Last Friday was my last day (ever) as an official student, and I was in Canada performing a professional solo recital. That's pretty cool. The lack of a transition into the professional realm has, however, caused me to reflect on my last 25 years as a student, and certain people who have themselves or whose actions have left dramatic impressions on me. Read on if you wish.
I am a product of both great and terrible teaching. There's always something that falls in the middle but let's be honest, it's the best and the worst that we remember. As a pianist who plays with many instrumentalists and singers, I've been lucky to get to work with countless other music professors besides my own piano teachers, and many of those people have helped me hear, see, and feel my art form differently. Some treated me very badly, called me a "pretty little accompanist," or complained about me to their students and colleagues. The best of those teachers helped me become a better collaborator, taught me more about their own instrument and how to apply those concepts to the piano, and pushed me to be the best chamber musician I could be. The worst of those teachers taught me about collegiality, that true teaching doesn't stop when you leave the confines of your office, and that the best artists can teach musical concepts to performers of any instrument, not just their own. Unfortunately, I learned this from their shortcomings, but I'm so grateful to have learned it at all.
My piano teachers have been my most prized mentors. In high school, Carol laid the groundwork for my technique, and nurtured my innate musicality. In college, Maria spent as much time chatting as she did teaching, but without her, I would never have pushed myself to give full solo recitals each year of my undergrad. Linda taught me to question the preconceptions I had about my playing, to take on bigger repertoire and to believe that I could play it, and goodness did she boost my confidence while helping me play at a level I didn't believe I could reach. Jean-Louis taught me about hearing and creating colors where I had never imagined them before. He amplified my artistic palette and gave me practice techniques that I consistently use and teach my own students to this day. He pushed me to explore new music by living composers, and thus paved one of the most important paths I have embarked on in my professional life. Where can I even begin with Pavlos and M. Berchot? They both taught me discipline, effective practice, concentration, phrasing, rhythmic flexibility, artistry, pre-performance tactics (pas de café et spaghetti la veille !), how to interpret Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Haydn... the list goes on. They set the bar high for me, but a true mentor always does.
And Karen "Doc" Shaw! The consummate pedagogue who cares for me equally as both a human and a pianist. Doc has given me the greatest gift a teacher ever could: she has weaned me from needing her, and has prepared me to be my own teacher. I have treasured every compliment, criticism, word of wisdom, and laugh from Doc's mouth, and can safely say that she has been the best teacher for me at this point in my pianistic development. What a way to cap it all off!
So friends, if you've read this far, here's my teaching moment: find and cherish lessons in every day, every interaction, every disappointment. Learn, grow, repeat, and when it's appropriate, "take what you need and discard the rest" (That's all I got!).
It's been a wild ride. Am I done yet?