Interview with Ms Monica : A Teacher Who Dedicated Her Life To Music Education
Hi! Welcome to our tenth series of our “Interviews with Teachers”.
In this series, we have interviewed piano teacher, Ms Monica.
Ms Monica is one of our most experienced teachers we worked with, and we have referred her many students of all ages, of all gradings, of all levels. And the students love her lessons!
Today, we are happy to invite her to share her rich experience in music and teaching with us today.
1. Hi Monica, can you share with us a little about yourself, and your music background?
Sure. I have been teaching piano and music for over 30 years.
I first obtained my ABRSM Grade 8 Practical and Grade 8 Theory in 1979, then my Licentiate Trinity College London (LTCL) Teaching Diploma in 1989 and Masters in Church Music 1998, all accredited by MOE, Ministry of Education Singapore.
I started with Yamaha Music School, teaching group lessons with children aged 3 -10 years old for 10 years. I love teaching group classes. I feel young and energetic with them. I created many teaching tools to make lessons fun for them. Lessons include story telling, singing of solfege and music appreciation using body movement.
Once, I was asked to conduct my church choir. Wanting to be proficient, I pursued a Masters in Church Music to equip myself for that capacity. That certification later opened doors for me to be a choral director of ten primary schools in Singapore.
My ten years of choral directing in various primary school choirs gave me fresh experiences. I brought school choirs through ABRSM Choral Exams, bi-annual Singapore Youth Festival Competitions and overseas choral competition.
2. How did you get started learning the piano?
It stared when my six year old brother’s kindergarten teacher spotted musical talent in him and encouraged my mum to let him learn to play the piano.
So I tagged along. I was given that same opportunity to enrol for piano lessons in a music school.
However, my younger brother hated daily piano practices. He pleaded mum to release him from the lessons. Lessons were soon terminated. I did not mind daily piano practises. So I continued my music learning journey alone. And that’s how it got started.
3. What motivates you to teach piano?
When I was 19 years old, I was recommended to teach two young sisters. Earning some pocket money was my initial motivation, as I was paying for my own piano lessons then.
I guess I must have only been around Grade 6 and did not even have my Grade 8 at that point of time. I taught them the way that I was taught by my teachers — dry, mechanical and boring.
I remembered I attended a Yamaha Music School concert once and was amazed how the young children could compose a whole song with just a motif of a few notes given.
I was curious to know the trade secret. So I joined Yamaha Music School to teach the group courses (3-9 years old). Childhood memories of boring lessons motivated me to make learning fun and enjoyable for them.
4. You have taught piano for more than 30 years. What keeps you going for so many years?
I am a lifelong learner. Attending music symposiums, workshops, seminars, bootcamps inspires me to refine my craft. I love learning new things all the time. I’m inquisitive and passionate about piano pedagogy.
I feel renewed, recharged with new creative ideas, methods. I sense fulfilment whenever I learn and implement new things, help my students to improve and be rewarded with good results in their music exams.
I rejoice with them at their success. I want to see my students be inspired, be lifelong music lovers and appreciative of the arts. I hope the students do not end their music learning journey after the Grade 8 exams.
Few years ago, I took a breaks from teaching. I stopped teaching to get out of the rut, felt called to focus my time and attention on spiritual matters, travelling extensively on mission trips for about 6 years.
I have recently decided to settle down and resume teaching piano again. Hence I have returned recharged, refreshed, renewed for this new exciting season of building my student base all over again, this time doing private lessons at my home studio at Clementi.
5. You have taught so many students. Can you share with us a student whom you have the deepest impression?
I was the first teacher to a petite girl aged 6 years old, Alyssa.
She was home schooled by her mother. She focused only on gymnastics, piano, reading widely and story telling. She was highly self motivated and relishes stage performances with showmanship.
As she was petite and unable to reach the pedal, I purchased a pedal extender bench just for her. She completed her Grade 7 ABRSM practical and theory by 9 years old and achieved Distinctions for every exam. Her parents were fully supportive of her big dreams to become a child prodigy concert pianist.
I believed I had helped her with a solid foundation and released her to other renowned teachers to take her onto another level of performance and International competitions.
At 11 years old, she had a debut solo recital in 2014 at Carnegie Hall. She achieved a full scholarship to study music in Italy.
In 2015, she won 1st Absolute Prize with a perfect score of 100 in the 7th International Piano Competition in Italy.
At 13 years old, she was already having solo concerts in Italy. She should be 17 years old today.
I rejoice at her success. I am honoured to have played a part in her foundational years. I was invited once to her performance in Singapore.
6. We often hear from parents saying their kids lose interest in piano, or kids felt lessons are boring. Yet, for the students we refer to you, you are able make lessons fun for them! So what do you do differently?
