I had just “interviewed” my first prospective student. I was teaching at the studio of my teaching mentor, Carol. The twelve-year-old girl was a transfer student who’d had two years of lessons. She had floppy fingers and long fingernails painted a garish shade of pink. Not my dream student.
It had never even occurred to me that she wouldn’t like me. I mean, I’d studied with famous teachers and won lots of piano competitions and I thought I was descending off my pedestal to even consider teaching her. The thought that she might not like me was the farthest thing from my mind.
What a difference thirty years makes. Now, it not only occurs to me, I tell people all the time, “You won’t like me.”
They usually respond, “Oh, but we will like you. We do like you. You come very highly recommended and my daughter listens to all of your recordings. We know that you are the very best.”
“It’s true that I am a good teacher,” I’ll tell them. “But I may not be the right teacher for your daughter.”
On September 10, 2001, the day before the September 11th attacks, I interviewed another prospective student. Tiffany played a piece from the California Certificate of Merit Level Seven Syllabus – the Bach Two-Part Invention in D minor. She was a sophomore in high school.
I quickly found out that in addition to taking piano, Tiffany also took rigorous ballet classes five days a week. She was also taking four Advanced Placement classes.
“How much homework do you have on an average night?” I asked.
“About three or four hours,” she said. “But I have to start it after I get back from ballet at about 7 pm.”
“It’s impressive that you find the time to play the piano at all!” I exclaimed.
“No, no. She’s lazy,” her father interrupted. “If she weren’t so lazy, she would be on Level Eight or Nine like the more advanced students.”
I ignored him and looked her right in the eye.
“You are a busy, hard-working girl. I think it’s amazing that you’ve been able to keep dancing, keep up your piano playing and get good grades in those AP classes. Good for you!”
The father looked disappointed. I didn’t share his vision of his daughter as a lazy, child. At the very least, I wasn’t going to berate her in an attempt to get her to work harder. She was already working plenty hard as far as I was concerned.
The next day, the planes hit the World Trade Center. I never heard from them. I’d like to think it was because of the attacks. But I know it was because I refused to treat his daughter the way he wanted me to. To treat her the way he treated her.
Things have changed. Now if someone doesn’t think too much of me, it’s usually the parents.
And now, if I’m honest, I don’t think too much of some of them, either.