Conlan Miller, Utah pianist, is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Stewart Gordon. His related fields are Piano Pedagogy, Music Theory and Analysis, and Music Technology. He earned his Master of Music degree at Yale University’s School of Music where he studied with Mr. Boris Berman and Mr. Melvin Chen. He completed his undergraduate piano performance and pedagogy studies at Brigham Young University with Dr. Irene Peery-Fox. Prior to his bachelor’s degree, he was a private student of Dr. Peery-Fox for 10 years.
Conlan was the national collegiate first prize winner in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Young Artist Piano Competition, and was awarded a Steinway piano. He also won second prize in the national MTNA Senior Piano Competition, both under the tutelage of Dr. Peery-Fox. He was a Silver Medalist in the 4th Manhattan International Music Competition, and was an official competitor in the Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition. Last year, he was nominated to compete in the American Pianists Awards (APA). Other awards include the Don and Shirley Oscarson Award for Outstanding Musical Achievement at BYU, second prize in the inaugural Snowy Range Piano Competition, and honorable mention in the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra International Piano Competition.
Conlan gave his first major performance when he was eleven, performing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Utah Valley Symphony. Since then, he has performed with several orchestras including four appearances with the Utah Symphony, two appearances with the Utah Valley Symphony, and performances with the Oquirrh Moutain Symphony, American Fork Symphony, Southwest Symphony, and the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra. He has given solo recitals across the United States as well as in the Netherlands under the sponsorship of the National Chopin Foundation, International Holland Music Sessions, Frances Clarke Center for Keyboard Pedagogy, and the MTNA. He has performed in master classes with pianists Leon Fleisher, Jonathan Biss, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Peter Frankl, Nancy Weems, Peter Mack, Wei-Yi Yang, Kirill Gliadkovsksy, and others. His collaborative and chamber work has led him to perform in collaborative concerts across Utah, California, Connecticut, and Mexico. Conlan is an active member of the Music Teachers National Association.
Teaching PhilosophyINTRODUCTIONAs a piano teacher, my primary objective is to help my students become fully-developed, completely independent, well-rounded musicians. I help each of my students learn to appreciate and treasure musical experiences through the understanding of musical aesthetics and the development of an enhanced sense of listening.
No two students are the same. Technical and musical talent vary widely. My teaching approach is centered around the individual learning tendencies and various personalities of my students. I help each student discover and hone their strengths into a palette of expressive tools, and provide them with many different methods of practice so they can develop the confidence they need to conquer the various technical and musical challenges they will face in the piano repertoire.
Developing a healthy technique goes hand-in-hand with developing artistic and expressive performance skills. One cannot have the freedom to express the composers’ intentions or their own personal interpretations without a firm technical foundation. Fundamental techniques such as scales, arpeggios, chords, and cadences are effective mediums for teaching proper body alignment, smooth motions, and proper positioning of the hands and arms. The goal is always to produce the best tone possible with minimum muscle tension. I help each student develop an awareness of muscle “tonus,” or the appropriate amount of muscle activation required to play each note so they can recognize and release excess tension during practice and performances. Technical exercises and etudes are excellent isolated ways to teach students about other artistic elements of music including dynamics, articulation, shaping, voicing, and tone quality. As the student’s technique and artistry evolve and grow, he or she is more capable of perceiving and responding to these elements as they learn new and more challenging repertoire.
Theory assignments help students better understand the building blocks and stylistic features of the music they play. As Dr. Jacqueline Wiggins stated, “We understand new experiences in relation to our understanding of prior experience…. Learning is more likely to take place when learners have a context for understanding new ideas.” I help my students understand how formal elements of music can inform their choices of performance interpretation, and provide a greater depth of understanding about the structure of melody and harmony that can benefit every aspect of the student's musicianship. Understanding these theory concepts can also foster an increased excitement for musical discovery within the student.
I consider the use of modern technology to be a great tool in the teaching toolbox. The words of John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist, and educator, resonate in our current era: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” It is important as a teacher to be up to date with the latest technological advances in music education as well as the latest pedagogical research. In order to do this, I regularly attend the best piano pedagogy conferences in the United States including the Music Teachers National Association’s national conference and the Frances Clarke Center's National Conference for Keyboard Pedagogy. Technology can also be of great use to students of all ages when implemented along with the "flipped classroom" approach. This instructional strategy reverses the traditional teaching setting so that students gain their first exposure to new material outside of class. Lesson/class time is then used to help the student assimilate and reinforce that knowledge through discussion and the execution of those concepts, to provide further explanation, and to present possible solutions or answers to the student’s questions. I frequently use software applications and audio/visual materials in my teaching to accelerate the learning curve.
The parent/guardian of each student has an important role in the educational process. The greater they understand what is being taught to their child, the more helpful they can be at home. The parent/guardian should be actively involved in their child’s music education, encourage their child to practice, help them prepare to study and practice effectively on their own, and create an environment conducive to musical discovery in the home. The goal should always be to assist, but never to limit the child’s personal responsibility for their own progress.
I hope to make music eduction both fun and fulfilling. Excitement and a sense of accomplishment come from achieving long-term goals through diligent work. Most of the progress a student will make will be the direct result of their own practice outside of their lessons. Through regular practice, the student may even discover many lessons about life and about themselves. They will learn discipline, dedication, patience, and confidence. I hope to provide each student with a deep love and appreciation for music, along with new perspectives and strengths that can benefit them in every facet of their lives.
- Piano Pedagogy