Many consider Nadia Boulanger to have been the greatest music teacher that ever lived. She certainly had many notable names among her students: Aaron Copland, Daniel Barenboim, Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Walter Piston, to name a few.
Whilst most musicians would not have had the privilege of sitting under her tutelage, almost all of them would have been taught by one or more teachers who were very influential in their musical growth.
If I look at where some of my pupils are at right now, I might think that the impact I am making on them is not all that significant. But I do know that right now is the most important time to give them my best. If I get that right, there will be growth in their ability – movement from where they are to where they can be, via the next step forward. And surely this is what any good teacher looks for.
I know this because I have seen the impact of careful persistence and patience over years working with individual pupils, mostly at the piano. Watching a young child go from learning their first note to becoming a very capable musician has been a real privilege. I am very grateful for it, and also for the relationship that is built between us as teacher and pupil.
This week I was together with my three sisters and brother for the first time in nine years. We had gathered for my nephew’s wedding. One of the last things we did together before my sisters headed off to their various corners of the globe was to sing and play instruments around the piano: Helen on violin and Ethne on clarinet, Marilyn and Peter singing. The next generation also joined in on some of the songs we enjoyed when we siblings were younger. What a privilege to show our love and unity with one another through playing music together – a skill that started with our mother’s tuition and our father’s encouragement.
The relationship built between music teacher and student can span the student’s school years and can parallel what a parent does for a child when they guide them through life from a young age. For some these are one and the same. My music teacher through those formative years may have had fewer notable students taking the music world by storm than Nadia Boulanger had, but for me at least (and not only because she was my mother), she had the greatest impact and was my greatest music teacher.