Thursday, November 27, 2014

The making of a pianist III - change of piano teacher

Having learnt piano from Ms. Alice for 2 years, Zhuzhu and I have adapted to her teaching style and language (music jargons) pretty well, which had encouraged me to enroll Niuniu to her class early this summer.  Although Niuniu told me that he really wanted to play guitar and his amateur guitar player father had also gone all over town to buy him one of those fancy instrument, I tactfully convinced him to give piano a try before he moved on to his beloved guitar.  "You can always learn to play guitar later when you get older." I said and left it at that.

No no, I did that not because I was a tiger Mom who makes decision based on my own convenience, but more importantly because I noted that Niuniu had shown stronger inclination for piano than his sister as evidenced by the fact that it was he, instead of she, that sat at the piano bench at HER lessons in those earlier days.  He was only 1 year and 2 months old then.  He repeated that again 2 years later at her first audition!!!

Either he developed some fears of piano because of those struggles between his sister and me over the years, or he likes guitar more because he assumed that his daddy would take him to his I said before, my kids love their daddy much more than they love me!

Regardless, I am the driver so I trusted the mother's instinct.

I had chosen this summer to start his piano lessons as I knew that Ms. Alice likes to start new students during the summer semester as it usually has fewer students take summer classes.

On the way to his first lesson, I used our driving time to get Niuniu a head start.

"Niuniu, are you excited or nervous to start your new lesson today?"

"I don't even like piano.  I like guitar."

"But daddy could not find a guitar teacher for you.  Why do you start with piano first and see whether you like it or not."


He fell in silence and I left him alone to get himself prepared.

Few minutes later, we arrived Ms. Alice's new studio.  There we were, the 3 of us, Zhuzhu, Niuniu, and I, sitting in front of Ms. Alice's grand steinway.  His first lesson started in more or less the same as the one that Zhuzhu had experienced 2 years ago, except that he was clearly more knowledgeable about the instrument.

His first lesson lasted about 25 minutes and the teacher was quite happy about his willingness to follow directions and commented at end of it, "He was very corporative."

The next few lessons he continued to show his willingness to follow the teacher's instructions.  He was focused and progressed so well that he kept receiving complements.  Such positive feedback reminded me of the happy times when Zhuzhu started her piano learning 2 years ago.

Just like everything else in life, good things can rarely last for long.

Right before Niuniu completed his first 2 variations of Twinkle and Zhuzhu finished her first song in Suziki Book II, we had to stop their summer lessons.

We are heading back to China for a 3 week vacation.

What's worse was that those summer lessons are the last ones that we have had with Ms. Alice:

"I have decided to leave (the city) next month.  It came very sudden.  I wouldn't have moved the studio location at all if had I known even a month earlier."

That reminded me the day when her precious grand steinway was moved out of the old studio into a big U-Hall truck, we happened passing by.  Strangely seeing the move triggered a bit of sadness, but that was nothing compared to what I am about to tell you.

"Some of you may have already known that I've been considering returning to college piano and music teaching in the last 2 years." She continued.  

No, I had not seen this coming at all!  

Alright, if I think about it for a second, I should NOT have found the news totally unexpected:

- Teaching college musicians was her previous job;
- She is a great soloist who has to go around the world to perform;
- She holds a Ph.D. and published a book about Music;
- Her solo recital video has still not been taken out of the University website after years of her resignation;
- She is one of the Steinway artists.

I sort of knew that we were too lucky to have a piano teacher of her caliber, but never prepared to lose her anytime soon.  It's embarrassing to admit that I am still guided by the Pleasure Principle at age of 52!

Her email was long and apologetic.  But I was so sad that I had not left where I was.  Instead of reading the email from my real computer, I was sitting on the stairs with my little smart phone, typing, erasing, typing more, erasing more, and repeating the whole process until I finally came up with the following:

"This is sad and happy news all in the same time.  It's great to teach in college but on the other hand, working with kids can be quite rewarding.  I can see your dilemma.  We are so lucky to have you for the last 2 years and I am also very glad that we at least had some summer lessons - got the most out of you, so to speak.  As a teacher myself, I know good teachers don't come around very often and we sure will miss you.  Please don't hesitate to recommend a good teacher to Zhuzhu and Niuniu as they are in need to be in good hands like yours."

Clearly I was trying desperately to minimize the negative impact on the kids.  I was trying to move on and wishing for her changing her minds, all in the same time.

Our soon to be ex-piano teacher immediately followed up by asking the type of teacher I would like to have for the kids.

"... I believe a bit tough teacher who has clear demands and goals like you should be a good fit for them."  I replied instantly.  

