Tuesday, January 22, 2008

People with Policies

I was reminded yesterday that people with policies scare me. (I couldn’t help but remember my previous therapist, who was so policied that she wanted to see me weekly unless I was dead!) As I search for a piano teacher, I’m carefully thinking about why I want to study and the environment that will make me most productive and happy. I’m hopeful what I finally settle on will be virtually policy free.

A couple of months ago as I began to tackle more difficult music, my friend and “coach” Bill suggested that I should study with a piano teacher. I haven’t studied with anyone on a regular basis for about 15 years and I agreed with him that it was time to look for a teacher.

He gave me one suggestion. This person lives in Virginia, has absolutely stellar credentials in the chamber music field, and has the reputation of being a lovely woman. After exchanging several phone messages, we finally connected yesterday. She dodged my question of how much she charges and instead said she would e-mail me her policies prior to our arranged meeting today.

When I looked at the policies last night, I was shocked to find out she charges $100 an hour with all sorts of other fees. You basically commit to a monthly fee. But as I read further there were rules like the following:

Students must wash their hands before their lessons and practice sessions, and keep their fingernails short, flush with the end of the finger. If not, the student will use lesson time to fulfill these basic requirements.

There were more rules about notification of lesson termination, late fees, recital requirements, and on and on and on.

I could feel myself getting tense as I read over the policies.

I made a couple of phone calls to people who had reason to know the going rate and determined her fees to be well above the norm. So I called her back to decline the chance to meet her today that was going to cost me $105.

Meanwhile, one of the friends I called recommended her teacher of 10 years who happens to charge $55 an hour. She also happens to be the mother of a boy who went to high school with my daughter.

I called her today and got a very different first impression. She seemed totally flexible to whatever study approach I wanted to take. I’m sure she will teach me music theory and proper hand position, but she didn’t give me any rules for fingernail length. (My nails are of necessity short in order not to click on the keys.)

We agreed to meet and see if there is a musical good fit. Then we’ll come up with a plan for lesson frequency and figure out what music I will work on.

As I hung up, I realized how great it is to be able to make important choices like this as an adult. I acknowledged that I should never have to feel uncomfortable with anyone with whom I study anything.

My goal is not to become a concert pianist, but rather to get as much pleasure as possible out of this thing that currently occupies so much of my time. It will work best for me if policies don’t get in the way of making beautiful music.


Blogger media concepts said...

Thanks Barbara, you touched on one of my HUGE pet peeves. People who create rigid policies and refuse to deviate from them are hopelessly anal retentive. People who work for such people or organizations and merely parrot these policies without being willing to use their own judgment are mindless robots. These rigid policies are even more ironic when put in place by a music teacher of all people! I'm sure you can find a more kindred spirit elsewhere, and let this teacher instruct the kids of insurance company executives.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Ruth D~ said...

Smart decision, Barbara. Financially, sure. But emotionally as well. after all, this piano playing should be fun!! Enjoy.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MC -- I've thought about what must motivate people to write such elaborate detailed policies, that actually resemble legal documents. It's probably because they were burned one too many times and were tired of being taken advantage of. There seems to be a correlation between rigid policies and insistence on the use of a title such as Dr. or PhD.

RuthD -- It has to be all about enjoyment.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Wow, Barbara, you just made me flashback through all the piano teachers that I ever had! The one that was my favorite was a colleague of dad's who would pick me up from school (high school), let me drive the car home, wait until I had a nap, give an hour+ piano lesson, then stay for dinner with the family. He became an extended member of the family and is the reason that I can act like the familial lounge pianist, playing Christmas songs with one part of my brain and listening to the conversations swirling around me.
I just finished "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier" in which a writer rediscovers his love for the piano as he buys one and then searches for a good teacher (similarity?!).
I would hate to think that this piano teacher didn't think you would wash your hands, but perhaps someone with dirty mitts and long fingernails had complained when she made them wash and clip that they weren't getting their full hour. Now, there's a picture!

7:31 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I'm so happy you're going to get into some serious study of the piano. Excellent! You have a piano that deserves to be played with style and expertise. You're already so good - can't wait to see how you improve after taking some lessons. Bravo!

8:27 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- I loved your story of the family-style piano teacher. I'll bet you really enjoy playing as a result! I can't wait to check out the book you mentioned.

Reya -- Part of me has loved the freedom to play whatever I wanted without anyone's scrutiny. But as with learning anything, it is sometimes better to have someone available for advice and constructive criticism. I'm looking forward to meeting my new teacher Carol.

8:48 AM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

Sounds like teacher #1 took herself WAAAYYYY too seriously. What a major turn-off. I guess it's her job though.
But for me, the one you chose is more my style. Life's too short to be so rigid when you're trying to do something fun and educational.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gewels -- It was interesting when I related my experience to teacher #2, she said, "Performers do not always make the best teachers." Yes, life's too short to ever take on unnecessary stress!

10:55 AM  

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