Really. It started innocently enough.

First a bit of background: Most weeks, most of my students have a composition assignment. This takes a variety of forms, depending upon how inspired I might be. Some weeks it is key signature or a set of notes that they must work from. Other weeks it is a rhythmic motif that they have to incorporate or I give them a “starter,” a short phrase that they have to begin their composition with, kind of like a short rote exercise. Still other weeks it might be simply a title: “Oceans” or “Midnight Blue” or “Dancing Dolphins.”

I should add that I do not consider myself to be a composition teacher. But I want students to feel uninhibited enough at the piano to improvise and think creatively. I want students who do not think that the only music they can play is from a book written by someone else. I want students who can fiddle their way out of a memory lapse, who can fake it when needed, and who, on a regular basis, can invent sounds and musical pictures for themselves.

And so, when a student plays their assigned composition for me in their lesson my one and only response is something along the lines of, “I love that.” I do not give feedback. I do not comment when I suspect that the composition I just heard was made up right then and there. I do not offer suggestions. I simply hold the space for creativity to happen.

(Do I therefore miss teaching opportunities? Yep. Every single day. In life and in the piano lesson, we cannot do everything. Tough choices have to be made.)

The studio madness, or should I say the magic, started the week before Thanksgiving. It was the week prior to the fall studio recital. I was exhausted and up to my ears in my own practice deadlines and looming performances. There were bulbs to be planted and pies to bake. I could not be inspired about compositions.

Instead, I did what I always do in these situations, which, I must admit is a form of pedagogical laziness. I simply picked a seasonal theme and assigned every student the same composition title. We had had a warmer than usual fall. The leaves were still green and hanging on the trees. Thinking of this, I assigned the composition “Falling Leaves” with the only requirement that the student must use at least one glissando in their composition.

That week the temperature dropped about 25 degrees. Overnight, every leaf in central New Mexico fell to the ground.

“Wasn’t that awesome?” I said to the students when they came into their lessons the following week. “We made the leaves fall.”

That week, once again thanks to an utter and complete lack of inspiration, I assigned the composition “Harvest Moon.”  Thanksgiving week the biggest, brightest, yellow harvest moon rose over the mountains.

The kids were beside themselves. “OK,” I told them, “Let’s try for ‘First Snowfall.’” Exactly a week to the day after I began handing out this assignment, the first snowflakes fell.

“Miss Amy! You made magic!” said one six-year-old. “I told my dad you were like a Twelfth Level Bard from Dungeons and Dragons,” said another kid. “Wow.” I said. “What is that?” “Well, a bard is a musician and twelfth level means pretty powerful.”

I loved this. Yesterday I was simply a piano teacher. Now I was a pretty powerful, magical musician.

Of course, the problem with having magical powers is that people start making requests. The first one came from Matt. Watching the snow fall, he said, “OK. Let’s see the students tackle ‘New President’ or perhaps ‘Impeachment’?”

“How about ‘Indictment’?” suggested a parent in the studio.

“What would ‘Impeachment’ sound like anyway?” I asked one high school kid when I told her the suggestions.

“Great rejoicing and celebration throughout the land,” she responded. It sounded almost Biblical.

There is a lot of pressure when you are a Twelfth Level Bard. As much as I want both Impeachment and Indictment, I decided to play my cards carefully. I sent every kid home for the holidays with the composition “White Christmas.” This seemed both seasonal and reasonable. After all, so far the compositional powers of the studio were somewhat nature centric. And besides, a white Christmas sounded rather magical.

Honestly, it was no wonder I was resorting to pedagogical laziness and grasping at magic. While there had been nothing unusual about the semester, all the normal things I did—the teaching, the practicing, the performing—had been on steroids, everything blown up and bigger and more demanding than usual. Even December, which, thanks to fewer lessons to teach and a studio recital behind us, normally I can count on to have some relished empty space and time, was chockablock. There were more concerts than usual, which meant many more rehearsals. I have an especially heavy load to practice for January and February gigs. There was a five-day stretch after I taught my last lesson where I did nothing but practice and either prepare for or clean up after a party: Practice Brahms trio first movement, make a cake, practice Beethoven sonata fugue, wipe down the bathroom, practice Haydn concerto, move furniture, practice Brahms trio second movement, wash wine glasses . . . five days straight of this madness. I kid you not.

The evening of December 27, I had just said goodbye to a visiting former student when it began snowing. For a week now the temperature has stayed below freezing. The wind has howled. For two exhausted musicians, this was the real gift of Christmas. We have stayed inside for days on end, reading books, watching movies, taking naps and watching snow fall, a perfect holiday. For the record, technically we did not have a white Christmas, unless you are one of those happy souls that celebrate the full 12 days. In that case, the compositional magic of the studio continues. We have had a white Christmas.

As we step into this new year, treading lightly as to not spoil the fresh snow with too many footprints, I find myself thinking about magic in all its forms. That we are offered another year, another chance to assert our powers seems, in itself, magical. Yesterday I packed away the Christmas pop-up books and put away the cranberry strands woven with white lights, small rituals to mark the end of the season. The paper whites have been blooming their hearts out, but it won’t be long before the tired leaves and bulbs and flowers will go to the compost pile. This afternoon I begin another year, another semester, another month, week, day of teaching piano lessons. Kid after kid will walk through my door. We’ll talk about our holiday adventures, exclaim over the snow and cold, examine practice charts and, once again, begin to make music.

Pure magic.