I always wanted to learn to play musical instruments. I tried piano, but the teacher told my parents I had no talent and would never play. I started on guitar when I was ten years old, but I was frustrated: I wanted to play like Andres Segovia, when around me everyone else wanted to play three-chord rock and roll songs. I couldn’t find anyone to teach me to read music, music theory, or any of the other skills I needed to play.
It wasn’t until I was thirty years old that I finally decided to commit myself to music. About the total of my skills, back in early 1988, was being able to point to middle C on the piano. I went to junior college and took music (voice, piano, and viola) with a 4.0 grade point average. Within two weeks most of my classmates started coming to me for help, and by my fifth semester it was clear that I was outgrowing junior college, so I went into the Master of Music program at a nearby university.
I took the assessment test and was accepted into the Master of Music program with no deficiencies to make up (and based on the complaints I heard from my classmates, who had Bachelor of Music degrees, I was one of the few to do so). I took voice, piano, and viola, and was about to graduate with a 3.97 grade point average when I was offered an opportunity to go to a summer young artist program in Czechoslovakia. Who could resist?
I moved on two months’ notice to a country where I could say only “beer” and “please,” and could puzzle out a few more words thanks to my four years of Latin and an excellent course in linguistics. That was when I discovered something vitally important.
Everything I had been taught in my music education about singing and learning piano was wrong. That was why my technique was inconsistent and my voice was not 100% reliable. I entered the young artists’ program and discovered to my horror that my Master of Music from a respected school was equivalent to the education that the ten-year-olds in Europe had received. However, I determined to remedy that as fast as possible, and using a mix of French, Italian, German, and English, I secured a piano teacher and a voice teacher. I worked like a dog, sang bit parts, and built up a good reputation. People who wanted to learn music started to come to me for help almost immediately.
I went back to the United States, finished my Master of Music degree requirements, and, as soon as the ink on my diploma was dry, returned to Europe, and found a fabulous voice teacher. (For those of you complaining about the drive to your child’s music teacher, my commute started with a three-mile walk in the dark at 5:30 a.m. from my apartment to the train station, continued with a 432-mile train trip, then I walked two miles and waited an hour and a half to see my teacher, had my lesson, waited another two hours for the train, walked back two miles to the train station, made the 432-mile train trip back, and walked three miles in the dark back to my apartment. Yes, that is 874 miles round trip, every week. For most people who are serious about music, that is not even out of the ordinary.)
That teacher started me on a path to learn about physics, hydraulics, aerodynamics, functional anatomy, the neuroscience of learning, linguistics, and acoustics. Applying that knowledge to my voice and piano performing completely changed my technique and soon I had more work than I could handle singing, leading sections, and teaching piano.
At last, family obligations forced my return to the United States, and I joined a community choir thinking I could network to find some singing work. But while I was there, I overheard people talking about their lessons and realized that music lessons now were teaching exactly the same counterproductive information I was taught decades earlier. When I understood that people were spending all their time, money, and effort to learn a technique that could damage their voices, or spending years learning ineffective piano techniques that could end up giving them repetitive stress injury without actually teaching them to play, I made the decision to go full-time into teaching.
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