More than a month passed between meeting my new piano teacher and actually starting lessons. That gave me enough time to retrieve my old keyboard stand from my parents' house, buy a bench and outfit the keyboard with some headphones.
I show up, armed with my old books, at the appointed time and wait in the hallway with a woman and her daughter, who was maybe seven. They're waiting for another teacher, who arrives. Their conversation makes it plain that this is the girl's first lesson after a summer break. It's a ridiculous thought — I don't even know what instrument she's here for — but I silently lambaste myself for letting my music lessons lapse as a kid. I'm 27 and this kid's undoubtedly more advanced than I am.
My own teacher arrives. She's a nice, warm lady and she greets me like an old friend. She asks how the rest of my summer was, whether I tried playing anything between meeting her and starting lessons. I'd been trying to work out a Bartok invention in my book just to keep my hands moving, but I don't mention it. I say I've been waiting.
"That's fine," she says. "We start today, officially."
She flips through the book. "What do you want to start with?" she asks. "Classical? Baroque?" Baroque; the mathematical precision of baroque music seems like a good way to get back into things.
She opens a minuet by Rameau.
There is obviously no one way to teach piano. My first teacher usually played a new piece through for me once, then had me start by sightreading the right hand, followed by the left. She started marking up the page if there was something she thought needed attention.
I don't have my first RCM grade 1 book anymore, but Aleksandra had to make so many notes on Mozart's Minuet in F Major that she had to start using different coloured pens.
My new teacher works differently; before having me play anything she points to different parts of the score and draws attention to certain things. This second phrase is similar to the first phrase until the last bar. Ignore these slur marks and play these four bars as one phrase; those are just the original violin markings. When they say to play the left hand quarter notes detached, they do not mean staccato. Here, let me 'change' the quarter notes in this first bar into eighth notes and eighth rests.
Only then does she say "OK, play the right hand." That goes fine, though she notes that my body should be looser and it would be better if I shifted the weight of my hand more evenly for a smoother sound. She has me play the left hand, on my own first and then while she plays the right hand. That goes OK, too. I debate telling her that I played through this once or twice when I first bought my keyboard five years earlier. I decide that it was long enough ago that I was now actually re-learning it, and keep my mouth shut.
She seems satisifed that I have enough to go on for the minuet for practicing at home, and flips to another piece towards the middle of the book. This is not one I learned as a kid, and it's not one I tried to play through as an adult. It's test time.
This time we start with the left hand, which consist almost entirely of quarter notes followed by a jump to the appropriate chord in the next octave. "It's a bit like Satie," she says. "He does this sometimes."
I dive in and play the low G followed by the G chord an octave higher.
"No," she says. OK.
"You entered the room," she continues. "You have to exit it." If I'd ever actually learned about arching, I'd forgotten all about it. I practice the first bar like that, again and again, until she's happy with the way my hand is travelling from one octave to the other.
The right hand is next, and it's all fine until I hit the end of a legato phrase and lift to start the next one.
"You need to raise your hand above the keyboard more." Noted. "Keep going." I go.
"Float," she says as the phrase ends. I "float." OK, that's better.
The half hour is up; she bids me farewell and moves on to her next student, who's been patiently waiting in the hall with her mother. The girl is five, maybe six. I assume she was either about to start learning note names or resume the Bach invention she'd left off with in the spring.
Between "floating" and the arcs between the left-hand octaves, my arms are all over the place. It took more than an hour of practice the day after the first lesson to get it feeling natural, but it feels natural now. So does the smoother weight transfer in my right hand in the first piece.
I averaged about an hour of practice per day that week. I wish I better understood the practicing thing as a kid, because the improvement and increased level of comfort with the pieces were obvious. I don't quite have them up to the proper tempo yet; given that, during our first meeting, she told me I needed to slow down I'm assuming that's going to be OK.
My husband surreptitiously took a photo of me with his iPad while I was practicing. I'm mid-octave arch with my left and mid-"float" with my right. I look ridiculous. And happy.