330. Relaxing Standards

I give children piano lessons. I won’t accept money for it, because I don’t want to have to think about whether I deserve to be paid. I’m retired, and I don’t have to deal with that any more. And my approach to teaching piano is unorthodox enough that most parents could easily raise eyebrows about paying me. Their children probably aren’t going to be doing any recitals while I’m teaching. The works of Chopin, Mozart, et al. will lie quietly on my shelves while children learn “Chopsticks,” “Heart and Soul,” and whatever else they want to learn. And some children will make up their own music, which may or may not sound anything like any music we’re used to.
In a typical piano lesson in my apartment, a child makes sounds on the piano that the child and I choose to call music while I listen attentively. I may ask a question or two now and then, or make a suggestion. But my questions are not typically pedagogical: “Is that a tune you made up?” “Can I hear that again?” And my suggestions are really just suggestions: “I’d like to hear what that sounds like louder,” or “Can you make up a tune about the weather clearing up and getting sunny?” If the child wants to ignore my suggestions, that’s okay.
Children don’t usually get undivided attention from adults, or if they do, there are usually strings attached. Adults know what they have in mind, and since they’re bigger, what children have in mind gets subordinated. That’s often a good thing; what children have in mind isn’t always the best thing. Mozart and Chopin wrote some tunes that are much more fun to hear than “Heart and Soul.” But that’s not what these lessons are about.
I “teach” dance, too. That is, I sit and watch children dance. Anyone who has ever seen me dance may giggle at the thought of me teaching dance. And nowadays, anyone who sees me take a few steps may wonder how I can even think of teaching dance. But music, dance, and visual art (which I also “teach”) are expressive arts, and there are too many situations where children are discouraged from expressing themselves, or told exactly how to do so.
So I have the luxury of teaching the way I want to. Since I don’t charge money, I don’t have to worry about complaints. You may have noticed that I put quotes around the word “teach” in some of my sentences. I did that in deference to the people who work harder, and get children to impress you with their skill. They have important roles to play, too; some children and parents want to deal with more than “Chopsticks.” But I believe that the role I’m playing is also valuable. The lessons I give are chances for children to express their hearts and souls.

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