We all looked like we'd just gotten out of rehab. Excited, but uncertain what to do with our newfound freedom.
If I had to guess, I think an awful lot of us were thrilled to be on the receiving end. Of anything. Someone else was going to make our beds, cook our food and most important: think interesting thoughts for us. Tell us what to do.
Some teachers belong to a teacher's organization like the Music Teachers National Association - whose convention I just attended. Thousands, maybe millions more do not.
As a group, we are desperate to know what we're supposed to be doing. There are so many options. As quickly as possible, and perhaps by last Wednesday should I:
- Incorporate more technology into my studio?
- Specialize in teaching students with special needs?
- Teach jazz and improvisation?
- Put my students into competitions and auditions?
- Stop putting my students into competitions and auditions?
- Teach my students to compose?
- Let my students have keyboards?
- Insist my students immediately get acoustic pianos?
- Start teaching preschoolers? Adults? Dogs?
If you think about it for even one second, it's impossible to do all these things. Which brings me back to what we all need to hear. Be yourself. Do what you love. Elissa Milne has already written so eloquently about our need for permission.
I think it goes even deeper than a need for permission. I see teachers everywhere almost embarrassed to bet hemselves.
Here's a short list of things that may (or may not) surprise you. I am embarrassed about none of them.
- My students rarely enter competitions. They don't participate in Certificate of Merit, the massive California audition program. (Ironically, though I judge the Panel and Young Artist Divisions every few years, I'm not qualified to be an Evaluator at the lowest levels. There's a class I would have to have taken.)
- I don't enjoy teaching super-talented kids who want to be concert pianists. I often coach these students of other teachers, sometimes on a regular basis, but I refer all of them to colleagues who love them.
- I hate teaching preschoolers. I love preschoolers but can't abide teaching them. Put them in a group and you'd have to put me in a strait jacket.
And there's the rub. We need to stop assuming that everyone else is doing it right. Yes, there is plenty to learn. But being ourselves isn't something we can learn from anyone else.
Many years ago I was studying with Leonard Shure at Peabody Conservatory. (He was teaching for Leon Fleisher who was on leave to return to two-handed playing. I would never have actually chosen to study with him. It was bait-and-switch.) Shure was trying to convince me to do a particularly insane phrasing in the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto because of his interpretation of a phrase marking.
"That makes NO sense to me," I flatly informed him.
"That's exactly why you must do it!" he replied deliriously, as if suddenly decoding the mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls. "You must do what the composer intended, especially when it makes no sense to you."
That, in a nutshell, is everything I hate about the tradition of "great" piano teaching. Pay no attention to what you feel. You couldn't possibly have an opinion worth paying attention to. Someone else is the authority. This person may change from time-to-time, but it will never be you.
Perhaps that's why I loved studying with John Perry. His teaching can be summed up by my favorite quote from him.
"Diane, it doesn't matter if it's 'right' if you F*&# it up every time!"
Here's my advice:
Please, do or don't teach teenagers who only want to play pieces by from the movie Frozen. Do or don't enter your preschoolers in baton-twirling competitions. Do or don't teach jazz to dyslexic adults with hearing loss. Do or don't do incorporate yoga, Alexander Technique and Reiki Healing into each and every lesson.
Figure out what you think. What you want. What you love. It's what you'll do best.
And that's exactly why you have to do it.