The Fort Wayne Music Scene: Those Who Do & Those Who Teach

Piano Lessons at Alicia Pyle's Home Studio

When I was fourteen, my piano teacher, whose golden hair may as well have been wrapped in a halo of musical notation, said to me in the middle of a lesson, “Why don’t you try teaching piano lessons?”

I wasn’t at all keen on the idea, replying quickly, “No, I don’t want to be a music teacher.”

We went on to discuss several other perfectly legitimate ideas and career options. But then it was back to the Haydn piece I’d been practicing, and then on to discussion of my rapidly approaching concerto competitions, auditions, and upcoming youth orchestra performances. I stood up from the 6-foot grand piano and left to attend to another week of high school and the weekly responsibilities of a serious music student prepping for college.

“Teaching piano?” I thought. “No thanks.” After another moment’s consideration, I thought, “Nope. Never.”  

I began my journey with private music studies at the age of eight and studied intensively for a good six years before I met Dawn Hopkins, who would go on to help me recover & retool the classical techniques I’d begun learning earlier. When she first planted the seed of piano and other musical pedagogy in my head that day, I didn’t fully appreciate how much she was investing in me and all her other students. But I would later realize she was seeding an entire garden of accomplished young men and women under her tutelage, preparing them for a lifetime of professional service in music all over Fort Wayne and other musical communities. Now, I wonder how many of my colleagues in her studio were likewise planning other careers back then.

Alicia Pyle at the Allen County Public Library for her students' Christmas recital

“No, I don’t want to be a music teacher.” The words echoed in my mind as, just a year later, I took on my first few students. I was 15 and my initial crop of little victims came from the group of delightful neighborhood children I spent every weekend babysitting & entertaining. The phrase rang out in my head again when I signed for my first car at 18, which I paid off by teaching lessons throughout college. It continued to resound as the weeks, months, and years of educating people in music helped to fund my own local & fantastic college music education at IPFW. It still resonates now whenever I glimpse the degree in Classical Piano Performance from Indiana University that hangs proudly on the wall of my office in the Academy of Music & Technology at Sweetwater Sound, where today I serve clients a couple days each week. I even hear it when I look over at the gorgeous 6-foot grand piano (and living room fixture) of my beautiful home studio in Southwest Fort Wayne, where I teach another 4 afternoons a week.

As a 30-year-old woman, I still regularly encounter the people who experienced the early years of their music education alongside me. I’ve observed them in my own band & performance experiences, during my own local college ventures in music school, and in many of my current pedagogical realms. After graduating, many of us began teaching, performing, leading worship, or operating church music and technology programs. Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of our professional music endeavors happens to be the most profoundly important—not to mention my favorite—which is the passing down of the oral tradition and written instruction of music to the next generation.

Thirty minutes a week, we have the opportunity to give back, educate, counsel, encourage, and enjoy the company of the many children (and even some adults) who pass through our studios. Some of the students come highly prepared with many ideas, and others arrive often looking for a nudge in the right direction—but each one of them (or their parents) knows the purpose & need for music in their lives, and they keep searching for that knowledge with each weekly lesson.

Olivia Bressler, one of Alicia's first students, holding up her award

I’ve been teaching music now for 15 years, and each year I love seeing graduates, married with children, some en route to a higher education in music, and some already educating the generation following. I look forward to the day when a grown student of mine brings in their own child. I feel the day coming soon with each high-school graduation or wedding invitation I receive from my ever-growing crop of students & graduates. :)

One of my favorite aspects of the pedagogical repertoire is the music we introduce to our students for the holiday season: the look of sheer delight on the children’s faces as they have the chance to request & learn their favorite Christmas song. (You guessed it, Jingle Bells.) This year was no different, even as I gently coerced the current flock to choose from other great Christmas tunes & hymns in hopes of a diverse recital program of budding vocalists & pianists. When the night finally arrived, I watched a darling 3-year-old pianist in her first recital performance (after only 6 weeks of lessons), and a beloved student of mine (of over a decade) performing Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, a level of repertoire I didn’t dare touch until my Upper-Divisional exam halfway through my formal music education. It was a heartwarming and full-circle moment seeing on one stage the performances of both a child in the beginning stages of the journey, and another who is already the Northern Indiana Music Teachers’ Association Hoosier Auditions district winner.

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This quote by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and cranky, sarcastic old man, doesn’t make any sense from a practical point of view. Yet I’ve heard it thrown around much too often in various places throughout my journey in music & education. I’ve kept the notion in mind as I’ve conducted my own musical affairs through the years: often including 7 days a week in live music performance, business & contracting, all alongside daily teaching.

Some of Alicia's students at this year's ACPL Christmas recitals

I look around and remember my best teachers; the ones I’ve most enjoyed (and highly respected) were the busiest ones, dedicated to educating all of us in private music lessons each week while at the same time practicing, performing, and expanding their own skill set and techniques to the best of their abilities. They offered my musical colleagues and me the best hand-crafted, private educational experiences we could have ever hoped for—because they were out doing, applying, and sharing their craft on regular demand. They taught us the principles, then immediately pushed us to go and try it out for ourselves, oftentimes creating the actual performance and collaborative opportunities for us to practically apply the materials from the lesson.

Dawn Hopkins, Eric Clancy, John Forbing, Hamilton Tescarollo—the list is long, and every local teacher I greatly appreciate. This brings me to a much better quote a mentor once shared with me: “The Knowing is in the Doing. You find out where the wall is by pushing against it.” That’s from the iconic musician Mike Watt. Students must be taught to understand, sense, and then fundamentally apply what they’ve learned for themselves. This is what makes a true artist or musician. In fact, this is the basis of the dedication that’s necessary for the advancement of humanity and community. It goes way beyond music & artistry. 

You’ll be happy to know I’ve finally stopped hearing the words, “No, I don't want to be a music teacher” ringing in my ears. I see the life skills my kids are learning, the fears they conquer each time they take the stage, the responsibility they show me (and their parents) week after week completing their assignments in lessons, and the strong & influential leaders they are growing up to be, both in the arts and in other respected fields. I’m hoping somehow that some of the above principles I've shared will be noticed or appreciated someday, by my pupils & graduates who’ve seen me both in the sequins on stage and tired with a makeup-free face on a weekly basis, always pushing them forward in their studies and encouraging them to transcend their limitations. Music makes life better. Music brings people together. And those who can do, well, they’ve been my own best teachers. <3