A few years ago when I arrived at school I was given an envelope from the secretary.
One of my pupils (she was only 5 years) had given her the letter to save and give to me on my next arrival. The envelope was beautifully decorated with some of my catch phrases written all over it. I was a little stunned but very touched. And then I opened the envelope. Not one letter but three, each about how much she loves the piano, is excited about coming to lessons, and is always greeted with a big smile! Gratefulness spilled from the pages, I was truly humbled by the generosity of this little girl, but also very aware of the power of my words (repeated by her in the notes), which had all been absorbed and responded to.
Keep on Smiling!
The last decade of my life has produced some quite difficult personal experiences. I think this is simply the life condition. I am so lucky compared to so many. I have had to dig quite deeply to resolve some of these things. The mantra of ‘life isn’t fair’ can ring from the ears quite profoundly, yet in reality it is pretty useless wanting it to be. Good friends, and even the kindness of strangers, have helped me get through this. I feel that life has knocked the edges off me a little, helped me be kinder to others, but has always also (not always successfully!) helped me to try to teach more consciously. I try to be completely aware of what I am saying, how my face is looking, what my body language is doing. I visualise the parent – if they are not sitting in the room – sitting there watching me. I try to make the experience that I share with another human being a positive, uplifting one, so that these can be positive memories in that person’s life. The piano – and music – has been of huge support, along with my rock of a husband and three precious children. I do not know what each pupil (beneath their piano playing) could be going through, but I do know that I want to at least make their interaction with me positive. So the piano for them can be like it is for me, a lifelong friend.
Back to School
As I begin any new term, I always resolve to first and foremost to be the teacher that I would want for my own children. A teacher that, if the child was asked, “is she kind?”, they would without hesitation say YES. As teachers, working with children and young people at the most formative of years, I think being fully conscious in our teaching is important. We can do a huge amount of good, building young people’s confidence, self-esteem and abilities to cope with the journey of their own lives. This is more important than ever given the pandemic and what so many have suffered. Having to stick at something where there can be just slow, gradual progress is such a wonderful life-long lesson. Tenaciousness is something that really can make our young people resilient and adaptable. As one of my teachers, the late Eric Leveridge said:
“Karen, remember that a piano teacher can actually be providing a service to the community. Supporting parents and young people as they make their way in life.”
I’ve never forgotten this. So as I start my teaching again today, I will resolve to begin each lesson with a welcoming smile, focusing on being conscious throughout the lesson. Trying to do my own little bit in life’s rich tapestry. I am so lucky to have a job that I love, working with so many lovely students and parents. I also know that I am part of a huge community of music teachers who try to make the world a better place. Giving precious time to a new generation of young people making music, creating, doing good.
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Jung
Karen Marshall’s Musicroom Top picks:
ABRSM Piano Star Skills Builder by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall (Initial to Grade 1, Scales, reading and Aural) (£7.50)
This little book is perfect for after the first portrait tutor book and builds skills that can massively increase a student’s confidence and ability to progress (even moving out of hand position). It has hidden in it all the sight reading, aural and scales for ABRSM initial exam (it’s easy to adapt to use with Trinity Initial too) but hidden is the word. Children learn the skills without even realising they are, it doesn’t even look like an exam resource. Additional material is packed in the pages from fun little pieces to improve bass clef reading like ‘My Strange Zoo’ to sight reading ‘ring tones’; little fragments of classical music to inspire and develop skills. Beautiful illustrations pack the pages along with quizzes and activities to compose and learn music theory. There’s something for everyone in here and perfect for children up to around 11 years of age. Do check out the additional website materials
The Essential Film Collection by Richard Harris, Faber Music (£12.99)
This really is my go-to film collection which lasts for several years. Starting at around Grade 2/3 level up to Intermediate there is something for everyone here and the arrangements are superb! All very pianistic with clear engraving (nothing is cramped on the page!). Some favourites with my students include ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, The Flintstones, Gladiator, James Bond, Chariots of Fire and ‘He’s a Pirate’. Just dig in and look. The variety is quite something! This is a book that can really spark enthusiasm if practise is struggling a little.
Mosaic Volume 1 – Musica Ferrum (£10.00)
Volume 1 is aimed at pre-grade 1 to Grade 1. With the level of phrasing demands, length, dynamic content, and even modest hand shifts, I would suggest that these pieces include more at Grade 1 boundary than initial. I find my early-stage secondary age children and adult learners absolutely loved this book. To me it’s truly fascinating seeing them totally embrace the music and get real joy from the compositions. Even the more atonal pieces like An October Fright Night by Paul Poston still hit the spot. Popular pieces include: Sailing under a Moonlit Sky by Alison Matthews (wonderful for developing pedal use and expression),The Caterpillar Walk by Andrea Granitzio (excellent for keyboard geography, articulation and developing a loose wrist for the couplet slur), Go to Sleep by Ben Crosland (super for chord voicing, slurs and beginner pedal use – plus moving up the octave), Alone in the Castle by Barbara Arens (LH melody and chord voicing),Exclamation Mark (!) by Jaap Cramer (five-finger pentachords and articulation), and Dorian by Christine Artemis Pappa and Fresh Air by Andrew Eales (both melody and accompaniment and chord playing). ALL pieces in the book have something to offer. I include this book (and the excellent book 2) in my teaching curriculum going forward for teenage and adult beginners.
Grade 5 Piano Solos – Chester Music (£9.59)
The ultimate collection of classical, film favourites, popular piano and jazz. I reach for this little book quite frequently using it alongside the Faber Music Piano Trainer Series (book 2 or 3). There’s Einaudi in here but also Elton John. For a love of a Princess from Brave heart but also the ‘Take Five’ Jazz classic. Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca and something from Chopin! I’d say it isn’t strictly Grade 5, some material is Grade 6 but the mix of style and genre maintains excellent technical development along with classics students simply want to play.