This fall ESPS is celebrating the 40th anniversary of teacher Ruth Johnson. Ruth has taught with ESPS since 1979, and we recently interviewed Ruth about this significant achievement.
ESPS: Did you grow up in Edmonton?
No, I grew up in Camrose, moved to Edmonton in 1975 after living in Three Hills, with an aunt & uncle for 4 years; in London, U.K., for a year; and Red Deer for 2 years.
ESPS: When did you first start learning music/piano?
I started taking piano lessons when I was 8 years old. I also played clarinet for many years after learning in band in Junior High School.
ESPS: When first learning to play, did you always enjoy music? Were there times your parents had to encourage you to practice?
Yes I always had enjoyed music, my parents really never had to tell me to practice. They sometimes had to tell me to get off the piano bench. My father was one of my inspirations. He played piano by ear a lot.
ESPS: What led you to become a piano teacher originally?
When I was a teenager a family from the church I attended asked if I would teach their 3 sons piano lessons. I was a real novice and I don’t know how well I did but the family seemed to appreciate my efforts. Also I spent four years in Three Hills, after High School and I taught piano there as well. I had a great piano teacher there that supervised my teaching and was thoroughly inspired by her. I also had an Aunt in Three Hills who played very well and I wanted to play as well as she did.
ESPS: How did you become a part of the Edmonton Suzuki Piano School in 1979?
Through Tess Brown, I heard about a teacher in Vegreville who was teaching Suzuki Piano (Viola Fox) and she put me in touch with Clarice Moellering, who was I believe the first and only Suzuki teacher in Edmonton for a few years. I observed her teaching for several months and when she and her husband went on holiday I taught her students while she was gone. She moved back to Sacramento in I think 1984. I started in 1979 with six of my own students.
ESPS: What growth have you noticed in your teaching since joining the Suzuki community?
I attended several piano institutes in Calgary and a few years in Edmonton in the 1980’s with Mme. Kataoka and had lessons with her each summer that she came from Japan. Totally inspiring! I learned an incredible amount about Suzuki teaching from her and still use what I learned from her to this day. I learned that listening to the Suzuki CD is so very important and still encourage my students now to make that listening a priority.
I also attended several Suzuki Institutes in California in the 1990’s where learning to teach was most important.
Also I have become so much more relaxed about teaching now, compared to how anxious I was when I started out as a Suzuki teacher. And having acquired two pianos made a big difference in my teaching.
ESPS: Are the challenges the students face now similar or different than 40 years ago?
Not so very different. Although I think students have a lot more opportunities in sports, dance, drama, etc. that compete with piano lessons and practice becomes harder to fit in on a daily basis.
ESPS: What encouragement would you recommend to parents to help their children to practice?
Set a schedule for practicing. One of my best students got up at 6am and practiced for an hour before school and before breakfast. A schedule will help keep kids practicing for years. Either before school, after school, – or before bed. Don’t skip practice – even 15 – 20 minutes on really busy days is useful.
Play music on CD or CBC FM music, all kinds, but include classical music as well as popular, or rock music. The more listening to music the better – it goes a long way to inspire the kids to practice themselves. Every Day!
ESPS: How has Edmonton Suzuki Piano School changed over the years?
I don’t know that it has changed very significantly. There are more teachers now than when I started, and we have a great administrator (you) which we didn’t have for several years in the beginning. We did all our own administration and divided up jobs for each teacher.
ESPS: What have been your favourite pieces to teach?
That’s a hard question to answer! I really enjoy teaching Book 4 from the Beethoven Sonata to the end of Bk 4. But each book has its own great pieces. I love Book 2 as well. Books 5-7 have changed a lot since I started and there are several pieces in those later books that I love to teach – Chopin’s Waltz in a minor Bk. 5, Mozart’s K330 in Bk. 6, Grieg’s Nocturne in Bk. 6, and Chopin’s Nocturne in c# minor in Bk. 7.
ESPS: What is your favourite genre to play on the piano?
Mostly I play classical pieces, also some hymn arrangements that my teacher in Three hills had published.
ESPS: What would you be doing if you weren’t teaching piano?
I really have no idea! I have a B.ED. but never did want to teach school! Since starting to teach piano as a 15 yr old I haven’t considered any other profession. I did work as a secretary a very long time ago but that didn’t take with me.
ESPS: Any concluding remarks about your 40 years as a Suzuki piano teacher?
I still love teaching Suzuki. I wouldn’t teach any other method, although I’ve put a few students through the Royal Conservatory later grades – 8 to ARCT, after they have finished the Suzuki program.
I’ve had some really great students over the 40 years.
Congratulations, Ruth, on this very special milestone!