“Teach the student first, the music second and the piano third.” -Frances Clark
With my husband working on island many difficulties of life were resolved. We did, however, have more bills than money coming in. I came with some skills and resources but little confidence. How could I supplement our income without leaving home? A few friends approached me and asked if I would teach their children piano. My college studies were in early childhood education, not piano pedagogy. But, my piano always moved with us and I played in church services from the time I was twelve. So, I timidly ventured forward with 4-5 students.
Surrounded by water, my potential clientele was fixed. Several talented piano teachers taught in various locations on the island. I was shy so my business grew slowly and only by word of mouth. I did not see how I could spend money on advertising when every penny counted. Over the years with encouragement from my husband, my friend, who loved to teach me about business, and from the loyal and talented families I came to love, my business flourished. Next year I celebrate 30 years of piano teaching.
What did I learn about running an island business? First, you must love what you do and show how you enjoy your work. In a small community we see each other interact in many places. Our true personalities reveal themselves over time. What you say at a school board meeting reflects on who you are. Your church attendance is observed and noted. Your children are judged by the relationship you have with outside work and community involvement. And, of course the opposite is true. You are judged by the way your own children act and perform. Often, I got referrals for piano teaching because my children influenced someone on the island.
Secondly, in order to grow your business you must grow personally. Working with young children, teenagers, and adults I had to re-invent my approach every year. Pedagogy, the study of how to teach, was of intense interest to me. How to explain things was always running around my head. On the piano bench I would often struggle to understand how my students viewed things. Personal practice meant finding time to learn my own new music so I could share a less known composer and I learned that knowing current pop music was a way to reach some students. That also meant I needed to be current with technology. I hope to stay viable as a teacher for many more years. Even though I am tired after teaching every afternoon I wake up ready to see them all again. Children of my students are now on my bench. I look into their expectant faces and see their father, or mother, and feel deeply committed to sharing my love of music.
“Have I a secret about playing the piano? It’s a very simple one. I sit down on the piano stool and make myself comfortable – and I always make sure that the lid over the keyboard is open before I start to play.” – Arthur Schnabel
I am writing for 31 days this October about Island Life. Click here to see the other days of writing.