This is Spring-Heeled Jack, a rather tricky polyrhythmic duet performed by Sarah and me. This was the very last lesson I taught, on March 12, 2020 before the pandemic shut everything down. Little did I know I would not Sarah again in-person for three months after this video!
Spring-Heeled Jack, in case you are wondering, is a ghost or perhaps demon who was sighted in London in the early 1800’s on and off for about a century. He’s actually kind of terrifying and here’s a good wikipedia article about him.
Something I really like about Sarah is her happy dance that happens at the piano bench when she discovers a song that moves her. I always know which ones resonate because she practices them like crazy and has them ready for me the following week:)
Here is Sarah, playing two of her pieces that she prepared for her Royal Conservatory Grade 1 exam. The first one is called Mist, and the next is called Andante In G Minor. Sarah’s piano skills grew and improved a tremendous amount during her exam preparations. She has set her sights high and is currently studying for her Grade 3 exam.
For our most recent recital Sarah put together two short solo pieces to make a larger one. Today the kids call that a mashup. Older people will know it as a medley. Either way it’s fun and fascinating to watch a student create something new by combining old ideas.
Sarah has been studying piano with me for about the past 5 years. She has an enthusiasm and joy for music that is energizing to be around. When I am teaching Sarah and she is singing along with her right hand part because it’s so beautiful to her, I often wish I could teleport home to my piano and play for hours, to have lots of fun at the piano just like she does.
Sarah doesn’t discriminate with music. She falls in love with classical pieces, pop songs, jazz standards, and lullabies. Many times I have played a new piece for her and her eyes widen in surprised delight. ” Ooh, I LIKE that one!” she says breathlessly as the notes strike her ear for the first time.
This year Sarah is discovering her own practice strategies, which of course fills me with teacherly pride. I have long believed that practicing is much akin to puzzle solving. How do I put this song together? What steps are needed, in what order, to facilitate the magical transformation from disjointed segments to a unified whole? This process is different for every student of music.
As a teacher I can suggest strategies that work for me, others that my teachers have shown me, and create new ones that address the puzzle at hand for the student on the bench beside me. But there comes a time when the student, if they are to continue with their studies, has to devise their own puzzle solving practice devices. Things that work for that individual person. Nobody knows your brain better than you, I say to my students. You have to figure out how to put this information into your individual brain, in a way that makes sense and in a way that you can remember and draw upon. I can guide, suggest and critique, but I can’t put the information in there for you.
If I could, I’m pretty sure I would be the greatest piano teacher the world has ever seen.
But in the meantime I will look to Sarah for inspiration as she tries, struggles, and succeeds on her journey with music.