It’s pretty amazing to think that I had only one piano teacher from grade school through high school graduation, and only one in college. I’m not sure that it is normal to only study with two piano teachers...in my teaching career, I have seen many students switch teachers for various reasons. Even at our national pedagogy conferences, there are seminars devoted to teachers who receive “transfer” students. Let’s just say that I am one of the lucky few who stuck with the same teacher week after week, year after year for 11 years! That’s a lot of time!
So a little about my experience with this very special teacher, Jerry Stephens, who was my first teacher. I started taking with him in the 2nd grade and continued through high school. He also taught my two sisters and my brother back to back. That’s a LONG time to be at piano each week! And that was only for private lessons! Back in those days, we went twice a week: one for private lessons, and another for group theory and performance classes. That’s one dedicated mom!
I remember (most of the time) loving my piano lessons and group lessons. I made life-long friends in his studio. Together we were each other's encouragers and together we stressed about recitals, competitions, theory tests and ear training.
Every once in awhile, my mom would sit in on lessons and give her input on which pieces she “approved” of us playing. I remember her NOT liking the pieces that “went on and on forever...or had lots of scales going up and down.” I think that sometimes we were grateful for her opinion just because it would get us out of harder pieces!
He could tell what kind of day or week we had just by how we sat at his piano. To keep us working, we got stickers on completed pieces each week and we LOVED his sticker pile! Even as we got older, we still wanted stickers! When helping us learn pieces, he gave us clever, silly words to help count the rhythm, such as huckleberry and gooseberry: words that we still remember. Sometimes, he would come to my house if we couldn’t make a lesson that week at his house, especially as we got older. He told the same jokes over and over and over again- and yet, they were still funny! He did push us to our potential- and he knew that our hard work would pay off! We learned how to play in contests, festivals, and ensembles. Of course, this also taught us recital etiquette.
Jerry shaped my life as a student and now as a teacher. You know when you become a parent and you start sounding like your parents? Well, I hear him in my teaching! I even use the same music from my many years with him with all of his markings on it. With my own students, I use the silly words to help them with rhythm- they laugh and remember how to play correctly! It works! I have passed his high expectations of me down to my students, encouraging them to be the best they can be, but always remembering that learning and appreciating music is the key.
Thank you, Jerry, for all that you did and still do for me! You’re amazing!