In a routine Yahoo e mail search for a Kawai USA technician I had spoken with a year ago, I stumbled upon a document that I had drafted out of sheer desperation.
It related to the decline of my sustain pedal which had been mercilessly pounded by a student who had serious impulse control problems. It wasn’t just the pedal that was affected. Lessons had become a free-wheeling carnival, with anything goes, serendipitous events. I never knew what to expect.
One memorable Monday, as I was approaching my El Cerrito studio about a half-hour before my first scheduled lesson, I was greeted by the antsy student sitting on top of his mom’s SUV about to make a death-defying leap to the concrete sidewalk.
Holding my breath, I watched him land safely, but without his music. (A common problem teachers encounter and learn to take in stride.) If we had one dollar for every time a pupil came to lessons without materials, we could all retire to a villa in Spain and luxuriate in the sun.
The troubling lesson environment worsened with a non-stop ringing cell phone brought by the highly charged student’s tag along friend. He danced in and out of my small studio with minute by minute messages relayed from divorced dad to mom to wired student. I couldn’t figure out the roundabout communication network. A text message would have been the least intrusive.
Since dad had the kids on alternate weeks, he drifted in with older sister one afternoon and sat right behind his fidgety son. Not five minutes into our session, he repeatedly arm wrestled his screaming daughter to the ground making the brother’s lesson an impossible feat to accomplish.
The tour de force should have been the icing on the cake, but instead, it was an algae snack finale. It made perfect sense. California kids munched on organic strips of seaweed instead of Reese’s pieces. Times had changed. Picture the oil spots on my vulnerable furniture fabric, not to mention a slippery slope of piano keys.
I forgot to mention out of control tops spinning in and out of the studio when brother switched lesson times with sister.
The closest rival to this scenario, was the student who compulsively punched my Steinway grand piano rack whenever he happened to hit a wrong note. On automatic pilot, he landed a blow so hard, it sent his music flying in all directions!
Finally, in defense of my sanity and property, I issued a Declaration of Independence from all this chaos. It was a well thought out “Code of Behavior for Piano Students” that required the signature of student and parent, co-signed by the teacher. This version of the document was tailor made for the edgy pupil who took the risk taking leap from the SUV. (By the way, since his parents were both attorneys they welcomed my pseudo legal contract without amendments)
*Footnote: In protection of my sanctified pedal that was repeatedly abused by the testy pupil previously mentioned, I enlisted a Fresno adult piano student, a ceramic artist, to build a custom designed, pedal guard made out of thick cardboard and styro foam.
Teachers could consider this a confidence building, smack proof, gadget—-a prophylaxis against encroaching threats to their precious pedals.
Back to the Code of Conduct: