. For some, it can be an extra, fun dimension to traditional, disciplined piano study. For others, RMM means a group piano class for seniors that focuses equally on both the musical and social aspects of the experience. Amazingly, RMM can mean any or all of the above, with special emphasis on the health-promoting and even healing outcomes that can be associated with musical self-expression.
In many or most cases, RMM has one or more technology components that provide a gateway for creative self-expression. For example, imagine a student who has had no formal music background and who may even have limited ability to move the fingers, hand, or arm. With a technologyassisted keyboard instrument, that student may be able to participate in and enjoy a meaningful music making experience with literally no advance preparation. And, that music making experience may be the first step in a long-term experience that promotes health and even physical or mental healing.
According to Lori, "When I first saw the testimonial videos from the test pilot of Clavinova Connection RMM program (www.clavinovaconnection.com) in 2003, the way that I thought about music making changed profoundly. I had always been interested in music therapy, but this was a new angle. The idea that you could use music for non-musical outcomes had been around for centuries, but now there was empirical data to back up this concept. I remember commenting to a colleague that this could really change everything, and for me it has."
From home organs to digital pianos to RMM
Lori has a background in pop piano and both jazz and classical organ. Not surprisingly, this has meant that her teaching has blended both traditional and pop approaches to keyboard pedagogy. And, she has been quite successful. "Early in my teaching career, I had a studio in my home in California as well as rented studio space in a music store. At the busiest time of my teaching career, I had fifty-two private students and nine classes a week."
Over time, as the home organ market disappeared in the United States and sophisticated digital pianos replaced them, Lori became interested in the many ways that embedded technology in a keyboard instrument can facilitate and enhance musical expression. Ultimately, this interest led her to Yamaha and the Clavinova Festival program.
"The Clavinova Festival was started twenty-one years ago by Jim Foster in Bettendorf, Iowa. In 1997, Yamaha asked me to investigate the festival concept and to grow it for the benefit of dealers and students nationwide. I did just that. At its peak, there were ninety festivals per year in forty-one states. In a typical year we would see between 17,000 and 20,000 participants."
The Clavinova Festival is an annual event that takes place at many Yamaha dealerships around the country. The focus of the festival is on student performance and the many creative ways that you can use the features of a Clavinova CVP digital piano. For example, some students will perform their own compositions that use the orchestral voices of the instrument. Others will play pieces that use the automatic accompaniment features, as well as pre-recorded MIDI files.
"After spending time on other projects in recent years, I am currently in the process of rebuilding the Clavinova Festival. Yamaha provides teacher-training seminars for this event, as well as planning assistance for the dealer. I conduct these teacher seminars and assist the dealers with planning if they need it."
Taking RMM in new and profound directions
With such a rich and varied professional background, Lori was poised to take the RMM concept forward in profound ways, working with other pioneers in the field.
"I have always been fascinated with keyboard instruments that employ new technologies, starting from my early years as a Yamaha Electone [Organ] Festival participant in the 1970s. I enjoy the challenges of using technology to surmount barriers. As technology continues to improve, so does our ability to increase general participation in the joy of music making. I spend many hours researching not only what Yamaha instruments can do, but also other technologies that are available to help bring music to all— regardless of the physical, emotional, and mental challenges that any individual may face.
"Things changed for me in January 2004 when I started to work with the late Karl Bruhn (the "Father of Recreational Music Making") and Dr. Barry Bittman, a neurologist. The project that brought us together was Yamaha's new RMM program called Clavinova Connection. This program was originally written for active, older adults, and I was honored and thrilled to bring music making to those who never thought that they could participate. However, the further I got involved with the program, the more I realized that the concepts behind it could be much more far-reaching.
"One day, after giving a Clavinova Connection presentation at a cancer center, I was approached by a nurse who asked if we had ever considered using the program for children. I explained to her that the protocol, as it stood, would probably not be appropriate for children. However, she continued to press and suggested that we develop a pilot program and test it with children with special needs. This pilot test was a great success, and we all learned a great deal. The experience really opened up my eyes to the potential of this program."
"Several years ago while working the Yamaha display at an AARP show in Washington, D.C., I had the great fortune to meet an amazing young man, named Daniel Trush, and his family. As it turns out, they had planned to tour D.C., but it was raining that day, so they came to the AARP show instead— no accident about our meeting! "I learned that Daniel had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage one month before his thirteenth birthday while playing basketball. Daniel was not expected to live, much less have any type of a normal life if he did. After thirty-one days in a coma, Daniel had survived.
