Simply Music Teacher – Bernadette Ashby
Found in: Simply Music Community
“Bernie, you can do it. You can climb this mountain.” Bernadette Ashby has had plenty of people repeat those words to her, but when you give yourself enough mountains to climb, you develop plenty of supporters. Bernie has never let apparent limitations stop her from climbing mountains, from building a busy studio despite being an adult beginner to creating a book about Simply Music with no prior publishing experience. By her willingness to take the plunge, Bernie inspires that same quality in her students and fellow teachers. You can read about one of those students in this issue of the newsletter, but here we ask Bernie herself about the trials and triumphs of climbing life’s mountains.
How did you get involved with SM?
I’m a lurker. It takes a few times for me to warm up to an idea. So when I met Kerry Hanley, from Australia, at a homeschool conference booth, it wasn’t until the end of the day. By that time, she told me that there was a money back guarantee if I wasn’t satisfied with Simply Music. I circled the booth numerous times, observing her over my shoulder, demonstrating the method to other parents. She was making some incredible claims. I was intrigued. All my life I wanted to play the piano. Growing up, I quit three times just trying to learn. I had no idea that that day would change my life. It’s been ten years and today I call myself a musician, composer, and an educator. It’s been an amazing journey of self-fulfillment and joy.
You freely acknowledge your limited musical background, but that hasn’t stopped you becoming a very successful teacher. Many people would be nervous in your role. What was the scariest thing about taking on the challenge of teaching without the usual extensive music background? How do students respond when they hear about your background?
It’s important to know that I began to play the piano at age 37. I had an intense drive to be musical. This desire got me over the hump of my insecurities in becoming a teacher. There is no way I would have ever taken this route had there been a Simply Music teacher in my area. There were none. And I was driven to play. I’m glad that I took the plunge and became a teacher.
Talk about scared! I was staring straight up at the looming ‘Mt. Everest’. I had so many feelings swirling inside of me – feelings of overwhelm and yet exhilaration at the same time. Asking questions like, “What in the world did I get myself into? What will people think of me? How can I do this?” I think the scariest thing for me has been to actually tell people that I didn’t have a traditional background in music. However, this was more of a perception I had because of the fear of rejection. I thought people wouldn’t sign up because of my lack of experience. But for the most part, this hasn’t been the case. As a matter of fact, they never ask me about my background. These days I’m very up front. I tell parents that I am only an adult-trained musician through Simply Music. I let them know that I love this program, the founder of Simply Music is my mentor, and that I CAN teach them and their children how to play the piano. Mostly, I share my passion through how I communicate. Parents and students pick up on this and they are excited along with me.
What was the biggest thing that inspired you to keep going through the early days of establishing a studio?
This journey has had its ups and downs. Often times, I felt discouraged and wanted to ‘throw in the towel’. But there were people behind me shouting, “Bernie, you can do it. You can climb this mountain.” My husband, Myron, is one of them; Cathy Hirata, a fellow Simply Music teacher, is another; and Neil Moore, the founder of Simply Music. I am indebted to them. I would say that a support team or accountability is critical to success.
How many students do you have nowadays?
Over sixty students.
What do you love the most about teaching?
Besides the fact that I work with the most incredible parents and students, what I love the most about teaching is the platform with which to speak into their lives. When new parents and students come into my studio, they think I’m going to teach them about piano, which I am. But there are so many other “life” things we talk about. Things like: integrity, discipline, responsibility, honoring your parents… The satisfaction goes deep for me – the bonding between my students and I are strong. My longest standing student of nine years is like a son to me. He’s spent most of his life having me as a mentor, coach. He never leaves lesson without giving me a hug.
What do you like about teaching and being involved with Simply Music?
Easy answer – the teacher body. I have met some of the amazing people on this face of this earth through Simply Music – friends I will have for life. I have so much respect for my colleagues. Not only for their musical intelligence, but for what they contribute to me as a person. They are inspirational, encouraging, creative, entrepreneurial, to say the least.
You have been a wonderful support in various ways within the Simply Music community. Tell us about some of the work you’ve done.
Well, let’s see. One of my favorite things to do is to give back to the teacher community through sharing what I know. I’ve led chat sessions on various topics for teachers and organized an annual Simply Music International Symposium for training purposes. I’ve been involved in recruitment events and the most recent activity is contributing to a Radio Blog Talk about Simply Music. But the largest project to date is the completion of a book on Simply Music.
You’re obviously talking there about your book ‘A World Where Everyone Plays’. It’s a very comprehensive look at Simply Music and some of the ways it has contributed to people. It was obviously a huge undertaking, and again an adventure into a world you didn’t have much experience of. What inspired you to take on that huge task?
Funny, I never considered myself a writer. All through my educational career, I struggled with English classes. I made straight A’s in all my other subjects. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would write a book. But I so believed in the message of Simply Music. As an educator, I knew that it was critically important to let as many people know about Simply Music and this ‘New Way of Learning’. If all people had an opportunity to access their musicianship, it could open up avenues of creativity and ingenuity in an unprecedented way, effectively changing the world. This message was my motivation. So once again, I found myself breaking ground in new territory – another mountain was before me. But I knew what it was like to climb a mountain, thanks to Simply Music. It took two years to write and edit the book. To date, close to 2000 books have been sold. 5000 is considered a bestseller so I’m pretty happy about the results. Ultimately, the message about Simply Music is getting out.
You talk frequently about a world where everyone plays, in fact that’s the title of your book. How do you see that music education can make a difference? What would a world where everyone plays look like?
There are so many fine points to music education that are taken for granted. The tragedy is that it is being removed from the schools and devalued to an extra-curricular activity. Without music, we deny ourselves a fundamental expression to be human. I realize that this is a strong statement to make but it is consistent with the idea, a world where everyone plays. If we truly understood and ‘unpacked’ all that music contributes to a person, as a culture we would be chasing after this kind of education with tenacity. Music changes a person in character, intelligence, discipline, and in spirit. A world where everyone plays looks like a world where we can be all that we can be, living up to our full potential, and through Simply Music, using music as an open door to reach out to everyone with this goal. It’s about creating a more musical world, therefore a more beautiful world. It’s possible. It’s happening now, one student at a time.
What’s the music you love the most? What’s the role of music in your everyday life?
I love any kind of music that is uplifting. It doesn’t matter what genre it is. It could be jazz, country, Christian, classical, as long as it’s excellent and encouraging. I’ll make a confession here. I’ve struggled with moments of depression. In these times, when I listen to music, it transforms my mind, heart, soul, and spirit. It soothes me, relaxes me, and brings me joy in the midst of life’s trials. It is such a gift. Playing the piano does the same thing for me too. It takes me to ‘another world’. I like that. I make it a goal to listen to good music and play the piano every day.