Monday, September 1, 2014

Monday Music Moment- My Story, part 2

Me and Reagan playing at church festival

My story- part 2
When I was seventeen, a junior in high school, my Dad presented the idea that I prepare myself to leave for college the next year.  I was mature, a little bored with high school, and bright.  It wasn’t a new idea.  My three sisters before me had done it, but I hadn’t really given it a thought as to my plan before.  It seemed like a good idea.  I took all the AP tests I could and college tests.  I had even to take an extra senior English class, zero period, in order to apply for college.  I was admitted for fall that spring at Brigham Young University, with out a diploma.  I never graduated from high school.  I don’t know if they allow that sort of thing now, but it worked for me. 

That was a busy year.  My piano lessons were intense preparing difficult pieces for competition.  I worked a little on the weekends at Pier One.  And, I was on the varsity volleyball team, which I loved.  My next favorite subject at school was French.  I really wanted to forward my progress in my speaking skills.  My parents were kind enough to send me to school in La Rochelle, France that summer before I left for the University.

Now that I have two children in college myself, I can look back and say how hard it is to decide on a major.  But now a days, to not waste time and precious money, it’s almost a given that you need to know what you want to major in the moment you step foot on campus.  I was a bit wishy washy.  I liked French a lot, and piano, and English, even history.  How could I combine all of them into one major? 

At my university, everyone that played the piano, played it well and better than me.  Ok, that’s a huge generality and not true.  But, that is how I felt.  Coming from my arena in Dallas, I was known as a talented pianist.  Going into the music department at BYU, made me feel like a schmuck.  I started off with piano lessons from a fellow professor.  He didn’t seem impressed with my playing- maybe that was my arrogant fault, to try and impress him.  Then, when other students played for each other, my pieces seemed like chop-sticks compared to theirs.  Looking back, I realized that I gave up too early and didn’t challenge myself.  But most of my willingness to not carry-on came from my high school feelings of burn out.  The spark of desire had gone out.  I quit piano, that year.

It wasn’t hard to quit.  To play, I had to physically go to the practice rooms on campus, wait for an open room, and practice.  I just avoided that part of campus.

Because I made that decision, the possibilities for a major and minor that I loved became less complicated.  In the international department, I found major that combined English, history, and Art History (a new found love from my freshman general ed. Courses).  For this major you had to choose a language minor.  Bingo…I had my French already in tact.  This was the perfect major for me.  I had officially turned my back on piano.  Burn out was complete at this point.

After my freshman year, I signed up to do a work study program in Europe through the university.  I would get credit for the work and more language experience. Win win.  For four months, I headed to Belgium to be a fille au pair (a nanny).  No not glorious work, nor did it pay well.  But I learned about life in another culture and mothering.  And I realized I missed the piano.  Where ever I went with the family, and there was a piano, I would play.  They were amazed that I had never told them I could play.  But, why should I have, they didn’t own a piano.  But, I was glad they enjoyed it.  I missed it.

When I returned to the university, I was too busy with an extra full schedule to fit piano in, even though I now wanted to play again.  I took the most credits possible in a semester.  Full credit semesters, along with the AP tests from high school, and school credits from two summers, I was able to graduate from BYU in three years.  During this time I had also met my husband and we were married a week after I graduated with a Bachelors in Arts in European History with an emphasis in Art History and a minor in French.  I was twenty and a typical liberal arts graduate with no skills to get a job.

I landed a job with Microsoft that year, 1989.  It wasn’t glamorous.  In fact, it was bottom of the rung, selling external CD-ROM drives through cold calls to executives.  For my left brain this was boring work and I didn’t dig computers.  Besides, I was pregnant and wanted to stay home with my child.  After I quit, Microsoft went public and even the peons were wealthy.  Oh well.

We moved to Utah so my husband could go to school.  I stayed home and did odd jobs to help out with the budget.  I tried babysitting, working at a bank while my husband was studying at home, working at UPS at night; any situation so my children didn’t have to go to daycare.

I had started to play the piano again, a little.  I scraped up a little money to buy a spinet piano.  I love antiques and this cute piano was one hundred years old and come over on a ship from Europe.  Little did I know that a piano never sounds the same once it travels over water.  I didn’t care.  There was a piano in my home again.

A friend heard me playing in my apartment.  She asked if I would teach her five year old AND she offered to watch my two babies while I taught hers.  Having never thought of teaching before, I decided it would be an adventure.  I didn’t know how to teach piano.  But, really how do we learn to teach anything.  It’s really like an acorn seed.  The outcome is there all the time, we just have to put the effort forth and it will come. 

There wasn’t internet yet, so I went to the library and got a few books.  But, there wasn’t much help out then.  So I winged it.  It went fine.  Besides, even without a degree in music, I’d had so much experience playing, I felt confident in my teaching.

Shortly after that first year of teaching, I had my third baby and we moved into a new house.  A few weeks before the move and the baby, I had been in a local music store and saw an advertisement for a week long piano teaching seminar.  I signed up knowing it was during a crazy time.  So, I called my mom to come help.  Thanks, Mom.

That week was amazing for my growth as a piano teacher.  The seminar was taught by two women who had developed a new way to teach- group piano lessons.  It meant the teacher needed more than one piano, obviously, and it enhanced the teaching process.  Some students thrive off peer pressure and seeing how they can excel.  Others don’t want a private lesson and be alone with an adult (I call it the ‘helicopter complex’.  They feel too “hovered” upon).  We have centers that the children move around to during the lesson.  This means they are more active than in a traditional private lesson. (link)  However, it is best for the parent to determine the needs of the child and which environment fits the student’s learning process appropriately.

Now, these ladies were not only there to teach us their revolutionary method, but to sell us something.  Surprise, surprise- four digital pianos and their teaching material for $20,000.  I was too shocked to even consider it after just buying a new home.  But, my thrifty spending wheels got spinning.  At this time, digital pianos with MIDI in them were fairly new to the general public. Doing my homework, I found another supplier and bought a brand new Roland KR-570 that is still the Daddy of all digital pianos.  It has weighted keys, 16 track recording, over 300 sounds and effects, games for teaching, and computer hook-ups.  It truly is like a computer and a piano put together.  And, the crowning glory is that students can practice with head-phones two at a time, or teacher and student together! Ta-da!

This piano was to become the keystone of my studio.  I did pay a pretty penny for it, but no where close to the above price tag.  Then I bought three used full sized electric keyboards (nowhere near the same thing as a digital piano) and started my group piano studio.  I had twenty students in a snap.  That was 16 years ago.  I still prefer group teaching for the first 3-4 years of lessons for a student, then we usually switch to private lessons.  However, right now, I have 3 students that are early advanced and are still in group lessons together.  It’s a beautiful thing.