Within the last two months, I've started taking additional piano lessons with a wonderful woman who teaches from her home. At my first lesson, before we began, she gave me fresh soup, bread, and cheese so that I could warm up before the lesson. I was overwhelmed by this kindness. She always gives extra time and never raises her voice. Yesterday, however, I did not receive a lot of positive feedback at my lesson and I felt deflated. I have truly been practising more than I ever have in my life. I know my musical and technical weaknesses and face them alone in the practice room every day. When I arrived at home, the last thing I wanted to do was go back downtown to the conservatory and practise. I felt as if no amount of practising could save me.
Let me be fair to my teacher. She is an incredibly caring woman who truly is concerned about my personal and musical life. She is generous with her time and knowledge. Nonetheless, yesterday's lesson raised some questions in my head:
- Are we too "soft" on students in order to keep them interested in music? If so, is that such a bad thing?
- While we should never lie to students about their quality of their playing, should we always have something positive to say about how they performed?
- How do we build a relationship with the student to the point at which they know that we treasure them and they can trust that we still care about them as a human being when we give them difficult feedback musically or technically?
- How do we not destroy the student's motivation but at the same time remain completely honest about their progress?
Admittedly, I'm a sensitive individual. And really, who wants to hear that they are not playing their best after hours of practice? However, I see the value in my teacher's approach. She does not want me to be under any illusions about my playing and maybe when I'm less sensitive, I will appreciate her honesty. Maybe more North American teachers should be like this. I really don't know the answer.
I do know one thing. Music is about sharing the deepest, most hidden parts of one heart. We are absolutely required to be vulnerable when we play - even in lessons. That is what all music teachers must keep in mind. We must be grateful when our students share their hearts with us.
Speaking of sharing your heart, here's some Tchaikovsky - in recital.