Shamrockmom’s continuing Piano Adventures: Lessons, Concerts and a Master Class


Picking up from the last post about my adventures in learning the piano at 50+:

In October of 2015, I got two pieces of interesting news. First, Miss Ahn was Mrs. Ahn….and she was going to have a baby! Then I found out that piano studio was going to move from the multicultural neighborhood I wrote about before to my local Koreatown. Cool! That means it’s a shorter drive from my house, and it’s across the street and down a bit from the H-Mart and Paris Baguette.  

The school was growing and they needed more space, so that means business is good. The piano studio moved into a rather non-descript strip mall in January of 2016. There’s a chiropractor, a couple of hair salons that look like they cater to a well-off clientele, and a dentist. (Union Dental…how ironic! The temptation to drop my resume off there every week is tempered by the fact that the office posts their prices on the window. So that’s a no-go for me!) There is also a dollar store run by a Chinese lady and her son, and an after school academy with advertisements in English, Korean and Vietnamese. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be as bustling as the academy that was next to the old studio.

Directly across the street is a sausage (Soondae) restaurant. I am pleased to say that thanks to watching Kdramas, I can read the sign in Hangul because I’ve seen it so many times in shows!


Too bad soondae is not my thing.

and a place to get fresh kimchi–handmade on the premises, with no MSG. I wish I had someone(s) to share that gallon size jar they sell:


#serious kimchi

I like kimchi. I just can’t eat that much by myself before it goes bad. I need a small jar, so I’m stuck eating the mass produced stuff from the store.

I like my local Koreatown. Sure, I can go 25 minutes north up to Fullerton/Buena Park/La Habra or drive south to Irvine, aka the City I Love to Hate, and everything is all upscale, pretty, new and shiny. Where’s the fun in that?! Finding interesting places is much more fun when it’s a challenge. I far prefer the older, grittier and less crowded neighborhood.

But there’s nothing old or gritty about the new piano studio…it’s really lovely, with larger practice rooms and waiting area. They offer art lessons now as well as piano, drums, guitar, violin, and voice lessons. It’s decorated just as cutely as the last place. The biggest upgrade? I now have lessons where I play on a Petrof grand piano. I thought the Belarus was huge…this is a 6′ grand piano in a room with good acoustics and it’s loud! I still have problems getting used to how loud it is. And the tone…it’s amazing. The Belarus was warm and rich, but this piano is even more so!

I wanted to take a picture of it, but there are CCTV cameras in the rooms here! And they are functional, unlike the ones in some Kdramas. OMG. I’m such a chicken. The first day I had a lesson with that piano in the new studio I couldn’t stop thinking about the camera…and this scene from Episode 9 of Secret Love Affair:


Unlike Seon Jae, I don’t have the fortitude to ask to have the security cameras turned off. I was totally distracted at first, but I’m better with the cameras now that a few months have passed.

It was not clear if I was going to have to take a hiatus from my lessons while Mrs. Ahn went on maternity leave. Finding a substitute teacher was not a given. To hedge my bets, I decided to sign up for a beginning piano class at the local college. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to really make sure I had the basics nailed down. It was on my day off, and I knew that the other piano classes would probably not have enough enrollment to survive being cut. That turned out to be a not-so-great decision on my part. The teacher didn’t really teach us anything, the 15 of us who started dwindled to 5 at the end, and there were days where our teacher had meetings to go to, so class was cancelled or shortened severely. It was pretty much a bust.

Not so with my private lessons. I was thoroughly surprised when Mrs. Tina told me that Miss Nzuji, who I had as a second tutor for my Music Theory class last year was going to be my teacher while Mrs. Ahn was on maternity leave. How awesome! I already know her, she’s a great teacher who can really explain things well, and she has a sense of humor from working with high school students who are in the last chance program before being thrown out of school to become ‘drop-kicks’. Unlike Mrs. Ahn, Nzuji doesn’t seem to be uneasy around an older adult like me who wants to learn piano. It was a difficult decision, but I decided to stick with Miss Nzuji after Mrs. Ahn came back from leave. I like them both, but I just never felt that Mrs. Ahn was comfortable teaching a person like me that was probably closer to her mom’s age. You can read all about Miss Nzuji’s numerous artistic accomplishments at her website. Mrs. Ahn had a baby boy in February, and after a rough start including needing a surgery, he’s doing much better now.

