When one has been a piano teacher
, or any kind of teacher for a while, particularly a long while--say 12 years--there comes the time when a student leaves.
This week I have 60 students; the number fluctuates a bit week to week, but I have had 60 or more throughout most of this year. I am just looking at my weekly schedule, of these 60, about 20 are new this year, the remaining 40 have been with me longer. Of this latter group, I would say 17 have been with me for many years--and this could be as many as 6, or even more. This is a business, in addition to anything else, and without the foundation of returning students, I would be doing something different.
Unlike those who teach classes, a teacher of private lessons develops a special rapport with his students: over many years of collaboration we work through pieces and examinations, and the emotional toil that is requisite. With some, the interaction of our personalities inevitably produces an admiration and affection.
A recent leavetaking, of one with me for 7 years, took me to his home instead of the lesson, for dinner and drinks. He was retiring, and moving west to Vancouver. He paid me the greatest compliment a student can make a teacher: he would always play; he had bought a grand piano to exercise his passion.
He had forgotten I am allergic to shrimp, so I got to eat all the smoked salmon. O yes, and we got drunk, too.
This week, two children have decided to stop. One was not unexpected, but the other, well, I suppose it was in the cards.
The first, not with me a year, had been OK for the progressive method books, but when I changed his piano teaching books recently, and the teaching that goes with it, it was evident he was not prepared for this kind of work. His mother, a student of one of my colleagues for a short while, had been encouraging me to graduate her son from the beginner's program to something more substantial; so I did.
Some students take well to this change, some do not. Some are willing to, less because they enjoy it intrisically, but because of the rapport we have--hoping, of course, that after they become more involved, with a greater skill to draw their own joy from it, they will develop their own interest, if not passion--as with anything they study.
I tried to motivate him--although I dislike working at that as a separate subdivision of pedagogy: I discussed it in terms of sports, most of my boy students understand that analogy to some extent, at least to the need for practice, and the joy of the exercise of skill. I discussed the pleasure I derive from it. I pointed out the prizes he could win from our annual Practice Challenge (planned for this time of year just to catch this sort of thing). I made quite clear what he was expected to do. But I am fighting the busy world that exists around us, and any requirement for practice--the essence of the change in his teaching--that flys in the face of it.
The other student I lost this week is quite different, though it was precipitated by the same event. I had taught this boy for several years, coached him through a conservatory exam and a competition. I had taught his sister, and gotten to know his mother and father rather well. As a school, we had accomodated his, and his sister's changing schedule of extra-curricular activities--not easy when our schedule casts in concrete July 1st, and basket ball, tap dance, computer classes, gifted classes, change as late as October and November, and occasionally
As is usual in the case of a student who is defecting, it does not come completely unexpectedly. It was clear he was not going to do either an exam or a competition this time. That's fine. But I thought we could make it through to the end of the year. Sadly, no.
I have grown close to this student in the past years--we are alike in many ways, right down to the varied interests, and desire to talk about them--and it was hard to watch him come to lessons, but not be happy about it, out of duty to his parents, and, I like to think, a desire to see me. We continued to have a good relationship, but it was clear, that after having given piano a good effort over years, it was, as his mother said in her call, that his interests had moved to to other things--some of which I had shared over the years; this is what made it hard.
Our annual Practice Challenge, which is designed to encourage flagging spirits, and re-energize the practice batteries is something we do at this time of year; it can be almost the last straw. I also have a make up for missed lessons scheduled this coming Sunday for these two boys. It was just too much.
I am sad for the loss of both these students.
The former, I fear, may be one of those who never spend enough time at anything to develop an interest strong enough to weather the storms of advertising and fashion--though I hope I may yet be proven wrong, I see too many children who are on their way to that dispite the best I can do.
The latter, I know, will find, is already finding, deep and abiding interests that will anchor him against all that buffets us in the world. There is only so much a piano teacher can do--and I think I have done it.
Yet, there is a feeling of real loss attached to the second one. Music is not all that I am about, though it is the reason I see my students in the first place; sometimes I believe my being with them is an experience for good in their lives. I am no psychiatrist, but I am reminded of the notion of transference, and also, counter-transference; it allows me to step back from what I do, and be a professional.