Updated: Apr 25, 2019
I began working with adults, almost exclusively, in 2005. Being the mother of four and having taught piano to children for 17 years at that point, I felt I understood the young students pretty well. I decided to shift my focus to adults in order to accommodate the needs of my own school-age children, knowing that I could work with older, often retired, students during school hours. I couldn't have known it at the time, but I was about to step into my life's work -- that of devoting my studio to the adult learner.
I firmly believe music is a calling. Every student -- EVERY STUDENT -- who has ever contacted me about piano study tells me they always wanted to play piano, since childhood. (Well, I do have one exception to this -- Jim -- but that's a funny story for another day.)
My oldest student, Marie, is 89. She began lessons at 85. She can remember wanting to play piano since childhood, tells of studying briefly during high school, which so happened to coincide with the Great Depression. She sacrificed piano at that time, being a teenager and choosing to spend her hard-earned money on clothes instead of tuition. Don, another student, 84, suffering from dementia at the time he began lessons, vividly remembered being forced to choose between baseball and piano. Even back in those days, I suppose baseball was more "cool" than piano, but he never forgot the piano and came to me to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing music. While Don was here with us, he liked to close our socials with Auld Lang Syne, in tribute to his Scottish heritage. One of my current students has his own very successful company and is in the prime of his career. His brother told me recently that, before he started lessons, this student used to disappear occasionally during the lunch hour. After doing this a few times, the brother asked him where he was going. He confided sheepishly that he had bought a keyboard and was going to his car during these periods to try to teach himself to play. In fact, all the students have interesting stories to tell, but there is still the constant theme -- a lifelong desire to play a particular instrument, in our case, piano.
What comes to mind now is a four year old girl I worked with back in the late 90's. This child was not particularly "talented" as that term is generally applied. She was, however, in love with the piano. A very slight girl, always in a lovely dress for piano day, she would quietly climb up onto the piano bench and run her fingers across the keyboard very gently before each lesson. "I love the piano," she told me. "The keys are so silky." When my daughter was four and studying violin, her Russian teacher told me about a girl who was studying with her at the time, also four years old, who had ruined this teacher's violin. This young student couldn't bear to part with the beloved instrument, even at bathtime! While the teacher was very angry, I couldn't help but marvel at child being so drawn to the violin!
Another common theme among adult students is that of waiting many years to make a commitment to learn. Sometimes this is for practical reasons, either family or career demands or financial concerns. Sometimes, however, adults simply wait because of what we call fear of the unknown. While there probably are a few teachers out there who still keep rulers around, I have never personally known any of these people. I realize we adults are our own harshest critics. I feel it's a teacher's place to provide encouragement and kind support.