At first, Melody didn’t see how a four-year degree in music would be practical—especially a piano performance degree.
So she decided to major in accounting instead. “I’d always had interest in business and computers in high school,” Melody says. She figured a business degree, in addition to being interesting, would make career and financial sense. Besides, she could minor in piano performance and at least keep her God-given gift in tune.
But the longer Melody studied at Corban, the more she realized she wanted music to play a bigger role in her life. “I got a lot of joy out of doing music,” Melody says, “and while accounting is great, I didn’t get that same feeling.”
The piano had felt like an extension of herself since Melody’s parents bought her a 66-key keyboard at the age of four. Since then, she’d learned to play from her mother and then through formal lessons. While she’d taken occasional breaks, whether to learn other instruments or focus on other passions and interests, she always gravitated back to those 88 black and white keys.
The music minor turned into a double major, and the double major turned into more than Melody could possibly handle.
“I realized right before senior year, I’m going to have to choose one.” She would either have to continue with the business degree and devote her attention to her senior capstone presentation, or continue with music and focus on her senior recital.
She talked with some of the music faculty, who encouraged her and promised to support her regardless of her decision. One professor observed that Melody’s musical abilities were a gift from God, and he asked, “Why do you think He gave you the gift?”
Ultimately, Melody decided to drop the business major and use the credits she’d already earned toward an associate’s degree in business. For the remainder of her senior year, she could focus solely on music.
Four years after she’d first doubted the practicality of a music degree, Melody graduated with a bachelor of science in piano performance.
Her next challenge was deciding how to use it.
A series of events led Melody to the University of Idaho in Moscow to earn her Master of Music in piano performance and pedagogy (the art of teaching).
With the help of a graduate teaching assistantship, Melody continued to hone her musical talent while diving into the world of pedagogy, networking, and professional development. Suddenly a degree in piano was beginning to make sense, as Melody began to see music as an industry with its own challenges and complexities.
She joined the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), traveled to Florida and Texas to present at conferences such as the MTNA National Conference, and honed her skills in performance and accompaniment.
While she’d taken one pedagogy class at Corban, graduate school allowed Melody to deepen her understanding the professional aspects of instructing piano. “I was really able to delve into the professional networking aspect of piano teaching as well as the practical parts of it,” she says.
She completed her thesis on the value of teaching jazz elements to piano students—something often overlooked by classically trained piano teachers—and presented at a conference on the unique challenges piano teachers face with post-millennial students. Her group presentation was called “Connecting with the ‘I’ Generation.”
She explains that piano students learn differently today than they did ten or fifteen years ago. With the influx of technology in young people’s lives, she’s observed not only a shrinking attention span—the ability to sit at a piano and focus for an entire practice session—but also a growing expectation of immediate gratification.
Melody describes how children are inundated with apps and games on their phones that will level up for simple accomplishments. Students have become used to immediate rewards, whether it’s gold stars, coins, or a satisfying ping on their phone.
It doesn’t work that way with the piano. With the piano, you might have to sit and practice a piece for an hour—not just once, but every day for a week or a month before you notice real improvement.
Melody herself sometimes struggles with the perception that she’s not moving forward quickly enough. “Between my freshman and sophomore years at Corban, I didn’t think I’d improved at all,” Melody laughs, “until I looked back and saw a video.”
She sees this phenomenon in young people’s lives, and she sees how the piano can be one way to teach students what hard work and perseverance really look like over a span of time. While she often looks for ways to adjust to students’ needs by incorporating more technology in the lesson, she also encourages them to persevere and accept that it might take a couple of years before they can play their favorite Beethoven piece.
One six-year-old boy had hardly begun taking lessons when he said, “So, can I play Für Elise yet?” Melody had to break the news to him that it might be awhile.
But while Melody sees the importance of realistic expectations and hard work, she also sees the joy her students experience when they can play a piece they’ve always wanted to learn. Whether it’s Moonlight Sonata or a song they heard on the radio, she does her best to equip them to play it. “I make it a priority to include what they want to play in their repertoire.” Sometimes she’ll even create an easier arrangement of a classical piece like Für Elise. “They can’t tell the difference,” she smiles. “They just love that they’re able to play something that kind of sounds like it.”
At the same time, Melody isn’t afraid to stretch her students. Sometimes, when a student has focused heavily on classical pieces, she’ll print out chords and have them try the Beatles.
As a piano teacher, Melody is also a teacher of patience, endurance, and work ethic. She’s a teacher of discipline and coordination, and she helps foster the joy students experience when they can create something beautiful.
Not only has advanced training in piano pedagogy helped her shape the lives of young people, but her associate’s in business has proved invaluable as well. The spreadsheets that lost her interest in her accounting classes have become useful in keeping track of her financial records and book inventories. Meanwhile, the same networking and professional development skills she would have honed in her business presentations were developed through her involvement in the MTNA at University of Idaho.
Between her associate’s in business and her master’s in music, Melody has discovered how a piano performance degree can not only be practical but can change lives.
When asked what she would say to students who are still struggling with their choice of degree, Melody says, “Your degree is what you make of it. If you develop a passion for what you do and keep working at it, you will be rewarded.” She admits that a piano performance degree can be taxing, especially when the results don’t come immediately. But with “patience, determination, and hard work, it will pay off.”
Melody completed her master’s degree in 2018. She currently teaches at Northwest School of Music, and she’ll be traveling to England this August for Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists.
Written by Amelia Kaspari, Staff Writer