Continuity by proxy

I've been teaching music lessons in the same city for nine years now. That makes me almost as venerable as the little old lady down the street.

If you want continuity for your child's music lessons, the little old lady down the street is the way to go. She's not going to go for her Ph.D or get signed to a major record label. She's not going to go on maternity leave or on tour with her jazz trio. She's also not going to get fired, unless you decide to fire her.

Always changing: This photo was taken in January 2008, before the addition of our bird logo. The baby grand has since been sold and replaced with a Yamaha U-1.Yep, you can pretty much count on the little old lady down the street - which makes her pretty boring, when it comes down to it. Because she's not going anywhere. She's not going to tell you excitedly about her show at Eddie's Attic next Wednesday, or her new record coming out. She won't be sharing a song she wrote and show you the music theory behind it. She's unlikely to be appearing onstage with the Atlanta Opera, and she won't be attending workshops and training sessions with the aim of improving her musicianship and pedagogy.

Eclectic Music exists in its current incarnation because I was getting more referrals than I could handle and decided to share them. The people I brought on board were definitely not little old lady types. I caught a few straight out of grad school ready to work. A few people were already teaching and wanted a way to not have to travel to people's homes to give lessons. A few were sometime teachers, part-time musicians, and full-time servers looking for a way out of the restaurant business. A couple were undergrads seeking part-time employment.

Out of this motley crew, several are still with me after two or three or more years. I work with some amazing people - I even married one of them.

But this one guy...

Nah. I'm not going to tell you the horror stories and perpetuate the stereotype of the flaky musician, however accurate it may be. The only reason to tell you a story or two would be to demonstrate how even my most dedicated, reliable, dependable contractor is as likely to move across the country as a freight-train-hopping hobo.

I've definitely had some illusions shattered over the past few years, such as the idea that I have control over anyone's actions but my own. I don't. I cannot take responsibility for someone else's choices. All I can do is all I can do.

I know I'm doing all right as long as I can keep Tara Chiusano happy. We are so lucky to have her.That doesn't mean I'm not accountable for what happens at my business. But I cannot change someone else's level of commitment, even if I hold them accountable for it. Remember, even though they finally made Don Draper sign a contract at Sterling Cooper  -- ...well, if you don't know how that turned out, add Mad Men Season Three to your Netflix queue. The point is, I can't take anything for granted.

Hence the headline - if you can't have continuity with one teacher, you'll have continuity by proxy - that, we can arrange. If a teacher leaves, I take personal responsibility for finding an appropriate replacement as fast as possible - in some cases that replacement has been me personally. While I can't guarantee that a teacher will be around forever, I can do my best to bring another one into the neighborhood so that our students don't lose momentum. If the teacher has tracked the student's progress in a journal, the thread of continuity should be picked up by the next teacher.

Ultimately, the continuity is the school itself. No one person can make the kind of open-ended commitment that is possible for an organization to make - ultimately, not even the owner. For instance, it's fairly likely I'll go on maternity leave sooner or later (although actually I've always wanted to hop a train).

Even the little old lady down the street up and dies eventually - I know, because her students come to me for lessons. But even if the school fades away after awhile (it happened to My So-Called Life), I hope that whatever we do for your children will have brought them joy and growth. That really is the best I can do.

How do you know if you'll get better?

Times are tough. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the times - it's me. It's my own private struggle.

Like right now. My business, my school, has been growing at a good clip for the past couple of years, but each phase of growth brings new challenges. There have been so many times when it felt like I couldn't keep going, that it wasn't worth it. Now is one of those times.

In my former studio at Virginia-Highland Church, January 2007Every time I've come to what seemed like a dead end, I decided to keep on pushing through. It's been painful, grueling, exhilarating, and I still can't say whether it's been worth it. I still don't know how it will turn out. I do know that I'm learning a lot, and that every time I think I can't work harder than I'm already working, I discover grimly that it is possible.

This business experience definitely parallels my musical experience. A student recently asked me, "How do I know if I'll improve?" He was working on songwriting. I had told him, "keep writing songs, and eventually you'll write good ones."

"But how can I be sure my songs will actually get better?"

"That's a very good question," I said. "But, I mean, how can you not get better? You're working so hard on this in a focused way. It's inevitable that you'll succeed."

I pointed out to him that by coming to a music lesson each week, he is opening himself up to input from another person. Without that input, his songs might stay the same, but being open to the influence of an outside perspective will allow his work to change and progress.

I do the same in my career - I consult with trusted advisors (of which I'm fortunate to have many), read The Dip and other brilliant books over and over again, and listen a little harder to what my business is telling me. And I keep going.

Be open to the wisdom of others, and keep at it. You can't help but get better, in music and in life.

As for me: I'm going to continue pushing through my discouragement, fear, resentment, and confusion. I'll follow some good advice and visualize a desirable outcome for myself. A better existence is in my crosshairs, and I do have the tools to get there. I'll let you know how it goes.