Highlights from NCKP 2023

Last week, I attended the 2023 National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP) held July 26-29, 2023. I have to say it felt so great to be there face-to-face with fellow piano teacher friends old and new, especially because this was the first in-person I’ve attended since the pandemic!

This morning as I was completing NCKP’s after-conference survey, I realized that I have been attending every NCKP since 2011. That’s a total of seven NCKPs so far!

If you’ve never attended the NCKP, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list. It’s similar to the MTNA National Conferences in many ways, but it’s a slightly smaller conference and they do certain things a little bit differently. It’s organized and sponsored by the Frances Clark Center — a non-profit association dedicated to honoring and furthering the legacy of piano pedagogy Frances Clark (1905-1998). NCKP meets biennially, always in the same location (Lombard, IL — outside Chicago), which for me is convenient because I can drive there in about four hours.

Anyway, in this lengthy post, I’d like to share a variety of highlights and bits of news from NCKP 2023. Read on!

My husband and I decided to make my conference attendance a family endeavor, so we had all four of us packed up for this trip. 🙂 Our girls (now ages 3.5 and almost a year) tolerated the car ride well, thankfully! We lodged in the conference hotel, which was convenient for facilitating nap time, snacks, etc. Most of the time, my husband enjoyed having daddy-daughter time with both girls, but I did take just Aria or just Brenna to a few of my conference sessions or meals with colleagues.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Unfortunately due to traffic delays and a little snafu with ordering take-out lunch, I missed Karen Zorn’s opening keynote address of the conference. But nevertheless, we made pretty good time and I was able to attend sessions starting at 1pm on Wednesday.

Because I am currently serving on a committee — the Young Musicians Committee — for the Frances Clark Center, I made sure to attend the sessions we had selected for the conference’s Young Musicians track. Our track kicked off with Krista Jadro and Hannah Mayo’s session titled, “Off-Bench: How Activities Away from the Keyboard Facilitate Music Understanding at the Piano.” (You might happen know Krista and Hannah from their podcast, Keys to Music Learning, or from Krista’s Music Learning Academy providing online training for teachers interested in Marilyn Lowe’s Music Moves for Piano curriculum — both excellent resources for teachers interesting in Music Learning Theory.) Their presentation provided an interactive, practical example of how we can teach students to hear and audiate piano pieces before learning to play them on the piano.

At 2:30pm, I gave my own presentation titled, “Don’t Miss a Beat! Strategies for Rhythm Success with Transfer Students.” For this session, I offered strategies and practical activities based on Edwin E. Gordon’s Music Learning Theory (MLT) for addressing common rhythm issues in transfer students. In the session, I discuss how typical tools such as counting, the metronome, and symbol review aren’t always effective; and how we can use the perhaps atypical tools of movement and audiation to remediate rhythm skills.

I really enjoyed putting this new session together recently and adding it to my list of topics (see my entire list here). And I was especially happy to hear from a few teachers afterwards who said they gained some helpful ideas from my talk.

At 4pm, I was involved in a session called, “Cultivating Creative Composers: A Panel Discussion.” Christopher Goldston facilitated this discussion with panelists Katherine Fisher, Julie Kerr Hague, Clinton Pratt, and me. We each gave a short 15-minute presentation (my segment was a condensed version of my talk, “Striking a Chord with Your Students: Nurturing Young Composers in Your Music Studio), and then allowed plenty of time for discussion and questions at the end.

At 5:30pm, I attended a session given by my pal Christina Whitlock (of the Beyond Measure podcast) titled, “The Teacher as The Method: Learn to Depend Less on Books and More on Individual Expertise.” In her talk, she encouraged teachers to rely less on the method book page by page, and instead know and prepare upcoming concepts through sound and experience. An important reminder for all of us!

For dinner, my little family and I went to a nearby Italian restaurant with Amy Chaplin (of the Piano Pantry blog/podcast), Christina Whitlock, Janna Williamson (see her YouTube channel), and Kate Boyd (The Piano Prof on YouTube). My daughter Brenna was so tired by this point that she fell asleep during the 3-minute drive back to the conference hotel! I went to bed early that night, too. 🙂

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The next morning began with an hour of showcases — special sessions given by exhibitors such as piano companies, publishers, and more. I popped into a couple of sessions: first, I wanted to hear what was new from the folks at Faber Piano Adventures. Among other things, I learned about their new sight-reading books (affiliate link; thanks for supporting my blog!) designed to align with their Piano Literature series (which now has more teacher duets in it, by the way).

