One Size Doesn't Fit All
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
These are unusual times. They require flexibility, ingenuity and patience.
I received this email:
I’d like to cancel Noah's piano lesson tomorrow. It’s his first day back at school, which he’s pretty nervous about. I think we need tomorrow to figure out the system since the school has very precise instructions for pick-up, drop-off, and COVID-19 safety. I think the piano lesson will be a bit of overload for him.
His ability to be structured has really fallen apart over the past 8 months, and I’m sure you’ve seen that reflected in his piano lessons. Hopefully restarting school (even though the kids are in cohorts, only there part-time, and can’t really interact normally) will help him. Warm wishes, Jill
Hi Jill, Thanks so much for letting me know more about what's going on with Noah. It's been painful to watch him over the past months. It doesn't seem like piano playing is giving him much joy. I've tried switching things up, but nothing seems to make a difference. Which makes me wonder if it's just more than he can handle to have this on top of all the pressures he has from school? Maybe we should let him take a break for a bit and let him get used to being back in school, however unusual that situation may be? I have been reticent to even suggest this because I've found that most of my students have good weeks and bad weeks, but overall they seem to be enjoying their lessons. I know that Noah likes me, and I hope he knows that I like him, but it doesn't feel like he's liking playing the piano right now. I want to do what's best for him, both in the short term and in the long term and they may not be the same solution. (i.e. maybe he very much wants to continue playing the piano but could use a break right now?) Let me know your thoughts on all this. Please ask him, too, so we know how he's feeling. If he wants to continue right now I'm fine with that, but I suspect that he might breathe a huge sigh of relief if we gave him a chance to take that breath. I'll look forward to hearing from you. Crossing my fingers that it's a good first day back for him! Diane
I so appreciate this email that you sent.
I talked to Noah on Monday night about this, and he was reluctant to make a decision, so I’m trying to give him some time. I am also trying to separate out my own feelings—I really want him to find some solace and structure in piano, but I recognize that isn’t working for him right now.
I’m going to continue discussing with Noah but I get the sense he is avoiding making a decision about taking a break. I am not sure what to do.
Hi Jill, It's tough being a parent, isn't it? Sometimes it's so clear what to do, but that isn't always the case. I think what I might do is make the decision for him. You might say something like, "I've been watching how much stress you've been under and I want to give you some breathing space. Let's take a little time off from piano and see what things feel like. It's such an unusual time, and it's sad but it seems like piano is only adding to your stress. This isn't saying anything about how you feel about music or Diane, it's just acknowledging that this is a tough time and we want to make it a little easier. We can always go back and Diane has promised that she'll save a space for you." I know that Noah is a super conscientious boy and he doesn't want to disappoint anyone. But it might just take the pressure off for you to simply give him the gift of some margin in his life. I have the feeling that his school is kind of barreling through this time without acknowledging much about how tough it is on the kids. That is probably adding to his stress — the feeling of not really being acknowledged as he struggles with a new reality. I'm here to support you in any decision you make, but my gut tells me that he is just feeling worse and worse about piano playing with each passing week. I think he really liked coming over here to my house and seeing me in person. Taking that warm and fuzzy part out of it and adding just another Zoom call to his day also makes it harder. These times will end, but they're pretty awful right now, aren't they? Sending much love and patience in this tough time. Let me know what you decide and how I can best help you. Warmly, Diane
After giving Noah plenty of time to think about it, he and his mother decided to take a break for a while. We'll revisit and see how things are going next month.
If there's one thing I've learned in my many years as a private teacher, it's to do what's best for the student. If I feel like a student needs to take a break, that's what I will suggest. If, as I wrote in my previous post, I feel like it's best to stick it with lessons, that's what I'll advise. Parents can always take my advice of leave it, but one thing is always true:
What is best for my student is always what is best for my business.
These times require much of each of us. Many of my colleagues have pivoted their businesses. Lynda Lybeck Robinson, my creative friend and piano teacher colleague in Unalaska, has stepped up her already brilliant photography business.
Keith Snell, known for his brilliant editions of piano music and my co-writer on many projects,
has turned his favorite hobby (baking) into a small business, K. O. Cakes in Bath, England.
Me? I've become an expert at writing All Cooped Up — an ever-growing series of piano pieces specifically designed to be taught online — full of crazy chicken art — helping children make light of a difficult situation through music and humor.
One size doesn't fit all, but with some flexibility, patience and ingenuity we'll find something in our own size and shape. What's new for you?