Archive for the ‘parents and music’ Category

With the financial cuts being made in schools, it’s quite scary being a public school music teacher.  Classroom teachers are being fired, classes are over flowing, and programs are being cut.  Since the arts are not mandated in the state of N.Y., they are the first to go.

I am the first to admit that academic subjects are vital.  But speaking very broadly, those subjects feed the left brain.  The arts nurture the right brain.  Plainly stated, we need both.  Please write your congressmen to  support education.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the arts are valued.  Even if my music position is cut at school, I would be fortunate enough to continue earning an income through private piano lessons. Because of my community in which I live, I will always be in demand. But for those families who cannot afford private lessons or lack insight to the arts, their children may not have the opportunity to develop the right brain as much.

Math and science nurture the brain.  Music and art nurture the brain and the soul.

Should music continue in our schools?  It’s a no brainer.



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The attached article deals with a topic I especially have trouble- making up piano lessons.  Teaching piano is such a joy!  The lessons bring beautiful children and loving families into my home.  Our relationships become very close and I often think of the kids as my own.

But there is a fine line when mixing business with friendships.  My policy clearly states that I offer make up lessons only for sickness.  I also give parents a copy of my schedule so they have the option of trading lesson times with another student.  Even with this, parents are constantly asking me to make up their child’s lesson.

I love the families with whom I work.  I don’t want to have hard feelings or lose their friendships.  But when a parent asks to have their child’s lesson made up it is very uncomfortable.

The Suzuki parent who wrote the article below, I think, says it well.

If you are a piano parents or teacher, please read and pass along.


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In the past, I have kept a wooden box of chocolates by the piano for the kids to treat themselves after their lesson.  Lately I think I will also have a box of tissue.

Yesterday I had lessons with a brother/sister team.  The kids had a grandmother that was quite musical and the children’s mother is probably more musical than she admits.

The mom is very conscientious in practicing with the children and they always come to their lessons very prepared. Well, I guess the kids had a rough week of practicing.  The boy was working on a Bach minuet and hit a mental block and his sister was having a difficult time keeping all the songs in the Suzuki Book one memorized since she is a real visual learner.

As always, the kids played very well at the lesson with no hint of having had a stressful week.  After the lessons, the mom broke down in tears.  She was overwhelmed with pride.  The hard work not only paid off for the kids, but also for the hard working mom/coach.  She was crying for the children’s success and for the loss of her mom knowing how her mother would have loved to be experiencing her grandkids.  It was quite touching.

This is not the first time I have had a mom cry during a lesson.  I have had parents cry out of appreciation for what I have done for their kids, I have had them cry out of frustration implementing the role of the home coach, and mostly, I have had parents crying out of pride.  I have sat in that parent chair with my own kids and know those tears well as I have shed them for all the same reasons.

Parenting is not an easy job.  It is certainly the hardest job I have ever had.  But, when one enters the job with their heart and soul, the benefits are many.  Being a Suzuki parent takes perseverance and patience. It taxes the relationship at times and it enhances the relationship at other times.  My number one advice to a Suzuki parent is be consistent and never give up.

I offer my students chocolate at my piano lessons.  I offer the parents chocolates, tissues, and love.

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Being a Suzuki teach, I have group nights once a month where students and their parents gather for an informal performance.  The students are expected to play a minimum of one memorized piece but I keep the atmosphere relaxed and non threatening.  In doing so, everyone looks forward to these nights.  The students don’t get uptight about performing and the parents like seeing the progress of all the players.  Everyone likes the social time that follows.  Because we gather each month it is comfortable and familial.

Last week I hosted my second annual ‘parents only’ night in my piano studio.  Instead of coming as a family and having performances, the parents came as adults, not parents, for  wine,  imported cheeses and candlelight.  It really was so nice to relax as a group and chat about topics other than music.  It gave me the opportunity to hear about their jobs, interests,   and how they fit into our community.  It gave them a chance to get to know me other than as a teacher.  It also gave the opportunity for them to talk about their child without their child at their heels.

The parents in my studio are very loyal as piano coaches at home, come to all lessons, and support my instruction.  It felt good to be able to do something nice for them, to let them know how much I appreciate their efforts.  It enhances our working relationship.

