Saturday, August 3, 2019

Spotlight on: Vivian Read, Member of Bucks County Association of Piano Teachers

Our first interview for the BCAPT blog features our own Vivian Read from Langhorne, Pennsylvania!

To contact Vivian for further information or for lessons:

She teaches beginner, intermediate, advanced, Adult, ensembles, 2 pianos, 4 and 8 hands, Church music, Hymn improvisation, and Competition.


Vivian's YouTube link:

Vivian on Pinterest:

When did you first become interested in a teaching career? Who inspired you?

Honestly?? I was about 25 years old with 2 little kids and in a panic that I needed to both supplement my husband's income and be independent if something happened to him. I had always loved playing the piano but never thought I was good enough to make it a career. So at age 25 I went back to school (University of Maryland) and took classes for 2 years determined to learn all I could. At the same time I took lessons from a young Korean doctoral student who was studying with Leon Fleisher at Peabody. It was hard with 2 kids. I would put them to bed by 7 or 8 and then practice 3-4 hours every night.

No one particularly inspired me. I never graduated as my husband got transferred to Pennsylvania at the same time I had child #3 so that was the end of my formal education. Four musicianship lab classes - that was it. Extremely valuable, though! I later studied with former BCAPT member and amazing teacher, Marjorie Haimbach and I credit her with showing me many teaching tricks. I consider myself a forever student with a huge bucket list of pieces I'd like to play. I'm always learning new repertoire/teaching techniques, etc. I just bought Prokofiev Sonatas and Kabalevsky Preludes Op.38 that I'd like to explore. Also last year I've been into the Chopin Nocturnes. Since perfecting all 31 is unrealistic for most people, at least we can learn through recordings what they sound like and enjoy them.

What is your philosophy of teaching?

1. Playing the piano should be fun and rewarding. (Yes, it's work, that's a given)

2. Asking my students, "You know what I want you to learn the most from piano lessons? Not to need me. When your piano education with me is finished, I want you to be able to pick up any piece of music you like and be able to learn it on your own and play it like a professional."

When did you begin playing piano? 

Age 10

At this point I should probably share my background. Honestly, I had one horrible teacher after another. My parents felt that anyone who could play could teach. I know how bad the teaching was as I remember how I played the lesson pieces. All wrong. Oscar the Octopus in 4/4 time! No correction.

I remember performing a Clementi Sonatina Op. 36 No.3 Mvt. 1 by memory in a recital. I went back for the repeat and heard someone sigh. My 13-year-old self was thinking, I hate this piece! Even the audience hates this piece! It's boring and awful. I want to run from this stage. What I didn't know was that it's supposed to be fast. That teacher let me get up in front of an audience and play Clementi SLOW! It was many years before I could bear to play it again much less teach it.

A new teacher every couple of years. One got so mad about my fingernails that she cut them herself, very short, painfully short. That was the end of her!!

One teacher would assign a piece one week (like a Mendelssohn Songs without Words level) correct it the following week and then give me a new piece the next week. I never learned anything well, never learned any new skills, never learned scales or chords, not to mention how music is put together. 

After a while, when my parents saw how interested I was, they tried to find me a decent teacher, even sending me to a local college professor as a HS student. That was horrible, too. I would hang my long hair in front of my face so he wouldn't see me crying in frustration. Later he was yanked out of the music program and given an administrative position.

I went to college as a Christian education major, wondering if God was calling me to the mission field. Apparently not, as I fell in love and wanted to get married. 

So I thought, why not try piano lessons one more time? What a surprise!!! I got to play Bach for the first time. An Invention. It was so hard sorting it all out. Students shouldn't have to play an Invention as their first exposure to Bach. Loved the challenge. Discovered I adored Bach. Played Mozart, Beethoven (except for Fur Elise which I learned on my own). I studied Mozart and Beethoven for the first time when I took lessons in college. Can you imagine taking lessons for 8 years and never playing Beethoven or Mozart? I hardly knew who Mozart was!

