Culinary Snobbery & Teaching Flexibility

Confessions of a Culinary Snob
I like to cook. If an ingredient is missing – no worry-improvise! My daughter does me proud by following in my footsteps. We may improvise but we would never, I repeat, NEVER use put cottage cheese in a lasagna, use anything but real butter and avoid Cheese whiz like the plague. My daughter-in-law made the mistake of asking me how to cook “burnt carrots” – a name that does NOT do this vegetable justice. I had to tell her the “real” way. FYI:

1.Peel (or wash) 1 lb carrots (for 2-4 people) and cut length-wise thick roots
2.Cook in a little water 8-10 minutes until tender-crisp. I do this in my pressure cooker and it only takes 1 min under
3.Drain. Pour into an oven-proof dish and toss with 1½ Tbsp butter to coat.
4.Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (or whatever temp you may be roasting at for something else). Carrots are done
when edges are turning brown. The darker the brown, the sweeter the carrot. Serve warm.

This is such a simple recipe with a big WOW but like my dad would say, “No sugar.” Well, the memories of sage culinary wisdom flooded my mind. I would be sitting in a room while my dad and his brothers were visiting and their verbal parries of cooking comparisons would intensify. But none brought more ammo to the debate than how to cook  the humble yet signature dish of any respectable caterer to Polish weddings – the “Pork-Cabbage” recipe. “You add just a bit of brown sugar” was countered with “Never, it would ruin the balance and you would have to add vinegar!” That discussion once exploded into such deep convictions that my father picked up a loaf of bread (homemade by his mother no less) and threw it at his brother. They all hitched up their pants, and strutted out of the various exits from the dining room. As I grew older, I realized there was little hope for me, for I, too am a culinary snob.
So, garlic bread on my table bears no resemblance to the soggy, artificial loaf wrapped in foil from the store. My breath will bear witness to the authenticity of the garlic in my house!

Flexibility in the Studio

So I am not very flexible in the way I want to cook, but what about the way I teach?

Method Books

Every teacher has his/her pet method books. For some it may be the newest pedagogy backed by trials in teaching studios. Other may prefer the “tried and true” oldies. Some teachers still use the Thompson and Aaron courses of old. I use John W Schaum’s series of “A” book, “B” book, etc. for the majority of my students and lean towards Hal Leonard’s basic course when there are siblings learning in near enough time that learning-by-ear poses a threat to the beginning student’s progress. The Middle C approach seems to fit most students and they develop independence in learning skills and materials that I found lacking in Suzuki transfer students. I give myself credit for standing hours in the music store pouring over materials only to reject most of them for one reason or another. This is usually not because they are bad, but I know how and why I teach Middle C approach. Some progress too slowly and have more eye appeal than progress for me to imagine myself being excited about teaching 5 weeks of one element though it may be perfect for just a certain student needing reinforcement. It’s hard finding the perfect method but that’s why supplemental material abounds.

An aside: Why Middle C is so effective
1.   Most of my first grade students can start in the Primer (Beginning) book and learn staff reading after 2-4 weeks.
2.   It starts with one homing point. It doesn’t matter pupils are playing off of any “C” on the keyboard, they are all still “C”. I have my
students playing hand-over hand “C” arpeggios by the second or third lesson.
3.   Relationships between “C” and other notes are quickly established both visually and mechanically.
4.   The eye has a chance to gradually read an expanding Grand Staff.
5.   Many familiar songs can be introduced with this method.

It might be good to discuss my encounters with other approaches in future visits.


So, where I teach has been very flexible. Like many new piano teachers, I traveled to the student’s homes like Mr. Ernest St. Jacques taught my sister and myself. The advantages were I didn’t have to disrupt our family in our teeny tiny house and I got to see what my student were practicing on. This, at times, was very enlightening. There was one place, though, that few of my peers can say they taught. One of my students wanted to learn the organ but on the instrument she could practice on and would be called to play on. So off I went to teach her in a cemetery/crematorium. There we would be, reviewing her foot drills and one of the staff would roll another cardboard box up the chapel aisle in line to be cremated. I was hard put to assign her some of the music that normally came to my mind.

There were a few other times I was flexible in my approach in the studio but I’ll save it to another day. Until then, Be Flexible!

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