Kathy Bayley: My musical journey:
When I reflect on my childhood, no one in my large family took music lessons. My mom loved to sing for her own pleasure; my brother was in the church choir for several years. We sang in church and my parents played a lot of records. They listened to country music and the pop artists of their era.
The only classical music I ever was exposed to as a child was during the Bugs Bunny Show, which our family loved to watch every week. Classical music was included as background music, and in parodies which Bugs Bunny loved to use in his cartoon classics.
I received a little plug-in electric mini organ when I was about 11 for Christmas, and learned to read music in treble clef with basic song sheets that were included with the book. I also learned the basics of music in elementary school, but there was no opportunity to play anything other than a recorder! I grew up in a small remote mining community in Northwestern Ontario, and we did not have the programs and opportunities that folks did in city schools.
At about the same time, one of the teachers in elementary school offered very economical group piano lessons to students after school. I was interested, it was very affordable and my parents let me enrol. Only 2 of us in the group stuck with the lessons, and it was there that I was introduced to piano and reading music in both treble and bass clef. I loved it. I played in the local music festival and stuck with lessons through the school for about 2 years, until the music teacher transferred and left our small town. My parents couldn’t afford private piano lessons, we didn’t have a piano, and that was the end of my early music/piano training.
In high school, I participated in some fun after school singing groups, but music classes and band were not offered at my high school either. Then came the 70’s and the music scene was exploding. Elton John, and Supertramp were 2 of my favorites and Billy Joel’s Piano Man among his other pop tunes were songs I listened to over and over again. I loved music, lyrics, and melodies.
Fast forward to my 20’s and the 80’s. My boyfriend (now husband) owned and played a 12 string guitar. He showed me a few basics on the guitar, which motivated me to take some private guitar lessons where I learned some basic chording and how to strum a few tunes.
This was fun, but my dream was to one day learn to play the piano. Life then took me on the path of marriage, a career, and raising two sons, and no time to even think about that anything else, until our second son started showing some musical talent. I convinced a co-worker to sell us her old upright piano so our son could pursue lessons, and when he was about 7, we signed him up for private piano lessons. One of the requirements of our son’s piano teacher was that one parent attend the lessons and support our son in his studies. So I went to lessons with him and absolutely loved watching him learn. I sat with my son regularly to help him practice, learn his scales, and his pieces. He soared musically and was taking his Grade 2 RCM piano exam less than a year after he first started piano.
After several years of supporting my son in his piano lessons, I asked his teacher if he might be available to give me a few lessons. I didn’t think I’d have time for more than 2 lessons a month as I was still busy raising our sons and working as a paralegal. This teacher encouraged me to take weekly lessons, and I decided to give that a try. From the first lesson, I was hooked. I was ready to learn, to practice, and was inspired by how well my son was progressing as well. Like my son, I also took my Grade 2 RCM exam a year after I started piano lessons.
I was 40 years old when I started this musical journey. Fast, fast forward: between 2000 and 2010, I continued with piano lessons, participated in recitals and festivals, and started volunteering at senior’s homes for monthly Sunday Hymn Sings. I also enjoyed monthly get togethers with a group of other adult piano students. We took turns hosting and performed for each other in an informal, friendly, and relaxed atmosphere.
I embraced this wonderful world of music. I took the RCM practical piano exams for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, took the theory requirements, started going regularly to classical concerts, and studied music history in preparation for the advanced RCM requirements for Grade 9 piano.
After I completed my Grade 8 RCM exam in in 2007, I decided to pursue another goal: to teach piano. I had always wanted to be a teacher, but was not motivated to attend university and get the credentials as a young, distracted, teenager.
I asked my own piano teacher about teaching. He encouraged me to join what was then called STAG: Student Teacher Affiliate Group, which met monthly to discuss and learn about teaching piano. This group was another major stepping stone for me, and motivated me to begin teaching part-time while continuing in my paralegal career. I was able to teach a few students after work, and introduced them to the piano, and the joy of learning music. I was hit by the teaching bug then. It was so rewarding to teach beginners to play piano.
In May of 2010, another very fantastic dream came true. I had dreamed of one day owning a grand piano. A fellow adult student friend of mine had very sadly passed away, and his wife needed to find a home for the treasured grand piano my friend had purchased only a few years prior to his death. Through what I can only describe as the alignment of stars, my husband and I agreed to purchase the Yamaha C3 grand from her and it was delivered to our home just 3 weeks before my scheduled Grade 9 RCM piano practical exam which I took in June of 2010.
After my grade 9 exam, I continued to teach piano part time and my paralegal work,. Then, In 2013, my paralegal career came to a screeching halt. The job I held for 23 years at a downtown law firm just wasn’t working for me any more and I handed in my resignation. I intended to get another job after a bit of a break. My older son was getting married, and I was busy with preparations and arranging a family reunion to coincide with the wedding.
My son married in June, and I thought summer would be a good time to take off and regroup. By late summer, the idea of going back to work at a law firm was less and less appealing, and I decided to leave my paralegal career and move more into teaching piano, but I needed more students! I placed an ad on Kijiji offering private piano lessons, with a leaning toward teaching adult beginner students. Surprisingly, I received enough enquiries, followed by interviews, and follow through to get started on my second career: teaching piano.
Between 2013 and 2018, I taught piano students of all ages. My youngest student was 4, my oldest student was 79. I continued with my own piano lessons as well and with STAG (now called PPG – Piano Pedagogy Group). My life became enriched with so many wonderful students, mentors, and good friends, many of whom are still in my life today.
I decided to retire from teaching in 2018, as I was also pursuing a lot of travel and my husband was getting ready to retire. However, I have continued with my piano lessons, and up until January of 2020, had been actively performing in festivals, recitals, volunteer Hymn Sing for senior’s homes and adult music support groups.
It’s not news to anyone how our world has changed since March of 2020 with the pandemic. Recitals, volunteer music groups, festivals, concerts, all come to a screeching halt. As I write this article, it is February of 2021 and we continue to be faced with restrictions, and social isolation to stop the spread of the virus. A vaccine has been developed. We are waiting.
This brings me to how I became involved in the Adult Music Learning Support Group. I met Sandra Low through a hiking group I joined after my retirement from piano teaching in 2018. She told me about the Adult Music Learning Support Group that she had founded. I was interested, but had my fingers in a lot of other pots so to speak at the time and wasn’t able to attend their monthly meetings.
Sandra and I kept in touch, and became friends. We participated in recitals together and our friendship of sharing love of learning/playing piano and hiking grew. In March of 2020, Sandra told me that the Alberta Learning Music Support group was no longer able to meet in-person at Steinway Piano due to the pandemic restrictions, but she was arranging for Zoom bi-weekly sessions so the group could continue meeting online. Due to the restrictions as stated earlier, I had more free time to join this group and I have grown to love time spent with these supportive, encouraging, and friendly musicians. Fellow members have kept me engaged and challenged in sharing, playing, and mentoring in piano and other musical instruments together.
My musical journey continues. I continue with weekly piano lessons with a wonderful teacher and mentor (Lisa Kiernan). I am still learning so much, growing musically, and plan on playing and studying piano for the rest of my life. It’s an awesome journey, and brings me such Joy, Joy, Joy!!