Meet People Where They Are | Honoring Marvin Blickenstaff

We would like to thank Karen Zorn for this tribute to her teacher, Marvin Blickenstaff. On January 30, 2024 we are hosting a virtual Publications Party to celebrate Marvin Blickenstaff’s new book, Inspired Piano Teaching. Click here to register for this free event! If you are interested in learning more about Marvin’s book, you can read more here.

Karen Zorn and Marvin Blickenstaff

It’s such an honor to write about my teacher and friend, Marvin Blickenstaff. I could tell a million stories about Marvin’s brilliance as a teacher and how much better a musician and teacher I am because of his teaching. But I suspect that many of you already know that side of Marvin and have stories of your own. So, I’d like to share a few stories that reveal what an amazing human being Marvin is and how my life is immeasurably better for knowing him.

It seems to me that this is how Marvin lives his life. Meet people where they are. I felt this acceptance from him right from our beginning days together as teacher and student.

There’s a phrase that is probably overused these days, but I like it—meet people where they are. It says so much and I think it is so needed in Music Education. With this one simple phrase—meet people where they are—we can leave behind our limiting thoughts about students: “not well-prepared enough,” “not talented enough,” “not good enough.”

I talk about this quite often in my current work, and I believe I learned this philosophy from Marvin. It seems to me that this is how Marvin lives his life. Meet people where they are. I felt this acceptance from him right from our beginning days together as teacher and student.

Marvin was never the distant teacher. Rather, he was in touch all the time. He had the most uncanny ability to sense when you needed help. Marvin used to knock on my practice room door, sometimes just to say hello and see how I was doing. Other times he’d say something like “Uh…just curious if you EVER practice slowly.”

The truth is, back in the day, I almost never practiced slowly, and Marvin knew it. I wasn’t alone. We all practiced fast. A lot. Except when we sensed that Marvin was nearby. And we were ALWAYS aware when Marvin was around. We felt it. Marvin’s aura would drift down the practice room hallway, much like when you spot a state trooper up ahead on the highway. One by one we slowed down to “tempo di studio.” Marvin’s presence was like a human radar gun. Metronomes came out of the closet and fingerings suddenly got sorted.

We all thought Marvin was amazing. The cool professor—you know, “with it.” Except in one way—his typewriter. A Royal Manual Deluxe with an industrial metal case and pica type—the kind that you had to hit with a hammer to get the keys to go down. The kind where if you missed a keystroke, your finger would get trapped in a subterranean encampment of thrashing metal. And while we kind of poked fun of Marvin’s typewriter, we secretly loved it. Before and after lessons Marvin could be heard, pecking away, writing letters—thank you notes to presenters who had hosted him, words of welcome to prospective students, congratulations to colleagues for their accomplishments. If any of you knew Marvin back then, you probably received a note written on the old Royal Manual.

Marvin Blickenstaff

Of course, he also used it to write to his students. He actually wrote us letters on a regular basis. They were usually words of encouragement: where he’d noticed big improvements in our playing, words of “well done” after a performance, or things he’d been thinking about as possible next steps for us. It meant so much to all of us to see the envelope in our mailbox with the initials “MB” scrawled in the upper left. It was such a gift.

So, here’s the thing: Marvin is never just someone’s piano teacher. It is never just about piano lessons. With Marvin, you get it all—the entire suite of attention, care, and love. He’s the Deluxe Edition piano teacher. When you study with him you get “the works.” He’s the all-inclusive, elite-level cruise, room with a view. The automatic upgrade. The executive platinum status. The super-size me, combo-platter piano teacher.

Marvin, I hope you know how grateful we all are to have you in our lives. We are immeasurably better for knowing you. 

The Marvin Blickenstaff Institute for Teaching Excellence

In 2023, the Frances Clark Center established the Marvin Blickenstaff Institute for Teaching Excellence in honor of his legacy as a pedagogue. This division of The Frances Clark Center encompasses inclusive teaching programs, teacher education, courses, performance, advocacy, publications, research, and resources that support excellence in piano teaching and learning. To learn more about the Institute, please visit this page.

We extend a heartfelt invitation to join us in commemorating Marvin Blickenstaff’s remarkable contributions by making a donation in his honor. Your generous contribution will help us continue his inspiring work and uphold the standards of excellence in piano teaching and learning for generations to come. To make a meaningful contribution, please visit our donation page today. Thank you for being a part of this legacy.


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