We’re Sally Cathcart and Sharon Mark-Teggart, Co-Founders of The Curious Piano Teachers – and we’re delighted that you’ve found your way to us!
Like you we are both passionate about teaching the piano. Between us we have many years of experience teaching children and adults from beginners to diploma level. We place making music at the heart of all our lessons and our pupils are encouraged to explore and discover music from many different angles. As teachers we love messing around with repertoire and exploring how to present musical concepts as it keeps our teaching vibrant and colourful.
As our own teaching has developed we have been increasingly drawn into sharing our knowledge and understanding with other teachers, helping them develop a more systematic and reflective approach to piano teaching. Piano teacher training is now at the heart of what we do.
WELL – HERE ARE OUR STORIES…
When I started to teach the piano, I had no real idea of the journey I was embarking on. It was only after I realised how intriguing and fulfilling it was to work with pupils of all ages on a regular basis that I began to think about what, why and how I taught.
Quite soon, I found that I became increasingly frustrated with the endless routine of using tutor books and exams. Lots of questions started buzzing around in my head. Why do my young beginners have so much difficulty in grasping the basics of notation? Why do I keep finding big holes in pupils’ understanding of concepts I thought that they had already learnt and absorbed? There seemed to be so many questions and puzzles and I had very few (if any) answers.
In my quest to find out more I kept my eyes and ears open and continued to develop my skills as a pianist, as I felt this would eventually help me to find some ways forward. I was sure that if beginners were taught differently, learning the piano would become a far more positive experience for children and more of them would want to continue learning.
My search for some answers has taken me all over the world – mostly courtesy of a wonderful year on a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship – and into two parallel lives as a class music teacher and as a researcher. I have met and worked with so many wonderful musicians, teachers and researchers and have found myself drawn to like-minded, adventurous people who do things a little differently in piano lessons and are not happy to accept the status quo.
I tried out their ideas, combined them with some of my own, did even more thinking and discovered that a piano lesson could and should be a place of joy, energy and learning for both pupils and teacher.
That’s the curious adventure that I’m on and that I want to share with you.
And now, here is the ‘official’ biog:
Sally has many years of teaching experience both as a piano teacher and as a classroom music teacher. After her travels as a Winston Churchill Fellow, Sally founded the Oxford Piano Group as a place for pianists and teachers to collaborate and share experiences. She was awarded a PhD from the Institute of Education, UCL in 2013. Her topic was the first comprehensive study of UK piano teachers, exploring common practices, expertise, values, attitudes and motivation to teaching. She is very involved in teacher training and is a Principal Tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course run by EPTA (UK). Furthermore, she is a trained Kodaly practitioner and is currently Director of Development of The Voices Foundation. Sally is an examiner for ABRSM and is on the ABRSM Music Education Advisory Committee. She is a member of EPTA (UK) and the ISM.
Curiously enough, I never thought I’d teach. I wanted to be a dietician! The idea was sparked off by a casual remark, made by my piano teacher, soon after I achieved grade 8: “You might think about doing a bit of teaching now”. So, without any clear idea of how I was going to teach, or what I was going to teach, I set off in a pretty ad hoc way.
However, I did try really hard to do a great job. I was earnest and dedicated in the best way I knew how. Still, despite my best efforts, there were lots of gaps in my own learning, both as a pianist, a musician and a learner. On the surface, it seemed that I was managing ok: pupils were doing pretty well in their exams and parents were happy. Yet, as time went on, I noticed that my pupils were losing interest. For one learning became “boring”, for another it had just become “too hard”. Then there were the parents who felt that “there was no point in paying” for something their child had lost interest in. The reassuring fact was that this seemed to be the norm. I wasn’t the only piano teacher faced with these issues – and that eased the sting. A little. Deep down though it bothered me a lot more than I cared to admit. I felt vulnerable. I felt like a fraud.
I also had this gut feeling that there was a lot more to piano teaching and, in a timid and massively anxious way, I was curious. Within a year or two of starting to teach the piano I did something that was to shape the piano teacher I was to become: I engaged frequently in continuing professional development. I attended seminars, I started to network, and this kept me inspired. Yet nothing dramatically changed and, five years into my piano teaching journey, I was ready to throw in the towel. (It’s such a horrible feeling when you try so hard, give it your best shot, yet know it’s simply not enough). Still, I’m a sticker-at-things person and, in my heavy bunch of keys, there was one key left.
I was accepted onto the Mtpp Initiative (Music Teaching in Professional Practice) at Reading University’s Institute of Education to do a postgraduate diploma and Masters in music education. For the first time, I had access to regular, ongoing learning experiences. I developed my skills as a reflective piano teacher and became so much more confident (such an amazing feeling). My piano teaching became purposeful; my pupils became better musicians, better learners. I too became a better musician, a better learner. Even curiouser, it was on this course that I met Sally! One baking-hot Friday afternoon in July 2003, she presented the idea of ‘sound before symbol’ – a revolutionary concept that has impacted powerfully upon my approach to teaching the piano ever since.
By the time I’d completed my MA, I’d become very sponge-like. I got involved with as many musical organisations that I could find the time for. I was on the council of the ISM, the management committee of EPTA(UK) and then I became a Principal Tutor on the EPTA(UK) Piano Teaching Course (PTC), based at the Purcell School.
In truth, I’m a bit of a home bird and eventually I found myself drawn back to Northern Ireland where I was determined to do something that would benefit my community. I knew that, in order to make something big happen, I’d have to commit; to burn the boats and storm the island. Burn any vessel that might take me backwards or make me change my mind. And so I did. I signed up for a year of business coaching and committed myself to a huge financial investment and after many months of hard work and steep learning curves, I founded evoco, Northern Ireland’s Music Education Organisation, specialising in piano teacher training. Over the last three years the business has gone from strength to strength. Last September over 60 piano teachers were awarded their teaching diplomas.
Being curious has taken me to places I never thought I’d reach. I know that if I’d changed nothing, nothing would have changed. The idea of change was once very scary to me; now I see change as a tool for overcoming my frustrations and short-comings. I also know that if I can do this, a piano teacher with incredibly humble beginnings, you can do it too.
And here’s the official biog:
Sharon has 18 years of piano teaching experience. She has additional experience of teaching music at tertiary level and has also worked for several years within early years settings as a music practitioner. Sharon did a 3 year postgraduate course at the Institute of Education, University of Reading, achieving a Masters in Music Education with distinction in 2007. She was subsequently invited to join the course development team for the Piano Teachers’ Course run by EPTA (UK). Sharon worked on this course as a Principal Tutor for 3 years and then worked for a further year as moderator of the course’s academic submissions. Driven by her vision to provide a service for the piano teachers of Northern Ireland, allowing them to gain greater confidence, develop their teaching skills and gain accredited teaching qualifications, Sharon founded evoco in 2012 (Northern Ireland’s Music Education Organisation, specialising in piano teacher training). Sharon has been described as being a visionary entrepreneur within the world of music education. She is a member of EPTA (UK) and a Fellow Member of the ISM.