10 minutes with….Tess Hill

Heather Watson, Tess Hill, Noriko Cornforth and Karen Goh

Our editor, Carly McDonald sat down with the incredible Tess Hill for a 10 minute chat.

(L-R Heather Watson, Tess Hill, Noriko Cornforth and Karen Goh)

Tess Hill’s career began as a classroom teacher and spanned Primary, Secondary, Special education and Tertiary Education. Following graduation from the inaugural course for Private Piano Teachers at the W.A. Academy of Performing Arts with the Diploma of Music Teaching in 1982 she established a successful private studio. Nearly 40- years on Tess is focussed on her special interest in piano pedagogy, encouraging further professional development in new and experienced teachers.

She served for a number of years as a lecturer in Piano Pedagogy on the staff of the W.A.A.P.A., and as a council member co-wrote the Pedagogy Skills Unit of the W.A.M.T.A. Correspondence Course. She also examined Teachers for assessment on a regular basis.

Her involvement with the AMEB saw her become an Examiner in 1985, then Syllabus writer in the early 2000’s co-writing the AMEB piano syllabus for Preliminary to Fourth Grade. In an effort to upgrade the standard of piano teaching she designed and wrote the Certificate of Music Teaching syllabus for the Federal AMEB which is now studied across Australia and overseas.

Currently as a Senior Examiner with the AMEB she regularly presents workshops and seminars for teachers in both the city and country. Tess serves on the AMEB advisory Committee where she has been a member for many years with her particular interest in Pedagogy.


Welcome to our 10-minutes with, a short interview series highlighting piano teachers from around Australia. Today I am joined by Tess Hill, a piano teacher from Western Australia. A teacher who has fostered the growth of students and teachers in WA for decades, been an AMEB examiner for 35 years (recently retired) and a wonderful advocate for the music and teaching community. 

When was your first piano lesson? 

My first piano lesson was in the UK when I was six and a half years old, just after the war in 1946. There was no money for proper piano lessons, so my mum took me to the lady across the road who played the piano.  

Do you have any favourite memories of your teachers?

Not of my first teacher Mrs Young – the lady across the road who played the piano! I wasn’t with her for very long. 

Mrs Wilkins was my second teacher and I was 7 years old. She was also my Sunday School teacher and a lovely lady. At Sunday School she was very friendly but when we were at her home for piano lessons it was a little bit intimidating. She had a large sepia photo of her in her cap and gown in her “front Room”. I started music exams with her, completing London College of Music exams to grade four. 

My third teacher was at boarding school when I was 13 years old. Just before we emigrated to Australia I did grade five ABRSM and my teacher took me up to London to the Royal Academy, that is an indelible memory!

My first teacher in Western Australia was Miss Joy Saunders. She had a shiny polished brass plate outside her front door with her name and qualifications on it. We talked about examinations and the Guildhall Examination system but when she knew I had done grade five ABRSM she decided I needed to go back to grade three AMEB and we progressed annually from there. She was a lovely lady and just what I needed as a 14 year old in a new country. She said what she expected from me and I obliged! She connected me with stories of my home country and Dame Myra Hess who kept morale up in London during the war with her lunchtime concerts. 

Later in my life, when I came back to music to teach, I had Mrs Stephanie Colemen. It is hard to pick a favourite memory because there are so many. Stephanie had an enormous effect on me personally as well as musically. We shared the same philosophy of life, having a practising Christian faith, believing in the sanctity of the individual and the importance of relationships. She believed each person is unique and treated all with dignity. She took a genuine interest in learning, music in particular, and love of people. She was tall and had a commanding presence, strong but gentle but by nature. Gracious is the best word to describe Stephanie. She listened intently, being genuinely interested in you – gave you her 100% of her attention. Her standards were high, her preparation was thorough, she appreciated punctuality and expected evidence of Practice (I always had a list of questions, which she answered conscientiously.)

Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to piano teaching as a profession. 

I had done Grade 7 piano with Joy Saunders and then gone on to have a classroom teaching career. After being unwell with ME, I took a step back from classroom teaching. At a dinner party I was discussing this with the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues. This led to a conversation about a new course at WAAPA. In order to gain entry to the course, I had lessons with Stephanie Colemen. In 1980 the WAAPA was created and Stephanie, along with a number of other musicians and teachers became foundation staff members. I will never forget her opening lecture,“Teach the child to teach itself!” Was the substance of her first lecture and it has become the main tenet of my own teaching. She always encouraged experimenting and exploring current Primers, Repertoire and the AMEB syllabus (in particular) It was Stephanie who  recommended me to the AMEB as an prospective Examiner 35 years ago – ancient history!

Do you do any teaching now?

Yes, I’m still teaching teachers! And also consulting with the AMEB about the teaching syllabus. 

What advice would you have for new teachers?

There are lots of things. Perhaps most of all they need to develop their own philosophy of teaching. To ask themselves what their aims are with pedagogy? 

I’m always going to share what I do and how I do it. And I want teachers to share what they do. For my own pedagogy students,  I don’t want to create lots of little Tess clones, I want developing teachers to become the very best version of themselves. 

Are there any resources you would recommend for new teachers?

I recommend that they sign up newsletters online with people like Samantha Coates, Tim Topham and Elissa Milne. Look to international pedagogs like Nicola Catan and Irina Goran. 

I have lots of books I lend out with specific chapters for my teachers to read. I suggest that they read a chapter a day. That they sign up for magazines, The Piano Teacher, read websites and generally stay curious to always learn and see what is happening in the industry. 

Do you have any favourite music pedagogy quotes?

Yes! I’ve always loved Frances Clark’s quote, “My primary goal as a piano teacher Is to create a climate in which my students can experience continual musical, intellectual, and emotional growth, and to become increasingly dispensable to them in the process. Everything I do as a teacher, and every other teaching goal I have, relates directly to this first, most basic objective – to help my students grow by and for themselves.” (Feb 1988)

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