Thursday, May 5, 2011

Those Who Can, Teach

It's a cliche, but often teachers learn as much from their students as their students learn from them.

And although this post starts with music education, it ends with writing, and it's really about life, so I hope you will bear with me until the end.

My piano students are hard at work on their recital pieces right now. They are looking forward to demonstrating their musical prowess for family and friends on June 11th, and have demonstrated a willingness to go the extra mile and work on music that is much more challenging than their typical weekly fare.

Today, for example, I was helping a young lady worked on a simplified version of Beethoven's For Elise. She begged to learn this piece, even though the original is much too difficult for her at this stage of her musical development, so I found an arrangement with the highly recognizable main theme in the right hand with an altered left hand accompaniment - still plenty challenging for her. She has played mostly five-finger patterns up in the past, but now she has to reach all the way up to an octave; not only that, the piece also requires the use of the damper pedal, too, the finer points of which she was unacquainted with before now.

It took her several weeks just to learn the notes, first hands separately, then to coordinate both hands together and even out the rhythm. Finally, we added the pedal. That's what we focused on this afternoon; although she has been practicing using pedal for about three weeks now, she didn't quite have it. Sometimes she would pedal correctly, sometimes not; what was frustrating to both of us was that she couldn't tell the difference. But today, everything clicked; she finally reached the point that she could recognize this for herself. Then, and only then, was she able to pedal correctly with consistency - or catch herself immediately if she made a mistake and correct it, without any prompting from me. I made sure she knew how proud I was of her for persevering; it was a huge hurdle she leaped, and she will use this skill throughout the rest of her life as a pianist. She was beaming as she left my studio after her lesson; I was on the verge of happy tears.

The whole experience reminded me of what I go through as I struggle to finish my first novel. There is so much to master: plot, character, scene, setting, point of view, dialogue. And it isn't enough to be good at just one of those elements, or even one at a time; it is the combination of ALL of them that makes the book worth reading. And as surely as I have seen my piano students master difficult pieces - provided they DO THE WORK - I trust that I will eventually become a master storyteller. Of course, a good teacher streamlines the process. I am thankful every day for my piano students and their families, who place their trust in me; I have likewise been blessed to find many wise teachers as I travel down this road towards publication. Thanks to all of you who have helped me along the way.

And just as I am patient and loving with my students, knowing that they are doing their best - even when they don't practice as much as they should, or are distracted by things going on in their lives, or just plain don't feel good for whatever reason - I am learning to be patient and loving with myself, even when I fall short of my own expectations. Every morning provides an opportunity for a fresh start.

The beginning is always today.
~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Whatever it is that you aspire to achieve, whether it's baking the quintessential chocolate chip cookie, crocheting an afghan, growing heirloom tomatoes, playing For Elise on the piano or writing a novel - or all of the above - I hope you won't let anything stand in the way of going for your dreams.

Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Julee J. Adams said...

We all need positive affirmations and I needed this today. Thank you and best wishes for all your students and their recitals!

I always admired your talent and discipline. I took three guitar lessons and could pick out tunes on a piano or the little chord organ Mom bought for me, but with Dad working odd hours, I never could practice. That was my excuse until I realized I was mainly just lazy. I'm going to work harder at defeating my procrastination in my writing too. Thanks, again!

S.M. Carrière said...

I very much admire your ethic and outlook. If you keep it up, there's no way you will not be successful.

A wonderful post to read this morning.

Ashley Nixon said...

This was definitely inspirational and falls well with the class I'm taking this semester which is teaching me to be patient while teaching others. It's a discipline. How wonderful that you can witness this with your students, it has to be deeply rewarding, and they are proud of themselves because of how hard they worked. Lovely.

P.S. I gave you a blog award! Check it out. ;)

KendallGrey said...

This is such a beautiful post, and SO true! I know exactly what you mean about everything finally clicking - whether it's music, writing, art, whatever. As a former teacher, I have a lot of experience with seeing that light bulb going off, and it really is an amazing feeling to watch it happen before your very eyes.

I have so much respect and awe for people like you. You are a force of creativity. I LOVE that. My son has been taking piano lessons for about four years. He's okay at it, but he would be AWESOME if he really practiced as he should. I'm going to share your story with him.

Have a great weekend, and happy Mother's Day!

Julie Glover said...

What an inspiring post to start the day! I especially like the focus that it's the things you work hardest at doing that give you the greatest sense of accomplishment. When people ask me if I write because it's easy for me, I respond, "Writing is hard! I enjoy it immensely, but it's still hard." And that's part of what makes it worth the effort.

Kristi Bernard said...

I love writing and the arts. I hope someday that my hard work and effort pays off. Great post.

Pam Asberry said...

Julee, I'm glad you got what you needed from my blog today. I usually don't know what I'm going to write about until I sit down in front of my computer, but yesterday I was definitely inspired by my student. You are doing great. Keep on keeping on!

Pam Asberry said...

Hi, S.M. I hope you're right! I'm so glad you stopped by. It is always great to "see" you!

Pam Asberry said...

Ashley, thank you for your comments. And thank you for the award. I will pick it up this weekend! :-)

Pam Asberry said...

Kendall, it is wonderful that your son is taking piano lessons. Be patient with him; I have found that sometimes kids need to coast a bit, then all of a sudden they will find motivation out of nowhere and progress in leaps and strides. But I'm sure you know that from your own experience as a teacher. Happy Mother's Day to you, too!

Pam Asberry said...

Julie, you are so right; one of the big reasons I enjoy writing so much is that it is HUGELY challenging for me compared with most of the rest of what I do. I am looking forward to experiencing that sense of accomplishment when I finally type those words THE END and they are for real! Thank you for your comments.

Pam Asberry said...

Amen, Kristi! Thank you for stopping by my blog!