Life Mirroring Music — A Discordant Student-Teacher Relationship

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Reader’s Question

I am a happily married mother of two and a concert pianist. My vocation requires that I work closely with professors to refine my art. I have always enjoyed great friendships with my teachers, that have lasted for years.

Two years ago, I started studying with one of the greatest teachers in the world. We get along quite well, but there is an issue that is becoming uglier by the week. We began on very amicable terms, but as time has progressed, my teacher has become increasingly hostile towards me. Strangely, I often catch him glancing or staring at me. He now refuses to talk about anything but strictly the music. He is also painfully uncomfortable with touching me (unfortunately, a necessity required of music teaching).

I have platonic feelings for my teacher, whom I revere and admire. I do  not think his feelings are platonic for me. Am I right about this? If so, would it be appropriate to face him about it, so that it can return to a positive experience? Or would this make it worse?

Psychologist’s Reply

It could make things worse, it is impossible to predict. That is the main problem with assertive communication. You can express yourself confidently, clearly and politely, but there is no way to know if you will get the response you hope for. Being assertive requires that you are prepared not to get the answer you’re looking for. Although you can state your case and try to persuade the other to your point of view, you must be prepared for the other to be equally assertive in their disagreement with you.

I understand that you prefer an amicable solution to this. I’m thinking about your profession and how wonderfully expressive of emotion music is. I’m wondering if there is a way, through your music, to express your feelings. For example, is there a particular piece of music that expresses the hostility you are aware of? Is there a piece of music that expresses the reverence and admiration you feel and would like to share with him? Is there a piece of music that places these two emotions together in a way that they resolve one way or the other? By exploring these possibilities, you accomplish a few things. You express yourself, which you owe it to yourself to do. You let your emotional experience come through your work, and that cannot help but improve your musicianship. And you raise questions, for those who care to ask, about your choice in music and why these pieces resonate for you at this time.

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Life, like music, is rarely ideal. It would be wonderful to have a Maxfield Parrish life and career, but that is not realistic. Instead, let’s be honest about our experiences and let that honesty come through our art and work. Your relationship with this teacher may not be what you wish for it, but your music can benefit from the conflict. Don’t be afraid to explore the discordance in relationships; it may lead to a reconciliation that you can’t foresee from where you are now.

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