It’s always nice to blog about a devoted cadre of piano students who show up each week prepared for their lessons, wanting to grow and develop in creative directions.
Such a pleasing landscape had been presented in REACHING BEYOND, a film tribute to Irena Orlov’s remarkably inspired piano teaching. Her students couldn’t wait to go on camera to bubble over what was given to them. Odes of affection resonated from the present and into the future. They revealed a lasting connection that even death could not defy.
At least a “life-time” relationship could be cradled, Orlov waxed poetically in an interview segment.
In a perfect world or Utopia, I might write this very ethereal script for my piano teaching colleagues all over the country who live in New York, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and wherever else they had set up their private studios bundled in idealism.
But the sad truth is that some trends should be noted in this Age of Anxiety– oops, did I steal this from Leonard Bernstein? (his Second Symphony?)
Lenny may have had a heads up about what would reverberate into the present in many areas of life.
First, in this star-studded universe of the piano teacher, one needs to recognize the “come and go” piano student as a sign of the times.
As example, he might be a transfer student (having had a corridor of preceding teachers) who finally decides to buckle down and practice; play scales, arpeggios in a panoply of keys; fine tune his ears to the singing tone. He works assiduously, making great progress, and seemingly enjoys the musical journey with occasional “Star Wars” and other treats interspersed among the Classics. It keeps him and his family happy.
Everything is humming along through weeks and months, until the phone rings–and by its ring a very intuitive teacher knows that something is simmering, and it’s not chicken soup for the soul.
It’s Johnny’s mother canceling his lesson at the last minute. Something non-specific has come up and she’ll get back later…
Later becomes an eternity. The following week, no-show Johnny is all but a fleeting memory. Three weeks go by with no family contact so perhaps Johnny may no longer be with us. I hope not.
The dead-end truth is that Johnny is now a member of the come easy/go easy piano study society. There are many variations of this new, rising generation of ex-piano students.
I should have mentioned that Johnny was a teenager, and homework obligations got to him in the last analysis. He never resumed piano as far as I was told. He just dropped out without a rite of passage entitled to all piano teachers and their students.
Rite of passage:
When someone dies, there’s a funeral, or a tribute to their passing. At least a memorial.
When a piano student decides to leave, especially after a substantial period of study, one might expect not only advance notice, but a face-to-face reckoning of what has been accomplished and what bodes for the future. Not a text messaged, Hi/Good-bye.
Another disheartening case scenario: Where’s Waldo?
A transfer student enters the musical sanctuary, supposedly having taken piano lessons when he was five or six. He’d dropped out sooner than later. The former childhood teacher allegedly pushed his head into the music rack and otherwise screamed and yelled when he made a note error.
Understandably, “Waldo” needed to recover from the infliction of his abusive teacher. After a ten-year hiatus, his mom brings him and his younger injury-laden sister to resume lessons where they left off.
As it plays out, Waldo, comes to lessons less often than he drives away into the horizon of extracurriculars. He’s on the tennis team, debate, swimming, and takes tutoring for college prep exams. When he manages to practice, he begins to enjoy the fruits of his labor–especially when he works on “Liz on Top of the World” (his request) in the good company of Anna Magdalena Bach.
Mom has disappeared.
She’d made a formidable appearance at the exit interview, I mean the initial interview. Was I clairvoyant?
The kids are now driving to and from lessons, but mother makes a cameo drop-in by e-mail with a minute-before-lesson cancellation–another sign of the times in synch with the Age of iPad, iPhone, and text messaging. I note the time on the e-mail header. It would have otherwise passed me by. (philosophical implications?)
It reminded me of another no-show student who insisted that she informed me in advance of her absence. Did she mean by text? I didn’t even know how to access it on my Nokia Go Phone, a $25 flat rate per month, minimum option gizmo. The lesson came and went without a trace of her. Or what about the 11-year who braved the fog to walk under a tree to get to her lesson. She lived next door though over 50% of her lessons were missed, about which mom and daughter had no recollection.
But back to Waldo. Time was marching on and his sister subbed in for him on occasion though she was bogged down by the tennis team, an abusive coach, and church socials.
One day, Waldo virtually disappeared and never returned for lessons. I learned months later that he went off to college in Idaho without as much as a hello/goodbye.
It’s disconcerting that relationships forged in the piano teaching environment or elsewhere are taken so lightly.
Perhaps, it’s the right moment for a re-awakening of how time is spent and with whom.
Food for thought?
Piano Lessons: Skimming the Surface or Getting Deeply Involved
A Piano Teacher’s Worst Nightmare!
About student/teacher/parent relationships:
About Piano Lesson Dropout Rates: