June 26, 2013

Reflections on 16 Years of Teaching

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to be a little nostalgic on this blog post. The largest chunk of my life doing anything has been teaching piano and I decided to end this chapter in my life, my last lessons coming on June 25th, 2013.

Learning piano was a mixed experience for me. I actually started taking private lessons on the recorder in Streetsville, Mississauga and was luckily oblivious to how incredibly “uncool” this was for a young boy. Wisely I kept it a close guarded secret that I rocked the recorder…yeah baby yeah! My parents tell me that at that time I used to bang on the piano and sing silly lyrics along with it. Perhaps as a means of sparing themselves further sonic torture they signed me up for piano lessons.

My first teacher was the stereotypical older lady who taught from her home filled with cats. She used to whack my hand with a ruler if my finger position wasn’t perfect. Not that I have emotional scars from this experience…no, really.

Not surprisingly I wanted to quit. After a few years of this I wanted to quit so much my parents finally indulged me. Generally when a child quits music lessons this is the end, few return. Somehow though I had this deep longing to return and I remember begging my parents to let me return just a year or so later. The deal was I had to pay for a portion of the lessons out of my allowance since I had previously quit. Ouch. It was worth it though and I did it.

What followed changed my life forever. My first teacher upon my return was amazing. Her name was Lisa and she showed me what a “chord” was and why I was playing the notes not just what the notes were. Suddenly I had some knowledge to go with all the constant musical ideas and….well….I haven’t looked back ever since.

Fast forward to 1996 and I began teaching one student who my grandfather referred to me. I leaned heavily on my experience as a camp counsellor and the inspiration Lisa had awoken in me and it went fairly well. Still, when the programmer at Bloordale Community School asked me in September of 1997 if I would teach a full night of students starting the next day, I was intensely nervous. “Sure I teach piano” I said. A truthful sentiment in the strictest terms but I was far from confident. Of course, my first student had to be a teenage girl only 4 years my junior. Anyway, by the end of 1998 I had tripled my on-paper qualifications as a teacher and was teaching at Bloordale, Hollycrest, James S Bell, and John English Community Schools. I was well on my way to an eventual peak of 61 students per week and I career path I didn’t see coming but loved none the less.

In 2002 I bought a house at 8 Hargrove Lane at the age of 24 and knew the school would have to grow quickly for me to afford to stay at such a young age. I quickly developed strong philosophies (that are the cornerstones of Alderwood teaching methods to this day) and proudly saw us grow from 30 students to 110 within 3 years; adding guitar and then voice lessons as well. I originally called the school “Windward Music School” as a tribute to my background as a sailor and as the word means the direction from which the wind blows, and from which strength, motion, and change are born. (OK, I’m using a little poetic license there).

Over the years I’ve had many highlights including group songwriting classes and several students who lasted and put up with me as their teacher for 9, 10, and even 11 years. It is incredible to watch children grow into young adults, and even to have the honour of teaching adults as they rediscover their youths (minus the ruler slapping the hand part).

Forgive me for sounding like a proud father but I am truly proud of all that Orrett Music Academy (formerly, Alderwood School of Music) has become to date and will become in the future. Exciting recitals, parties, award winning students, scholarships, charitable donations within the community, Juno nominations for teachers, the list goes on. It is nice to leave teaching knowing the vast majority of students here now are only a few degrees of separation from the over 400 total students I used to teach who kindly spread the word.

Today, the teaching is best done by the capable and energetic minds of the younger teachers here, teachers whom I still have much to show. I also have continued advice and encouragement to spare for families of students and will continue to work hard as School Director. With this additional time free from direct teaching, I hope to serve in my Directorial role in an improved, more hands on way.

Thanks for allowing me this little trip down memory lane. I hope what was born out of the hard work of a nervous young teacher will continue to grow into the truly special place I know Alderwood School of Music will become. And to my many former students…thank you for the honour of teaching you, and don’t ever stop smiling when you play. Be fearless and bold. Life is tough, music shouldn’t be. It is our escape and pure joy.

Play on…