by Heather J. Morris
(Article first published in 2014 in ‘The California Music Teacher’ - the Official Journal of the Music Teachers’ Association of California)
7:43. Email message: Aspen needs to reschedule her piano lessons for the next 4 weeks because her soccer schedule has changed.
7:46 Text message: Please add a 4th horn part to your new work for concert band.
7:47 Email message: Zara can’t come to her lesson today because the dog needs grooming.
7:57 Email message: I’m a beginning piano student looking for a teacher. How long will it take me to learn Fur Elise?
9:30. I’m seated at the piano in a college classroom. A sticky note on the music stand tells me that to replace this piano will cost $25,000. The conductor raises her baton. A cell phone pierces the silence. I play. Around me sounds of micro-tonality permeate the air. Just another morning with the beginning string orchestra.
11:30 Put the finishing touches to my review of a concert I attended last night to send to my newspaper editor for the noon deadline, quietly wondering if he’ll commit to print my exercise in alliteration: ‘Baton-less Brad’s mixture of karate chops and exquisite elegance brought out the best from an outstanding orchestra offering a sumptuous smorgasbord of contemporary classical compositions.’
12:30 Text message from student mom: I’ll be late picking up Booker after his lesson tomorrow because my hairstylist rescheduled my appointment. I’ll be about an hour late. Oh, yes, and can you give him dinner while he waits for me?
12:45 Email message from an unknown personage in England. I stumbled across your article about your musical ancestry on your website. We share the same great grandfather! I guess we are no longer strangers.
1:00 We’re seated at a portable keyboard. In front of me are windows swathed in metal grills: outside a high fence capped with razor wire. Behind me armed guards bustle, answer phones and march young men along bleak corridors. We’re working on a Bach Polonaise and the theme song from The Titanic. Suddenly a siren screeches. There’s been an incident. I am escorted back into the world outside.
2:27 Text message: I just checked on our cocktails (sic) and discovered that one has died. They are Xander’s pets and he’ll be too upset to come to his lesson today.
2:30 I arrive at Leif’s home. At 89 years old she is my oldest student. Above her ancient, pristine Steinway is a faded photograph of her late husband. We play for him.
4:00 James, a recovering alcoholic, enters the studio. His obsessive personality betrays itself in the copious emails he has sent me since he last saw me 6 days ago: exhortations to watch Youtube videos of piano players who he just knows I’ll love, invitations to must-see piano recitals in the area which I definitely should not miss, and revision upon revision of the composition he’s currently working on.
4:45 Opal sidles in to the studio. Me: Well, Opal. Did you find your piano books yet? Opal shakes her head. Me: Hmmm. This is the 7th week that you haven’t had them. Have you looked for them? Opal: Oh, I didn’t think to look for them myself. I’ll tell my Nanny to see if she can find them.
5:30 Michael, a Silicon Valley executive, tells me about his successful his presentation to 250 people at a IT conference earlier today. I can feel his body quake with nervousness as we play an elementary level duet together.
6: 15 Sasha, 6, bounces into the studio in her bright pink sneakers and carrying a pink binder and a pink file. ‘I’m sorry’ she says, ‘but my grandma’s cat attacked my theory book.’ The book is ripped to shreds.
7:00 Blaze appears, weighted down, not just by his book bag, but by all the cares of the world. He’s been at a robotics conference in LA all weekend so he couldn’t practice, his college application essays are due (Oh, and could you write a reference for me?) and he has his National Guild High School Diploma looming just around the next corner. We work on dominant sevenths for an hour.
8:00 Willow has pierced ears, lips, nose and purple hair. I don’t notice any of this as I am transported out of my studio to a cliff top somewhere high above the Mediterranean as I listen to her exquisite performance of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. Yes, I’ll be happy to record your performance for your college audition: Sunday morning at 8 a.m? Yes, Fine.
8:45 I drive home. I make dinner. I choose not to check my email.
9:25 I iron my Victorian outfit in readiness for my State Park docent gig tomorrow playing Victorian parlor pieces for two hours for the visitors to the dairy farm. I try not to dwell on the last occasion when the goat ate my music. But that’s another story.
9:46 Phone call from a potential date: Him: So you’re just a piano teacher, right?
9:47 I settle down to get away from my job, curling up with the cat in my lap, ready to dip into a good book: Lang Lang’s autobiography.