Then, I popped into a showcase give by My-Melodies Publishing, and I was absolutely blown away by the music they offer for elementary and intermediate students. The owner, Brock Chart, is a down-to-earth and talented pianist-composer of jazz and pop educational piano literature among other genres. Run, don’t walk, over to his website to check out his series of jazz, pop, and rock books for students with play-along tracks. While you’re there, also be sure to take a peek at the books by his friend and colleague, Kai Ono, called “For the Little Birds” and “For the Birds.” Physical books as well as digital books and studio licenses are available. I can’t wait to try this music out with my students soon!

Here’s a photo of me from later on at the My-Melodies Publishing booth in the exhibit hall.

At 9am, I attended “Moving Music: Inspiring our Newest Learners with Creative Teaching” given by Janna Olson — a teacher I’ve learned much from when it comes to MLT. Her session explored how purposeful activities involving listening, moving, singing, breathing, and more can inspire our beginning piano students to discover the wonderful aural world of music.

For lunch, baby Brenna and I enjoyed eating with a good-sized group of teacher friends at the hotel restaurant, Harry Carey’s. We had some delicious food and even better conversations. 🙂

At 2pm, our Young Musicians Committee chair Janet Tschida presented “Developing Musicianship through Movement,” a fun and interactive session sharing whole-body movement activities to building rhythmic flow and musical imagination in elementary level students.

At 2:30pm, we enjoyed a plenary session featuring four PEDx sessions given by Brendan Jacklin, Artina McCain, Vanessa Cornett, and Igor Lipinski. PEDx sessions are intended to be similar to TED talks in that they are short, inspiring talks about 20-minutes in length. I unfortunately missed a couple of these talks due to checking in with my kids, but I caught Artina’s and Vanessa’s sessions…which were both excellent and inspiring!

That evening, I enjoyed dinner at Harry Carey’s once again with my fellow committee members before we hosted a Young Musicians track meet-up. Our meet-up involved unwinding by learning fun folk dances together — which my daughter Aria absolutely loved.

Friday, July 28, 2023

At 8am, I began the day once again by attending a couple of showcase sessions. The first was given by the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), who presented highlights from the new Sixth Edition of the Celebration Series — a repertoire series I really enjoy with my students (especially the Preparatory A and Preparatory B books).

Then, I popped into the Tom Gerou Music session, presenting “What Every Teacher Should Know: From the Latest Releases to Autism & Piano Study.” I was pleased to learn more about the new music offerings from, including a new book by Dr. Scott Price entitled “Autism & Piano Study: A Basic Teaching Vocabulary” and his beautiful Evocations, Set 1 and 2 (I later purchased Set 1 in the exhibit hall). Be sure to visit Tom Gerou’s website to learn more about the many new classical editions and original compositions available there (and join his email list while you’re at it).

At 10:30am, I heard an incredibly inspiring session called “A Session About Nothing” by Vanessa Cornett. In her presentation, she encouraged us to consider rethinking, for example, the notions that we should always be doing something productive, that rest is only to allow us to then be more productive, and that self-care is solely the responsibility of the individual (as opposed to the institutions we work for, society/culture as a whole, etc.). She suggested we resist these ideas and instead reclaim time, attention, mindfulness, and rest for ourselves. As someone who loves being busy and productive, this was a relevant and important message for me! Vanessa received a standing ovation after her talk.

Brenna and I grabbed a quick lunch at this point with Amy Chaplin and a new teacher friend, Krysta Hawkley, at the food court in the nearby mall. I also spend a little in the exhibit hall as well, and ran into some friends — Leila Viss (of 88 Piano Keys, Eik Mar (of the Sproutbeat app), Christina Whitlock again, and Jennifer Foxx (of Music Educator Resources).

Then, at 1:30pm I attended “Marilyn Lowe’s Music Moves for Piano: A Tribute to a True Pioneer in Audiation-based Piano Teaching,” given by Jennifer Fisher. Jenny is a local colleague and friend of mine, and I really appreciated the way her session honored Marilyn Lowe (who passed away in 2022) and the legacy she leaves behind. I am confident that Marilyn’s work and ground-breaking curriculum Music Moves for Piano will impact generations of piano pedagogues and students for years to come.

