“It’s my goal to instill a love of music in a child,” said Rice, who goes off to work as a piano teacher for 30 students, most of them children.
Rice has two studios. One is at the Donoho School, which allows its students to take private lessons from her during the school day. The other is in the home she shares with her husband, David, who’s pastor of Anniston’s First Presbyterian Church.
Having a home studio enables her to teach a number of home-schooled children, too, she said.
Rice has been a full-time teacher since 1996, when a second income became desirable while she and David were living in Atlanta. (They and their two sons moved to Anniston in 2000.)
Her professional degree, a bachelor of music, is from North Park College in Chicago, and she’s the membership chair of the Alabama Music Teachers Association. She teaches the flute and for the last year and a half has been the organist at First Presbyterian.
Rice’s workdays, Mondays through Thursdays, are generally full 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The length of a typical lesson depends on the age of the pupil; children through the third grade spend 30 minutes absorbing musical knowledge, while older students’ minds can handle 45 minutes or even an hour.
The whole time, they’re building on what they’ve learned previously.
“It’s not unlike learning how to read or do math,” in which almost intuitively knowable concepts are built upon to master more complex ones, she said.
This might include turning the mere sounds of notes into music through touching the keys with the correct force and at the correct speed.
Learning scales, chords and theory is part of the process.
“Sometimes we will introduce new material, but sometimes we will use the same material to move beyond the basic notes and rhythms, to work on musical concepts,” she said. “When the student can add those musical concepts to the basic notes and rhythm, the fun of music-making begins.”
The course of the lesson also depends on whether the student completed the prior study or practice assignment. As with other fine arts, playing the piano requires discipline, and that attribute shows up in different people at different ages.
“When they come unprepared, we must continue with the same assignment for another week,” she said.
It’s her least favorite part of the job.
But this is where parental involvement comes in — even if the parents aren’t musically inclined themselves, Rice said, they can still ask questions of their child to show their interest in the process, thereby letting the child know it’s important knowledge to acquire from week to week.
“Parents do not need to be able to [play music] to work with their child,” she said, adding that what they need to do is “reinforce what goes on in the lesson” by asking the child what he learned, whether there are any problems with it and so forth.
She’s always optimistic that even if the child isn’t inclined to take lessons any further, a year at the piano will instill some sort of musical skill.
“Most intelligent people can learn to play the piano, but it is a skill that needs to be nurtured and developed,” she said.
When it’s nurtured to performance level, that’s her favorite part of her job — well, that and just sharing the joy of her pupils' accomplishments. Recital season is especially gratifying.
“The kids are well-prepared, and it is fantastic to sit back and listen to them perform.”
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