Monday, September 17, 2012

{piano teachers & piano students}


Starting in grade two, I went across the street to the church during lunch hour every Tuesday for my piano lessons. My piano teacher's name was Maylene, and I adored her.

No, you read that wrong. You read it like, "adored." I mean, though, "adored."

Because school was for me, at best, tricky. I wasn't the prettiest or the coolest or the most athletic--I learned that right out of the gate. I wanted to be the best at something, but I wasn't the best at anything. If anything, I thought, I was the very worst.

I went to my lessons a half hour early and would sit on the steps outside the sanctuary and eat my lunch there and read a book. At 12:30, Maylene would call me in and I came, with my pink beginner books in a quilted red case that my grandma had sewn for me.

(It had my name on it in glitter glue.)

I remember the way she made me play it again if I played it wrong, and the way she knew I wasn't counting sometimes even though I said I was, and the way she could actually tell if I'd practised that week or not. I remember the way she got more excited than even I did when I finally understood something for the first time, and the way she was so happy to reward me when I finished a book or learned a hard piece - just seemed happy to see me each week. I remember how she made me feel like I was the best student she had, and I remember so looking forward to that half hour every Tuesday. I remember practising so hard because I wanted to impress her so much. I remember feeling important and loved and talented.

And I remember once coming to my piano lesson in tears, because a boy had told me that I had big ears and would never be pretty. It's funny, because I don't remember what Maylene said to me or how she handled it, but I remember leaving feeling better.

I'd actually forgotten that last one until this past year when one of my students came for his lesson, threw his backpack on the floor, slammed his elbow as hard as he could on the lower end of the piano, making a terrific minor-sounding noise, and burst into tears (school is not easy, i don't think, for anyone all of the time).

I don't remember what I said or how I handled it, but I absolutely remember, only a few minutes later, when he wiped the snot and tears off of his face and gave me the biggest smile I'd ever gotten from him.

"You gonna be ok?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," he said, beaming.

And it was just such a little moment, but suddenly I remembered my own moment like that with my piano teacher and it was like Lion King circle of life stuff, piano teacher edition. I wanted to run back home right then and give maylene a hug.

I'm teaching my first couple of piano lessons of this school year today.

I'm so ready for it. I've missed the small, strange people who come pounding up my porch steps at their appointed times, with their big personalities and little quirks and superhero backpacks. I've missed hearing about his day at school or her weekend with her grandma, his immense frustrations with a teacher at school, her awards and good marks. I've missed the kid who saves me cookies from his lunch, clenched tightly in a sweaty palm for who knows how long, melty and sticky, and excitedly watches me eat every last bit because he knows how much I love chocolate. I've missed the one who can't sit still (but tries to really, really hard), and the one who secretly makes me necklaces out of paper clips at his desk during school, and the one who wants to learn songs about six grades ahead of her level instead of this little kid music, and who learned the first six bars of Fur Elise by ear in a week just to prove to me that she could.

I love this job.
Because I love these kids.


  1. I had three different piano teachers and I loved them each differently, but genuinely. I remember thinking my second teacher was weird at first because when she asked me a question she would look right at me never moving her eyes, waiting for my answer. I wasn't used to an adult not impatiently glancing away when I didn't answer them right away. I learned to look forward to her undivided attention.

    I wish my girls could have you for a piano teacher, we live in a busy city with a great music program at a local university, but it lacks that sense of homeyness that I used to love from visiting my teacher's homes.

    It is so great that you are a soft warm place for your students, you are right, school is not easy for anyone all the time.

  2. Suzy, I think you are fantastic - this made tears come to my eyes, and made me giggle because my kids wonder how THEIR teacher can tel that they didn't practice, even when they say they did!
    Have a great day!

  3. Tell her that she can learn the FULL fur Elise by ear because that's how I did it. That music was hard to read. I swear. I love that you're a piano teacher. You're doing such great work in children's lives!

  4. I love this blog post.

  5. I love music, and I love playing music. I was one of those kids that said I practiced.. when I never did. And I never wanted to practice FOR anyone, since the only motivation to was so they wouldn't admonish me for not practicing. I always waaanted to look forward to my private lessons, but I just always felt like a failure when I left. Sometimes I think that if I'd had a "nicer" teacher that I would now be able to play so much better. But I think that's an excuse. (ha)

    But you seem so perfect for being a teacher of any sort, especially piano since music is totally you.

    You feel music. I read your concert posts but didn't comment because I was in a hurry, but I LOVE PEOPLE WHO FEEL MUSIC. I love when you can just sit and soak it in.. and you're not sure if your heart is beating, or if it's the music making it so. It's awesome. Anthony and I try and see bands as often as we can because it's a soul thing and soul things are God things and God things are things I want more of in my life. And for me it starts with music.

    ANYWAY, that was a long winded thought, but all that to say... I'm so glad you're a piano teacher. Those kids don't know how good they have it.

  6. aw. I think it's so awesome you teach the piano! I would love to teach kids like creative writing or something someday. Is that crazy and far fetched? I just think it'd be so fun!

    anyway, I remember when I was younger, my best friend was always forced to take piano lessons and she HATED it. And I was always so jealous of her, because I've always wanted to learn how to play the piano.

  7. I love this, Suzy. I was a huge music nerd in school and violin practice was one of my favorite things. <3

  8. I was wondering when you were starting lessons again. I've said it before, I'll say it again - you have a gift with those kids who are hard to handle for others.

  9. Beautiful. I can't play anything, even though we had a piano at home. And a guitar called Samantha. But I remember badly wanting to impress my art teacher.

    I also remember how horrible my Brownie leader was, how bad she made us feel about ourselves, so while I like to think she was the exception, I believe your students are really lucky to have such a kind and excited and supportive teacher as you.

  10. Beautiful amazing post! I miss piano lessons so much! My teacher could make me feel exactly that way too! (even though I was a bit older) just the same she let me be myself and was always happy to see me. She made stress melt away.
    You have an amazing job Suzy! What blessing those kiddos are to you, and you to them!

  11. This sounds awesome. Music gets people together, and I am sure you will bring a smile to each of your students.

  12. What a great honour for you to be able to teach these wonderful children. And for you to pass on your life experience, or just offer that "yeah, I totally know how that feels". I wish I lived nearby so I could have piano lessons with you!

  13. i loved all the comments on this post. you guys are so fantastic. :) thanks lots.

  14. I just melted with tears in my eyes and I love this so much. I love this a LOT. Thanks for sharing this part of your life with us.

  15. Hey ! Awesome post about piano teaching and i think this is great thing in every person life and i always appreciate with this blog writer. and want to say him/her Thanks for share this ezxcellent post ...


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