As adults, we continue to thrive on positive reinforcement.  Three years ago I had a principal at school who was a top notch leader.  He was professional, kind, interested in each one of us and made each of us feel very valued.  In turn, I found that I worked very hard to please him (I also did it to please the kids and myself) because I wanted him to be proud of me.

Not bad motivation.  Do something nice for someone today.

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When I was a teen the last thing I ever wanted to do was practice piano.  I vowed I would never make any child of mine take piano lessons nor would I ever teach piano and make other kids suffer the purgatory  in which I was trapped.

Many years later………….. teaching piano is the most rewarding part of my life.  I also teach public school general music and enjoy that, but the piano lesson are what I would love to be doing full time.

I left public school teaching while raising my own children and opened a big piano studio.  The only stress in the situation was that I was teaching at night and lost  family time.  Our school district would not allow students to be pulled out for piano so I would start my teaching day when kids were out of school and my husband came  home.  In retrospect, I was with my own children all day and my husband was with them in the evenings so I feel we really gave all we could, but it was hard for us not to be together as a family very often.

During that time, I realized the little professional acclaim the general public had toward piano teaching.  I sometimes felt like I was looked upon as uneducated because I was at home teaching piano rather than being in the work force.  I think many viewed teaching piano as just a hobby one does if one knows how to play rather than a profession that I was able to do because I had a masters degree in music education.  I often found myself explaining that I was taking a break from teaching public school so they would at least know that I went to college.

I am writing with this purpose:  If you are pursuing piano lessons for yourself or for your child, check the credentials of the teacher before beginning.  Many teachers actually believe they are qualified to teach because they took lessons as a kid.  Not only look for a music degree, but the teacher should also have  a concentration in piano.

Another decision to consider is finding a piano teacher who not only has a degree in piano, but also in education.  A music student can attend college as an education major or performance major.   Being a performance major is a very demanding job.  The performance major builds skill and technique to the maximum.  To be a music education major with a concentration in piano is less demanding in practice, however the teaching component  is added.  Which route you choose in deciding on a teacher is a personal decision.  The music education major will know how to work with children, but may have less skills than a performance major.  This by no means implies that a performance major cannot have both piano skills and an understanding of children.

When looking for a piano teacher, look for someone who is doing it as a profession, not as a hobby.  Check the teacher’s credentials, talk to parents and students who work with that teacher, and even ask to sit in on some lessons before agreeing to join their piano studio.  See how the teacher interacts with the students.

When music is approached as a  discipline, one will be successful.  Only a qualified teacher is able to facilitate this goal.

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With great sadness I write that the Suzuki institute in Kingston, Ontario Canada has come to a close.  For over 30 years it has provided children and their families a loving, caring haven where students, teachers and parents shared music and much, much more.

I received a letter and phone call with the news about 3 months ago.  Although I saw it coming, I did not want to believe.  I called one of my colleagues to commiserate but other than that, I could not talk or write about it.  Within the week letters from the other teachers started pouring in.  I even got 2 calls from families I had taught asking if it was really true.  Still, I was in denial .  I really expected a phone call saying that a savior had been found and the institute would continue.  But as hard as it was, I knew it was time.

Thanks to two extraordinary faculty members and many other volunteers, the institute pulled off a successful program last summer following the retirement of Carole Bigler and Valery Lloyd Watts.  Carole and Valery, the founders all those years back created a unique experience for families who attended.  Each teacher, hand picked from all over the U.S. and Canada,  created a diverse, cohesive curriculum bringing each child the best of the best.  We shared a common philosophy of education.  In all the places I have taught  I have never experienced the level of respect nor mastery as I had with this faculty.  I often joked that it was the Brigadoon of education.

In many ways  the institute formed who I am as a teacher and continues to remind me of who I want to be as a human being.  Obviously, our goal was to share music.  But what made the experience unique was that an even larger goal was to share love.  The success was that simple.  Each teacher demonstrated unbridled enthusiasm in and out of class.  Hugs to parents and children were constant.  Each lesson was steeped with creativity and laughter.  And as a faculty, we viewed each other’s talents in awe.  We worked together and played together and loved every minute.  The aura was contagious.  The children and families showed respect to each other, worked hard and applauded each other’s accomplishments.

Many educators and students never have such an opportunity.  I consider myself blessed.  To those who have attended the Kingston institute, I am sure you share my sentiments.  I will cherish the memories all my life.  I will also aim to be the best teacher I can possibly be.  Even more than that, I hope to aim to be the best person I can be in life.  So often when situations arise I think of what my colleagues would do.

