Piano Parents on the Fence

Turnover Is Expected and Healthy

Today begins a new program year for fall 2020 piano lessons. Every year there is some type of turnover. I expect that some families will move away; such is life in the Walmart vendor community of NW Arkansas. I also expect that some older students will want to narrow their focus to just one or two extra-curricular activities. That sometimes means piano is cut. Even really good players approaching the mid-teen years will quit simply because they get involved in academics, a sport, or even a part-time job. That’s okay, and I support a student who makes the tough decision to quit piano because that time has come. I also applaud families who purposely limit extra-curricular activities for their children to allow them to do one or two things really well. Dabblers are never great students!

Sitting on the Fence Has Greatly Increased

Occasionally students leave to study with other teachers closer to their home, or maybe to find a teacher who better fits their needs. No one likes to lose students for these reasons, but I cannot control traffic, nor can I be everyone’s best teacher. As you move through the recruitment process, some parents will typically not follow through. However, the magnitude is quite different this fall: Several piano parents who were valuable studio members have put piano on hold. Several other families who seemed very enthusiastic and close to committing have instead climbed onto the fence. Piano parents on the fence are not wanting to try either online or in-person lessons.


tiny piano keyboard

Playing piano is one of those pursuits that becomes infinitely more enjoyable as skill increases, unlocking more and more repertoire.


Online Lessons

In mid-March, when schools converted to virtual teaching virtually overnight, I did too! I don’t offer the fanciest online lessons; mine are one camera – the one on my iPad! I teach through FaceTime or Zoom. Some teachers use multiple cameras and explore all of the possibilities of screen sharing. Some even continue teaching buddy or group lessons through Zoom as if the students were in the studio. However, no matter how simple or fancy the technology, online lessons are fine for some, but not so great for others. Older students seem to do fine, but the youngest ones seem least able to focus over video. This is even the case when they have an extremely willing parent who in effect becomes my teaching paraprofessional.

In-Person Lessons

In June, I offered the possibility for in-person lessons, but all of my families stayed online. Two families transitioned back to in-person lessons in July, and more returned in August. There is an advantage to in-person lessons – seeing and hearing is more difficult even over the best Internet connection. The set up at Central Methodist, the home of Shepherd Music School, is all you could want. We have two grand pianos side by side, with enough space between to provide six feet of distance. We sanitize the keys between families. Require masks. Make temperature checks. Ask for sign-ins to detail everyone present, kids and adults alike. It’s not risk-free, and your comfort has to be there! However, of all the places I go in the public, it’s the one in which I feel the most safe.

Plan C

For families that don’t want to do either of those choices, I haven’t found an adequate option C. It’s truly lose-lose, because I lose income that I had planned to have, and the student loses motivation to practice without a weekly lesson as a checkpoint. If a family truly wanted to come back at a designated time, I would be willing to put some games and other fun activities that can promote learning for a reasonable rate. For older students, that might involve a theory or composition project. Or, it might include a different curriculum of age-appropriate independent learning materials.

Loss of Learning Opportunity

I’m very concerned about students who fit in that sweet spot of ages 8 to 12. These students are old enough to make great strides in music learning but have not yet become distracted teenagers. As a piano teacher, my goal is to provide a positive experience that in turn will help my students become lifetime musicians. A life of music enrichment, from listening and performing, is a very worthy goal. Playing hymns at church or Christmas Carols at home counts just as much as playing Chopin and Beethoven. Playing piano is one of those pursuits that becomes infinitely more enjoyable as skill increases, unlocking more and more repertoire.

Feedback from Other Teachers

I posted my concerns to one of my most trusted private teaching communities for two reasons. One, to see if what I was experiencing was just me, or common behavior. It was the latter! Also, I was looking for feedback on channeling my negative energy into positive action. I got some amazing feedback, which I’d love to share:

  • The 2020-21 season is going to look very different from 2019-20, regardless of what marketing efforts I make. Families are in a different place; why should I expect that my studio to be the same?
  • Even though my marketing efforts have yielded new students, I have to double-down on my efforts to face what every entrepreneur faces when trying to grow a business. Just do it!
  • Some families may eventually come back, some may not. Worrying about that now is an unpaid headache; this will solve itself eventually.

Thoughts?

What are your thoughts about fall 2020 piano lessons? Do you prefer in-person or online? What would you say to a family that decides to put lessons on hold in what is actually a very good environment for learning to play? From a personal standpoint, it’s my goal to stay in business as a teacher. I hope to be around to teach both the families who have remained in my studio as well as those piano parents on the fence when they are ready to jump off.

Photo by Ady April. Courtesy Pexels.com
Last Updated 2020-08-18 | Originally Posted 2020-08-10

Say Hello to the Curious Squirrel


Connect with the Curious Squirrel

  • Say Hello! in the comments at the bottom of the post
  • Contribute to my continuing education fund via the church
  • Subscribe to the Curious Squirrel Monthly Newsletter
  • Listen to the Curious Squirrel in Action
  • Recommend me to those you know searching a piano or organ teacher

Introduction

In late 2019, I received approval to start a new concert series at the church where I work, First Methodist of Bella Visa, called the Curious Squirrel.  My mascot is Samuel the Squirrel, a critter who attended and wouldn’t leave my recital at Central Methodist in Rogers. Although he was a nuisance during the recital, he was an inspiration towards my new marketing plan! How I got here is the rest of the story!

A Blessing

When I landed my part-time salaried job at First Methodist in 2012, I received the chance to participate in the professional Wesley Series as an added bonus.  I performed in concerts including singers, violinists, and woodwinds. It was really the type of opportunity I had wanted my whole life.

