The Lesson I Didn't Even Teach
Today's lesson was that piano isn't the most important thing. It might not be important next week either.
Sorry Diane I don’t think Amy is going to do the lesson today.
She hasn’t touched the piano all week.
I'm so sorry. This situation is just too hard.
Yeah... I told her I’d let you know she hasn’t practiced and
it’d be fine but she’s not willing to try :(
It's so embarrassing for her, I think. She just feels bad.
Yeah I think you’re right. I know you’d get her back on track too but can’t convince her.
She’s just off in general.
Just tell her that this week she's off the hook and next week we'll try again. Reassure her that I care more about HER than I care about her piano playing
This time is full of challenges I never expected.
I'm grateful that I'm healthy and safe. I have the luxury of continuing to work with my students when so many people have no work at all. Yet, each day I wonder what the relevance of teaching piano is in the lives of my students. What will matter today? In a week? In a year? Will people be able to afford the lessons I love to teach? Should I be worrying more than I am? Is it possible to worry more than I am?
There are two things that keep me calm about teaching in this time of uncertainty.
The first is the real and caring relationships I have with my students and their families.
Children are scared. Their lives are uprooted and every one of them is aware that their parents are frightened and worried about the future. All the social interaction outside their families looks and feels the same — it comes through a computer screen. The context and location for every social interaction is missing. Children are all missing any sense of privacy — even a quick whisper in their best friend's ear isn't possible.
Only children are desperately lonesome for peer contact. Children with siblings may have the benefit of a child close to their age, but I also have students whose siblings are mentally ill or have extreme autism. How are they functioning when they have to be in the same house with their challenging sibling all day every day? And what about the parents who are trying to balance the needs of all these kids and, if they are lucky, work from home while they're doing it.
Seeing my face, hearing my voice and knowing that an adult outside their family still cares about them is powerful. I'm allowing my students a lot of freedom and holding them to some pretty low standards these days. Between the challenges of remote teaching and the frenetic emotional landscape of the world, I can't see being anything but my most generous self. I've been writing music that is ridiculously easy to teach on purpose. It's what my students need right now. It's what I need right now.
I get lots of texts from parents like the ones I shared above. Parents are desperately trying to figure out what matters. What battles are worth fighting? Which things should they just give up on? I've been spending more time than I usually do texting parents, reassuring them that they'll get through this. Sending them articles I think might make them feel better. Telling them that I have their back and I will not judge them if their kid didn't practice or can't concentrate. Some days I can't concentrate very well myself.
The second thing that keeps me focused on teaching is the fact that music is powerful. Music heals.
Teaching children the language of music is about the kindest thing we can possibly do for them. Whether they're just learning the notes of a five-finger pattern or exploring the depths of a Rachmaninoff Etude, they are mastering a language which will give them solace in their darkest, scariest moments. It will be there for them when no one else is. Nothing can steal music away from us. We are giving them a gift that they will always have. I'll keep teaching it for as long as I can, any way I can.