One evening after work, I wander into the new Tom Lee store that I see from my office everyday and slip into the fancy glass room that’s filled with acoustic pianos. No one pays attention to me in my t-shirt and jeans.
I play cadences on pianos that I pass by, until I stop at one to play for a short while.
“Can I help you find something?”
“No, I’m just looking,” I say, gesturing with my chin. “Baby grands.”
“You are obviously pretty good,” he says. “That was, you know, Liszt.”
I nod. I didn’t know that was Liszt. I thought I got lucky pressing the keys.
He gestures to another piano nearby — which happens to be a cheaper Steinway brand. I play it for a little bit and realize the keys are too light.
“Want to play a Steinway?”
He walks over towards one and pulls out the bench, like at a restaurant. How do I get rid of him?
To see people come together for a vision you’ve pieced together in your head is one of the best presents you can give yourself.
Here are some of the highlights to producing my latest event– I had two months to pull this off, in the middle of summer. I didn’t cough blood this time.
While most people can play piano in their room, the magic of the stage can be too much to handle.
Ten minutes before my design event, my hands were shaking at the thought of people having woken up on a Saturday morning because of me. I’d printed cue cards (which I have never done, and will likely never do again).
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Take a look at this scenario…
You are a piano teacher.
There is a student you like a lot, whom you’ve been teaching for two months. You first heard her playing at her performance recital– and you were impressed.
The mother is well-connected, and kind, but tough, a lady who knows what she wants and will ask for her change when it’s due.
You’ve agreed on an exchange of services. In fact, when it comes to her child, the mother’s goal is to proceed through life getting things sponsored and keeping the wallet shut when possible, on account of her volatile investments.
But mainly, you said yes because it’s a new experience. You’ve never been compensated this way before, and you think it’ll bring your career forward.
Feel free to use your imagination on how the mother offered to compensate you.
Starting with students is different for everyone, and I’m not about to sugarcoat. I’m going to tell you how I jumpstarted my teaching again.
A former student’s mother convinced me to teach piano to her daughter again. I don’t let people into my piano studio anymore, so I agreed to walk to their house each week.
At home, I flip through my piano teaching binder, from back when businesses couldn’t run paperless and I couldn’t manage people without stressing.
These are a few lessons I’ve learned from my last round of piano teaching.
Lesson 1: Have a Fair Studio Policy
Most people don’t intend to take advantage of you. They don’t know that they’re taking advantage if the rules aren’t clear.
When I taught Design Lab, the main policy was, if you weren’t happy with the online course in 30 days, I’d give you 100% of your money back, no questions asked. Only one person has ever asked for a refund, and ironically, the red flag was that she didn’t sign the policy document. I gave her the money anyways.
What a policy does is set the ground rules and lets people trust you. It says that you know what you’re doing enough to set it in stone.
I printed a piano studio policy and arrived 15 minutes early to the first lesson to go over it with the parent. It took 2 minutes for the deal to be signed, and we got our lesson started early. Parents love the extra value.
This is my piano studio policy.
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Being wild isn’t the same as being comfortable in your own skin.
A pianist can be wild in the practice room but uncomfortable displaying this onstage. We have so many names for this– nerves, performance anxiety, butterflies.
I’ve interviewed performance experts around the world, and so many of them suggest that the playing must push aside the mundane thoughts that occupy your mind. In other words, love the moment so much that you cannot possibly care what others think.
Years later, I’ve finally figured out how to hop into that mindset.
Do you believe in Steinways– legendary hand-made pianos?
Whatever type of instrument you love, there’s a way to make music so that people want to listen.
This summer, I am taking intensive ballet classes. During a break, I step into a Tom Lee music store in downtown Vancouver. I ask the saleslady to tell me about the grand pianos–because, why not?
She sits me at seven grand pianos where I play the same Un Sospiro phrase. None of these sounds repulse me anymore— although some are more favourable, nothing feels perfect.
“Come,” she says. “I want to show you the Steinway room.”
Outside, spotlights shine in the main showroom and my ballet bodysuit-shorts combo feels chilly. Inside, the Steinway room is saturated with spotlight-light.
At the first piano, a Boston, two of the keys are a smidge out of tune and most of them feel sticky with something that is, the saleslady suggests, ice cream.
Some of the pianos sound alright. I love white grand pianos, although it’s a rule that white grand pianos in display rooms sound weak.
The Steinway with the touch I like best is a wood-finished concert grand that costs 1/3rd of a small Vancouver condo. I’d rather have the condo, but this reminds me of a study I read last year.