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