I don't want to be the kind of father that seeks to make up for his own shortcomings by hot-housing his kids, except that's exactly what I want to do when it comes to my sons learning music. I'm a semi-professional guitar player with 'Rockers Remorse'. That's not the band, that's a condition. That is to say I've attained a high standard of performance without ever having bothered to acquire a solid foundation in music theory. I struggle to read music properly and I'm long past the window of opportunity to go back and learn all that stuff. And so it is that no son of mine will drift through that golden phase without some formal training!
So where to start? Piano seems to make sense. When to start? Jesus, the older one's 5 already. I'm pretty sure Mozart was dead by that age. No time to lose.
Ms Piano Lady 1
I ask around among other parents and it seems that there is one clear candidate to tutor my son. A saint, a virtuoso, a Mary-Poppins-Practically-Perfect-in-Every-Way woman that teaches all around the county, but graces our town on Saturdays. I call Ms Piano Lady 1, but needless to say this woman is booked up to the hilt with no foreseeable gaps in the schedule to squeeze in young Alex. Balls.
Ms Piano Lady 2
With no further personal recommendations forthcoming, I resort to the default research method and google 'piano teacher'. I am encouraged to see the nearest red pointer on the Google map, the one with the 'A' in it, is a mere two streets away from our house.
I call the number and leave a message with a gentleman whose grasp of English is poor. By some miracle, my name and number are successfully transmitted to Ms Piano Lady 2, and she calls me back. Her English is only marginally better than the gentleman who, it transpires, is her elderly father. Still, I'm so delighted by her proximity that at this point I'm willing to overlook any shortcomings. We arrange a trial lesson for Alex.
At the appointed time, we rock up at the house of Ms Piano Lady 2, who is of south-east Asian heritage and also a violinist in a noted orchestra. All good so far. However it quickly becomes apparent that she has little clue about the levels of reading, concentration and general behaviour one can expect from a 5 year old boy. The stool is high up for Alex's so he swings his feet which make contact with the piano. Ms PL2 flinches and tells him to be still. Alex wants to see what the keys do so he presses one. She tells him not to touch. He puts his finger in his mouth, then reaches for the keyboard again and she barely suppresses a freak-out as she grabs his hand then goes off to find some tissues with which to wipe his fingers.
There follows an awkward half-hour as Ms PL2 gives Alex a secondary school level music theory lecture in broken English, all the while wiping his fingers every time he touches his face. At the end of the session, she hands me a book and starts talking about 'next time'. It's tempting: I don't want to tell her that she's crap, plus she's so local. In truth though, I know it's not going to work out. I politely take the book, but I drop it back round to her frustratingly convenient house later in the week, and explain that Alex isn't ready yet.
Ms Piano Lady 3
Meanwhile, on the grapevine, Alex's mum has heard of another tutor, let's call her Ms Piano Lady 3, who is apparently 'great with young kids'. Fab. What's more she is willing to visit our house for the lessons. Double fab. We arrange a visit.
Ms PL3 arrives in our house like a whirlwind. She is a large, gregarious Russian in vivid make-up. Alex is enraptured. We repair to the attic room where Alex's new (off of eBay) electric piano is waiting. Ms PL3 recommends that I stay in the room next door with the door open so that I can observe without distracting Alex. So far so sensible. It quickly becomes obvious that this woman has a real gift for communicating with youngsters. She lets Alex have a 5 minute bash on the keyboard to get it out of his system at the outset. Again, sensible. My only qualm is that she introduces the note 'F' by calling it 'Fart'. Now I'm not prudish, and the use of mildly transgressive language does seem to engender a sort of conspiratorial closeness between student and teacher. But Alex spends the next week saying 'Fart' in public and it does get on my tits.
The lesson comes to a successful conclusion, only for disaster to strike in the final moment. Ms PL3 falls down the bloody stairs. I'm descending in front of her and make an attempt to shorten her fall by standing firm two steps from the bottom. The idea is to block her from going bouncing off down the hall. As she reaches my position, her legs slide either side of my standing leg, causing her skirt to ride up to her knicker-area, which itself comes to rest on my shin. We share a weird moment. She gathers herself and I enquire after her well-being, but she's clearly flustered by the episode and can't wait to get out of the house. She then stalls her car before managing to drive away.
A couple of days later I received a text from Ms PL3 explaining that she has been accepted on a college course and is scaling back her teaching commitments. Consequently, she won't be taking Alex on as her student. I text back to say how impressed I was with her teaching and was there perhaps any chance....? But I receive no reply. I very much hope that her explanation was the truth and that she wasn't discouraged from coming back through embarrassment, as I would have been delighted for her to become Alex's tutor. Never mind. Good bye, Ms PL3, and good luck in all your endeavours.
Miss Piano Lady 4
Success finally comes when I least expect it. I see a business card in the window of the school office as I pick up Alex one day. It turns out Ms Piano Lady 4, for it is she, is a visiting music teacher at the school as well a piano tutor in her own time. And she speaks English and is ostensibly sane. Result! Her house smells a bit of dog, but you can't have it all. She counselled that there was little point in starting until Alex reached year 2 so we waited, and she was absolutely right as Alex was just that bit more mature, his reading more developed, his hands bigger and stronger. So my recommendation as far as finding a tutor goes would be to enquire at the school office. Had I done so to begin with, it would certainly have saved a lot of messing about.