Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An Introduction to the Piano Teaching Ministry

I was fourteen when a middle-aged man in our church asked me, "Would you be willing to give my daughter piano lessons?"

I thought: "I'm not a very good pianist myself, but he wants me to teach her?"

I said, "Sure, I'd love to!"

And I really did want to teach piano. I loved children and especially wanted to teach. But piano? I'd barely practiced, and I hardly knew a stitch of classical music. But I loved to play hymns! That's why, two years before, when I was going into seventh grade, my dad (who was also the pastor of our small church) asked me:

"Heather, would you like to play for church--I mean, on Wednesday nights? Mrs. Conner isn't feeling so well these days and wanted someone to take her place on Wednesdays."

By eighth grade, I was playing for just about every service and loving every minute of it. Not that I was particularly accurate (especially below bass C). But I certainly had a fun time "playing...with a loud noise" (Psalm 33:3).

As a ninth grader teaching elementary kids piano, I'm quite sure I couldn't articulate my philosophy like I can today. But I did have one. It basically went like this: 1-They've gotta learn their notes. 2-They WILL practice (and I will check up on them, too). 3-I'm not making the same mistakes on them that my teacher made on me.

Well, seventeen years later, I am still teaching piano. Now, though, it's in a Christian school setting. We've done something a bit out of the ordinary at our school: that is, we've required all students 3rd grade and above to take piano lessons and play at a National Piano Guild audition in the spring. I have my one year at Ambassador Baptist College (Mrs. Christine Walters) and my four years at Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Mrs. Dee Thelen and Mr. David Ledgerwood) to thank for their help in the area of piano pedagogy.

But as in anything, those beginning years are like seeds that start to blossom and grow. Last year, I had the privilege of writing our school's piano philosophy. It reads:

Because we desire to perfect in our students Christ-likeness and a fuller understanding and appreciation of God’s world in order to be more fully equipped to serve the Lord, students at our academy are required to take piano, including completing 2 credits on the high school level, in preparation for life and ministry.

A certain number of high school guys have had their groans about this particular stipulation / credit requirement. But our administrator (my dad) reminds them of his goal for them:

"You should get your education PLANNING to go into full-time Christian work. And even if God doesn't call you, you're still PREPARED. Part of that preparation," he likes to remind them, "is perfecting your musical ability. All of you guys should be able to play from the hymnal by the time you graduate from here."

That's a "simple" goal, but not one every Christian piano teacher has. As my posts continue, I'd like to discuss some simple "how-to's" of hymn playing and later, open up the comment line for your ideas (as teacher or student) of some great hymn playing ideas.