"We believe he's very musical", his mum tells me on the phone. "He's always been drawn to music. We're looking for a kind teacher, so he can enjoy the piano, not become a professional."
She tells me about her 9-year-old son Tim and his previous experiences at the piano, which include about two years of lessons with a teacher whom she describes as "strict". Tim ended up crying at every lesson. After some time, he stopped going to piano, about one and a half years ago.
I make the math in my head. That must mean he started playing when he was 5 or 6 years old.
We arrange a trial lesson, and a few days later there they are, on my doorstep.
He's a small, sensitive child, entering my study shyly, his mum smiling right behind him. She sits down to listen.
I ask Tim if we sould start on the piano right away and he agrees.
He's sitting at the piano and I ask him the first question: "So, what do you like to play when you play the piano at home?"
He answers: "I don't know how to play the piano."
Cue break of my heart.
"Well, you surely try some things out at home?"
"I don't know how to play", he repeats.
It's too obvious that this can't be true, and at the same time, there's no point in arguing with a 9 year-old about his musical skills. I'm walking a thin line here: how to connect him with the music as fast as possible? I decide to improvise with him and see what happens. "Shall we play something together on the piano?"
"But I don't know anything."
There it is again.
I start to grasp the level of influence of his former teacher, and also the courage it must have taken him to ask for piano lessons again.
"Oh, but we will just play anything now. Look, it's very simple. Each of us will play just one note." I sit next to him at the piano, on my chair.
He plays a note. I play another. I tell him to listen about how when he changes his note, my note will sound different.
We do this for a while. Then I decide to shake it up, offer some more notes, more movement, listen to his reaction. He knows instantly what to do. He corresponds, moves more, plays louder, plays softer. He plays. We keep going. We just play. He's opening up. He's listening and reacting. He's playing beautifully. We let the music go where it wants to go, until, at some point, it dies out. Then, we sit in silence.
"That was beautiful", I say. "Thank you."
He nods. "I liked that", he says and smiles to himself.
By then I know I can start doing different exercises with him. We go up and down the keyboard. He can change things easily when I ask him to. Then we turn to the inside of the piano. What happens inside the piano when we strike a key? We talk and explore. I ask him questions and he responds. He asks me questions and I respond. Then we play a song and sing together. Then, we're done. We're good for today.
His mum asks him, would he like it if I became his new piano teacher? He says yes. He's a bit shy about it. We break into giggles.
I'm happy about Tim becoming my new student. I have a soft spot for players who have everything they need to be good musicians, but think the opposite is the case. My own musical career was bumpy enough that I know: anyone can learn anything in their own time if presented with the tools suited for them.
I see them to the door, feeling privileged for the job I have: accompaning musicians on their path is the most fascinating aspect of my work. I look forward to walking with Tim on his journey.