Is this Orwellian? It’s well past 1984, and pianists who’ve steeped themselves in every URTEXT (authentic music edition) known to civilization, are signing on to SKYPE, meeting their students in Alaska, Uganda, Brazil, or even right around the corner. The NEW neighborhood teacher is zoning out on the big screen with a Logitech mini-cam blowing up a keyboard to life-size.
Just yesterday, one of my local East Bay students, who normally sees me in living color at her El Cerrito home, found it convenient to ring in the New Year with a FACETIME LESSON and it worked to our mutual delight.
Irma, who shared her piano beginnings as part of my “Celebrating Adult Piano Students” series, explored the beauty of Schumann’s Little Etude No. 14 in our web-driven exchange: She shaped a melody that threads through a series of broken chords.
I’d say, we accomplished as much or greater on Facetime than if I were present, beside her. The lesson, which was videotaped, will give endless reminders of ways to practice and refine phrasing.
Irma’s back story:
In the her own words:
“I was drawn to piano because I was looking for a new and big challenge. I had given myself a year-long break from the busy life of a lawyer and director of a non-profit organization where 60 hour weeks were the norm. Beside travel I wanted to do something totally different from anything I’d done before. I loved hearing the piano but have had little exposure to any of the fine arts, such as music, painting. I’ve never taken an art class at school (beyond elementary school projects) or at university. I had studied piano for about a year when I was a six or seven. My teacher, Sister Purificacion, a Filipina nun, had a thin ivory stick about the size of a chop stick and used it liberally slapping the back of my hands whenever I hit the wrong note, which was all too often. Learning piano from her was no fun. She was also my first grade teacher and equally mean in the classroom, so my lessons didn’t last very long. I don’t mean to be hating on nuns, but that was my experience with Sister Poo-dee (as her nickname was pronounced). She didn’t turn me off to piano, I just knew I didn’t want a teacher like that.
“I would like to understand music theory, and above all I’d like to learn to play pieces with some level of competency and appreciation for the flow and beauty of the piece. I’d like someday to look at a piece of sheet music and have the sounds play in my head just the way letters immediately have meaning as words form in my mind when I see them on the printed page, or conversely how words flow easily from my mind on the page when I have a pen in hand or am sitting at my computer keyboard. I feel very challenged as a student, and I think of piano as a difficult language I’d like to speak. I’ve loved the study of languages and value that I am a multilingual person. Sometimes I am surprised that I am still taking lessons because I have progressed very slowly. On occasion I have a great epiphany about something that I’ve learned, which I find absolutely thrilling, and then weeks later I don’t recall the great revelation I about some aspect of music theory, or some glimmer of understanding about how a piece was put together by a composer.
“Studying piano has been one of the most challenging learning experiences, way more difficult than studying law. Of course the major difference was that in law school I studied hours and hours each day, and I devote little time to practicing, although I am being more conscientious of late recognizing that I can’t improve if I don’t put in the time. Like most people I gravitate to that which comes easy or where I can succeed, so sometimes I am surprised that I’ve stuck with piano, because my advances are minimal and I am only too aware of my challenges in executing any pieces. My wrists are too stiff, I can’t judge the sense of proportionality of note values with accuracy when I play, and I stare long and hard before I know what notes I’m supposed to play. Sight reading is challenging. And sometime when my piano teacher explains something I feel like a foreigner listening to a native speaker and wishing I was getting all that she is telling me. I hear the words but I don’t always get the meaning or know the answer.”
Irma’s New Year’s Resolution is to practice conscientiously each day; listen attentively; breathe in and out of phrases; and be at ONE with the music. Above all she will be patient and self-accepting as she baby-steps her way through each new piece.