Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Guest Post: Relationships 101 by Tiffiney Harms

I am so pleased to introduce our next guest, Tiffiney Harms, professor, pianist, and dear friend. 

Hello Plucky Pianista Community! My name is Tiffiney Harms and I am so excited to be a part of the Collaborative Journey. Before I begin, I wanted to say just a little bit about how I know the Plucky Pianista herself, Dr. Melody Payne. Melody was my piano professor in college, and saw potential in me that drove me to go further than I ever thought possible. Her push for excellence, musicality, and overall growth is a big part of my story today. Not only is she an incredible teacher, she is a wonderful friend. Thank you, Melody, for all you do!

When I was asked to consider writing this post, it took me quite some time to decide on my subject material. After much thought, I decided to write about what I feel is a foundation for all that I do as an educator: the relationships we form with our students. 

We all have our own story for why we became a teacher. Maybe it is to pass on a love and passion for music, or to raise up the next generation of educators. In addition, maybe it is in response to a special teacher in your life. That teacher taught you something that you carry with you into every lesson and every performance. And maybe you have seen it reflected in a flicker in your student’s eye at the end of that one special lesson. 

Can you see that teacher now? Maybe there is a smile forming on your face as you re-live some of those sweet moments in his or her studio. Beyond the way that teacher pushed you toward excellence and drew out something amazing in you, was the way they cared about you as both a musician and a person. Think about it. Had that person not cared about your growth, your overall development, would you have listened so carefully? Would you have gone home and played those warm-ups with such gusto to work on a given technique? I believe the answer is no. 

So, how do we become that teacher – the one that cares about our students’ every day lives, as well as their musical development? I believe it begins from the start, from the time they first walk into your studio. It is important that our students feel safe within the confines of our teaching space. Our profession is one in which we spend a lot of time with each student, digging much deeper than just the printed page. We will have students that have good days and bad days, and those emotions will affect their ability to take correction, to emote, and to process our comments. I always try to ask my students about their day at school or work, inquiring about their favorite part of the day. Sometimes, especially if it has been a rough day, it allows the student to get things out on the table before we get into the music. It gives me a window into their state of mind for the lesson, as well. It also shows them that I am interested in them as a person. 

As musicians, we have the privilege of expressing emotion. We tap into our hearts, and it becomes a crescendo, the height of a phrase, the rounding of a descending chromatic passage. And, as a teacher, we get the privilege of teaching our students to use their hearts (and ears!) to assist in beautiful interpretations. Expressing and learning music is very personal. By tapping into their own emotions and experiences, students can create something unique to them through that connection. Because we ask our students to connect to an emotion, a picture, or an idea, there may be times when they open up and speak to us about something sensitive. And if we have created safe spaces for our students to come, learn, and express through music, I believe those times can be cherished moments. 

Not only do those times allow your relationship to deepen with your student, but it also opens a new door to trust and respect. They can give students a new view of your listening ear, as well as your professional knowledge. Those are the times that allow a student to see us as “that” teacher – the one that made more than just a musical impact, but also a personal impact. Isn’t that what we all hope our students will say about us one day? “My teacher didn’t just teach me about music, they taught me so much more!” 

As we watch each student create a musical soundscape, we catch their smiles and watch them lift their chests with pride. Music opens up new worlds for so many, and we get to witness it first hand! We have the best job in the world, teachers!! So, let us commit to not only growing and challenging our students in their musical development, but also to showing them that we desire their growth because we care. Create a safe space for your students to make music. Open your heart to them to show them that you are a real person, too, and they can count on you to listen with more than just your ears. 

About the Author, Tiffiney Harms: Ms. Tiffiney Harms is in her second year as Professor of Vocal and Choral Activities at Central Christian College in McPherson, Kansas. She is also entering her fourth year as Choral Accompanist for McPherson Middle School and High School.  She received her MME in Piano Pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied with Dr. Jane Magrath, and her BA in Piano Performance from Sterling College. Miss Harms also holds her National Certification in the Kodály Concept from the University of Oklahoma. Tiffiney is actively involved in her church, musical theatre, and performing in and around the community.

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