Faculty Spotlight: Abby Payne

Abby Payne is an active musician and performer around NYC, and 2015 marks her tenth year teaching at Church Street School.  This fall, you will find her teaching private piano and voice lessons. In the following interview, she discusses her training, unique projects, and her approach to teaching. Also, check out her videos below!

954770_10151593762948155_734406791_nGrace Rezendes (GR): What was your early experience with music? How did you start playing/singing?

Abby Payne (AP): I grew up in a very musical household, where music was part of our daily lives.  There was always someone singing, playing piano, or practicing some other instrument.  My older sister and I would harmonize on old hymns and pop tunes just for fun, and plinking around on our old upright piano was always a source of amusement.  We also often sang as a family at church events or at special holiday programs.  I played flute in school and sang in chorus, and our seasonal concerts were always an exciting highlight for me.

GR: Tell me about your music education.

AP: I sang and played as much as I could through high school, participating in NYSSMA concerts and singing at weddings and graduations. I went to SUNY Purchase, where I majored in jazz studies. I took piano with a wonderful teacher, Pete Malinverni, and met several talented classmates who I still perform with today.  I also started writing my own music while I was at Purchase, and made my first demo of original songs there right before I graduated.

GR: Can you tell me more about your recent show, The Gunfighter Meets His Match?

AP: “The Gunfighter Meets His Match” is a musical that I wrote (based on my recently released concept album of the same title).  I was very fortunate to collaborate with several talented artists on the project, and together we premiered the musical at HERE Arts Center in August.  Directed and choreographed by my friends Glitter Kitty Productions, the musical sold out all three nights.  We had a blast, and look forward to taking the show to the next level (a longer run in a bigger space, possibly with an expanded version of the musical).

GR: What are some other musical experiences/projects you’ve participated in? How did you get involved in those?

AP: I’ve had the chance to write and perform music for two Glitter Kitty Productions projects: The Kings Court and  the Devil’s Ballet. As I said, we are long time collaborators, but our bond was strengthened by The Round Table, a female artist collective of which I am one of the founding members. We meet fairly regularly and maintain a mission of support and collaboration amongst female artists.

I am often a guest vocalist at my friends’ shows, and am a regular back up vocalist for Pete Francis (of Dispatch). In July, I had the opportunity to sing back-up vocals with Dispatch at their two Madison Square Garden shows. This was made even more special by the fact that my husband, Kenny Shaw (also a Church Street teacher), was also playing drums at the shows.

GR: Any exciting upcoming projects? Where can we find more info?

AP: I plan to make some new music videos this year, and will be playing shows with my band around the city. I would also like to record some of the new songs I wrote for the Gunfighter musical. You can check out my website for info.


GR: Did you always want to be a teacher? How did you find Church Street School?

AP: I always admired teachers, but didn’t necessarily expect to become one… I started teaching lessons while I was still in college, so it was a natural progression. And I discovered Church Street through a Google search several years ago when I was new to the city and looking for more teaching work. I started teaching here in 2005.

GR: Talk about your philosophy and methods as a teacher.

AP: Each student is so different, so I try to help them develop and learn about what it is that draws them to music. I think it’s important to have discipline and a good practice routine, but I know that working on pieces that they love will help draw them to their practice, and inspire them to improve.

GR: Is there a difference in your approach when working with younger or older students?

AP: I think that there is a difference teaching every student, regardless of age. However, with older students, there is often more self consciousness involved. So, for voice lessons there is usually more work with getting rid of tension in the body to develop technique.

GR: How has your approach changed in the 10 years you’ve been at Church Street School?

AP: Since I am constantly learning myself, my approach has probably changed in many ways in the last ten years. I think I have become more patient, and I value listening and calm more than the more active high energy that I used to use when teaching.

GR: What do kids do better (or differently) than adults as music students?

AP: As singers, kids are usually a little bolder (but not always). They also carry less tension in their body, which makes it easier to develop good technique for voice or piano. On the other hand, adults usually have more body awareness, which makes it easier to communicate more complicated anatomical adjustments. Adults also often come with a very developed taste in music, and a list of songs that they are excited to learn, so that’s quite fun.

GR: What advice would you give to our students and their parents so that they’ll get more out of their lessons?

AP: I would advise students to set a regular practice schedule, even if it’s 20 minutes a day. Getting into a practice routine makes such a difference, and will definitely help you make the most of your lessons!

GR: How can a “non-artistic” parent support their child in their music development?

AP: The most important thing a parent can do is to show interest in what the student is working on, and to stay informed about his or her progress.  Helping a student develop and maintain that practice routine is also great!

GR: What makes Church Street School special?

AP: Church Street’s mission to share the joy of art and music with the community makes it a great place to grow and learn.  That positive energy allows students the freedom to explore their art in a way that truly inspires them, enhancing their lives as well as the community around them.


Check out Abby’s “Lost & Found” Music Video below!


Abby performing live in August!

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