In order to gain something, there are times when you have to let go of something. The question is, why is it so hard to let go? I think that, simply, it is because we are holding on tight.
Piano teachers are an interesting group. We see students in a largely one-on-one setting, and for most of these lessons, we are firmly “in charge.” It is unlikely that a student will raise his or her voice in challenge or storm out of the room. When we’re done for the day, our teen-aged child or toddler might do just that. But when we’re working, we are the “experts.” Our students generally really want to please us, and really crave our approval.
When I am planning to teach a class, sometimes I plan everything I am going to say, down to the word. One can’t really do that at a dinner party when feeling out of place.
There are aspects where one is downright floundering in life. It’s inevitable, I believe, whether we admit it or not. But we know that the wrist should drop and rise for a two-note slur. Or, we know for certain that the wrist shouldn’t move independent of the arm. We know that a student should play with the metronome. Or, we know for certain that metronomes kill a student’s internal pulse.
It is not surprising, then, that in the one area where we are “experts,” there isn’t always room for doubt. And yet, questioning is what the art of teaching is all about. I am not referring to the questioning about how an iPad can be used in a piano lesson, or wanting to learn the newest game. I’m talking about questioning. “I’ve done it this way for twenty years, but is it really the best way? Is there a better one?” Twenty-one piano teachers came to the New School for Music Study’s Practical Piano Pedagogy Seminar last week. They showed our faculty videotapes of their teaching. They played in private lessons and a masterclass At the beginning of the seminar, Marvin Blickenstaff gave a wonderful talk. He brought objects with him to illustrate ideas. Among these symbols, and an egg. The egg symbolized vulnerability. It is only through “breaking open” that we can experience growth. The participants were ready to grow, and so am I.
These thoughts are on my mind as we start a new academic year. Here’s to all of the surprising things that yield growth: failure, vulnerability, self-consciousness, true friendships and rebirth. I wish all who read this a stimulating teaching year!