A New Focus

When funding for that series ended in early 2017, after 21 years, I no longer had the opportunity to participate in professional chamber music at the church. So, I decided to go solo on organ and piano. During the past two years, I offered 18 events. The few concerts that weren’t solo involved vocal recitals with Chancel Choir members, and even an Irish Sing-A-Long in March 2019 that I hope to make an annual event.

My goal for these recitals was two-fold: For me, it was an opportunity for me to build repertoire and experience in solo performing. There’s nothing like scheduling a recital to force discipline, even if that means spending 12 hours on the organ in one afternoon and evening to learn a piece to be ready for the next day! For the church, the concerts were presented as a gift for the both church members and the Bella Vista community. It’s so rare in our area to have classical events available. I feel an obligation to give them, to the extent that I have the time to do so.

Try Something Different

All the while giving these free events, I was trying to re-establish a professional concert series at the church, but there was no support for that. Zero. I decided to shift my focus to something that few could object to – continuing education.  The church has a small continuing education budget for music, which covers my membership in the American Guild of Organists with a little bit of money left over for things like lessons, certifications, and learning materials.

However, this fund makes just a squirrel-sized dent in the cost of an organ convention, whether it be a regional or national one. Nor, does it cover much towards a summer week-long sacred music class. Church musicians are very isolated in their work, and these opportunities are a wonderful shot-in-the-arm to revive and revitalize church musicians for the work we do in our church communities.

How You Can Help

Pre-Covid-19, I purchased a bright red, squirrel proof box, which accepts cash or checks for any gift concert attendees wish to make towards my continuing education. You can write your check to the church, with a memo line mention of the Curious Squirrel. When I need to make a claim against the fund, I’ll do so with the church administrator.

When I switched over to my bite-sized recital project called the Weekly Acorn in May 2020, I established a PayPal link that can be used for contributions. This link goes directly to First UMC of Bella Vista, but I only receive the proceeds into my fund if you put Curious Squirrel or Weekly Acorn in the Add a Note area.


You can learn about future Curious Squirrel concerts and Weekly Acorn events by subscribing to the Curious Squirrel Monthly Newsletter.


A Toast to Success

Here’s a toast to the future success of the Curious Squirrel! If you’d like to see a listing of concerts under the banner of the Curious Squirrel, just look for the icon on my Concerts page.

The Curious Squirrel saying a tentative hello!
Say Hello to Samuel, the Curious Squirrel!
Last Updated 2020-06-29 | Originally Posted 2019-12-22

Looking Back at First Friday

My year-long project of preparing to host a booth at First Friday in Downtown Bentonville came to pass last night. It was geared to increase enrollment at Shepherd Music School, where I teach. I won’t lie, it was a tough process and I was near the breaking point a few times along the way. Our booth was very simple, yet coordinating all of the pieces and people consumed time and energy beyond any prediction.

This is actually the fourth time today I’ve written about the event today, including a post to the Shepherd Music School first, then to Facebook and Instagram, followed by an After-Action Review to the two parents and two instructors who supported me in this endeavor. I was ready to call it quits there, but decided I should put a tiny commemoration on my blog, too, for those who may read this later.

I’m glad to say I did this, and that I’m not sure how much better I could have done, given the circumstances. Whether this event was a success is really an open question. We didn’t get any enrollments for the school, but we talked to plenty of parents of young children who may think of us when it comes to taking lessons in the coming years. And I learned tons as well, including that you can really entertain young kids with inexpensive craft projects!

Posted 2018-08-04

Disinclined to Activity

Do you ever feel disinclined to activity? In what parts of your life? In case you haven’t caught on, I’m asking about where you are lazy! It’s really impossible to do everything, so it’s actually quite natural to focus intensely on the most important things. Then, you find a way to get the necessary things done. The rest, well, it gets done…or not!

I noticed a certain degree of laziness when it comes to pursuing the business side of music. I work hard to get my church work done, teach my students, and do well at whatever gigs I accept. However, I don’t have a good game plan when it comes to marketing myself.

I am participating in an artist development program called Artist INC. Our marketing instructor mentioned that we need to spend between 20% and 40% of our total work time in marketing ourselves. Based on this simple calculation, if I spend four hours on my art, I should spend at least one additional hour marketing it. Though that sounds excessive, I know it’s not based on everything else I’ve read.

Perhaps the most jolting aspect of the Artist INC experience is that most artists don’t have a true home base. Even the part-time church job I have gives me some stability that others don’t have. Granted, I don’t have the financial security of those few musicians who land full-time work in church music, orchestras, or university professorships. Even though some of these folks may not be doing their dream work full-time, they can always do their soul-nourishing work on the side!

Meanwhile, independent artists have to hustle for every opportunity. I recently noticed a vacant storefront where a photographer had placed several samples. This photographer probably worked hard to build a relationship with the property agent so that when the opportunity knocked, he got the call! Although it’s romantic to think of the artist sequestered in his studio, diligently painting all day, and having adoring fans, that’s not the reality for most of my friends. Sure, they spend lots of time in their work. However, they also carefully cultivate relationships outside of the studio in a myriad of marketing activities. It takes a lot of time, and some things work, and some things don’t.
You have to refine the process. What do you stop, start, continue? It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

So there is my call to action. I need to start with purpose cultivating relationships that can lead to recitals, teaching, and even one-time gigs. I will update this post or write a new one when I have some progress to report!

Posted 2018-04-23