In school, I clearly should have paid more attention in math class. Someone commented on my last post about the 800 cello lessons I had taught. Since I actually wrote the number 8000, am a stickler for detail, and, indeed, pride myself on not making these sorts of mistakes- except in math it turns out…oh pride…and falls…keep reading…
So, let’s start over, class. Feel free to check the [retired] teacher’s work. Please! You may use your calculators-you’ll need them…
The fewest cello students I ever taught, in any one year, was 5. I clearly recall the meticulous detail in a note to myself, written as I nervously prepare to teach my very first lesson ever, in the fall of 1977:
“1) Show Donald the bow and talk about how to hold it. Have him make his fingers into bunny ears or other animal-Donald chooses!”
(I don’t remember which one he decided on.)
That first year, 5 lessons a week for a thirty-six week teaching year would be…um…wait for this, 180. 180 lessons private lessons taught.
I had not really planned to be a music teacher. I wanted to play in an orchestra. I fell in love with the cello early, at age 6. I am taken to a Toronto Symphony Young People’s Concert at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall where a friend of the family, a cellist, is on stage, playing in the orchestra.
Inexplicably, I am utterly smitten with the cello. From then on, whenever I am asked the tired old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, I tell people that I am going to play the cello like my Uncle Vaughan. My parents, older, bridge playing heavy drinkers with no background or interest in classical music, pay no attention. Even “Uncle” Vaughan, to whom I am not close, is not really interested.
However, the Toronto public school system has an amazingly comprehensive strings program. At the end of grade four, age 10, I am invited by the school principal to join the violin orchestra. True to my instrument already, even though I have never even touched a cello, I refuse outright, haughtily telling the principal: “No thank you. I’d rather play the cello”. Since students are allowed to begin in the strings program only in grade five, it is this year or never. Cello, less commonly chosen, is offered only every other year, and it is the wrong year. My parents are annoyed with me. It is prestigious to be asked and they are avid lovers of a bargain, if not of classical music. They see the chance both to get a deal, and to satisfy my inexplicable, irritating, “hoity toity” obsession with the cello at no cost to themselves. The school will supply an instrument, weekly group lessons, and even an in-school string orchestra. All free, until the end of high school. My mother actually makes an effort on my behalf and speaks to the principal. It is the fall of 1959. I am now a cello player.
In 1968, when I choose music as my major in university, my mother says, “I blame John McDougall”, who is my beloved high school music teacher. She is serious. My parents push strongly for me to quit school after grade ten and become a secretary. They never come to a single one of the several concerts a year that I organize and lead for my students. When I become pregnant with my third child, my father says, “I hope you are planning to forget this cello teaching nonsense and stay at home where you belong”. It is 1981, and I am in my fourth year of cello teaching, with 27 private students. They never come around. In 1996, I play the Faure ‘Elegie’ at my mother’s funeral. My father squirms and “wishes the hell I’d shut up”, sotto voce to my two children sitting with him. Aged 25 and 15, both accomplished violinists, they are horrified.
The cello has been my solace, my livelihood, and my synchronistic entree, one way or another, into every major relationship and event of my life.
However, this post is about my math skills, or lack thereof. In year two, 12 students a week come through my door in my own fledgling program. As well, that same year I am asked, by a Suzuki School in a neighbouring city, to teach 10 beginners. Suzuki cello is in its infancy in North America. We do not yet have published books of the standardized repertoire for cello instruction, just mimeographed copies, passed from teacher to teacher. (Remember those? We would inhale the smell of those still damp sheets in school, presumably killing off many brain cells…aha! This must explain the math issue!) Actual published Suzuki cello books appear one at time, at such a glacial pace that my own son (who I teach myself for ten years) is always a book or two beyond the latest published volume.
Year three: I am thrilled-22 students at home that September! I ask for a year’s commitment at a time, and this becomes a permanent policy. I give up the second school to concentrate on my own program, which includes violin as well, taught by my best friend. We now have a growing ‘school’.
As the years pass, my studio seldom numbers fewer than 20. Some years I am well over 30, and one year I have a bumper crop of 42!
It is a demanding job, physically and emotionally, and the hours are peculiar. Not a morning person, I teach as early as 7:00 AM and as late as 9:00 PM, Monday to Friday. After school and early evening times are in highest demand, plus a couple of lunch hours each week. Parents do pull some children out of class for their weekly private lesson, but more recently this largely stops as parenting mores change. Group classes on Saturday mornings take a chunk from every weekend, September through June. I work for thirty seven years when nearly everyone else is off. That part does become very old…..Where was I?
Oh yeah, math! So, it seems that, based on an approximate average of twenty-five lessons a year, with the average teaching year thirty-three weeks long….excuse me, getting a calculator…….
25 students a week for 33 weeks is 825 lessons a year. Multiply this by 37 years…..
Wait for it…30,525 lessons.
Thirty thousand, five hundred twenty-five.
30,525 give or take.
Thirty. Thousand. Lessons.
This time I have checked the math, again and again. Truly, I have never thought about this before. I guess I was too busy teaching.