Cherokee Music Center

Piano Students Greatest Hits Part Two

David SuddethComment

Funny Blog written by piano instructor and store ower, Kevin Sanders:

"Dee" was a 1st grade student whose family had moved here from China. Her family spoke strictly Mandarin at home, and she was struggling a little in school with the English language. Her older brother, "Zhen", a very mature high school student, would attend lessons with her and serve as a translator. His demeanor was so consistently calm and placid, it seemed that nothing could ruffle his feathers. He was more like a 70 year old man than a 15 year old sophomore. 
Dee was very much like her brother. She hardly spoke, answered mostly in head nods and, in spite of her difficulties with the language, was very bright and picked up beginning piano skills quickly. She had become accustomed to mastering her songs every week like clockwork. One certain week, though, she hit a stumbling block. It was a passage using finger patterns she hadn't seen before. She tried to work it out a couple times with no success. Her brow furrowed a bit. She tried again with no luck. Her face fell into a scowl. She tried three more times, each time missing it by a little bit.
I don't speak a word of any Chinese dialect, so please understand that I'm approximating here, but what erupted out of this little girl sounded like "SHOSHANYENGOWAHCHENOWAAAHHHHH!!!!!"
Mount Krakatoa probably blew its top more quietly than she did.
Without so much as raising an eyebrow, Zhen turns and gently says "Ah, she said she is feeling a little frustrated."
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Not all of my students have been kids, of course. A lot of adults study piano as well. Take "James" for instance.
James was a nice fellow, probably in his mid thirties. I met him in the early 1990's. If he'd been a young man in the 60s, he would have been called a hippie. Not because of his appearance or clothing, both of which were pretty standard in Florida, but because of his space cadet personality. I don't know for sure, but I don't think it's a far stretch to imagine that he probably enjoyed some not-quite-legitimate recreational activities. I found his goofiness to be pleasantly amusing. Here is a good representative sample of a typical conversation:
Me: Ok, James, each quarter note receives one beat, so every time you tap your foot, you're going to play a note.
James: So I should tap my foot on the ground when I play the piano? Will it make me play better?
Me: Well, it's not that tapping your foot makes you a better pianist, the point is that you're working on how to keep a steady beat when you play.
James: A steady beat?
Me: Yes. You want the underlying pulse of the music to be constant and steady, so a lot of people find it helpful to tap their foot to keep a steady beat.
James: So my foot makes the beats?
Me: Um, if you're tapping it, then yes.
James: But what if I don't?
Me: Then the beat is still there, you just won't be tapping it out with your foot.
James: But where do they come from?
Me: Where does what come from?
James: The beats. I mean, you're saying that they're there if I tap, they're there if I don't. What I don't get is WHERE do they come from? You know, like, what's the original source, man? Where do the beats reeeeaally come from?
(Short pause)
Me: They come from you, James.
(Long pause)
James: Whoa.

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You occasionally have a student that you will never, ever forget. These are the ones that end up in your personal Student Hall of Fame. For me, "June" was one of these students. One day I will write an entire post devoted solely to her. She certainly deserves it. I'll just use this to provide her a quick introduction. 
June must have been eighty when she started lessons with me. She was a widow living in a luxury apartment complex that catered to older people. Her husband had been a corporate executive. General Motors, I believe it was. He had been smart with his money and left his wife in very good financial shape. 
What always amazed me about her was not the fact that she was continuing her piano education at her age, but rather the confidence and self assured manner with which she carried herself through the world. I think most of us, at some point, have come across a person who has an almost uncanny ability to get the people around them to behave the way they want them to. This was June. Not only was she determined to live until she died, but she was set on living exactly the way that she wanted. I'm not gonna lie. I came to really admire her spiritedness and even envy it a little sometimes. 
When I was first getting to know her, one of our initial conversations went a lot like this:
(As we are wrapping up a piano lesson)
Me: So what plans do you have for the rest of the week?
June: Over the weekend, I'm going to drive over to South Carolina to see my son and his family. 
Me: Oh, are you comfortable making a long drive like that by yourself?
June: Oh, yes. I trade in my Jaguar for the new model every couple of years and I just got the new one, so it will do just fine. 
Me: That's great that you get to see them regularly.
June: Yes. I like to have things to look forward to. Tonight is kind of meh. I'm just going to walk down to the little restaurant here. (Chuckles) You know, dinner with the old folks. But tomorrow night should be a very nice time. There is a party at a gallery that I want to go to.
Me: Are you going alone?
June: Oh, no. I don't like to go to social events without a date. I'm old fashioned that way.
Me: So...you have a date?
June: Mmm-hmm. My accountant.
Me: (A little baffled) Your accountant is taking you to a party? Is he a good friend of yours?
June: I've known him a few years. He's still in his thirties. Nice looking fella, too. Has a wife and children.
Me: Um...I mean, that's great, but...why would your accountant be taking you to a fancy party?
(Short pause)
June: Because I called him up and asked him to.
(Long pause)
Me: Whoa.