The Alimond Show

Jeri Bennett of Bennett Piano Studio

March 20, 2024 Alimond Studio
The Alimond Show
Jeri Bennett of Bennett Piano Studio
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

From the confines of an FBI lab to the melodious hum of a piano studio – join me as I embark on an exploration of music’s transformative power with an extraordinary guest. Have you ever wondered how deeply music could really shape your life and career? Our guest, a classical piano teacher with a rock and roll soul, unveils her captivating journey of career transition and the undeniable influence of music. She unveils the riveting world of teaching music, the importance of understanding each student’s learning style, and her unique ability to play music without formal instruction.

As we delve deeper, the conversation takes an inspiring turn towards the realm of impactful teaching. Be prepared to be moved by heartfelt stories of students' growth, their expressions of gratitude, and the joy they bring to their passionate music teacher. We also confront the elephant in the room - societal pressures of measuring progress. What if the true measure of progress wasn't tests but enjoyment? We take a candid look at the culture of Northern Virginia and emphasise the importance of enjoying life and measuring progress through enjoyment rather than tests. Tune in for an episode filled with music, passion, and life lessons, guaranteed to strike a chord in your heart.

Speaker 1:

Is that have any type of influence on your career? Tennessee Music capital.

Speaker 2:

No, I would say not. I just grew up playing the piano and not doing country music, or I was more of a rock and roll kind of girl.

Speaker 1:

Love it. See, I don't know if I saw that, I don't know if I pictured that when I looked at you, yeah, you got a little edgy.

Speaker 2:

It was very strange because I grew up playing classical music, all classical piano, but I only listened to rock and roll.

Speaker 1:

I love it.

Speaker 2:

You know Led Zeppelin and you know hard rock and I never listened to I still don't listen to classical music. I listened to rock and roll but I play and enjoy classical music and I don't know very many piano teachers like that. Most piano teachers you know kind of they don't know about rock and roll.

Speaker 1:

You need to merge the two there, because I kind of want to see rock and roll merge with classical.

Speaker 2:

You can do that. Sometimes it's a little cheesy.

Speaker 1:

I prefer the straight up rock and roll, huh.

Speaker 2:

There's the way to do rock and roll on piano is you either are born with a gift of knowing just how to play the piano without proper instruction, without formal instruction yeah Okay, and you understand chords and you understand how music works without somebody telling you. There are people born that way. I'm not one of them or you have the training and are taught and understand how chords and music are put together, and then you can take that into. You know playing with a band.

Speaker 1:

Break the rules and create your own rules. Yeah, so I love it. I know there's a boy I follow. He's like it says mom's account, but he's like six years old and he is just self-taught.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm.

Speaker 1:

Just yeah, amazing it is.

Speaker 2:

It is a gift. I just it's hard to fathom how brains can do that, I agree. And they can just play all over the piano and nobody's told him how to do that. Any of it it's. It's fascinating, it's unbelievable that that can happen.

Speaker 1:

That can happen, I agree. So telling a little about your business. Why did you start it? What do you love about it? Like, what's your you know passion behind what you do.

Speaker 2:

It's a. It's a story that you also won't see coming. I was working in the FBI lab. This is a career change, what the heck. I was working in the FBI lab doing DNA typing and DNA research and I was also, at the same time, playing for Northern Virginia Community Theater musicals, and I'd done that for several years and that's where. That's where my true passion is, not necessarily theater, but in playing with other people and playing for other people instrument singers, whatever I just really enjoy playing with other people. So that was my niche, so to speak, of working for the government and just playing. I also had a church job to also help me practice or give me goals to practice for, and that's once again you play in a church, you're playing with people or for people to sing, and that's what I really enjoy.

Speaker 2:

And it was coincidental that there was a theater friend of mine who asked me to teach his kids and I thought, well, I know how to play the piano, but I don't know how to teach. What do you do? And there was another friend of mine also in the theater who had taught piano. So she told me what to do and so I did, and I went to their house and I found that I liked it. And I also found that the kids were asking me questions that I couldn't really answer and I thought, hmm, if I want to keep doing this, I need to be educated in music, I need to be able to answer these questions.

