Strap in, I’m getting wordy tonight!
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I never wanted to be a teacher. All the way back to when my mom used to try to pick out melodies on the piano and I had to resist saying “Do you want me to play that for you?”, I never thought I had the patience or people skills to be a teacher. I taught harp lessons in college because it was required, or part of my job, or just to help out a teacher who had helped me so much. Anyone who knows me on a personal level could tell you that I’m far from the most patient person on the planet.
But y’know what? I love teaching. A lot, in fact!
I think the first time I realized I was starting to enjoy it was during the last years I was in school. I was teaching a high school girl who didn’t seem overly interested in playing the harp and was basically just biding her time taking lessons to appease her mom until she left for college and could quit lessons. I figured that if I was going to teach her, I should at least try to get her to enjoy it, so I told her I’d let her play her favorite type of music.
And what was her favorite type of music? Metallica.
Conveniently, I happened to be a Metallica fan too, so I said “You know what? I’m going to arrange your favorite Metallica song for the harp and I’m going to convince the Assistant Professor to let you play it for the Pre-College recital!” So that’s what I did. With a harp arrangement of “Call of Ktulu” by Metallica, my student suddenly wanted to practice and get better, and she learned a song that was not only significantly longer than any song she’d played before, but also considerably more difficult. To top it off, I arranged it for the pedal harp with several pedal changes and she learned it that way, despite only having a lever harp to practice on at home. I talked the Assistant Professor into letting her play it in the recital (it helped that it was a Halloween recital) and she did a fantastic job. Finally, she enjoyed playing the harp and she took her bow with a big smile on her face. I was so proud of her and how far she’d come in those few months of learning a Metallica song on the harp. I started to realize that maybe there’s more to this whole teaching lessons thing…
Fast forwarding to now and I love all of my students. They’re all so different and it’s so interesting to me how one student will be great at something everyone else is terrible at…or how all of their interests in learning the harp (or piano) are so varied. I’m so proud of all of them and what they’ve done and continue to do. I think I can definitely say without a doubt that I’m looking forward to the Student Recital next month far more than any of my students! I want them to show off what they can do and to see what each other can do. They come from all sorts of different backgrounds and their ages range from 8 to 60, but I think they’re all awesome for their own reasons.
It seems to be true what they say about back-to-school time being when a lot of people take up new hobbies and lessons. I started 2 new piano students last week and tonight I met with a new piano AND harp student. She already has experience with piano, but she’ll be starting piano lessons with me next week and harp lessons as soon as she gets a harp at home. She wants to learn harp so badly that her parents told me she’ll love it and want to stick with it regardless of whether I’m nice to her or it’s really hard. It reminded me of how my parents were so convinced that I would love and stick with the harp that they bought me a Concert Grand pedal harp before I ever had my first harp lesson. I can’t wait to get started with her, both on piano and harp, because I just know she’ll take off like a shot!
I talk a lot about the harp and teaching harp lessons, but I think one of my favorite teaching memories happened today during a piano lesson. I was teaching a 9 year old boy his second piano lesson this evening. Last week, his mother called me and said that she would like her son to learn piano but he really didn’t want to and was convinced (because of trying at school) that he wasn’t able to because he was too small. We set up a preliminary “test” lesson last week so that I could spend 30 minutes with him and try to prove to him that not only is he more than capable of playing piano, but that he might really enjoy it. I was absolutely floored by how quickly he learned things, understanding anything I told him immediately and not needing anything repeated. I had been prepared to teach him to play a song by using a set hand position and fingering numbers, but I took a gamble and started to explain how to read music…and he ended up learning how to read music in that one lesson, without ever asking a question or needing me to repeat anything! Amazing! He came back for another test lesson today, remembering everything from last week flawlessly and sight reading new songs with new notes perfectly on the first try. The songs are simple, so to give him an idea of what he could do, we played a duet. He played his simple melody with both hands and I played the teacher’s part at the bottom of the page. He had such an enormous grin on his face through the whole song and he kept looking over at me like he was amazed that he could play something so neat. I think we both learned something during his lesson today. He learned that yes, he CAN play the piano. And I learned that a silly, repetitive song made up of only 3 notes can be the most important thing I teach in a day.
Anyways. All that sap aside.
Perhaps the time I spent teaching my Metallica-playing harp student years ago stuck with me because of how much alike we were. While I do enjoy me some classical and traditional harp repertoire, one of my biggest enjoyments is arranging and playing things on the harp that you would never ever think to play on the harp. I’ve uploaded several videos over the past 8+ years to a YouTube channel, videos of varying quality, but always of non-traditional things played on the harp. For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a lot more and start uploading videos more consistently. I finally got the ball rolling on that and I plan to continue as long as I can!
So here we have this week’s video. This is “Dance of Death,” a song by Iron Maiden, which is probably my favorite band in the world. I arranged it for 4 harps (with a 5th harp popping in for a few measures) and recorded it on my Salvi Echo electroacoustic harp through my JamMan looper pedal.