At 2:30pm, more PEDx sessions were given, this time by Sara Davis Buechner, Ann DuHamel, Leah Claiborne, and Connor Chee. I can’t even begin to tell you how inspiring these short sessions were! I can’t do them justice in just a few words, but I’ll just say that they were inspiring reminders of the power of music and why we do what we do as musicians, teachers, and humans.

At 4pm, I attended a showcase session presented by Heather Smith, the CEO and founder behind the non-profit called Silent Film Celebration — an organization providing resources for piano teachers to organize their own silent film events with live piano accompaniment provided by their students. This has been on my radar for a few months now, and I’m actually planning a silent film recital project for my students later this year. Stay tuned here on the blog for more on that eventually. For now, check out Heather’s website here to learn more about it.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The final day of the conference was “T-shirt day,” when we were encouraged to wear our NCKP T-shirts if we had them. Aria accompanied me to my morning sessions and had a great time.

At the Piano Safari showcase session, I learned more about their new Composition Book 1 and new releases from Chee-Hwa Tan (my daughter enjoyed listening and dancing to the pieces from Once Upon a Journey, Book 1) and Charles Stier (check out his Kitchen Suite — it looks amazing!).

(During this showcase, we sat with my pal, Amy Chaplin, and snapped this selfie together.)

I popped into a few different sessions through the morning, although Aria’s attention span was more suited for browsing and wandering through the exhibit hall — so we also spent a good amount of time there. I always enjoy seeing what’s new, meeting teachers in-person I’ve previously only known online (such as Dorla Pryce Aparicio from Piano Pyramid, pictured below), and bringing home new music to explore with my students!

Aria loved collecting free pens and other swag from each booth, and the venders seemed to enjoy her, too. Here’s our photo taken together on the red carpet at the Silent Film Celebration booth:

The final session of the conference was a plenary session featuring teaching videos from five individual teachers: Christopher Madden, Leah Claiborne, Linda Fields, Andy Villemez, and Lesley Mcallister. Barbara Fast skillfully led the conversation before and after the lesson clip from each teacher. I always find it inspiring to watch other teachers in action and get new ideas for how I can work with my own students!

That concludes this giant blog post covering my experience attending NCKP 2023. The were many more wonderful sessions that went on during the conference that I wish I could have attended, but one has to make many tough decisions at each point in the schedule about what to hear. It’s a good kind of problem to have!

You may have noticed a giant hole in my coverage of the conference: namely, the evening concerts, which I regrettably did not attend this year. While I would have loved to hear the performances by Sarah Davis Buechner and Olga Kern, which were by all accounts were astounding, I was at the same time content to practice “the resistance” (to quote Vanessa Cornett’s session mentioned earlier) and enjoy rest and quality time with my little family in our hotel room upstairs. 🙂

Thanks for reading this far. Now I’m off to prepare for the piano teacher retreats I’m hosting at my home later this week and next week. I can’t wait! Stay tuned for some photo highlights from that later on.

Cheers to a restful and rejuvenating summer, with perhaps a few exciting adventures in-between!

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8 thoughts on “Highlights from NCKP 2023”

  1. Joy, I really enjoyed this giant blogpost! I wasn’t able to attend this one, and so appreciated the beautiful pictures and personal commentary!

  2. How fun to read your recap of the conference, Joy, and get a small taste of your time there. I love that you took your girls to some of the sessions, too. Hoping I can make it back one of these years!

  3. Joy, I enjoyed reading your recap and seeing pics of your cute daughter. This conference is definitely on my bucket list. It’s fun to see pics of others bloggers like Leila and Jen that Ive enjoyed learning from over the years too! I love that you made family a priority. I started my blog when I did “piano preschool” for 2 of my children and now they’re all grown up and graduating! Time flies but I’m grateful for the precious moments I had with my little ones even though it meant a lot less time for piano teaching time than I have now.

    1. Thanks for the note, Heidi! How fun it must have been to watch your little ones grow up with music. Thanks for the encouragement to continue to protect my time with my little ones — I know these years will fly by!

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