Wednesday, September 26, 2012

piano lessons

I really love teaching piano. It's one of those things where the drive sounds long every time I have to head out the door (I teach in a city about 30 minutes away in good traffic), but the lessons themselves are always exhilarating enough that I can usually remind myself that it's going to be fun when it's time to leave and not hate it. E especially hasn't practiced much lately, so I am trying to come up with small ways she can use to progress a lot in a little bit of time. She still enjoys it, she's just overbooked with homework and other extracurricular activities. Her brother J (who just started playing this summer) is doing quite well - he never has any confidence in how he's doing (at least, he makes a lot of self-depracating comments ... whether he really feels that self-conscious, I don't know), but he has a knack for it. Their mom thinks that E is more of a natural (at music) of the two of them, but honestly, if they keep up the rate at which they're each moving right now, I'll bet he could catch up to her within a year, 18 months tops. 

R usually has spurts where he progresses very quickly and well, and then he tapers off for a little while, until I mention something (or his mom notices) and then his mom amps up the practice support and the cycle goes again. He really enjoys it when he can see his success, but it's kind of a cycle - if he's not practicing much, he doesn't improve much, and then he gets bored and doesn't like practicing. His parents are very enthusiastic about everything their kids do, though, and they particularly think he has musical talent and love to see his progress. Apparently he took trumpet lessons a few years ago but didn't really like it, so he quit, but they aren't letting him quit piano because they think he's doing well and that it will be good for him to see it through. (Gotta say, I agree.)

It's so fun to drive them to do the best they can but still be the cool teacher who doesn't get them in trouble for not practicing, haha. And then they usually practice more! (Of course, I mention that if they practiced more, they'd move forward more quickly. but I usually let them/their parents choose the pace and then I push them just a little harder than that.) I just try to adjust their goals or maximize our lesson time so they can always see progress. I figure it's more important for them to enjoy themselves so they'll see a reason to keep it up, and my enjoyment from piano always came from seeing progress (and performing, but as a small-time teacher I'm still working on good ways to get them performance opportunities). It's fun to pass that on.

I've been very lucky to mostly have fairly motivated students with invested parents. I've had the opposite and it can be very slow going. My mom always has other parents ask her how she gets her kids to practice, and she says she's a little baffled by the question. Her reply is usually, "...How do you get them to brush their teeth or set the table?" The answer is about the same - you should treat it like any other thing they don't get to get out of. We always had a set time that was our turn at the piano, and we got 30 minutes and then the shift changed. (haha.) Then, there was always the threat that if we didn't practice, we had to pay for that week's lesson...

Sunday, September 2, 2012


"I speak in absolutes, though I don't think in them." (said by someone smart, sometime. got it off Garth Hill's Facebook page ... he is pretty smart, so maybe it was an original.)

I hate this, but it's exactly how I experience life. I have hardly any opinions that are all-or-none, but I sometimes struggle to say things in a succinct manner that also reflects the nuances of that opinion. For example, I am neither Democrat nor Republican (both parties are too extreme for me lately), but if I express an opinion that sounds more liberal or more conservative, I'm always worried that it will come across that I am dyed-in-the-wool one side or the other. Still, it's not like I want to give a treatise before the other person can respond. By succinctly expressing one element of my ideas on a subject, I don't want to welcome embracing or slamming comments from people who ARE dyed-in-the-wool, but I wouldn't mind a discussion with people who can be open-minded enough to try to understand both sides, even if they have chosen one of them.

Theoretically, it doesn't matter what people think of me. I am me, either way. However, as a public relations grad, I know full well that how people think of you does change the relationship you will have, even if it's only in small ways. And really, this can be really good. That principle usually gets a bad rap, but there's something to it. I am who I am, but because I am a mature adult (right?), I also know how to be tactful, polite, kind when I am in a bad mood, and in myriad other ways choose to control how I act in social situations instead of succumbing to every judgmental moment, irritation, or flash of pride. Understanding how others perceive you can be an important part of that ability.

However. If I want someone to be open to have a conversation with me on some topic or another later, I want them to know who it is they're actually talking to. I want them to understand that I've formed my opinions carefully, but that I welcome a good discussion and am usually fairly open to adjusting those opinions. That doesn't mean I'm a ball of clay waiting to be formed to your opinions, but I do want to hear what you think, and at the very least I usually want at least to understand where you're coming from.

But it can be so hard to get that across. Especially when we are just chatting for a few minutes. Like now, I suddenly realized that someone reading this is probably totally oriented to political opinions now - it might not have occurred to you that I could be talking about an offhand word in a class, a Facebook comment, or a small-talk conversation about hairstyles or food or a movie or the latest headline or baby-raising or how I pack my moving boxes. It's not book club where I usually have this issue, because any given topic might get an hour and a half.

Maybe I should pick up Twitter again.

packing to move

We are moving - surprise! We had decided we thought we'd sign another year lease at our current place, but then it sold. (Our landlord has been trying to sell it off and on since before we moved here.) He thought it was going to someone who wanted to keep tenants, but it turned out that the buyer wanted to move in, so we got our 30-days' notice. It was sad, since we have loved living in this place, but okay because we already knew it couldn't last forever. (Our landlord actually offered it to us if we wanted to buy it, but we didn't too badly want to own a loft in Oakland with no doors or storage space to speak of. Someday we'll have kids, and we're going to want to put those kids somewhere with a door when they just want to scream.)

As luck would have it, we were out of town for several of those thirty days, so apartment hunting was pretty hectic, but things worked out. We found a place that will be fine, at least for now. It's not as pretty as this place (I am fairly converted to stained concrete floors), but overall it's a lot more practical, and it has almost as much space. Jon is pretty excited about the big porch-like area in front of our door (visions of cookouts are dancing in his head). I am even starting to be pretty excited about having carpet. I'll post pictures of all that after we're moved in. Becca (and her son, and her brother) and Danielle (and her kids) both came to help us pack, which was rather angelic of them. Both were a huge help, and we made a lot more progress than we would have otherwise.