Sunday, August 22, 2010

Learning from the Piano

Many of us call ourselves "piano teachers", as though we were teaching the piano something. Recently I have been more interested in what the piano teaches me.

It was my good fortune to become the owner of a 6' Kawaii grand this summer. It was much loved by its previous owners, whose memories of a daughter's performances kept the piano alive. The daughter, unfortunately, is no longer alive. The piano wasn't being played by the bereaved parents, in part because of their age and physical pain, in part because of emotional pain. This odd-shaped container of strings and screws and bridges and blocks held more than the potential for sound.

It took it into my studio, and I took it into my heart. It has begun to teach me how to make it sing, different as it is from its predecessor. It has a voice that can be both muted and ringing, and it takes more coaxing, more finesse, more precision. For a while, I mistook these needs for stubbornness, and I took to an old habit of muscling my way through the music.

Mistake, big mistake. After one long practice session, I was more aware of my habit than I had been in years. I sat back and looked at the instrument, inside and out, and devised a more subtle approach, one that involved listening to its distinct qualities and playing them to the best of my ability.

Many years back, I tried this same habit in teaching. Surely a student with stubborn habits would get over them if I just insisted and insisted, if I muscled my way through the lesson.
All students could, would, should learn to play just the way I wanted them to play.

Mistake, big mistake. Every student has distinct qualities. Every student has a distinct voice.
Now I am more likely to sit back and look at the student, inside and out, and devise a more subtle approach. That is teaching to the best of my ability.

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