I remember the first summer of taking piano lessons. I was five years old, and my parents enrolled me in a group piano class, called Tiny Tot Piano, taught by a local piano teacher, Dolores. She had a tall, old upright piano and I needed a stool under the bench, so my feet wouldn’t just dangle while playing. We learned the basics of the piano, including how to sit, how to read the music from left to right, finding 2 and 3 black note clusters on the piano, how to play a duet (student + teacher together) and the musical alphabet, all while making some new friends. I took lessons from Dolores for the next four years, until we moved to a different part of the state.
Since then, I continued studying music through college and transitioned to teaching it to others. After years of piano, violin, and voice lessons, my music needed some reorganization and a purging session. As I was organizing my office/music room, I ran across a book that was given to me by Dolores when we moved. In the cover, a note with “Love, your ol’ piano teacher! Dolores,” was written inside. Nearby was also my piano journal with the practice chart my mother created inside with her initials on a weekly basis, indicating whether I had practiced the times as indicated. There were dates with songs and pages of stickers for songs that were passed. Over the years, there were recitals at her house and other locations in town so family could hear the progress their children and loved ones were making on the piano.
It’s been 25 years since I’ve seen Dolores but she kept coming to mind as I was organizing all this music. After a Google search, I was able to find her number and I gave her a call. The first time I called, no one answered and I wondered if I had the right number. After trying the second time, I thought I’d leave a message and maybe we could touch base later. “Hi, this message is for Dolores. My name is Kristy and I took piano lessons from you over 25 years ago…”, and at that point I heard “hello” from a familiar voice. She’s now 80 years old, still playing the piano and keeping busy. We chatted briefly and I gave her an update on my siblings (who she also gave lessons to). I thanked her for the lessons and told her I was thinking about her after coming across the book she gave me. Dolores was surprised to hear from me and appreciated the phone call.
So, why lessons for a lifetime? There are many thoughts that have come to mind when reflecting about today and how learning music has impacted my life. I understand that not everyone who learns an instrument or participates in music classes will pursue music as a career, but there are fundamental life skills that music has taught me during my life.
- Patience. Patiently and methodically through a song produces better outcomes (slow & steady wins the race)! I also couldn’t go from a week of lessons to playing the hardest piano piece in music history. It takes time to develop a craft and a skill at something.
- Responsibility. Each week, I needed to make sure all of my piano materials were ready for my lesson before leaving that morning for school. Weekly, I had different songs, exercises, and theory to do for my lessons. I was responsible for reading the notes in my music notebook, asking appropriate questions during the lesson, and then applying the concepts over the week until my next lesson.
- Attitude. There were times I sat down at the piano and wanted to tackle the next concept in my book. Other times: I. did. not. want. to. practice. Perhaps it was a bad day at school, or I wanted to play outside instead. Over time, music became my stress reliever and instead of pushing it out when I had a bad day, I played the piano to relieve that stress (and still will do this today).
- Consistency. Week in and week out, I had to practice. I learned the art of being consistent and what it could do over time. Cramming at the last minute before a music lesson never brought about the kind of “learning” that was needed to progress to the next level.
- Tenacity (aka persistence). A buzz word now in education is grit. I had to push through and keep working at something to get better at it. In college, I had a piano teacher question whether I was really ready for one of the repertoire chosen for my senior recital. I was bound and determined to give it everything I had and persevered to make sure it happened!
- Imagination. In order to make music come ‘alive’, sometimes we use our imagination to create a story to go along with the music. Or, perhaps there is an illustration we convey to students to help them imagine the character of a piece of music, or how to effectively play a certain passage. Being a musician allows us to use the creative side of our brain!
- Concentration. All the practice from the week took concentration at home, and then in the lesson to demonstrate your progress to the teacher. Eventually, the recital protocol was for your music to be memorized, which also required extreme concentration. Two hands and two feet make it possible to do four different things at the same time. Today, I also came across a piece of music by Scott Joplin called “Stoptime Rag.” As both hands are moving across the piano, your left foot is instructed to STOMP on the floor while your right foot pedals the music appropriately!
- Energy. As we perform, we use our expressive and physical energy to carry out all the learning into something we share with others. As a speaker gets to the podium, they are well received by the audience if they look refreshed and have their game face on. Likewise, students learn how to prepare for a concert (a presentation in front of an audience) with energy and stamina while also learning to show confidence while demonstrating their musical learning.
All of these qualities were initiated with Dolores, my piano teacher, and fostered through other music teachers throughout my career. Thank you Dolores, MaryLou, Crystal, Dr. B, Mr. Smith, and Dr. Wub as you fostered these qualities in me and other students you taught. I hope to instill these qualities in the children and students that I teach as well. Music teaches us lessons for a lifetime.