It’s the beginning of the school year, so it is a good time to focus on Tomoko Hagiwara’s role as a piano teacher, which she has done most of her life. “I started when I was 18, when neighbors asked me to teach their family.”
When asked what she likes about teaching, Tomoko responds: “The challenge, and the communication. You need music, and I prepare the next generation.” Our conversation focuses on her students.
“I don’t make distinctions between students in how I treat them. I treat everyone as a professional.” On the other hand, Tomoko understands developmental differences among students. For instance, when asked if she goes into the history of a piece with her students, Tomoko responds, “Until they are 12, most students are not so serious, and are not interested in history.” She continues, “I like adolescent students because they are discerning. They know themselves. Some are over-confident. I tell them to look at the whole world; there are so many things in the world. I ask them to compare themselves with their possibilities so they can put their efforts into perspective.” Tomoko adds, “I learn from their growth.”
Tomoko also talks about motivating students. “I push students who are not interested. I use points, which can be reinforces at home with parents.” She shares another technique, “I will teach with two pianos side by side. I tell the student to watch while I show the music’s structure. No time is free.”
Tomoko also mentions the importance of choosing music carefully. Tomoko says, “Anthologies include pieces that are not good. I have the knowledge of 5000 pieces in my head. I stick with the classics, simpler music by famous pianists. Small songs help.” With her knowledge, Tomoko can judge the ease of each piece with the student’s ability; “Music is a scaffold.” Tomoko goes on to say, “A teacher always has to be on the outlook – watching out for what’s coming up.” Because Tomoko knows each student and each composition so well, she can anticipate where the student might encounter difficulties. For instance, she sometimes says to them, “Don’t get upset – this is hard for me too. This is a big bumpy road.” Tomoko explains, “I help them keep moving, meeting the challenge of each piece.” She also comments, “Disappointments can make you stronger. I tell my students to never be discouraged, never give up.”
Tomoko concludes, “Why do I give so much to my students? You have to have sympathy with students. They want to grow, but they need direction. That is the biggest job of the teacher. Sometimes a miracle comes for a student when I work with them. That accomplishment gives me a mother’s feeling of joy.”