March 11, 2011

Piano Students Say the Darnedest Things


I taught pre-school for four years when I was in my 20’s and had the energy. I love those ages, but it’s been a while since I worked with a child under the age of five in private lessons.

Luciana is 4.  At her first lesson, she exploded into the house at the end of Michiko’s lesson. Michiko was wailing away on level 3 “Down By the Bay.” Luciana went shy. She watch with awe as Michiko packed up her music books and put on her coat.

Luciana and I sat down together. “Your grandpa calls you ‘Lu-chi.’ Is that what you want me to call you?” I asked

“I want you to call me Lu-see-ana, Lucy and Luce,” she informed me.

I made a note.

“I want to play big like that girl who was here first.” Luciana demonstrated with fingers flying above the keys culminating in a crash.

“How are you going to do that?” I asked

If I had asked a ten year old this question, she would have rolled her eyes and said resignedly, “By practicing.”

But Luci said, “I’ll need a book like she had.”

“Let’s start with you picking out an assignment book,” I said.  I have one of those long armed staplers just to make these little books in different colors.

Luci picked out a hot pink book and wrote her name on it. Watching her write her name gave me a chance to watch her small motor skills and to make a guess at where she was with understanding symbols.  It gave us a chance to talk about right and left hands.

I always make sure my student knows my name.  Parents don’t always think to inform them.  I write my name on the first page of the assignment book and my phone number next to it.  I tell my students they can always call me if they forget what to do or forget how to do it or decide they don’t want to do it or hate the music, or any reason at all.

(I had a student once who took that literally.  Amy called one afternoon and said,

“My mother’s not home, my sister’s talking to her boyfriend and I’m trying to do my homework.  What’s 7 times 6?”)

At Luciana’s next lesson, she told me her name was Sparkle.  She refused to answer to anything else.  The following week, she was Flower.

She came in with a handful of ratty looking tissues.  I put out a box of Kleenex.

“Do you want some fresh ones?”

“That’s okay,” she said.  “I need these because I have lots of boogers.”

I remember when Michiko was a tiny little girl.  Now that she is eleven, she’s the big girl.  She has developed something of a mystique in Luci’s eyes.  I think I will ask Michiko to tell Luci how she learned piano. That’s a conversation I look forward to listening in on.

One of my favorite stories from teaching stars a little guy named Reid.  He was a tiny kindergartener who walked into his lesson one day and handed me the check his mother had written for that month’s lessons.

“What is that?” he asked me.

“It’s a check,” I said.  “Your mother pays me to teach you to play the piano.”

Reid looked at me for a long time while he reflected on this new idea.  Then he smiled his charming smile and said, “Well that’s a pretty good deal for you.”

With the imaginative, funny and talented students I have had in nearly thirty years of teaching piano, it has been a pretty good deal for me.


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