But just make sure you've got it all set to go
Before you come for my piano
~ Jackson Browne, "The Load Out"
Another year, another piano teacher (No. 5). My teacher Trudy is moving to Sacramento, Calif., and I told her I refuse to commute. She asked, “Just how dedicated are you?!”
So I went on a tutor-finding site called WyzAnt and found Harvey, the big invisible bunny.
Actually, Harvey is a 61-year-old man who puts the gnome in metronome. He is bouncy, joyous, enthusiastic. We talked and I played and he showered with me praise: “You’re so MUSICAL! Such a sensitive, linear rendering! And you have a good ear for different styles!” *beams*
He teaches at a Lutheran church right off the highway I travel to and from work, so it’s very convenient – and I found the baby grand in the sanctuary to be very responsive, unlike the stiff keys I battled at Trudy’s. When I arrived, I saw a gray-haired man in the sanctuary whom I took for the pastor, because he had on a black shirt that might have had a clerical collar. But no, it was Harvey, and he bounded up to greet me sort of like a large dog, tail wagging furiously.
Harvey has had some interesting experiences. He is just back from two years in Puerto Rico, where he taught at a middle school, I think. Now he’s tackling preschoolers for 20 hours a week while he builds up his private lessons again. He’s happy to have me come every other week instead of every week, which I requested – at least until my work schedule eases with the new hire I’ll soon be training.
We had wide-ranging conversations as he perused the books I brought and occasionally tested me on this or that piece – standing BEHIND me to watch my hands. That was more comfortable than sharing the bench with my previous two teachers. He played a couple of pieces for me before assigning them, and I marveled at his deft and delicate left hand. (Mine kind of thuds.)
He told of a church he had visited while a grad student at Kent State – way up in the wilds of Pennsylvania, some splinter sect of Baptists, he thought. As he described the eerie singing there, I was reminded of Chanticleer at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, so I mentioned that. He went into ecstasies. He sings in the tremendous American Chamber Chorale. (He says they need altos, but when I heard them I concluded I'm not good enough for that choir.) In fact, as we compared notes, it turns out the concert I attended was one he sang in, with two Eric Whitacre pieces and an art show/sale. But the more recent concert he was excited about included music by “this composer, Arvo Pärt …” And *I* went into ecstasies. They sang the Te Deum! So I told him about the City Choir of Washington and the fulfillment I found in their performance.
Harvey lives in a little burg where my bike trail regularly takes me – about nine miles from me, as the crow flies. When I described where I live, he agreed, “Oh, yeah, you’re in the hood!” So he gets the rural mindset.
We talked about what I want to accomplish. I had told Trudy I want to concentrate on classical, but I’m not sure that’s true. “I melt when I hear ‘Imagine,’” I told Harvey, “and I want to play that way. And there’s this guy on YouTube who’s done a phenomenal piano arrangement of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets.’” He exclaimed, “Really!” like he was actually interested – not dismissive.
But for now I have three new classical pieces to work on in addition to the three lesson pieces Trudy had assigned, plus of course scales and Hanons and Schmitts. But he’s having me back up on the Schmitts and go back over some ground that my muscle memory should help with, to ease into the harder ones. “Why don’t I practice?” I said. “Because it HURTS!” He agreed! So he wants to take it a little easy on me. So far. I mean, it was my first lesson/getting-to-know-you session.
I came away feeling GREAT instead of nervous and self-conscious, as I have with other teachers. Happy and energized! He’s convenient, he’s accommodating to my schedule, he likes the same music I do, he’s (so far) complimentary, and he’s even a rural neighbor. This may work out great! At least until he decides to go teach high school in Myanmar or something.