Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back to school, maybe?

It has been eight years now since I took viola lessons at a local community college. I signed up for credit (because my employer had a tuition reimbursement program) but as a nonmajor. Because I wasn't a major, I wasn't required to meet any particular standards or play juries, and that was probably just as well, because my viola playing was extremely basic. My teacher was an excellent violinist who also played viola, and I did learn a lot from him, even though his method included practicing the same scale for months on end (I also worked on Bach and Telemann). I probably would have continued, but he left the area, and I didn't know who they would find to replace him, so I then enrolled in a private music school for most of the following year. Sometime in the spring of 2004, I grew discouraged with how I sounded (my vibrato was, um, less than ravishing) and quit.

I was just looking through my papers to try to find some records of all of this, and I came across my evaluation from the teacher at the private school. He noted the repertoire I had covered (Bruch Romanze, Bach Fourth Suite, Hoffmeister concerto, Sevcik scales, Bruni etudes), and he said,

It will be disappointing to not have Harriet as a student next year. She has been my most advanced player and the one with whom I can go most deeply into the techniques of music-making and the music of technique.
This made me feel so guilty. Sigh.

Anyway, when I was going to the college, I picked up a booklet prepared by the music department that outlined all the requirements, courses, and policies for the various degree programs. Even though it was published in 1997, and some specifics have probably changed, I hung onto this booklet and have studied it from time to time, comparing my level on the piano with their minimum requirements for each of the four applied classes (four because it's a two-year program). I recently came across it and looked at it again, and I noticed that the piano requirements now seem very much within my capabilities, whereas before, I didn't feel they were. For example, for the first semester, you are supposed to learn all major and minor scales and arpeggios in two octaves, one etude (at the level of Czerny, Clementi, etc.), and three pieces (Bach, WTC or other; a sonata movement; a prelude or other short work), at least one memorized. This seems completely do-able to me now.

So I've been thinking that one way to move to the next level on the piano would be to get myself into the program at this school. With short- and long-term goals in place, and weekly lessons, I would have a sort of infrastructure that would help with motivation. I would also be required to perform on student recitals and juries. It would be formal but probably not overly intimidating. A decent teacher would also help with any technical difficulties and provide direction on the best ways to improve. That would be the plus side.

In the minus column would be the possibility of turning an enjoyable hobby into a chore. There's also the fact that I don't know what the teachers are like, and what if I ended up with a martinet who had me practicing with quarters balanced on my wrists? Or worse, Hanon in every key? And then, how will I ever find the time to practice enough? The booklet mentioned above suggests three hours a day, seven days a week.

I suppose this is a minus, too, but, you know, I already have a couple of music degrees. I've taken the courses in  theory, sight-singing, history, et cetera, and even passed comps in them at both master's and doctoral levels. I'm a bit overqualified -- though I certainly could benefit from studying these things again. But the people at the school might think I'm a wack job.

These are some of the things I have been weighing in my mind for the past year or so. I've also been cogitating on whether there's any possibility that I might be able to teach piano, which is something I'd like to explore. Topping it all off is the incontrovertible fact that time is passing. The longer I wait for inspiration, the less likely it is that I will be able to act on it.

Facing the prospect of another academic year slipping by, at the end of which I would be another year older and probably no wiser, this past week I finally called and set up an appointment to talk to the department head; I am also supposed to bring one piece to play. So here I go.


ray said...

I wish you well. But I feel compelled to ask why take up a degree? If it is to become motivated to play professionally again (even if to teach piano), then it seems sound. But I sense (from your profile) that you are not happy with a music professional's life. Also, I think your observation about playing piano moving from hobby to chore is important. That's a real possibility. Taking a degree certainly would move you to the next level, and would certainly give you all the skills you need to fully enjoy the piano. But you could be choosing more than just instruction by taking a degree.

I don't wish to discourage you, only to give you food for thought. We've had limited discussion but I feel you'd like another opinion on the matter. I hope I haven't overstepped here. As I said, I only wish you the best.

Harriet said...

Thank you, Ray. I have the same concerns. I guess my reasoning is that this would kind of jump start the process and then I could see where it takes me.

I have mixed feelings about earning a living as a musician. OTOH, it's difficult and can be frustrating. OTOH, it's where I have all my training and education. The job I have right now is not exactly where I want to be -- certainly not in five or ten years. Every time I think about getting some other schooling or training, doing something like this always surfaces (as opposed to, say, studying to be a dental hygienist). In any case, it's not as much of a commitment as quitting my job and trying to get into Juilliard (which wouldn't happen unless I could convince them I'm 16 years old . . .).