I also heard of musical time periods for the first time. The world had opened up! My teacher said I had talent (first time I ever heard THAT!!) and I should be a music major. I told her I didn't think I was good enough and that I was getting married and moving away in a few months. She was actually sad and disappointed for me. I'll never forget what she said, "For God's sake, don't ever stop playing!!!"

So my inspiration is being a better teacher than I had growing up! 

I started teaching when my kids were age 12-2. Not really ready. A neighbor who jogged had heard me playing as she passed by my house. Her piano teacher was moving away and asked if I would consider teaching her daughter? I said my kids were young and yes, I'd studied to be a teacher (bit of a stretch) but I wasn't ready. She knew I had a really crappy second hand spinet piano so she put out that carrot that tipped the scales: you could earn some money and buy yourself the grand piano you've always dreamed of. Well!

Teaching my first lesson:

The student was a transfer and played a piece she had already passed. While she was playing, my mind was going 100 miles an hour - this playing isn't good. Why? And what needs to make it better and how do I coach that in terms that the student won't feel crushed? As she finished that little 40 second piece I had all the answers and thought, Yes, I think I can do this!

Honestly, I'm not the greatest pianist. I need to practice a TON to keep up with my advanced students. I'm very proud of my students who do very well with judging and competitions. They work hard. (Daniel just placed in the Steinway Competition this past spring). I've had many kids perform in Carnegie Hall as Golden Key winners. My strength is an analytical ability/instinct on what is wrong and how to fix it.

As former BCAPT president 1994-1998, I remember sitting in the back of the music room in Tyler Hall, Bucks County Community College my first year, 1987, and shyly raising my hand to volunteer to help with "current events" and later with recitals. I was so nervous and was sure that all of my new colleagues were so much more experienced and better teachers than I was. But I was there to learn and seek out their knowledge and friendship.

BCAPT is a great resource for teachers, both the workshop/lectures and the joint recital opportunities. 

Favorite pieces and composers?

Wow, that's like asking if I like my legs better than my arms, my right or left hand, etc.

Franz Schubert is my favorite. Love the Schubert Impromptus. I just feel a connection with him and grieve that he died so young at age 31. My heart soars when I listen to his compositions. Especially Sonata in A major D.959. Anyone remember the sitcom Wings? The theme song features the last movement of this Sonata. Then of course there's Beethoven (we call him "The Great Beethoven" in my studio), Bach, Chopin, Mozart (the usual suspects).

I've found assigning the Bach Little Preludes helps transition students from the Anna Magdalena Notebook to the Inventions and WTC. 

Gorgeous pieces like Chopin Nocturnes are too difficult for most students. So we start with the little Polonaise in G Minor that Chopin wrote when he was 7 which also gives students a respect for pure creative genius. Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 No.2 is a special favorite for more advanced students. So is the Passacaglia in G Minor by Handel. Everyone who has played it loved it. My students also love the I Got Rhythm solo arrangement by Gershwin. They look forward to being able to tackle this one.

Dance music, waltzes, etc. Scott Joplin rags. Hymn arrangements. There's a jazzy This Little Light of Mine that my church goes nuts over. Love teaching duets and ensembles as I'm blessed with 2 pianos. Favorite duets would be anything by the late Robert Vandall. Our newest favorite is Gypsy Dance. So much fun. A really crazy duet is Hanon Goes Haywire by Kevin Olson. Once they're ready, all my students study Hanon and this duet is based on Hanon #1. You can view it on my YouTube channel. Melody Bober and Martha Mier also have composed great duets. Mier's Treasures for Two series is very appealing to students. Bober's Southwestern Landscapes Sonata is terrific! It's all over YouTube.

