Do you remember your first piano student? I certainly do. His name was Steve Glickman, and I was his fifth piano teacher in four years. It was 1974. I had just completed my Master's degree in Piano Performance at Northwestern. True, I had studied Piano Pedagogy with the legendary Fran Larimer, and had already taught several students as part of her practicum, but Steve was the first student I recruited on my own. His was the first warm body to enter The Barbara Kreader Piano Studio as I called it in those days. (Marketing has come a long way.)
The pedagogy practicum students had been easy to teach. Most were beginners. Most were children of Northwestern faculty. In general they were intelligent, eager learners, whose parents encouraged them to practice. I taught no transfer students. I made lesson plans, followed the well-laid-out path of The Music Tree, and watched my little pianists grow.
My degree in hand, I left the safety of the pedagogy program and opened my own studio. With two young children and a husband, who worked only part-time while he completed his doctorate, I needed financial stability as soon as possible. My sister-in-law designed a logo for me and I put an ad in our local papers and The Daily Northwestern. This ad announced my recent degree and told prospective students that The Barbara Kreader Piano Studio featured three private lessons and one group lesson a month—a progressive approach to teaching at the time.
Several anxious weeks passed. The only person who called was a woman whose first question was: "What bus line runs by your studio?" My answer was the wrong one, so she hung up. After several more worried weeks, the telephone rang again. Bea Isaak, wife of then Northwestern piano faculty member Donald Isaak, offered to take me to the local MTNA meeting. Bea, who was and is an inspired performer and teacher, introduced me to many of the veteran teachers in the area and helped me sign up with the group's teacher referral service.
Two days later the telephone rang. It was Mrs. Glickman asking me if I had any openings. I assured her I did (I tried not to give away the fact that I had nothing but openings!). We made an appointment for an interview.
Steve, a fresh-faced, muscular boy of twelve, showed up in his ice hockey uniform. Only his facemask was missing. Steve's mother, a slightly anxious but charming woman, assured me her son was a musically talented boy, who loved the piano. He just couldn't find the right teacher. In four years his five teachers had not been able to teach him to read music.
Steve, who was several inches taller than I was, went to the piano. I asked him if he would play something for me, and he knocked out a credible rendition of the Chicago Blackhawks' theme song. That was it. Indeed, he couldn't read a note. Yet I immediately liked this boy. He had a goal. "I want to be the organist for a hockey team."
I needed Steve as a student as much as he needed me as a teacher, so I told his mother I would love to take him on. She was relieved that we could find a lesson time (I didn't show her my empty appointment book) and I described the once-a-month group lesson. (I had three weeks to find enough students to make up this group!)
The Music Tree, as excellent a method as it is, was not going to work with Steve. Even the adult version of that method didn't have music that Steve would like or understand. So I made my own Steve Glickman method. I quickly learned that he had a good ear (at the time I couldn't play by ear myself) and that he loved jazz (I had absolutely no jazz experience).
I ran to my local music store (we had one then) and began a crash course in how to teach jazz. Thank goodness for John Mehegan. As the weeks progressed, Steve and I learned together. I began teaching him to read music with exercises away from the piano, and at the piano he picked out the melodies of several of his favorite songs. Eventually, Steve's reading and playing came together. The secret that unlocked the code was chords. Steve loved chords. I took a teaching tip from Frances Clark and taught them to him by feel and key-color using the Group I chords: C-G-F, Group II chords: D-A-E, and so on. After the first year he could play and name all of them at a break-neck speed, including all the variations of seventh chords.
The group lessons helped a lot. By that time I had three more students, but they were young beginners. Instead of mixing apples and oranges, I forced my own two children to join Steve's group. They were much younger than he was, but they loved him, and Steve was a kind and funny companion. Both of my children became singer-songwriters rather than classical musicians. Maybe it all started then.
After two years Steve had a repertoire of eight or nine of the songs frequently heard at hockey games, including a more sophisticated version of the Blackhawks' theme. One day he literally ran up the stairs to his lesson. At the door he presented me with his card: "Steve LaMar Glickman, Organist for the Skokie Skatium." He had been hired to play during the adult and teen hockey league games at his local skating rink. He had reached his goal. After learning three or four more songs to round out his repertoire, Steve quit lessons. His music reading was still a struggle, but he could pick out melodies on his own and harmonize them. He played with fluidity and energy and yes, love.
Forty years later I am able to choose which students I take. Sometimes I think this is a bad thing. Financial necessity caused me to take on a student who challenged me as a teacher in every way. Because of Steve Glickman I learned how to pick out tunes by ear, play popular and jazz music, and teach someone who plays by ear how to read.
When the unusual student presents him or herself, take the leap. Together you will take an exciting musical journey. I am just as proud of Steve, who played at the Skatium all through high school and college, as I am of my student who is currently studying music at the University of Michigan. And remember, new teachers need your support. I am to this day in gratitude to the generosity of my friend Bea, who took me by the hand and helped me begin my life as an independent teacher.