I’m home, sitting on the couch in our living room, which still doesn’t quite feel like our living room, after a lovely dinner prepared by Erik after my first day back at teaching. A good glass of red wine (from a bottle that was a gift from the Port Angeles Symphony last season) and “evening” jazz on KPLU have eased the rough edges of the day.
I started teaching about four years ago. I had submitted my resume to a local “school of music” - a.k.a. a lesson factory in a strip mall - for a spot as a voice teacher, when they contacted me about teaching piano lessons. What?! Are they crazy?! I am NOT a pianist, never was, never will be. But after talking with the man (who was desperate for another piano teacher!), I decided to give it a shot. When you’re talking about teaching 8-year-olds, it’s really just music lessons using the piano as a tool. You’re not trying to create the next Jay Greenberg or Lang Lang; at least I’m not. I figure the goal with piano lessons at this age is to teach music theory and basic piano skills while (hopefully) instilling a love of music-making that will stay with them into adulthood. I was surprised to discover that I loved doing just that. That I love music so much, and love my childhood music memories, that I really was able to help these children love it, too.
I taught lessons at the “school” for about two years. I had come to love teaching enough that I wanted to have a bit more control over my schedule, more importantly, over who I taught. So I started teaching out of my home last fall, many of my students having “defected” from the school to continue studying with me privately. There are a handful of students - well, no, I guess I’m down to one – who have been with me since my first day at the school, and it has been such a joy to watch them grow, as musicians, students, and people. The one student who is still with me won my heart one day in my first month of teaching. She kept asking questions about why music was dictated this way, and “why don’t they do it this way” and “what happens if…” After trying to placate her and give her answers that she could comprehend at that stage, I finally had to say “You know, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself! You’ll have to trust me on this one. Take my word for it for now, and in a few months we’ll get to the details.” She looked sheepish and said, “Yeah, I do that [get ahead of herself] sometimes. This one time, I was playing with my chemistry set, and I did some things way before I was supposed to, and the experiment didn’t work.” She was eight! I just wanted to hug her, she was so cute.
Then there was the little girl who came in for voice lessons, after struggling through piano for a few years. Her mother wanted her to have music lessons, but didn’t want to force it in such a way as to make her hate music (a good mom, in my book), so they had decided to give voice lessons a try. She, the little girl, loved to sing, but had recently started getting teased at school about her voice. A gorgeous child, and very smart, I imagine she is often a target of teasing, well-mannered or otherwise, from her peers. When I asked her to tell me why she wanted to take voice lessons (my first question to every new student), tears streamed down her cheeks and she stared at the ceiling as she talked of her love of music and singing. She didn’t say anything negative, no mention of teasing, but I could sense that she had been wounded. I had intended to take a trial lesson with her and then tell her mother that I didn’t teach voice to children, but I was won over. We’ve been working together for about a year and a half now, and she is really finding her voice, pardon the pun, including singing two songs at her brothers’ music recital. If there was teasing, I didn’t hear anything of it; I only heard how excited she was to share her music with her family. This year we’re adding some piano back into the mix; she’s also learning solfege sight-reading skills. Oh, and in the spring, she saw the Phantom of the Opera movie, and decided that “opera is pretty cool.” We talked a little bit about Phantom being a musical, not an opera, but I didn’t want to get all snobby on her when she was so excited about classical singing! Then this summer, she went to “opera camp,” sponsored by Seattle Opera. She went on a tour of the hall, saw the Rhinemaidens rehearse in their harnesses, and participated in a play version of The Ring. Now she’s a regular opera buff! How cool is that?!
Anyway… All this remiscing is due to the fact that today was the start of my last “semester” of teaching. After December, I won’t be teaching anymore. I’ll be traveling too much for work, and when I’m home I’ll have other projects that I need to be preparing. In fact, I don’t really have time to teach this fall, but I couldn’t leave my students in the lurch. Two weeks ago I gave everyone the option of continuing until December or calling it quits now, and all of them – including six brand-new students – have chosen to continue. I have such relationships with these families; two of my “piano moms” were also my students, which I thought set a wonderful example for their children. They grew to be friends, and their children came to be so dear to me. I will treasure every week I have left with them. I’m happy that my singing career is taking off, but I am sad to be starting an extended “sabatical” from teaching.