Do you believe in angels?
It’s kind of a fun thought, that people and events are sent to you as a sign or for reinforcement that you are on the right (or wrong) path. Being a creative artist who produces their own works (think composers, writers, choreographers, etc) requires quite a bit of courage, conviction, and determination. One must have full belief in themselves that one day, in the distant future, countless hours of hard work will be appreciated and fully worth the effort.
I am currently composing for my upcoming original solo piano album Central Star. No one is asking me to make the album. No one is commissioning the work. It is simply a calling that gives me so much gratification and fills my soul. This is a similar feeling that I had while making the first Little Gems for Piano book. I would stay up late at night and fill my days and evenings with composing, engraving, and editing. I took the process very seriously, although I had no idea where it would lead. After it was released, a few people around the music school where I teach would continually praise the book and ask me to write more. Almost every time I saw them, teacher Martha and her student Isaac would rave about the book and say, “You must write another level!” . These seemingly small encounters can do wonders for a creator and remind them that their work is worthwhile.
In my new town of Bend, Oregon, I am treating my composing and performing career as a full time job. Composing music, recording it, booking concerts for the multi-media collaborative performance, and transcribing it into a publishable book is a massive undertaking. Each piece has a correlating piece of art painted by Adrian Arias and will move in real time to the music. Sometimes I literally laugh out loud about how much I am taking on with this project. I also like to think of choreographer Kevin Jenkins as someone who was sent to me as a sign that I am on the right track. When I was in the beginning stages of the album creation, he reached out and asked if he could use my music for upcoming dance performances in 2020 in Chicago and Miami. I was thrilled!
I am fortunate enough to have a gig once a month playing at a gorgeous church in town. During the offertory, I am free to choose whatever piece I would like. I have been playing selections from the album, and in a way, these are the “premiere” performances! It is such a safe and comfortable way to perform the new works and get a sense for how people react. The feedback has been so heart warming and reaffirming that yes, I am on the right track! Some people said they have been brought to tears, some described how calm or transported they felt, and others inquired about when the sheet music and album would be available because they could not wait to get it. I am so grateful for every single person who came up to me and every comment I received. It is most important to have inner conviction that your work has value, but to have a few people along the way come up to you and praise your work can be truly uplifting and affirming.
How does all of this relate to teaching? Lately, I have been thinking about where my students’ natural gifts reside. We all have things we easily gravitate towards. Some students are wonderful performers, some love to compose, and some can improvise quite intuitively. I have been taking the time to point out my students’ strengths, having a conversation about it, and deciding with the student where to take and develop this skill. It is easy to take a more generic path for all students, but I think it’s important to carve out individual paths based on the student’s aptitude and interest. I have a student who is a junior in high school who plays at a high level. We could take all of our final lesson time to prepare for his Level 10 Royal Conservatory of Music Exam, but we have decided together it would be more worthwhile to prepare some Level 10 pieces, while also spending quite a bit of lesson time on his original compositions. Who knows where his propensity and passion for composing will lead. Sometimes I view piano teachers as angels, sent to students for a finite period of time to develop and instill their love of music.
p.s. If you haven’t seen my updated website, feel free to take a look around!