The new student is far from being a ‘blank slate’ however young. Music has been a part of his or her life from the beginning. Nursery songs, playground chants, radio and TV; the songs of the birds, the splash of a stone into water, the drumming of the rain; all cast a spell.
What does music mean for this student? I find I ask myself this question constantly. Is it about performance, being at the centre of things, sharing? Or is it firstly a more interior experience, thoughtful, evocative, profound?
We all bring experience, expectations, hopes and – especially the adults! – fears. We bring ten fingers that will or will not do what we ask of them, at least at first. My job is to try to grasp something of all that while opening up new vistas and a steadily increasing competence. It’s my job to sense when to offer challenges that are going to take a student to a new level and when to provide work that will consolidate the student’s advances to date.
I try to gauge a person’s capacity for work, (including time constraints,) and guide them towards fulfilling their potential. Some teachers claim to see potential straight away, but my experience is that people change. Many of my more successful students have given the impression, in their early years, that a life down the shallow end might yet be theirs.
I think it’s got to be fun. And rewarding. Especially when it involves hard work. I try to show how to work, how to practice so that all playing is a pleasure. Whether the student’s natural mode is in communication or in self-communing, I try to ease open both portals as far as they’ll go.
My work includes improvisation, exercises, jazz, classical music, composition – from the earliest stages – and popular music. I strongly believe that understanding the structural underpinnings of music is immensely helpful to all students. I encourage freedom and a sense of ease in piano technique and eclecticism in choice of repertoire.
Composers are encouraged to focus their ideas ever more clearly, to understand their influences more deeply and to cast their imaginative nets ever wider. Study of musical structures and compositional techniques is treated as vital counterweight to the free flight of the intuition.