This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Lona Kozik, a composer and pianist living in South Devon in the UK. Lona is passionate about teaching music theory and founded the School of Music Theory in 2019, which specializes in online music theory courses. You can find out more about Lona, the drivers behind her passion for teaching music theory and details of her theory courses below.
Lona, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a composer and pianist from the UK and own and operate the Totnes School of Piano (both online and offline) and the School of Music Theory for online courses. I’ve been teaching piano, theory and composition for 26 years, both privately and at local schools and universities. I have always had a passion for learning and have a silly number of music degrees (Lona has a joint undergraduate degree in piano performance and music theory, an MA and PhD in music composition and a dual MFA in improvisation and electronic composition!). I love teaching and find that it informs my own creative musical practices.
I have attended several of your online courses and have really enjoyed them. It’s clear that you have a real passion for teaching music theory. Can you tell us a bit more about the courses that you offer through the School of Music Theory?
I started the School of Music Theory in 2019, and since then it has developed two different strands of learning. The one that I feel most excited about is applied theory – that is, theory that is taught as part of musical practice. I have a course called The Complete Musician where we work on daily sight singing and ear training along with keyboard harmony skills and twice weekly sight reading pieces. The course is designed to develop strong musicianship and sight reading skills along with an understanding of music theory that is linked to musical practice. I have found that basic concepts of theory are more meaningful when applied directly to music-making.
I am launching The Complete Musician again in January, 2022, with a free “Music at Sight” workshop. If you want to take the free workshop and learn more about The Complete Musician, be sure to “like” my School of Music Theory business page on Facebook where I keep everyone up-to-date on such things.
The other strand is what I like to call “deep dive” music theory. This is theory as we traditionally find it – working on understanding chord progressions, learning principles of voice leading, four part writing, motivic development and formal constructions of music. I was asked by School of Music Theory students early on to help them with the first 3 questions of the ABRSM grade 6 music theory exam. These 3 questions emphasise compositional skills like harmonization, four part writing and melody writing, so I created the Grade 6 Composition Courses, which run twice per year in March and November.
I will be opening enrolment in late October for the Grade 6 Composition Course, with a free workshop on harmonization and how to write good chord progressions. Again, just “like” the School of Music Theory Facebook page to be informed about this workshop.
I am also excited to tell you about a course I am running this term called A History of Chords – a unique course that blends harmonic analysis and music history. The course focuses on analysing well-known piano pieces, and it will run in 2 parts. Part 1 focuses on Baroque and Classical music, including music from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart’s Turkish Rondo and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Part 2 focuses on Romantic music, including Schubert’s Gb Impromptu, Chopin’s E minor Prelude and Brahms’s Intermezzo in A.
What is the key driver behind your passion for music theory?
My own experience of learning music theory, and what that did for me as an undergraduate piano performance student, is the main driver behind my passion. I entered my undergraduate studies completely focused on piano performance and piano pedagogy. I had to take music theory and ear training courses as part of the programme, but quickly found that studying music theory had the unexpected effect of improving my sight reading. This was utterly delightful for me because I was, up to that point, a terrible sight reader and felt embarrassed about that. For me, music theory was the key that unlocked sight reading and gave me a more reliable memory in performance as I became a much better interpreter of music. I found that I could discuss music in greater depth, because I could articulate the nuances of musical language, and started composing longer and more serious piece. So, I found my music theory education to be transformative in what felt like a magical way.
I have witnessed this kind of transformation in others, and find that even more exciting! Studying music theory is learning to get to grips with the grammar and syntax of musical style, and that really does open so many musical doors. It’s like developing a super power (and who wouldn’t be excited by that!).
How would you describe your teaching style, both for your instrumental learners and your music theory students?
I try to bring energy and a sense of curiosity and fun to lessons. I also try to keep things simple. Playing music, composing music, analysing music – these are complex practices that involve layering different concomitant musical skills, so I am a big believer in small but simple and consistent teaching, and to foster a sense of ‘I can do this’ in students, even when things become more ‘involved’. I think one of the biggest barriers for students that I encounter is the feeling that something new is too difficult – confusing the newness of something with the feeling that it is too difficult or out of reach. As musicians, we are always cultivating something new, so learning not to fear the new and unknown, but to embrace it, is something I aim to develop in lessons. Then music becomes always joyful, always interesting, always adventurous and a reward for the curious.
What would be your key piece of advice for musicians?
I want to quote another musician here:
“Play what you don’t know”
In this quote, Sun Ra is addressing improvising musicians and urging them to seek new sounds and new ideas in music, to transcend the boundaries of what they already know in music. I think the spirit of this advice is spot on for me – cultivate a sense of curiosity about the new, even with music that you have known for a long time! Seek to always stretch yourself as a musician.
Finally, you and your partner are both composers and sell a variety of compositions through your website pinkpianopress.com. Why Pink Piano Press?
In 2016, I painted our littlest piano pink. The Totnes School of Piano threw a pink piano party in our sitting room instead of holding a formal end-of-year recital. Everyone wore pink, and we served pink food and pink drinks. We thought students would have fun with performance if they were playing on a pink piano at a pink piano party! The pink piano is a symbol of fun and creativity, and it is the inspiration for the Pink Piano Press.
My partner, Sam Richards, and I are both pianists and composers, and we both recently started writing piano music for students and amateur players. Sam wrote a delightful set of modal pieces, called 14 Modal Melodies with Drones. I wrote a set of pieces inspired by vampire films, called Scenes from a Vampire Movie. I was inspired to write these filmic pieces for my younger sister, Holly, who is an amateur piano player, as a way for us to connect during the pandemic.
I am delighted to say that we are also featuring student piano music written by two of our own teachers! William Callaway was the choir and band director when I was in middle school, and he encouraged my early explorations at the piano. He gave me opportunities to accompany the choir, to play solos at school concerts and encouraged me to develop creatively at the piano. I’m thrilled to feature some of his piano miniatures. Again, these are at a level suitable for late elementary/early intermediate piano students. And Sam has a piece of music given to him by his teacher at the Guildhall School in London, Alfred Nieman. It’s a delightful suite of 3 piano pieces at grade 1 level, and it’s called Where I Live.
I am also just finishing a grade 5 music theory curriculum, and that will be available on the Pink Piano Press website this month.