Kevin is thriving as soon as I assigned him Nemo Egg, enlisting his mom for figuring out “what drummer he listens to.” He became animated telling me why he likes Mr. Newman’s solo from Finding Nemo. He has been very attentive and persevering so far, tackling all challenges I gave him, enjoyed reading about J.S. Bach, which led him to start working on the first invention in C major I assigned. He finished the early intermediate level piano method, when he stopped taking lessons and became “on his own” six years ago.
His visible outpouring of himself into music of his choice helped me understand how to nurse musical yearnings of teenagers and to prepare forErin’s first lesson. Erin is a friend of my middle child. I spotted her as a child who I could identify as myself or remind me of my first child, who are emotionally intense, sensitive, perceptive, and self-centered, as any dolphin type would be, one of the Four learner types I remember from my piano pedagogy class. Erin has been through some alarming incidents last year and recently I signed up helping her use piano for funneling her emotional energy daily. We got together last night. I found out that listening to Beethoven was the beginning of her interest for piano when she was 5-6 yrs. old, which I could relate with my own experience. So much for her mom’s worry that she is tired and bored of all classical music assigned by her previous teacher. We sat next to each other in the living room sofa to ponder why we play piano, using the tale of the goat-eared emperor’s barber who used the shouting pit to get the secret off his chest. Interestingly, reading Wikipedia article about Aesop’s fables while thinking about Erin’s lesson, I found out that the tale of goat-eared emperor is not an Aesop’s fable, , but a Serbian tale unlike I always thought relying on my memory for the Korean translation (in which it was a donkey-eared emperor, by the way). My fascination about what’s lost in translation, how or why Serbian goat became Korean donkey will have to wait for now.
Erin was very attentive throughout her lesson, even though I went dreadfully longer than she and her Dad expected. She will work on Beethoven’s For Elise and Imagine by Beatles, her musically “balanced diet”, or (in my terms) pulse music as well as breath music. She will also have lots of random but mindful listening for the next two weeks until we meet after she comes back from Florida.
Blum’s family is having their lesson in spite of all their scurrying around getting ready for their trip to the dream resort in Dominican Republic this week. Liz, the mom was able to luxuriate her hour-long lesson, going through the hymn “In the garden”, which she is excited about playing for her self-taught pianist Dad, Joplin’s Maple Rag, two other pieces from the method book, by Kabalevsky and Mozart. But, when Darren was summoned to piano, he looks clearly displeased by having been peeled off from the computer and the game he was enjoying. Over the past, Darren has burst into tears a few times at the piano. He is again about to, gripped with sadness and feeling cornered about mom not letting him stop, when he says he doesn’t have any interest in piano. Later, mom and his sister Amelia advise me that it’s typical of him begrudging every time facing to learn a new song, which I agree. Still, I decided not to persuade nor will this 7-year-old into toughening up. He was allowed previously to take a break, but resumed after attending his sister’s students recital last year. When I announce my opinion that he displays daily anxiety and stress, perhaps towards the stellar performances of his older brother (soccer and academics) and sister (swim and academics), weekend trips and constant schedules changes, not to mention his pressure to please/impress mom, Liz is not moved nor surprised. She is upset that Darren has to forgo his chance to learn his life skill of discipline. Maybe, her frustration is toward me not acknowledging her hard work propping him up for his lessons and practices to continue so far, instead, my discarding it at the drop of a hat.
I don’t see if it’s my place to argue with her about what is important for him at the present. On the other hand, my lingering thought is that there are other teachers who would wrestle or cajole through his lesson after lesson, so he could get it over with or grow out of it. What is the skill we are teaching as a result? I tell my students that music is all about emotion, food for feelings. “Music makes you feel and a song makes you feel a thought, as Harburg said.
Other piano teachers may find my decision odd, I suspect, instead of enlisting the parent to persuade and help the student pull through the lessons, I recommend them to let the student to “quit”. I feel good, oddly enough, about having stepped back when I realized that I could not teach what I signed up for. If I do, I’d teach or send a message which I don’t intend or have no control over. The next thing, he might say “The piano teacher made me do…” I wouldn’t want to force or manipulate him only to desensitize himself to survive the “discipline” of music week after week.
When they come back from the vacation, I may share with Liz about my experience with Kevin, a high school senior and the baby of the three Swanson boys, who has been begging his mom to resume his piano lessons after taking a long break and having spent years in the wilderness (on his own) trying to learn his favorite songs via YouTube tutorials. Or, I can simply state that I don’t think piano lesson is for teaching any life skills, without nourishing one’s soul. Even better, “Liz, am I teaching you any (life) skills? Or, am I teaching you for the pleasure, but Darren for discipline? I sense that you don’t agree with me. I don’t “make” you pay attention every day to how you count, hear, sound, let alone any other discipline, unless you “feel a thought” and understand the need for being mindful in your practice. What is it Darren’s missing if he decides that he doesn’t want it?” “Do you know what he’s losing if he ends up languishing or enduring what he doesn’t want to do?”
I probably wouldn’t say all that to her, but I look forward to speaking with her about how she can be mindful in her own practice benefiting from the “discipline” of yoga she greatly enjoys recently.