When was your first piano lesson?
Well, that was an argument that took me 14 years to win! I started asking for a piano as early as I can remember and despite using my best pester-power, as the youngest of six children, it was not feasible. When I started Grade 7 my music teacher sent a letter home to say that I had shown musical ability and should be learning an instrument (they probably sent one to every student!). I held my breath thinking this might be my time for piano lessons, but alas, a kind friend was able to lend us her flute, so flute lessons it was! I can’t say I ever really took to it, but I think it ended up being an advantage as I played in the various bands in high school, and got valuable ensemble experience. On my 14th birthday, my parents had accepted defeat and indulged my greatest wish! I arrived home to discover a gorgeous walnut piano in our lounge room!! I was so, so happy. I clearly remember those first few piano lessons, counting down the days in between and sometimes even the hours until my next lesson!
Do you have any favourite memories of your teachers?
A highlight of my time learning from Victoria Burley was performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto together at the Hobart Town Hall. Other memorable experiences include Victoria taking me to many professional concerts and performing duets with me for my TCE music course. My piano lecturer Shan Deng would ask me to turn pages for her recitals. This generally involved a great deal of chat and laughter backstage, as well the chance to gain insight into the rehearsal process and meet a host of reputable performers.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to piano teaching as a profession.
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. I had planned to go into the health profession either as a nurse or a paramedic. I had been looking forward to spending my Grade 10 work experience at a nursing home but the placement was cancelled at the last minute. As there wasn’t enough time to arrange another placement I hung out in our school music department! It proved to be a turning point as I became focussed on gaining acceptance in the conservatorium from then on.
Just after starting my degree at the conservatorium a family friend asked me to teach her daughter. She turned out to be a wonderful, committed student, showing me how rewarding teaching can be. I’m very grateful to have had such a positive experience to plant the seed of doing this wonderful thing a whole lot more! Shortly afterwards, I was asked to fill in at a K-10 College, which gave me a wide range of experiences and an understanding of the wider gamut of things involved in piano teaching. I guess you could say the rest is history as I ended up teaching at that college for 6 years, until I moved to Launceston.
How many students do you generally teach a week and what ages/ranges?
I currently teach around 30 students each week, from 5 years old through to retirees! I love the variety this range brings. They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life and I’m incredibly lucky to be in that position. Years ago a student’s mother informed me that her child would, unfortunately, not be taking lessons any more. He had apparently told her that whilst he didn’t have time to play the piano any more, he really wanted to come and chat with me every week. Sadly, this didn’t happen! I think individual lessons can be about much more than music. I have been able to form some great relationships with families that have come to see me for many years; teaching several generations simultaneously, and teaching younger siblings that I’ve known since they were tiny babies! It really is such a privilege.
What are your go-to winners for repertoire for intermediate students?
Ooh there are so many, this is the point where it gets really interesting! I have a soft spot for Burgmuller Op100, I love Petite Reverie; I always do a happy dance when a student can manage their first Chopin – usually the b minor Prelude, that feels like a huge milestone! Une Larme by Mussorsky is beautiful. As you can see I’m a real romantic!
Are there any pieces that are your current favourites or new things you’ve found?
Daniel MacFarlane’s books are fabulous – I love how some of the simplest pieces can sound really impressive and rewarding for the students. I’m really enjoying Margaret Brandman’s work – it’s so important to be performing the work of our Australian artists. I’ve been exploring Samantha Coates’ Rote Repertoire which has been fun!
What music do you listen to in your down time?
I love this question; I’m always listening to something! I’m a sucker for all things musical theatre; Missy Higgins and Sara Bareilles are fabulous; I’m a diehard Josh Groban fanatic (did I mention that I’ve met him!?) as well as timeless favourites like Celine Dion, Elton John and Andrea Bocelli.
Do you do any musical things for yourself?
I still love sitting down to play the piano – it’s such an essential part of my downtime! I look forward to doing more of this one day. I am very fortunate that Encore Theatre Company regularly asks me to play in their orchestra – which is not so much work and more like great fun. I love going to see as many musicals as possible and I do my best to get to the mainland to see the big shows – sometimes this involves seeing my talented niece and nephew perform! Recently I have been able to play some little duets with my 7-year-old daughter. This has brought a new dimension to my love of music and has been incredibly heart-warming.
At the end of the teaching day what is your dinner winner?
The slow cooker is a lifesaver after a busy afternoon of teaching! I’m excited to share my newest favourite recipe with you, from Play, Bake, Smile – I love cooking! This recipe is a winner for me because it’s easy and the kids love it, so I generally double it! This can be prepared in the morning and left to simmer in the slow cooker all afternoon.
Chicken and Rice Soup
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 fresh garlic cloves, crushed (I always add more!)
1 brown onion, finely diced
3 medium carrots, diced
3 celery sticks, diced
½ tsp parsley – fresh is best
½ tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock liquid
2 cups water
600g chicken breast
1 cup long grain white rice
- Add the olive oil and butter to a large pot and sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat. Stir until the onion has softened (approx 3 mins)
- Add the carrot and celery & cook 3 mins more.
- Add parsley, thyme, bay leaf, stock & water.
- Add whole chicken breasts and stir. Cover with a lid, just simmering for 30 mins – stir occasionally.
- Add the rice and cover. Cook for 15 mins.
- Remove the chicken and place on a plate. It should come apart easily. Shred and return to soup.
- Discard bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper.
I serve this with crusty bread and an equal amount of butter!
Thérèse Wahl runs a bustling home studio as well as teaching at Launceston Grammar School. Thérèse is a music theatre enthusiast and performs regularly with Encore Theatre Company. Thérèse was the inaugural winner of the University of Tasmania Don Kay Scholarship in 2001 and was a winner of the Yamaha Piano Teacher Breakout Award in 2021. She has gained a Bachelor of Music in performance, a Bachelor of Education and has obtained an Associate of Music in both piano and voice.