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© 2015-2019 Patricia Melcher Bissell & Brereton Wadsworth Bissell

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My Transpositions

March 7, 2018

I grew up in a rural community near Niagara Falls in New York before moving to a West Virginia town on the Ohio River during my sophomore year of high school.  From an early age, I could play and improvise popular music and church hymns by ear on the piano, and I quickly learned to read music notation. I got enough training in classical repertoire here and there to be accepted by Peabody Conservatory where I earned B.M. degrees in piano and composition. I went on to receive my M.M. degree in composition from Yale and was a Fulbright Scholar in Paris. 

 

 (Pictured above, left to right: My Peabody favorite was Erno Balogh, pictured here with his teacher Bela Bartok. Grace Cushman, founder of JCC/Walden School, inspired my interest in composition. At Yale, Gunther Schuller pushed my composition skills forward significantly.)

 

 (Pictured above, left to right: I loved composing, but my mother urged me to complete my teaching certificate, and my minor in organ at Yale led to positions with various denominations over the years. Fulbright arrival, overlooking Paris from Napoleon’s tomb. Fulbright departure, costume party on the SS. France.)

 

For seven years, I worked with a coach, who was a national leader in women’s gymnastics. I was engaged by gymnasts to arrange various styles of piano music to accompany their floor exercises and to play for them at competitive meets. I was our Olympic Team’s pianist in Mexico City, and arranged the compulsory floor exercise music used by our team in Munich.

 

I developed and taught adults-only studio classes for twelve years using inexpensive electric reed organs, and then portable electronic keyboards. I blended traditional keyboard training with improvisation and elementary composition. 

 

 

My K-12 public school general music career started in a small Ohio town, and continued in Ansonia, North Haven, and for two decades, New Haven, Connecticut. I introduced small keyboards to teach mini-courses that explored the basic elements of music theory and melodic improvisation. In later years, my students used MIDI keyboards with computers to record sound effects and compose background music for the playlets they authored.​

 

 

(Pictured above: General music chorus performance and playlet presentation early in my career)

 

After I retired from K-12 instruction, I began teaching piano classes at Gateway Community College. At Gateway, I was able to bring together my experience in arranging for gymnastics, developing a studio curriculum, and teaching K-12 musicianship to develop a curricular approach that integrates intervallic reading, playing, and composition of melodies with an understanding of the intervallic structure, inversion, and improvisation of chords. From this work emerged my book, Classroom Keyboard: Play and Create Melodies with Chords, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education and published by Rowman & Littlefield. Since its release in 2017.

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