The Piano Teacher

You wouldn’t know it, what with the confessions of extreme Netflix watching and talk of drinking terrible coffee at Sunterra, not to mention failed attempts at achieving Fitbit greatness, but I actually have a bit of a job.

It all began, several years ago, with a friend asking me to teach her daughter how to play piano. I said no. She asked again. I said I’d give it a try. And, yada yada yada, I now spend a portion of every day trying to exhort ‘the future’ to understand that middle C is alive and well and can only be one note, in a very specific location, on that set of lines and spaces on the paper in front of them.

I am. The piano teacher.

Yes. As with most jobs, particularly those that involve children, it’s a veritable goldmine of writing prompts. But alas, writing about other people’s children is akin to writing about one’s coworkers: almost always a bad idea.

But then, in October, my long-lost piano made its way to my Calgary home. And the longstanding guilt I’d felt at teaching other people’s children how to play piano, while my children didn’t even know middle C existed, was assuaged.

I started working in-house.

Which has had several personal and familial implications , the least of which being: I can now speak of it.

Very carefully.

My initial plan was to begin teaching the Gort and wait six months or a year to teach the Hen. I didn’t even give Percy’s tutelage a first thought, much less a second.

But as soon as the Gort had his first lesson, his middle, keep-up-with-the-Gortses brother, indicated he would not be left behind. And then someone asked me to teach their 5 year old and it seemed silly to teach someone else’s 5 year old, but not my own.

And, before I could yell get your foot off the pedal, all three of our cherubs were piano playing fools. I use the term ‘playing’, not to infer a modicum of competence, but rather as an aural indicator of the noise level in our home post-October 2014.

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘I should teach my three boys aged 5, 7 and 10 how to play piano!’, this is what you should know:

It’s going to drive you crazy. It’s going to drive your husband even crazier. You will find yourself saying unbelievable things like ‘stop practicing!’

Your husband will change the ‘last-call’ time for piano playing on a daily basis to suit his mood. ‘No piano playing after 6!’ he’ll yell one night. ‘No piano playing after 4:30!’ the next. Along with ‘no piano playing before 7:30 in the morning,’ or ‘no piano playing before 10!’

You will yell the phrase ‘no pedal!’ so often that the 5 year old will start using it too. ‘No pedal!’ he will tell his brothers, when the sustained, bordering-on-garbled sound makes its appearance. Because, let me tell you, if you think three people playing ‘Russian Sailor Dance’ or ‘Ode to Joy’ at various intervals throughout the day isn’t enough to push the sanest, kindest person over the edge, just add pedal.

Here’s the other thing you should know about boys and the piano. If they find a piece they like, they will play it. Only. Continuously. As fast and as loud as possible. With pedal (if you allow it).

And that’s when you’ll hear yourself yelling ‘stop practicing!’ Much to your own astonishment.

Like, maybe you’re familiar with that ditty called ‘Ode to Joy’. But have you heard it played super loud, so fast you can’t catch your breath and either two octaves higher or lower than written – depending on the player’s mood?

Ode to Horror, more like.


Noise level and pedal overuse and fixation with Russian Sailor Dance aside, it’s also been kind of awesome watching all three of them at the piano. The Gort playing with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, the Hen practicing like a madman and Percy, remarkably adept given his age and tiny fingers, counting ‘1-2’ out loud, as quickly as possible after every half note.

They may not be having much luck with beginner swimming, but beginner piano? Totally different story. It’s almost as if 50 percent of their genetic material was sourced from a pianist!

To be sure, there are pitfalls in having your mother for your teacher, and your sons as your students.

I’m overly familiar with nearly every piece they play, because I’ve heard at least six other children play it. I even know where they’re most likely to make a mistake because, little known fact, you can have six beginner students play the same piece and five of them will make identical mistakes.

‘You’re supposed to play a D,’ I might yell from the kitchen where I’m chopping onions.

‘I am playing a D,’ the Gort will insist.

‘No you’re not,’ I, the person who knows what a D sounds like, will volley back.

After which there might be one more round of arguing, or a change of note as the prodigal D suddenly makes an appearance and we continue on with our respective tasks.

They feel free to express their irritation or unhappiness with me, in a way they would not with another teacher. And I’m less inclined to be the most patient version of myself with them, having expended my patience trying to encourage and instruct eighteen other children,

The Gort had a lesson three or four weeks ago – that’s another pitfall, I’m less inclined to give them regular lessons, either because it’s not on the calendar or because, after teaching a series of lessons, I rarely have the energy to do three more when I get home – ‘wow, you didn’t even get mad at me,’ he mused at the end of his lesson.

It’s the little things.


6 thoughts on “The Piano Teacher

  1. even when they overpedal and my head feels like it might explode, nothing beats coming home to the sound of little people banging those keys…

  2. This made me smile. Keep up the good work. It will have good results in the end. Maybe invest it ear plugs for you and Jason to help make it through. ☺

  3. For Drew’s first recital he learned a piece (with a title that means nothing to me and so I can’t remember it . . .) and he played it. forever. WITH PEDAL. in every octave. and he sang it. everywhere we went.

    And then he magically played it in another key one day without being told that he could or should. I was amazed, and it made all the pedal-using a little bit easier to take. But only a little bit.

    Love your blog 🙂

  4. Thanks Nicola! I assume the noise level at your house is more gender-balanced. Liz, that’s so great that Drew is playing too. Thank you for corroborating my theory about boys and piano 🙂 (And that is pretty genius that he transposed it all on his own…..)


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s