I was recently called a “music vendor” by a school administrator who was searching for a term to describe the music teachers that were on the school’s referral list for lessons. But in my years of work as a Suzuki teacher and member of many Suzuki organizations, I don’t think I have ever actually sold anyone any music. Thinking about why I disagreed with this term, though, was very helpful in clarifying my thoughts about what it is I do.
What I offer is a relationship with a family and a student that can be longer and deeper than any other teacher. A child can start with me at birth in the Suzuki Early Childhood Education class, take lessons on an instrument starting at age 3, and continue until they graduate from high school, or even continue into college if they wish to continue with advanced study or teacher training. No public school teacher can offer the gift of such a long term relationship with a child that also includes the parents.
It is the Suzuki training that gives me the skills and resources to enter into a relationship with a child and family so early, to best take advantage of the enormous amount of learning that can take place in early childhood. It is the Suzuki training that allows me to maintain that relationship with strong long term goals and the tools to present those goals in easily attained small steps. And it is the Suzuki training that develops independence through aural learning, so that the affirmation of achievement and goals eventually comes from within the students’ own experience, not from extrinsic motivation.
Yes, I do charge a fee for lessons. Until we have the utopian moneyless society depicted in Star Trek, I need to use money as a form of exchange in order obtain the necessities for living, including the time I require to devote to my students. And yes, that fee is set based on an average number of lessons or weeks of teaching in a year. But a lesson is more than just a set number of minutes alone with your teacher. A lesson can also be a performance, a rehearsal, a class, a workshop, an ensemble, or any other opportunity to experience the expressive and communicative power of the music you create.
I feel that it is my duty as a teacher to provide as many varied opportunities of this nature as possible. Not all of my students will be able to take advantage of all of them, but making them available is part of what my lesson fee provides. Some years some students may have many opportunities for extra learning, and other years some students may have fewer. But the choices will always be available, and if we all take the long term view of our teacher/student/family relationship, it will all work out evenly over time.
This is why I have stopped tracking the number of lessons for each student. I will teach for a set number of weeks, and offer several “extra lesson days” for those who need to reschedule. Those who take advantage of the extra lesson days may end up with more lessons than those who choose not use them. Rehearsals, recitals, festivals, workshops, chamber ensembles, masterclasses, and groups are all included in the ongoing lesson experience. Students who attend these events will learn more than those who do not attend. Student families who are actively engaged with what I provide will get their “money’s worth” out of their fee, more so than by counting the number of lessons or the length of each lesson.
So if you want to go to a “music vendor”, and buy a set number of lesson minutes, go to a different teacher, not me. But if you want a long term relationship with a mentor who will provide you with many opportunities to grow through music, let’s get started!