I had to go to a concert and do a little write-up for the college piano class, and I ended up attending two because I couldn’t decide which one to go to. This time, I went to Cal State Fullerton (my daughter’s alma mater) for back to back piano concerts on March 9 and 18. Of course, musical selections from “Secret Love Affair” were on the programs, and all I can say is hearing them live and in person is the best, brings back every memory of that show, and inspires me to keep going with the FF! Here’s the paper  (pianoconcert141), if anyone cares to read it. I did manage to get an “A” in the class, so even though it’s not the most well written paper, I guess the teacher thought it was passable.

While I was researching which concerts I wanted to attend, I stumbled across a piano Master Class that was going to be taught on a Saturday morning…and it was free and open to the public! Wow. They usually aren’t free, or open to the public, or on a weekend, and since I wrote about it in the FF, I had to check it out. I had wanted to go to the instructor’s free concert on Friday, but I couldn’t get the time off work. As usual, I was super excited to head down to this class at the University in The City I Love to Hate. I brought my little notebook to write in, and I had my backstory all ready to go. If anyone asked me what I was doing there, I was sure as heck not gonna say that I am there because of a FF I wrote about a Kdrama I obsess over. That would definitely spark a call to the local mental institution, especially in Irvine!

Seriously, I am the worst liar ever. It’s no wonder that I love “38 Task Force” so much. Baek Sung Il is a horrible liar too, and it slays me to watch someone as bad at lying as I am in a show where he has to lie all the time now that he’s working with Yang Jung Do.


#he is me  #no lying skills

Side note–A great big shout out to @seungshinl for heading up the translation team on Viki! I’m cheering for you and the other subbers! Fighting!

Thanks to minimal weekend traffic, I got there early, paid my $10 parking (I’m cool with it since the class is free) and set off for the classroom. I realize immediately that I’ve made a big mistake. I’m trying not to look too noticeable…but I wore a bright purple chiffon shirt over my tank top and jeans (my standard Dressing for Menopause outfit) and in the land where Beige is King, I look like a court jester!  Problem is, I like bright colors, so my closet is full of clothes that stand out here, but are perfectly fine in my ‘anything goes’ neighborhood. I really need to get some boring and muted clothing to wear when I go to events like this. (Heh, no chance!)

It’s amazing to me that it’s so quiet here on campus as I walk past some student apartments. No music blasting? No one out and about? No piles of beer cans/bottles, pizza boxes, empty kegs and other debris indicating someone hosted an awesome house party last night? No one still passed out sleeping on the lawn? What is this? Do college kids today not know how to properly party? **snort**

Here’s what a party house looked like at the end of the evening back in my day!

Outside of said house:


(video clip & screencap are from the 1984 movie “16 Candles”. That blues riff in the background is spot on. Gawd, that Jake is freakin’ hot! **fans self**  BTW, the ending to that movie is so epic, it should be required viewing for any aspiring Kdrama writer.)

Anyways, I look around and around for the classroom. It’s gotta be here….but the doors are locked, and the access must be only from the inside. Crumbs. Did the class get cancelled? Am I reading the map right?  Just at the moment I am discouraged and considering leaving, I catch sight of the instructor, with two ladies who look like they could be faculty members walking with him. I quickly walk around a corner and watch as they open the doors. Yay! Good thing I had seen a picture of the instructor beforehand, so I knew what he looked like.

The class is held in a large room with high ceilings and hardwood floor. It could easily hold 75 persons. I take a chair from the stacks for myself, and I notice that the two ladies are trying to set up chairs for the students too, so I grab a couple too and help them out. The instructor fiddles with the brakes on the Steinway Grand piano (it has wheels on the legs) and adjusts the piano bench. A few students file into the room; everyone is wearing navy blue, black, or gray. At first I thought they must’ve raided Seon Jae’s closet and worn all his stuff; but this is Irvine, so the raggedy collars and holes in the shirts are ‘factory distressed’!  All the guys and gals have sweatshirts and jackets on, and some of them bring in hot coffee. Except me. I have a bottle of ice water at my side.

One of the ladies comes over and asks me very politely what I am doing here. With my pen and notebook on my lap, I smile and sweetly explain that I’m here doing research for a writing project in my (mythical) class. Will she buy it?  Oh, heck yeah! This is a university after all! It’s like I said the magic words. She is equally impressed that I found out about the Master Class on the university’s website. I’m surprised I am the only non-student in attendance. Perhaps it’s only me that is a music nerd and wants to blow out a Saturday morning like this. I sit in the back of the seating area so I can watch everyone, but there’s only 16 students here today–4 guys and 12 girls. Every seat is a good one as the saying goes.

