Last week ten-year-old Nicholas arrived for his lesson.  Before I could even say hello, he announced, “OK.  I know what we need to start with.”

I couldn’t help smiling.  This kid always has an agenda.  “OK.  What?”

“’Wild Rider,’” he said, citing the little Schumann piece.  “Definitely, ‘Wild Rider.’”

“Let’s do it,” I said.  Clearly, we are going to waste no time with pleasantries.

Nicholas dropped his bag of music books on the floor and sat down at the piano.  He proceeded to crash (there is no other word) through “Wild Rider.”  Upon finishing, he turned to me. “OK.  I know what I need to do.  Write this down.  I need to work on the B section, maybe more hands alone and do some metronome.  Did you write that down?  OK.  I know what we should do next.  Scales.  We didn’t get to them last time and you said we should start with them.  Are you ready?”

Working with this kid is not so much teaching as it is taking dictation.

Nicholas and I have been together since he was six.  In the beginning, lessons looked just as one might expect.  I taught stuff; he learned stuff (or at least that was the intention).  We did rote pieces and worked out major and minor 5-finger positions. We drilled note flashcards and learned to recognize rhythmic patterns.  Always, we talked a lot about practicing, focusing on strategies for how Nicholas should work at home.  “How do you think you should practice this?”  I’d ask.  At first, he had no idea.  Now (see above) Nicholas is full of ideas.  I just need to write them down.

We have just finished the 8th week of the semester.  Gulp.  We have had our All Studio Rhythm & Movement Class.  Two rounds of performance classes.  It is only the beginning of October.

Sometimes I joke that I could disappear and this studio would continue as if nothing had happened.  Kids would show up for their lessons, play their assignments, figure out how they needed to practice the next week and walk out the door, never noticing I wasn’t sitting in my usual chair. Performance classes could run without me, for sure.  Students are well trained to take off their shoes, use the hand sanitizer and bring in the chairs that are otherwise scattered around the house.  They bring their highly “researched” (thank you, Google) 5 Fun Facts. Recently, we learned that an arabesque is a form of Islamic architecture and an etude has lots of arpeggios (I questioned the latter, to no avail.). Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer and Bruce Berr “is” a PhD (fascinating stuff, all of it.).  The students know to state their performance goals before they play.  I particularly like the performance goals the little ones come up with: “I am going to freeze on the last note and put my hands in my lap.”  “I am going to remember to play loud.”   “I am going to play with both hands.” Sometimes playing “with both hands” is all I can manage too.  “Good goal,” I tell them.  “Good performance goal.”

My performance goals these days? To pay attention to all the smallest details of my life and to take dictation. To notice the scent of roasting green chile all over town, the smell that will forever signal the beginning of autumn in New Mexico. To note that when I stepped out the door this morning on my way to the pool, I could almost taste the temperature dropping and the summer’s relentless heat giving up its grip. There are exactly 17 yellow leaves on the tree across the street, the one I see all day through the window from my perch on the piano bench. I have (or so a Little One announced to me) 15 pumpkins scattered around the house and garden, like Easter eggs waiting to be found. Poet Mary Oliver said, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Pay attention, says Mary Oliver. Write this down, Nicholas tells me. Write this down.