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Refresher lessons


Peter Clark
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I have recently asked for and got the promise of funding from the parish for a short course of "referesher" lessons, or consultations as it is some 20 years since I have had any systematic tuition (with Harry Bramma when he was at Southwark). This was partly brought about by the hand injury I suffered last year which prevented me from playing all but hymns and simple Mass settings but also a realisation that I have probably acquired some bad habits over the years.

 

I am grateful that the Provincial of the order which runs the parish (Rosminians) deems this a valid claim on parish money but I wonder what is a reasonable rate to pay? I have heard of figures rangeing from £30.00 to £70.00 per hour - both figures from more or less equally experienced teachers/organists.

 

Obviously I want the parish to get the best value it can for its money.

 

Your thoughts would be appreciated thanks.

 

Peter

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I charge £30 per hour and nobody has objected to paying this much, so far as I am aware. I have several decades of experience both at teaching and playing and I am well qualified in terms of diplomas &c., I am aware of others who charge more. My last two teachers each charged £40 which I was happy to pay. In central London you would probably pay significantly more. Look at the St Giles International Organ School website which, if I remember correctly, tells you how much its individual teachers (not all in London) charge. As in eveything else you get what you pay for.

 

I think it is important that you go to a teacher you can relate to as a person and who will neither terrify nor belittle you. That is very important for anyone. Choosing the right teacher for you - one who understands your individual problems and needs - is, in my opinion and experience, more crucial than how much they charge.

 

If you go to someone really first-class they may be more expensive but work out cheaper ultimately because you will learn more from them, and therefore progress, more quickly. For me, having lessons is a bit like the pilgrimage concept; you work harder, value it more and get more out of it simply by going a geographical distance to get them. I suspect if I went to someone ten minutes walk away I wouldn't work so hard practising for the next lesson!

 

It is not uncommon for me to spend nearly an hour with a student just going over one page of music with them very thoroughly and then suggesting they go away and apply what we have achieved and covered to the rest of the piece also. Arguably, they learn more that way. I can't see much point in letting someone play straight all the way through a piece at a lesson; it's a waste of their time and mine. So, don't judge a teacher by how many different pieces you can get through in one hour.

 

Malcolm

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Down here, your average teacher (whatever the instrument) seems to charge £20-£30 an hour. By "average" I mean the bulk of teachers whose bread and butter business consists of teaching the kids the basics and getting them through the ABRSM grades. Those who imagine themselves a cut above the average charge more. Whether the latter really warrant the high opinion they have of themselves I really can't say, but it is definitely an open question. Fine players don't necessarily make good teachers; conversely, I have heard of people who are not especially known as performers, but who are very sound teachers because they have actually studied the business of teaching (not all have).

 

With respect, although I understand the need for value for money, I think if you let cost drive this issue you risk ending up with the wrong teacher. You have very specific needs that are technical, so you will need a teacher who has a really sound technique (it's a lot rarer than you might think) and who has also specifically studied teaching methods (not all have). Get some recommendations along these lines and get quotes.

 

Malcolm's advice above is very sound.

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Peter,

 

I think the important thing is to find the right teacher for you. The cost per hour is really of secondary importance. As Malcolm points out, if you get more out of a £70/hr session, it may be better value for you than 2 £30/hr sessions. Getting a teacher who you have a good relationship with, whose teaching style matches your own learning style and who you respect and trust is more important. But it depends on your needs and aspirations.

 

If I were in your situation I think I'd decide who I want to have lessons with first, then advise the church of the likely costs.

 

Of course, before I get shot down in flames, I'd better point out that just because a teacher charges £70/hr it doesn't automatically mean that (s)he is a better teacher than one that charges £30/hr. There are a number of factors why people charge what they charge, some of which aren't to do with their teaching ability.

 

I wish there were more organists who were self-aware enough to realise they would benefit from "refresher" lessons and have got stuck into bad habits. I hope that, 20 years after I last had a lesson, I'll have the self-awareness to do the same. But I think the best musicians are always learning and developing their skills throughout their lives - great musicians like Fischer-Dieskau and Rostropovitch have said the same thing in interviews.

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The range you quote, if you find a teacher who really can diagnose bad habits, etc., and correct them constructively within that price range is well worth it.

 

I charge £30/hr for my services, and consequently expect to pay more when I also go for consultations, etc..

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Over the last few years, a number of my colleagues have travelled to the UK for lessons. Not organ, but harpsichord, voice, recorder and so on. Now, admittedly, these were working with teachers in high demand (Emma Kirkby for voice, for example), but it strikes me that the rates being mentioned here for organ tuition are more than significantly lower than is being charged by teachers for tuition in other instruments.

 

Are we selling ourselves short?

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I had my first organ lesson when I was 14 and, with a few short breaks, continued to have lessons quite regularly until last year when I was 61. Hopefully I shall still have occasional organ lessons but I now have regular singing lessons instead. If you are going to teach regularly it is important to be taught regularly (by the right people) because that way you are able to keep abreast with current thoughts on performance practice and teaching styles. Some years ago there was an organist in the Brighton area who died at age 100 and even in his 90s tried to get a lesson from a London teacher once a year to check that he wasn't getting into bad habits. What an example to the rest of us!

 

My teachers - including Richard Popplewell, Douglas Hawkridge, Anne Marsden Thomas, Jeremy Suter, Peter Wright, William Whitehead and Martin Baker (improvisation) - have used a wide variety of teaching styles and techniques and I have learnt from all of them. It has enabled me also, I hope, to see which of those styles work best and, more importantly, wich styles work best for which students. I suspect we all especially watch out for, and identify in our students, faults that our own teachers have identified in us and, perhaps their teachers identified..........

 

I found one of the people listed above did not suit me particularly well yet a temporarily erstwhile member of this Board considered him a very good teacher. This shows that, as has already been said, what suits one person won't suit another.

 

Other very good supplementary teachers include mirrors, video cameras, metronomes and digital sound recorders - not to mention ones own ears. Oh - and another thng - everyone needs to have a course of lessons in Alexander Technique. Unfortunately we don't all have the time, circumstances or money to do everything we would like to do. I am extremely grateful to the Inland Revenue that four yeas ago at age 58 - with 40 years' service in the bag - they let me take early retirement with a decent pension which I can supplement with income from music. I am very conscious that many others are not nearly so lucky.

 

Malcolm

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