Collaborative Teaching in Western Australia

My piano studio has been operating for seven years here in Perth, Western Australia. I do not work best in isolation, so have made a point of seeking out like-minded musicians and teachers to spend my time with and share my passion for music. There are plenty of opportunities to network in Perth, and the West Australian Music Teachers’ Association (WAMTA) regularly offers a range of professional development events and coffee mornings to encourage contact between teachers.

The beginning of a beautiful partnership…
Felicity, Wendy and I met through various eisteddfod festivals and AMEB pedagogy workshops hosted by Tess Hill, a teacher and examiner who specialises in the mentoring and education of piano teachers. It was clear from our initial brief contact that we were all hungry to spend more time together on music matters. Our first few meetings were filled with excited discussions about our chosen repertoire, experience with examining bodies, preferred beginner methods, and the challenges of instilling healthy technique in young students.

“It was so invigorating and motivating to spend time with like-minded professionals and take away ideas to work with in my own studio.”

We all have very different backgrounds and approaches to teaching, which made the conversation even richer and more informative for each of us. It was so invigorating and motivating to spend time with like-minded professionals and take away ideas to work with in my own studio. It was also refreshing to be able to share my doubts and vulnerabilities about my teaching systems, and discuss troublesome areas (such as writing studio policies). We all had plenty of examples of what works well, and what things to avoid.

The blossoming of an idea…
Given our location proximity, we started to explore the idea of regular, short quarterly recitals purely to allow performance practice. Students and parents were all keen, and to date we have coordinated four Musical Moments recitals (title inspired by the works of Schubert). Over the last 16 months we have developed a recital model based on the Prelude Forum. The Prelude Forum is a local collaboration in Perth of 6-8 experienced teachers offering quarterly performance practice for their students. Students attend by invitation only, and enjoy the opportunity to share their efforts and observe other students honing their craft. This model was introduced to me by Penny Black, a highly regarded teacher and AMEB examiner, and it has been running for over 30 years.

The fruits of collaboration…
The end of year recital had become a rather onerous (but important) task in our calendar year, and I had struggled to find the time or energy to offer additional performance opportunities throughout the year. Now, in this collaborative spirit with three teachers combining resources, ideas, and students, each of us can participate in the quarterly music forums with ease. All the practical and organisational aspects and the associated costs of running the events are shared equally, making it a much lighter workload and a more enjoyable experience when working within a team.

“I would encourage any teacher who may be feeling a little isolated or flagging in energy, to connect with their local teaching groups and music networks for a boost.”

Finding a suitable venue, with an acceptable piano, at a reasonable cost has been one of the biggest challenges. Once achieved, branding it with a name that captured the essence of what we were trying to achieve was another big milestone. With the help of a generous graphic designer, we came up with an event poster that is shared amongst our students and their families to encourage interest and support. We now have a mixture of returning students growing in confidence and skill, and newer students beginning their journey who leave inspired by the example set by the more established players.

Teachers: Heather, Jo, Felicity, Wendy and Katharin.

No one can whistle a piano concerto…
The older students are invited to assist on the day by greeting families and handing out programmes, freeing up Felicity, Wendy and myself to settle any nervous performers. These students can use their efforts as evidence of community involvement in their portfolio for the recently launched Western Australian AMEB Award Program – so it’s all mutually beneficial. Students learn from watching other teachers and students perform, as well as feeling part of a bigger music community. A highlight last year was the attendance of WAMTA president Jocelyn ‘Jo’ Kotchie, who came along to encourage (and surprise) a young student who was playing one of Jo’s compositions. Feedback has helped fine tune the event and, of course, the crucial coffee mornings and long lunches allow us to discuss our goals and hopes for future events.

“It all combines to create a culture of success and enjoyment.”

A collaboration to be proud of…
We get huge satisfaction from supporting each other and enjoying the success of all of our students. Musical Moments now features as a regular calendar item in each studio, and the time taken to plan it is reducing as we refine our processes. At the beginning it moved us all out of our comfort zones, but the rewards have been rich. It has given us all added purpose and motivation and is a selling point for each of our studios. We have supported each other by providing mock exam scenarios for each other’s students, as well as providing critical ears for each other in our own playing as we pursue various musical accreditations. It all combines to create a culture of success and enjoyment. Our current project is exploring the different exam syllabi and hosting a joint exam centre where our students will meet together again, in the comfort of one of our familiar studios, to carry out their assessments. I would encourage any teacher who may be feeling a little isolated or flagging in energy, to connect with their local teaching groups and music networks for a boost. Our meetings, whilst casual and relaxed, were also filled with instant connections. Felicity and I teach in the same suburb, which we have embraced rather than feel threatened by – we even refer students to one another. Wendy and I share the same birthday, so we were clearly meant to meet. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say it was all still running in 30 years – now that would be a friendship and collaboration to be proud of!

HEATHER WATSON’s early career focussed on adult education before she retrained as a piano teacher when her daughter came along. She has been running a successful piano studio​ in Sorrento for 8 years. Vivo Piano boasts a strong community spirit, enabling students from all ages to develop their inner musician.​ In her spare time, Heather is an active member of the award-winning chorus, Perth Harmony.

FELICITY BREEN has a background in solo and ensemble performance, movement, and visual arts. From her home studio​ in Sorrento, she teaches music skills, piano technique and artistry.​

WENDY COOPER has taught music for over 25 years, and held performance preparation workshops as a guest lecturer at UWA and ECU.​ As a professional bassoonist, she was a member of the West Australian Symphony for many years. At her piano studio in Yokine,​ Wendy aims to develop a solid foundation whilst promoting an engaging, enjoyable music education.

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