Miss Judy was my piano teacher for 9 years, from as early on as I can remember. And while I must confess that I can barely remember where Middle C is and can only play about 2 songs 17 years after my last lesson, she really was a good teacher. I know that teaching music must require limitless amounts of patience. I know this not only because I am a teacher who does NOT have limitless amounts of patience, but also because I have a low tolerance for annoying noises….and there is almost nothing more annoying than a piano being inexpertly played over and over and over and over (Disclaimer – the most annoying sound in the universe is the collective sound on the day that they hand out recorders to the elementary school kids – I heard one being played in an apartment as I walked by the other day and instantly had a flood of memories regarding those allegedly “musical” instruments…but I digress).
Miss Judy taught piano in the basement of her house, which had a distinctly musty, basementy smell that I still associate with good things. Once a week, we drove up the hill to the very end of a dead end road, to a house built in the midst of a forest, walked down the slope covered with ferns and trilliums, past the zipline strung between two trees, to the sliding glass door and into the basement. The carpet was mustard yellow and the walls were paneled wood and in the center of the room was a piano. Every week Miss Judy was there waiting, on a chair next to the bench in front of that piano.
First things first, start with those scales! Every week, practice, practice, practice. Start with the easy ones – thumb, finger, finger, then cross that thumb under (hard when you are only 5!) and play the next five – thumb, finger, finger, finger, finger. Then, back down the same way. Miss Judy sat next to you and with a pencil poised under your palms, reminding you to keep those hands up! No hand slouching on the keys! After some good warm-ups, it was time to “face the music.” Did you practice last week? This is where it would show. There was no hiding from Miss Judy!
She must have gotten so frustrated, saying the same things over and over – at least to me. Thinking back, she never raised her voice, never got upset, never lost her poise. She was a popular teacher, with a full schedule all day long of students of all ages. Once a year or so, there was a recital – usually on a Sunday afternoon – where all her students played music. Again, this isn’t something that registered at the time, but looking back, she had a LOT of little kids as students. Someone who can make a 5 year old kid sit at a piano for half an hour, or more than that, make FIVE 5-year-olds play the same thing at the same time (group lessons came before individual lessons) has to be an amazing teacher.
Teaching a core class like math or social studies is easier than teaching a creative class, especially one like music. Dealing with kids of varying skill levels, knowing that the chances of producing even ONE who makes a career of music are slim to none, this all tells me that Miss Judy had, quite simply, a profound love for music and teaching. Which makes her a success in my book.
So thanks, Miss Judy, for the countless lessons, the endless patience, and the level of commitment you had to doing something that you loved. And you would be happy to know that even though I no longer play the piano, I still type without hand slouching.