Monday, October 14, 2013

Piano Is(n't) My Life

I suppose it's odd that I've never written a whole post about piano until now. I have mentioned before that I teach piano lessons and that I decided not to pursue a college degree in music. I'm studying with my own piano teacher in what I'm calling an "apprenticeship" to improve my teaching abilities, while continuing to learn new pieces myself. This, obviously, is counter to what our culture and society expects, and I suppose that part of the reason I don't like bringing it up is because when I am forced by polite and well-meaning conversationalists to explain what I'm doing with myself, I'm never sure exactly how they will respond. Mostly I get puzzled or blank looks and a confused "that's nice..." Rarely do I ever get the "What?!? You can't do that, you really must go to college!" but that's always what I am most afraid of receiving because it provokes me to rant about the lengthy thought process that went into my decision, and who are they to decide what I must do with my life anyway?!? Often, I am surprised by how encouraging people can be though, and I so appreciate the kind and thoughtful responses. I firmly believe that college was not the right route for me, but that does not mean that I think it's wrong for everyone! 


Piano and I had a sort of rocky beginning when I was 8. I liked it, but I didn't really like to practice much (I still think it's more fun just to sit there and play things I've already learned!) and I mostly just wanted to play outside with my friends and siblings. By the time I entered my teens, though, I was much more serious about piano. For the first couple of years of high school, I was planning on going to college, and I was so happy that I already knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I loved playing piano, but I didn't enjoy performing, so I definitely wasn't going to be an aspiring concert pianist. As a big sister, I liked to teach my siblings anything they would let me, so it was easy to decide that combining piano and teaching into a career would be perfect. I had my top choice colleges picked out, worked hard in math so I would be able to get a decent score on the SAT and made sure my piano teacher knew that I intended to go to college as a piano pedagogy major. But something happened in my sophomore year, when my teacher presented me with the college audition pieces she wanted me to begin preparing. There was this weird, cold, sinking feeling in my chest that I couldn't shake. It wasn't fear, it was just lack of peace. In Christian terminology I suppose it would be called "a check in the spirit." It wouldn't leave.

I began praying very seriously about college, and thinking about the possibility of skipping college. Until then, it hadn't even occurred to me that I might not attend college - everyone went to college, and I wouldn't be a "successful" homeschooler if I didn't prove to society that I could out-perform my public-schooled peers in the higher education system, right? Wasn't that actually the only way to become a real piano teacher? I had already begun teaching a few beginners piano lessons (it's pretty popular in the homeschool community to have high school students teach music, art, etc. to younger beginning students) but that was with the approval of my teacher, and she often gave me tips. She once told me that she believed it should be illegal for anyone to teach music without an appropriate degree, but then went on to assure me that since I was teaching under her guidance, and since I intended to go to college, what I was doing was okay. That was burned into my memory. 

The first decision that I made was to postpone my potential college entrance so I would have more time to make my decision. Taking a "super"-senior year was also popular in my homeschool group, and since my birthday fell in the right range, I could continue to compete on the homeschool swim team an extra year if I waited to graduate. The next step I made was to quit lessons with my piano teacher. I suspected that I wouldn't end up attending college, and since I didn't want to face her wrath for teaching without that degree, I left. I took a whole year off from piano lessons before I found a new teacher, and that's when my vision for a college-free future finally started to become clear. 

My new piano teacher was recommended to me by a friend, who mentioned that this lady had not
attended college either. When I contacted her to ask if she would take a new student, I mentioned that I would like to have a sort of "apprentice" relationship, and learn from her about teaching piano as well as studying pieces with her. I told her that I already had some students of my own, and that I was considering not going to college for music, but that I loved teaching piano and wanted to continue learning myself. She accepted me, and we began my "apprenticeship" almost immediately.

At that point, I had not completely decided that I would forgo college. It seemed easier just to pay for those 4 years and that official sheet of paper, fulfilling everything society expected of me, and then continue with my piano teaching unhindered, and with a conscience unburdened by my former instructor's opinion of degree-less piano teachers. I didn't want to drop my piano students to attend college, however I knew that if I did go to college, I would have to be completely focused on school, at least at first. I still wanted to go to college, to avoid the effort of going against the current and experience the whole new world of college but that cold, "wrong" feeling in my heart still weighed on me, and I was becoming more and more convinced that I wasn't meant to attend.