"Today, after years of therapy and determination, Daniel is now twenty-six. Most importantly, he became the founder of Daniel's Music Foundation in New York City (www.danielsmusic.org). The Foundation has a purpose that is stated simply: Our mission is to provide a comfortable, educational, and social environment in which our members can enjoy, learn, and practice the joys of music together. With constant love and support from his family, Daniel's dream flourishes and is currently serving more than 150 members weekly.
"After meeting Daniel and his family, I immediately called Karl and Dr. Bittman, explaining that we needed to help these people grow their amazing program. Dr. Bittman and I flew to New York, met with the organization, and now we both sit on the Board of Directors for Daniel's Music. We have helped introduce the organization to new programs and products that continue to enhance the music making of those they serve.
"When Daniel's Music first started less than five years ago, they had five portable keyboards and four members. Today they have fifteen keyboards, three Clavinovas, guitar programs, a Health Rhythms program, song writing classes, and even children's classes. In all, there are now twentysix classes offered each week, at no cost to the participants."
It is difficult to describe in words the nature of the music making that takes place at Daniel's Music. To see what I mean, check out the videos on the organization's website. In one case, a student may play the strings of a smart guitar that automatically changes the chords. In another case, a student may successfully and perfectly play a melody on a Clavinova no matter which keys are struck. In other words, appropriate technologies are provided for each individual, and no one is left out of the experience.
"In order to work with Daniel from either my home in Tucson or from any other location, Daniel and I meet from time to time on Skype (www.skype.com) and connect our Clavinova keyboards together using Internet MIDI (www.zenph.com). In this way, I am able to collaborate with Daniel and the curriculum designer.
"It has been an amazing experience to see this young man come so far. And watching him serve so many others is more rewarding than words can express. The opportunity to work with Daniel and his foundation's diverse clientele helps me to be able to try out ideas and concepts that may be applicable elsewhere."
Expect the unexpected
"A little over a year ago, I got a call from a salesperson working with a music dealer in San Antonio, Texas. He had been in a motorcycle accident in 1997, resulting in a traumatic amputation of his left leg. During his recovery, he found that playing the piano was his only solace to deal with the phantom pain, and that the activity had helped him to overcome an addiction to pain medication. The purpose of his call was to find out if we had a music making and wellness program, as he wanted to bring the relief he found in music to our wounded soldiers.
"Together we spent several months researching and planning different aspects of such a program. Later we had the good fortune to meet people from Soldiers' Angels in San Antonio (www.soldiersangels. org). Soldiers' Angels is a volunteerbased, non-profit organization dedicated to 'providing aid and comfort to United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard veterans and their families.'
"The outgrowth of this meeting was the development of RMM classes specifically tailored to these soldiers and their families. Today, Soldiers' Angels offers an RMM guitar program, an RMM harmonica program, a Clavinova Connection course, and other adaptive keyboard programs.
"Many of the men and women served by this organization suffer from severe physical and emotional injuries. My role is to assist the organization in finding ways to help these wounded warriors express themselves through the joy of music making, employing adaptive devices and musical instruments with assistive technologies. I look forward to being involved in building this movement for a very long time!"
As you might imagine, the work of an organization like this is never ending:
"Working with this group of men and women and their families has been a truly amazing experience for me. Currently, Soldiers' Angels is involved in a capital campaign to raise funds to build and run The Karl T. Bruhn Center for Music and Wellness. I am now working with the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute (www.yamahainstitute.org) to support these efforts with a national ad campaign and general program support. As I do with Daniel's Music, I am working to set up long distance programs using Skype and Internet MIDI."
And the beat goes on!
RMM, as a specialized area of music pedagogy, is a field that is still in its infancy and one that provides music educators with many opportunities for creativity and innovation. The rewards for both teacher and student are substantial.
"I have been given the great honor of working with some extraordinary people along the way, and continue to learn more about the possibilities each day. As I continue to travel throughout the U.S. offering technology seminars for music teachers, I am inspired by the creative educators whom I meet. Each way that I turn, I encounter individuals who are doing amazing things with all levels of music makers. I am thrilled to be working with the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, an organization that enables me to create new opportunities for those we serve."