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Although my educational background certainly helps, most of my best teaching moments are purely reached by spontaneity and luck.  (Note:  This post is duplicated under “Listening Brings Musicality” )

One of my students I acquired purely by being at the right place at the right time.  GG (I’ll call her GG because she is a gorgeous girl!) was in 8th grade ready to give up  taking piano lessons.  Her disheartened mother thought she’d give it one last chance and enrolled her in the Kingston Suzuki Institute for the summer hoping to peak her interest.  GG was placed in  my theory class and, little did I know, she was from my home town.  I had never met the family.  Well, she and I had a lovely week together and by the end of the week I was asked to take her on as a student.

We started working together that summer and 4 years later, she is getting ready to perform her senior recital.  The first couple of years she soared.  She loved the music I chose for her and the new ideas I brought to her playing .  In the next two years she was overcome by the rigor of junior and senior year classes.  Not only this, she excels in skating and running, so needless to say, her practice time dwindled.  We continued lessons with smaller accomplishments.  By October this year, she had chosen a college and I began to think about how we would finish her year. She had started with one of the pieces from Debussy’s Children Corner Suite  and she loved it.  Being a Suzuki teacher, I recommended that she listen as she learned.  She really loved the piece and wanted to learn others from the suite.

GG is a very good player, but, in my eyes, not  extraordinary.  I thought since it was her senior year it would be good to give a private recital, but I was unsure of her ability.  As she learned Doctor Gradus I discussed impressionism and related it to art.  As she played I began seeing painters works in my mind:  Monet, Dega, VanGogh.  So I mentioned that it might be fun to create a power point along with the piece that she could show as she performed.

The idea blossomed.  In two weeks GG will give her senior recital.  She has created visuals for the entire Children’s Corner Suite and perfected the pieces.  Now this is the really interesting part…….

To create the power points for each piece she researched artists,  impressionism, and had to listen to each piece a million times to make sure her frames of art for each piece were aligned perfectly as she played.  She used the CD to create these power points, which meant she was listening to concert pianists perform them.  From doing this her artistry in playing soared.  I am left breathless after she plays each piece.  Her nuances are perfectly executed.  Artistry is not an easy thing to teach.  Listening provides an insight to performance ideas.

She has decided to create invitations for her recital and create her own program with notes on each piece and her approach to her visual presentation.

Although GG is not going majoring in music during college, at her last lesson she said that she is going to continue piano lessons there.  What a surprise from a girl who was ready to quit 4 years ago!   She has loved our project and it has given her new insight to music.  Not only that, it has inspired her to continue her music education experience.

Think of her on May 30th as she performs her senior recital.

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Although my educational background certainly helps, most of my best teaching moments are purely reached by spontaneity and luck.  (Note:  This post is duplicated under “Combining piano lessons with art” )

One of my students I acquired purely by being at the right place at the right time.  GG (I’ll call her GG because she is a gorgeous girl!) was in 8th grade ready to give up  taking piano lessons.  Her disheartened mother thought she’d give it one last chance and enrolled her in the Kingston Suzuki Institute for the summer hoping to peak her interest.  GG was placed in  my theory class and, little did I know, she was from my home town.  I had never met the family.  Well, she and I had a lovely week together and by the end of the week I was asked to take her on as a student.

We started working together that summer and 4 years later, she is getting ready to perform her senior recital.  The first couple of years she soared.  She loved the music I chose for her and the new ideas I brought to her playing .  In the next two years she was overcome by the rigor of junior and senior year classes.  Not only this, she excels in skating and running, so needless to say, her practice time dwindled.  We continued lessons with smaller accomplishments.  By October this year, she had chosen a college and I began to think about how we would finish her year. She had started with one of the pieces from Debussy’s Children Corner Suite  and she loved it.  Being a Suzuki teacher, I recommended that she listen as she learned.  She really loved the piece and wanted to learn others from the suite.

GG is a very good player, but, in my eyes, not  extraordinary.  I thought since it was her senior year it would be good to give a private recital, but I was unsure of her ability.  As she learned Doctor Gradus I discussed impressionism and related it to art.  As she played I began seeing painters works in my mind:  Monet, Dega, VanGogh.  So I mentioned that it might be fun to create a power point along with the piece that she could show as she performed.

The idea blossomed.  In two weeks GG will give her senior recital.  She has created visuals for the entire Children’s Corner Suite and perfected the pieces.  Now this is the really interesting part…….

To create the power points for each piece she researched artists,  impressionism, and had to listen to each piece a million times to make sure her frames of art for each piece were aligned perfectly as she played.  She used the CD to create these power points, which meant she was listening to concert pianists perform them.  From doing this her artistry in playing soared.  I am left breathless after she plays each piece.  Her nuances are perfectly executed.  Artistry is not an easy thing to teach.  Listening provides an insight to performance ideas.

She has decided to create invitations for her recital and create her own program with notes on each piece and her approach to her visual presentation.

Although GG is not going majoring in music during college, at her last lesson she said that she is going to continue piano lessons there.  What a surprise from a girl who was ready to quit 4 years ago!   She has loved our project and it has given her new insight to music.  Not only that, it has inspired her to continue her music education experience.

Think of her on May 30th as she performs her senior recital.

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.

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.

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.

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…

Teaching public school music and piano lessons on the side, I see all varieties of students.  In school I see kids who love coming to music class, those who hate it, those whose work ethic is very strong and those who refuse  to do any work regardless of its variety.  When it comes to joining chorus, I hear a plethora of excuses:  I’m too busy, I need the study hall, my friends aren’t doing it, I’m taking band instead.  And then there are the more creative excuses:  we don’t have a car so I wouldn’t be able to come to the concerts, my mom doesn’t want me to join, and my all time favorite, my dad has polio so I can’t join.  Funny how no one’s excuse it, “I’m too lazy!”.

But my piano students are different.  They are all smart, work hard and love to come to lessons.  This year all but three of my students are in high school.  Many are also in band, orchestra or both.  I am always amazed how they can practice so many instruments!   Once a month I have a group night where I invite the families for a little, informal recital.  The requirements are that the pieces performed are to be memorized and each student is to play a minimum of one piece.  At the last group night almost everyone played two pieces and two girls even got together on their own and performed a duet.  I knew nothing about it!  The same girls also meet periodically to work on a piano duet that they are composing.

All my piano students really look forward to the group nights and so do the parents.  At school the kids are comparing their music and gear up for the night.  One of their friends in orchestra heard them talking about group night.  He also played piano and had been considering looking for a new teacher.  My students convinced him to call me.  Although the friend didn’t call at first, the kids bugged him until he did.  Usually I get recommendations from parents, or someone hears one of my students and asks with whom they study.  But I have never gotten a new student from peer pressure!

I have had one lesson with my new boy and I know he will work out just fine.  Everyone is excited to have him come to his first group night.  It is so nice to see teens embrace music and have fun in sharing it.  How can this positive, productive attitude spread among others?