Terry came to visit yesterday, and I gave her the grand tour of the music studio that my husband and I recently built. She exclaimed over the lovely setting in the woods, the cathedral ceiling, the comfortable waiting room. Then we spent the rest of her visit at my kitchen table, talking about various things — her upcoming wedding, my trip to the National Flute Convention that same weekend, and, of course, our students.
After she left, I reflected on what a great professional colleague she is. Other flute teachers have come and gone in this town, along with the flute performance majors at the university who sometimes take students, but Terry and I remain the two well-established private flute teachers in Chapel Hill. She was here first, staying on after getting her masters in flute, and opening her private studio about seven years before I came along. When I started my studio, I invited Terry to lunch so that we could get to know each other, and found her tube gracious, generous, and supportive. In those early years, I called her several times with questions about running a studio or teaching a particular rhythm or producing a student recital. She always answered my questions kindly and open-heartedly.
During the ten years, I’ve been a private flute teacher, children have switched from my studio to hers, and vice versa. Often we refer students to each other when our schedules are too full to take on someone new, and whenever someone calls who’s been a student of hers, I make sure to apprise Terry. I like to keep these things “on the table,” and so does she. We talk about difficult and sometimes humorous issues, such as the time two years ago, when I asked a teenaged student to leave my studio due to her lack of practice over a long span of time. Her mother subsequently called Terry and reported that they’d left me because of “scheduling problems.”
Terry and I have similar teaching styles in that we treat our students with care, respect, and positive regard, and have high expectations for their musical growth and development. But our teaching methods are extremely different. Terry is a Suzuki teacher who is deeply committed to that form of musical education. She spends her summers at Suzuki institutes and has even studied the method in Japan. She has a group class on Saturday mornings, to give her students experience in ensemble playing and other musical activities. In my more traditional approach, I offer master classes with well-known teachers and other group activities throughout the year, including a flute trip to London this coming winter.
Terry has more than forty students, almost all children, and teens. I have about 28 students maximum, with an equal number of children and adults. Terry teaches 45-minute lessons, and charges by the semester. I teach 30-,45-, and 60-minute lessons and charge by the month. Terry is university trained, while I’m an amateur. We both participate in our local and national flute associations, but Terry is involved in the local music teachers’ group, and I’m involved in Flutewise. I often think that the community of Chapel Hill is lucky to have a choice between such diverse teachers. I’m not the right teacher for every student, and neither is Terry. I’ve heard many stories about how competitive music teachers can be, speaking poorly behind each other’s back or trying to “steal” students from each other, bragging about whose students have won the most competitions or the highest chairs in the band. Terry and I have never competed with each other, and I’m grateful for her professional integrity.
Teaching a musical instrument in a private studio can be lonely. To a great extent, I’ve satisfied my need for colleagues by joining the Internet flute discussion group, through which I’ve met many teachers who deal with the same issues I do. But Terry is special to me because she operates in the exact same social, economic, and cultural region as I do and draws her students from the same population.
Terry and I haven’t become intimate friends who socialize together, nor have we ever played music together. But we are an ensemble of sorts we work to bring the ability to make music to the people in our community. We treat each other like musicians who play together, listening for the melodies we have in common and enjoying the sounds of different themes as well.