The instructor (Michael Rickman) is in his 60’s, but he looks far younger. It must be because he has the most positive and cheerful disposition imaginable. Enthusiasm radiates from his presence–he must really love teaching. It also makes me wonder what was in the water over at SeoHan University to make everyone so grumpy! He is smiling, polite, and so gentle with his words to the 4 students playing today. He must know that their perfectionistic and driven personalities would be crushed if he was too forceful. He says over and over again, “There are no absolutes in Music”, and encourages them to be expressive in their performances. I also note that he asks the students, “What did your teacher say about this passage?” He is very careful to not contradict their main piano teacher; instead he expounds on what the teacher wants or phrases it a little differently. It’s impressive.

The first young lady who plays a set of Scarlotti sonatas (C-sharp Minor K. 247, A Major K. 212, and G Minor K. 476) is clearly nervous, but he is so calm and patient. I bet this is what having Professor Jo for a piano teacher would be like. He has her play the pieces a second time, jubilantly saying, “See, the second time around is always better!” And my mind skids into the gutter and crashes, as I recall this scene also from Episode 9 of SLA, where Seon Jae gives Professor Kang the underhanded verbal beatdown he so richly deserved :


Ah, but practice makes perfect, right?!

I immediately turn red, and this time it’s not a hot flash. I may be 52, but I can blush like I am still 16. Thank goodness I am in the back of the room where no one can see me. A drink of icy cold water from my new insulated water bottle helps me refocus and get back on track. Can you see now why I have to be so careful about what I watch? My brain remembers stuff, and pulls it up at the craziest moments. In 20 minutes, I learn all kinds of interesting things about Scarlotti sonatas, and about the composer himself. (Full disclosure–I am a big fan of Scarlotti, so this is right up my alley.) He talks a lot about the layers of color in the music, which probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I totally get it. Even if you don’t think you have any kind of ear for music, take this test–you might be surprised.

Next up is a Schubert sonata, and I learn that this was considered ‘dance’ music back in the day, and how important it is not to compress the rhythm. It would be tempting to play this at a faster pace, but that would compromise the intent of the composer. I should consider this piece for inclusion as background music for a future FF; it might be a good fit. A more modern piece by Ravel written for a piano competition back in the day is next, and how the dynamics are relative within the piece of music, and aren’t set in stone. I’m in music nerd heaven here.

The last young lady to play that morning looks like she could be a Kpop star, complete with cute stylish dress and long dyed-blonde hair. She is playing the Sonata No. 2 in D minor by Prokofiev, and before she begins, the instructor asks everyone, “What do we know about Prokofiev?” Uhh…what do I know? Not much. My music education is still sorely lacking. I only know he wrote a suite for “Romeo and Juliet“. (Interesting article about changes to the original score made by TPTB back then, and have recently been corrected back to what Prokofiev originally wrote.)

Then this little NSFW scene floats into my brain from the ‘way back in the back’ part of my memory. It’s from the movie “10”, which I snuck into the theater to see as a young teen in 1979!


[Side note–I find it humorous that everyone remembers “Bolero” from the movie, but forgets Prokofiev was her first choice. I still love “10”, even as dated as it is. I totally got the message of this movie, even when I was a kid. Lessons: Be careful what you ask for–you might get it! And quit worrying over what everyone else is or isn’t doing, and figure out what’s gonna work for you.]

I turn bright red again. Good gracious, what is wrong with me? The instructor elaborates that Prokofiev’s music was written both before and after the Russian revolution, and is all about ‘struggle’. The melodic content interspersed with dissonant passages is what makes us feel the contention. That leads me into thinking how a relationship is like that too. Certainly we see a lot of relationship struggle in Kdramas. How much stress and struggle did Seon Jae and Hye Won have initially in their relationship?


Preach it, Ji Wook!  From Episode 40 of “Start Again”. Watch for the post on this surprisingly fun daily drama coming soon!

That in turn makes me wonder if the whole concept of ‘struggle’ is a metaphor for making love; and now I am completely off track. I try and pull my mind back into the present, as the class concludes.

The instructor reminds the students that at the end of the day, technicality is important, but good music is all about the interpretation. I watch the 4 students who performed today leave with some of their friends and classmates that were in the audience, and it’s clear they are all good friends. There’s no cold, cutting remarks or obvious rivalry. How nice to see–watching Kdramas (ok, TV shows in general) can make a person think that a group of women can only be catty and antagonistic toward each other.

How awesome was this class? Well, I learned more about music and these composers in two hours than I could have possibly imagined going in. You can bet that as soon as school starts up again in August, I’m going to be combing through the University websites, checking for more of these Master Classes that are open to the public. What a great way to ramp up my knowledge of classical music!








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