The Love you and leave you life of a piano teacher

Tonight marked the end of my decades-long era teaching children. It happened as a kiss-off in the front seat of a snazzy van. The parent of two over-scheduled kids dropped them off at swimming following piano, leaving me as the sole passenger about to be pink slipped.

What else to expect? Soccer, tennis, swimming and related mega- sports commitments demanded practices, meets, and picnics. Piano was a throwaway on a roster of extra-curriculars tailor-made to knit Varsity letters on Ivy League sweaters in 5 to 7 years.

It was stolen time, (not rubato by any means) that robbed children of deep-layered musical learning, in concert with electric blenders, a barking dog, and soccer pals banging on the door to carpool. They drowned out a Bach minuet and jazzy, syncopated rhythms of “Linus and Lucy.”

A mortified 9-year old sat at his spinet, blushing with embarrassment as his chums snatched a glimpse of him tickling the ivories. (One of the keys had been chipped by a falling loose-leaf, without a second thought)

Still with enduring patience, I was on his wavelength, weaving football, baseball, even soccer plays into lessons as sports metaphors. “Play with bigger energies, like you’re throwing a pass down the football field; Map out your plays, like your soccer coach does, don’t choke or tighten up, breathe long natural breaths.”

Every so often I’d bring up a sports icon like Michael Jordan, or AIR Jordan to be exact, making the connection to physical ease and graceful motion.

Even magic bullet pieces pierced his membrane of boredom, only long enough to die on the vine from neglect. At most piano had become a touching bases activity without a journey to home plate. (It was not his fault, his energy was sapped, and time was sparing)

The older sister with six years of piano under her belt, was barely treading water yet she’d managed to reach a culminating point with Mozart Sonata K. 545 on the rack, though it was floundering, along with her D Major scale.

Triumphant with Burgmuller’s “Inquietude,” that spanned months of learning, she nonetheless proved that she could weather the storm of daily dunkings, and manage to pull one piece together over many months.

For me it was “quality” not quantity which formed a thread of continuity from lesson to lesson, despite a formidable obstacle course.

Now our connection was to be severed just in time for the Holidays! (The family would be off to Florida, Tahoe, or any number of desirable locales)

And while mom’s last words to me might have been expected, they still came as a shock given their promise of finality.

“I think you ought to know that we’re reconsidering piano lessons for the kids. They’re just not practicing, or if they do, it’s very irregular… and it’s a major investment for us.”

I thought of the gorgeous view from her home high up in the HILLS, how I snapped a pic before lessons and settled cozily into the van following. I shared a tender memory of my first lesson with her daughter 6 years back before soaking up the sudden reality of termination.

view from the Hills


As a post Script, mom e-mailed me:

“They have learned so much from you and I’m so glad you have been a part of their lives (and their music education).”

..which from my perspective had only just begun….

17 thoughts on “The Love you and leave you life of a piano teacher”

      1. We’re living in a time where skimming the surface and spreading kids thin is the norm even among their so called mega educated parents. It makes me wonder.
        I certainly didn’t practice a lot as a kid, but stuck to the piano for years and years… My mother did not weigh and evaluate progress, or meddle in my relationship to the piano.


      2. The loss is theirs and they will be sorry later at the missed opportunity for some culture in their lives.


      3. I was teaching in their home, because sports precluded their coming to lessons at my studio.. so a special adjustment was made for them.. Given that deference, lessons were
        changed by the parent far too often to conform with sports, and I believe another change was in the offing before mom decided to give up lessons.


  1. Gina, you nailed it! In fact this mother was telling me over weeks that soccer had some abusive behaviors connected with it,, but NO never give up sports.. you know the expression “quitter,” and the humiliation associated with it.. Sports these days is put on a pedestal. I could tell you more stories.. practically worth a book. I think the loss is keen for both kids, but even more poignant for the 9 year old who had but 3 years of piano. I hear that ukuleles are being distributed at school…That’s the latest craze.. (private school, by the way)


    1. A book! What a great idea! You are a fine writer, you could spend the time gained putting those experiences down, sharing them. Put me down for an advanced copy!


  2. I suspect Europeans have a different attitude, at least judging by two series on TV these days.

    The American one appears on TLC, and it’s about children being trained as cheerleaders. Even if I were into cheerleading — not my thing — I couldn’t watch it, it seems so violent from the trailers. Angry moms, rude coaches, anxious children competing, crying, insults, injuries… and like I say those are only the trailers!

    The European one is on the French TV5 channel, and it’s about the life and training of the “Petits Rats” of the Paris Opera. Though I’m sure it’s edited, still what it shows are children being trained not only in the ballet, but also in academic subjects, nutrition, and life skills as they spend many years living at the school. They have to curtsy when they pass a teacher in a hallway — can you imagine! The competitive attitude replaced by bonding and a spirit of cooperation. In the last episode, the teachers had to remind some of the children (now 18 years old, graduating and auditioning for a place in the company) to stop helping their friends and to think of themselves if they wanted to get selected.


  3. I am thankful my mother taught in better times. I remember especially the whole family traveling to a recital of one of her students. For my mother’s students it was so cool they played the piano.
    This is just not the right world for so many of us.
    I can sure say for the right student- you are the most amazing ticket.
    Hang in there!!!


  4. Hey, don’t be sad. You are a great teacher and you passion for music is truly inspiring.

    You know, even after we grow up, we still have to “fight our way” through so much activity on one side and so much desire to be at the piano at the other. We work a lot, face a lot of problems every day. There are jobs, projects, family, loans, bills… Sometimes, you just have those precious 20, 30 minutes, at 06:00 am while your wife takes her shower to practice.

    I am pretty sure you have planted on them a special musical seed, which maybe will bear nice fruits someday.



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