I happen to be a dog person. By that, I don’t mean I’m some sort of combination man/dog, nor am I a crime fighter who wears a dog costume and uses my advanced sense of smell and loyalty to help people in distress. No, I’m simply saying I like dogs.
I also happen to be, among other things, a piano teacher. As it turns out, I’m a piano teacher who would rather not go to students’ homes, preferring to have them come to me. There are several reasons for that, most of them stemming from laziness. However, there are times when I’ll break that policy, if I feel like it, and I’m much more likely to feel like it if there’s a cool dog in the house. There’s nothing cooler (well, very few things cooler) than being with a cool family, teaching piano, with a fun dog hanging around.
Around my house, when we talk about the schedule for the day, it’s usually about the dogs, not the people – “Are you teaching Chinook today?” Or, “I’ll be home later; I have Louie’s lesson this morning.”
Chinook and Louie are, of course, not the actual students. That would be hard for them, given the design of their front feet vs. the requirements of playing the piano. But Chinook and Louie definitely add an element of fun to the whole teaching process.
Chinook is a little on the old side; her owner says she’s 94 years old. I’m hoping that number has been already converted to dog years, because if not, her dog years number would be more like 658 years old. Which, if you met Chinook, might seem possible. I’m not saying the dog is old, but it’s either that or she’s a heavy drinker. She has a lot of trouble walking, trouble hearing, and trouble doing a lot of other things. But she always takes the time (sometimes a long time) to walk into the room where I’m teaching and make sure I’m petting her. A lot. Chinook isn’t a dog you can pet and send on her way – when you have that big head in your hands, it isn’t going anywhere for a while. She probably feels that since it was so much trouble to get from wherever she was to the piano, she’s not going anywhere else for a while. When the petting ends, she lays down inches away from the piano bench, offering a quiet, calm, reassuring presence with her silent dog thoughts: “Yes, I know you’ve been working on this song for 7 weeks, but I really feel like today is the day you’ll get it.” Being a professional music educator who sometimes works in homes, I have the ability to read dog thoughts.
Louie is a different animal altogether (literally). He’s a little less than a year old, and acts like it. The title of this post, “When Dogs & Pianos Collide,” is really more descriptive of Louie than Chinook; at her 658-year-old speed, Chinook isn’t colliding with anything. Louie, on the other hand, at his atomic puppy speed, is colliding with everything, including the piano which is an electronic piano on a portable stand, just the right height for Louie’s big head to knock it off the stand when he rushes in to greet me while I’m teaching. Louie has been described by his owner (by “owner,” I’m referring to the dad in the house who may be more of a Louie fan than the mom) as a “chill machine.” The dog is happy no matter what, and glad to see you, no matter who you are. We could be in the middle of the alleged Big Earthquake they’ve been warning about since I’ve been a kid, and Louie would still want you to stop all emergency activities and pet him. Actually, if/when that earthquake ever happens, I’ll blame Louie for it.
The mom of the house, although she seems to sort of like Louie, describes him in more colorful language than the dad. And by colorful language, I don’t mean “brown.” Usually it’s more like a scream coming from somewhere in the unseen recesses of the house: “Louie ate my %$#&@@ shoe!” Which is usually followed by laughter from the dad, who is Louie’s biggest fan. Well, maybe second biggest, because I’m a Louie fan myself.
So I think it’s finally time to formalize my policy when it comes to teaching piano in people’s homes. Like I said, I normally don’t do it because it’s just easier for me to get people to come to my location. But there’s really only one simple thing to remember about my in-home policy – I have to feel like it. And I’m much more likely to feel like it when Chinook and/or Louie are helping out.