Speaker 2:

So that's what was missing in working in the lab is I do well in one-on-one situations. That's where, that's where that's my comfort zone, and I missed that that interacting with people working in the lab. And so I thought, okay, I can teach piano because I know how to play the piano, but I need to learn how to teach and, like I said, be educated in music. So I started taking classes at Nova night school for two years so I could get undergraduate prerequisites to get into grad school, and so that's kind of how I did that. So two years at Nova and then two years. Then I quit my job and went full time as a grad student at Shenandoah and then moved to Ashburn and that was it?

Speaker 1:

How many years ago was that 25. Exactly, wow, so you've been doing this for 25 years. What keeps you motivated?

Speaker 2:

The one-on-one. Every day is different. Every kid is different. I think one of the favorite things of my job is meeting new students. You know the you need to see what you're going to get into, yes, but trying to figure out you know everybody's different. They all have different learning abilities. They have different musical abilities. They have different commitments to practicing. They're just so. They have different. You know, maybe, issues in their life, and so I really enjoy trying to figure out how to motivate this particular kid, trying to figure out what their learning style is and the best way to approach if there are issues at home. Sometimes you have to wear a psychologist hat, yes, Sometimes, and I just enjoy each individual person.

Speaker 1:

So you're coaching them on more than just piano, it sounds like Sometimes yes, other times no.

Speaker 2:

Some kids are very closed and they will not let you in and if sometimes you might think of it's extreme, I find that my job is just to make them smile and I spend the whole 45 minutes working hard to try to get them to smile because of whatever, either their personality or what's going on in their life.

Speaker 1:

I do the same thing with the camera in my hand, with adults upstairs. Yeah no, yeah no, I get it. So music might be that conduit, though that might kind of Because I want them to enjoy it.

Speaker 2:

I want them to enjoy music, and if I can't make them smile, then I don't know if they're having a pleasant, enjoyable experience or not.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

If they do smile, then we're good.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I've got a 12 year old. That, yeah, I'm always thinking the same thing. Are you happier right now? Because he doesn't like express his emotions the way my other two kids.

Speaker 2:

Right yeah.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So how are you set out? Do people come to you? Do you go to them? Yes, okay so you've got a space in Ashburn and they come in 45 minutes at a time and you just pour your heart and soul into helping them.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, but the majority of them are 45 minutes.

Speaker 1:

That's amazing. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Speaker 2:

The exact same place. There's nothing wrong with that. That's an interesting question. I don't think that far ahead. I like to think that I will be doing less for my music teachers organizations. I'm heavily involved and there's three of them and I do a lot of work for them.

Speaker 1:

What type of?

Speaker 2:

work. For me it's a lot of computer stuff, primarily to help with events. The piano teachers collaborate, even though we are If we live nearby, we're competitors okay, but we also come together and put on events for students to play, to give them opportunities to play, for other teachers, to get feedback, or sometimes some of the events are for awards, trophies. There's a variety, there's a lot of opportunities for students to play, and so I do a lot of the scheduling and organizing and computer-oriented things.

Speaker 1:

They're like this woman's got those skills. Let's let her help on that front. So you wanna do a little bit less of that over the next three years.

Speaker 2:

I would like to do a little bit less, because I've been doing it a lot for a number of years and we need younger people to step in and learn how to do stuff.

Speaker 1:

I think you're wanting to pass the baton onto the next that would be really nice. So if you're not helping these organizations and you're not actually one-on-one working with students, what are you doing, like what are other hobbies or passions? Where do you spend your time?

Speaker 2:

besides Tennessee, I like gardening and, believe it or not, I would still be teaching If I had more time. One of my favorite experiences in my life was tutoring, like third graders, in math and reading, which is volunteer work. That was an amazing experience.

Speaker 1:

Why did you like it so much?

