Guest Post by Karen Marshall
In memory of Enid Oughtibridge, 1993
A number of years ago I wrote an article for Music Teacher Magazine after interviewing a large number of children on a theme of ‘what makes a good music lesson or music teacher’. It became pretty clear that the teacher’s personality was just as important (if not more important) than their subject knowledge.
Time and time again students would talk about the importance of the teacher making them feel ‘liked’, showing interest in them and simply ‘smiling’ on their arrival in lessons.
In this blog I want to share with you my experience with one of my teachers, who I feel was a powerful influence in my teaching career and the ultimate in being a ‘people person piano teacher’.
My memories of Enid
I recently made contact with a former student of my piano teacher (in my teenage years), Enid Oughtibridge. Enid died in the summer of 1993 at 85 years with a full practice of students.
We shared some lovely memories of this characterful women. I was reminded of such special times I’d enjoyed with this remarkable teacher. So much so, that I’ve really thought about what an influence Enid has had on my own piano teaching and even my musical life.
Enid was a spinster who passed her driving test in her 70’s, had her ears pieced in her early 80’s, had a very ‘lively’ dog called Tigger (who many of her students enjoyed walking as they didn’t have their own dog). She hid in her cupboard to listen to all our music exams (taken at her home) and called her pupils simply ‘dear’.
As well as being an exceptionally gifted teacher in stylistic expression and good technique, she instilled the deepest confidence within her students to simply play the piano well.
Enid was warm, intuitive, taking the most extraordinary personal interest in all her students, but without any inappropriateness of her role as the teacher (boundaries were kept). Looking back I realise Enid was far more than just a piano teacher. Enid loved people as much as she loved music and the piano. And this did make a huge difference I believe in her teaching.
As a piano teacher I have a very sad statistic. Five of my former students have all lost parents below the age of 18 years. This fact, when it occurred, really made me think. I was having time with these students that their parent never had. Time which their parent would have given anything to have. It was actually a huge privilege to give those lessons.
However, taking this further: isn’t it a privilege to spend time with any child – or student of any age for that matter? Wasn’t that what the wonderful Enid Oughtibridge communicated to me all those years ago?
“Karen, I really want to be with you”?
Is this a ‘people person’ piano teacher?
Piano teachers are all very different, students need to find a teacher that works best for them. However, for me, a ‘people person’ teacher like Enid did really help me reach my potential. These are the experiences and qualities which I think helped me thrive under her tuition.
Every hair cut, new scarf, latest earings and my birthday, Enid commented, complimented and remembered. She let me know that she’d noticed and made me feel valued. She would sit me down opposite her by the fire place and simply talk to me. Remembering from the previous week various things I was doing, and asked me about them.
Many times it was nothing to do with the piano.
The value of community
Enid created a community of her students who would meet at her home for informal concerts, rehearsals for her yearly student concert, memory evenings where everyone who attended had to play by memory. I was inspired by some of these pianists.
Some of my most loved music was discovered in those sessions and I remember simply enjoying being with all her other students, even if many were twice my age and more.
Capitalising on strengths (the glass was always half full) and understanding
Enid focussed on what I could do (and I realise now) worked on what I couldn’t without me even realising it. Everything was done in bite sized chunks. If I was struggling with a piece she would move onto something else and come back to it. Exam pieces were chosen very strategically. I would play other material that was challenging but never in an exam. She played to my strengths.
I was never told off for not doing enough practice. She would understand and simply work with what I’d done.
Enid would regularly tell me how much she enjoyed teaching me. And how good I was at listening to what she’d said and doing it. She would tell me the special things about my playing. ‘Your pedalling is sensitive dear’, ‘such delicate staccato’.
Praise was authentic though. This made it valuable.
The value of performance
As already mentioned, performance opportunities were made for all her students even through informal concerts, festivals, exams and her annual student concert.
Enid always showed huge interest and commitment to the Leeds Piano Competition raising money at her concerts to support it. Her piano was also used as a competition practice piano.
Communicated her own love of music with demonstration
There was much demonstration in the lesson; a nudge in my side instructed me to get up and let her play.
When ever she did, I could clearly feel how much she loved the music and also her instrument. It was infectious.
I am terribly grateful to Enid for the wonderful example she has been to me in teaching the ‘whole person’ as a teacher. It’s good to think about inspiring teachers. Their influence can run on through us in the most positive of ways as we teach the next generation.
Karen Marshall is co-author of ‘Get Set! Piano’ and ‘The Intermediate Pianist’ with Heather Hammond, and The Foundation Pianist with David Blackwell. She has also compiled the ABRSM ‘Encore’ Series, and co-authored ‘How to Teach Instrumental and singing lessons: 100 Inspiring Ideas’ with Penny Sterling.
Karen teaches students of all ages and abilities as a peripatetic, private and classroom music teacher (primary) in York. She is a specialist in Music and Special needs.
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