Notes from a Musician's Journal
Greer, Amy, American Music Teacher
I am restless and bored these days. It is painful to even say that out loud. For what I know--know with every inch of my being--is that my life is wonderful. I have a husband who manages day in and day out to overlook my flaws and even adore me. I have an overflowing studio of students of all ages--from young children to retired adults--who come to most every lesson prepared and enthusiastic and who take my wild, wacky ideas and teaching approaches and manage to learn in spite of me. I have as much work playing and performing as I want. I live in a house I love, in a quirky city and an enchanting state that I have become oddly fond of and attached to. We have loving extended families and a community of friends that grows stronger and deeper every year. It is not with a bit of irony that I say that I am very blessed.
And yet, there is a restlessness--a dissatisfaction with the limits of my work that lately I can't shake. My students enter competitions and do well, and I find myself angry. I'm angry, not at the results, but at how degrading the idea of music competitions is in the first place. I am frustrated by how limited the expectations are for such events, and how contrary they are to my pedagogical values. I hate the idea that the results are dependent on 10 minutes of playing, when my whole approach to teaching is to cultivate a wider, rounder musical aptitude. I work hard to make sure my students are secure technically, can sight read well, and are comfortable with improvisation and composition, in addition to playing standardized literature well. I want them to be able to think creatively and to work effectively. I believe music lessons can help to transform them into creative, compassionate, thoughtful human beings. My every molecule rebels against the idea that anything about 10 minutes of competition playing is worthwhile. I fuss and fume for weeks afterwards, and this was a year when my kids were perfectly happy with the whole process.
"You know, Amy," a wise mentor later tells me when I share my frustrations with him, "if you're angry at the whole world, it probably means the box you've built for yourself is too small."
Oh, I fear he is right, and I hate this. I hate this because it means the box--that would be the gorgeous jewel-toned box I proudly call my life--has to be rebuilt. Or at the very least, remodeled to make room for this very opinionated and determined new set of beliefs inside of me that won't quiet down. I thought I had my world all worked out already, and these years of creating my career and my work life were now supposed to start paying off. If not in fame and large quantities of money, then at least I would feel satisfied and contented with my lot. Instead, all I have to show for my hard work recently is badly directed anger and a lot of sleepless, restless nights. This is not what I had in mind. Which, of course, only makes me more angry.
I'm afraid of looking deeply at what this really means, because I fear such close inspection will turn my life upside down. What I suspect, deep down inside, is that for me the traditional world of piano teaching as we all know and love it, is the problem. This is the box that no longer fits. But what that means for my life I don't know.
Obviously, nothing about this is simple. Not only because I have invested years of my life and blood into this profession, but also because I love it. / love it. I have been playing the piano since I was 4 years old; I can't remember a time when my life and routines were not knitted to my hours spent on the bench. The teaching piece is equally organic to my sense of self. I have been teaching since I was 14 and giving beginning music lessons to neighborhood children for $5. I taught swimming lessons at the local YMCA. I taught babysitting children nursery songs with hand motions. I taught younger brothers to ride bicycles and baby sisters to read. Teaching was never something that one day I decided to do. …