When I first tried to find a violin teacher two years ago it was very hard (but that’s another story). One of the things I feared is that no one would take me on because I’m an adult learner with some but not a lot of experience. A quick search of online forums would give you a glimpse of why some teachers do not take adult students, and many of their reasons are legit. But recently I remembered an experience I had years ago that preconditioned me to think that finding a good teacher for me would be hard.
I took piano lessons for a year when I was a senior in college. It was a music class I took for credit, and as part of the class we got weekly half-hour lessons from the instructor. It was an important part of my life at the time. Music saved my sanity as I was trying to get into grad school, do research, and write my senior thesis. Naturally after I graduated I wanted to continue my piano journey, and I thought about continuing piano lessons in grad school.
I researched my options. My grad school has a music department. It has a bunch of practice rooms in the basement of the music hall that were unlocked and first-come-first-serve for all students. There are several piano instructors on the faculty list, and non-music-majors could potentially take lesson with them, even for credit (less fee). So I thought it was perfect, and I emailed one of the instructors (I don’t remember why I picked her or why I didn’t contact anyone else).
She was very nice over email, asked me to sign up for an interview slot during orientation week, and gave the impression that she might potentially take me on after talking to me in person. I treated this interview as an audition, and practiced all the things I was working on at the time and did everything to prepare so I would give a good impression.
The day came. I remember I signed up for sometime in the late afternoon, like 4:45pm. I was working at a lab at an off-campus site at the time, which meant I had to leave work early that day to come back to campus to make my interview. And I did. But when I got to her office at my time slot, I saw a row of students sitting outside her door. I was running and out of breath because I was just on time. I rushed pass the row of students and turned the door knob. It was locked. A student told me that someone was in there. And I said I know but I’m next and it’s my time now. They then told me that the interviews were running late and they were all waiting. Apparently the student before me hadn’t gone in yet.
When it was finally my turn, I walked in and sat down on the piano bench, ready to pull out my music and play at any notice. The instructor was sitting on the couch across from the room, and she had no intention of hearing me play. We just talked and it was a short meeting. She essentially told me (not even a discussion, not even an interview, not even a chance for me to explain anything) that I wasn’t advanced enough, that she only took intermediate students or above especially for non-music majors, that I should contact a music student in the department and ask if they teach, that I could come back to her in a year or two when I get more advanced and discuss our options again. And then we were done.
I was very discouraged and disappointed at the time. I had no intention of somehow getting a list of piano performance students, sift through each of them to find someone suitable to take lessons from, negotiate a somewhat regular lesson routine (between my first-year grad school and their busy undergrad schedules), negotiate a price, and try to figure out if they are a good fit.
Later I became very angry with the instructor. I’m still angry today. She essentially wasted my time by having me leaving work early to make her pointless appointment so she could tell me to my face that I wasn’t good enough for her teach, when all of it could be said in her first email and save both of us the trouble. I never heard her play the piano. I have never seen her teach. From the way her meetings ran late she seemed to have terrible time management. I didn’t know it then but I subconsciously already decided to never go back to her. And I never did. The sad thing is that I also stopped playing the piano all together not too long after the meeting. It really affected me even though I kept telling myself that she had every reason to not take me on. It was just the way she did it that really added salt to the wound.
At the time it was my first and only experience of finding a private teacher. I think from that experience I just assumed that any real professional musician is out of reach for someone like me. I felt that either I have to wade through many candidates to find a great teacher, or I would have to settle for someone who plays better than me but may or may not able to teach. So when I was able to study with my current teachers, one I didn’t even have to look for and the other I found on the first try, I feel so immensely lucky and grateful.