"Tough" would not be the words that I use to describe her.  Her strictness, which reflected only by the facts that she articulates clearly her demands and that she does not praise her students when they had not met her demands, led most of her students and parents to call her that.  She actually is not nearly as tough as any of the teachers with whom I grew up in China 40 years ago!  She is much gentler, sweeter, and more patient than those true tigers in my life!

The next 4 weeks after our email exchanges, I immersed myself to the new full time job - a "Travel Guide" and a mother of 2 super energetic kids, during which I almost completely forgot about piano.  When we finally got back to the state, the Fall semester started already.  Poor Niuniu did not even get the chance to his kindergartens' orientation!

On the ride to school, I customarily popped the Suzuki Piano book II CD to the car player, Zhuzhu sighed:  "I am so sad that Ms. Alice is not my teacher anymore.  I'd only just started to understand her."  Niuniu then followed, "Yea, I liked Ms. Alice too.  She is very patient."

Their conversations made me realized that I had not found them a Ms. Alice's replacement yet!

Now what was the teacher that Ms. Alice recommended to us again?
Why has not she sent me the teacher's contact info?
Did she forget about us?
Of course, she could not remember us - she was heavily pregnant before we left her early this summer; she needed to arrange moving company in the hot summer; she also needed to teach few summer students...

But she can't be forgetting us.

She is the most caring and responsible teacher in the whole wide world that I've known;
She loves Zhuzhu and Niuniu as much as she loves her own child;
and She would not have sent them to any other teachers that she does not personally trust...

Few cycles of these thoughts later, I concluded that she must have done something for us but somehow we messed it up.  In this case, I was too shameful to contact Ms. Alice directly.  So as soon as I had arrived the office, I frantically looked for Ms. Alice's email.  I found her emails but they have NO NEW TEACHER'S INFORMATION!

Then I called few mothers whose children were also Ms. Alice's students, they told me that their kids had already started their fall lessons with their "matched" new piano teachers and yes, from what they told me, Ms. Alice has already "dispatched" all her students to different new teachers in town.  She did so very carefully, because she matched the age, level of their skills, and even personalities.

But why couldn't I find our new teacher?

Out of desperation, I called a mother who had left Ms. Alice for another teacher one semester ago expecting that teacher to accept Zhuzhu and Niuniu - one should always have a backup plan, right?!

"Wait a minute, haven't you enrolled your kids with Ms. Elena yet?"  She asked.

"What, who is Ms. Elena?"  Her question lost me.

"Isn't she the teacher that Ms. Alice recommended to your kids?"  She questioned again.

"How come you knew our kids teacher yet I don't?"  I had a hope!

"Oh, Willie's Mom told me that Ms. Alice recommended the same teacher to Willie and your kids." She explained.  "Because she saw you as one of the three recipients in the same email that Ms. Alice sent to her."  She added.

Wait, who the hell was Willie?  Has he been in the same planet as Zhuzhu during the last few semesters?

She must have read my mind, because what she told me next was, "Oh, I guess you don't know Willie.  He is our neighbor.  He is like your son only had few lessons with Ms. Alice this summer, but his older son has studied piano with Ms. Alice for years."

What she said finally made some sense to me, except I still did not know Willie, nor his Mom, even though the Mom and I might have had attended several recitals, studio classes together.

"When that email was sent out, do you know?"  I tried to get as much information as possible from her.

In my defense, I was in China with only a cell phone most of the times in the last month.

"Quite a while ago" was as close as what she could offer and then she commented, "I thought you must have contacted Ms. Elena long ago because I was told that her lessons were very difficult to get in."

That, my friends, almost sent me into a heart attack!

I eventually reread all the emails from Ms. Alice from the computer in my office.  With the help of a huge screen, I finally discovered the new teacher's contact information at the END of one email that our beloved Ms. Alice sent to me and 2 other mothers on July 13, exactly the same day at which we were flying from Shanghai to Nanning!

And the same email was cc'ed to Ms. Elena!  So I did have her contact info!  Boy oh boy!

What's killed me was the email immediately following this one.

Because this second email was from Ms. Alice to me, specially and alone, in which she generously praised Zhuzhu, Niuniu, even me and urged us to get in contact Ms. Elena ASAP.  She ends the email by, "Honestly I was really afraid that she would not have any opening(s), because if she didn't, I wouldn't know where else to refer Mia and Remy to!  Not many teachers are trained in Suzuki, you know, and to find a Suzuki/traditional combined teacher is even harder."

How in the world that I have missed such important message, am I really qualified to be a tiger mother?!

Needless to say, I did not waste another second to come up with the most sincere begging letter to Ms. Elena.  Exactly 27 minutes later, I received her response and she offered us an audition next afternoon!

The rest is just happily ever after for all of us.

Now you must have noticed that I am posting this on the Thanksgiving Day.  Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to Ms. Alice for her enlightening our kids about music and for her finding us Ms. Elena