Updated: Jun 7
"Do you feel proud?"
I must admit to being a little vague in my response when asked this question recently. The questioner was being very complimentary about the success of our little business, and of course the answer was ''yes'. But I feel that too often we simply attribute success to areas that are measurable. For example, rapidly growing student numbers, a high distinction rate in exams, or how quickly we adapt to difficult circumstances. What I really wanted to explain was how my pride is rooted in the most unlikely places. So, with a little more time and thought, I've put together a list of eight everyday things which represent the ways our community is growing in more than just numbers.
We like food and drink at Keys. It seems to punctuate every occasion, and there are already certain food-based traditions firmly established. The snack tray is the most important destination for most of our young beginners, and keeping it full is an ongoing task! Secondary only to the sound of our lovely pianos, I have always loved to hear the kettle boiling. It means someone is settling in and relaxing while they wait. The office shelves, as well as supporting a whole library of sheet music, hold a precarious balance of champagne flutes and glass tumblers, ready to be brought out again with cakes or mince pies at the next event. Food can also be very useful in teaching, and as the picture shows, one of our Creative groups recently discovered 'Twix major'. (As you can imagine, the said teenagers disposed of them quickly at the end of the lesson!) However, the most firmly established food-related traditions are surely those at our Junior Recitals. A bowl of chocolate buttons must now always sit on the front row to accompany the 'No Bow, No Button' rule, and the biscuits waiting at the end are probably the most highly anticipated and hard-earned snack of the term!
2. Christmas decorations.
For most of us, Christmas is a time to celebrate belonging and community, and a few decorations really do transform a building into a welcoming place to come together. During our first November, Jen and I bought a Christmas tree. A few days previously we had hosted our first ever Junior Recitals, and the audience had written comments of appreciation and encouragement on the reverse of (hundreds of!) shiny cardboard stars. During one very enjoyable afternoon, we hung all these stars in the windows, added little parcels for all the students to the tree, arranged fairy lights, and also developed a few interactive learning resources out of the chaos (of course!). This was maybe the very first time I'd started to feel our welcoming, musical community developing in our still fresh-white walls.
3. Wheelie chairs.
Oh, this was exciting! Just like when you move into a new a house, in the early days we were skint. We spent money on the things we needed for our students, and muddled through in everything else. The office held a random collection of furniture from Facebook Marketplace, and donations from family and friends. Then we got a bit braver (if only a tiny bit less skint!), and we went to Ikea. We got actual desks, and office chairs - with wheels! We've always made an effort to be very professional and organised on the outside, but we finally felt organised on the inside too. We acquired a new level of confidence in our professionalism and held our heads just a little higher that day.
4. Children who sing
We teach backwards in Foundation, and it's our strength. Children sing first, play later. This helps them internalise sounds most effectively, and relate music to notation more accurately. It also means that children tend to sing along with themselves when they play, which is an absolutely beautiful thing to witness in an otherwise quiet studio. Occasionally I'll wander through one of Jen's foundation lessons and just pause for a minute to absorb the atmosphere of uninhibited musical exploration and the sound of learning.
5. Bouncy balls
I don't think even I truly understood time signatures until I played with a bouncy ball while listening to music! This simple Dalcroze Eurythmics technique is a staple in our studio, with everyone from age 'can catch' up to our most senior students having been thrown a ball at some point. One retired student once told me "You get me doing the most crazy things, and I love it!" That will do for me.
6. Performance wobbles
No one wants to have a blank in the middle of a performance, but our little foundation students, aged an average of 6, were mostly very blasé about the whole shenanigans of their showcase last year. As we teach Foundation in groups, we included several ensemble pieces in the concert, and in one such item, a child forgot their part and hesitated. However, the other children listened, waited, and joined back in at exactly the right time, without any help. The awareness shown by those children that afternoon gave us an insight into the potential future of musicians raised to listen and perform together.
When I was teaching in school, one colleague once remarked that children in my class must never go too close to the wall as they'd stick to it - such was my obsession with interactive velcro displays. Of course, what is not to love about a velcro STAVE! We don't know how we lived without this feature of our studio and it's such a benefit to our younger students to be able to manipulate notation in this way. We want learning to be as sensory and hands-on as possible, and we hope to develop so many more resources like this in time.
8. Impromptu duetting
The Summer School in August 2019 was a real highlight for us. The children were a joy to be with and always engaged in the music we shared. There were, of course, plenty breaks in the day for food, play and relaxation. However, we were never more than five minutes into a break before the question "Can I go and play the piano now?" arose. It was such a delight to see children so eager to try out new skills and explore new ideas, but even more so that they did it together. Impromptu duetting (often on several pianos in the same room at once!) became a feature of the week, and in our daily afternoon recitals there was always at least one newly-composed duet to be shared.
Our school is full of normal, hardworking people, and everyday, average things. But together we are starting to build a welcoming heart for music making in our community. We are sharing our passion, educating each other, building traditions and reaching goals.
So, yes. I'm very, very proud indeed.