26. Look Ma, No Electricity!
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
In my first five years at the Portland Conservatory, the third and most prominent spoke of the teaching wheel was the private piano lessons I gave and occasionally augmented with classes in Music Theory, Songwriting and Improvisation. The first step in the lesson process was to meet with interested students and their parents so we could get acquainted with each other and I could gather information to use in designing lesson plans and curriculum which best matched the prospective student's background, needs, desires and goals. At the lesson I wrote out progress notes and the assignment for the next week in order to make sure that nothing that needed to be addressed fell off the radar. I taught a variety of styles, and the semester was capped off with student recitals for which I required students to memorize the pieces they were performing.
I still follow these teaching practices today and find it very rewarding to watch the steady musical progress and growth of the students who take their lessons seriously. However, I have noticed in recent years that piano lessons (and practicing) are competing with an ever increasing array of distractions and other after school activities. When the need to prioritize these activities arises, I am sometimes frustrated and disappointed when piano doesn't get the attention it needs to remain viable.
Although online teaching is becoming increasingly popular, I will always believe that it can never substitute for lessons based on a dynamic relationship involving personal interaction between a teacher and student that is based on mutual respect and two way dialogue. The totality of nuances that are observable in a student's facial expression, body language, verbal expression, and technique can never be completely captured or appreciated via a flat screen presence generated by a camera angle.
When three dimensional holograms become available to the general public, it may not be necessary to spend time in the same room with another human being again, ever.... And when compared to quantum computing, it's clear that we humans were not built to compete with such high quantities of speed. Our particular gift and strength is the imperfect and imprecise human quality of our experience which leads to so many new possibilities. So we need to be careful before we start worshipping false gods by granting supremacy to our machines. One of the virtues of the piano (as opposed to virtual piano) is that you don't have to connect it to a power source other than a pair of loving human hands.
P.S. Recently I read an article which said that a man has invented a chip which can be implanted into a human being to program a person's muscles and nerves to play any piano piece. Has it really come down to a choice between playing piano motivated by love versus programmed nerve endings? Programmed human impulses may hit all the right notes, but will never touch the true spirit of music.