Speaker 2:

That was really cool Because the kids this was in DC and I was going to a school there and the kids are they don't? Well, some of them do express appreciation. I can give you a couple of examples. There was one girl I was working with and I saw her in the hall one day and she was. You know, I could stand in line in elementary school. She was in line to do something and I was coming down the hall and she broke out of line and she ran down the hall to give me a hug.

Speaker 1:

Oh my gosh, really, You're like walk, don't run, but walk faster.

Speaker 2:

Then there was another kid and this was one of my favorite tutoring stories was he was doing math.

Speaker 2:

Now I got two of them. There was one kid doing and he couldn't figure. He was trying to teach him how to do two digits of multiplication, like 24 times 36. And you know, you got to line it up right and I finally he finally got it. And he says you know, my mom's been trying to get me to do that and I just never could figure it out. He said that a couple of times and that was his way of saying thank you. That was the coolest thing.

Speaker 2:

And then there was another kid who I was trying to get him to do math and he didn't want to do math and he just was very obstinate. And this is all one-on-one, working, like in a library, just separate one-on-one. And I didn't want to give up on him and so I thought, okay, well, what is it that you do? Like, what are you interested in? And he liked science, like okay.

Speaker 2:

So I got this little science encyclopedia book for, you know, third graders. So I was looking in there and trying to figure out, well, what can I tell him and what can we talk about? So I showed him his pulse and so I showed him how to take his pulse. I know I know he thumbed and went to the part that said health. And so when I showed him how to take his pulse and then he'd never done that, and he got so excited and so happy and I was trying to get him back to math. Like, okay, you want to go back to your classroom or do you want to stay here and do math? And he was so excited about that that he decided Such a nice threat, he wanted to do math. And so we stayed and did math.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I love that.

Speaker 2:

And that's really cool.

Speaker 1:

It's nice that you're able to see how kids express appreciation, gratitude, excitement, even if it's not in the normal. Thank you so much. I love this type of you know they just get excited. Yeah, can see the light kind of turn on in their eye and that's really cool. So now I see why you love doing it so much. I actually really love kids too. I used to work at CASA the afterschool program and I absolutely loved it. I felt like all those kids were my kids. You know like I took personal responsibility for all of their success Just the after-school program. So I get it Okay. So five years, you're still doing the exact same thing and you're excitedly passionate about all of it.

Speaker 2:

What's the little less computer work?

Speaker 1:

a little less, that's right, a little less of your work. What's the type of impact you want to make in this world?

Speaker 2:

The impact is on individual kids, because that's who I deal with. I don't deal with groups. Well, I do the music teachers groups. Those are groups of people and I like to think that I have helped them. Some people learn how to run events. I've been doing it for 20 years. There's another piano teacher friend of mine and we joke that if we quit teaching piano we could be event planners.

Speaker 1:

There we go, career number four yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, the um One of the ones I do scheduling for is for about 400 kids and there's another one I do scheduling for about 800 kids. So running those events creating A success. A successful event means that it's well organized and everything runs fairly smoothly. There's always going to be issues to come up, but overall, if you can have a good event and then, which provides a positive place for the kids to have their performances, then You've accomplished something.

Speaker 2:

Yeah and so, and it's a memory for them you know they remember these, you know they remember this festival, they remember this competition, and, and so that's that's part of the impact is just giving good experiences and memories for these kids um, helping the teachers. Um, some teachers get. There's one event in particular where the teachers play for with their kids, so it requires two pianos, and those teachers, for a variety of reasons, sometimes get really uptight Maybe because they're also performing, yeah, or because All of the other events. The students are anonymous and nobody knows who their teacher is, but in this case, we do know who their teacher is. They're sitting right there and they're playing for them and it's um, it's a pretty stressful event, and so that was my first one.

Speaker 2:

I've been doing that since 2003, and when I first started and I saw how uptight you know these people are and I'm like, oh my gosh, this is music and the pieces are called concertos, where you play for the two kids I mean two people and concertos are the most fun because you get to play with your teacher. Yeah, and that's what I did when I was a kid. I loved playing concertos and I was, so I thought it was the coolest thing that my teacher had to practice to play with me. Yeah, and so I want these people to enjoy concertos and not be so, you know, yes, and so that was. My mission is to make this event into a Low pressure. Everything's okay, let's just Enjoy the festival.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you know, and that's that's kind of my impact, I like to think, is to have pleasant, non-stressed events.

