This semester, I returned to being the primary piano teacher for piano majors at my university. It was a good time to return to this role, and a number of basics came into sharper focus for me as I articulated them for students over the course of the semester. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to write a series of posts about these concepts.
I begin with the fact that teaching piano is, in large part, teaching people how to practice.
More than performing, or even teaching, practicing is the lifeblood and daily bread of musical life. If, on some level, you don't enjoy practicing, then music is probably not the life for you.
But before you or I give up, let's make sure we have really given it a chance. What often passes for practicing - haphazardly running through music in a practice room - is not practicing.
Practice time is really a (preferably) daily time for engaging mindfully and intentionally in practices. These activities become effective and meaningful when repeated regularly. Short of that, little practicing is actually occurring.
When I think of my own journey with practicing, teaching, and performing, I realize that a life with music can be a good path to self-integration and personal growth, if we are willing to make the journey.
At an early age, most of us are affirmed for our performances. We develop the dream of being performers and that dream fits well with our self-ness.
Over time, we realize that teaching is, at the very least, part of making a living as a musician. With a broader view of the history of music, we realize that teaching simply is part of being a musician. An examination of virtually any style of music will reveal a series of mentors who have handed down and developed their tradition.
It also turns out that teaching fulfills our social aspect in a way that performing never could.
In maturing, we also realize that our daily work at the instrument can help us to achieve a healthy inner balance. We learn to appreciate rich comforts of routine and discovery as we fulfill our callings in the quieter pursuits of musical study.
Altogether, this journey can deepen our empathy for, and recognition of, the experiences of our fellow musicians, whether they be young students, collaborators, or sages we know. From the path of a life in music, we can also see that our identity is not just that of performer or teacher, recording artist or adjudicator. All of these things and many more are facets of a shared identity that crosses boundaries of time and style, the identity of musician.