A letter to my first piano teacher

Dear teacher,

Yes, it’s me – the one who didn’t practice, who couldn’t sit still, and who was always lagging behind her sister in overall progress. The one who quit piano lessons…and then started again, and quit again, and started again, and quit again….finally for good.

I’m here to say thank you.

More than that: I’m a musician now.

As in, a professional musician. A professional keyboard player and singer. I also direct choir and compose music too. And I’m even just now learning to transpose church songs by sight! Bet you never saw that coming.

Neither did I.

I have to say thank you, because none of this was possible without you. All those little drills and scales and endless Czerny knock-off pieces from John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano did their work. Even if I didn’t do mine.

I was a restless child, and parts of me have never recovered from that. I was frustrated and bored. I hated being admonished by my mother to practice when I didn’t want to, even though I also wanted to be a better player than I was.

When I quit piano, I actually took up guitar for a year and some. Until junior high, when I had to pick a wind instrument for band. Then I played clarinet. And by the time I quit clarinet (because I was bullied by another clarinetist), I had made it to first chair. I was actually pretty good!

And then singing found me in high school. Choir just enraptured me, and that’s where I stayed for much of my young adult life.

Now that I’m further developing myself on keyboard, I find myself wishing I had been more patient when I was your young student. I wish I would have practiced more. I wish I’d found a way to fall in love with the instrument at that age. I wish I’d created my own reason and motivation for playing, so that it wouldn’t be about pleasing adults.

But your magic worked. No matter what I thought of it, it worked. Every new musical adventure I tried, no one has ever had to go over the basics of reading music with me. And when I started studying music in college, learning about harmonic structures and phrasing, it was a breeze because it felt like I was just learning a language for things I already knew by instinct.

You had released that in me when you showed me where middle C was.

And if I hadn’t chosen music as a profession? Well, that’s something I can hardly imagine, given my love for making music. But let’s say I chose another discipline that fascinated me in college – say, anthropology. I’m sure I would still have a reason to thank you and credit you for teaching me what the mastery of a few basic things in childhood can do for the complex work of adult life.

Thank you for giving that to me. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for not pushing me, or laying the guilt on when things went bad, or flattering me to death when things went well. Thank you for not using me to further your own ends. Thank you for being on such good terms with my Mom, too – that always helps.

Thank you for teaching me the language of music, without which I’d be nowhere. It’s one thing to have a deep love for something, and quite another to know its language and embody it. That’s what you showed me. That makes the difference.

And it doesn’t matter that I didn’t “get it” when I was sitting on your piano bench and my feet couldn’t reach the pedals. I get it now.

Just so you know, your lessons never left me.



One thought on “A letter to my first piano teacher

  1. hollie duvall says:

    Amy, I loved this!! I have so many students that remind me of what you described as yourself and I can only hope that I am as successful with them as your teacher was for you. ………Hollie

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