Speaker 1:

I love that because you know I feel like the piano world Is this perfection and and some of it is Performance, so it's great that you can inject a little bit more of that late back find right and these, these teachers.

Speaker 2:

One of the groups the biggest one, has about 350 members the northern virginia music teachers association, and we have over 30 events per year and some of them are highly competitive, like what you're imagining, yeah. And then others are just low pressure. Some of them are just a general recital, where you just show up and play and then you go home yeah. So there's a large variety of opportunities low, medium and high competitiveness, which is good. You know that you get to offer.

Speaker 1:

A nice little mix. How do you currently get your students Like, how do you market?

Speaker 2:

The majority of them come from referrals from other parents.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's just the best.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that is the best.

Speaker 1:

Have you done anything outside of that?

Speaker 2:

To me as far as marketing.

Speaker 2:

Yes, a few years ago I coincidentally had six graduating seniors and I also had a couple of openings in my studio and I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm going to have a whole lot of empty space when these kids graduate.

Speaker 2:

And I didn't panic but I just kind of, oh, I had to do something. So I created a website and I told some of my piano teacher friends and you just tell you have to tell everybody, you have to tell your parents, and you don't tell them by email, you tell them one-on-one to get the most impact and say I just you know I've got seniors and you don't want them to think that you're not going to have. You know that you've got these openings, but if you've got people graduating you've got to fill those slots. So you tell the parents, tell piano teacher friends, because if they're full they will send you referrals. And then having a website is really important. And then, being on another place where I used to get a lot of students was one of these organizations is the Fairfax Loud and Music Fellowship, who has a website and they list teachers and their information if you want to be listed on their website. So I used to get a lot of referrals through that website. So that's.

Speaker 1:

She had a lot of little buckets that you. Yes, that's what you got to do. Do you currently have any openings? No Shocks, I'm like wait, my eight-year-old wants to start learning, so if you have any referrals, maybe.

Speaker 2:

No, that I can do. You have my information, I do.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so to wrap things up, what is one message that you would love to send to the world? Like if you had a megaphone and you could say one thing to everybody, what would that be?

Speaker 2:

Wow, let it go, don't get stressed over things that are not so important. But I'd also like people to just enjoy music and enjoy some of the things that they have in their life and not be so uptight about Okay, okay, no-transcript. Well, I can't answer that question without giving an example of a conversation I just had with a parent this week and that parent wants her high school student to do this testing program and piano and it's a perfectly fine program. All of the tests are. It's a really good program, but it's not for this kit and I tried to tell her that a couple of years ago and she kind of moved away and then she came back to it because she really she needs to measure progress.

Speaker 2:

That's what I think there's too much of in Northern Virginia. Too many people are measuring progress when the progress should be measured by how much you're enjoying what you're doing. And so just this week, talking to her again and she used the word she described her daughter as an artist and that was my door to go through and say I was. Put it back on her. You said your daughter is an artist. Then this testing measuring program is not for her and you got to let it. Go and just measure her progress by the fact that she will stay in piano if she doesn't have to take these tests.

Speaker 1:

Yeah you're so right. That's such a good piece of feedback in terms of how to approach things in your life, if it's a passion or if you feel artistically pulled in a direction.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, if you're just doing it and loving it, you don't have to take tests, you don't have to have a measuring stick. But Northern Virginia is.

Speaker 1:

Run by measuring sticks yeah yes, yes, it is. I love that. Thank you so much. It was so much fun to talk with today. I loved our conversation. Thank you, rock and roll FBI music teacher. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

You're very welcome. Thank you, alright, I'll see you in a minute.

Career Influence and Musical Passion
Inspiring Stories of Impactful Teaching
Letting Go and Enjoying Life