Facing the Page, Interviews
Learning Piano and Learning to Read: Reflections from a CRW Tutor
At the Center for Reading and Writing at Seward Park Library, volunteer tutors work with small groups of students improving basic English reading and writing skills. Tutors are encouraged to reflect on their own learning, and to think how they have felt while learning something new. Here is tutor Alexandra (Alex) Steedman’s reflection.
"You’re never too old to learn" the old adage says. Taking this to heart, I decided to finally pursue a long standing dream of learning to play the piano. At the ripe old age of 42, I was ready to take on this new challenge. I rented a worn but trusty old upright, found a local teacher, and began the adventure.
It just so happens that my first few weeks of lessons coincided with another challenge — my first few weeks of tutoring at The New York Public Library. Almost instantly, I saw the parallels between what I was experiencing as a new student, and what my students must be experiencing.
There was the excitement and eagerness of taking those first steps. The bewilderment of looking at a page full of notes and wondering, "Will I ever be able to read that?" The realization that there were a few things I already knew (I played trumpet for a few years in high school) that might help me along the way. There was the need to keep my impatience in check — I wanted to be good right now, right away. But it was going to take time. It was going to require lots of practice, repetition, and perseverance.
One evening I arrived early for my lesson, and had the pleasure of hearing another adult student play. She played beautifully, almost flawlessly. I found myself thinking, "I will never be able to play like that. So what’s the point?" When she finished I said, “Please tell me you’ve been playing for 20 years!” She laughed and said, “Almost 30, actually.” After she left, my teacher said something that I still take to heart. “Don’t keep comparing yourself to others — you are doing yourself a disservice that way. Remember — it’s a personal journey.” And so it is.
My piano teacher, funnily enough, is also an adult literacy tutor. And he could not be better suited for it. With me he is consistently encouraging, patient, warm, and understanding. He makes me feel good about my progress, however small. He listens, and we laugh. A sense of humor can not be underrated in any tough endeavor.
And yes there are still times I want to quit piano. It is still mix of great enjoyment and reward, and hitting "walls" and dealing with frustration. But I am not ready to give up. I can actually play some easy songs now — which is a lot more than I could say three months ago, even if I still play the wrong note now and then.
As for my two wonderful students at the Library, I am looking forward to continuing the journey of learning together, for it is a mutual one.