Finally, as my "fleece" (Judges 6:36-40) in my senior year I began to pray that God would use my own students as a sign. If He wanted me to go to college, he was going to have to make all 6 of them quit. If He continued to let me have students, I was going to believe that was His approval for my teaching without a degree, and I would continue teaching until (and if) He ever gave me a new direction. Most of all, I wanted that weird, cold feeling to go away, and for peace about the right decision to fill my mind. 

By the end of my senior year, none of my students had quit, and I realized that I did feel peace about staying home and apprenticing with my wonderful new piano teacher. She is such a sweet Christian lady, who encourages me in more than just musical pursuits, and I never fail to leave inspired and invigorated by my lesson with her. Each year, my own studio has only grown in number of students, and I feel such delightful confidence knowing that I am doing what God means for me to do. Without the burden of classes, papers, exams and studying, I have had time to be part of my family, to learn more about health, cooking, money management and many other responsibilities that go into a household, besides continuing to study piano and enjoying the part music has in my life. 

I don't mean this to be an attack on those who did attend college, and I hope those who did choose college don't feel that they must reprimand those who make different decisions. We are all different people, and God has different plans for all of us. I love piano, and greatly enjoy teaching, but piano just isn't my whole life. I always want God to be my focus, and college isn't part of His plan for me. This turned into a extremely long post, but this is my entire heart on the subject, and I am relieved to have it all said. If you made it through this whole post, I am impressed!
 

13 comments:

  1. Lizzie, I am so happy for you, that the Lord has led you down a different path than one that would be college-oriented. I wouldn't change a thing in your life. You're a sweet, young lady and you listen to the Lord's leading.

    As you know, I am in college and it has been some of the most frustrating and enlightening years of my life. The first few years were the hardest because I was in a secular school and I hated it. After being homeschooled my entire life, the jump was really hard to make. But after graduating I knew that I wanted to attend a Christian University and the Lord led me to Regent. It was a hard road to travel with lots of work, but since I'm a writer, I knew that writing classes were essential for me to improve my skills. And it's worked. The advancement in my creative writing ability only comes from what I've learned in college. I could never have done it on my own.

    But a part of me does wish that school hadn't been necessary. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of years from my life when I would rather be doing other things. You've been given the glorious opportunity to do those other things, and you are so fortunate.

    Never let anyone make you feel bad or less of a person because you didn't go to college. It's not the be-all of one's life. Judging your post, you have done just as well without it, possibly even better than if you'd gone! :)

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    1. Thank you, Carissa, for your kind and thoughtful comment!

      I'm sorry that some of your college experience has been somewhat frustrating, but I hope the enlightening parts greatly outweighed that! Attending Regent sounds like a wonderful blessing, and definitely a great experience for your writing. Isn't it great how God leads us all on our own paths? Each for His glory, and for the best in each of our lives!

      Unfortunately, not attending college is a bit of a social stigma, but I try not to let it bother me. Usually I just try to avoid the topic. I really appreciate your encouragement!

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  2. You know what you want to do. What you want to do is clearly God-pleasing, beneficial to others, and fulfilling for you. How can that be bad? When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I also knew I wanted to have a college degree in case God didn't lead me to a husband right away, and so I went to a small Christian college, where sure enough, I fell in love with a young man who shared my faith and values. However, that college was more than a thousand miles from my family, and a lot of friends (and some relatives) questioned why I had to go so far away. No matter what decision you make, it seems like there's always someone who thinks they know better.

    I'm glad you've found contentment and peace with your decision, and I hope he uses you to bless many young pianists through the years! I would love to find someone like you to teach my own kids the piano in a few years.

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    1. Thanks, Hamlette! I like your viewpoint! Ultimately, I want to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, too. Maybe that is in God's future plans for me. I admit, I do sometimes think that going to college might be the only way to meet young men nowadays... hahaha! That is very true, there is always someone who wants to tell you what you should be doing!

      I hope you find a wonderful piano teacher for your kids, and that they enjoy learning the piano! I've loved it so much.

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    2. Part of the reason I went to college was because there are some states that require you to either have a BA or a teaching license to teach your kids. Having lived in 3 different states as a kid and not knowing where I'd end up, I thought that would be wise.

