This post is about returning to teaching music after having written a critical PhD about it. I last taught music nearly ten years ago, while working as a freelance musician in Glasgow. I mainly taught piano students at Strathclyde university as well as taking the odd private student. My freelance work involved predominantly playing rather than teaching, but in the small amount of teaching I was doing I had an uncomfortable sense that despite corners of experimentation, I was mainly teaching the same way that I had been taught. As I’d had a ‘straight’ classical music education (other than Suzuki to start with) this meant canonic repertoire, lots of correction and technical detail, and working one-to-one rather than in groups. Meanwhile, in the playing I was doing as a musician I was having to use a much broader range of skills than my training had prepared me for – improvisation or playing around the score, transposition, interacting with a wide range of groups of people, and lots of emotional and musical support and flexibility for the musicians and singers I was accompanying. These skills hadn’t filtered into my teaching yet; and I was painfully aware that I had had absolutely no teacher training in music.
Now, having written 100,000 words on the ways in which class and gender inequalities have subtly (and not so subtly) made their way into classical music’s practices and pedagogies, I find myself at the coalface (songface?) again. I’ve agreed to take over my seven year old niece’s violin lessons. When I say violin lessons, I really mean music lessons – so far we are just using the violin as one of the possible ways at our disposal to make music (the others being a digital piano and singing). This came about because I was voicing my disapproval at both my nieces being put forward for grade one ABRSM exams. At age seven and eight, I think they have no business doing music exams. For the moment, I’ll leave the exams discussion for another post. But the upshot of my interference was that my sister asked if I’d be willing to take over my niece Isabel’s music lessons for a while. Thinking of the 100,000 word discussion I’ve just written, and my huge admiration for teachers like Jackie Schneider and Jason Kubilius who do this full time, I decided to say yes. It would give me a chance to have something special to do together with my niece, and also I had been meaning to learn to play fiddle properly for years (I’m mainly a cellist and pianist). Continue reading “Back to the songface”