A SECRET AGENT

How do I see the process of teaching the piano?

What is it important for a new teacher to know?

The thoughts that follow are replies to specific questions. You will have to imagine the questions. This is good, because a teacher is always having to imagine the question that is lying hidden in there.

Actually it's harder to teach two lessons a week than 30, because each one becomes an event. Same with two performances a year.

I still don't know if I'm doing alright. But so long as I get that curiosity about the process and the people bubbling up, I reckon I don't go too far wrong.

Remembering is tricky. There are all the musical details to remember, and the notebook is just a cue.

Then there's remembering birthdays, exams, events, families, and (especially) rather subtle human kinds of things, so that the guy feels as if you really see him. This is like the subtext of music-making, that it is a place where people meet, and NOT AT ALL a technical process of one computer configuring another.

People need to feel seen and heard and met, because their families are so fucked up.

Like ours.

Fortunately, people will forgive you most things. But they need a steady sense that you're genuinely interested in them and their playing.

I think it pays, so far as possible, to be very sincere: to chuck out as much of the bullshit as possible.

And then, that conflicts with something else: that they often want the pet musician to slot nicely into a certain social role, which can get constricting. I find I have to be playful in this space: to cuddle down into it and make myself comfortable.... and then (like the family dog) to gently and persistently expand, so that the space becomes big enough for me to feel happy in, with my somewhat outsize personality.

Fortunately, people do feel cramped in being middle-class, to some extent: so that it also feels liberating for them, it has a certain freshness, that the person who represents music, art, self-expression, has a certain freedom of role, a quality of being larger than life, larger than the social tightness.

The teacher's freedom makes a certain freedom for the people. It tends to loosen the bonds of social convention, just a little.

Inside of that space, where they know that you know they are there, and they can feel you being a whole-sized uncramped human being: there they can go deeply into this wonderful space of music, and express themselves there.

One of my students was the overall winner of a music festival last Saturday, which helps me to feel confident that I'm doing something right. I still feel insecure, without some kind of quasi-objective feedback.

I never thought I'd get my life together enough, to get through the volume of stuff I get through nowadays. Though it's the same kinds of things that always fall under the table.

Hey, I haven't time to be chatting like this. I have to go see what I'm avoiding right now!

Hoping all goes well with you! It's nice to share some of the thoughts that have been building up in me all this long time!

12th February 2002

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