Quitting Time

At this time of year, I am always doing the same thing: feverishly organizing my studio into a fall lesson configuration, trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule needs. Inevitably, this is also the time of year when it comes to my attention that I have some students whose level of interest in studying flute has changed. When they want to do more, it’s easy to acquiesce to those desires and come up with more challenges. But when it’s a student who has been very involved but who would like to pursue other activities while continuing with flute…well…that can be very hard to accept. Here are my best pieces of advice for navigating this situation!

1) Don’t take it personally. That student, assuming they do want to continue, loves you and values your expertise. It’s not personal at all, and the tween and teen years are prime territory for trialing all kinds of activities. Some will stick, some will not, but we have to give them freedom to explore. And sometimes, that high level of interest in the flute will come back around.

2) Manage your expectations. Because I teach a lot of students who do want to compete, excel and do summer programs and masterclasses, I can fall into the trap of assuming interest level is commensurate with level of playing. It’s better not to assume! Some of my best players have no intention majoring or minoring in music. It’s possible for a student to value heir musical experience through the end of high school and then move on to other adventures. I always say (and mean it!) that music doesn’t have to be all of your life to have a place in your life, and I strive to give my students the experience they’re seeking without putting a whole lot of my own expectations on them. 

3) Provide value at any level of lesson. It’s easy to become very goal oriented in middle and high school lessons. For example: “Let’s do these three things to get ready for honor band auditions,” or “Let’s do this and that so that you are prepared to enter a competition.” Embrace the idea of learning for its own sake. I’ve had some very fine players in my studio who have had absolutely no interest in any kind of public performing. They’re doing it for their own gratification and expression, and when I realized that, we had a lot less tension in lessons. I can teach the techniques, principles and repertoire that satisfy us both and raise the student’s level of playing without pushing for all the events that can come with that. And if the student in question is one who has been very involved in the past, while this can be more difficult, it’s not impossible. Add duets. Work on fundamentals—just let the competitive side of things wane.

4) Be open to letting go. Sometimes you will have a good student, a great student, who just peters out in 11th or 12th grade in order to pursue an academic path. They might choose debate team over flute, or have five or six AP courses, or be applying to a wild number of colleges (I had one last year apply to 22 different schools!) If the family wants to step away from flute lessons, let them go, and do it without rancor. You never, ever know when music will walk back into the life of an adult who studied in childhood, and the way you say goodbye will be one of the things they remember.

Is it disappointing? Sure. Is it about you? Actually…rarely. Probably not at all! So hold your students gently and help them find their wings, with the understanding that they will take flight when it’s time for them to do so, whether that’s the week before they go to college or some substantially earlier time. And then go down your wait list to the next name and make a new friend!

  1. […] The Flute Examiner (Jessica Dunnavant): Quitting Time […]

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