All good things must come to and end.  This is a very sad ending.  But the faculty, families and memories will always have a special place in my heart.

What next?  I sincerely hope that the children who attended the institute will find other venues and continue in their musical journey.  As for me, I will continue to work hard for the children in my elementary school and my private piano studio.  I hope that I will be invited as a clinician for other institutes ( I will be in Virginia in March).  As for my colleagues, please know how much I value you.  May our paths cross again…

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Ah, summer!   No school, longer days, warm breezes, freedom.  Swimming, riding bikes, time with friends, bronze, healthy glow.  Time to read, time without a schedule, time to do absolutely nothing at all.

These are the thoughts I had as a child about summer.  Now that I am adult and a teacher my view hasn’t changed too much.  I add gardening, house cleaning, time with family to the mix.  But I am still on summer mode.  I can’t begin to imagine the word ‘work’ in conjunction with summer.  Since my husband is a teacher too, I have never had to think of summer in any other way than complete freedom.  Yes, I’m spoiled.

So, here in lies my question:  Should a child be expected to take summer piano lessons and maintain a practice schedule during the summer?  Good one, huh?

As an educator I say, ‘yes, definitely’.  As an educator I also say, ‘absolutely not’.   Now that I am teaching piano I love it when my students take summer lessons and practice.  Since summer is less scheduled, there is more time to practice and advance.  I am much more relaxed during my teaching and often extend the lesson time which accomplishes so much more.  During the summer I like to stray from the classical music and work with music the kids choose, work from a fake book, jazz,  and more technique.  It’s a time too where  I can chat a bit more with the child and their family before and after the lesson.  All in all, summer can be a time for strong musical growth.

Kids need a bit of structure.  Freedom is wonderful but an idol mind is not.  A diet of only TV and friends is unhealthy to say the least.  Parents need to moderate and encourage brain work.  Since music is a language, if it is not used it’s lost.  When a student does not take summer lessons, depending on the age of the child, it can take up to a month to retrieve skill and establish a practice schedule.

On the flip side of the coin, I believe children are scheduled  to the point of insanity.  There are so many opportunities:  sports, music, art, academics, volunteer work, part time jobs.  If a child doesn’t start a sport by the age of 5 it’s sometimes impossible for them to compete amongst their peers.  And if the child doesn’t practice 5 days a week he can be cut from the team.  With Suzuki education the norm is not unusual for a child to start an instrument at 4 years of age, giving them an edge among their peers.  Parents want their child to be well rounded and pile up the activities after school.  In some countries, children go to cram school after school hours.  In our village children hire tutors to raise their average in a certain subject.  Tutors are hired even if the child’s grade is in the high 90s so that the child may gain in class rank!  Children are scheduled to the point where meals are eaten in the car between activities instead of at a table with their families.

Does a child need a break during the summer?  Absolutely!  Even as an adult the thing I like most about the summer is not having a schedule.  It doesn’t matter what time it is, I don’t have to do anything routinely and spontaneity is my course.  Lunch with a friend on Friday, laps at the pool when I awake, in the mood to make cookies any time is possible.  I love it!  When I was growing up, my piano teacher did not teach during the summer.  I was so happy for that.  But then my mom would want me to continue to practice and I thought that was totally unjust.  Why could other kids just spend the whole day outside playing and I had to practice before I was allowed to go out? (I felt that way about doing chores too.)

So, I ask, should a child take lessons during the summer and be expected to practice?  My answer is a double edge sword.  As a teacher and parent I say that I see the benefits.  However, the child within me says kids need a break.  In doing so, I have offered my music families a 5 lesson session.  The deal is that they are to cash in on the 5 lessons from mid-June to the end of August.  When the child wants a lesson they call.  This alleviates working around vacations, kids not practicing and a schedule on my part.  Spontaneity is encouraged; parents are able to call for a lesson the same day they want to come.  With the 5 lesson expectation, kids maintain their abilities.  Notice I used the word ‘maintain’.  I don’t expect too much  progress in only 5 lessons.  If a family wants more than 5 lessons that’s wonderful, I am happy to accommodate.

I would appreciate some feed back on this topic.  Your thoughts?

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