Keys to success

Local piano instructor to showcase students’ talents at winter recital in Northern Liberties.

Showcasing local music students: Ian McGuire will host his Winter Piano Recital featuring his students in Northern Liberties on Sunday, Dec. 16. PHOTO: BOB LARAMIE

By Melissa Komar

If you’re looking to catch a complimentary concert this season, with music ranging from Star Wars songs to the Rolling Stones, look no further than the River Wards.

Northern Liberties resident and piano instructor Ian McGuire is hosting “Winter Piano Recital” in the Barthelemes Auditorium at the German Society of Pennsylvania.

The show will feature approximately 30 of McGuire’s students ranging in age from 5 to 40s.

This will be the first time McGuire, 35, has held a winter recital in Philadelphia since he started his career teaching, but he’s been organizing recitals since 2008 and he hosted a spring recital at the German Society this year.

“The first recital I did completely on my own with all my own students was in 2008, and I’ve done two recitals a year since then, one in the winter and one around the end of the school year,” he said. “All those recitals, I held outside Philadelphia in Willow Grove at Jacob’s Music. One year ago, I was gearing up for a recital there and, unfortunately the store closed.”

After the shock wore off, McGuire posted to Northern Liberties Facebook pages asking for recommendations for locations for a recital in the area.

The best suggestion was the German Society of Pennsylvania.

Located just two blocks from McGuire’s studio, it seemed fate had intervened.

“The facility is incredible. They have a top-of-the-line Bösendorfer piano. It’s an amazing, historic location,” he said. “I ended up doing my first recital there this past June and, it worked out incredible. All the families were floored by how beautiful the room was. Now my students know what to expect, they know the room, and they’re really pumped to come back here. It seems everyone has even stepped up their practice routine because this is the second recital in Northern Liberties. Hopefully, this is where it will continue to be.”

In addition to being the first winter recital at the new venue, it will be the first time adults play in one of McGuire’s recitals.

“I’ve always taught any age, but typically with the adult students, they have their own drive. They want to learn to play for themselves. And, maybe they’ll play for a couple friends at a party or something low-key,” he said, “but , the idea that they are going to prepare to play for a room full of people they don’t know, they’ve always sort of opted out. But, I was able to convince a really good portion of my adult students to perform and they will make their debut at this recital.”

Each student will play generally about three minutes, from solos, to duets with McGuire, to being accompanied by a live house band featuring Jeremy Worthington on drums and David Palan on bass.

And, while there will be some holiday songs reflective of the “winter” season, no genre is off limits.

Students will perform everything from classic, to jazz, to rock and roll, to pop, to Star Wars, to Charlie Brown songs, to Maroon 5, to the Rolling Stones, to the Beatles, to Stevie Wonder, to Chopin.

The recital really is a reflection not only of the students’ skills, but their interests, too.

“Every recital we’re preparing for, I always ask the students, ‘What would you like to play?’ And, we talk about everything we’ve worked on leading up to the recital and pick out the strongest piece they feel most proud of,” McGuire said. “This is a pretty good representation of what the lessons are all about. You see so much diversity with the song selections. And, it shows you how many different directions the piano lessons can go. Everyone’s path with music is so different. I think everyone’s journey is so unique.”

McGuire’s journey began in Elkins Park, where he grew up and began taking lessons at 6 years old and hasn’t stopped playing since.

He studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, with a focus on both piano performance and jazz composition.

While in college, he began teaching piano at the Advent Preschool in Boston.

“When you’re young and you discover music, the first you think about isn’t, ‘Ah, I can’t wait to teach this,’ ” he said, laughing. “You’re whole mentality is, I want to play that, I want to be onstage and be a rock star. But, while I was in college, I figured I’d give [teaching] a shot. …It was a lot of fun for me to try to teach other people to play music. And, I progressed from there.”

Upon graduation in 2005, he returned to Philly, teaching at Meridee Winters School of Music in Ardmore and the Music Training Center in Conshohocken until 2010.

From 2008 to 2010, McGuire began curating piano recitals for his private students and opened his own piano teaching studio in 2014 in Northern Liberties at Fourth Street and Fairmount Avenue.

“I chose Northern Liberties because I noticed a lot of people embracing this neighborhood who were looking to start families and it was an area where a lot of artists were already living in the neighborhood and it just seemed like a really cool area to bring some music education to,” he said.

And, now, Northern Liberties will have a chance to see some of those local students and artists perform.

“The recital is really important for the students’ development. It’s a way for the student, and the parents, and really anyone, to see progression of the student’s music ability,” McGuire said. “Sometimes without recitals, it’s harder to have goals. When a student knows on a certain date they are going to be walking up on stage in front of a packed room and playing something, I don’t really need to encourage them much more than that. They really want to put in that extra time so they are proud of it. It helps to keep my students motivated.”

And, while the recital showcases what each student is learning at lessons, it’s the students who drive the content of the lessons.

“My teaching approach has always been to customize my lessons for the students’ interests,” he said. “I’ve been way more successful to find out what each student really listens to and what music excites them and focus on that as opposed to saying, ‘Everyone should learn Beethoven and Bach.’ I really think everyone should, but maybe not right away. If some of my students are really into Star Wars, then let’s play some Star Wars songs.”

Northern Liberties-based piano teacher Ian McGuire will host his Winter Piano Recital at the German Society of Pennsylvania’s Barthelmes Auditorium, 611 Spring Garden St., on Sunday, Dec. 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. Local children, teens and adults will all take the stage and perform an eclectic mix of holiday, classical, jazz, pop, rock and original music. The event is free and open to the public. Soft pretzels and juice will be served. For more details, visit Ian McGuire Piano Studio on Facebook.