I do not instil fear in students coming for lessons.
Should a student be too busy to practise during the week of illness, exam period or tight schedule, I can do aural training, sight reading, play music games, tell stories on the lives of composers and music appreciation.
Many of the students who have lost interest with their previous teachers, have their interest resurrected! 🙂
I motivate very young learners through incentives like stickers. Older learners are motivated by personal growth, no longer stickers. I express amazement and praise them enthusiastically and generously on their achievement or their personal growth.
For older age group, I realised that if I give a student a fish, I feed the student for a day. If I teach a student to fish, I will feed that student for a lifetime!!
I take pride in students who are self motivated to go an extra mile to do beyond their assigned homework. The students may take initiative to learn a new piece on their own. My students learn to work independently.
I go through every piece (except Sight Reading) before getting them home, equipped to practise on their own.
Assignment is written down clearly in a notebook. I do quality music performance rather than quantity pieces played with many stumbles and mistakes.
To make lessons fun, I incorporate Theory Wrap Ups, Theory Wipe Offs, Theory card games, Music Bingo Games on Rhythm, Note Reading, Composers, Orchestra. I organise Birthday piano parties, where the students perform for each other.
We have great fellowship over music games and snacks. We went to the Singapore Museum for the Mozart Exhibition.
Students are introduced to the various instruments of the orchestra. enjoy the SSO performance outdoor concerts at Botanic Gardens, touch the different instruments of the orchestra at the Babies’ Proms, listen for the different instruments played in the ‘Peter And The Wolf’ for young learners.
We attended musicals like ‘Les Misearables, Phantom of the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Lion King’ in Victoria Theatre and Marina Bay Sands. These concerts inspire them in the love of music. I organised a music treasure hunt called ‘The Amazing Race’ at the Singapore Mandai Zoo. Prizes were awarded to different teams for completing the race.
After the music exams are over, excitement is in the air as we prepare new pieces immediately for our year end concerts (along a theme) for our year end public concerts.
There is a singalong session, parent participation, music games competition and guest items. Awards of trophies/prizes for the music exam results is the highlight of the evening.
Opportunities for masterclasses and Piano Music Platforms are opened to those older students who wish to participate to develop their performance further. Parents and students also went on a overseas music exchange program in Wachirawit School, Chiangmai.
The students performed individually, duets, handbell ensemble at the school and in a church. Educational tours, Thai dinner and cultural dance were experienced too.
All these activities allows the student to learn music holistically, rather than just knowing that music is just about practicing and going for exams.
7. How was teaching piano back in the 1990s, compared to now?
In the earlier years, parents are more strict and firm. Parents stipulate regular practices. Parents do insist that their children have to complete Grade 8 before terminating lessons half way at the child’s desire.
Nowadays, young children seems to be in control.
Children today are vocal to express whether they have fun and wish to attend/terminate classes. Some will want to play only the right hand melody. They wish to learn only their favourite songs. Some children complain they are tired after school and do not want to come for class.
Some may throw tantrum when they are tired. There was once a parent had to threaten in class that if they don’t behave, mummy would have to phone daddy. Mummy will buy the toy if child behaves in class. Times have changed.
Teaching today requires more flexibility. I teach children the way they want to learn and interact. They want to be engaged with music activities that are integrated. We play duets in the lessons as the teacher’s part is written in the simple piano pieces.
I also invite parents who are seated in the class to be pro-active and video record.
The students learn to identify areas for improvement. I have recently learnt to post photos/videos of students’ performances on social media. I believe the students will not be shy of playing duets or public performance if they see regular video recordings of themselves.
Today, I teach more adults who would like to learn for leisure and enjoyment, not for exams.
This is customised to the adult learner’s pace.
Duets with teacher help them to concentrate and make their simple melodies fuller with piano accompaniment. And adult students love them!
8. You’ve committed half your life to music education. What’s your plans ahead?
I learnt to prepare 7-minute project speeches, to speaking without preparation on any topic, to learn how to evaluate other speakers, and how to speak clearly without pause fillers (like ah, er, umm).
Within that year, I was recognised as a Competent Communicator (CC), Advanced Bronze Communicator (ACB), Competent Leader (CL) and was awarded the Triple Crown Award having completed all 3 within a year.
I also emerged Champion in the Area B2 International Speech Contest and First Runner Up in the Table Topics Contest. That new hobby was truly a whirlwind experience for me. I was so passionate, so intense. It was a fruitful learning journey and experience for me.
Now, would you consider that hobby relaxing? 😀
We would like to thank Ms Monica for her generous sharing about her rich music journey and experience.
We hope that you have gained lots of insights about learning and playing the piano, and even about teaching piano too.
Stay tuned as we will bring you more interviews of our piano teachers!
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