New age composer David Lanz is great for transitioning to more difficult repertoire. His pieces help develop technique without the student feeling they're practicing exercises. The David Lanz Collection published by Hal Leonard is our favorite so far. We like the beautiful Return to the Heart and the more vigorous pieces like Dark Horse, Vesuvius and Dancing on the Berlin Wall. Lanz's first big hit, Cristofori's Dream isn't in this book but it's worth checking out. For the newer teaching pieces I love love love Melody Bober. Her Just for Fun books for elementary students and pieces like Loco-Motive, Itasca Sunrise, and Ride the Wind are studio favorites. Kevin Olson (Storm Chasers) and Martha Mier (Jazz, Rags, and Blues and Romantic Impressions series) also compose very appealing and educational pieces.

How long have you been teaching and do you teach other instruments?

31 years! Time flies!

No. Playing the piano and working on its vast repertoire is more than enough to keep me busy!

Vivian's YouTube channel:

Vivace Piano Studio from October 11, 2010 until the present.

Each student has their own Playlist with their personal YouTube nickname to protect their privacy. It's really cool to see how they've grown in front of my camera. There are hundreds of videos and I've designed the channel to be very user friendly. No ads. All videos are of the highest quality that we were capable of. You can go to the magnifying glass on the far right and type in all manner of designations to search a specific composer, genre, level etc. even detailed searched like: "elementary duet, advanced holiday, Mier jazzy, Joplin ragtime, and so on. If a student is learning a particular piece, they could visit my channel to see if it's there to help them know how it sounds. On the right there are links to other amazing channels - great for reference!

vivacepianostudio -

Favorite Quote?

"Everyday you miss playing or practicing is one day longer it takes to be good." - Ben Hogan. It's hanging in my studio. I tell students it applies to life, not just piano. 

On the personal side:

I've raised 5 children who are now adults living on their own. And I have 10 grandchildren. One grandson, Owen, is 14  and already a seasoned fiddle player. He will probably be a career musician. Another grandson, Charlie, age 8, has been bugging me for piano lessons which started in January. He's a quick study so I'm hoping to have one happy pianist out of the bunch. Often Owen is invited to play as a special guest with other established folk music groups.

Playing in church - I decided to become a Christian at age 16. I'd never been in a church service before so it took some time and trials to figure out where I wanted to attend.  The day I walked into a Baptist church and heard the message, I knew two things: I would be a Baptist and a church pianist. I thought churches only used organs so seeing the piano was a surprise. My hymn style is an improvisation on the 4 part harmony sometimes called "evangelistic style." Each evangelistic pianist is unique and I could describe my style as a mix of hilly billy twang (I grew up in West Virginia), classical scales and ornaments, and stride piano bass. I'm so blessed, banging out the hymns listening to all the joyful voices coming back to me. It's one of the sheer joys of my life. Currently I'm playing at Faith Baptist Church in Fairless Hills.

Competitive Power Lifting - I have world records in the 114 pound, Masters age category. I have a coach and train hard 2-3 hours 4 times a week. I walked into a gym for the first time when I turned 50 and most of my kids had left home. I was about 50 pounds overweight and desperate to do something for myself. It took me by surprise. I liked the physical challenge of lifting. Today, it's a very serious part of my life as I'm ranked 3rd in the world in squat and deadlift. At the next meet I'm hoping to beat the woman from Australia who is second in deadlift. 

Here's the video from last March. The white lights afterward show that the 300 pound lift was qualifying.

I'm also an avid reader. Historical fiction is my favorite. There's an amazing book, Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin. Highly recommended to music teachers!

Love travel and adventure, hiking, etc. Been to China, Ireland, Scotland, London twice, out west (Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, etc.)


Especially designing summer annual/perennial flowers beds. My neighbors tell me they look forward every year to the flower bed designs (although with my serious training it's been harder to keep up with this).


Spent 6 years writing a screenplay that no one (at least at this present time) is interested in. No explanation, just felt moved to do it. Someday I'd like to write a piano book and often tease my students (if they've just said or done something crazy) that they just made it into my book. They're thrilled (they shouldn't be! ha ha).

Thank you, Vivian, for sharing your life and love of piano teaching with us!