Something that I don’t mention in my personal bio is my experience with my first piano teacher.
When I was 5 my parents enrolled me in a local music school which they had thought was an extension of the Royal Conservatory of Music. Though the name was similar it was everything but, as we discovered over the next couple of years.
“Students get bored of piano, put him on organ. It’s much more interesting for kids,” was the first instruction of my very first teacher. So I began my musical life on a pulsating, wobbly-sounding, old-school organ with two manuals. If my aspirations had been to play at low-budget funeral homes when I grew up, this would have been the perfect place to start.
In fact, I don’t think I laid my hands on an acoustic piano during my 2 years there.
Another component of study was group lessons. “Students enjoy these much more than solo lessons and respond better with other kids in the room,” was another piece of wisdom my teacher expounded. I hated group lessons. It meant that the group went at the pace of the lowest common denominator. I could understand this if these were lessons being held in a public school but this was ridiculous when people were paying for them privately. Piano lessons require undivided attention from a teacher, so when there were four students in a class that meant my teacher’s attention would be divided by four. The 25% I received from him usually consisted of him violently jerking me up from my armpits because I was slouching.
Time passed. I now feel for my parents, especially my mother who did her best to get me to practice. But I hated practicing. My teacher always gave me these “Dozen a Day” exercises and they were the equivalent to musical broccoli. I gagged every time I sat down to do them. What made matters worse was that there was very little musical ice-cream to balance out those uninspiring, monotonous exercises.
Eventually I did get inspired. Phantom of the Opera was playing in Toronto and I went to see it with my family. I loved that production so much that I could sing all the parts, even Christine’s fancy coloratura lines – oh the wonders of the young voice.
Finally, I had something that I was musically very into. My parents bought me the easy-piano version of the music and I promptly learned it over the Christmas holidays.
Renewed and invigorated with fun music I returned to my piano lessons with new motivation. But aside from making me “student of the month” my teacher had nothing to say about my progress and refused to help me work on the Phantom of the Opera music. Instead he insisted that I return to group lessons.
Why? I wondered…
More time passed and noticing discord between what I was playing at home and what my teacher was assigning me, my parents set up a meeting with him to discuss the current state of affairs.
“Well, Darryl has really taken to his new Phantom book – why can’t you teach him that? Could you play some of it for us?” To which, now cornered, my teacher replied, “I’ll be honest with you, I actually don’t know how to play the piano.”
The cards were on the table. The nerve of that guy! He was the one running the school.
His insistence that I be put back into group lessons was his way of hiding, so that I could disappear among the other students.
Thankfully I was already on my way out, looking for a teacher who could at least play the instrument they taught.
So be vigilant folks. There are charlatans and swindlers in all fields. Do your research and don’t hesitate to ask your prospective teacher for proof of credentials. They should be able to play something for you, even if it’s just the easy-piano version of Phantom of the Opera.