There was a time when between teaching mini- piano lessons in a school and regular lessons privately I had abut 70 students a week at the piano. Those times are long gone now and my practice although continuous for over 30 years has become quite a bit smaller due to life changes and also changes in the culture. At least where I live, interest in personally studied music for kids has waned, due to technology and the emphasis on sports. Over these years, my teaching practice has evolved into one that services mostly elders and retired adults who have time to fulfill a lifelong dream to make music or return to music they loved and left as they entered busy early “grown up” lives.
It has been a very interesting and fun experience working with an older generation who are at the piano with anticipation and enthusiasm, if not excitement to be starting something new at this time of their lives. I named my “program” for working with those age 60 -85 “Music for the Mostly Mature…or just under” because I have found those of this age group who find themselves at our piano and are open to continuous learning have a spirit of youthfulness and mirthful curiosity and are fun to work with…our lessons a mutual time of learning and sharing.
However, teaching elders requires a different perspective than that of working with youngsters who because of their youth and the assumed many years ahead of them could potentially..who knows..evolve into a musical career as a performing artist or a professional music educator. There is a different rigorous teaching program to employ here if they can withstand it that leads to the possible professional lifelong experience of and participation in music.
Music for the Mostly Mature has a different focus, an immediacy that is not about shaping the future, but a sense of accomplishment in the now…and for the most important word…PLEASURE! The seniors I meet at the piano come not so much for the theory and rules of music, but to MAKE it for the sheer pleasure of it. In many cases they also come for someplace interesting to go to to make their day have meaning, and for the social interaction and human connection. However it IS a music LESSON and so it is important that learning pertaining to music is continually going on, but we approach it differently. For instance we do” analyze” our pieces of music, but not so much analyzing according to the rules of music theory, but rather as to the emotional impact of a piece, how the composer “speaks” to us through his/her particular style of composing using notes and phrases instead of words, or as a series of exercises for toning the mind and the flexibility of fingers…
And speaking of fingers, leads me to mention elders and “fingering” which is the task of writing out for the student penciled finger numbers over the notes. This is in order to move through a passage of notes smoothly and in the most efficient way so as not to have awkward breaks in musical phrases or “run out of fingers” at an inopportune time in performance. Fingering is SO important..and as my students hear me say over and over again like a mantra…”Fingering is not for the note you are ON, it’s for where you are headed!” When working with the elders in their 60’s-almost 90 (!) I find that in many cases..if not in most cases..you just have to let fingering go once you have written it in, except for the most necessary of instances for practical ease. I feel that if the fingers of a hand of a 72 year old person has worked a certain way for all those years, it is pretty ingrained, hard to retrain and only causes more slow-down and frustration when a piece is being learned and played….for PLEASURE! Most of my elder adults read quite well and get where they are going by rather odd fingering that strangely enough…serves them just fine in working through a piece. There are some fingerings I really encourage them to try because IT WORKS without arduous thinking and looking for the notes, and once they try it in a tricky spot, they like it.
Working with elder adults at the music lesson is “by the clock” timewise for the actual teaching but because of the social aspect of the lesson, I find that it is important and rewarding to allow an extra 15 minutes or so of free time to hear stories of family, grandchildren or concerns. Elders are a richly knowledgeable and life-experienced group with interesting stories to share and I am able at this time in my own life to make room for that as part of the human need for community.
This was supposed to be a 2-part topic. However there is more to say… in part THREE, I will share a couple of examples and stories of several of my elder students and how we work with the situations of aging that need to be compensated for during our lessons and the music making process so that always it is an experience of accomplishment and PLEASURE!
Check back in a day or so!
From Christine, The Piano Mistress
Life is full of good things!
**** Check out the magic of Imagnation no matter what age on my Greening Spirit site: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/leaves-of-pink-and-blue-for-real/
**** Comfort food on my Foodie blog: http://sensuoussoupsandsuppers.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/ribolitta-tuscan-bread-soup-fare-for-peasants-and-kings/