To everything there is a season.

In May 2000 I moved to London. To Hendon, precisely. My plan was to teach music and convert to Judaism and, eventually, marry the boy I was chasing. I was nineteen.

I don’t remember how long after moving there I got my first piano student in the area, but it wasn’t a desperately long time. She was a lovely older lady who’d been on a “singing for the brain” course and wanted to study the piano in order to keep her mind nimble.

From then on, I always had students in Hendon and Finchley. Most were children, but there were various grown-ups too. It got to the point where I couldn’t fit them all in on weekday evenings and started teaching some on Sunday mornings. When I went to Trinity this turned out to be a good thing: I kept going back on Sundays to teach, spending the weekdays doing (okay, avoiding) my academic work and Saturday as a day off. At one point I was teaching for nine hours on a Sunday, which was helpful, if tiring. Most of the teaching was in the morning — I started at 8am — or in the evening, after football and other activities had ended, and this left me with long afternoons. I often spent the time outside, reading or walking around, though if the weather was miserable I might head to Brent Cross instead or just take refuge in a coffee shop for a while. There was a period of time when I had friends living nearby so I would go to visit them, sometimes just falling asleep on the sofa for a while, and on one memorable occasion sticking my very broken glasses together with bits of wire and tape.

In my later years at Trinity I started becoming interested in Christianity again, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But it was in Hendon on those long Sunday afternoons that I had time to read and think about this, and it was at St Mary’s Hendon that I found I could go to Evensong most weeks.

When I finished my degree I had to decide whether to move back to Hendon, stay in Bethnal Green or go elsewhere entirely. Marrying the boy I’d been chasing was no longer on the cards, and by then it was clear that Orthodox Judaism was not the right path for me. I chose Leytonstone for a variety of reasons.

I also decided that I couldn’t be having with working on Sunday mornings any more (well, that didn’t last long!). So my students, many of whom by now were the “we’d really rather have lessons on Sundays” crowd, were asked to switch to weekdays… and since then I’ve been going to Hendon and Finchley on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most of my students there are Jewish and in a strange way, teaching them has allowed me to keep Jewish practice, and interfaith issues, in my mind even while I’m now so involved in Christian worship, though besides knowing when the holidays are, ensuring exams aren’t on Saturdays and teaching the odd bit of folk repertoire it hasn’t been a major part of teaching, of course.

I knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable strategy in the longer-term so I decided to take on no new families, letting the hours in North London taper off. The plan was that I’d gradually gain students in Leytonstone and the transition would be fairly smooth.

That didn’t quite work out. At the beginning of this year, I was commuting nine hours per week to do three hours of teaching. I wasn’t gathering much of a class of students more locally, mostly because Mondays and Tuesdays were completely unavailable. I tried cycling, but found it just as exhausting as the Tube and with no great saving in time. I tried finding other things to do locally, spending Monday afternoon in the library in Finchley. Eventually I had to admit that I was tired enough that I wasn’t teaching as well as I know I can. So, this January, I gave my students one term’s notice.

Today I taught my last lesson in Hendon, and walked back through Sunny Hill Park. It’s been sad, these last few weeks, saying goodbye. One of the reasons I hung on so long was that I do genuinely like teaching, and I am very fond of all of my students. A half hour a week over a few years is a long time to spend with anyone in one-on-one situations and these families have been a significant part of my life. The students themselves have been a joy and a privilege to teach, through the difficult bits and the happiness (or just relief) at exam results and school performances. I was teaching only five at the end, but over the years there have been nearly forty students, and I have learned from each and every one of them, and I will miss them. If you’re a former student, or a parent of one, and you’re reading this: THANK YOU.

I suppose North London will still be there, but it feels strange that I no longer have any reason to go.

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On acknowledgement

On Thursday I got an e-mail from someone. He was writing to tell me he’d found my piece Crux Fidelis on the Choral Public Domain Library a few months ago, and had used it in the liturgy for Good Friday at the church where he’s organist. It went well and they intend to use it again next year.

It felt really wonderful to be thanked, and even just to know that my music is being used. I know others have used that piece this year, but they’re all friends or acquaintances. Of course I’m glad they like it and use it, but in my head it feels like strangers liking my music enough to use it is another level. One of the difficulties of putting my work online is that I never really know whether it is getting used. Oh, SoundCloud has some stats for listens and downloads, but once a track has been downloaded I have no idea how often it’s played. CPDL doesn’t seem to offer any stats, but even if they did, there’s a long way between downloading a piece of music and having a choir sing it!

If there were such a thing, I’d be tempted to use a Creative Commons license where people can do what they like with my music as long as they tell me, somehow. As things currently stand I’m reliant on etiquette.

Perhaps, though, it’s just as well that such a license doesn’t exist. Having to let the creator know what’s happening might be enough to put people off using the work, after all, and if it comes to a choice between the music being heard and my hearing about it, I think I’d choose the former.