      I think I will teach my kids piano myself for a year or two, then find someone else if they want to learn more than I can teach them. I love playing, though lately if I can sit down 2 or 3 times a week and make it through a song or two, I'm lucky.

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    3. Oh, that is a very good idea. That isn't a requirement in my state, but definitely something to consider. Just want to make sure you know, I wasn't trying to say you only went to college to meet your man, it's just a joke because so many of my friends are marrying men they met at college, while I don't know very many and have a pretty small social circle at the moment. I realized my comment could be taken the wrong way, I hope I didn't offend! =)

      Oh, that's great that you can teach them piano! I have one student who started with his mom and she taught him until she felt he had progressed beyond her abilities. He got a great beginning with her, and is one of my brightest students. She helps him with his practicing still, too, which helps a lot I think. What do you like to play?

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    4. Nope, not offended! A lot of my friends and relatives married people they met at our college, and we women would joke that we got two degrees, our BA and our MRS :-)

      And by a lot, I mean myself, my brother, and my husband's brother and sister all found our spouses at that college. Plus lots of our friends. Kind of crazy.

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  3. This was so good for me to read because my story is quite similar to yours. When I was in my sophomore year I thought about going for a degree in violin, and my teacher was talking about different options and colleges that might fit my needs. Then she brought up audition pieces, and that's when I had to say "Hold on!" I felt very shaky about the whole idea, and as I thought and prayed about it more, I decided to stick with my stay at home daughter decision (which I had made when I was about fifteen), and forgo college. Now I am part of a 1880s living history string ensemble and I also have my very own children's choir which I enjoy immensely. And I understand completely about explaining your plans to other people. It can be very awkward, and most of the time I try my best to avoid bringing it up, because most individuals lack the ability to think outside the box of college and understand that there are other paths to take.

    Thanks for the great post and God bless you with your plans!

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    1. I didn't realize your middle name is Anne! My name is Elizabeth Ann too, but my Ann is spelled without the 'e.'

      It's always nice to hear from others who have followed a similarly uncommon path! It sounds like you also have a very fulfilling life without the college experience. I usually just avoid talking about it if I can, too. I have come up with a pretty concise answer for when I must explain that has been working well so far.

      I'm glad you liked it, thanks for commenting!

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  4. This is so nice to hear. I did go to college, but it wasn't a well-thought out experience and while I should be getting my degree in the Spring, I HATE ATTENDING and I wish I could have done many things different. I like hearing about people with a full life without college because the girls that did not/do not go to college at our church seem to have lead and do lead rather frivolous lives just waiting for a husband instead of working fully at their lives. You have to work to your fullest AND wait. It seems that your really have something good because you are using your talents and helping your family. I think part of my families trouble was we and our parents did not know exactly what to do with us girls and some of us kind of were bit with a level of Christian feminism. I always wanted to stay at home with my kids, but I felt like I had to have a degree to "prove" I had a brain. I am still sensitive about being homeschooled; I don't want anyone to know, not because I think it is pathetic (I think it, at its best, is the best way to educate one's kids), but because I don't want any of my mistakes to be blames on that or for me to be thought stupid. Yeah, not so mature.

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    1. Thanks, Livia! I'm sorry your college experience has been unpleasant for you, hopefully you'll feel it was all worth it once you have your degree! I definitely agree with you about needing to do something productive, we don't need to be sitting around twirling our thumbs and waiting for husbands... especially since we are not guaranteed that we'll eventually get a husband. I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you had to get a degree to prove you have brain! I always felt the only way I could prove that my homeschool education was worth anything was by going to college and doing well. Although, homeschooling is a lot more widely accepted now, which is nice. I loved being homeschooled, but I understand what you're saying about hiding it. I usually feel that people who find out I was homeschooled look for me to be socially awkward. I actually got teased a lot for trying to be grammatically correct all the time, so I guess I had the opposite problem. Either way, it does seem like our culture just likes to pick on homeschoolers.

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  5. *family's* See, a mistake like this would have me fearing a comment like, "Oh, what a dumb homeschooler," which I have never gotten btw, but of course I never volunteer that information...

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    1. Don't worry about it, hardly any one really tries to make sure everything they type is absolutely correct on the internet now... that's what texting has done for our society! ;)

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