Miss Tess’ Music Studio
Homines, dum docent, discunt.
Humans, while they teach, learn.
Music is a room with many doors. The number of possible routes for learning often intersect and overlap before arriving at a place of understanding. We musicians may pursue a new piece by way of intervals, solfege, imitation, interpretation, counting, reading, hearing, watching, feeling, responding, repeating. Music is learned not only through the ears, but through the eyes and hands and mouth and mind and, most especially, through the heart. There is no single set way which works for everyone, and a good teacher must have enough flexibility and imagination to navigate new ideas in different ways with different students. Together, student and teacher may open many doors. After teaching more than eight-thousand lessons, I know there are thousands of paths still left to explore.
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
— Dorothy Parker
Young and old, people need creative, fantastic experiences as a part of everyday living. Children deserve to be exposed to masterful teachers from the start. The fundamental principles set in a child’s first few years lays the groundwork for their definition of “normal.” Expecting, and being expected of, wonderful work is normal. There is no reason to hoard the good stuff for grad school. Children recognize authentic interactions, and I aim to allow the studio to be a space for things genuine and true. By consistently returning to challenging artistry in a supportive atmosphere, students become comfortable working at that level. This creates a strong foundation for future endeavors.
Adults deserve creative dreams and artistic events as well. It is so easy to fall into a pattern of work and bills. Dreams can lead to wakefulness and, humbling though it might be, it is provoking to remember what it’s like to be a beginner again. Adult students are inspiring, finding time to practice in their busy lives and making a financial pledge to music and to themselves. I have worked with students up through age seventy-seven, and I hope to be as lucid and adventurous when I reach those years. One of my own teachers used to say, “The day you stop learning is the day you die.”
The creative adult is the child who has survived.
— Ursula Le Guin
Music teaches much more than music. Whether it is piano, voice, or Latin, or visual art, these mediums fluidly translate into life lessons. Time spent practicing is time spent in front of a mirror. Faced with weekly assignments, students learn to be honest with themselves, with their efforts and investments. If there is a trouble spot in the music, I ask my students, on a scale of 1 to 10, what level of work they gave to solve it on their own. Though the answer might be only a 3 or 4, I am proud to hear them admit the number. My next words are usually, “So you know what you need to do.” Music is empowering. Music is language. The piano teaches the left and right sides of the brain to speak to each other. Logical music theory, technique of muscle memory, and abstract artistry all must communicate simultaneously. Often, students will understand a passage in their heads, but it is time spent at the keys which moves understanding into the fingers.
To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.
— Parker Palmer
Responsibility is simply a person’s ability to respond. Music offers much responsibility in how to set goals, make a plan, follow through, be accountable, and be upfront about where we are and what we’ve done. Music also offers much responsibility in how we listen, both inwardly and outwardly, how we feel, how others feel, how we create and interact, how we find the courage to try, and how we play. Practicing reveals our ability to achieve great things through small, daily tasks. The word ‘procrastinate’ comes from the Latin pro meaning ‘for’ and cras meaning ‘tomorrow.’ In the studio, each student keeps a journal full of specific goals, and in it tasks both met and missed are clearly illustrated. We move forward by appreciating where we’ve been. All I ask is that students give their best, whatever their best might be each day. Lesson by lesson, week by week, students steadily cultivate both depth and breadth of skills to carry into the world.
Children have to be educated, but they have also
to be left to educate themselves.
— Abbe Dimnet
I am not a distant, removed observer. I go on the journey with my students. Benjamin Franklin states, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” My ultimate goal is this: a teacher’s greatest purpose is to make themselves unnecessary. Whenever possible, I provide my students with a chance to teach, to become leaders in turn. People who are awake have an ability to touch the lives of people they have never even met. The studio is a very human place. In here, it’s about being present and being real. Navigating paths familiar and unknown, through daily mindful practice, both students and teacher experience the transformative power of music and art.
I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination
of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance,
and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their validity, no matter what.
— Madeleine L’Engle
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