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In this video my former student Christopher is expressing his feelings on the subject through the musical performance of a precomposed piece. I am looking at the video and cannot help but see in my mind a little boy whom I met in 2003. Chris’ mom brought him for a trial lesson. I was doing my best to establish emotional rapport when he turned to me, looked with his huge brown eyes and said, “Be quiet, I am trying to concentrate.” I smiled. We always laugh when remember that first lesson.

Christopher is now a successful chemistry major in his junior year of college. Last year before Christmas, during a piano lesson with Christopher’s younger sister, I noticed that there was a new keyboard near the wall of the living room. I asked his sister about the new instrument. She replied, “Oh, this is a gift for Chris, so he could practice in his dorm room.”

It was then that I decided to share the story of Christopher’s music studies, with his permission. Christopher and his mother happily offered the following Q&A.


Q: Rainbow Bridge Music Studio cultivates an individual approach for students with unique educational needs. How unique were Christopher’s educational needs as a young child?

Mother: Christopher is our miracle. As a young child, he was a challenge because he was delayed in his ability to communicate, was easily distracted, and relied on visual cues and rewards.

Q: How did your piano teacher accommodate those needs?

Mother: We had tried many teachers, but Christopher was too much of a challenge for traditional teachers. Olga worked closely with us as parents to structure lessons that focused on a curriculum filled with pictures and notes. Christopher enjoyed stickers and treats at the end of his lessons. The homework was clearly laid out and it was never overwhelming for a young child. Practice at home was limited to 5-10 minutes in the first few years and eventually grew to 30 minutes. He was able to make significant progress.

Q: As Christopher was growing, why did you stick with the piano lessons?

Mother: Did Chris want to quit along the way? Of course, but we would talk it through. It is difficult to explain how he convinced himself to stick it out, but he knew he was good and that he would be giving up a good thing. I myself had learned piano when I was young and felt strongly that piano is a building block instrument that stands on its own and provides an important foundation for personal growth. My personal belief is that learning the language of music, that is, fluently reading and writing music, opens doors of understanding in life.

I fully agree. As a music therapist and music educator, I know that music represents a subject that encompasses art, science, language, math, history, and physical education all at once. Music also fosters perceptual learning and creates a diverse set of neural changes in the human brain.

Through the course of our lessons, Christopher quickly identified his main strength–amazingly acute working memory. However, there were challenges, too. The biggest one was to talk him into opening up to the new experiences. Christopher participated in every single program that was offered at our studio– yearly Certificate of Merit with the Music Teachers Association of California, a Rock Band program, semi-annual music recitals and Student Showcases. I know that I could not succeed at teaching Christopher without my continuous allies, Christopher’s mom and dad. Christopher’s parents supported new beginnings every step of the way.

Q: In your opinion, did piano lessons promote Christopher’s overall development?

Mother: Fortunately, Chris was able to make steady progress. When we entered the Certificate of Merit (CM) piano program, he benefited from the balance between theory, exercises, and piano pieces. Over the next 9 years, Rainbow Bridge Music Studio did an exceptional job keeping Chris on track, helping him to select music he both enjoyed and could master. As part of the CM preparation, there were multiple opportunities during the year to perform his piano pieces, so that by the time the CM exam came along, it was not the first time he had performed the repertoire. Rainbow Bridge Music Studio was able to make sure that Chris was prepared each and every year to pass the next level of the CM program.

Q: How did you see your role in it?

Mother: My personal goal was to make sure that Chris always began preparing early for any piano performance or test; otherwise performing becomes a panic and public failure.

Christopher had his first experience as a vocalist in the safe environment of our studio’s Rock Band program. Then he joined the choir at school. Soon he was very much into musical theatre. In addition to piano lessons, Christopher was taking voice lessons. Christopher’s musical life was already bigger than the limits of our studio. He was making musical connections, seeking musical collaborations. For his Senior Showcase with Rainbow Bridge, Christopher organized a very ambitious musical program. He performed solo piano, and invited a friend to accompany his vocal performance. It was HIS night! His parents organized the after-concert dinner for a large group of family and friends that were there to support the young artist.

Q: In your opinion, did piano lessons open the door for broader musical development?

Christopher: My training in piano and piano theory prepared me to delve into both violin and voice, and now guitar and drums. While I started late as a singer, I was amazed to find I had developed perfect pitch which helped me tremendously to excel in choir and musical theatre. I loved performing and in high school and even now am auditioning for parts in plays, musicals, and even opera.

On the year of his graduation, Christopher was one of the most academically successful students in his high school. He also successfully passed Level 8 of the CM piano examination, which qualified him to receive the medal of excellence from the California Music Teachers Association. If it were up to me, I would call this the award “for perseverance” because learning music may be in many ways compared to running a marathon. In the long run, it is a test of endurance and the ability to delay gratification. It is a lesson on how to appreciate the journey, and, it is a lesson for life.

Q: Christopher, you are not majoring in music. Do you feel that the music education was worth the time?

Christopher: Well, I may not be majoring in music, but I am trying to minor. It is not easy with Chemistry major, but I have been in choir since freshman year and figured that I might as well add a few classes to make it a minor. I was taking Classical Music History and texted my mom: “I’m glad Olga hammered the Romantic Period of piano music into me because that’s exactly what we’re studying for this quarter!” My sophomore year, I auditioned for and got the part of the Pirate King in my college’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” When I am home during the summer, I get together with friends to compose music and perform.

Mother: Music adds a fulfilling dimension to Christopher’s life and makes him a more interesting person, which will ensure that he will be surrounded by interesting people. There is no doubt that he will never lack for creative outlets.