Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I have a certain piano student that comes to my house on Wednesdays at 4:00. This piano student came into my studio last summer, when her mom contacted me about starting her in piano lessons to help her read music. She's in eighth grade and sings in a rather prestigious children's chorus in the Chicago area, but she can't read a lick of music. I assured her mother that piano lessons would be a great way for her to learn to read music.

So we set up a time to meet, I got piano books for her and waited for her when the time came. She never showed up. The next week, I made sure I was home at that time; maybe I misunderstood our start date. No show. In fact, the next three weeks, they didn't show up. I had already written them off, when I got another call from the mother, who told me they had gotten really busy and weren't able to start, but now they were ready. STRIKE ONE.

Student shows up for her first lesson and I immediately notice she has trouble concentrating. She talks a mile a minute and jumps from subject to subject, excited to be in a new place with a new person, but somewhat incapable of focusing on the task at hand. Amongst her ramblings, I gather this tidbit: "I used to be special needs, but you can't really tell anymore." I don't know what this means, and I'm a little irked at the mother for not mentioning any special needs. I wonder whether the books I selected, which would be fine for an average eighth-grader, might be a little too much for this student. Furthermore, as the weeks go by, I notice that she virtually never practices, and every lesson is pretty much a rehashing of the one before, with perhaps 3-8 minutes of new material. I start to dread lessons with this challenging student. STRIKE TWO.

As the months go by, the mother calls me on more than one occasion to cancel a lesson only a few hours in advance, when my policy clearly states that I need 24 hours' notice. Usually I'm just relieved that I don't have to see the student and I don't strongly enforce the policy. But, when the mother starts paying me late in the month instead of at the first lesson of the month, I feel the need to lay down the law. STRIKE THREE.

A few weeks before Christmas, the mother calls me to ask for my help. The student wants to audition for a summer program at Interlochen, and she needs to send in a recording. Her application is due the next week. Can I help make a recording and accompany her? I don't have any recording equipment, so I tell her a few people I think she could call, but I don't have many answers. I can accompany her if she gets me the music ASAP and pays me what I decide is a fair fee. I keep getting calls from her with updates and schedule demands. Her problem has become my problem, and I'm unhappy. Eventually, I have to drive deep into the depths of Aurora to meet them at some recording studio to make this recording. Luckily, it doesn't take too long, and she promptly pays me. Still, I call this STRIKE FOUR.

We resume lessons after the New Year, and the student comes in my house, shoes caked with snow. However, she does not wear socks. Like, ever. I have her wipe her feet thoroughly but keep her shoes on, because I'd rather have mud and snow than sweaty, stinky feet on my floor. She apologizes but never actually wears socks. GROSS. That'll be STRIKE FIVE.

Student shows up to her lesson more than once without her books. I have to send her home. STRIKE SIX.

Things with the student improve. Her concentration improves, she starts practicing more, and I hear that she was accepted to Interlochen. She can't be all bad. (But she does inform me with much gravity in her voice that she believes God wants her to go to Interlochen.)

Clearly, though, I have put up with a lot from this family. Surprisingly, every time I need to make a schedule adjustment due to other professional demands, the mother acts completely wronged. Example: "No, we can't come half an hour later at a different location that is actually closer to our home, especially ON SUCH SHORT NOTICE. We will HAVE TO CANCEL THIS WEEK." Well, hmmph. I'm sorry to have disrupted your life, your highness. Because when you have demands, it's not like my time is important to me.

For the entire month of April, I have to adjust this student's lesson time. Due to my involvement as the musical director of my church's school's junior high musical, I have to be at rehearsals each Wednesday afternoon. I called the mother a few days ago to try to find an alternate time that would work. I strongly suggested a time on Thursday when I have an opening, but I make it clear that we could find another time if that didn't work. I got a call from the father telling me the student is still out of town from spring break and won't be at her lesson this week, but the schedule change question goes unanswered. But then I got a message back from the mother which I will now paraphrase:

"I got your message about changing the lesson time to Thursdays. [semi-dramatic pause] That will NOT WORK. She has choir at that time. And if Wednesday doesn't work anymore, perhaps we need to... FIND A NEW TEACHER. Maybe we can find another time, but Wednesday at 4:00 is really the only time that works, so let us know if that becomes available again. Otherwise, I don't know. Give me a call back, blah blah blah blah blah."

So I need to call her back. I'm certain I will get her voice mail, so I have to come up with a good message. Here are the options I've thought of so far:

1. "I can do later in the evening on Wednesday. And again, this is only for a few weeks, and then we can go back to the regular time. I appreciate your flexibility on this, and I understand if we just need to take a few weeks off."

The spineless response. I like having as many students as I have, and it's easier to keep one than find a new one. It might not be worth it, though, so I could go for a different approach....

2. "Gee, I'm sorry to hear that, but you have to do what's best for you. Good luck finding another teacher that's available on Wednesdays at 4:00. Really, I'm sure that will be easier than finding one other time in your schedule for three weeks that will work for you. And that's probably also easier than taking a three-week hiatus from lessons so that your daughter can keep not practicing. Be my guest, and have a nice life."

Well, that's a little sarcastic. I could try...

3. "Are you threatening me? Seriously? I teach your daughter FOR THE MONEY. But I can do without the money if you're going to SERIOUSLY be this difficult over this little matter. Everyone else I work with is happy to be flexible with lesson times when need arises, so I really don't see why this is so hard for you."

Okay, I won't say that, but I will be thinking it.

4. "I got your message, and I'm sorry the alternate time won't work. If Wednesday at 4:00 is really the only time that will work for you, then I guess we'll have to take a break for the month of April. If you don't find another teacher in that time, you're welcome to have [student] start up again in May. Let me know what you would prefer. Thank you."

Ah, that might be it.

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