6 months ago I took a risk with my young musicians. I asked them directly for an opinion. I was keen to find out what they thought of me and the other music tutors. Some of the comments were put on the website, others were stored in my memory for use at dinner parties.
When you introduce yourself to a child you are greeted with complete honesty. They are either openly delighted to meet you, a little nervous or completely bemused. When I was younger I made decisions about ‘grown ups’ the second I laid eyes on them and my opinions of those people now that I’m an adult have not shifted far from my first impressions. I still think my first piano teacher has the largest eyes I’ve ever seen and looks much as though she’s about to cry even when she’s enjoying herself. I liked her because she was quirky and for some reason, even at 5 years old, I was intrigued by what she had to say. She also made me laugh, and that was very important. She once wrote in my practise book ‘Susanna is a very talented Musician’ which amused my mother, considering I had yet to master ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ played hands together.
Nowadays, when I tell someone that I teach piano it immediately conjures up a memory. ‘Oh really! I learned piano as a child. My teacher had an enormous be-hive and constantly blew her nose. She wore yellow shoes every day for 7 years and gave me a Kit Kat every Christmas. Music teachers are a certain breed and it would seem we remember them with either complete revulsion or adoration. I rarely come across people who thought their music teachers ‘normal’. Mine were all a little extrovert, at least 106 years old wore brightly coloured tights and cardigans.
The image of a stereotypical music teacher has changed dramatically since then. Most I meet in the Brighton and Hove area are polar opposites of how I remember my teachers to be. They play in bands, stretch their repertoire over numerous styles and perform as much as they teach. They write their own material, have opinions about everything musical and cant wait to share the skills they’ve been blessed with. I’m sure mine did too, but for some reason they never thought to tell me about it.
There were some very amusing testimonial slips returned from the youngsters. Some quite obviously thought they would gain extra gold stars for their flattery. One young lady referred to my being sad when she didn’t do her practise. One said I pulled a very wonky face when I played ‘War Drums’ from book 2. Another said I put them off when I sang along to their pieces. My personal favourite was as follows:
Susanna doesn’t have any pets at all! We have a rabbit and 2 guinea pigs. I love my piano because I play my favourite songs but sometimes I need more stickers.
It is heart-warming to hear feedback from your pupils. To set a child on a musical path that they enjoy whilst instilling a desire to improve and progress, ensures that whatever they say once they have grown up (about your hair, your rules, your wonky face), they’ll be looking back as musicians with fond memories. Everyone’s a winner!