Simply Music Teacher – Laurie Richards
Found in: Simply Music Community
Laurie Richards and Simply Music were a perfect match from the beginning. From the moment that she spoke with Neil Moore about teaching the program, Laurie has grasped the bigger picture to the point where she has contributed to the Simply Music curriculum itself, not to mention a great many teachers and an even greater number of students. We are just about to release the first component in Laurie’s Read and Play program, which expands and enhances our Reading 1 program, making the reading process even more natural and strengthening students’ grasp of the basics.
Here she talks with Robin Keehn about integrity, co-operation and music as an everyday companion.
What’s your musical background?
I grew up in a musical family – both parents were music educators and typically involved in numerous musical activities; my two older sisters are also musicians. I’ve played the piano for as long as I can remember. Throughout junior high and high school I also played flute, dabbled in oboe, and played alto sax in jazz band. Flute was my main instrument at that time. In my 20’s I took guitar lessons for a bit. However, piano has always been my first love and a constant in my life. I have taken piano lessons off and on throughout my life, from my childhood through college. Although my degree is in Business Administration, I remained involved in music programs throughout college.
How did you find your way into teaching and Simply Music?
I taught Kindermusik and piano (using traditional methods) for a few years to supplement our income when my children were very young. I was searching for ways to better motivate my piano students when a fellow Kindermusik teacher mentioned Simply Music. I was curious, so I started digging around to find out more. After speaking with Simply Music teachers on the phone, then with Neil Moore, I had a strong gut feeling that I needed to teach this method. I started teaching Simply Music in 2004.
How many students do you have?
I have been teaching an average of 50 students for a while. As my business grew, I began hiring teachers. I have been in a commercial space for 4 1/2 years and currently employ three other teachers.
What do you like about teaching and being involved with Simply Music?
I have found my passion in life through Simply Music. Neil Moore’s vision inspires me. The manner in which he relates to people and the Simply Music teacher training materials which address relationships have helped me grow both personally and professionally. The integrity with which he operates the Simply Music organization resonates deeply with me. The community of teachers is a joy to be involved with.
What kind of public performance have you done? Do you enjoy it?
Growing up, performing was not enjoyable to me as I was extremely self-conscious. But now I really enjoy it. I have played flute and piano for weddings, played in a local rock cover band, and currently I enjoy playing piano and keyboard for my church’s contemporary worship team. I also enjoy playing with students at retirement facilities.
You were very involved in establishing the Simply Music Teachers’ group in Omaha. What have been the rewards of a close association with other Simply Music teachers?
I have learned much from my friends and fellow teachers here in Omaha. The camaraderie and shared enthusiasm are wonderful to experience. Currently the teachers here are working collaboratively to plan a national Simply Music teacher conference in Omaha later this year. When you’re part of something that challenges current paradigms, I think there is strength in numbers. It’s great to have others nearby who share the vision of something bigger than what has been considered possible.
You obviously don’t see other teachers as competitors. Is there room for that many teachers in a limited area? Do you think having more teachers creates more students?
I live in a medium-sized metropolitan area and don’t perceive any limitations to growth. While there are certainly different dymanics in a smaller community, I believe we are only limited by our own imaginations. If there are several teachers in a limited area, there are that many times more ideas and inspirations to make it work. Although I cannot speak from experience, I know of Simply Music teachers in rural areas who have found great success and continued to recruit new teachers in their areas.
You’ve also developed a new approach to teaching the reading process within the Simply Music program, which has led to Simply Music offering new teaching materials. Tell us about how that came about.
It’s not a new approach, but rather a supplement to enhance the approach that Neil has created. I see the teacher training materials for the reading programs as a framework of main concepts to teach. However, teachers must build more content within that framework to give students a really strong reading foundation. So over the years I developed additional content for students in the form of student workbooks. This gives the students additional material with which to process and practice the concepts, aids the teacher in going deeper into those concepts, and allows the teacher to more easily assess their students’ level of understanding.
What’s the music you love the most? What’s the role of music in your everyday life?
I most love contemporary jazz, classical, contemporary worship music and 70’s rock. I feel that music is an integral part of who I am, and I am immensely blessed to have it in my life every day. I love discovering new music and artists through Pandora. Everyone in my family is playing the piano, so there is music in the house every day. I so enjoy the musical freedom I have discovered and developed as a result of having been involved with the Simply Music curriculum. I think it has always been in there, but I just didn’t know how to get to it because I felt restricted to what was on the page in front of me.
What’s your picture of the role of music in an ideal world?
Wow. Music has the power to transform. In an ideal world, everyone would discover the music inside of them, allow it to emerge, not be constrained by a nagging inner voice that says “that’s not good enough”, and embrace their own abilities rather than comparing them to others’ abilities. Imagine the joy that would come of that!
As part of her commitment to the bigger picture, Laurie has been a great advocate of building the teaching community. In the book A World Where Everyone Plays, Laurie tells a story of how that came back to her in a very moving way after a serious car accident:
“My studio was my family’s main source of income, but now my business had unexpectedly come to a screeching halt. At that time there were three other Simply Music teachers in my area – Janita Pavelka, Anne Smith and Michael Favero-Kluge. What they did for me and my family was extraordinarily generous: it is something almost unheard of in our competitive culture. Between the three of them, they arranged to teach every one of my classes, every week at my home studio, asking for absolutely nothing in return. They taught my classes for two full months, while maintaining their own piano studios…” (excerpt from A World Where Everyone Plays, released Jan. 2011, Efting Press).
Laurie has come up with medleys that feature all songs from Levels 1-4 and 5-9 of the Simply Music Foundation program. To see her play these, check out these links: