Meet Chee-Hang; not only he is one of our busiest piano teachers and performers for nearly 13 years, but he also wins the prize for traveling the longest distance to come to us - all the way from Singapore! Chee-Hang is an essential part of our team as he is active in teaching piano and theory classes, coaching ensembles, accompanying students, curriculum planning, plus helping to run our Sonatina Festival and Rush Hour Concerts! Check our his story in the interview below.
1. How did your music journey bring you to teaching?
I have been teaching since I finished high school in Singapore. At first, it started with substituting for my piano teacher, then teaching the children of family friends. As word spread, I began to recruit more students, and have taught in various different formats as well. It adds another dimension to what I do as a performer, and I see it as a natural part of my career.
2. What are some of the most important goals in your work of instructing music students?
I believe that music is like a language. I expose students to this “language” in hopes that they become fluent in it. Whether that means they become concert pianists, church musicians, or being able to play tunes on their piano at home, that doesn’t really matter. What is important is that they learn how to listen and read so that they can pull out this skill whenever they need to.
3. What excites you the most about teaching?
When my students grasp a concept, especially something hard that we have been working on for a while! It is so rewarding to see the comprehension set in their faces and the relief that they also feel! Hard work does pay off!
4. How did teaching online during this past year change the way you teach music?
For the most part, it has been fairly similar to in-person teaching. I do have to be a little more patient with connectivity and sound issues, which sometimes cause some pretty hilarious frozen facial expressions! I have also found myself becoming more articulate as I have to be able to describe technique and musical expression in words rather than demonstrating it!
5. How do you want your students to remember this year? What do you wish for them to learn from it?
This year has been so weird, but for many of my students, the lack of performance opportunities and other activities meant they actually got more time to work on longer pieces or long-term projects. I want my students to remember that they grew by leaps and bounds this year, and if they had the patience and perseverance to power through the year, they have nothing to fear in the future.
6. What age of students do you like working with the most?
Middle school students - they are at the point of their lives where they can start to think about their future goals, and I love helping them navigate that process with regards to music.
7. Was there a memorable moment in your teaching career that made you particularly proud and rewarded?
Sometimes, for younger students, I run through some finger agility activities away from the piano, both to help train general finger independence and to do something different once in a while. I have one particular set of game/exercise that usually impresses children since I can do it very quickly (ask me about it and I’ll show you!) One student was so determined to beat my speed, but she never said anything about it for months as we proceeded with our lessons. One day, she came, beaming, and told me, “I can do this exercise faster than you now!” And she did! While her piano playing definitely benefited from her faster fingers, I am most impressed with her persistence and discipline, which I am sure transferred to everything else she does too!
8. What in your opinion is unique about your teaching style?
While every student has different goals and improves at different speeds, I am relentless in my demands for good practicing habits and proper technique, even if it means that I sometimes appear less friendly. Whether or not my students end up as performing artists, practicing like one allows them to develop strong life skills, such as commitment, discipline, organization, and public speaking abilities. I believe all of these will give them advantages in all their other studies and future careers!
9. What advice would you give to families who are considering education choices for their children or themselves?
While music lessons and music making can be fun , you can only fully reap the benefits if you fully commit. Work with the teacher to define short and long-term goals, develop good habits, dedicate time each day for practice, and track progress, especially for children! It takes a lot for younger children to maintain their interest through the laborious and daunting process of learning an instrument, but a nurturing environment with consistent work can transform that into a fun experience. (The same goes for adults too!) Just like learning a foreign language, if you are immersed in it all the time, you will begin to pick up phrases, syntax, etc.; so do the same for music - do not just depend on the short weekly lessons!
Want to hear Chee-Hang in performing action? Click below for an excerpt from the pre-pandemic Rush Hour concert he played along with his wife and our violin faculty Nina Sandberg.