The Beginning: Freelance Teaching in Boston

To make things clear off the bat – this internship was originally going to take place at the EKS Music School in Quincy where I am faculty.   Because I have yet to teach any brass students at the school, I will be focusing on the teaching adventures with my own private students and the strange way that I acquired them:  TakeLessons.com.

Strange, because I never thought I would be the kind of person to “buy into” this kind of thing.  It seemed too convenient, too easy, yet after only two months of making a (minimal) online account, I acquired my first piano student.  Fast forward three months and many MIE 501 readings later, and I have acquired some very interesting and life-changing perspectives regarding music and music-in-education.  But that’s for later – for now, we must set the scene of the beginning of true freelance teaching in the Boston area.

I had freelanced my first year in Boston as a horn player and a collaborative pianist specializing in the Suzuki Method, but never had I had any students.  Late summer going into my second year of my master’s, my friend told me that he had acquired a piano student via this website.  Intrigued, I began an account and filled in all the appropriate information.  I had never really written down or contemplated my own unique, logical teaching philosophy before, and when I saw this requirement on the website, I simply wrote what I had always thought:

Through all these experiences, I can safely say that my theory of teaching and learning music is that it’s all about connections. To learn music is to learn a completely new way of looking at the world. It is an inward journey of strength and discovery as much as it is an outwards one, learning to successfully and compassionately communicate with fellow musicians and anyone else who might cross your path. I have collaborated with individuals in both the instrumental and vocal realms – trumpet, trombone, tuba, (French) horn, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, bass, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and have taught piano, horn, and beginning/intermediate wind instruments in both private and group settings. I love music, and even more, I love teaching music!

For areas that I taught, I put (using their categories) Accompaniment, Accordion, Audition Prep, Classical Piano, Ear Training, French Horn, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Piano.  Fair enough, I thought.  I had played accordion all through high school and undergrad, busking on the streets of my beloved college town, but never had I thought that I would teach the instrument (little did I know).

The account sat there for awhile, being added to with various pictures and videos, when all of sudden, I received a notification from TakeLessons saying that someone from Milton has signed up for piano lessons.  TakeLessons in a way is more reliable than the old-fashioned show-up-and-pay-as-you-go method.  People must pre-pay for lessons, specifically five to start out with, and then can only withdraw from lessons if they seriously dislike their teacher.  The teacher is paid either way, whether or not the student shows up, by direct deposit.  The only catch is (and I know you’ve been waiting) is that for the first fifteen lessons, trust must be established, and that trust comes in the form of 25% of your lesson going to the website that so conveniently hooked you up.  You set your own rate of pay, however, and after fifteen lessons, you can earn 90% of what you charge.  It’s just a switch of convenience – either have the student, that either you or a friend has recommended to you, hopefully pay you after the lesson has taken place (and not give you a check that bounces or not show up and you’re out that time unless you have a no-show plan), or have the money from the student who chose you amongst a list of individuals on a conveniently accessible website go straight into your bank account with a slight cut for the middle man.  Personally, I’m enjoying the latter option very much as it is very convenient and everything you could ever need to access regarding the financial state of these lessons is stored in an online account.

So, I had my new student.  Awesome!  How did that happen?  Why did she choose me?  I’ve honestly thought quite a bit about this, comparing myself to the other profiles of piano teachers in my zip code.  One thing I am sure sticks out, and this is not in any way facetious:  I’m a friendly looking, 20-something female who doesn’t have any particular instrument in the picture with her to alienate those who aren’t looking for that particular kind of lesson.  I would look up people who were listed as horn teachers, and when they had a trumpet in the photo with them, I would be taken aback and shake my head.  What are these people thinking?  You can’t claim to teach violin and have a harp in the picture.  Silly, silly.  So, common sense aside, what else set me apart?  For the piano side of things, I teach all piano, not just classical piano.  Most people (and I used to be one of them) seemed to be in the classical rut.  I wanted to teach only classical because that’s the best rep and you can collaborate and blah blah blah. . . Look, some people just want to play an awesome song they heard once, and to me, that’s so much more genuine than sticking to a canon because of archaic constraints of “classical music” and the days when ladies were “bred well” because of their literal “parlor tricks.”  Nah.  Done with that.  If that’s your thing, though, of course I’ll teach you the parlor tricks.  Hell, I’ll teach you ALL the tricks.  But if you just happen to really like that Yann Tiersen song or that one song by that techno band that for some reason decided to compose a beautiful piano piece, that desire is so beautifully genuine, and I will more than help you learn it.

It turns out that this student was one of the “Classical Piano” students, which is great, because that’s my forte (pun completely intended).  And, because she’s fourteen years old and her mother enrolled her in piano lessons, she is one of those modern incarnations of the well-bred individual.  In modern society, girls of the middle class are still taking music lessons not to be married off as acceptable stock, but ALL children are as a part of this new over-satiated-with-activities generation.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to be the multi-faceted artistic individual that I was throughout my childhood and young adulthood in a specialized sense.  I loved creative writing, I loved language, and I loved music.  Done.  Sports, nah.  Acting, not so much.  Visual arts, yeah maybe.  I took ballet.  I took vocal lessons.  I took violin lessons then switched over to viola because duh C-strings are awesome.  But these things were all eventually sloughed off of my extracurricular epidermis.  I wasn’t shoved into French club, Greek school, baseball practice, basketball practice, CCD class (aka “Catholic Church Detention” because we were clever) – my mother rode that line of respecting me and my right to choose as an individual while guiding me because I was not yet an adult, but when I decided on something, boy, did she crack down.  (We could open the whole can of worms on parenting and discipline, but the energy required into writing that would manifest in the form of an entire article – not now, but perhaps stay tuned!)

To elucidate, I am not one to belittle the act of taking music lessons, much less exploring the world around you; but exactly that, exploring the world around you, doesn’t always come in the structured form of a lesson.  Exploration and curiosity are things to be bred, for sure, but to satiate our kids so that they have no room to breathe, no room to feel like they can explore, no opportunities for them to discover how they learn, how they can explore, is more of a disservice than a leg-up on life.  Trying to reschedule with this particular student is a nightmare.  This time, inconveniently placed for the traveling music teacher at the peak of rush hour, is the only time she can receive lessons.  And to what end?  To show that she practices?  That there is that spark of intrinsic, volitional learning?  Why take music lessons at all if you’re not one to take time to develop a craft and through this craft realize these subtle truths?  of your nature?  of life internal and external?  of these connections that hang, suspended in this vast network of life, just out of reach until some sort of realization hoists you up, and at last you realize the awe-some depth of existence, and that everything connects to everything else, and at this same moment you paradoxically admit to knowing nothing?  (That escalated quickly. . .)  But in all seriousness, why continue skimming all these surfaces hoping to find hidden treasure just bobbing at the top?

One can probably tell by now that I am a teacher who lives in the fractal paradox (don’t worry, I don’t usually tell people that).  By that I mean the lesson is a constant ebbing and flowing of specialization, via technique, music theory, and broad application, playing through a piece to see where we are, discussing general musical ideas.  This in addition to personalized Socratic methodology, in which I guide the students to the answer based off what they know and their way of learning and discovering.  This has been a heavy-hitter for a first of three articles, so I shall divulge more information regarding my teaching methodology throughout the next couple of articles.

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