Long Time, No See
Kind of shocking I haven't blogged since January 2015, I know. What can I say? I've been busy is an understatement. Here's what I've been doing. I expanded my piano student group to 45 students. I taught 7 days a week in 2015, 2016 and 2017. June of 2017, I realized I'd worn myself out. I'd become cranky and stressed. I had no time to garden, no quality time with my Amazon parrot, my four other birds, my cat and my dog. I never had dinner on weeknights, I foraged instead, sometimes gobbling food as late as 9 PM. I slept 6 hours and not restfully. My brain couldn't rest with all I had to do and wanted to do.
I didn't notice Chico, my Amazon, wasn't himself. When I did, three days before he dropped to the bottom of his cage and died, it was too late. My fault entirely. I will never forgive myself. Right then, I decided life had to change.
I cut my teaching schedule to 6 days a week. Monday became my day off, to refresh, rejuvenate and write the book I'd been working at in dribs and drabs for several years. I signed up with a book coach to give myself deadlines, to get feedback, to keep my writing going. I stopped writing short stories despite having had success with a number of them being published, with being nominated for a Pushcart Prize, with being short-listed in a writing contest. I devoted all my down time, as little as it was, to the novel, a YA story.
Between 2018 and 2019, I completed the manuscript. I also signed up to be trained and certified as a book coach myself. I didn't think it though. Once again, I thought I could do it all. Now in 2019, I've come to the realization I've taken on too much and another life revision is in order. My book has been sleeping in a computer file, waiting for me to cut all the waste words (was, and, just, so, very, rather, really, quite, in fact...etc.) before I send it to an editor for final review. After that will be query time, the quest to be traditionally published.
There have been family challenges, not to be detailed here along with all else. Through all of it, students have grown, progressed, achieved, moved on to college, and newbies have joined the studio to begin the cycle all over again for me. Teaching music is wonderful, rewarding, engaging and plain fun. Daily I am grateful for the work I do.
I simply need to be better at maintaining balance. So here I am, with a blog post four years late, looking forward to lessons this afternoon, to the great book I am reading (PS I took on the challenge of reading 100 books this year. I am behind at 55--another overdoing it thing!), and to tomorrow morning when I will open my manuscript to cut, cut, cut those waste words.
Here's to finding and maintaining balance!
After a wonderful and busy holiday season, the holiday music books are put away after getting a great workout. Everyone loves holiday music, whether they celebrate Christmas, or not. Really, what's not to love about Jingle Bells, or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, or Frosty or……I could go on and on.
Now we turn our piano thoughts to setting and meeting some goals. The opportunity to earn gold and silver Medals, certificates, and trophies, keeps students working to meet a standard, and let's face it –– we all like earning awards. What a boost to confidence!
The first event coming up is the Shore Music Educators Student Evaluation. SMEA is an organization of Monmouth County piano teachers, that, for years, has been actively promoting the study of music in our region of NJ. I was lucky enough to be part of the panel that created Student Evaluation maybe 25 years ago. (Yikes, yes, I've been around a while!)
Evaluation is a low-stress event. Students prepare two or three pieces to perform from memory, then at a prescribed time and place, either Brookdale College in Lincroft, or the teacher's studio, they play for a "judge" who discusses their performance with them, tells them what they've done well, what might need some work, but all in the most supportive, and encouraging way. Parents are allowed to sit in, something unheard of in nearly all other adjudicated events. It is a warm and productive event built to bolster a student's progress. The judges are carefully selected for their positive attitudes, fine communication skills, enthusiasm, and compassionate manner. They are music educators of note, college faculty, and composers.
Students earn terrific gold and silver medals, and 5, 7, and 10 year trophies with their 5th, 7th, and 10th gold medal! The trophies are presented at a special Awards Ceremony attended by family and friends.
SMEA Student Evaluation is an event families look forward to. When I was a NJ Music Teachers Association board member, I used the SMEA Student Evaluation as a model for the NJ Music Teachers Annual Festival, and Festival is still going strong too, with students participating from all over the state.
Next time, I will tell you about another opportunity available to our area piano students -- the NJMTA Annual Spring Recital Auditions. Bye for now!
Now I get it! Having a web presence does make a difference! Eight calls the day after Labor Day, and five appointments to meet with potential new students! Two of the callers don't own a piano, and seemed surprised when I explained why they need an acoustic piano or a good digital piano with 88 touch-sensitive keys. I did advise them they could rent an acoustic piano rather than buy. I did my best to educate. One mother sounded vastly disappointed, and the other sounded as if she didn't believe me. I am sure the next teacher she calls will tell her the same. So here I am, very happy to have taken the website leap!
Having never built a website before, I am surprised I am still smiling. After tinkering with photos and several pages, my hair is not wind tunnel-wild and I don't have crazy eyes. That isn't to say it might not still happen, but so far, so good.
I really don't understand all that can be done building a website and I am pretty much doing it hit and miss. I don't even know if anyone will see the website, and if they do, how it will happen. Right now, I am simply hoping for the best.
And possibly talking to just myself.
I have to be competitive in this world. I live my day life as a piano teacher and my not-so-secret life as a writer. I can't quit my day job and here's the dilemma. I've always gotten piano students by word of mouth, and still do, though not in the numbers I've grown used to. Last year and this year, the calls have slowed down. I ask myself the following questions.
Along with all of those questions, I've been wondering what I can do to get myself "out" there in a different way.
I posed a question to a piano educators group on Facebook. "Do private piano teachers need a website?" Wow, the resounding yeses are still echoing around my studio. So here I am, wading through construction, and maybe seeing some possibilities in having a site. This first attempt might turn out lame but I am trying. Let's see what happens.
So a few more hours on this project, then back to writing. Can I treat this blog as a writing exercise? That's what a blog really is, isn't it. Or it is a vehicle to talk to self? That's what writing is anyway, isn't it? Too many questions. I feel a headache coming on. Bad hair and crazy eyes will be next.
Shelley Stack Teacher and Writer