Saturday, September 19, 2009

Home Studio

 "Dimitri" the piano, in my apartment on Peachtree Road

Three weeks into the new school year, I am gradually getting used to teaching at home. After 30 years of teaching at schools, it is quite a change. “You don’t need a school to teach piano,” one of my colleagues said to me, when we discussed the options a few months ago. 

No, to do the job, you certainly don’t need a school. Teaching at home has advantages. Finally, I can offer every student an excellent instrument. In the past, I’ve often had to compromise on that. With students coming to play him, Dimitri may even experience some dusting on a regular basis after 24 years of living with me. 

(Dimitri is my grand piano, named by a friend after the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovitch, even though I’ve never ever played anything by Shostakovitch. Over the years, Dimitri has acquired a few battle scars in transportation - he refuses to live in easily accessible ground-floor apartments -, but as far as the sound is concerned, he’s in great shape, though currently a little out of tune.) 

My home studio on Peachtree Road
Finally, I have all my materials available at all times. There are situations in teaching when you want to be spontaneous, the moment is just right for a certain piece, an exercise, an illustration from a book. You know you have it, but when you’re at school, most of the time it’s at home when you need it. 

I don’t have to leave the house any more and travel on the train or the subway for an hour each way (in Germany), or plow my way through rain, ice and snow (in New Hampshire). I save time - but I also have to find new ways of drawing a line between my professional and my private life.

My studio at the Concord Community Music School (CCMS) - by the way, the piano was very good.

30 years of teaching at schools has taught me a lot, and but now, I feel ready to take the best of everything and form it into something that is my own way of teaching. 

The best of teaching at a good school is the community. There are the sounds from the studio next door, where somebody may be struggling with a piece you know, or a piece you’d like to learn. The students engage in conversation about their music and their teachers; they listen to the teachers practice while they wait for their lessons. “What are you working on? When is the concert?”   

There is the brief conversation with a colleague over coffee about a project, a piece or a student...... The energy of a group of people doing the same thing at the same time inspires everybody. 

No matter how tired I was after a long day of teaching, often on my way out I simply had to stop, turn around, sneak up to the recital hall on tiptoe, to see who was practicing at such a late hour, playing so beautifully and sending me home with a musical greeting, a joyful outlook to my own practice the next morning.

To create that sense of community looks like the greatest challenge of private teaching. 

The chart that listed the students’ accomplishments at the music school, the number of performance classes and recitals people had played in, theory tests, concert reports, ensembles, that chart went up on the wall of my home studio again. 

In January 2009, half way through the school year, my 30 students at the Concord Community Music School had participated in 42 events.  

Keeping track of accomplishments - CCMS, February 2009

There will be performing classes and recitals in this studio, and in the community, and I would like us to go to concerts together.

We’re counting practice points. The first goal is 100 days of practicing - and I can see people make it to 200 - and more? At 20 points you get a certificate, and 5 certificates call for a celebration. 

The bulletin board of my studio is mostly empty - except for the studio calendar and a few concert announcements. Eventually, I’d like to have the students’ photographs there - you practice alone, but it’s good to see that others are doing the same.

I found the Giraffe at a yard sale in Concord. It sat on the piano in my studio and has been listening patiently ever since. Bulletin board and chart found their place by the door, same as in my former studio.

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